Legend of the Cherokee Rose~
When the Trail of Tears started in 1838, the mothers of the Cherokee were grieving and crying so much, they were unable to help their children survive the journey. The elders prayed for a sign that would lift the mother’s spirits to give them strength. The next day a beautiful rose began to grow where each of the mother’s tears fell. The rose is white for their tears; a gold center represents the gold taken from Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem for the seven Cherokee clans. The wild Cherokee Rose grows along the route of the Trail of Tears into eastern Oklahoma today.
The Wisdom of the Old Men
In The Beginning
In the beginning, the Great Spirit made this world for His pleasure. He piled up the mountains, scooped out the lakes, traced the rivers, planted the forests; and to dwell in them, He created the insects, the fish, the reptiles, the birds, the beasts, and man - all of one flesh, and in all the breath of life, which is a measure of the Great Spirit.
All are His children - and man is but a little higher than the animals - he is better only in having a larger measure of understanding, and in better knowledge of the Great Spirit. So also in better gift, he has the power of hearing the Voices from which comes knowledge of the Unseen World.
How Coyote Stole Fire
Long ago, when man was newly come into the world, there were days when he was the happiest creature of all. Those were the days when spring brushed across the willow tails, or when his children ripened with the blueberries in the sun of summer, or when the goldenrod bloomed in the autumn haze.
But always the mists of autumn evenings grew more chill, and the sun's strokes grew shorter. Then man saw winter moving near, and he became fearful and unhappy. He was afraid for his children, and for the grandfathers and grandmothers who carried in their heads the sacred tales of the tribe. Many of these, young and old, would die in the long, ice-bitter months of winter.
Coyote, like the rest of the People, had no need for fire. So he seldom concerned himself with it, until one spring day when he was passing a human village. There the women were singing a song of mourning for the babies and the old ones who had died in the winter. Their voices moaned like the west wind through a buffalo skull, prickling the hairs on Coyote's neck.
"Feel how the sun is now warm on our backs," one of the men was saying. "Feel how it warms the earth and makes these stones hot to the touch. If only we could have had a small piece of the sun in our teepees during the winter."
Coyote, overhearing this, felt sorry for the men and women. He also felt that there was something he could do to help them. He knew of a faraway mountain-top where the three Fire Beings lived. These Beings kept fire to themselves, guarding it carefully for fear that man might somehow acquire it and become as strong as they. Coyote saw that he could do a good turn for man at the expense of these selfish Fire Beings.
So Coyote went to the mountain of the Fire Beings and crept to its top, to watch the way that the Beings guarded their fire. As he came near, the Beings leaped to their feet and gazed searchingly round their camp. Their eyes glinted like bloodstones, and their hands were clawed like the talons of the great black vulture.
"What's that? What's that I hear?" hissed one of the Beings.
"A thief, skulking in the bushes!" screeched another.
The third looked more closely, and saw Coyote. But he had gone to the mountain-top on all fours, so the Being thought she saw only an ordinary coyote slinking among the trees.
"It is no one, it is nothing!" she cried, and the other two looked where she pointed and also saw only a grey coyote. They sat down again by their fire and paid Coyote no more attention.
So he watched all day and night as the Fire Beings guarded their fire. He saw how they fed it pine cones and dry branches from the sycamore trees. He saw how they stamped furiously on runaway rivulets of flame that sometimes nibbled outwards on edges of dry grass. He saw also how, at night, the Beings took turns to sit by the fire. Two would sleep while one was on guard; and at certain times the Being by the fire would get up and go into their teepee, and another would come out to sit by the fire.
Coyote saw that the Beings were always jealously watchful of their fire except during one part of the day. That was in the earliest morning, when the first winds of dawn arose on the mountains. Then the Being by the fire would hurry, shivering, into the teepee calling, "Sister, sister, go out and watch the fire." But the next Being would always be slow to go out for her turn, her head spinning with sleep and the thin dreams of dawn.
Coyote, seeing all this, went down the mountain and spoke to some of his friends among the People. He told them of hairless man, fearing the cold and death of winter. And he told them of the Fire Beings, and the warmth and brightness of the flame. They all agreed that man should have fire, and they all promised to help Coyote's undertaking.
Then Coyote sped again to the mountain-top. Again the Fire Beings leaped up when he came close, and one cried out, "What's that? A thief, a thief!"
But again the others looked closely, and saw only a grey coyote hunting among the bushes. So they sat down again and paid him no more attention.
Coyote waited through the day, and watched as night fell and two of the Beings went off to the teepee to sleep. He watched as they changed over at certain times all the night long, until at last the dawn winds rose.
Then the Being on guard called, "Sister, sister, get up and watch the fire."
And the Being whose turn it was climbed slow and sleepy from her bed, saying, "Yes, yes, I am coming. Do not shout so."
But before she could come out of the teepee, Coyote lunged from the bushes, snatched up a glowing portion of fire, and sprang away down the mountainside.
Screaming, the Fire Beings flew after him. Swift as Coyote ran, they caught up with him, and one of them reached out a clutching hand. Her fingers touched only the tip of the tail, but the touch was enough to turn the hairs white, and coyote tail-tips are white still. Coyote shouted, and flung the fire away from him. But the others of the People had gathered at the mountain's foot, in case they were needed. Squirrel saw the fire falling, and caught it, putting it on her back and fleeing away through the tree-tops. The fire scorched her back so painfully that her tail curled up and back, as squirrels' tails still do today.
The Fire Beings then pursued Squirrel, who threw the fire to Chipmunk. Chattering with fear, Chipmunk stood still as if rooted until the Beings were almost upon her. Then, as she turned to run, one Being clawed at her, tearing down the length of her back and leaving three stripes that are to be seen on chipmunks' backs even today. Chipmunk threw the fire to Frog, and the Beings turned towards him. One of the Beings grasped his tail, but Frog gave a mighty leap and tore himself free, leaving his tail behind in the Being's hand---which is why frogs have had no tails ever since.
As the Beings came after him again, Frog flung the fire on to Wood. And Wood swallowed it.
The Fire Beings gathered round, but they did not know how to get the fire out of Wood. They promised it gifts, sang to it and shouted at it. They twisted it and struck it and tore it with their knives. But Wood did not give up the fire. In the end, defeated, the Beings went back to their mountain-top and left the People alone.
But Coyote knew how to get fire out of Wood. And he went to the village of men and showed them how. He showed them the trick of rubbing two dry sticks together, and the trick of spinning a sharpened stick in a hole made in another piece of wood. So man was from then on warm and safe through the killing cold of winter.
Dlö' Binant'a'--An Original Apache Tale LEADER OF THE BIRDS
This story is about a time when birds were still like people. The birds got together to talk. "The different clans (animals) all have leaders, but we do not," they said. "We are good for nothing. It would be good for us to choose a leader also. He could then speak for us about our activities," they said.
So the birds selected the oriole first. They said, "His feathers are very nice." Because of his feathers they thought they wanted him to be their leader. They discussed this for some time. "Well, never mind him after all," they said. "His long clothes are pretty, but he doesn't speak very much. If he becomes our leader he might not speak well for us in the future." They put him aside.
Then they chose the mocking bird. But they immediately said, "He is too talkative. He always speaks bad and mocks things. It would not be good for him to become our leader. He might speak even worse for us in the future." They put him aside to choose again.
The next time they chose a blue jay. "What would it be like for us if we chose him to be the leader?" they asked. "He is also like the other one. He talks too much. It would not be good for him to speak for us. He's too stubborn, and he also brags about himself. There would be a lot of mocking." They also set him aside.
"In that case, should it be the roadrunner?" they said. "He's good for sure. He would be fast for us in running to meetings. And he also talks well. It would be good for us if he became our leader."
Therefore, the roadrunner became the leader. Nowadays, roadrunner is the leader of all the birds.
The Cherokee Story of The Bear Man
There is a story of a man that was hunting in the Smoky Mountains on a cool and crisp mountain morning. He shot a Black Bear with a large obsidian arrow that went quickly and straight to its intended designation. He was a very good bear hunter. Little did he know that this Black Bear was no ordinary bear. The Black Bear started to run, when the hunter shot another arrow into him. The Black Bear stopped and slowly pulled the arrows out and handed them to the hunter. "You don't need to shoot me anymore, because you cannot kill me," said the Black Bear, then he invited him to go back to his cave with him for something to eat. Knowing what the hunter was thinking, he said "Don't worry there is plenty to eat there, and you can stay with me for the night." The hunter went with him.
As they got to the cave in the mountains, there was something going on in the adjacent cave. Black Bear said the bears were having a Council with the chief White Bear. The hunter sneaked a peak, and the bears smelled the hunter. As the hunter retreated, one of the Brown Bears said, "Why do you smell so bad?" Chief White Bear invited the hunter and Black Bear to join them. While food was scarce in the mountains, a bear scout said there were chestnuts and acorns that were knee deep to a grasshopper in the low country. With joy, they started to dance the Bear Dance. One of the bears noticed the bow and arrows of the hunter and asked, "Can we try this?" The hunter thought he better, since he was in the presence of so many bears. They tried but the string would get caught in their claws, so they gave them back to the hunter. It was a fun time of dance and songs, until it was late and time to rest.
Black Bear and the hunter went to his cave. The hunter had chestnuts, acorns, blackberries, and huckleberries to eat until he was full. It was strange to the hunter because he could not see any food there, but Black Bear would turn around and there they would be. The hunter stayed with Black Bear for most of the winter. One day the hunter noticed that he had long black hear growing all over his body and that he began to gate and walk like a bear. Black Bear said that living in the caves would do that to you, but he knew it was time for the hunter to go back to his people. Besides, it was close to time for the grand hunting time. Said Black Bear, you know they will come and hunt me for my fur and my meat. The hunter did not want to leave. Black Bear said, "Just cover my blood with the leaves, then look back as you leave."
The next morning Black Bear and the hunter were awaken by the sound of hunters and dogs that were barking. The hunter saw the bears and started to shoot them with arrows. They drug them outside, skinned them and prepared them for the journey home. Further back in the cave, the hunters saw their long lost hunting friend, but he had long black hair all over him. So they brought him with them to return home. Before leaving he asked to cover the blood with leaves. As they left, the lost hunter turned back to see Black Bear appear from the leaves, then go back into the cave.
As it was in those days, when a hunter or a lost child was kept by the animals, they would be shut up for seven days and nights until the animal nature left them. So they shut up the lost hunter, but his wife heard the news. She begged to see him, but the watch-keepers refused. On the fifth night, she snuck in while they were asleep to see her lost husband. She took him home, but his spirit left him early one morning before the end of the seven days and nights.
Some say that he was given in spirit so the bears could continue to exist, while some say he should have stayed the seven days and nights in fasting to get the animal spirit out of him. An elder told me that sometimes this happens when the hunter kills a "spirit animal" or "spirit bear" in this case. He said the old ones taught them to sing and dance the Bear Dance or the dance of the animal they were hunting to let the animals know they were coming. Also, they were taught to give thanks to the spirit of the bears or animals being hunted and call upon the chief of those animals to ask for the fur to stay warm for the winter and for the meat to survive. As it is in nature, the animals will give of themselves for the humans, knowing that the hunters will give thanks and cover their blood with leaves so they can live again.
In the long ago time, there was a Cherokee Clan call the Ani-Tsa-gu-hi (Ahnee-Jah-goo-hee), and in one family of this clan was a boy who used to leave home and be gone all day in the mountains. After a while he went oftener and stayed longer, until at last he would not eat in the house at all, but started off at daybreak and did not come back until night. His parents scolded, but that did no good, and the boy still went every day until they noticed that long brown hair was beginning to grow out all over his body. Then they wondered and asked him why it was that he wanted to be so much in the woods that he would not even eat at home. Said the boy, "I find plenty to eat there, and it is better than the corn and beans we have in the settlements, and pretty soon I am going into the woods to say all the time." His parents were worried and begged him not leave them, but he said, "It is better there than here, and you see I am beginning to be different already, so that I can not live here any longer. If you will come with me, there is plenty for all of us and you will never have to work for it; but if you want to come, you must first fast seven days."
The father and mother talked it over and then told the headmen of the clan. They held a council about the matter and after everything had been said they decided: "Here we must work hard and have not always enough. There he says is always plenty without work. We will go with him." So they fasted seven days, and on the seventh morning al the Ani-Tsa-gu-hi left the settlement and started for the mountains as the boy led the way.
When the people of the other towns heard of it they were very sorry and sent their headmen to persuade the Ani Tsaguhi to stay at home and not go into the woods to live. The messengers found them already on the way, and were surprised to notice that their bodies were beginning to be covered with hair like that of animals, because for seven days they had not taken human food and their nature was changing. The Ani Tsaguhi would not come back, but said, "We are going where there is always plenty to eat. Hereafter we shall be called Yonv(a) (bears), and when you yourselves are hungry come into the woods and call us and we shall come to give you our own flesh. You need not be afraid to kill us, for we shall live always." Then they taught the messengers the songs with which to call them and bear hunters have these songs still. When they had finished the songs, the Ani Tsaguhi started on again and the messengers turned back to the settlements, but after going a little way they looked back and saw a drove of bears going into the woods.
Aho! We are all Related!
The First Fire
In the beginning of the world, there was no fire. The animal people were often cold. Only the Thunders, who lived in the world beyond the sky arch, had fire. At last they sent Lightning down to an island. Lightning put fire into the bottom of a hollow sycamore tree.
The animal people knew that the fire was there, because they could see smoke rising from the top of the tree. But they could not get to it on account of the water. So they held a council to decide what to do.
Everyone that could fly or could swim was eager to go after the fire. Raven said, "Let me go. I am large and strong."
At that time Raven was white. He flew high and far across the water and reached the top of the sycamore tree. While he sat there wondering what to do, the heat scorched all his feathers black. The frightened Raven flew home without the fire, and his feathers have been black ever since.
Then the council sent Screech Owl. He flew to the island. But while he was looking down into the hollow tree, a blast of hot air came up and nearly burned out his eyes. He flew home and to this day, Screech Owl's eyes are red.
Then Hooting Owl and Horned Owl were sent to the island together. But the smoke nearly blinded them, and the ashes carried up by the wind made white rings about their eyes. They had to come home, and were never able to get rid of the white rings.
Then Little Snake swam across to the island, crawled through the grass to the tree, and entered it through a small hole at the bottom. But the smoke and the heat were too much for him, too. He escaped alive, but his body had been scorched black. And it was so twisted that he doubled on his track as if always trying to escape from a small space.
Big Snake, the climber, offered to go for fire, but he fell into the burning stump and became as black as Little Snake. He has been the great blacksnake ever since.
At last Water Spider said that she would go. Water Spider has black downy hair and red stripes on her body. She could run on top of water and she could dive to the bottom. She would have no trouble in getting to the island.
"But you are so little, how will you carry enough fire?" the council asked.
"I'll manage all right," answered Water Spider. "I can spin a web." so she spun a thread from her body and wove it into a little bowl and fastened the little bowl on her back. Then she crossed over to the island and through the grass. She put one little coal of fire into her bowl and brought it across to the people.
Every since, we have had fire. And the Water Spider still has her little bowl on her back.
Why the Raven is Black~
Great Spirit decided it was time to give the winged (the birds) their colors. Before this time all of the birds were gray. Their feathers did not carry the beautiful colors they do today. Great Spirit told all of the winged to gather at a special lake which was hidden high in the mountains. All of the winged flew to this magical body of water. Great Spirit told them to dive into the water and they would emerge with beautiful colors in their feathers. Brave little Hummingbird dove in first. He didn't stay long but when he came out he was a beautiful green and had ruby on his throat. Jaybird was next. He stayed a little longer than Hummingbird had. When he emerged he was a bright blue and had a white throat. He wore a black necklace low on his neck. Wren splashed into the depths. When he got out of the water he was brown with a golden chest. Cardinal flew into the lake. He stayed in a bit longer than the others. When Cardinal broke the surface he was bright red and beautiful. Bluebird splashed into the water and stayed for a while. He came up blue with his beautiful red breast. Indigo Bunting dived in. He stayed linger than any of the previous birds. He came up such a beautiful blue that the other birds gasped at his gorgeous color. Raven had been watching all of this. He was aware that the longer the birds stayed under the water the more beautiful they were when they emerged and Raven wanted to be the most beautiful of all of the winged.. Raven filed his lungs with air until his chest swelled up much larger than it usually was. He dove into the lake and swam deep into the depths. Raven grabbed a large rock and held onto it so he would not use up his air too quickly. He stayed under water so long that all of the other birds became worried that he would drown. Kingfisher dove into the lake and looked for Raven but could not find him. Kingfisher emerged a pretty blue gray color. Still Raven did not come up. The winged were just about to ask the fishes to help them find Raven when Raven finally broke the surface. He thought he would have the most beautiful colors of all of the winged but he was wrong. Raven had absorbed all of the colors and far too much of them at that. Be was as black as a piece of coal and was just as shiny. Though Raven was not happy with his color he had brought something special out of the deep waters of the lake. He had been submerged for a very long time. When he did this Raven had found the opening between this world and the world of Spirit, which lies under the waters of the Earth Mother. Raven brought the secrets of Magic to the surface world. He brought the ability to shape shift and to work magic for healing and to do good for the entire world. This was many year ago and Raven is still black, and he still carries much strong Medicine.