Mountain Legends and Folklore: Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA

lossy-page1-640px-devils_tower2c_also_known_by_more_benign_names2c_including_bear_lodge2c_by_indigenous_american_indians2c_in_northeastern_wyoming_lccn2015634203-tif

Devil’s Tower, Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming has a familiar look about it for many people who watched the classic 1974 sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  That is because it was the place that people desperately tried to reach to rendezvous with the giant alien spacecraft.  It is situated in Crook County in the Bear Lodge Mountains which is part of the Black Hills and not far from Sundance and Hulett in the north eastern part of Wyoming and rises to a height of 5,112 feet above sea level.  In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national park.  It was named Devil’s Tower in 1875 when an interpreter working for an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge who mistakenly interpreted a Native American name for it as “Bad God’s Tower”.   The Native Americans have several names for it including, Bear’s House, Bear’s Tipi, Bear’s Lodge and many others and features in many myths, legends and traditions.

Native American Folklore

The Kiowa and the Lakota people have a legend that tells how it originated.  This tells how a group of young girls were out playing when they came across several gigantic bears who on seeing then gave chase.  To escape the bears the girls climbed to the top of the summit and got down on their knees and prayed to the Great Spirit.   The Great Spirit heard their prayers and caused the rock to rise up from the ground towards the sky out of the reach of the bears. The bears tried to climb up to get them and dug their claws in the rock to gain a grip but kept sliding down because it was too steep for them to climb.  Their claws scratched the straight vertical marks that are seen to this day in the sides of the massive rock tower.  As the tower reached the sky the girls were transformed into a group of stars that are now called the Pleiades.

lossy-page1-640px-devils_tower2c_also_known_by_more_benign_names2c_including_bear_lodge2c_by_indigenous_american_indians2c_in_northeastern_wyoming_lccn2015634170-tif

Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge – Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Sioux Legend

One day two young Sioux boys roamed far from their village when they had the bad luck to come across Mato the bear. Mato was a gigantic bear who had massive sharp claws on his front paws.  As soon as he saw the boys he became intent on catching and eating them and chased after them.  Although the boys ran fast Mato ran faster and as he was about to pounce the boys prayed to the Great Spirit for help.   He heard their prayer and caused a great tower of rock to rise out of the ground underneath the boys who were lifted up beyond the reach of Mato who left his claw marks the sides of the tower of rock trying to climb up to get at them.   Eventually, tired and frustrated he sauntered off to look for an easier meal and eventually rested at a place now called Bear Butte.

The Cheyenne Legend

In a Cheyenne version of the legend a group of girls are chased by giant bears and most of them are killed.  Two sisters manage to escape and make it back to their village but the bear has followed them there.  The girls tell their brothers that the bear can only be killed by an arrow shot through the underside of its paw.  The brothers tell their sisters to lead it to Devil’s Tower and trick it into thinking they had climbed up it to escape.  This they did and the bear attempted to climb the rock tower clawing at its face but each time it slips down leaving its claw marks. As the bear is trying to climb the brothers are shooting arrows at its paws and eventually one arrow comes close to its mark scaring the bear off and the arrow continued to fly higher and higher and never came down.

The Northern Cheyenne Legend

There is a Northern Cheyenne legend which tells how a man fell asleep at the bottom of the tower of rock next to the head of a buffalo head.  In the morning when he woke up he discovered both he and the buffalo head by some unknown magic had been transported to the top of the rock.  Looking all around her could for see for miles in all directions but could see no way down.  He had no choice other than stay where was for another another day and night with no food or water.  So he spent the day praying and then went to sleep.  When he woke up the next morning  he had returned to the base of the massive rock where he has first gone to sleep.   According to legend the buffalo’s head could be still be seen on high by using a telescope and in those days the Devil’s Tower had never been climbed so there was no logical explanation as to how it got there.  The buffalo head had special significance to the Northern Cheyenne.  It was there practice in their camps to keep a sacred teepee dedicated to the Great Medicine where they kept the sacred objects of the people.  The sacred object of the Northern Cheyenne was a buffalo head which makes the story more significant for them.

animal-1283347_1920

Bear by Pexels – Pixabay – Pixabay License

The Legend of Mato the Bear

Another legend tells how two young boys playing in the sagebrush on the great prairie.  They had been shooting arrows seeing how far they could fire them and roamed further and further from home.  As they were having fun they heard a noise like a small animal would make and went to investigate.   Creeping along in the direction came from they found a stream of fast running water that flowed over a bed of many colored pebbles.   The boys followed it for a while and came across a herd of deer, which they just had to track for a while.  After tracking the deer for a while they realized they were hungry and decided to return home, but realized they had no idea which way to go.  They decided to go in one direction but this only took them further and further from their home village.

As the day wore on the boys grew tired and finding a tree went to sleep under its branches.  The next morning they woke and still had no idea which way was home but chose to head west.  They managed to find berries and roots which ket them from starving and they slaked their thirst from the streams of clear water they crossed. For the next three days they continued walking into the west and despite being tired and footsore they found enough wild food and water to survive on.  They desperately wished their parents or their older brothers and sisters would turn up and find them but no one came.

On the fourth day the boys began to feel nervous and realized they were being tracked.  Although the boys had wanted to be found they wanted it to be by their family or friends or by someone who could help them, but they knew that this was no friend tracking them but Mato the bear.  Mato was a bear of gargantuan stature and so big both the boys together would be nothing but a snack to it.  He had picked up the scent of the boys from afar and followed it and was now hot on their trail and approaching fast.  Seeing him approach the boys ran off as fast as they could look for a place to hide but there was nowhere.  The giant bear was much faster than they and was rapidly catching them up and in their fear they stumbled.  He reared above them and they saw his great red maw full of sharp teeth and his hot breath was like a flame.   The boys had been taught about the Great Spirit and how to pray and called upon him to save them.  As Mato was about to strike the earth trembled and rose taking the boys high into the sky out of reach of the great bear.

The boys found themselves on tower of rock that kept rising higher and higher.  The boys looked all around and could see they were high above the ground and below them was the angry bear.  Mato had long sharp claws like steel and tried to climb up the rock tower after the boys but although he dug his claws in he kept slipping down.  As he slipped he left great grooves in the rock face from his claws that can be seen today.  Eventually he gave up and wandered off looking for easier game.    The boys were hundreds of feet in the air and could see the countryside for miles around and wondered how they could get down but they could see no way.  Wanblee the great eagle, who was a friend of their people saw him and came and carried them back safely to their people and they told them the marvelous tale of their escape from Mato the bear.

© 09/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2017 zteve t evans

Advertisements

The Legend of Multnomah Falls, Oregon

lower_multnomah_falls2c_or_8-13_281473364587429

By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (Multnomah Falls) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Multnomah Falls

The Multnomah Falls is a waterfall situated not far from Portland in Oregon.  It is a local beauty spot which many people visit to see  torrents of cool, crystal clear, water cascade over the edge of a cliff to fall over 611 feet in a spectacular cascade.  A legend is associated with its creation that tells a story of love, devotion, faith and sacrifice.

Chief Multnomah

Many, many, years ago there was a Native American chief called Multnomah who had a beautiful daughter that he loved more than anything. Having lost his sons in wars he loved and cherished her even more and wanted to be sure when the time came she would have the best possible husband. To meet this goal he spent a lot of time looking over the young men of his own and neighbouring villages for the best possible match.  At last he decided that the best husband for his daughter would be a young chief from the Clatsop people who were neighbours.  It proved to be very good match and the two quickly developed a deep rapport and fell in love with one another.

Celebrations

Multnomah was pleased and planned to hold a great celebration in honour of the couple. He would invite people from miles around to wish the couple good luck, celebrate the match and take part in all kinds of activities that he would host.  There would be singing and dancing, and the young men would compete against each other in contests of archery, wrestling, swimming, canoe racing and naturally there would be feasting. It would be a spectacular and happy event but it did not go as planned.

The Plague

A terrible sickness came and laid many people low.  The children and the old died first but soon even the young and strong were also succumbing to this terrible plague.  The chief grew very worried.  He called a great council of his elders and sent off for eldest and wisest medicine man in the tribe who lived as a hermit on the mountain. The old medicine man rarely left his mountain home but when a message arrived from Multnomah begging him to come down he knew an important time long prophesized had come. The old medicine man told Chief Multnomah and the council that what he had to say was very grave and troubling but there was no other way to put the situation to right.

The Prophecy

He told Multnomah and the council of a prophecy that had been told to him when he was in his youth by his father just before he died at a very great age.  His father told him that a time would come when he had lived to a great age when a plague would fall upon the people. There would be no survivors unless an innocent daughter of a chief of the people willingly sacrificed her life to the Great Spirit. This and only this, was the only thing way the people could be saved.  The old medicine man then begged leave of the council saying that now the prophecy was revealed it was time for him to die and he went back to the mountain.

When the people heard of the prophecy many of the young maidens of the tribe presented themselves to Chief Multnomah, including his own beloved daughter, offering up themselves as sacrifices. Multnomah was appalled.  He could not come to terms with any of the maidens losing their lives and he thought long and hard about what he should do.  At last he made a decision and he called a general meeting of the people and explained the situation to them.  He told them he would not ask any of the maidens to sacrifice their lives.  Instead, he told the people they must be brave and prepare themselves as their forefathers would have done to meet with the inevitable end.

More and more people died and then Multnomah’s daughter again went to her father to ask his permission to sacrifice her life to save the people. Again, he refused and sadly she reluctantly obeyed her him.  When the plague struck down the man she loved she knew what she had to do.  After nursing and caring for him with all her love and tenderness she slipped out of the village and took the path to the highest cliff.

The Sacrifice

With her heart beating fast she walked resolutely to the cliff edge and stood looking down at the ragged rocks far, far below.   Closing her eyes she called upon the Great Spirit to give her a sign as proof that her sacrifice would bring a halt to the plague.   Then she cast her eyes to the skies looking all around for some kind of sign.   She saw the sun and she saw the clouds and then she saw the full moon rise in broad daylight on the distant horizon.   Accepting this as the sign she stepped off the cliff.

The following day in the village those who had been sick rose from their beds feeling hale, healthy and very happy to have fully recovered and great celebrations began.  Then the people started to think and wondered how their sudden, surprise cure had come about.

Multnomah called all the maidens to him and they were all present with the exception of one, his daughter.   Immediately the young Clatsop chief ran up the path to the cliff.  Peering over the edge he was devastated to see her broken body lying twisted among the rocks below.

The Great Spirit

The people were sad and wept long and loudly,  In gratitude they climbed to the bottom of the cliff and honored her in the tradition of their people and then raised a cairn over her body.  Her grieving father called upon the Great Spirit for a sign that he had welcomed her into his care.   Immediately they heard the sound of running water and a pure stream of crystal water cascaded over the cliff and has flowed continuously ever since.

Some say they have seen the spirit of the maiden all in white walking the path to the cliff top.  There she would stand by the waterfall now called Multnomah Falls that was sent by the Great Spirit to show the people that she, who had sacrificed all for love, was in his care.

© 19/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 19th, 2017 zteve t evans

Folklore of the Paiute People: The Legend of the North Star

The Paiute people of North America are spread over a wide territory ranging across Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho and Oregon. They are an ancient nomadic people who made a living from hunting and gathering and some basic farming.  The Paiutes were made up of two or three main groups which were split into a number of tribes and bands that lived scattered across their territory.  Their spiritual beliefs reflected their closeness to the natural world and they created many myths and legends which attempted to explain the world they lived in.  The following is a rewrite of a legend that tells how the North Star was created and how it helped the Paiutes and other earth-dwellers find their way in the dark.

The Legend of the North Star

Many, many, years ago when the world was still in its youth the People of the Sky were restless and wandered through the heavens leaving their trails behind them.  Today, people on Earth can see the ways they went by watching the trails they left which show in the night sky.  Of all the millions and millions of stars we see in the night sky the only star that does not appear to journey across the night sky is the North Star.

However, the North Star does move.  It moves in a small circle around the north celestial pole each day but from earth, it looks stationary.  Unlike the sun, moon, and stars it does not rise or set.  It appears like the hub of a wheel to stay still in a constant position in the sky and in the northern hemisphere is used as a guide to find north.  However, according to Paiute tradition back in the time of the earth’s youth there was not a  North Star.

Read More

Käna’sta: The Lost Settlement of the Cherokees

cherokee_indians2c_cherokee_indian_reservation2c_north_carolina_28575603597629

le:Chief Standing Deer – Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina (5756036106).jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Source: Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Author: Boston Public Library

James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who studied among the Southeastern Native American people as well as those on the Great Plains.  He spent several years living with the Cherokee people and compiling their myths, legends, and traditions into a book,  Myths of the Cherokee (1902),   Some of these legends and myths reveal that the Cherokees believed that there existed a kind of “otherworld”.  This was populated by a people who appeared similar to themselves but were invisible unless certain rituals and fasting was performed which allowed the Cherokees to make contact with them.  However, these people could make themselves known to the Cherokee at will and sometimes did. There were also various spirit beings large and small similar to giants, dwarves, and fairies.  Presented here is a legend collected by Mooney called  Käna’sta, The Lost Settlement that feature the belief in the otherworld and its spiritual inhabitants  and what follows is a rewrite base upon this.

Two Strangers Arrive

A legend says that one day two strangers visited Käna’sta and asked to be taken to see the chief as they had a message for him.  The strangers looked very much the same as the villagers and did not seem to be a threat so they were taken to see the chief.

After making the traditional greetings and welcoming them with full Cherokee hospitality the chief asked them what message they carried to him, thinking they were probably from a Cherokee village to the west of Käna’sta. To his surprise, they told him,

“Like you, we are also Cherokees and our town is very close but you have never seen it, but we are there.  In Käna’sta you have sickness and disease.  All around you are enemies who make war on you when they can. One day a stronger enemy will attack and drive you from your homes and take Käna’sta and make you homeless and miserable.  All who live in our town are happy and free of sickness and no enemy can find us.  We have been sent to Käna’sta to invite you to come and live with us in Tsuwa`tel’da which is the name of our town.”

Read More

Petrification Myths:  Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

Petrification Myths: Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

In the desert of southwest Utah in the United States of America is a remarkable place known as Bryce Canyon which many, many bizarre and colorful rock formations. The canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the area in 1874.  However, the Native American Paiute people of the region who were there long before the arrival of pioneers called it Angka-ku-wass-a-wits or red painted faces.

Bryce Canyon must surely be one of the most extraordinary natural places on earth.  It is a place where strange rock formations of yellow, orange and reddish brown that change hue as the light changes and fill the mind with many fantastical shapes and forms that appear grotesquely humanoid.

In geological terms, these columns are called hoodoos a term also used in witchcraft and the supernatural.  The Paiute people tell a very different story to the geologists but both explanations are really very extraordinary.   Presented first is a brief and simplified version of the geological explanation.  This is followed by a version of the traditional explanation given by the Paiute people who believed the columns were created when a mythical race called the Legend people were punished by their divine entity Coyote.

The Creation of the Landscape

First of all Bryce Canyon is not a canyon in geological terms.  It was created in a very different way to canyons which are created by weathering and the erosive action of rivers.   Instead, the Bryce landscape was created by a natural process called frost wedging which works over a great period of time to alter and recreate the entire landscape.  This process happens in Bryce Canyon because for most days of the year the temperature fluctuates to above freezing and drops to below zero in the course of a single day.

During daytime, seasonal snow melts and the water seeps into cracks and fractures in the rock and when it freezes at night it turns to ice and expands causing it to crack and fracture further and forcing sections of it apart making wedges into the rock forcing it apart.  This happens about 200 times a year in Bryce Canyon and an another process called frost heaving also comes into play forcing rocks upward from the bottom.   These two natural actions are supplemented by wind and rainwater which is naturally slightly acidic and this gently rounds off the rocks slowly dissolving the edges. And it is these natural processes that have combined to create the fantastical landscape of Bryce Canyon and it’s weird and wonderful hoodoos that are its main feature.  So that is a very quick and simplified precis of the scientific explanation but the Paiute people have another explanation

The Legend People of Bryce Canyon

According to Paiute legend and tradition millions of years before they appeared on earth there was another people who lived in the area called To-when-an-ung-wa or the Legend people.  In those days the land was said to be different being very green and verdant with streams and rivers of fresh clean running water.  Animals and birds were plentiful and the hoodoos were not yet created.

The Legend people took the form of giant animals, reptiles, and birds and in their land of plenty gave no thought to others who shared it with them.  They would drink up all the water and despoil what was left so others could not use.  They would eat and take all the nuts, fruits and berries leaving nothing for other creatures to survive the winter on.  They never gave a thought for the other animals and birds that shared the land which became less fertile and abundant.

Coyote

At last the animals and birds began to complain loudly about the inconsiderate and selfish behavior of the legend people and how carelessly and recklessly they despoiled all the fruits and good resources of the Earth.  One day the spirit they called Coyote heard them while he was out walking and went to see what was going on.  Coyote was angry at what he saw and decided to punish the Legend people.  He had a reputation for being a trickster which was well earned and he decided there and then he would trick the Legend people.

Coyote invited them to a great feast promising them they would be served the best food and drink they had ever been given.  The Legend people were always greedy for more food and drink and readily accepted the invitation.  They put on their best clothing and painted their faces red as was their custom at such occasions and went to the great feast of Coyote to eat their fill.

When they arrived they found the best food they had ever seen all laid out and ready for them to tuck into.  Coyote was watching and just as they were about to take the first bite of food he cast a spell.   Suddenly, one, by one they all began turning to stone.  Naturally, those not yet affected began to panic and tried to escape trying to climb over the ridge of the valley. They all pushed and pulled and scrambled over one another but there was no escape and gradually they all succumbed to the spell of Coyote.   It was a scene of madness, mayhem and sheer hell.  Soon their struggling ceased and all were turned into columns of stone, their bodies and faces rigid and paralyzed in their final act of standing, sitting, crawling,  climbing, running or whatever and there they have remained through the ages as a testament to their greed and selfishness.

ancestors2c_bryce_canyon_np2c_ut_9-09_282445989887429

By Don Graham from Redlands, CA, USA – God bless it! (Ancestors, Bryce Canyon NP, UT 9-09) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Pauite People

When the Paiute people arrived they found the hoodoos and could see their red faces in the rock columns just as they were before they were petrified.  This is why they called the place Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, which means red painted faces and these are the hoodoos we see today in Bryce Canyon.  Some people today say their faces have been eroded so much over the centuries that they cannot be recognized and people will forget the story of the Legend people.  Those who can see know Coyote still wanders the wilderness and know he has not lost his power and they will not forget why he turned red painted faces to stone.

© 23/05/17 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright May 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes


the_pyramid

Pyramid Lake, Nevada – by Rhalden – Public Domain

The Paiute people are a Native American people living in areas of California, Nevada and Oregon, Arizona, southeastern parts of California and Utah. They have a rich heritage of culture and tradition and strong family values.   In the past, much of their known history had been passed on orally to their children from a long line of ancestors.  Like many other cultures, they used folktales to pass on information and to attempt to make sense of the world around them.   Presented here is the story of the Great Stone Mother is one of their folktales and what is presented here is a rewrite from more than one source,  but first a word about the Great Stone Mother.

The Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes people sits on the eastern shore of Pyramid Lake, in eastern Nevada, North America and is actually an extraordinary natural tufa rock formation. It bears a remarkable likeness to the figure of a hooded Indian woman sat looking out over the lake with her basket resting next to her.  To the Paiutes she has not always been stone but was the mother of their people.  What follows next is an extraordinary legend that tells of their origin and how she became petrified into stone.

The Legend of the Great Stone Mother

When the world was very young Man, the father of the people, roamed the earth alone and came to a mountain that was near still water.  Finding the place to his liking he made the Reese River and decided to live there. The father had a good and great soul but he was lonely living on his own and longed for company.

Many days passed and eventually rumor of the existence of Man reached Woman, who became the mother of the people, but at then was married to Bear.  She grew very curious about Man and longed to see him.   When Bear found out about her longing he grew very jealous and fought with Woman.   The two fought fiercely for many days until Woman hit Bear with a club and killed him.

Now she was on her own Woman decided she would search for Man so she left her home country and traveled north in the hope of finding him.   On her journey, she saw many strange things and had many adventures.  The tracks of her footprints can be seen to this day at Mono Lake and revered by the people.   As she traveled she faced many dangers and fought with a giant near a place now called Yerington and killed him.  As he died his body turned to stone and can be seen today.

After many more days Woman came to Stillwater near the mountain where Man lived.  When at last she saw  Man she saw he was handsome and she liked him.  However,  she would not show herself to him for fear he would not accept her and leave her alone in the world. Not knowing what else to do she hid from him and watched him from a distance.

Man and Woman

One day Man was out walking and came across tracks he had not seen before and he knew he was no longer alone in the world.  He followed the tracks and called out saying he knew someone was there and pleaded for them to stop hiding from him.  Woman heard Man calling to her and wanted to join him but she was nervous and afraid.    After listening to his calls she eventually plucked up courage and came out of hiding to meet him.

Man saw her nervousness and fear and spoke to her with kind and soothing words and her anxiety left her.   He saw she was tired and hungry and invited her to his camp for food and rest. She was hungry and very tired and she listened to his kind words and feeling reassured she followed him.

Man prepared them both some food and when they had finished eating he asked her if she would like to stay with him the night as it darkness was falling.   Woman agreed but slept by the fire away from him.  The following night she slept a little closer to him.  The night after she slept even closer.  Over the following night’s Woman slept closer and closer each night until at last on the fourth night they slept together.   On the fifth night, they were married and later on had many, many children together.

The Separation of the Children

Their first child was a boy but he had a very disagreeable and argumentative nature.  When the other children came he was always teasing and bullying them and caused them trouble all the time.  One day their father saw them fighting and warned them that if they continued this behavior he would separate them. The children provoked by the firstborn began fighting before he had even finished talking.

This angered him and he stopped them fighting and told them he had made up his mind they should be separated there and then.  He told them that he was leaving earth to go and live in his home in the sky and that when they died they could follow him by traveling along the dusty way,  which is called the Milky Way today, where he would be waiting for them.  Then he told them that he hoped one day they would all come to their senses and live peacefully together.

He called his eldest boy and his eldest daughter to him and told them they must go west and they became the Pit River Tribe.   Then he sent his youngest son with the youngest daughter eastwards and they became the Bannock Tribe.  The other children who had been less troublesome he told to remain at home instructing them to look after their mother well as she would also be staying behind.   These children of Man and Woman who stayed behind became the Paiutes Tribe.    When Man had finished giving instructions he traveled to the mountain top and up into the sky and along the Dusty way to his home in the stars.
The two brothers went their separate ways with their sisters as their father had instructed.

Bitter Tears

Soon they had many children and both families returned to their parent’s home bringing their families with them.  They soon began fighting again and their mother was heartbroken.  Taking her basket she climbed to the summit of a hill and watched her sons and their families fight against each other in the valley below and she began to cry bitter tears for she loved her children.  The harder they fought the more she cried.

The Great Stone Mother

They fought for many moons and their mother cried more and more and her tears flowed down her face and filled the valley.  Many more moons passed and still, they fought and still she cried and her bitter tears filled up the valley to create a great and beautiful body of water that today is called Pyramid Lake.  She sat on the hill crying for so long that she turned to stone and there she sits to this day with her basket sitting next to her and the Paiutes call her their Great Stone Mother.

© 02/05/2017  zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 5th, 2017 zteve t evans

Cherokee Folklore: The Strange Legend of Tsuwe’nähï and the Secret Town

pilotmtfromva8910

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina – Image Credit: Wahkeenah – Public Domain

In his book Myths of the Cherokee People (1902) the American ethnographer, James Mooney (1861-1921) compiled a large bank of folklore, legend, and mythology of the Cherokee people that provides a remarkable insight into how they viewed and made sense of the world around them.   Some of these legends tell of a secret or invisible tribe of Cherokees who live either inside Pilot Mountain or in some hidden valley only reached by passing a concealed entrance in the mountain’s side.  The following work is a rewrite of the legend called Tsuwe’nähï: A Legend of Pilot Knob from Mooney’s book that tells of these secret people and their hidden town.

Lazy Tsuwe’nähï

There was once a lazy man whose name was Tsuwe’nähï.  He lived in an old town called Känuga that was situated on the banks of the Pigeon River.  He was too lazy to build his own house so instead, he lived with friends and relatives moving frequently from one to another.   Although he liked to spend all of his time in the woods he never bothered to hunt to bring back game as thanks to those who kept him through their good nature.

At last the good nature of his friends and relatives ran thin and they tired of him living off their generosity and they told him so.  Tsuwe’nähï pleaded for a last chance and asked them to prepare some parched corn for him to take on a hunting trip.  He promised them he would bring back deer, or some other kind of game, telling them if he failed he would never bother them again.

So his friends and relatives gave him a pouch with enough corn to sustain him on his hunting trip and he headed off into the mountains.   Many days passed, and weeks turned to months but he did not return and everyone thought they would never see him again.  Then one day he appeared in the town with a strange tale to tell.

The Strange Tale of Tsuwe’nähï

He told his friends and relatives that he had followed the trail towards the mountains and as he passed across a ridge he had met a stranger.  They greeted each other in a friendly fashion and stopped to talk to each other.  The stranger asked him where he was going out in the wilds on his own.   Tsuwe’nähï told him that his friends had relatives had driven him out of their homes telling him he was lazy.  He told him that he must bring back game to share with them or they would not have him back and ruefully he explained he was not a very good hunter.  The stranger smiled at him and said, “Come and visit my town. It is not far and you will see that you have relatives and friends there.”

The Secret Town on Pilot Mountain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain – Image Credit:AnDrew McKenzie – CC BY-SA 3.0

Tsuwe’nähï was very grateful for the offer.  He was ashamed about how he had lived off his family and friends for so long and did not want to return empty handed, so he accepted.  The stranger led him towards the mountain called Tsuwa`tel’da which is also known as Pilot Mountain or Pilot Knob.   Eventually, they came to a bare rock face and the stranger led him to a hidden cave and gestured and said, “Please follow me!”

Tsuwe’nähï followed the stranger into the cave and down along a passage that ran into the heart of the mountain,  Eventually the passage opened out into a wide and beautiful valley. Looking down into the valley Tsuwe’nähï saw a great town thronged with many people.

Tsuwe’nähï and the stranger walked down the valley towards the town.  The townsfolk seeing him coming ran to meet him greeting him in warmth and friendship and showed him to the house of their chief.   The chief greeted him warmly and told him he was welcome and offered him a seat beside the fire.  Tsuwe’nähï gladly accepted and sat down but was surprised to find the seat moved underneath him.  Then he looked down and saw there was a turtle’s head poking out of its shell and realized he was seated upon the back of a huge turtle and jumped up in surprise.

“It’s alright,” said the chief, “he is only looking to see who you are!”   Tsuwe’nähï sat down gently and carefully and the turtle drew its head back into its shell. He was then offered food the kind of which he was accustomed to and he was encouraged to eat and drink his fill.  When he had finished the chief took him on a tour around the settlement and introduced him to many of its people.  Eventually, Tsuwe’nähï grew tired and was allowed to rest.  After he had rested the chief led him back to the mouth of the cave he had entered the strange country from and showed him the path that led back to the river telling him,  “Although you are going back to the place you call home you will never again be happy there. Nevertheless, you have seen us and whenever you are ready you can come to us as you now know where we are.”

Tsuwe’nähï Returns Home

The chief turned and left. Tsuwe’nähï made his way back down the mountain path towards the river following it until he found his way back to Känuga.  On his return, he told his story to his family and friends but none of them would believe him and laughed calling him foolish.   After his return, he would often go off alone into the forest sometimes being away for several days at a time.  When he came back he would tell folk he had been visiting the hidden people on Pilot Mountain but still, no one believed him.

Then one day after returning from such a trip he told a group of friends about his visit to the hidden people.   Most laughed at dismissed his story and walked away but one man stayed and told him he believed him and would like to go with him to see for himself the next time he visited the hidden people on Pilot Mountain.

At Last Someone Believes Him

Tsuwe’nähï was pleased that he had, at last, found someone who would listen to him and readily agreed to his company. A few days later he took the man into the forest and the two of them made their way to Pilot Mountain.    After a good trek, they decided to make rest and Tsuwe’nähï said to his companion to remain at the spot and set up camp while he went on ahead telling him he would soon return.

So his friend set up camp and waited for the return of his guide.  While he waited he did some hunting and set up a fire to cook his game.  After two days and two nights the man heard  Tsuwe’nähï approaching but although he appeared to be alone he was talking to someone else close by him.  Although he could see no one the man heard the voices of two girls who were talking to Tsuwe’nähï and he to them.

As Tsuwe’nähï stepped into the firelight he greeted his friend and said,  “Look I have returned with friends and they say that in two nights time there will be a dance at their town and they are inviting us to go.”  

His friend liked the idea of a dance at the strange town and readily accepted even though he could not see who else he was talking to.   Then Tsuwe’nähï spoke as if to someone nearby saying, “He accepts and thanks you for the invitation” and turned to his friend and said, “Our sisters ask for some venison”

His friend said, “What parts would they like?” and the girls said,  “Mother has asked us to request ribs,” and although he could not see who was speaking he cut them generous portions of ribs and handed them to Tsuwe’nähï.

“Thank you,” said Tsuwe’nähï taking the ribs and said, “We shall return for you in two days,”  and then turned about and disappeared into the forest night.  The man watched him disappear and listened as the voices faded into the forest and then all was quiet.

Just as he said two days later Tsuwe’nähï returned but this time the man could see he was accompanied by two girls who went and stood by the fire to warm themselves.  The man thought they were very handsome girls but one thing struck him as strange.  He noticed that their feet were not like human feet but more like the paws of a wolf.  As soon as they realized he had seen their feet they sat down to cover them up but said nothing about them and he decided out of politeness not to ask.

The party ate a meal together and then set out along a nearby creek to the trail that led to Tsuwa`tel’da and the hidden land.  They came to a bare cliff face where they entered a cave that was hidden by folds in the rock.  They made their way down a passage which opened up into a broad valley and walked down the path to the town below.  The man was surprised by everything he saw but found his legs became very weak and began to give way under him and he fell to the ground.

Tsuwe’nähï and the girls tried to help him to him to his feet but he could not move so one of the girls ran and fetched a medicine man.  The medicine man told him he could not walk because he had not prepared himself by fasting.  He then took out some old tobacco he kept in a pouch at his side and rubbed it on the legs of the man and placing it under his nose told him to smell it.  After this, the man was able to walk and went with others to the dance which had not yet begun.

The Dance

Tsuwe’nähï took his friend to the townhouse and gave him a seat close to the fire.  His friend looked warily at the seat.  It was covered in the long thorns of the honey locust and he was worried they may pierce his skin if he sat on it.  However, his Tsuwe’näh told him it would be safe to sit on so he sat down and found the long thorns soft and comfortable.

The drummer entered the townhouse and was followed by the dancers and the dancing commenced.  A man followed the dancers around crying, “Kû! Kû!” and Tsuwe’nähï explained that he was not one of the dancers.  He told him that the man had once got lost in the mountains and had gone round in circles calling out to his friends.  Eventually, the hidden people found him and took him in but he had lost his voice and was only able to say “Kû! Kû!” ever after.

Return to Känuga

When the dance finished Tsuwe’nähï and his friend went back to Känuga.  They told the people of Känuga all about the town on Pilot Mountain and how good and kind the townsfolk were.  This time because there were two of them the people listened and some said they wanted to go there.  Tsuwe’nähï told them that they had to fast for seven days while he went up to Pilot Mountain to tell the hidden people so that they could prepare for their coming.  After seven days he returned and led the people of Känuga who wanted to go to the town on Pilot Mountain.  The people who remained behind never saw those who went with Tsuwe’nähï to the secret town again.

© 22/02/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 22nd, 2017 zteve t evans