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Native American Legends

Hero with the Horned Snakes

A Cherokee Legend

In ancient times, there lived some very large snakes that glittered nearly as bright as the sun. They had two horns on their heads, and they possessed a magic power of attraction. To see one of these snakes was always a bad omen.

Whoever tried to escape from one instead ran directly toward the snake and was devoured. Only a highly skilled medicine man or hunter could kill a two- horned snake. It required a very special medicine or power. The hunter had to shoot his arrow into the seventh stripe of the snake's skin.

One day a Shawnee Indian youth was held captive by the Cherokees. He was promised his freedom if he could find and kill a horned snake. He hunted for many, many days in caves, over wild mountains, and at last found one high in the Tennessee Mountains.

The Shawnee youth made a large circle of fire by burning pine cones. Then he walked toward the two-horned snake. When it saw the hunter, the snake slowly raised its head. The Shawnee youth shouted, "Freedom or death!"

He then aimed carefully and shot his arrow through the seventh stripe of the horned snake's skin. Turning quickly, he jumped into the center of the ring of fire, where he felt safe from the snake.

A stream of poison flowed from the snake, but was stopped by the fire. Because of the Shawnee youth's bravery, the grateful Cherokees granted him his freedom as they had promised.

Four days later, some of the Cherokees went to the spot where the youth had killed the horned snake. They gathered fragments of snake bones and skin, tying them into a sacred bundle. These they kept carefully for their children and grandchildren, because they believed the sacred bundle would bring good fortune to their tribe.

Also on the same spot, a small lake formed containing black water. Into this water the Cherokee women dipped their twigs used in their basket making. This is how they learned to dye their baskets black, along with other colors.

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