Native American Legends
A man pursued by his Uncle and by his Wife
A Seneca Legend
An old man and his nephew lived together in a forest. Their house had a partition
through the middle and a door at each end. The uncle never entered
the part occupied by his nephew, and all communication between the
two was held by each hearing through the partition what the other
said to himself. Each went in and out of his own part of the house
when he liked, but neither ever crossed the threshold of the other
After a time the nephew discovered his uncle's true nature--he
was a man-eater.
One day a woman came to the young man's part of the house. The
next morning the uncle said, "My nephew has two ways of breathing."
The young man, speaking to himself, said, "My uncle is mistaken,
I am talking to myself."
"My nephew can't deceive me," said the old man.
There are two persons in his part of the house. I am glad that
game has come to him... I am going hunting."
When his uncle had gone, the young man said to his wife, "My uncle
knows that you are here, now you must do as I tell you. If you don't
he will kill and eat you. Three women have been here. He killed
and ate each one of them, for they paid no heed to what I told them.
Before I go away to hunt, I will bring wood and water and whatever
you want, so you need not go out. If you go out, you are lost. My
uncle will kill you. As soon as I leave the house he will come back."
The young man started off, but turned back and a second time warned
his wife not to disobey him.
The minute the nephew was out of sight in the forest, the uncle
came to the door. The old man had the power of commanding things
to be done and the person had to obey though they didn't hear or
He said, "Let the woman come out!"
But the woman had power also. When he saw that she didn't come
out, he said, "Let the water she is cooking with boil away!"
The water boiled away, but the woman had a plenty more. The old
man was angry, and said, "I will get her out in one way or another."
As the young man was coming home, he saw smoke rising from his
part of the house. "All is well," thought he. "My uncle has not
been able to kill my wife." When he went into the house he praised
the woman for her obedience.
That afternoon, about dusk, they heard the old man come into his
part of the house and they knew that he hadn't brought any game.
He hunted only for people. He called out, "What luck has my nephew
"I have had good luck," answered the young man.
The old man began to mutter to himself, to blame his nephew for
hiding his uncle's game. At last he said, "I will wait a while then
I will have my own."
He heard two persons breathe and he was angry. Determined to have
something to eat he pounded bones into bits, put the bits into a
kettle, filled the kettle with water and hanging it over the fire
The young man and his wife were silent. The man had decided to
leave his uncle and his plans were laid. He had walked in circles
around the house making each circle larger than the preceding one
till he had a ring three days' journey in circuit and now he told
his wife what she must do.
That night the uncle said, "I am going away for a while. I can
find no game around here."
"Well," answered the nephew, "hunters, go where they can find something
to kill and they are often gone a long time. I am going farther
myself. Game is getting scarce in our neighborhood."
The young man had power. He caused a house to appear in a place
six days' journey away, then he told his wife about the house, and
said, "I have a brother there and I am going to send you to him.
This brother is invisible. No stranger has ever seen him. Hitherto
he has accompanied me, but now fie will aid you."
The young man took an arrow from his quiver, shook his wife till
she was only a couple of inches long, then, taking off the flint
point of the arrow, he put her inside the arrow and replacing the
point, said, "In three days I will follow you."
Putting his arrow on the bow string he drew it and sent the arrow
to the East. That instant the call of a woodpecker was heard. The
feathers on the arrow were from that bird, and all the way the arrow
sang with the voice of a woodpecker.
The young man could see the trail that the arrow left as it went
through the air. He went back to the cabin, and waited. In three
days his uncle came, but without game.
Talking to himself he asked, "What luck has my nephew had?"
"Good luck," said the young man. "I have a plenty to eat."
"I found nothing," said the old man. "This hunting ground is barren,
my eyes see no more game. But if I have no fresh meat I have bones.
I'll break them up and make soup."
Then the nephew heard his uncle breaking bones--there was a terrible
noise. At last the young man said, "My uncle makes too much noise."
"My nephew wouldn't make less noise if he were in my place. I am
trying to get something to eat." And paying no attention to what
his nephew said, the old man kept at work. The next morning, at
daybreak, he said, "I am going hunting. I shall be gone three days."
"I am glad," thought the young man, and as soon as his uncle was
out of, sight he took the trail that he had made and followed it
three days. Then he went directly toward his new cabin. Glancing
up he saw the arrow's trail, which looked like a rainbow in the
sky. After a while he made a long leap and as he leaped he ran in
the air, went up far above the forest and off on a level which was
still in the air.
The trail of the arrow was in the form of a rainbow and it seemed
to roll up and dissolve in mist as the young man passed over it.
It ended where the arrow had struck. In the cabin at the end of
the trail he found his wife.
The invisible brother saw the arrow when it struck the ground and
burst. He saw the woman come out of the arrow and take her natural
size. When she came into the house, he said to her, "I knew you
were coming. By obedience to your husband you have been able to
make this journey. No one has ever seen me before except my brother
and he only two or three times. I know what will come from my uncle's
wrath. He will pursue, and, if possible, kill you."
The old man came home and began to talk to his nephew. When he
received no answer he was very angry. He knew that his nephew was
not at home, and going out he looked for his trail, struck it and
found that the footprints were as old as his own, made three days
before. Going back to the house he muttered, "I'll follow him tomorrow.
The world is small. He cannot escape me. I'll follow him everywhere."
The invisible brother, though a great distance away, heard his
uncle talking to himself, heard his threats, heard him say, "My
daughter-in-law will never get out of my reach. I can go to the
edge of the world very quickly. My nephew is trying to save her.
He'll not succeed. I'll eat her flesh."
The next morning the old man set out. He followed his nephew's
footprints till night, then, looking up, saw that his own house
was near, that he had been going around and around. He was angry,
and said, "Tomorrow I will get on the right trail."
As soon as daylight came, the old man started again. As he traveled
he found that the trail was growing dim, but he kept on till midday,
then he saw that he was near his own house.
"Be it so!" said he. "Though my nephew is possessed with the witchcraft
of all the animals, I will have his wife's flesh."
He followed the trail three days longer, then he reached the end
of it and cried out, exultantly, "My daughter-in-law's flesh is
mine!" Looking up in the air he saw his nephew's trail. The trail
of the arrow was gone, but the footprints of the nephew remained
on the clouds.
As the old man followed on the ground the trail that he saw in
the air, he muttered to himself. The invisible brother heard his
threats and the three started for a lake that was not far away.
The woman took the lead; the husband stepped in her footprints.
When they came to the lake, the young man took a clam shell and
threw it toward the opposite bank. Immediately the banks came together
and the three stepped over. When they had crossed and the lake had
again resumed its natural size they looked back but could scarcely
see, at one look, the bank they had left. The young man, thinking
that when his uncle came to the lake he would be long in crossing,
left his wife and went to hunt for game.
The old man came to the lake and ran back and forth looking for
a place to cross. At last he called out, "Daughter-in-law, Daughter-in-law,
how did you cross the lake?" And though the woman knew he wanted
to kill her, she thought, "Why doesn't he throw a clam shell!"
He heard distinctly what she said in her mind and picking up a
clam shell he threw it. The banks came together and when the woman
looked to see where the old man was she was terrified to find him
right there at her side.
He caught her by the hair, and said, "I knew that I should eat
your flesh. My nephew has no right to keep game from me."
With one blow he cut off the woman's head. She had been left alone.
The invisible brother was not there to warn her.
The woman had twin boys. The old man hid the children in a hollow
tree, together with the woman's head, then putting the body on his
back, he went to the lake, and picking up a clam shell threw it
toward the opposite bank. The banks came together and he stepped
over. As he looked back, he saw the lake spread out again.
The young man thought that when near home he would see smoke rising
from his cabin, but he did not. "My uncle's words have come true,"
thought he. "She forgot my warning." He was lonesome and discouraged
and he determined never to go back to his uncle's house.
While cooking supper, the young man had to go for water. As he
stooped down to dip it up he heard a voice say, "Your uncle has
killed me! Your uncle has killed me!"
On looking around he saw that the willows were bespattered with
blood, and he knew from the blood out of which the voice came that
his wife had been killed. He had two proofs now, his uncle's tracks
and the speaking blood.
The young man continued to hunt and as he had good luck he didn't
go again to the house across the lake. One day when he came from
hunting he saw tracks around his fire, two little trails. Though
he saw fresh tracks each evening he paid no attention to them. They
looked like the tracks of a child but he thought that a little animal
made them. At last he noticed that some of his meat was gone and
that each day more and more disappeared. Then he resolved to catch
the thief. Pieces of meat hung up to dry had been pulled down, dragged
out of the house and then pulled along on the ground.
The young man followed the trail till he came to a big log. The
log, was hollow and the trail disappeared at the opening. He was
sure that some animal lived in the tree. The next day he started
off, as usual, but after going a short distance into the forest
he stopped to watch his house. Soon he saw two little boys come
out of the log and run toward the house. They went in and after
a while came out dragging a piece of meat. When they reached the
log they disappeared in the opening, pulling the meat in after them.
The man thought, "Tomorrow I will catch those children,"
He knew they could talk, for as they pulled the meat along he heard
one of them say, "Hurry, father will come!"
The next morning the young man went a short distance into the forest,
hid and waited. The time seemed long, but at last the boys came
from the log, ran to the house, went in and closed the door. The
man hurried home, went into the house and fastened the door behind
him. As soon as the children saw him, they began to cry.
"Why do you cry?" asked he, "I am your father. Don't cry."
When they stopped crying, he asked, "How do you know that I am
One boy was a little larger than the other, and when the man questioned
them he answered, "An old man killed our mother. He cut off her
head and hid it in a hollow log and he put us in there too. Our
mother's head is in the tree now."
"What do you do with the meat you take from here?"
"We feed it to our mother."
"You must stay with me now," said the father. He was kind to them
and the boys were glad to stay. He made them playthings, bow and
arrows and a ball and club. Whenever he went hunting, they carried
meat to their mother.
One day the larger boy said to his father, "My mother is hungry."
"Feed her," said he. "Feed her all she will eat. We have a plenty
of meat. You can take as much as you want."
Soon the man saw that the meat was disappearing very fast, faster
than he could bring it in. He was frightened.
One of the boys noticed this, and said, "My mother eats a great
deal, we can't carry her enough." And he asked his father to go
and see her.
The man went to the log and looking in saw two great eyes in a
"What can we do?" asked one of the boys.
"I am afraid," said the father, "that after she has eaten all the
meat she will eat us."
"We must go to some place far away," said the boys, "so that she
will have to travel a long time to overtake us. We can't feed her.
She never gets enough, and we are tired."
The man knew that it would soon be impossible to satisfy the Head,
so he said, "We will go away from here. You will start in the morning
and travel till you come to a large village. My dogs will go with
you as far as the village, then they will come back to help me."
The boys started and after they had gone quite a distance and were
tired, the larger dog said to the larger boy, "Sit on my back."
Then the smaller dog said to the smaller boy, "Sit on my back."
The boys did as told. The dogs ran on swiftly. After a long time
they came to a place where trees had been felled, then they said
to the boys, "We are near a village. You must walk now."
The boys were unwilling to walk, but the dogs, shaking themselves
as if they had just been in water, threw them off and told them
to go to the village. The dogs turned then and went back to their
The man knew that by going South he would find uncles who would
help him, just such powerful men as his old uncle. When the dogs
came back, they told their master that they would stay till the
last meat was gone, but he must go, for as soon as the meat was
eaten the Head would fly in the direction he took. They would delay
it all they could, but he must travel fast for his life was in danger.
The man started toward the South and went with great swiftness,
for he was a fast runner. Two days after he left, one of the dogs
overtook him, and said, "The meat is gone and the Head is trying
to find the boys. It can follow as far as they walked but no farther.
Be on your guard for it will find your trail."
The dog could see a great distance, it looked back, and said, "The
Head is coming! You have always said that no one could outrun you.
The time has come when you must exert all your strength."
When the Head started, the dogs left behind did what they could
to delay it. They bit it and when it turned to pursue them, they
dodged into the ground. It went on and again they sprang at it and
when it turned they again escaped into the ground. The trail of
the Head could be seen plainly for the bark was gnawed from the
trees where the dogs kept it back, delayed it and made it angry.
All at once, far off in the West, one of the little boys said to
the other, "Our father is in trouble, our mother is following him."
Soon a dog came up to the man, and said, "The Head is possessed
of such power that we don't know how to keep it back. We are doing
what we can, but you must run with all your strength."
The man ran with all speed. Seeing a house he darted into it and
called out to an old man sitting there, "Uncle, help me! A terrible
Head is following me to take my life!"
"I will help you all I can," said the old man, "but hurry to the
next house, your aunts live there; they will help you. If I am killed,
a dark cloud will go up to the sky."
The man was about half way between the two houses when he heard
a terrible noise and looking back saw that the Flying Head had reached
his uncle's house and his uncle was fighting it with all his strength.
When he turned a second time he saw a great black cloud rise into
the sky and he knew that his uncle was dead.
That minute one of the dogs came to the man, and said, "Your uncle
is dead. He was never beaten before."
When the Head had devoured the old man's flesh, it rushed after
The man ran as fast as he could. When almost exhausted, he saw
a house, ran into it and called to the women sitting there, "Help
me! help me! Something is following me to take my life!"
"Poor man," said one of his aunts. "Hurry on. We will do what we
can to delay the Head. Go to the next house. Your mother lives there.
Maybe she can help you."
The man wasn't out of sight of the house when he heard a great
noise and heard his aunts call to their children to have courage.
The Head flew into the house, and bit at everything it came in contact
with. The women beat it with clubs. The man heard the blows fall
on the skull. When he was half way to his mother's house, all was
still at his aunts' house. Suddenly his invisible brother called
out, "Run! Run or we are lost!"
The invisible brother urged the man forward, pushed him and he
seemed to run faster. The brother urged and pushed till they reached
Then the man cried, "Mother, help me, help me!"
"Poor Son, you are in great trouble," said the mother. "Go on,
we will do what we can."
The man hurried through the house. The Head came in as he went
out. The dogs ran around the house and urged their master on.
The mother called to her children, "Kill the Head if you can! Fight
with all your strength!"
They took their most poisonous weapons and began to strike the
Head. One of the women stumbled and fell; the Head devoured her
in an instant.
The old mother cautioned her children, telling them to be careful
and make no misstep. The youngest girl, remembering there was bears'
oil in the house, thought she would boil it and see if she couldn't
kill the Head with boiling oil. While the Head was chasing the women
through the house, the oil began to boil, then the girl seized the
kettle and threw the oil onto the Head. It burned and killed the
'Your brother is free," said the mother. "We ought to have a game
of ball. It is our duty to give thanks. The Head will be the ball."
She picked up the Head, carried it out and called in a loud voice,
"Here, warriors, is a ball for you to play with."
Soon a great many people, with netted clubs in their hands, came
and began to play ball. (These players were animals that lived in
the forest.) The man saw them play with his wife's head. Each one
struggled to get the ball and in that way they wore it out.
One of the dogs said to him, "Your wife is dead and you are safe."
When it said, "Your wife is dead," the man's strength left him,
his arms dropped down, and he was very sad.
"You are sorry," said the invisible brother, "but I am glad. Why
should you be sad? She would have devoured you, if they had not
killed her. Now there is no one to harm us. Our uncle will not trouble
"Your children are living off in that direction," said he, pointing
to the West. "Go and find them." So saying he turned and when the
brother looked after him, he had disappeared.
The man and his dogs traveled toward the West. When the dogs left
the children they were near a house at the edge of a village. In
that house lived an old woman and her granddaughter. One day when
the girl was in the woods stooping down to pick up broken boughs,
she heard voices. She listened and, as the wind came toward her,
she discovered that they were the voices of children. She went home
with her wood, told her grandmother that she had heard children
crying, and asked her to come to the forest and listen.
"It is a pleasure to know that there are children alive. They must
be for us," said the grandmother. "We will go and find them."
When they came to the place where the girl had heard the voices,
she said, "Now listen!"
"True," said the grandmother, "there are children in the woods.
We must look everywhere till we find them. Maybe they are sent to
us because we are alone."
The girl followed the sound, going in the direction from which
the wind came, she could hear distinctly and she knew the sound
came from near the ground. At last she came to where the boys were.
They were apparently about a year old, one a little larger than
the other and both were crying. The girl began to comfort the children,
to tell them she would be their mother and be kind to them.
While she was talking, her grandmother came. She pitied the children
and 'said to them, "Stop crying. It is the will of the Great Spirit
that you should be our children. I will be your grandmother and
my granddaughter will be your mother."
"All we have we will give to you," said the girl. "I will love
you as your mother would."
The boys stopped crying and went home with the girl. Each boy had
the little bow and arrow and ball club that his father had made
"We will take good care of these children," said the grandmother.
"There are many people in our village, but not a child. I have lived
here a long time, but I have never seen a little child."
When the boys were old enough to hunt for birds, their grandmother
gave them bows and arrows and they brought in a good deal of game.
One day the larger boy called, "Grandmother, come and see what
I have killed. It is covered with spots. It is over here in the
"Where is it? Where is it?" asked the grandmother.
The boys led the way, but she could hardly keep in sight of them,
the weeds were so high. On reaching the spot she found a fawn a
few hours old. She carried the fawn home, and said to herself, "I
am thankful that I have these children. They will be great hunters;
their game is getting larger. First they killed birds, now they
have killed a fawn."
One day the larger boy said, "Our father is coming."
"I am afraid our father is dead," answered the other boy.
The grandmother overheard this and told the boys to go and hunt
for birds, she was hungry for bird meat.
The next day, while the children were out, a man came to the house.
The invisible brother had told the man that when he came to the
old woman's house he must say, "Grandmother, I am glad to see you,"
and to the girl, "Sister, I am glad to see you." As the man went
in, he saluted the old woman as Grandmother, and to the girl he
One of the boys said to the other, "Our father has come!"
"I don't think so," said his brother, "Our father had dogs; there
are no dogs with this man." To find out he raised the skin door
a little and looking in he saw his father sitting there with his
elbow on his knee and his face on his hand.
"We must find the dogs," said the larger boy.
They followed their father's tracks and they hadn't gone far when
they found that the dogs had run off in another direction. They
tracked the dogs and toward night found them standing by a fallen
tree. The dogs heard the children's voices and ran to meet them.
They were as glad to see the boys as the boys were to see them.
"We must go home," said the brothers, but they didn't know the
The dogs took the lead. It was late at night and very dark when
they got home.
When the boys didn't come, the grandmother and granddaughter were
frightened. They were waiting for daylight -to come so they could
hunt for them. When they came, the grandmother asked, "Why did you
stay so long and frighten us?"
The father was happy to be with his children again. The girl was
the man's sister and the old woman was his grandmother.
They all lived together now and were happy.
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