These stories are from James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Mooney was an ethnologist that worked for the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1887 and 1890 he did fieldwork with the Cherokee, mainly in North Carolina but also in Oklahoma. He published the results of his studies with the Cherokee in the 7th and 19th Annual Reports of the BAE.
These stories were provided by elders in the Cherokee tribe who had acquired this knowledge from their elders in the traditional way, passing the information on from generation to generation. Follow the first link in the list below to learn about these elders.
Photo from the Bureau of American Ethnology Nineteenth Annual Report
“First and chief in the list of story tellers comes A’yun’ini (“Swimmer”), from whom nearly three fourths of the whole number were originally obtained, together with nearly as large a proportion of the whole body of Cherokee material now in possession of the author. The collection could not have been made without his help, and now that he is gone it can never be duplicated. Born about 1835, shortly before the Removal, he grew up under the instruction of masters to be a priest, doctor, and keeper of tradition, so that he was recognized as an authority throughout the band and by such a competent outside judge as Colonel Thomas. He served through the war as second sergeant of the Cherokee Company A, Sixty-ninth North Carolina Confederate Infantry, Thomas Legion. He was prominent in the local affairs of the band, and no Green-corn dance, ballplay, or other tribal function was ever considered complete without his presence and active assistance. A genuine aboriginal antiquarian and patriot, proud of his people and their ancient system, he took delight in recording in his native alphabet the songs and sacred formulas of priests and dancers and the names of medicinal plants and the prescriptions with which they were compounded, while his mind was a storehouse of Indian tradition. To a happy descriptive style he added a musical voice for the songs and a peculiar faculty for imitating the characteristic cry of bird or beast, so that to listen to one of his recitals was often a pleasure in itself, even to one who understood not a word of the language. He spoke no English, and to the day of his death clung to the moccasin and turban, together with the rattle, his badge of authority. He died in March, 1899, aged about sixty-five, and was buried like a true Cherokee on the slope of a forest-clad mountain. Peace to his ashes and sorrow for his going, for with him perished half the tradition of a people.
Itagu nahi (John Ax)
Photo from the Bureau of American Ethnology Nineteenth Annual Report
Next in order comes the name of Itagu nahi, better known as John Ax, born about 1800 and now consequently just touching the century mark, being the oldest man of the band. He has a distinct recollection of the Creek war, at which time he was about twelve years of age, and was already married and a father when the lands east of Nantahala were sold by the treaty of 1819. Although not a professional priest or doctor he was recognized, before age had dulled his faculties, as an authority upon all relating to tribal custom, and was an expert in the making of rattles, wands, and other ceremonial paraphernalia. Of a poetic and imaginative temperament, he cared most for the wonder stories, of the giant Tsul kalu’, of the great Uktena or of the invisible spirit people, but he had also a keen appreciation of the humorous animal stories. He speaks no English, and with his erect spare figure and piercing eye is a fine specimen of the old-time Indian. Notwithstanding his great age he walked without other assistance than his stick to the last ball game, where he watched every run with the closest interest, and would have attended the dance the night before but for the interposition of friends.
Suyeta, “Tbe Chosen One”, who preaches regularly as a Baptist minister to an Indian congregation, does not deal much with the Indian supernatural, perhaps through deference to his clerical obligations, but has a good memory and liking for rabbit stories and others of the same class. He served in the Confederate army during the war as fourth sergeant in Company A, of the Sixty-ninth North Carolina, and is now a well preserved man of about sixty-two. He speaks no English, but by an ingenious system of his own has learned to use a concordance for verifying references in his Cherokee bible. He is also a first-class carpenter and mason.
Photo from the Bureau of American Ethnology Nineteenth Annual Report
Another principal informant was Ta’gwadihi, “Catawba-killer”, of Cheowa, who died a few years ago, aged about seventy. He was a doctor and made no claim to special knowledge of myths or ceremonials, but was able to furnish several valuable stories, besides confirmatory evidence for a large number obtained from other sources.
Photo from the Bureau of American Ethnology Nineteenth Annual Report
Besides these may be named, among the East Cherokee, the late Chief N.J. Smit; Sala’li, mentioned elsewhere, who died about 1895; Tsesa’ni or Jessan, who also served in the war; Aya’ sta, one of the principal conservatives among the women; and James and David Blythe, younger men of mixed blood, with an English education, but inheritors of a large share of Indian lore from their father, who was a recognized leader of ceremony.
Among informants in the western Cherokee Nation the principal was James D. Wafford, known to the Indians as Tsuskwanun’nawa’ta, “Worn-out-blanket,” a mixed-blood speaking and writing both languages, born in the old Cherokee Nation near the site of the present Clarkesville, Georgia, in 1806, and dying when about ninety years of age at his home in the eastern part of the Cherokee Nation, adjoining the Seneca reservation. The name figues prominently in the early history of North Carolina and Georgia. His grandfather, Colonel Wafford, was an officer in the American Revolutionary army, and shortly after the treaty of Hopewell, in 1785, established a colony known as “Wafford’s settlement,” in upper Georgia, on territory which was afterward found to be within the Indian boundary and was acquired by special treaty purchase in 1804. His name is appended, as witness for the state of Georgia, to the treaty of Holston, in 1794. On his mother’s side Mr. Wafford was of mixed Cherokee, Natchez, and white blood, she being a cousin of Sequoyah. He was also remotley connected with Cornelius Dougherty, the first trader established among the Cherokee. In the course of his long life he filled many positions of trust and honor among his people. In his youth he attended the mission school at Valleytown under Reverend Evan Jones, and just before the adoption of the Cherokee alphabet he finished the translation into phonetic Cherokee spelling of a Sunday school speller noted in Pilling’s Iroquoin Bibliography. In 1824 he was the census enumerator for that district of the Cherokee Nation embracing upper Hiwassee river, in North Carolina, with Nottely and Toccoa in the adjoining portion of Georgia. His fund of Cherokee geographic informaiton thus acquired was found to be invaluable. He was one of the two commanders of the largest detachment of emigrants at the time of removal, and his name appears as a councilor for the western Nation in the Cherokee Almanac for 1846. When employed by the author at Tahlequah in 1891 his mind was still clear and his memory keen. Being of practical bent, he was concerned chiefly with tribal history, geography, linguistics, and every-day life and custom, on all of which subjects his knowledge was exact and detailed, but there were few myths for which he was not able to furnish confirmatory testimony. Despite his education he was a firm believer in the Nunne’hi, and several of the best legends connected with them were obtained from him. His death takes from the Cherokee one of the last connecting links between the present and the past.”
Mooney also made use of a manuscript written by a Cherokee woman name Wahnenauhi, or Lucy Lowery Hoyt Keys, as a source for the stories as well.
How the World Was Made
The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. The Indians are afraid of this.
When all was water, the animals were above in Galun’lati, beyond the arch; but it was very much crowded, and they were wanting more room. They wondered what was below the water, and at last Dayuni’si,”Beaver’s Grandchild,” the little Water-beetle, offered to go and see if it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but could find no firm place to rest. Then it dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the earth. It was afterward fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this.
At first the earth was flat and very soft and wet. The animals were anxious to get down, and sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but they found no place to alight and came back again to Galun’lati. At last it seemed to be time, and they sent out the Buzzard and told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father of all buzzards we see now. He flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap and strike the ground, and wherever they struck the earth there was a valley, and where they turned up again there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.
When the earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark, so they got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across the island from east to west, just overhead. It was too hot this way, and Tsiska’gili, the Red Crawfish, had his shell scorched a bright red, so that his meat was spoiled; and the Cherokee do not eat it. The conjurers put the sun another hand-breadth higher in the air, but it was still too hot. They raised it another time, and another, until it was seven handbreadths high and just under the sky arch. Then it was right, and they left it so. This is why the conjurers call the highest place Gulkwa’gine Di’galun’latiyun, “the seventh height,” because it is seven hand-breadths above the earth. Every day the sun goes along under this arch and returns at night on the upper side to the starting place.
here is another world under this, and it is like ours in everything – animals, plants, and people – save that the seasons are different. The streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by which we enter it, but to do this one must fast and go to water and have one of the underground people for a guide. We know that the seasons in the underworld are different from ours, because the water in the springs is always warmer in winter and cooler in summer that the outer air.
When the animals and plants were first made – we do not know by whom – they were told to watch and keep awake for seven nights, just as young men now fast and keep awake when they pray to their medicine. They tried to do this, and nearly all were awake through the first night, but the next night several dropped off to sleep, and the third night others were asleep, and then others, until, on the seventh nigh, of all the animals only the owl, the panther, and one or two more were still awake. To these were given the power to see and to go about in the dark, and to make prey of the birds and animals which must sleep at night. Of the trees only the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the holly, and the laurel were awake to the end, and to them it was given to be always green and to be greatest for medicine, but to the others it was said: “Because you have not endured to the end you shall lose your hair every winter.”
Men came after the animals and plants. At first there were only a brother and sister until he struck her with a fish and told her to multiply, and so it was. In seven days a child was born to her, and thereafter every seven days another, and they increased very fast until there was danger that the world could not keep them. Then it was made that a woman should have only one child in a year, and it has been so ever since.
The First Fire
In the beginning there was no fire, and the world was cold, until the Thunders (Ani’-Hyun’tikwala’ski), who lived up in Galun’lati, sent their lightning and put fire into the bottom of a hollow sycamore tree which grew on an island. The animals knew it was there, because they could see the smoke coming out at the top, but they could not get to it on account of the water, so they held a council to decide what to do. This was a long time ago.
Every animal that could fly or swim was anxious to go after the fire. The Raven offered, and because he was so large and strong they thought he could surely do the work, so he was sent first. He flew high and far across the water and alighted on the sycamore tree, but while he was wondering what to do next, the heat had scorched all his feathers black, and he was frightened and came back without the fire. The little Screech-owl (Wa’hulu’) volunteered to go, and reached the place safely, but while he was looking down into the hollow tree a blast of hot air came up and nearly burned out his eyes. He managed to fly home as best he could, but it was a long time before he could see well, and his eyes are red to this day. Then the hooting Owl (U’guku’) and the Horned Owl (Tskili’) went, but by the time they got to the hollow tree the fire was burning so fiercely that the smoke nearly blinded them, and the ashes carried up by the wind made white rings about their eyes. They had to come home again without the fire, but with all their rubbing they were never able to get rid of the white rings.
Now no more of the birds would venture, and so the little Uksu’hi snake, the black racer, said he would go through the water and bring back some fire. He swam across to the island and crawled through the grass to the tree, and went in by a small hole at the bottom. The heat and smoke were too much for him, too, and after dodging about blindly over the hot ashes until he was almost on fire himself he managed by good luck to get out again at the same hole, but his body had been scorched black, and he has ever since had the habit of darting and doubling on his track as if trying to escape from close quarters. He came back, and the great blacksnake, Gule’gi, “The Climber,” offered to go for fire. He swam over to the island and climbed up the tree on the outside, as the blacksnake always does, but when he put his head down into the hole the smoke choked him so that he fell into the burning stump, and before he could climb out again he was as black as the Uksu’hi.
Yalonda Moore, a dancer at the Red Clay Pow Wow, wears regalia made by Sheila Jones featuring the water spider.
Now they held another council, for still there was no fire, and the world was cold, but birds, snakes, and four footed animals, all had some excuse for not going, because they were all afraid to venture near the burning sycamore, until at last Kanane’ski Amai’yehi (the Water Spider) said she would go. This is not the water spider that looks like a mosquito, but the other one, with black downy hair and red stripes on her body. She can run on top of the water or dive to the bottom, so there would be no trouble to get over to the island, but the question was, How could she bring back the fire? “I’ll manage that,” said the Water Spider; so she spun a thread from her body and wove it into a tusti bowl, which she fastened on her back. Then she crossed over to the island and through the grass to where the fire was still burning. She put one little coal of fire into her bowl, and came back with it, and ever since we have had fire, and the Water Spider still keeps her tusti bowl.
The Daughter of the Sun
The sun lived on the other side of the sky vault, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the earth, and every day as the sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west she used to stop at her daughter’s house for dinner.
Now, the Sun hated the people on the earth, because they could never look straight at her without screwing up their faces. She said to her brother, the Moon, “My grandchildren are ugly; they grin all over their faces when they look at me.” But the Moon said, “I like my younger brothers; I think they are very handsome”-because they always smiled pleasantly when the saw him in the sky at night, for his rays were milder.
The Sun was jealous and planned to kill all the people, so every day when she got near her daughter’s house she sent down such sultry rays that there was a great fever and the people died by hundreds, until everyone had lost some friend and there was fear that no one would be left. They went for help to the Little Men, who said the only way to save themselves was to kill the Sun.
The Little Men made medicine and changed two men to snakes, the Spreading-adder and the Copperhead, and sent them to watch near the door of the daughter of the Sun to bite the old Sun when she came next day. They went together and hid near the house untl the Sun came, but when the Spreading-adder was about to spring, the bright light blinded him and he could only spit out yellow slime, as he does to this day when he tries to bite. She called him a nasty thing and went by into the house, and the Copperhead crawled off without trying to do anything.
So the people still died from the heat, and they went to the Little Men a second time for help. The Little Men made medicine again and changed one man into the great Uktena and another into the Rattlesnake and sent them to watch near the house and kill the old Sun when she came for dinner. They made the Uktena very large, with horns on his head, and everyone thought he would be sure to do the work, but the Rattlesnake was so quick and eager that he got ahead and coiled up just outside the house, and when the Sun’s daughter opened the door to look out for her mother, he sprang up and bit her and she fell dead in the doorway. He forgot to wait for the old Sun, but went back to the people, and the Uktena was so very angry that he went back, too. Since then we pray to the rattlesnake and do not kill him, because he is kind and never tries to bite if we do not disturb him. The Uktena grew angrier all the time and very dangerous, so that if he even looked at a man, that man’s family would die. After a long time the people held a council and decided that he was too dangerous to be with them, so they sent him up to Galun’lati, and he is there now. The Spreading-adder, the Copperhead, the Rattlesnake, and the Uktena were all men.
When the Sun found her daughter dead, she went into the house and grieved, and the people did not die any more, but now the world was dark all the time, because the Sun would not come out. They went again to the Little Men, and these told them that if they wanted the Sun to come out again they must bring her daughter back from Tsusgina’i, the Ghost country, in Usunhi’yi, the Darkening land in the west. They chose seven men to go, and gave each a sourwood rod a hand-breadth long. The Little Men told them they must take a box with them, and when they got to Tsusgina’i they would find all the ghosts at a dance. They must stand outside the circle, and when the young woman passed in the dance they must strike her with the rods and she would fall to the ground. Then they must put her into the box and bring her back to her mother, but they must be very sure not to open the box, even a little way, until they were home again.
They took the rods and a box and traveled seven days to the west until they came to the Darkening land. There were a great many people there, and they were having a dance just as if they were at home in the settlements. The young woman was in the outside circle, and as she swung around to where the seven men were standing, one struck her with his rod and she turned her head and saw him. As she came around the second time another touched her with his rod, and then another and another, until at the seventh round she fell out of the ring, and they put her into the box and closed the lid fast. The other ghosts seemed never to notice what had happened.
They took up the box and started home toward the east. In a little while the girl came to life again and begged to be let out of the box but they made no answer and went on. Soon she called to them again and said she was hungry, but still they made no answer and went on. After another while she spoke again and called for a drink and pleaded so that it was very hard to listen to her, but the men who carried the box said nothing and still went on. When at last they were very near home, she called again and begged them to raise the lid just a little because she was smothering. They were afraid she was really dying now, so they lifted the lid a little to give her air, but as they did so there was a fluttering sound inside and something flew past them into the thicket and they heard a redbird cry, “kwish! kwish! kwish!” in the bushes. They shut down the lid and went on again to the settlements, but when they got there and opened the box it was empty.
So we know the Redbird is the daughter of the Sun, and if the men had kept the box closed, as the Little Men told them to do, they would have brought her home safely, and we could bring our other friends home also from the Ghost country, but now when they die we can never bring them back.
The Sun had been glad when they started to the Ghost country, but when they came back without her daughter she grieved and cried, “My daughter, my daughter,” and wept until her tears made flood upon the earth, and the people were afraid the world would be drowned. They held another council, and sent their handsomest young men and women to amuse her so the she would stop crying. They danced before the Sun and sang their best songs, but for a long time she kept her face covered and paid no attention, until at last the drummer suddenly changed the song, when she lifted hp her face, and was so pleased at the sight that she forgot her grief and smiled.
The Moon and the Thunders
The Sun was a young woman and lived in the east while her brother, the Moon, lived in the west. The girl had a lover who used to come every month in the dark of the moon to court her. He would come at night and leave before daylight, and although she talked with him she could not see his face in the dark, and he would not tell her his name, until she was wondering all the time who it could be. At last she hit upon a plan to find out, so the next time he came, as they were sitting together in the dark of the asi, she slyly dipped her hand into the cinders and ashes of the fireplace and rubbed it over his face, saying, “Your face is cold; you must be have suffered from the wind,” and pretending to be very sorry for him, but he did not know she had ashes on her hand. After a while he left her and went away again.
The next night when the Moon came up in the sky his face was covered with spots, and then his sister knew he was the one who had been coming to see her. He was so much ashamed to have her know it that he kept as far away as he could at the other end of the sky all the night. Ever since he ties to keep a long way from the Sun, and when he does sometimes have to come near her in the west he makes himself as thin as a ribbon so that he can hardly be seen.
Some old people say that the moon is a ball which was thrown up against the sky in a game long ago. They say that two towns were playing against each other, but one of them had the best runners and had almost won the game, when the leader of the other side picked up the ball with his hand – a thing that is not allowed in the game – and tried to throw it to the goal, but it struck against the solid sky vault and was fastened there, to remind players never to cheat. When the moon looks small and pale it is because some one has handled the ball unfairly, and for this reason they formerly played only at the time of a full moon.
When the sun or moon is eclipsed it is because a great frog up in the sky is trying to swallow it. Everybody knows this, even the Creeks and the other tribes, and in the olden times, eighty or a hundred years ago, before the great medicine men were all dead, whenever they saw the sun grow dark the people would come together and fire guns and beat the drum, and in a little while this would frighten off the great frog and the sun would be all right again.
The common people call both the Sun and Moon Nunda, one being “Nunda that dwells in the day” and the other “Nunda that dwells in the night,” but the priests call the Sun Su’talidihi’, “Six-killer,” and the Moon Ge’yagu’ga, though nobody knows now what this word means, or why they use these names. Sometimes people ask the Moon not to let it rain or snow.
The great Thunder and his sons, the two Thunder boys, live far in the west above the sky vault. The lightning and the rainbow are their beautiful dress. The priests pray to the Thunder and call him the Red Man, because that is the brightest color of his dress. There are other Thunders that live lower down, in the cliffs and mountains, and under waterfalls, and travel along on invisible bridges from one high peak to another where they have their town houses. The great Thunders above the sky are kind and helpful when we pray to them, but these others are always plotting mischief. One must not point at the rainbow, or one’s finger will swell at the lower joint.
Origin of Strawberries
When the first man was created and a mate was given to him, they lived together very happily for a time, but then began to quarrel, until at last the woman left her husband and started off toward Nundagun’yi, the Sun land, in the east. The man followed alone and grieving, but the woman kept on steadily ahead and never looked behind, until Une’lanun’hi, the great Apportioner (the Sun), took pity on him and asked if he would like to have her back again, to which he eagerly answered yes.
So Une’lanun’hi caused a patch of the finest ripe huckleberries to spring up along the path in front of the woman, but she passed by without paying attention to them. Farther on he put a clump of blackberries, but these also she refused to notice. Other fruits, one, two, three, and then some covered with beautiful red service berries, were placed beside the path to tempt her, but she still went on until suddenly she saw in front a patch of large ripe strawberries, the first ever known. She stooped to gather a few to eat, and as she picked them she chanced to turn her face to the west, and at once the memory of her husband came back to her and she found herself unable to go on. She sat down, but the longer she waited the stronger became her desire for her husband, and at last she gathered a bunch of the finest berries and started back along the path to give them to him. He met her kindly and they went home together.
How They Brought Back the Tobacco
In the beginning of the world, when people and animals were all the same, there was only one tobacco plant, to which they all came for their tobacco until the Dagûl’kû geese stole it and carried it far away to the south. The people were suffering without it, and there was one old woman who grew so thin and weak that everybody said she would soon die unless she could get tobacco to keep her alive.
Different animals offered to go for it, one after another, the larger ones first and then the smaller ones, but the Dagûl’kû saw and killed every one before he could get to the plant. After the others the little Mole tried to reach it by going under the ground, but the Dagûl’kû saw his trick and killed him as he came out.
At last the Hummingbird offered, but the others said he was entirely too small and might as well stay at home. He begged them to let him try, so they showed him a plant in a field and told him to let them see how he would go about it. The next moment he was gone and they saw him sitting on the plant, and then in a moment he was back again, but no one had seen him going or coming, because he was so swift. “This is the way I’ll do,” said the Hummingbird, so they let him try.
He flew off to the east, and when he came in sight of the tobacco the Dagûl’kû were watching all about it, but they could not see him because he was so small and flew so swiftly. He darted down on the plant – tsa! – and snatched off the top with the leaves and seeds, and he was off again before the Dagûl’kû knew what had happened. Before he got home with the tobacco the old woman had fainted and they thought she was dead, but he blew the smoke into her nostrils, and with a cry of “Tsâ’lû [Tobacco!]” she opened her eyes and was alive again.
The people had tobacco in the beginning, but they used it all, and there was great suffering for want of it. There was one old man so old that he had to be kept alive by smoking, and as his son did not want to see him die he decided to go himself to try and get some more. The tobacco country was far in the south, with high mountains all around it, and the passes were guarded, so that it was very hard to get into it, but the young man was a conjurer and was not afraid. He traveled southward until he came to the mountains on the border of the tobacco country. Then he opened his medicine bag and took out a hummingbird skin and put it over himself like a dress. Now he was a hummingbird and flew over the mountains to the tobacco field and pulled some of the leaves and seed and put them into his medicine bag. He was so small and swift that the guards, whoever they were, did not see him, and when he had taken as much as he could carry he flew back over the mountains in the same way. Then he took off the hummingbird skin and put it into his medicine bag, and was a man again. He started home, and on his way he came to a tree that had a hole in the trunk, like a door, near the first branches, and a very pretty woman was looking out from it. He stopped and tried to climb the tree, but although he was a good climber he found that he always slipped back. He put on a pair of medicine moccasins from his pouch, and then he could climb the tree, but when he reached the first branches he looked up and the hole was still as far away as before. He climbed higher and higher, but every time he looked up the hole seemed to be farther than before, until at last he was tired and came down again. When he reached home he found his father very weak, but still alive, and one draw at the pipe made him strong again. The people planted the seed and have had tobacco ever since.
Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine
Ani’tsutsa (The Pleiades)
Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayu’sti game, rolling a stone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike it. Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayu’sti stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner. When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said, “Since you like the gatayu’sti better than the cornfield, take the stones now for your dinner.”
The boys were very angry, and went down to the townhouse, saying, “As our mothers treat us this way, let us go where we shall never trouble them any more.” They began a dance – some say it was the Feather dance – and went round and round the townhouse, praying to the spirits to help them. At last their mothers were afraid something was wrong and went out to look for them. They saw the boys still dancing around the townhouse, and as they watched they noticed that their feet were off the earth, and that with every round they rose higher and higher in the air. They ran to get their children, but it was too late, for they were already above the roof of the townhouse – all but one, whose mother managed to pull him down with the gatayu’sti pole, but he struck the ground with such force that he sank into it and the earth closed over him.
The other six circled higher and higher until they went up to the sky, where we see them now as the Pleiades, which the Cherokee still call Ani’tsutsa (The Boys). The people grieved long after them, but the mother whose boy had gone into the ground came every morning and every evening to cry over the spot until the earth was damp with her tears. At last a little green shoot sprouted up and grew day by day until it became the tall tree that we call now the pine, and the pine is of the same nature as the stars and holds in itself the same bright light.
The Milky Way
Stars being born in the Milky Way galaxy
Some people in the south had a corn mill, in which they pounded the corn into meal, and several mornings when they came to fill it they noticed that some of the meal had been stolen during the night. They examined the ground and found the tracks of a dog, so the next night they watched, and when the dog came from the north and began to eat the meal out of the bowl they sprang out and whipped him. He ran off howling to his home in the north, with the meal dropping from his mouth as he ran, and leaving behind a white trail where now we see the Milky Way, which the Cherokee call to this day Gi’li’-utsun’stanun’yi, “Where the dog ran.”
What the Stars Are Like
There are different opinions about the stars. Some say they are balls of light, others say they are human, but most people say they are living creatures covered with luminous fur or feathers.
One night a hunting party camping in the mountains noticed two lights like large stars moving along the top of a distant ridge. They wondered and watched until the light disappeared on the other side. The next night, and the next, they saw the lights again moving along the ridge, and after talking over the matter decided to go on the morrow and try to learn the cause. In the morning they started out and went until they came to the ridge, where, after searching some time, they found two strange creatures about so large (making a circle with outstretched arms), with round bodies covered with fine fur or downy feathers, from which small heads stuck out like the heads of terrapins. As the breeze played upon these feathers showers of sparks flew out.
The hunters carried the strange creatures back to camp, intending to take them home to the settlements on their return. They kept them several days and noticed that every night they would grow bright and shine like great stars, although by day they were only balls of gray fur, except when the wind stirred and made the sparks fly out. They kept very quiet, and no one thought of their trying to escape, when, on the seventh night, they suddenly rose from the ground like balls of fire and were soon above the tops of the trees. Higher and higher they went, while the wondering hunters watched, until at last they were only two bright points of light in the dark sky, and then the hunters knew that they were stars.
The Great Yellow-Jacket: Origin of Fish and Frogs
A long time ago the people of the old town of Kanu’gal’yi (“Brier place,” or “Briertown”), on Nantahala river, in the present Macon county, North Carolina, were much annoyed by a great insect called U’lag’, as large as a house, which used to come from some secret hiding place, and darting swiftly through the air, would snap up children from their play and carry them away. It was unlike any other insect ever known, and the people tried many times to track it to its home, but it was too swift to be followed.
They killed a squirrel and tied a white string to it, so that its course could be followed with the eye, as bee hunters follow the flight of a bee to its tree. The U’lag’ came and darted away so swiftly through the air that it was out of sight in a moment. They killed a turkey and put a longer white string to it, and U’lag’ came and took the turkey, but was gone again before they could see in what direction it flew. They took a deer ham and tied a white string to it, and again the U’lag’ swooped down and bore it off so swiftly that it could not be followed. At last they killed a yearling deer and tied a very long white string to it. The U’lag’ came again and seized the deer, but this time the load was so heavy that it had to fly slowly and so low down that the string could be plainly seen.
The hunters got together for the pursuit. They followed it along a ridge to the east until they came near where Franklin now is, when, on looking across the valley to the other side, they saw the nest of the U’lag’ in a large cave in the rocks. On this they raised a great shout and made their way rapidly down the mountain and across to the cave. The nest had the entrance below with tiers of cells built up one above another to the roof of the cave. The great U’lag’ was there, with thousands of smaller ones, that we now call yellow-jackets. The hunters built fires around the hole, so that the smoke filled the cave and smothered the great insect and multitudes of the smaller ones, but others which were outside the cave were not killed, and these escaped and increased until now the yellow-jackets, which before were unknown, are all over the world. The people called the cave Tsgagun’yi, “Where the yellow-jacket was,” and the place from which they first saw the nest they called Atahi’ta, “Where they shouted,” and these are their names today.
They say also that all the fish and frogs came from a great monster fish and frog which did much damage until at last they were killed by the people, who cut them up into little pieces which were thrown into the water and afterward took shape as the smaller fishes and frogs.
A long time ago a man had a dog, which began to go down to the river every day and look at the water and howl. At last the man was angry and scolded the dog, which then spoke to him and said: “Very soon there is going to be a great freshet and the water will come so high that everybody will be drowned; but if you will make a raft to get upon when the rain comes you can be saved, but you must first throw me into the water.” The man did not believe it, and the dog said, “If you want a sign that I speak the truth, look at the back of my neck.” He looked and saw that the dog’s neck had the skin worn off so that the bones stuck out.
Then he believed the dog, and began to build a raft. Soon the rain came and he took his family, with plenty of provisions, and they all got upon it. It rained for a long time, and the water rose until the mountains were covered and all the people in the world were drowned. Then the rain stopped and the waters went down again, until at last it was safe to come off the raft. Now there was no one alive but the man and his family, but one day they heard a sound of dancing and shouting on the other side of the ridge. The man climbed to the top and looked over; everything was still, but all along the valley he saw great piles of bones of the people who had been drowned, and then he knew that the ghosts had been dancing.
The Origin of Disease and Medicine
In the old days the beasts, birds, fishes, insects, and plants could all talk, and the and the people lived together in peace and friendship. But as time went on the people increased so rapidly that their settlements spread over the whole earth, and the poor animals found themselves beginning to be cramped for room. This was bad enough, but to make it worse Man invented bows, knives, blowguns, spears, and hooks, and began to slaughter the larger animals, birds, and fishes for their flesh or their skins, while the smaller creatures, such as the frogs and worms, were crushed and trodden upon without thought, out of pure carelessness or contempt. So the animals resolved to consult upon measures for their common safety.
The Bears were the first to meet in council in their townhouse under Kuwa’hi mountain, the “Mulberry Place,” and the old White Bear chief presided. After each in turn had complained of the way in which Man killed their friends, ate their flesh, and used their skins for his own purposes, it was decided to begin war at once against him. Some one asked what weapons Man used to destroy them. “Bows and arrows, of course,” cried all the Bears in chorus. “And what are they made of?” was the next question. “The bow of wood, and the string of our entrails,” replied one of the Bears. It was then proposed that they make a bow and some arrows and see if they could not use the same weapons against Man himself. So one Bear got a nice piece of locust wood and another sacrificed himself for the good of the rest in order to furnish a piece of his entrails for the string. But when everything was ready and the first Bear stepped up to make the trial, it was found that in letting the arrow fly after drawing back the bow, his long claws caught the string and spoiled the shot. This was annoying, but some one suggested that they might trim his claws, which was accordingly done, and on a second trial it was found that the arrow went straight to the mark. But here the chief, the old White Bear, objected, saying it was necessary that they should have long claws in order to be able to climb trees. “One of us has already died to furnish the bowstring, and if we now cut off our claws we must all starve together. It is better to trust to the teeth and claws that nature gave us, for it is plain that man’s weapons were not intended for us.”
No one could think of any better plan, so the old chief dismissed the council and the Bears dispersed to the woods and thickets without having concerted any way to prevent the increase of the human race. Had the result of the council been otherwise, we should now be at war with the Bears, but as it is, the hunter does not even ask the Bear’s pardon when he kills one.
The Deer next held a council under their chief, the Little Deer, and after some talk decided to send rheumatism to every hunter who should kill one of them unless he took care to ask their pardon for the offense. They sent notice of their decision to the nearest settlement of Indians and told them at the same time what to do when necessity forced them to kill on the Deer tribe. Now, whenever the hunter shoots a Deer, the Little Deer, who is swift as the wind and can not be wounded, runs quickly up to the spot and, bending over the blood-stains, asks the spirit of the Deer if it has heard the prayer of the hunter for pardon. If the reply be “Yes,” all is well, and the Little Deer goes on his way; but if the reply be “No,” he follows on the trail of the hunter, guided by the drops of blood on the ground, until he arrives at his cabin in the settlement, when the Little Deer enters invisibly and strikes the hunter with rheumatism, so that he becomes at once a helpless cripple. No hunter who has regard for his health ever fails to ask pardon of the Deer for killing it, although some hunters who have not learned the prayer may try to turn aside the Little Deer from his pursuit by building a fire behind them in the trail.
Next came the fishes and the Reptiles, who had their own complaints against Man. They held their council together and determined to make their victims dream of snakes twining about them in slimy folds and blowing foul breath in their faces, or to make them dream of eating raw or decaying fish, so that they would lose appetite, sicken, and die. This is why people dream about snakes and fish.
Finally the Birds, Insects, and smaller animals came together for the same purpose, and the Grubworm was chief of the council. It was decide that each in turn should give an opinion, and then they would vote on the question as to whether or not Man was guilty. Seven votes should be enough to condemn him. On after another denounced Man’s cruelty and injustice toward the other animals and voted in favor of his death. The Frog spoke first, saying: “We must do something to check the increase of the race, or people will become so numerous that we shall be crowded from off the earth. See how they have kicked me about because I’m ugly, as they say, until my back is covered with sores;” and here he showed the spots on his skin. Next came the Bird – no one remembers now which one it was – who condemned Man “because he burns my feet off,” meaning the way in which the hunter barbecues birds by impaling them on a stick set over the fire, so that their feathers and and tender feet are singed off. Others followed in the same strain. The Ground-squirrel alone ventured to say a good word for Man, who seldom hurt him because he was so small, but this made the others so angry that they fell upon the Ground-squirrel and tore him with their claws, and the stripes are on his back to this day.
They began then to devise and name so many new diseases, one after another, that had not their invention at last failed them, no one of the human race would have been able to survive. The Grubworm grew constantly more pleased as the name of each disease was called off, until at last they reached the end of the list, when some one proposed to make menstruation sometimes fatal to women. On this he rose up in his place and cried: “Wadan! [Thanks] I’m glad some more of them will die, for they are getting so thick that they tread on me.” The thought fairly made him shake with joy, so that he fell over backward and could not get on his feet again, but had to wriggle off on his back, as the Grubworm has done ever since.
When the Plants, who were friendly to Man, heard what had been done by the animals, they determined to defeat the latters’ evil designs. Each Tree, Shrub, and Herb, down even to the Grasses and Mosses, agreed to furnish a cure for some one of the diseases named, and each said: “I shall appear to help Man when he calls upon me in his need.” Thus came medicine; and the plants, every one of which has its use if we only knew it, furnish the remedy to counteract the evil wrought by the revengeful animals. Even weeds were made for some good purpose, which we must find out for ourselves. When the doctor does not know what medicine to use for a sick a man the spirit of the plant tells him.
The Journey to the Sunrise
A long time ago several young men made up their minds to find the place where the Sun lives and see what the Sun is like. They got ready their bows and arrows, their parched corn and extra moccasins, and started out toward the east. At first they met tribes they knew, then they came to tribes they had only heard about, and at last to others of which they had never heard.
There was a tribe of root eaters and another of acorn eaters, with great piles of acorn shells near their houses. In one tribe they found a sick man dying, and were told it was the custom there when a man died to bury his wife in the same grave with him. They waited until he was dead, when they saw his friends lower the body into a great pit, so deep and dark that from the top they could not see the bottom. Then a rope was tied around the woman’s body, together with a bundle of pine knots, a lighted pine knot was put into her hand, and she was lowered into the pit to die there in the darkness after the last pine knot was burned.
The young men traveled on until they came at last to the sunrise place where the sky reaches down to the ground. They found that the sky was an arch or vault of solid rock hung above the earth and was always swinging up and down, so that when it went up there was an open place like a door between the sky and ground, and when it swung back the door was shut. The Sun came out of this door from the east and climbed along on the inside of the arch. It had a human figure, but was too bright for them to see clearly and too hot to come very near. They waited until the Sun had come out and then tried to get through while the door was still open, but just as the first one was in the doorway the rock came down and crushed him. The other six were afraid to try it, and as they were now at the end of the world they turned around and started back again, but they had traveled so far that they were old men when they reached home.
The Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting
The Rabbit was so boastful that he would claim to do whatever he saw anyone else do, and so tricky that he could usually the other animals believe it all. Once he pretended that he could swim in the water and eat fish just as the Otter did, and when the others told him to prove it he fixed up a plan so that the Otter himself was deceived.
Soon afterward they met again and the Otter said, “I eat ducks sometimes.” Said the Rabbit, “Well, I eat ducks too.” The Otter challenged him to try it; so they went up along the river until they saw several ducks in the water and managed to get near without being seen. The Rabbit told Otter to go first. The Otter never hesitated, but dived from the bank and swam under water until he reached the ducks, when he pulled one down without being noticed by the others, and came back in the same way.
While the Otter had been under the water Rabbit had peeled some bark from a sapling and made himself a noose. “Now,” he said, “Just watch me;” and he dived in and swam a little way under the water until he was nearly choking and had to come up to the top to breathe. He went under again and came up again a little nearer to the ducks. He took another breath and dived under, and this time he came up among the ducks and threw the noose over the head of one and caught it. The duck struggled hard and finally spread its wings and flew up from the water with the Rabbit hanging on to the noose.
It flew on and on until at last the Rabbit could not hold on any longer, but had to let go and drop. As it happened, he fell into a tall, hollow sycamore stump without any hole at the bottom to get out from, and there he stayed until he was so hungry that he had to eat his own fur, as the rabbit does ever since when he is starving. After several days, when he was very weak with hunger, he heard children playing outside around the trees. He began to sing:
Cut a door and look at me;
I’m the prettiest thing you ever did see.
The children ran home and told their father, who came and began to cut a hole in the tree. As he chopped away the Rabbit inside kept singing, “Cut it larger, so you can see me better; I’m so pretty.” They made the hole larger, and then Rabbit told them to stand back so that they could get a good look as he came out. They stood away back, and the Rabbit watched his chance and jumped out and got away.
Why the Possum’s Tail is Bare
The Possum used to have a long, bushy tail, and was so proud of it that he combed it our every morning and sang about it at the dance, until the Rabbit, who had had no tail since the Bear pulled it out, became very jealous and made up his mind to play the Possum a trick.
There was to be a great council and a dance at which all the animals were to be present. It was the Rabbit’s business to send out the news, so as he was passing the Possum’s place he stopped to ask him if he intended to be there. The Possum said he would come if he could have a special seat, “because I have such a handsome tail that I ought to sit where everybody can see me.” The Rabbit promised to attend to it and to send some one besides to comb and dress the Possum’s tail for the dance, so the Possum was very much pleased and agreed to come.
Then the Rabbit went over to the Cricket, who is such an expert hair cutter that the Indians call him the barber, and told him to go next morning and dress the Possum’s tail for the dance that night. He told the Cricket just what to do and then went on about some other mischief.
In the morning the Cricket went to the Possum’s house and said he had come to get him ready for the dance. So the Possum stretched himself out and shut his eyes while the Cricket combed out his tail and wrapped a red string around it to keep it smooth until night. But all this time, as he wound the string around, he was clipping off the hair close to the roots, and the Possum never knew it.
When it was night the Possum went to the townhouse where the dance was to be and found the best seat ready for him, just as the Rabbit had promised. When his turn came in the dance he loosened the string from his tail and stepped into the middle of the floor. The drummers began to drum and the Possum began to sing, “See my beautiful tail.” Everybody shouted and he danced around the circle and sang again, “See what a fine color it has.” They shouted again and he danced around another time, singing, “See how it sweeps the ground.” The animals shouted more loudly than ever, and the Possum was delighted. He danced around again and sang, “See how fine the fur is.” Then everybody laughed so long that the Possum wondered what they meant. He looked around the circle of animals and they were all laughing at him. Then he looked down at his beautiful tail and saw that there was not a hair left upon it, but that it was as bare as the tail of a lizard. He was so much astonished and ashamed that he could not say a word, but rolled over helpless on the ground and grinned, as the Possum does to this day when taken by surprise.
How the Wildcat Caught the Gobbler
The Wildcat once caught the Rabbit and was about to kill him, when the Rabbit begged for his life, saying: “I’m so small I would make only a mouthful for you, but if you let me go I’ll show you where you can get a whole drove of Turkeys.” So the Wildcat let him up and went with him to where the Turkeys were.
When they came near the place the Rabbit said to the Wildcat, “Now, you must do just as I say. Lie down as if you were dead and don’t move, even if I kick you, but when I give the word jump up and catch the largest one there.” The Wildcat agreed and stretched out as if dead, while the Rabbit gathered some rotten wood and crumbled it over his eyes and now to make them look flyblown, so that the Turkeys would think he had been dead some time.
Then the Rabbit went over to the Turkeys and said, in a sociable way, “Here, I’ve found our old enemy, the Wildcat, lying dead in the trail. Let’s have a dance over him.” The Turkeys were very doubtful, but finally went with him to where the Wildcat was lying in the road as if dead. Now, the Rabbit had a good voice and was a great dance leader, so he said, “I’ll lead the song and you dance around him.” The Turkeys thought that fine, so the Rabbit took a stick to beat time and began to sing: “Galagi’na hasuyak’, Galagi’na hasuyak’ (pick out the Gobbler, pick out the Gobbler).”
“Why do you say that?” said the old Turkey. “O, that’s all right,” said the Rabbit, “that’s just the way he does, and we sing about it.” He started the song again and the Turkeys began to dance around the Wildcat. When they had gone around several times the Rabbit said, “Now go up and hit him, as we do in the war dance.” So the Turkeys, thinking the Wildcat surely dead, crowded close around him and the old gobbler kicked him. Then the Rabbit drummed hard and sang his loudest, “Pick out the Gobbler, pick out the Gobbler.” and the Wildcat jumped up and caught the Gobbler.
How the Terrapin Beat the Rabbit
The Rabbit was a great runner, and everybody knew it. No one thought the Terrapin anything but a slow traveler, but he was a great warrior and very boastful, and the two were always disputing about their speed. At last they agreed to decide the matter by a race. They fixed the day and the starting place and arranged to run across four mountain ridges, and the one who came in first at the end was to be the winner.
The Rabbit felt so sure of it that he said to the Terrapin, “You know you can’t run. you can never win the race, so I’ll give you the first ridge and then you’ll have only three to cross while I go over four.”
The Terrapin said that would be all right, but that night when he went home to his family he sent for his Terrapin friends and told them he wanted their help. He said he knew he could not outrun the Rabbit, but he wanted to stop the Rabbit’s boasting. He explained his plan to his friends and they agreed to help him.
When the day came all the animals were there to see the race. The Rabbit was with them, but the Terrapin was gone ahead toward the first ridge, as they had arranged, and they could hardly see him on account of the long grass. The word was given and the Rabbit started off with long jumps up the mountain, expecting to win the race before the Terrapin could get down the other side. But before he got up the mountain he saw the Terrapin go over the ridge ahead of him. He ran on, and when he reached the top he looked all around, but could not see the Terrapin on account of the long grass. He kept on down the mountain and began to climb the second ridge, but when he looked up again there was the Terrapin just going over the top. Now he was surprised and made his longest jumps to catch up, but when he got to the top there was the Terrapin away in front going over the third ridge. The Rabbit was getting tired now and nearly out of breath, but he kept on down the mountain and up the other ridge until he got to the top just in time to see the Terrapin cross the fourth ridge and thus win the race.
The Rabbit could not make another jump, but fell over on the ground, crying mi, mi, mi, mi, as the Rabbit does ever since when he is too tired to run anymore. The race was given to the Terrapin and all the animals wondered how he could win against the Rabbit, but he kept still and never told. It was easy enough, however, because all the Terrapin’s friends looked just alike, and he had simply posted one near the top of each ridge to wait until the Rabbit came in sight and then climb over and hide in the long grass. When the Rabbit came on he could not find the Terrapin and so thought the Terrapin was ahead, and if he had met one of the other terrapins he would have thought it the same one because they looked so much alike. The real Terrapin had posted himself on the fourth ridge, so as to come in at the end of the race and be ready to answer questions if the animals suspected anything.
Because the Rabbit had to lie down and lose the race the conjurer now, when preparing his young men for the ball play, boils a lot of rabbit hamstrings into a soup, and sends some one at night to pour it across the path along which the other players are to come in the morning, so that they may become tired in the same way and lose the game. It is not always easy to do this, because the other party is expecting it and has watchers ahead to prevent it.
The Rabbit and the Tar Wolf
Once there was such a long spell of dry weather that there was no more water in the creeks and springs, and the animals held a council to see what to do about it. They decided to dig a well, and all agreed to help except the Rabbit, who was a lazy fellow, and said, “I don’t need to dig for water. The dew on the grass is enough for me.” The others did not like this, but they went to work together and dug their well.
They noticed that the Rabbit kept sleek and lively, although it was still dry weather and the water was getting low in the well. They said, “That tricky Rabbit steals our water at night,” so they made a wolf out of pine gum and tar and set it up by the well to scare the thief. That night the Rabbit came, as he had been coming every night, to drink enough to last him all next day. He saw the queer black thing by the well and said, “Get out of my way or I’ll strike you.” Still the wolf never moved and the Rabbit came up and struck it with his paw, but the pine gum held his foot and it stuck fast. Now he was angry and said, “Let me go or I’ll kick you.” Still the wolf said nothing. Then the Rabbit struck with his hind foot, so hard that it was caught in the gum and he could not move, and there he stuck until the animals came for water in the morning. When they found who the thief was they had great sport over him for a while and then got ready to kill him, but as soon as he was unfastened from the tar wolf he managed to get away. – Wafford.
“Once upon a time there was such a severe drought that all the streams of water and all lakes were dried up. In this emergency the beasts assembled together to devise means to procure water. It was proposed by one to dig a well. All agreed to do so except the hare. She refused because it would soil her tiny paws. The rest, however, dug their well and were fortunate enough to find water. The hare beginning to suffer and thirst, and having no right to the well, was thrown upon her wits to procure water. She determined, as the easiest way, to steal from the public well. The rest of the animals, surprised to find that the hare was so well supplied with water, asked her where she got it. She replied that she arose betimes in the morning and gathered the dewdrops. However the wolf and the fox suspected her of theft and hit on the following plan to detect her:
They made a wolf of tar and placed it near the well. On the following night the hare came as usual after her supply of water. On seeing the tar wolf she demanded who was there. Receiving no answer she repeated the demand, threatening to kick the wolf if he did not reply. She receiving no reply kicked the wolf, and by this means adhered to the tar and was caught. When the fox and the wolf got hold of her they consulted what it was best to do with her. One proposed cutting her head off. This the hare protested would be useless, as it had often been tried without hurting her. Other methods were proposed for dispatching her, all of which she said would be useless. At last it was proposed to let her loose to perish in a thicket. Upon this the hare affected great uneasiness and pleaded hard for life. Her enemies, however, refused to listen and she was accordingly let loose. As soon, however, as she was out of reach of her enemies she gave a whoop, and bounding away she exclaimed: ‘This is where I live.’ ” – Cherokee Advocate, December 18, 1845.
The Rabbit and the Possum After a Wife
The Rabbit and the Possum each wanted a wife, but no one would marry either of them. They talked over the matter and the Rabbit said, “We can’t get wives here; let’s go to the next settlement. I’m the messenger for the council, and I’ll tell the people that I bring an order that everybody must take a mate at once, and then we’ll be sure to get our wives.”
The Possum thought this a fine plan, so they started off together to the next town. As the Rabbit traveled faster he got there first and waited outside until the people noticed him and took him into the townhouse. When the chief came to ask his business the Rabbit said he brought an important order from the council that everybody must get married without delay. So the chief called the people together and told them the message from the council. Every animal took a mate at once, and the Rabbit got a wife.
The Possum traveled so slowly that he got there after all the animals had mated, leaving him still without a wife. The Rabbit pretended to feel sorry for him and said, “Never mind, I’ll carry the message to the next settlement, and you hurry on as fast as you can, and this time you will get your wife.”
So he went on to the next town, and the Possum followed close after him. But when the Rabbit got to the townhouse he sent out the word that, as there had been peace so long that everybody was getting lazy the council had ordered that there must be war at once and they must begin right in the townhouse. So they all began fighting, but the Rabbit made four great leaps and got away just as the Possum came in. Everybody jumped on the Possum, who had not thought of bringing his weapons on a wedding trip, and so could not defend himself. They had nearly beaten the life out of him when he fell over and pretended to be dead until he saw a good chance to jump up and get away. The Possum never got a wife, but he remembers the lesson, and ever since he shuts his eyes and pretends to be dead when the hunter has him in a close corner.
The Rabbit Dines the Bear
The Bear invited the Rabbit to dine with him. They had beans in the pot, but there was no grease for them, so the Bear cut a slit in his side and let the oil run out until they had enough to cook the dinner. The Rabbit looked surprised, and thought to himself, “That’s a handy way. I think I’ll try that.” When he started home hi invited the Bear to come and take dinner with him four days later.
When the Bear came the Rabbit said, “I have beans for dinner, too. Now I’ll get the grease for them.” So he took a knife and drove it into his side, but instead of oil, a stream of blood gushed out and he fell over nearly dead. The Bear picked him up and had hard work to tie up the wound and stop the bleeding. Then he scolded him, “You little fool. I’m large and strong and lined with fat all over; the knife don’t hurt me; but you’re small and lean, and you can’t do such things.”
The Rabbit Escapes from the Wolves
Some Wolves once caught the Rabbit and were going to eat him when he asked leave to show them a new dance he was practicing. They knew that the Rabbit was a great song leader, and they wanted to learn the latest dance, so they agreed and made a ring about him while he got ready. He patted his feet and began to dance around in a circle, singing:
Ha’nia lil! lil! Ha’nia lil! lil!
On the edge of the field I dance about –
Ha’nia lil! lil! Ha’nia lil! lil!
“Now,” said the Rabbit, “when I sing ‘on the edge of the field,’ I dance that way” – and he danced over in that direction – “and when I sing ‘lil! lil!’ you must all stamp your feet hard.” The Wolves thought it fine. He began another round singing the same song, and danced a little nearer to the field, while the Wolves all stamped their feet. He sang louder and louder and danced nearer and nearer to the field until at the fourth song, when the Wolves were stamping as hard as they could and thinking only of the song, he made one jump and was off through the long grass. They were after him at once, but he ran for a hollow stump and climbed up on the inside. When the Wolves got there one of them put his head inside to look up, but the Rabbit spit into his eye, so that he had to pull his head out again. The others were afraid to try, and they went away, with the Rabbit still in the stump.
Flint Visits the Rabbit
In the old days, Tawi’ skala (Flint) lived up in the mountains, and all the animals hated him because he had helped to kill so many of them. They used to get together to talk over means to put him out of the way, but everybody was afraid to venture near his house until the Rabbit, who was the boldest leader among them, offered to go after Flint and try to kill him. They told him where to find him, and the Rabbit set out and at last came to Flint’s house.
Flint was standing at his door when the Rabbit came up and said, sneeringly, “Siyu’! Hello! Are you the fellow they call Flint?” “Yes; that’s what they call me,” answered Flint. “Is this where you live?” “Yes; this is where I live.” All this time the Rabbit was looking about the place trying to study out some plan to take Flint off his guard. He had expected Flint to invite him into the house, so he waited a little while, but when Flint made no move, he said, “Well, my name is Rabbit; I’ve heard a good deal about you, so I came to invite you to come and see me.”
Flint wanted to know where the Rabbit’s house was, and he told him it was down in the broom-grass field near the river. So Flint promised to make him a visit in a few days. “Why not come now and have supper with me?” said the Rabbit, and after a little coaxing Flint agreed and the two started down the mountain together.
When they came near the Rabbit’s hole the Rabbit said, “There is my house, but in summer I generally stay outside here where it is cooler.” So he made a fire, and they had their supper on the grass. When it was over, Flint stretched out to rest and the Rabbit got some heavy sticks and his knife and cut out a mallet and wedge. Flint looked up and asked what that was for. “Oh,” said the Rabbit, “I like to be doing something, and they may come in handy.” So Flint lay down again, and pretty soon he was sound asleep. The Rabbit spoke to him once or twice to make sure, but there was no answer. Then he came over to Flint and with one good blow of the mallet he drove the sharp stake into his body and ran with all his might for his own hole; but before he reached it there was a loud explosion, and pieces of flint flew all about. That is why we find flint in so many places now. One piece struck the Rabbit from behind and cut him just as he dived into his hole. He sat listening until everything seemed quiet again. Then he put his head out to look around, but just at that moment another piece fell and struck him on the lip and split it, as we still see it.
How the Deer Got His Horns
In the beginning the Deer had no horns, but his head was smooth just like a doe’s. He was a great runner and the Rabbit was a great jumper, and the animals were all curious to know which could go farther in the same time. They talked about it a good deal, and at last arranged a match between the two, and mad a nice large pair of antlers for a prize to the winner. They were to start together from one side of a thicket and go through it, then turn and come back, and the one who came out first was to get the horns.
On the day fixed all the animals were there, with the antlers put down on the ground at the edge of the thicket to mark the starting point. While everybody was admiring the horns the Rabbit said: “I don’t know this part of the country; I want to take a look through the bushes where I am to run.” They thought that all right, so the Rabbit went into the thicket, but he was gone so long that at last the animals suspected he must be up to one of his tricks. They sent a messenger to look for him, and away in the middle of the thicket he found the Rabbit gnawing down the bushes and pulling them away until he had a road cleared nearly to the other side.
The messenger turned around quietly and came back and told the other animals. When the Rabbit came out at last they accused him of cheating, but he denied it until they went into the thicket and found the cleared road. They agreed that such a trickster had no right to enter the race at all, so they gave the horns to the Deer, who was admitted to be the best runner, and he has worn them ever since. They told the Rabbit that as he was so fond of cutting down bushes he might do that for a living hereafter, and so he does to this day.
Why the Deer’s Teeth are Blunt
The Rabbit felt sore because the Deer had won the horns (see the last story), and resolved to get even. One day soon after the race he stretched a large grapevine across the trail, and gnawed it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back a piece, took a good run, and jumped up at the vine. He kept on running and jumping up at the vine until the Deer came along and asked him what he was doing?
“Don’t you see?” says the Rabbit. “I’m so strong that I can bite through that grapevine at one jump.”
The Deer could hardly believe this, and wanted to see it done. So the Rabbit ran back, made a tremendous spring, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before. The Deer, when he saw that, said, “Well, I can do it if you can.” So the Rabbit stretched a larger grapevine across the trail, but without gnawing it in the middle. The Deer ran back as he had seen the Rabbit do, made a spring, and struck the grapevine right in the center, but it only flew back and threw him over on his head. He tried again and again, until he was all bruised and bleeding.
“Let me see your teeth,” at last said the Rabbit. So the Deer showed him his teeth, which were long like a wolf’s teeth, but not very sharp.
“No wonder you can’t do it,” says the Rabbit; “your teeth are too blunt to do anything. Let me sharpen them for you like mine. My teeth are so sharp that I can cut through a stick just like a knife.” And he showed him a black locust twig, of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it, in regular rabbit fashion. The thought that just the thing. So the Rabbit got a hard stone with rough edges and filed and filed away at the Deer’s teeth until they were worn down almost to the gums.
“It hurts,” said the Deer; but the Rabbit said it always hurt a little when they began to get sharp; so the Deer kept quiet.
“Now try it,” at last said the Rabbit. So the Deer tried again, but this time he could not bite at all.
“Now you’ve paid for your horns,” said the Rabbit, as he jumped away through the bushes. Ever since then the Deer’s teeth are so blunt that he can not chew anything but grass and leaves.
What Became of the Rabbit
The Deer was very angry at the Rabbit for filing his teeth and determined to be revenged, but he kept still and pretended to be friendly until the Rabbit was off his guard. Then one day, as they were going along together talking, he challenged the Rabbit to jump against him. Now the Rabbit is a great jumper, as every one knows, so he agreed at once. There was a small stream beside the path, as there generally is in that country, and the Deer said:
“Let’s see if you can jump across this branch. We’ll go back a piece, and then when I say Ku! then both run and jump.”
“All right, ” said the Rabbit. So they went back to get a good start, and when the Deer gave the word Ku! they ran for the stream, and the Rabbit made one jump and landed on the other side. But the Deer had stopped on the bank, and when the Rabbit looked back the Deer had conjured the stream so that it was a large river. The Rabbit was never able to get back again and is still on the other side. The rabbit that we know is only a little thing that came afterwards.
Why the Mink Smells
The Mink was such a great thief that at last the animals held a council about the matter. It was decided to burn him, so they caught the Mink, built a great fire, and threw him into it. As the blaze went up and they smelt the roasted flesh, they began to think he was punished enough and would probably do better in the future, so they took him out of the fire. But the Mink was already burned black and is black ever since, and whenever he is attacked or excited he smells again like roasted meat. The lesson did no good, however, and he is still as great a thief as ever.
Why the Mole Lives Underground
A man was in love with a woman who disliked him and would have nothing to do with him. He tried every way to win her favor, but to no purpose, until at last he grew discouraged and made himself sick thinking over it. The Mole came along, and finding him in such low condition asked what was the trouble. The man told him the whole story, and when he had finished the Mole said: “I can help you, so that she will not only like you, but will come to you of her own will.”
So that night the Mole burrowed his way underground to where the girl was in bed asleep and took out her heart. He came back by the same way and gave the heart to the man, who could not see it even when it was put into his hand. “There,” said the Mole, “swallow it, and she will be drawn to come to you and can not keep away.” The man swallowed the heart, and when the girl woke up she somehow thought at once of him, and felt a strange desire to be with him, as though she must go to him at once. She wondered and could not understand it, because she had always disliked him before, but at last the feeling grew so strong that she was compelled to go herself to the man and tell him she loved him and wanted to be his wife. And so they were married, but all the magicians who had known them both were surprised and wondered how it had come about. When they found that it was the work of the mole, whom they had always before thought too insignificant for their notice, they were very jealous and threatened to kill him, so that he hid himself under the ground and has never since dared to come up to the surface.
The Terrapin’s Escape from the Wolves
The Possum and the Terrapin went out together to hunt persimmons, and found a tree full of ripe fruit. The Possum climbed it and was throwing down the persimmons to the Terrapin when a wolf came up and began to snap at the persimmons as they fell, before the Terrapin could reach them. The Possum waited his chance, and at last managed to throw down a large one (some say a bone which he carried with him), so that it lodged in the wolf’s throat as he jumped up at it and choked him to death. “I’ll take his ears for hominy spoons,” said the Terrapin, and cut off the wolf’s ears and started home with them, leaving the Possum still eating persimmons up in the tree. After a while he came to a house and was invited to have some kanahe’na gruel from the jar that is always set outside the door. He sat down beside the jar and dipped up the gruel with one of the wolf’s ears for a spoon. The people noticed and wondered. When he was satisfied he went on. but soon came to another house and was asked to have some more kanahe’na. He dipped it up again with the wolf’s ear and went on, when he had enough. Soon the news went around that the Terrapin had killed the Wolf and was using his ears for spoons. All the Wolves got together and followed the Terrapin’s trail until they came up with him and made him prisoner. Then they held a council to decide what to do with him, and agreed to boil him in a clay pot. They brought in a pot, but the Terrapin only laughed at it and said that if they put him into that thing he would kick it all to pieces. They said they would burn him in the fire, but the Terrapin laughed again and said he would put it out. Then they decided to throw him into the deepest hole in the river and drown him. The Terrapin begged and prayed them not to do that, but they paid no attention, and dragged him over to the river and threw him in. That was just what the Terrapin had been waiting for all the time, and he dived under the water and came up on the other side and got away.
Origin of the Groundhog Dance: The Groundhog’s Head
Seven wolves once caught a Groundhog and said, “Now we’ll kill you and have something good to eat.” But the Groundhog said, “When we find good food we must rejoice over it, as people do in the Green-corn dance. I know you mean to kill me and I can’t help my self, but if you want to dance I’ll sing for you. This is a new dance entirely. I’ll lean up against seven trees in turn and you will dance out and then turn and come back, as I give the signal, and at the last turn you may kill me.
The wolves were very hungry, but they wanted to learn the new dance, so they told him to go ahead. The Groundhog leaned up against a tree and began the song, Ha’wiye’ehi’, and all the wolves danced out a in front, until he gave the signal, Yu! and began with Hi’yagu’we. when they turned and danced back in line. “That’s fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to the next tree and started the second song. The Wolves danced out and then turned at the signal and danced back again. “That’s very fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to another tree and started the third song. The wolves danced their best and the Groundhog encouraged them, but at each song he took another tree, and each tree was a little nearer to his hole under a stump. At the seventh song he said, “Now, this is the last dance, and when I say Yu! you will all turn and come after me, and the one who gets me may have me.” So he began the seventh song and kept it up until the wolves were away out in front. Then he gave the signal, Yu! and made a jump for his hole. The wolves turned and were after him, but he reached the hole first and dived in. Just as he got inside, the foremost wolf caught him by the tail and gave it such a pull that it broke off, and the Groundhog’s tail has been short ever since.
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The unpleasant smell of the Groundhog’s head was given it by the other animals to punish an insulting remark made by him in council. The story is a vulgar, one, without wit enough to make it worth recording.
The Migration of the Animals
In the old times when the animals used to talk and hold councils, and the Grubworm and Woodchuck used to marry people, there was once a great famine of mast in the mountains, and all the animals, and birds which lived upon it met together and sent the Pigeon out to the low country to see if any food could be found there. After a time she came back and reported that she had found a country where the mast was “up to our ankles” on the ground. So they got together and moved down to the low country in a great army.
The Wolf’s Revenge – The Wolf and the Dog
Kana’ti had wolves to hunt for him, because they are good hunters and never fail. He once set out two wolves at once. One went to the east and did not return. The other went to the north, and when he returned as night and did not find his fellow he knew he must be in trouble and started after him. After traveling on some time he found his brother lying nearly dead beside a great greensnake (salikwa’yi) which had attacked him. The snake itself was too badly wounded to crawl away, and the angry wolf, who had magic powers, taking out several hairs from his own whiskers, shot them into the body of the snake and killed it. He then hurried back to Kana’ti, who sent the Terrapin after a great doctor who lived in the west to save the wounded wolf. The wolf went back to help his brother and by his magic powers he had cured him long before the doctor came from the west, because the Terrapin was such a slow traveler and the doctor had to prepare his roots before he started.
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In the beginning, the people say, the Dog was put on the mountain and Wolf beside the fire. When the winter came the Dog could not stand the cold, so he came down to the settlement and drove the Wolf from the fire. The Wolf ran to the mountains, where it suited him so well that he prospered and increased, until after a while he ventured down again and killed some animals in the settlements. The people got together and followed and killed him, but his brothers came from the mountains and took such revenge that ever since the people have been afraid to hurt a wolf.
The Ball Game of the Birds and Animals
Once the animals challenged the birds to a great ballplay, and the birds accepted. The leaders made the arrangements and fixed the day, and when the time came both parties met at the place for the ball dance, the animals on a smooth grassy bottom near the river and the birds in the treetops over by the ridge. The captain of the animals was the Bear, who was so strong and heavy that he could pull down anyone who got in his way. All along the road to the ball ground he was tossing up great logs to show his strength and boasting of what he would do to the birds when the game began. The Terrapin, too – not the little one we have now, but the great original Terrapin – was with the animals. His shell was so hard that the heaviest blows could not hurt him, and he kept rising up on his hind legs and dropping heavily again to the ground, bragging that this was the way he would crush any bird that tried to take the ball from him. Then there was the Deer, who could outrun every other animal. Altogether it was a fine company.
The birds had the Eagle for their captain, with the Hawk and the great Tla’nuwa, all swift and strong of flight, but still they were a little afraid of the animals. The dance was over and they were all pruning their feathers up in the trees and waiting for the captain to give the word when here came two little things hardly larger than field mice climbing up in the tree in which sat perched the bird captain. At last they reached the top, and creeping along the limb to where the Eagle captain sat they asked to be allowed to join the game. The captain looked at them, and seeing that they were four-footed, he asked why they did not go to the animals, where they belonged. The little things said that they had, but the animals had made fun of them and driven them off because they were so small. Then the bird captain pitied them and wanted to take them.
But how could they join the birds when they had no wings? The Eagle, the Hawk, and the others consulted, and at last it was decided to make some wings for the little fellows. They tried for a long time to think of something that might do, until someone happened to remember the drum they had used in the dance. The head was of ground-hog skin and maybe they could cut off a corner and make wings of it. So they took two pieces of leather from the drumhead and cut them into shape for wings, and stretched them with cane splints and fastened them on to the forelegs of one of the small animals, and in this way came Tla’meha, the Bat. They threw the ball to him and told him to catch it, and by the way he dodged and circled about, keeping the ball always in the air and never letting it fall to the ground, the birds soon saw that he would be one of their best men.
Now they wanted to fix up the other little animal, but they used up all their leather to make wings for the Bat, and there was no time to send for more. Somebody said they might do it by stretching his skin, so two large birds took hold from opposite sides with their strong bills, and by pulling at his fur for several minutes they managed to stretch the skin on each side between the fore and hind feet, until they had Tewa, the Flying Squirrel. To try him the bird captain threw up the ball, when the Flying Squirrel sprang off the limb after it, caught it in his teeth and carried it through the air to another tree nearly across the bottom.
When they were all ready the signal was given and the game began, but almost at the first toss the Flying Squirrel caught the ball and carried it up a tree, from which he threw it to the birds, who kept it in the air for some time until it dropped. The Bear rushed to get it, but the Martin darted after it and threw it to the Bat, who was flying near the ground, and by his dodging and doubling kept it out of the way of even the Deer, until he finally threw it in between the posts and won the game for the birds.
The Bear and the Terrapin, who had boasted so of what they would do, never got a chance even to touch the ball. For saving the ball when it dropped, the birds afterwards gave the Martin a gourd in which to build his nest, and he still has it.
How the Turkey Got His Beard
When the Terrapin won the race from the Rabbit all the animals wondered and talked about it a great deal, because they had always thought the Terrapin slow, although they knew that he was a warrior and had many conjuring secrets beside. But the Turkey was not satisfied and told the others there must be some trick about it. Said he, “I know the Terrapin can’t run – he can hardly crawl – and I’m going to try him.”
So one day the Turkey met the Terrapin coming home from war with a fresh scalp hanging from his neck and dragging on the ground as he traveled. The Turkey laughed at the sight and said: “That scalp don’t look right on you. Your neck is too short and low down to wear it that way. Let me show you.”
The Terrapin agreed and gave the scalp to the Turkey, who fastened it around his neck. “Now,” said the Turkey, “I’ll walk a little way and you can see how it looks.” So he walked ahead a short distance and then turned and asked the Terrapin how he liked it. Said the Terrapin, “It looks very nice; it becomes you.”
“Now I’ll fix it in a different way and let you see how it looks,” said the Turkey. So he gave the string another pull and walked ahead again. “O, that looks very nice,” said the Terrapin. But the Turkey kept on walking, and when the Terrapin called to him to bring back the scalp he only walked faster and broke into a run. Then the Terrapin got out his bow and by his conjuring art shot a number of cane splints into the Turkey’s leg to cripple him so that he could not run, which accounts for all the many small bones in the Turkey’s leg, that are of no use whatever; but the Terrapin never caught the Turkey, who still wears the scalp from his neck.
The Owl Gets Married
A widow with one daughter was always warning the girl that she must be sure to get a good hunter for a husband when she married. The young woman listened and promised to do as her mother advised. At last a suitor came to ask the mother for the girl, but the widow told him that only a good hunter could have her daughter. “I’m just that kind,” said the lover, and again asked her to speak for him to the young woman. So the mother went to the girl and told her a young man had come a-courting, and as he said he was a good hunter she advised her daughter to take him. “Just as you say,” said the girl. So when he came again the matter was all arranged, and he went to live with the girl.
The next morning he got ready and said he would go out hunting, but before starting he changed his mind and said he would go fishing. He was gone all day and came home late at night, bringing only three small fish, saying that he had had no luck, but would have better success tomorrow. The next morning he started off again to fish and was gone all day, but came home at night with only two worthless spring lizards (duwe ga) and the same excuse. Next day he said he would go hunting this time. He was gone again until night, and returned at last with only a handful of scraps that he had found where some hunters had cut up a deer.
By this time the old woman was suspicious. So next morning, when he started off again, as he said, to fish, she told her daughter to follow him secretly and see how he set to work. The girl followed through the woods and kept him in sight until he came down to the river, where she saw her husband change to a hooting owl (uguku) and fly over to a pile of driftwood in the water and cry, “U-gu-ku! hu! hu! u! u!” She was surprised and very angry and said to herself, “I thought I had married a man, but my husband is only an owl.” She watched and saw the owl look into the water for a long time and at last swoop down and bring up in his claws a handful of sand, from which he picked out a crawfish. Then he flew across to the bank, took the form of a man again, and started home with the crawfish. His wife hurried on ahead through the woods and got there before him. When he came in with the crawfish in his hand, she asked him where were all the fish he had caught. He said he had none, because an owl had frightened them all away. “I think you are the owl,” said his wife, and drove him out of the house. The owl went into the woods and there he pined away with grief and love until there was no flesh left on any part of his body except his head.
The Huhu Gets Married
A widow who had an only daughter, but no son, found it very hard to make a living and was constantly urging upon the young woman that they ought to have a man in the family, who would be a good hunter and able to help in the field. One evening a stranger lover came courting to the house, and when the girl told him that she could marry only one who was a good worker, he declared that he was exactly that sort of man; so the girl talked to her mother, and on her advice they were married.
The next morning the widow gave her new son-in-law a hoe and sent him out to the cornfield. When breakfast was ready she went to call him, following a sound as of some one hoeing on stony soil, but when she came to the spot she found only a small circle of hoed ground and no sign on her son-in-law. Away over in the thicket she heard a huhu calling.
He did not come in for dinner, either, and when he returned home in the evening the old woman asked him where he had been all day. “Hard at work,” said he. “But I didn’t see you when I came to call you to breakfast.” “I was down in the thicket cutting sticks to mark off the field,” said he. “But why didn’t you come in to dinner?” “I was too busy working,” said he. So the old woman was satisfied, and they had their supper together.
Early next morning he started off with his hoe over his shoulder. When breakfast was ready the old woman went again to call him, but found no sign of him, only the hoe lying there and no work done. And away over in the thicket a huhu was calling, “Sau-h! sau-h! sau-h! hu! hu! hu! hu! hu! hu! chi! chi! chi! – whew!”
She went back to the house, and when at last he came home in the evening she asked him again what he had been doing all day. “Working hard,” said he. “But you were not there when I came after you.” “O, I just went over in the thicket a while to see some of my kinsfolk,” said he. Then the old woman said, “I have lived here a long time and there is nothing living in the swamp but huhus. My daughter wants a husband that can work and not a lazy huhu; so you may go.” And she drove him from the house.
The Uktena and the Ulunsuti
Long ago – hilahiyu – when the Sun became angry at the people on earth and sent a sickness to destroy them, the Little Men changed a man into a monster snake, which they called Uktena, “The Keen-Eyed,” and sent him to kill her. He failed to do the work, and the Rattlesnake had to be sent instead, which made the Uktena so angry that the people were afraid of him and had him taken up to Galunlati, to stay with the other dangerous things. He left others behind him, though, nearly as large and dangerous as himself, and they hide now in deep pools in the river and about lonely passes in the high mountains, the places which the Cherokee call “Where the Uktena stays.”
Those who know say that the Uktena is a great snake, as large around as a tree trunk, with horns on his head, and a bright, blazing crest like a diamond upon its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length, and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life. The blazing diamond is called Ulunsuti, “Transparent”, and he who can win it may become the greatest wonder worker of the tribe, but it is worth a man’s life to attempt it, for whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.
Even to see the Uktena asleep is death, not to the hunter himself, but to his family.
Of all the daring warriors who have started out in search of the Ulunsuti only Aganunitsi ever came back successful. The East Cherokee still keep the one which he brought. It is like a large transparent crystal, nearly the shape of a cartridge bullet, with a blood-red streak running through the center from top to bottom.. The owner keeps it wrapped in a whole deerskin, inside an earthen har hidden away in a secret cave in the mountains. Every seven days he feeds it with the blood of small game, rubbing the blood all over the crystal as soon as the animal has been killed. Twice a year it must have the blood of a deer or some other large animal. Should he forget to feed it at the proper time it would come out from its cave at night in a shape of fire and fly through the air to slake its thirst with the lifeblood of the conjurer or some one of his people. He may save himself from this danger by telling it, when he puts it away, the he will not need it again for a long time. It will then go quietly to sleep and feel no hunger until it is again brought out to be consulted. Then it must be fed again with blood before it is used.
No white man must ever see it and no person but the owner will venture near it for fear of sudden death. Even the conjurer who keeps it is afraid of it, and changes its hiding place every once in a while so that it can not learn the way out. When he dies it will be buried with him. Otherwise it will come out of its cave, like a blazing star, to search for his grave, night after night for seven years, when if still not able to find him, it will go back to sleep forever where he has placed it.
Whoever owns the Ulunsuti is sure of success in hunting, love, rain-making, and every other business, but its great use is in life prophecy. When it is consulted for this purpose the future is seen mirrored in the clear crystal as a tree is reflected in the quiet stream below, and the conjurer knows whether the sick man will recover, whether the warrior will return from battle, or whether the youth will live to be old.
Aganunitsi’s Search For The Uktena
In one of their battles with the Shawano, who are all magicians, the Cherokee captured a great medicine-man whose name was Aganunitsi, “The Ground-hogs’ Mother.” They had tied him ready for the torture when he begged for his life and engaged, if spared, to find for them the great wonder worker, the Ulunsuti. Now, the Ulunsuti is like a blazing star set in the forehead of the great Uktena serpent, and the medicine-man who could possess it might do marvelous things, but everyone knew this could not be, because it was certain death to meet the Uktena. They warned him of all this, but he only answered that his medicine was strong and he was not afraid. So they gave him his life on that condition and he began the search.
The Uktena used to lie in wait in lonely places to surprise its victims, and especially haunted the dark passes of the Great Smoky mountains. Knowing this, the magician went first to a gap in the range on the far northern border of the Cherokee country. He searched and found there a monster blacksnake, larger than had ever been known before, but it was not what he was looking for, and he laughed at it as something too small for notice. Coming southward to the next gap he found there a great moccasin snake, the largest ever seen, but when the people wondered he said it was nothing. In the next gap he found a greensnake and called the people to see “the pretty salikwayi,” but when they found an immense greensnake coiled up in the path they ran away in fear. Coming on to Utawagunta, the Bald Mountain, he found there a great diyahali (lizard) basking, but, although it was large and terrible to look at, it was not what he wanted and he paid no attention to it. Going still south to Walasiyi, the Frog place, he found a great frog squatting in the gap, but when the people who came to see it were frightened like the others and ran away from the monster he mocked at them for being afraid of a frog and went on to the next gap. He went on to Duniskwalgunyi, the Gap of the Forked Antler, and to the enchanted lake of Atagahi, and at each he found monstrous reptiles, but he said they were nothing. He thought the Uktena might be hiding in the deep water at Tlanusiyi, the Leech place, on the Hiwassee, where other strange things had been seen before, and going there he dived far down under the surface. He saw turtles and water snakes, and two immense sunperches rushed at him and retreated again, but that was all. Other places he tried, going always southward, and at last on Gahuti mountain he found the Uktena asleep.
Turning without noise, he ran swiftly down the mountain side as far as he could go with one long breath, nearly to the bottom of the slope. There he stopped and piled up a great circle of pine cones, and inside of it he dug a deep trench. Then he set fire to the cones and came back again up the mountain.
The Uktena was still asleep, and putting an arrow to his bow, Aganunitsi shot and sent the arrow through its heart, which was under the seventh spot from the serpent’s head. The great snake raised his head, with the diamond in front flashing fire, and came straight at his enemy, but the magician, turning quickly, ran at full speed down the mountain, cleared the circle of fire and the trench at one bound, and lay down on the ground inside.
The Uktena tried to follow, but the arrow was through his heart, and in another moment he rolled over in his death struggle, spitting poison over all the mountain side. But the poison drops could not pass the circle of fire, but only hissed and sputtered in the blaze, and the magician on the inside was untouched except by one small drop shich struck upon his head as he lay close to the ground; but he did not know it. The blood, too, as poisonous as the froth, poured from the Uktena’s wound and down the slope in a dark stream, but it ran into the trench and left him unharmed. The dying monster rolled over and over down the mountain, breaking down large trees in its path until it reached the bottom. Then Aganunitsi called every bird in all the woods to come to the feast, and so many came that when they were done not even the bones were left.
After seven days he went by night to the spot. The body and the bones of the snake were gone, all eaten by the birds, but he saw a bright light shining in the darkness, and going over to it he found, resting on a low-hanging branch, where a raven had dropped it, the diamond from the head of the Uktena. He wrapped it up carefully and took it with him, and from that time he became the greatest medicine-man in the whole tribe.
When Aganunitsi came down again to the settlement the people noticed a small snake hanging from his head where the single drop of poison from the Uktena had struck; but so long as he lived he himself never knew that it was there.
Where the blood of the Uktena had filled the trench a lake formed afterwards, and the water was black and in this water the women used to dye the cane splits for their baskets.
The Red Man and the Uktena
Two brothers went hunting together, and when they came to a good camping place in the mountains they made a fire, and while one gathered bark to put up a shelter the other started up the creek to look for a deer. Soon he heard a noise on the top of the ridge as if two animals were fighting. He hurried through the bushes to see what it might be, and when he came to the spot he found a great uktena coiled around a man and choking him to death. The man was fighting for his life, and called out to the hunter: “Help me, nephew, he is your enemy as well as mine.” The hunter took good aim, and, drawing the arrow to the head, sent it through the body of the uktena, so that the blood spouted from the hole. The snake loosed its coils with a snapping noise, and went tumbling down the ridge into the valley, tearing up the earth like a water spout as it rolled.
The stranger stood up, and it was the Asgaya Gigagei, the Red Man of the Lighting. He said to the hunter: “You have helped me and now I will reward you, and give you a medicine so that you can always find game.” They waited until it was dark, and then went down the ridge to where the dead uktena had rolled, but by this time the birds and insects had eaten the body and only the bones were left. In one place were flashes of light coming up from the ground, and on digging here, the Red Man found a scale of the uktena. Next he went over to a tree that had been struck by lightning, and gathering a handful of splinters he made a fire and burned the uktena scale to a coal. He wrapped this in a peice of deerskin and gave it to the hunter, saying: “As long as you keep this you can always kill game.” Then he told the hunter that when he went back to camp he must hang up the medicine in a tree outside, because it was very strong and dangerous. He told him also that when he went into the cabin he would find his brother lying inside nearly dead on account of the presence of the uktena’s scale, but he must take a small piece of cane, which the Red Man gave him, and scrape a little of it into water and give it to his brother to drink and he would be well again. The the Red Man was gone, and the hunter could not see where he went. He returned to camp alone, and found his brother very sick, but soon cured him with the medicine from the cane, and that day and the next, and every day after, he found game whenever he went for it.