This is the legend I was taught in elementary, I hope they still do, I believe mythology and legends are part of a proud civilization.
The quetzal, as you might know, is the national bird of Guatemala. It is illegal to have it in captivity and actually virtually impossible since it would die if not free.(Although I have seen a variety at the Denver Zoo - the Golden Headed Quetzal-)
Legend has it that the Quetzal used to be all green. It proudly gave its long green feathers to adorn the head pieces of the Mayan rulers and warriors.
When the Spanish came, with Pedro de Alvarado as the conquistador they took by force or deceit the land from the Mayans. The Mayans although brave and strong could not stand to the gunpowder and the magical men in horses. Tecún Umán a Mayan warrior, the strongest of them all, was the last one to fall. In a battle in the valley of Olintepeque (in the department of Quetzaltenango) he fought to the end. When Tecún Umán was lying dead on the ground the Quetzal came down and rested on his chest and its chest got tinted forever with the blood of Tecún Umán. Tecún Umán epitomizes the verse on the Guatemalan anthem that says "Antes muerto que esclavo será" (rather chose death than slavery).
Tecún Umán is believed to have died on February 20th, 1524, was declared Guatemala´s official national hero on March 22nd, 1960 and is commemorated every year on February 20.
The most famous poem about Tecún Umán is that written by Miguel Angel Asturias, Nobel Prize Winner Literature 1967. You can find the poem here.
You can see through out Guatemala monuments in honor of Tecún Umán, the two most depicted are the one in Quetzaltenango and the one in the Capital city at the overpass towards the airport. It has become a landmark of daily use by the people in the city to indicate were in traffic are you stuck. "I am past Tecún Umán, I am not yet at Tecún Umán".
I promise to take a picture of it on my next trip!