Native American Legends
Hodadenon: The Last One Left And The Chestnut Tree
An Iroquois Legend
Long ago a boy and his uncle lived together in an elm bark lodge.
The boy's name was Hodadenon, which means "The Last One Left."
All of the rest of his family had disappeared over the years and
it was thought they had been killed by those who were 'otgont',
possessed of wicked powers.
Each morning the uncle would feed Hodadenon and then go out of
the lodge to hunt, leaving the boy by himself. Each evening he would
return, again feed the boy, and then go to sleep.
One day Hodadenon was playing by himself in the lodge. He began
to think. "Enh," he said, "why is it that I never
see my uncle eat?"
Then he took a bone awl and made a small hole in the deerskin he
used as a blanket each night. "Tonight," said Hodadenon,
"I shall see what happens after we go to bed."
That evening as always the uncle returned. He fed the boy and told
him to go to sleep. Hodadenon lay down on one side of the fire and
on the other side the uncle lay down on his couch, which was made
of saplings and covered with many animal skins.
Pulling the deerskin over his head, Hodadenon pretended to sleep,
but he could still see his uncle through the small hole he had made.
After a time, the uncle stood up and went over to the fire.
"Hodadenon," said the uncle in a soft voice, but the
boy did not answer. Three times more the uncle called his name,
but Hodadenon still pretended to sleep. Coming closer to the fire,
the uncle blew very hard into it. Sparks flew out, landing on the
"Hodadenon," said the uncle, "be careful. You are
going to be burned." But even though some of the sparks fell
on his bare skin and burned him Hodadenon did not move.
"Nyoh," said the uncle, "the boy is indeed asleep."
He went over to his couch and removed the skins. He lifted off the
top of the couch and took out a box made of birch bark. All of this
Hodadenon watched through the hole in his blanket.
Opening the box made of birch bark, the uncle took out a small
pot. It was so small that it fit easily in the palm of his hand.
From inside the pot he took out another object which the boy could
not clearly see though it looked to be smaller than an acorn. Using
a little knife, the uncle scraped tiny shavings from the thing into
the pot. Then, putting the tiny pot over the fire, he blew on it
and sang this song:
Grow, pot, grow in size Grow, pot, grow in size
And as Hodadenon watched, the pot grew in size as the uncle sang
his song and blew on it. Finally the pot was as large as a normal
cooking pot and the odor of something delicious came from it. Before
long the food was ready and the uncle ate it all. When he was through,
he blew once more on the pot and sang this song:
Shrink, pot, shrink in size Shrink, pot, shrink in size
And once again the pot became small enough to hold in the palm
of his hand. Replacing the thing he had scraped in the tiny pot,
Hodadenon's uncle replaced the pot in the birch bark box and again
hid everything in the secret compartment under his couch. Then he
went to sleep.
The next morning, as always, the uncle went out hunting and left
the boy alone in the lodge. For a time Hodadenon played around the
lodge. He shot his small bow and arrow at a target and did other
things, but the song his uncle sang to the pot kept going through
his head. Finally he could stand it no longer.
"My uncle will be back soon from his hunting," he said.
"He will be very hungry. I should prepare a meal for him."
Hodadenon went over to his uncle's couch, pulled off the skins
and opened the compartment. Taking out the box of birch bark, he
opened it and found the tiny pot. Within it was half of a small
"So this is my uncle's food," said Hodadenon, "but
it is almost gone. If I want to make enough for him to eat, I must
use it all. I am sure he can get more." So Hodadenon took a
knife and scraped all that was left of the nut into the tiny pot.
Then, placing the pot over the fire, he blew on it and sang:
Grow, pot, grow in size Grow, pot, grow in size
Sure enough, just as it had done for his uncle, the pot became
larger. Now it was the size of a normal cooking pot and it was boiling
But Hodadenon was not satisfied, "surely my uncle will be
more hungry than this when he comes home. I must make more."
Then he blew on the pot and again sang:
Grow, pot, grow in size Grow, pot, grow in size
Now the pot was so large and bubbling so fast that Hodadenon had
to stretch to stir the contents, which smelled very good indeed.
"Neh," said Hodadenon, "this isn't enough. What
if my uncle wishes to share this good food with me. After all, he
will be grateful that I prepared it. I must make more." So,
once more, he blew on the kettle and sang the song. Again the pot
grew and now it was so large that Hodadenon had to stand on top
of his uncle's couch and use a canoe paddle to stir the contents,
but he was so excited that he did not want to stop.
"This is almost enough for us," he said, "but what
if we should have visitors? We should have enough to offer them
So, for a fourth time, Hodadenon blew on the pot and sang the magic
song. The pot grew so big that Hodadenon had to get out of the lodge
because it filled the whole place from side to side! It was so big
that the only way the boy could stir it was by taking a long pole
up to the roof and reaching down to stir it through the smoke hole!
When Hodadenon's uncle came back from hunting, the first thing
he saw was the pudding bubbling out of the door of the lodge. He
heard someone singing above him and looked up. There was Hodadenon,
swinging his legs in the smoke hole, still stirring the pudding
and singing happily:
What a good cook I am What a good cook I am We all will eat well
now What a good cook I am.
"Nephew," called the old man, "come down from there.
What you have done has killed me."
Then Hodadenon's uncle blew on the pot through the door of the
lodge and sang the song to make it grow small. When it was down
to the size it had been at the beginning, he entered the lodge,
lay down on his couch and began to weep.
Hodadenon, who had come down from the smoke hole, walked over to
where the old man lay. "Uncle," said Hodadenon, "what
"Hodadenon," said the uncle, "you have used up all
of the only food I can eat. Now I will starve to death. This is
why I never allowed you to see me eat. I knew that you would do
"Uncle," said the boy, "things can't be that bad.
Just go and get another of those little nuts."
"Neh," said the uncle, "that is the kind of food
called a chestnut. Long ago, though it was very dangerous, I obtained
that one. All these years I have eaten it and it would have lasted
for many more. Now I am too old to get another one."
"Wah-ah," said Hodadenon, "this is my doing. I shall
go and bring back many chestnuts."
"It is not possible," said the old man. "The way
is long and guarded by many terrible creatures. Others of your family
have gone there but none have ever returned."
Yet Hodadenon would not give up. Finally the uncle agreed to tell
him the way. "Go straight to the north, the uncle said. "There
you will find a narrow path. At its first turn it is guarded by
two great rattle snakes, slaves to the evil ones who own the chestnut
trees. No one can get past them."
"But what if I do, Uncle?" asked Hodadenon. If anyone
by good luck passes the great snakes, he will next encounter two
huge hears. They guard a passageway between the rocks. They too
are slaves of the evil ones. They will tear apart anyone who tries
"Further on down the path are two giant Panthers which leap
upon anyone who attempts to get by them. Hodadenon, it cannot be
"Is that all, Uncle?" Hodadenon said.
"Is it not enough?" said the old man. "Neh, that
is only the beginning. Next is the place where the chestnut trees
grow. There live the seven sisters who own the trees. All of them
are strong in 'otgont' power. If anyone comes to steal the chestnuts,
they run from their long lodge and beat the person to death with
their clubs. No one can hope to go undetected, for a flayed human
skin hangs in the top of a tree looking down on the chestnut grove
and it sings a warning when anyone comes close."
"Nyah-weh, Uncle," said Hodadenon, "I thank you
for your good advice. Now I must he on my way. I shall return with
the food you need if all goes well." Taking two sticks, he
tied them together and placed them standing near the fire. "Watch
these sticks, Uncle," said the boy. "If all is well with
me they will not move, but if I am killed they will break apart."
Now Hodadenon set out on his way. He went straight to the north
and found a narrow path. "This must be the road my uncle told
me of," said Hodadenon. "It looks easy enough to travel."
The boy continued along and soon the path began to twist and wind.
Ahead, it turned sharply to the left. Hodadenon stopped, crept off
the path, went through the trees, and peered out cautiously. There
on either side of the path, were two great rattlesnakes, coiled
and ready to strike.
"Uncle," said Hodadenon, "you know this road well."
He went and caught two chipmunks. Holding one in each hand he again
began to walk the path.
When he came to the two rattlesnakes he threw a chipmunk into the
mouth of each before they could strike him.
"Tca," he said, "you seem to be in need of food.
Now I have given you that which you should hunt for yourselves.
Hawenio, our Creator, did not make any of his beings to be slaves.
Go from this place."
As soon as he finished speaking, the two rattlesnakes uncoiled
and crawled off in different directions, leaving the road unguarded
as Hodadenon went along his way.
Meanwhile, back at the lodge, the two tied sticks which had been
quivering now stood still as Hodadenon's uncle watched them intently.
Now the path entered a rocky place. Again Hodadenon left the trail
to scout ahead. There, where the way dipped between two big boulders,
were a pair of giant bears, crouched and ready to tear apart anybody
who tried to go by. "Uncle," said Hodadenon, "you
have traveled this road before." He climbed a tree where he
heard the buzzing of many bees, pulled out two combs of honey and
went back onto the path. When he came to the bears, he hurled the
combs of honey into their mouths before they could grab him.
"Hunh," the boy said, "it looks to me as if you
were hungry. Now I have given you that which you like best of all.
The one who gave us breath, Hawenio, did not make us to be the slaves
of anyone. Go from this place."
At his words, the two bears turned and went away,each in a different
direction as Hodadenon continued down the trail.
Meanwhile, back at the uncle's lodge, the two tied sticks stopped
quivering and Hodadenon's uncle breathed a sigh of relief.
Now the path entered a deep forest and wound between large trees.
Leaving the trail, Hodadenon crept along till he could see the place
where two huge panthers, eyes glowing like green flames, hid behind
a pair of giant pines on either side of the path.
"Uncle," Hodadenon said, "you remember your travels
well." Taking his bow and arrows, he killed two deer. Carrying
them over his shoulders, he went down the trail once more. Before
the panthers could leap upon him, he threw each of them a deer.
"Ee-yah," he said, "I see that you were in need
of food. Now I have given you that which you are supposed to hunt.
Know that the one who gave us strength to walk around, Hawenio,
did not intend that any living creature should serve another as
a slave. Go from this place."
In two different directions away into the trees slunk the panthers
and the boy continued along his way.
Meanwhile, back at the lodge, the two sticks which had been shaking
as if struck by a strong wind once more stood still as Hodadenon's
uncle watched them.
The path in front of Hodadenon was very straight and wide. It looked
to have been traveled by many feet. The boy listened very carefully
and soon he began to hear a very faint song coming from the treetops.
Crawling forward through the brush, he peered up and saw the one
who was singing. It was the skin of a woman tied in the top of a
tree. This was her song:
Gi-nu, gi-nu, gi-nu I am the one who sees all, I see you.
The song was very soft. Hodadenon could barely hear it, but he
knew it would grow loud indeed if she caught a glimpse of him. Below
her was a grove of trees. They were covered with a fruit which had
burrs all over it. These, Hodadenon knew, must be the chestnuts.
Beyond the skin woman and the trees was a great pile of human bones
and just to the other side of them was the long lodge of the seven
witches. "Tcu," said Hodadenon, "now I shall need
some help." Going to a basswood tree, he peeled a long strip
of bark. With a burned stick and the juice of berries, he decorated
the piece of bark until it looked just like a long wampum belt.
Slinging it over his shoulder, he knelt down and tapped four times
on the earth.
"My friend," he said, "I am in need of help."
Up out of the ground poked the nose and then the head of a female
mole. "Nyoh, Hodadenon! How can I help you?" asked the
"Grandmother," said the boy, "if I make myself very
small, will you carry me under the earth with you?"
"That's too easy," said the mole. "Let's go!"
Then Hodadenon began to rub himself with his hands. As he did so
he grew smaller and smaller until he was small enough to travel
with the mole under the earth. Down into the ground they went, coming
up beneath the very tree where the Skin Woman was swaying back and
forth. Once again Hodadenon rubbed himself with his hands until
he was back to normal. Then he called up to Skin Woman.
"Sister," he called, "I have seen you first. Do
not tell the others I am here and I will give you this fine belt
"Wah-ah!" said Skin Woman, "I did not see you,
Hodadenon. Give me the belt and I will not warn them you are here."
Hodadenon tossed the belt up to Skin Woman. She put it on and immediately
it wrapped itself so tightly about her she could not speak. Under
the tree, Hodadenon quickly filled his pouch with chestnuts. Then,
making himself small once more, he called for his friend, Mole,
to take him back under the earth.
Up in the tree, Skin Woman finally got her breath. She began to
Gi-nu, gi-nu, gi-nu Someone has bribed me I cannot say who.
Out from the long lodge ran the seven witches. Each of them carried
a long club. They ran to the place where Skin Woman hung, but they
saw no one.
"Someone has been here," said one of the witches.
"Some of our chestnuts are gone," said another.
"Skin Woman," said a third witch, "you are our slave.
Speak and tell us who has been here."
But Skin Woman did not answer the question. All she did was swing
back and forth in the wind, singing this song:
Gi-nu, gi-nu, gi-nu I've been given a wampum belt Shining and new.
"You are a fool," said another of the witches. "That
is only the bark from a tree."
"It must have been The Last One Left." said the fifth
witch, "the boy whose uncle stole from us long ago."
"If he comes back," said the sixth witch, "we will
catch him and kill him."
"Nyoh," said the last witch, "now we must punish
our slave." She took her club and struck Skin Woman a heavy
blow. Each of the others did the same. Then the seven witches went
back into the long lodge, leaving the Skin Woman covered with bruises,
but still singing softly of her fine new belt of wampum.
Meanwhile, back in the lodge of Hodadenon's uncle, the two sticks
had fallen over on the floor. Picking them up and standing them
upright once more, the old man watched them with great concern.
From his hiding place in the earth, Hodadenon had listened to all
that was said by the seven sisters. "It is not right,"
he said "that those terrible creatures should go on like this.
Friend Mole, we must go back there."
The mole dove deeper into the earth. She carried Hodadenon under
the long lodge and came up beneath the couch where the sisters slept.
There, tied to a string of sinew, were seven hearts. Quick as a
spark leaping from the fire, Hodadenon grabbed the string of hearts
and ran from the lodge. Seeing him, the seven witches grabbed their
clubs and gave chase.
Now back in the lodge of Hodadenon's uncle the two sticks fell
over once more. The old man was so disheartened that he did not
stand them up again. He lay there staring at them, certain that
his nephew would now never return alive.
From the top of her tree, Skin Woman sang as the seven witches
Gi-nu, gi-nu, gi-nu Hodadenon has your hearts This will be the
end of you.
Now the first witch had almost caught up with the boy and raised
her club to strike him. As she did so, Hodadenon squeezed one of
the hearts on the sinew string and the witch fell dead. Now the
second witch was about to strike. Again Hodadenon squeezed a heart
and the second witch died also. In the end, he had squeezed all
seven of the hearts and all seven of the evil sisters had fallen
Climbing to the top of the tree, Hodadenon cut loose the cords
which held Skin Woman. He brought her down and placed her on top
of the pile of human bones. Then he began to push against a great
dead hickory tree which was near the pile.
"Get yourselves up, my relatives!" he shouted. "A
tree is about to fall on you!"
Immediately Skin Woman and all of the people whose bones were piled
there leaped up and came back to life. Skin Woman was, indeed, the
sister of Hodadenon. Long ago the evil witches had caught her and
the others of his family whose bones lay in that pile. There before
him were his parents, his brothers, and all his relations. All were
very happy to be alive and thanked the boy again and again.
Taking the chestnuts from the ground, Hodadenon passed them out
to all his relatives.
"Plant these all over," he said. "Food will be shared
with everyone from now on."
Finally, his pouch filled with chestnuts, Hodadenon went back to
the lodge of his uncle. The old man lay there on his couch, thin
as a skeleton, his eyes fixed on the two tied sticks.
"Uncle," said Hodadenon, "I have returned."
The old man jumped up and embraced the nephew. To this day he still
sits in that lodge, making chestnut pudding in his pot. And from
that time on, the chestnuts, like all the other good things given
to us by Hawenio, our Creator, no longer belong to just one family,
no matter how powerful they are, but are shared by all.
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