Little Gopher is upset in the beginning of the story because he is smaller then the other children and he can not keep up with their strength. When he grows a bit older, he goes to the hills alone to think about becoming a man. This is where the Dream-Vision occurs. The young Indian Maiden and the old grandfather in the clouds gave Little Gopher a rolled-up animal skin, a brush made of fine animal hairs, and pots of paints. They told him to paint pictures of deeds of warriors, visions of the shaman, and a picture pure as the colors in the evening sky. Little Gopher gathered flowers and berries to make his paints, and painted pictures of great hunts and great deeds. He struggled with finding the colors of the sunset. He often looked at the colors of the sky and did not give up on this task. One night he heard voices in the sky telling him to go to the hillside where he sees the sun set and he will find what he needs. The next evening, in this place Little Gopher found brushes filled with paint the colors of the sunset on the ground all around him. Little Gopher finally painted a picture pure as the colors in the evening sky. He left his brushes on the ground and returned to the village. The next morning, the hillside was covered with plants of brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. The brushes had taken root and multiplied. Now every spring the ground is covered with these beautiful plants and Little Gopher is praised for being the person who brought the sunset to the earth.
The Native American culture is best described through its use of traditional literature. Much understanding of their ways and beliefs can be found through the study of their legends. Although stories of Native American warrior’s brutality, war, and fighting do exist, these people were mostly about peace with others and kindness toward our earth. “The Legend of the Indain Paintbrush” is a beautiful, well-written example of how the Native Americans believe the people, earth, and sky are all connected. The beginning of the story also reflects the true value that each tribe places upon each individual person in that tribe. dePaola writes, “The wise shaman of the tribe understood that Little Gopher had a gift that was special.” The Native Americans believe that each person, animal, plant, etc. has a purpose and can be used to benefit the well-being of others.
This story along with other De Paola stories would be excellent for a genre study in the classroom. It is easy to pick out elements of a legend and it would be fun to see kids compare these legends.