Native American Legends
Partridge and Turtle and their cousins Wolves
A Seneca Legend
Two brothers, Partridge and Turtle, lived together. Wolves, their
cousins, lived in a house not far away. One day old man Wolf said,
"You had better all go out hunting."
They started off, going toward the East in Indian file. After a
time they said, "We will separate and each man will go where he
likes. If anyone sees game, he can call out."
As Turtle was going along, he came to a log that he couldn't get
over so he called out. Partridge heard him and running up to see
what game he had found, asked, "What is it?"
Turtle said, "I can't get over this log, it is so high."
"But you shouldn't call out," said Partridge. "The Men might think
you had found game. Don't call again unless you find game," and
catching Turtle by the leg he threw him over the log.
Again Turtle came to a log and couldn't get over, so he cried loudly
for help. Partridge ran up and seeing what the trouble was caught
Turtle by the leg and threw him over as hard as he could, saying,
"The next time you come to a log, you go around it."
"But," said Turtle, "our leader told us to go straight ahead and
I did as he said."
"Well, don't be afraid; go around the log next time," answered
After that Turtle went around the logs. Soon he came to a river,
and near the river he saw a tree loaded with plums; some of the
plums had fallen to the ground. Turtle had on a bark apron. He gathered
it up, bag shape, and filled it with plums. While he was eating
and looking around, he saw Elk coming.
When near where Turtle stood, Elk asked, "Brother, will you give
me some of those plums?"
"No, I'm a great deal smaller than you are, I can't knock them
off of the tree as easily as you can."
"How do you knock them off?"
"I'll tell you, I go as far away as I can and see them then run
very fast to the tree and strike my head against it."
"Did you do that?"
"Yes. It hurt some, but not very long. You can do the same way
and you'll knock off a great many plums."
Elk went some distance then running as fast as he could struck
his head against the tree. The blow threw him back and he couldn't
get up. Turtle dropped his plums and jumping on to Elk caught him
by the neck and choked him to death. Then he called out loudly.
Partridge came running up, and asked, "What have you done now?"
"I'm a man. I've killed an Elk."
Partridge was glad, and asked, "How can we hide this from our cousins?
They are great eaters and would soon finish this meat, but you and
I are small people we could live on it a long time. If we could
find a hollow tree, we could hide the meat in it. While I am hunting
for the tree, you go to our cousins and borrow a knife. If they
ask why you want the knife tell them you are going to dig mushrooms."
"No," said Turtle, "You must go, you can fly. If I go they will
track me and find out what we are doing."
Partridge flew over to where Wolves were hunting.
They asked, "What luck have you had?"
Partridge tried to answer, but he stuttered so he couldn't get
out a single word.
"What makes you stutter?" asked his cousins. You are frightened.
Have you done something bad?"
Again Partridge tried to speak, but couldn't.
"Let him alone," said Old Man Wolf, "he'll tell after while."
Now Partridge stood up straight, his eyes wide open, and tried
to say knife, but stuttered out something that sounded like spear.
He had made up his mind to say that he was going to cut his brother's
"Do you want a spear?" asked Old Wolf.
"Well, give him a knife," said Old Wolf.
Partridge took the knife and going back to where Turtle was the
two cut up the Elk and carried it, piece by piece, to a hollow tree
that Turtle had found. Then they camped in the tree.
When cold weather came Old Wolf said, "I wonder where our cousins
are? Maybe they have starved to death. We must try to find them."
Several of the Wolves started. After traveling a long distance,
they saw a smoke coming out of a hollow tree. They went back and
said, "We have found Turtle and Partridge, they are living in a
hollow tree far off in the woods."
Old Wolf said, "Go to the tree and find out what they are doing."
When the men came to the tree they saw many bones. Partridge had
told Turtle not to throw bones out, if he did Wolves would scent
them, but Turtle had disobeyed him.
When Wolves saw the bones, they said, "This is why Partridge was
so frightened when he came to borrow a knife. They killed a deer
and have eaten it up without giving us any." Before this the cousins
had always shared with one another. "Now we'll cut the tree down,
kill Turtle and Partridge and eat them."
They set to work and soon the tree began to bend over. Turtle saw
what his cousins were doing and he screamed, "Let the tree be large!
Let the tree be large!"
The tree grew quickly and caught on to another tree. The Wolves
began to chop the second tree.
Again Turtle screamed "Let the tree be large!" and it caught to
a third tree.
They began to cut the third tree, thinking that all the trees would
fall at the same time.
Now Turtle asked Partridge, "Can you carry me in your skirt?"
"I can try. Maybe I can if you hold on tight when I fly."
Partridge flew off and Turtle held on to his skirt till he was
too tired to hold any longer. Then he fell, and Wolves, who had
followed, said, "Now, we'll punish him."
"What will we do to him?" asked one, "roast him?"
"You can roast me," said Turtle, "but you'll never have a fire
again, I'll put it out forever."
Wolves said, "Maybe he could do that. Let's chop him to pieces."
"You can if you want to," said Turtle, "but you'll never have a
sharp knife again. My back is made of bone."
"That's true," said Wolves, "We'll take a mallet and pound him
"Yes, pound me to death, but never again will you have a mallet."
Now Old Wolf spoke up, and said, "I know how to kill him. Drag
him to the lake and throw him in!"
Turtle began to cry, and to beg, saying, "I shall die if you throw
me into the water."
He cried so hard that they agreed that this was the way to kill
him. They dragged him to the lake and threw him in, then they sat
down on the bank to see him drown.
Soon Turtle stuck up his head and seeing Wolves called out, "You
are fools! Didn't you know that water is my home?"
Wolves were so angry that they sent for an Elk to come and drink
up the water. But when Elk had drunk the lake dry, they couldn't
find Turtle; he had buried himself in the mud. There was nothing
to be done; Elk threw up the water and the Wolves went home.
After a long time Turtle was one day out hunting and he met a Wolf.
Wolf began to make fun of Turtle's short legs, told him he oughtn't
to go where people could see him, he was so ugly.
Turtle looked at Wolf, and said, "Well, if I have short legs I
can beat you running. Notify your people and I'll notify mine, and
tomorrow we will run a race."
Wolf was greatly pleased, and he came next day, with all his friends.
Now Turtle had stationed six of his friends, all of the same size,
and each with a white feather in his headdress, at certain places
along the course.
At the starting Wolf left Turtle far behind and turning he called
out, "Why don't you come on?"
But when Wolf was some distance along he heard Turtle call, "Why
don't you come on?" and looking saw him ahead.
Wolf passed him, then turned and shouted, "Why don't you run faster?"
The third Turtle came up ahead of Wolf, and called, "You'll be
beaten if you don't run faster!"
So on to the sixth Turtle. As soon as Wolf passed, the Turtle would
hide in the ground and another Turtle spring up ahead of Wolf.
Now the Turtle people sent up a shout of victory. Turtle had reached
the goal and beaten Wolf.
Wolf told Turtle, "Hereafter you and your people can live on the
hills and I and my people will live in the woods."
And so it is. At this time Partridges, Wolves, and Turtles from
being people became what they are now.
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