Native American Legends
How the Milky Way came to be
A Cherokee Legend
Long ago when the world was young, there were not many stars in
In those days the people depended on corn for their food.
Dried corn could be made into corn meal by placing it inside a
large hollowed stump and pounding it with a long wooden pestle.
The cornmeal was stored in large baskets. During the winter, the
ground meal could made into bread and mush.
One morning an old man and his wife went to their storage basket
for some cornmeal. They discovered that someone or something had
gotten into the cornmeal during the night. This upset them very
much for no one in a Cherokee village stole from someone else.
Then they noticed that the cornmeal was scattered over the ground.
In the middle of the spilt meal were giant dog prints. These dog
prints were so large that the elderly couple knew this was no ordinary
They immediately alerted the people of the village. It was decided
that this must be a spirit dog from another world. The people did
not want the spirit dog coming to their village. They decided to
get rid of the dog by frightening it so bad it would never return.
They gathered their drums and turtle shell rattles and later that
night they hid around the area where the cornmeal was kept.
Late into the night they heard a whirring sound like many bird
wings. They look up to see the form of a giant dog swooping down
from the sky. It landed near the basket and then began to eat great
mouthfuls of cornmeal.
Suddenly the people jumped up beating and shaking their noise makers.
The noise was so loud it sounded like thunder. The giant dog turned
and began to run down the path. The people chased after him making
the loudest noises they could. It ran to the top of a hill and leaped
into the sky, the cornmeal spilling out the sides of its mouth.
The giant dog ran across the black night sky until it disappeared
from sight. But the cornmeal that had spilled from its mouth made
a path way across the sky. Each gain of cornmeal became a star.
The Cherokees call that pattern of stars, gi li' ut sun stan un'
yi (gil-lee-oot- soon stan-Unh-yee), "the place where the dog
And that is how the Milky Way came to be.
Here is the same story but told slightly differently.
A long time ago in the Cherokee country, when the sky was all clear
at night except for a few stars, there lived an old man and an old
woman who made their living by beating meal and selling it to the
other villagers for meat and skins.
Then one year, late in the fall ,they noticed that something had
been stealing some of their meal at night. They became alarmed because
they knew that none of the villagers would steal their meal. They
looked around the house and then around the meal pounding place
and finally found the track of a giant dog. When they looked at
the track they became afraid because they had never seen so big
a dog track before. They thought about the size of the track and
discussed the theft of the meal all day but did not decide to do
anything about it that day.
That night the meal again disappeared, so the next day the old
people called a meeting or a family council to see what was to be
done about the giant dog. Now one, and then another, rose to speak
and tell what he would do with the dog, Always the family disapproved
because everyone was afraid of hurting a dog that undoubtedly was
from another world.
At Last the old one said that he thought everyone should bring
noise makers to the house in which he lived. Then that night they
could all hide around the meal beaters and wait for the giant dog.
When the giant dog came they could all rise up and be at the Cherokee
The Family was very happy because they knew that the old one found
a way to rid them of the thief.
When the stars were bright and Sister Moon had made her way half
across the sky vault, the dog was seen by the family, approaching
from the west, He was a great dog in size and his coat shone silver
in the moonlight. When he came to the meal pounders he began to
eat the meal in great gulps so that the old one was afraid, but
he finally gave a shout as a signal and all the family rose and
began making noise..They shouted and shook their rattles and pounded
their drums until the noise rolled up the mountain like a great
The dog, hearing all this, became frightened and confused so that
he ran around and around within the circle of the shouting people.
Then he gave a great leap into the sky, and the meal poured out
of his mouth making a white trail across the sky. That is where
we can see the Milky Way which the Cherokee call to this day Gil'
LiUtsun'yi, "Where the dog ran"
Look up and understand.
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