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Native American Legends

A dead man speaks through fire

A Seneca Legend

A woman and her son lived in one house, a brother and sister in another. The old woman's son and the brother looked alike, were the same height and could scarcely be told apart; they were great friends.

The old woman's son often visited the brother and sister, but when the brother found that his friend thought of marrying the sister when she was old enough (she was very young), he was displeased and the next time the young man came to the house he killed him, dug a hole under the fireplace, put the body into it, filled the hole with earth, and built a fire.

The mother waited for her son and when he didn't come she went to the other house, and asked, "Where is my son?"

"He just started for home, maybe he is in the woods; he was going to cut twigs for arrows," answered the young man.

When the woman started for home he ran out, cut wood quickly, hurried to her house, sat down and began to whittle out arrows.

When she came in he asked, "Where have you been, mother?"

"I've been at your friend's house."

"Well," said he, "I am going over there a little while."

He put away the arrows, ran home, and said, "My sister, I am afraid that we are going to die. Hurry to the spring, leave your pail there; run in every direction, then come back to the house."

The girl went to the spring, covered the ground with tracks and came back.

Then the brother said, "I'll put you in the head of my arrow and send you off."

He shook the girl till she became very small, then put her in the head of his arrow, and said, "I will shoot toward the East; when the arrow strikes the ground, jump out and run. I'll overtake you."

He shot the arrow up through the smoke-hole. It came down on a stone far off in the East. The arrow burst and the girl came out and began to run as fast as she could.

The young man ran around in circles; made many tracks, then stood on the top of the house. There was a long line across the sky, the trail the arrow had made. He ran off under this trail, came to the spot where the arrow struck the stone, then followed his sister's tracks.

The woman got tired of waiting for her son and went over to see what he was doing. The house was empty. She sat down by the fire, then a voice spoke out of the fire, and said, "My friend killed me! My friend killed me!"

The woman dug down and found her son's body. She went home, became a Nyagwaihe and followed the girl's tracks to the spring; followed them till she was at the house again. Then she looked through the smoke-hole, saw on the sky the trail of the arrow, and hurrying out ran toward the East.

The young man overtook his sister before she was far from the stone, then they ran on together. After a time they heard a bear roar. The girl trembled and grew weak, but her brother encouraged her. At night they lay down by a tree and slept a little.

The young man dreamed that a woman came to him, and said, "Here is a stone to defend yourself with. Tomorrow about midday throw this stone behind you and say, 'Let there be a ridge of rocks across the world so high that nothing can climb over or pass it.'"

In the morning the young man saw at his side the very stone he had seen in his dream. He took the stone with him.

Before midday they heard a bear roar. The young man threw the stone behind him and that minute a ridge of rocks stretched across the world. The ridge was so high that no living creature could climb it.

The bear came to the ridge and saw that the tracks she was following went farther. She clambered up and fell back.

Howling terribly, she said, "I'll overtake and eat them both!"

She ran toward the North; could find no end or opening, then she went back and ran toward the South, and finding no opening went back and lay down near the tracks.

The next morning she found only a small stone in her way. She ground it to powder and went on.

The brother and sister had gone far but at midday they heard the bear roar and knew she was coming. They reached a great forest; the trees were dried up and leafless. They saw a house and going in found an old man sitting by the fire.

They told him their trouble and he said, "I will help you, but you have another uncle not far from here, he will help you more than I can."

The old man was chipping flint, when he had a handful of chips he flung it at the trees and in this way he had killed all the trees in the forest; he had great witchcraft.

The brother and sister went on.

The old man had a heap of flint chips piled up near him. When he heard the bear coming he threw handful after handful of the chips at her, but she didn't turn away.

She came to the door, and asked, "Have you seen a young man and a girl?"

"I have not," said he, "I pay no heed to persons who pass."

The bear seized the old man by the head, crushed him and killed him. Then she saw tracks and knowing that the brother and sister had gone ahead, she roared and rushed on.

When they came to the second uncle, he said, "I will help you all I can, but hurry on till you come to the house of another uncle." He made a trap on the trail, near that a second trap, and then a third one.

When the bear came, she rushed into the first trap; after a long struggle she broke through, then got into the second trap, and only got out of that to fall into the third one.

When she got out of the third trap she went to the old man, and asked, "Have you seen a young man and a girl pass?"

"I have not."

The bear seized the old man and tore him to pieces with her teeth.

When the brother and sister came to the third uncle, he was making a net. His eyes were closed and his eyelids hung on his cheeks. When they called to him he didn't hear them; they called again; he kept at work. When his nephew got a pounder and hit him on the head he raised his eyebrows and said, "I hear a voice."

"A great bear is following us," said the young man,

"I will help you all I can," said the uncle, "but your grandfather lives in the next house, run to him; he can help you more than I can."

When the bear was near, the old man put a long net on the trail. She was caught in the net, but she struggled and bit till at last she freed herself.

Then going to the old man she asked, "Have you seen a young man and a girl pass this way?"

"I have not," said he.

When the brother and sister came to their grandfather's house they found Shagodyoweq (Wind people) there. These people wore heavy shells. When they saw the brother and sister they told them to go on till they came to the next house, that the people there were very strong, possessed great witchcraft and could help them.

The bear came and after a hard fight killed the Wind people.

When the brother and sister reached the next house an old Dzogéon woman sat in front of it. She told them to go in, she would kill the bear. She had a great deal of bear fat. She told her three sons to make two fires on the tracks of the brother and sister, put a kettle over each fire and fill the kettles with fat. When the fat was boiling, the brothers gathered red willows and made arrows.

The woman stood near the first kettle. The bear came rushing along and asked, "Are the two here whose tracks these are?"

"They are here," said she, "They are in the house."

The bear started to go around the kettles, but the woman said, "You mustn't go that way; those who came before you went through the fire, you must do as they did."

The bear started; overturned the first kettle, got her paws burned and fell back growling. She made for the second kettle, overturned that and was burned still worse. Then the boys killed her with their red willow arrows, and burned her bones to powder so she couldn't come to life.

The Dzogéon woman told the brother and sister to stay with her till they were rested, then her sons would go home with them.

They started, and the Dzogéon boys traveled with them two days, then telling them how to get home they turned back.

Peter White said the Bear woman's son had a tuft of yellow hair hanging down his back from the crown of his head, that when he was killed by his friend, the friend cut off that tuft of hair and fastened it to the top of his own head.

When the Bear woman's son was hunting he could send his arrows home. They would go into the house and to the place where they belonged. After the friend had the tuft of hair his arrows would go home in the same way. The strength was in the tuft of hair.

Nyagwaihe - The Ancient of Bears
Dzogéon - The Little People

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