The Ice Man

Once when the people were burning the woods in the fall the blaze set fire to a poplar tree, which continued to burn until the fire went down into the roots and burned a great hole in the ground.

It burned and burned, and the hole grew constantly larger, until the people became frightened and were afraid it would burn the whole world. They tried to put out the fire, but it had gone too deep, and they did not know what to do.

At last some one said there was a man living in a house of ice far in the north who could put out the fire, so messengers were sent, and after traveling a long distance they came to the ice house and found the Ice Man at home. He was a little fellow with long hair hanging down to the ground in two plaits.

The messengers told him their errand and he at once said, “O yes, I can help you,” and began to unplait his hair. When it was all unbraided he took it up in one band and struck it once across his other hand, and the messengers felt a wind blow against their cheeks. A second time he struck his hair across his hand, and a light rain began to fall.

The third time he struck his hair across his open hand there was sleet mixed with the raindrops, and when he struck the fourth time great hailstones fell upon the ground, as if they had come out from the ends of his hair. “Go back now,” said the lee Man, “and I shall be there to-morrow.” So the messengers returned to their people, whom they found still gathered helplessly about the great burning pit.

The next-day while they were all watching about the fire there came a wind from the north, and they were afraid, for they knew that it came from the lee Man. But the wind only made the fire blaze up higher. Then a light rain began to fall, but the drops seemed only to make the fire hotter. Then the shower turned to a heavy rain, with sleet and hail that killed the blaze and made clouds of smoke and steam rise from the red coals.

The people fled to their homes for shelter, and the storm rose to a whirlwind that drove the rain into every burning crevice and piled great hailstones over the embers, until the fire was dead and even the smoke ceased.

When at last it was all over and the people returned they found a lake where the burning pit had been, and from below the water came a sound as of embers still crackling.


Legend Credit:
A Cherokee Legend
James Mooney, 1900

Photo Credit:


The Origin of Tobacco

A man had lost his horses and was looking for them. A woman was also hunting for horses. They, the man and the woman, met and talked to each other. They sat talking together under a hickory tree which cast a good shade. The woman said, “I am hunting for some horses that have been hidden away.” The man said, “I am also hunting for horses.” As they sat talking something occurred to the man and he spoke to his companion as follows, “I am hunting about for horses; you too are hunting about for horses. Let us be friends, and lie here together, after which we will start on.” The woman considered the matter and said, “All right.” Both lay down, and when they got up the man went on his way and the woman went on hers. Next summer the man was looking for horses again and happened to pass near the place where he and the woman had talked. The man thought, “I will go by that place just to look at it.” When he got there he saw that a weed had grown up right where they had lain, but he did not know what it was. He stood looking at it for a while and then started off. He traveled on and told the old men about it. He said, “I saw something like this and this growing,” and one answered, “Examine it to see whether it is good. When it is ripe we will find out what it is.” Afterwards the man started off to look at it. He saw that it had grown still bigger. He dug close about it to soften the soil and it grew still better. He took care of it and saw the leaves grow larger. When it blossomed the flowers were pretty, and he saw that they were big. When they ripened the seeds were very small. He took the seeds from the hull, gathered leaves, and took them to the old men. They looked at these but did not know what the plant was. After they had looked at them in vain for some time they gave it up. Then one of them pulverized the leaves and put them into a cob pipe, lighted it and smoked it. The aroma was grateful. All of the old men said, “The leaves of the thing are good,” and they named it. They called it hitci (which means both “see” and “tobacco”), they say. Therefore woman and man together created tobacco.


A Hitchiti Legend

John R. Swanton, 1929

The Snake Myth

At Tokóonavi, north of the Grand Canyon, lived people who were then not yet Snake people. They lived close to the bank of the river. The chief’s son often pondered over the Grand Canyon and wondered where all that water went to.

“That must certainly make it very full somewhere,” he thought to himself. So he spoke to his father about it. ”So that is what you have been thinking about,” the latter said. “Yes,” his son answered, “I want to go and examine it.”

The father gave his consent and told his son that he should make a box for himself that would be large enough for him to get into, and he should arrange it so that all openings in the box could be closed. This the boy did, making also a long pole (according to others a long báho), with which he could push the box in case it became fast or tangled up anywhere.

When he was ready he took a lot of báhos and some food, went into the box, and allowed himself to be pushed into the water, on which he then floated along. Finally he came to the ocean, where he drifted against an island. He found the house of Spider Woman (Kóhk’ang Wuhti) here, who called him to come to her house. He went over and found that he could not get through the opening leading to her house. “How shall I get in?” he said; “the opening is too small.” She told him to enlarge it.

This he did and then entered. He told her a story and gave her a báho, and said that he had come after beads, etc. She pointed to another kiva away out in the water and said that there were some beads and corals there. but that there were some wild animals guarding the path to it. “If you had not informed me, how could you have succeeded in getting there and how would you have gotten back? But I shall go with you,” she said, “because you have given me a báho, for which I am very glad.”

She then gave the young man some medicine and seated herself behind his right ear. He spurted the medicine over the water and immediately a road like a rainbow was formed from the dwelling of Spider Woman to the other kiva. On this they went across the water. As they approached the kiva to which they were going they first encountered a panther, who growled fiercely.

The young man gave him a green báho and spurted some medicine upon him, which quieted him. A little farther on they met a bear, whom they quieted in the same manner. Still farther on they came upon a wildcat, to which they also handed a báho, which quieted the animal. Hereupon they met a gray wolf, and finally a very large rattle-snake (K’áhtoya), both of which they appeased in the same manner as the others.

They then arrived at the kiva, where they found at the entrance a bow standard (Aoát nátsi). They then descended the ladder and found in the kiva many people who were dressed in blue kilts, had their faces painted with specular iron (yaláhaii), and around their necks they wore many beads.

The young man sat down near the fireplace, Spider Woman still being seated on his ear, but no one spoke. The men looked at him, but remained silent. Presently the chief got a large bag of tobacco and a large pipe. He filled the latter and smoked four times. He then handed the pipe to the young man and said: “Smoke and swallow the smoke.” The swallowing of the smoke was a test: any one not being able to do that was driven off. Spider Woman had informed the young man about this test, so he was posted. When he commenced to smoke she whispered to him: “Put me behind you.” This he did in an unobserved manner, so when he swallowed the smoke she immediately drew the smoke from him and blew it away, and hence he did not get dizzy.

The men who did not observe the trick were pleased and said to him: ”All right, you are strong; you are certainly some one. Thank you. Your heart is good: you are one of us; you are our child.” “Yes.” he said, and handed them some red nakwákwosis and a single green báho with red points, such as are still made in Shupaúlavi in the Antelope society. They then became very friendly, saving that the were very happy over the báhos. On the walls of the kiva were hanging many costumes made of snake skins. Soon the chief said to the people: “Let us dress up now,” and turning to the young man bid him to turn away so that he would not see what was going on. He did so, and when he looked back again the men had all dressed up in the snake costumes and had turned into snakes, large and small, bull-snakes, racers, and rattle-snakes, that were moving about on the floor hissing, rattling, etc.

While he had turned away and the snake People had been dressing themselves, Spider Woman had whispered to him that they were now going to try him very hard, but that he should not be afraid to touch the snakes; and she gave him many instructions. Among those present in the kiva had also been some pretty maidens who had also put on snake costumes and had turned into serpents. One of them had been particularly handsome. The chief had not turned into a snake, and was sitting near the fireplace. He now turned to the young man and said to him: “You go now and select and take one of these snakes.” The snakes seemed to be very angry and the young man got frightened when they stared at him, but Spider Woman whispered to him not to be a coward, nor to be afraid.

The prettiest maiden had turned into a large yellow rattle-snake (Sik’á-tcua), and was especially angry. Spider Woman whispered to the young man, that the one that acted so very angrily was the pretty maiden and that he should try to take that one. He tried, but the snake was very wild and fierce.

“Be not afraid,” Spider Woman whispered, and handed him some medicine. This he secretly chewed and spurted a small quantity of it on the fierce snake, whereupon it immediately became docile.

He at once grabbed it, held and stroked it four times upward, each time spurting a little medicine on it, and thus freeing it from its anger. The chief was astonished and said: “You are very something, thanks. Now, look away again.” He did so and when he turned back he saw that all the snakes had assumed the forms of men and women again, including the maiden that he had captured. They now were all very good to him, and talked to him in the kindest manner, because they now considered him as initiated and as one of them.

He was now welcome, and the chief invited him to eat. The mána whom the young man had taken got from another room in the kiva some bread made of fresh corn-meal, some peaches, melons, etc., and set this food before the young man. Spider Woman whispered to the young -man to give her something to eat too, which he did secretly. She enjoyed the food very much and was very happy.

Now the chief asked the man why he came, etc. “I hunt a lólomat kátcit (good life) and was thinking about the water running this way, and so this way it runs. I have come also to get Hopi food from here. I also heard that there lives a woman here somewhere, the Hurúing Wuhti, from whom I want beads.” “What have you for her?” they asked. “These báhos,” he said. “All right, you will get there. But now you sleep here.” But Spider Woman wanted to get back. He told them that he wanted to go out a little while.

Then he went and took Spider Woman home, and put her down. She invited him to come and eat with her. She had a pövö’lpik’i off which she lived and which never gave out, but he left her and returned to the Snake kiva, where he was welcomed and called brother and son-in-law (möö’nangwuu), although he had not yet married, but only caught the mana. So he remained there. That evening and night the chief told him all about the Snake cult, altar, etc., etc., and instructed him how he must put this up, and do that, when he would return. He did not sleep that night.

In the morning he again went out on the same excuse as the previous evening, and went to Spider Woman, who went out. She made a rainbow road into the ocean to a high bluff where Hurúing Wuhti lived, and to which they ascended on a ladder. They went in and found an old hag, but on all the walls many beads, shells, etc. The woman said nothing. The young man gave her the báhos, then she, said faintly, “Áskwali!” (Thanks!) At sundown she went into a side chamber and returned a very pretty maiden with fine buffalo and wildcat robes, of which she made a bed, and after having fed him, invited him to sleep with her on the bed. Then Spider Woman ,whispered he should comply with her request, then he would win her favor and get the beads. So he did as requested. In the morning he awoke and found by his side an old hag, snoring. He was very unhappy, He stayed all day, the hag sitting bent up all day. In the evening the change, etc., that occurred on the previous day was repeated, but the hag after this remained a pretty maiden. He remained four days and nights with Hurúing Wuhti, who is the deity of the hard substances.

After four days he wanted to go home, so she went into a room on the north side and got a turquoise bead; then from a room west the same: from a room South a reddish bead (cátsni); from one east, a hard white bead (hurúingwa), a shell. Then she gave him a few of all kinds of beads and told him to go home now, but charging him not to open the sack, because if he did they would be gone, and if he did not they would increase. “You go to the Snakes, who will give you clothes, food, etc.”

He then returned to the Snake kiva. There he staved four days and four nights, sleeping with his wife. When he was ready to go home the chief said: “Take this mana with you. You have won us. Take it all with you, take of our food. Practice the ceremonies there that I told you about. This woman will bear you children and then you will be many and they will hold this ceremony for you.” So they started. At Spider Woman’s house he told his wife, ”You stay here. I will go to the rear.” So he went to Spider Woman’s house and she asked: ”Well, did you get the mana?” “Yes,” he said. “Well, you take everything along.” But she forbid him to touch his wife while they would be on the way, as then his beads would disappear and also his wife.

So they started. The beads were as yet not heavy. During the night they slept separately. In the morning they found that the beads had increased, and they kept increasing as they went along the next day. The next night they spent in the same way. They were anxious to see whether the beads and shells had increased, but did not dare to do so. The third night was again spent, and the contents of the bag increased the same as the previous two nights.

The bag with the beads and shells now became very heavy and the young man was very anxious to see them, but his wife forbade him to open the sack. The fourth night was spent in the same manner, and when they arose in the morning the sack was nearly full and was very heavy. Spider Woman had also put some strings into the bag with the beads, and the beads were strung onto these strings a,; they kept increasing. They now approached the home of the young man, and the latter was very anxious to get home in order to see the contents, of the sack, so they traveled on. When they had nearly one more day’s travel to make the sack had become full. During the last night the man opened the sack, although his wife remonstrated most energetically. He took out many of the finest beads and shells and spread them on the floor before them, put them around his neck, and was very happy. So they retired for the night. In the morning they found that all the beads except those which Hurúing Wuhti had given to the man had disappeared.

Hence the Hopi have so few beads at the present day. If that man had at that time brought home with him all the beads which he had, they would have many. So when they arrived at home they were very despondent.

At that time only the Divided or Separated Spring (Bátki) clan and the Pö’na (a certain cactus) clan lived at that place, but with the arrival of this young couple a new clan, the Snake clan, had come to the village. Soon this new woman bore many children. They were snakes who lived in the fields and in the sand. They grew very rapidly and went about and played with the Hopi children, whom they sometimes bit. This made the Hopi very angry and they said: “This is not good,” and drove them off, so they were very unhappy.

The woman said to her husband: “You take our children back to my home and there we shall go away from here alone.” Then the man’s father made báhos, gave them to his son, who put all the snakes with the báhos into his blanket and took them back to his wife’s home, and there told the Snake people why he brought their children and the báhos. They said it was all right. Hence the Snake priests, when carrying away the snakes from the plaza after the snake dance, take with them and deposit with the snakes some báhos, so that they should not themselves return to the village. When the Snake man returned to his village lit and his wife traveled south-eastward, stopping at various places. All at once they saw smoke in the distance, and when they went there they found a village perched son the mesa. This was the village of Wálpi. They at once went to the foot of the mesa on which Wálpi was situated and announced their presence. So the village chief went down to them from the mesa, and asked what they wanted.

They asked to be admitted to the village, promising that they would assist the people in the ceremonies. The chief at first showed himself unwilling to admit then), but finally gave his consent and took them up to the village. From that time the woman bore human children instead of little snakes. These children and their descendants became the Snake clan, of whom only very few are now living.

Soon also the Bátki and Pö’na clan came to Wálpi and found admittance to the village. At Wálpi the Snake people made the first Snake típoni, Snake altar, etc., and had the first Snake ceremony. From here the Snake cult spread to the other villages, first to Shongópavi, then to Mishóngnovi, and then to Oraíbi. At the first Snake ceremony the Snake chief sent his nephew to the north, to the west, to the south, and to the east to hunt snakes.

He brought some from each direction, The chief then hollowed out a piece of báho, made of cottonwood root. Into this he put the rattles of three of the snakes and the fourth snake entirely. He then inserted into it a corn-ear, and tied to it different feathers of the eagle, the oriole, blue-bird, parrot, magpie, Ásya, and topóckwa, winding a buckskin String around these feathers. When he had made this típoni, the first ceremony was celebrated, and afterwards it took place regularly.


Credit for Content

A Hopi Legend
H. R. Voth,
The Traditions of the Hopi, 1905

The Two Mohawks


In the year 1747 a couple of the Mohawk Indians came against the lower towns of the Cheerake, and cunningly ambuscaded them through most part of the spring and summer.

The two killed above twenty in different attacks before they were discovered by any party of the enraged and dejected people.

They had a thorough knowledge of the most convenient ground for their purpose, and were extremely swift and long-winded. Whenever they killed any and got the scalp they made off to the neighboring mountains, and ran over the broad ledges of rocks in contrary courses, as occasion offered, so as the pursuers could by no means trace them.

Once, when a large company was in chase of them, they ran round a steep hill at the head of the main eastern branch of Savana river, intercepted, killed, and scalped the hindmost of the party, and then made off between them and Keeowhee.

As this was the town to which the company belonged, they hastened home in a close body, as the proper place of security from such enemy wizards. In this manner did those two sprightly, gallant savages perplex and intimidate their foes for the space of four moons in the greatest security, though they often were forced to kill and barbecue what they chiefly lived upon, in the midst of their watchful enemies.

Having sufficiently revenged their relations’ blood and gratified their own ambition with an uncommon number of scalps, they resolved to captivate one and run home with him as a proof of their having killed none but the enemies of their country.

Advancing with the usual caution on such an occasion, one crawled along under the best cover of the place about the distance of a hundred yards ahead, while the other shifted from tree to tree, looking sharply every way.

In the evening, however, an old, beloved man discovered them from the top of an adjoining hill, and knew them to be enemies by the cut of their hair, light trim for running, and their, postures.

He returned to the town and called first at the house of one of our traders and informed him of the affair, enjoining him not to mention it to any, lest the people should set off against them without success before their tracks were to be discovered and he be charged with having deceived them.

But, contrary to the true policy of traders among unforgiving savages, that thoughtless member of the Choktah Sphinx Company busied himself, as usual, out of his proper sphere, sent for the headmen, and told them the story. As the Mohawks were allies and not known to molest any of the traders in the paths and woods, he ought to have observed a strict neutrality.

The youth of the town, by order of their headmen, carried on their noisy public diversions in their usual manner to prevent their foes from having any suspicion of their danger, while runners were sent from the town to their neighbors to come silently and assist them to secure the prey in its state of security.

They came like silent ghosts, concerted their plan of operation, passed over the river at the old trading ford opposite to the late fort, which lay between two contiguous commanding hills, and, proceeding downward over a broad creek, formed a large semicircle from the river bank, while the town seemed to be taking its usual rest.

They then closed into a narrower compass, and at last discovered the two brave, unfortunate men lying close under the tops of some fallen young pine trees. The company gave the war signal, and the Mohawks, bounding up, bravely repeated it; but, by their sudden spring from under thick cover, their arms were useless. They made desperate efforts, however, to kill or be killed, as their situation required.

One of the Cherokee, the noted half-breed of Istanare [Ustäna’lï] town, which lay 2 miles from thence, was at the first onset knocked down and almost killed with his own cutlass, which was wrested from him, though he was the strongest of the whole nation. But they were overpowered by numbers, captivated, and put to the most exquisite tortures of fire, amidst a prodigious crowd of exulting foes.

One of the present Choktah traders, who was on the spot, told me that when they were tied to the stake the younger of the two discovered our traders on a hill near, addressed them in English, and entreated them to redeem their lives. The elder immediately spoke to him, in his own language, to desist. On this, he recollected himself, and became composed like a stoic, manifesting an indifference to life or death, pleasure or pain, according to their standard of martial virtue, and their dying behavior did not reflect the least dishonor on their former gallant actions.

All the pangs of fiery torture served only to refine their manly spirits, and as it was out of the power of the traders to redeem them they, according to our usual custom, retired as soon as the Indians began the diabolical tragedy.


The Two Mohawks

A Cherokee Legend


American Indians, 1775

photo credit – (Courtesy


The Water People

thewaterpeopleA boy carrying his bow and arrows was walking about near the water, when two women standing close to the shore said, “Follow us.”

Then he leaned his bow up against a tree and followed them, and presently those women said, “We are going down into the water. Go down in with us.”

So saying, they started on, and just as they had said, they presently went down into the water, that boy with them.

When all got in, the bottom was as if there were no water there, and before they had gone far they came to where there were some old water people.

Those old men said, “There is a chair. Sit down.”

The chair they thus indicated to him was a very big water turtle.

“They spoke to me,” the youth related “and I sat down and they said ‘Do you want to lie down? There is a bed. You must lie down. The tree-tyer [i. e., tie-snake] there is the bed,’ they said to me.”

Presently they said, “You can go hunting if you want to.”

“I cannot go hunting because I have no gun.”

But the old men said, “Go about hunting, and when you fall down somewhere come back.”

After they had said this to me I set out, and while I was walking around, there was a rumbling noise and I fell down. I lay there for a while, and then came to my senses and returned to them.

When I got back the old men said, ‘”What did you kill?”

“I killed nothing” I answered, “but I fell down and was unconscious. After I had lain there for a while I came back, but I did not kill anything.”

“Let us go and look at the place where you fell,” said those old men.

Immediately we started, and when we got there, a very big thing of some sort was lying there dead.

“It is just as we said,” said they, and they brought it back, Then they ate. After I had been there for a while those old men said, ‘If you want to go, you may,” and I said, “I will go.”

“You take him back,” they said to someone, and just as I thought, “They are going to take me along” I lost consciousness.

Next I came to my senses standing close to the water, exactly where I had been when they took me off.

“My bow is standing up against a tree,” I thought, and when I got to the place, there it was just as I had thought, and I took it and started off. When I got to the place where my people lived, they were there.

Then they said, “The one who has been lost for such a long time is back.”

“The old men compounded medicine for me and after a while I got well,” said the boy. They used to tell it so.

Don’t feed the bad wolf



Native American Legends
Two Wolves
A Cherokee Legend

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight
is going on inside me”, he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One
is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity,
guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority,
and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy,
peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy,
generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going
on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


Here is the same story, but it is called, “Grandfather Tells”
which is also known as “The Wolves Within”
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger
at a friend who had done him an injustice,”Let me tell you
a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken
so much, with no sorrow for what they do.
But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like
taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled
with these feelings many times.” He continued, “It is
as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm.
He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense
when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right
to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing
will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time,
for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so
great. It is helpless anger,for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me,
for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked,
“Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”


The Promise of Tomorrow

The promise Creator gives us Comes with every new day,
The gift of breath, the gift of life, Opportunities in a vast array.
How do we count our blessings, Through the choices life can bring?
Is it through joyful lessons? Or the fears to which we cling?
Are we learning to show gratitude, For the victories over human pain?
By honoring the feeling choices, We grasp the will we’ve regained.
Can we change our focus, With no need to defend?
Acknowledging joy and sorrow, Without judging foe or friend?
Tomorrow promises the fullness Of every human way to know:
How we master each challenge Determines our balance – reflecting how we grow.

Jamie Sams “Earth Medicine”