Native American Legends
The Deserted Boy
A Seneca Legend
When the Senecas lived at Canandaigua, one of their medicine men
notified them that something terrible was coming, something which
would cause great loss of life. The people were frightened. They
quarreled with one another and became suspicious even of their children.
One night a great uproar was heard outside; the Cherokees were
there. Men, women and children sprang up and fled as fast as they
could, going in every direction. Among the people of the village
was a woman with a baby only two days old. She also ran, holding
the child in her arms. After a time she got so tired that she decided
to get rid of the bundle. Coming to a tree with a hole in one side,
not far from the ground, she dropped the child into the hole and
ran on. In the tree a bear lived and as the bundle fell the mother
bear caught it.
When the woman overtook her people, they asked what she had done
with her child, but she made no answer.
After many persons had been killed, the Cherokees disappeared,
but the Senecas did not go back to their village. They made a new
home for themselves.
One Spring a hunter, when out looking for game, came to a chestnut
grove. He had not been there long when he saw a bear with cubs.
Getting a good chance he killed the mother bear. As she fell over,
she hit one of the cubs and it cried out like a child. The other
cubs ran up a tree. The man, thinking the cry sounded strangely,
went to the place quickly and saw a small boy. The boy jumped up
and ran away; the man followed and at last caught him.
"Stop crying, Nephew," said he, "Stop crying, nobody will harm
"You made me cry," said the child, "You have killed my mother.
Over there are my brothers" (pointing to the tree).
"I wouldn't have killed her if I had seen you first," said the
man, "but how came the bear to be your mother."
"My real mother threw me away. I was only two days old I but I
remember everything. I knew my mother's mind. I was a burden to
her when she was running away from some one, so she dropped me into
that hollow tree over there. The bear caught me as I fell and said
I could be her child and live with her cubs; she nursed me and was
good to me."
"I know your real mother," said the man; "but now you will be my
The boy didn't like this, but at last he stopped crying, and the
man strapped him on to his back and carried him to where a party
of hunters were camped.
After this, whenever the man went out to hunt, he tied the boy
up so he couldn't get away. One day the child said, "Don't tie me
up, I'll never leave you."
He was not tied again and as soon as he was old enough the man
let him go with him when he went out to hunt. The boy seemed to
know where bears lived, but he never told his father where a mother
bear was. The man had always been a poor hunter, but as soon as
he found the boy he began to have wonderful luck.
After a while the man said, "It is time to go back to my village."
"My mother will see me, and take me away from you," said the boy.
"Pay no attention to her," said the man. "She threw you away."
When they had been two days in the village, the woman heard that
a certain hunter had brought home a little boy he found in the woods.
She went to the hunter's cabin and watched every move of the child.
The boy was afraid of her. He knew her thoughts when she threw him
away and he knew them now. When she asked him who he was, he said,
"This man is my father." But she decided that the boy was hers and
she began to urge him to go home with her. He wouldn't go. One day
when the woman knew the hunter was off in the woods, she went to
his house and tried to catch the boy. He ran to the woods, crying
from fright. She followed, but after a while lost sight of him and
When the hunter came home and couldn't find the child, looked for
tracks and soon discovered that the boy was running away and his
mother was following him. He was sorry, for he was afraid he would
never see the child again. Then he happened to think that maybe
the boy had gone to his old home in the chestnut grove. He went
there and found the child.
When he asked, "Why did you leave me?" the child said "My mother
tried to catch me, I thought she wanted to kill me. She called me
'Son,' and I didn't like it. I told her that I had no mother. I
want to live here all of the time."
The man built a bark cabin and they stayed in the forest.
One day the boy said, "I wish that I had a boy to play with me."
The man went to the village and brought back one of his sister's
boys, a child a little younger than the other boy.
Now there were three in the house. When the man went hunting and
left the boys at home he told them not to go far from the house,
but each day they ventured farther, till one day they came to a
place where the leaves and grass and everything seemed to be moving.
They looked closely and saw that a wide strip of land was going
along as if on a river. They saw a coon going down with this stream
of land. Watching it made them forget everything, but at last the
elder boy said, "We must go home now. We'll come tomorrow and stay
The next morning, when the hunter started off, he cautioned the
boys not to go far from the house, telling them that if they disobeyed
him something would happen to them. But the boys were so anxious
to get to the place where they had been the day before that the
man wasn't out of sight when they started.
They found the moving ground. It was dry land, but was moving like
a river. It was not wide; a person could have jumped across it.
The boys saw animals on it, and they thought, "What fun! Why not
try it?" They sprang on and sat down.
The Younger boy said, "Let's go as far as the stream goes."
They laughed and had a good time.
After going some distance the younger boy said: "I'll get off and
run back and come down again." It seemed to him exactly like sliding
As he got on again, his companion was running up, they passed each
other. This time when they were both on, one called to the other,
"Don't get off again. Go to the end."
Soon they came to a place where the land seemed to pass into an
opening like a great door. The elder boy saw the younger go in,
and he thought, "This is great fun!"
Then he heard a noise as if some one were killing his play-mate,
that minute he too went in at the door. Then he saw that it was
a place to snare game, that no one could get away after coming that
far. In an instant an old man with a mallet hit the boy on the head
and killed him.
Two Stone Coats lived in this house, and they had such power that
they could make everything come to them. Each took a boy and sat
down on his own side of the fire to roast him. As the flesh began
to cook, fat oozed out, fell on the fire, and sputtered. One body
called out to the other, "You are burning!"
"Guah!" said one of the Stone Coats, "My game has a voice!"
"Guah! My game has a voice," said the other Stone Coat.
"This is fine, when one begins to burn it tells the other. It's
queer game that talks like this."
When the bodies were sufficiently cooked, the Stone Coats began
to eat. When they had eaten the last mouthful and not a particle
of flesh or a bone was left, they began to be in terrible pain.
One said to the other, "It must be that strange game is making
They rolled around and groaned till daylight came, then the two
boys were there and the two Stone Coats were dead.
One boy said to the other, "This is why our father warned us not
to go far from the house. We'll go home and tell him what happened
As they were starting, the younger boy said, "We must burn up this
house. Our uncles have done great harm to people. Henceforth men
shall eat animals, not human beings."
The younger boy had the most power. He walked around the house
throwing red paint, such as they had to paint their faces with.
The paint stopped the stream of land that was going through the
house, and set the house on fire.
When the boys were near home, they heard singing and the younger
said, "Our father is mourning for us. When we get home you must
tell him what happened. He will believe you sooner than he will
me, for you are older than I am."
The hunter was sitting by the fire and his song was about the loss
of his children.
The elder boy called out, "Father, we've come home. We've not been
killed. We shall never die. There is nothing that can harm us."
The man greeted the boys and was glad. They told him of their adventure,
and said, "Now we are going farther."
The man said, "Beyond the house you burned, there are other houses
and in those houses are uncles of yours, man-eaters."
"I don't care," said the younger boy. "I want to see everything
there is in the world."
The man knew that the boys were full of power (witchcraft). The
younger boy had control of his uncle's mind and it was through his
influence that the man let them do as they liked.
The boy said, "You can stay here and hunt. We'll go and see our
uncle who lives beyond Stone Coat's house. Maybe he'll tell us stories.
We are lonesome."
The man said, "The first house is three looks from here and they
are all three looks apart."
When the boys came to the house they had burned, they halted and
looked. They could see some object in the distance, and there was
the end of the first look. When they came to that object they looked
again, went to the object, they saw, and looking off again saw an
opening, and said, "Our uncle must live there."
When they reached the opening, they saw a house. Everything was
quiet; there was no one in sight. The younger boy crept up carefully,
and making a sudden leap sprang into the house and called out, "I've
caught you Uncle!"
"I'm glad you have come, Nephew," said an old man who was there.
"I'm sick. You'll give me medicine."
"What do you want?"
"This, Nephew: when anyone comes to see me, I play hide-and-seek.
I'll play with you. If you find me, I lose my head. If I find you
boys, you'll lose your heads."
The house was empty, but the younger boy saw, hanging on the posts
where they met in a point, a very small bag, and he thought, "My
uncle will hide in that bag."
As usual in those days there was a large log on the fire.
The old man said, "The finder must go over the top of that hill
out there and when the hider is ready, he will call. You must hide
The boys agreed and the old man started off. They heard his bones
rattle as he ran. The younger boy said, "I'll go into the log on
the fire and you can go behind the sun. When you are ready I'll
After a time he shouted, "Onch!"
"This is what I do to my nephews," said the old man, and catching
up his club he ran into the house and began to strike the posts
singing out, "Here you are! Come out!"
The boy in the log looked at his uncle and laughed; the boy behind
the sun was also watching him. When the old man's time was up, he
said, "Come out! I can't find you."
As he said this, the nephew behind the sun showed himself and,
laughing at the old man, came down to the house; the other boy crawled
from the heart of the log. The old man laughed loudly, and said,
"Now go beyond the hill and I'll hide."
When the boys heard the old man call, they ran to the house. The
younger boy caught up the club and did as he had seen his uncle
do. At last he stopped striking the posts and called out, "Uncle,
you are up there in your medicine bag. Come out!"
The old man came out, laughing and said, "My little nephew, you
are full of witchcraft. No one ever found me before."
The boy said, "When a man makes a bet, he must live up to it. You
have lost your head." Upon this he caught hold of the old man-eater
and cut off his head. The elder boy picked the head up, stuck it
against a tree and said, "Hereafter trees shall have heads on them
(knots), and the heads will be used to make ladles and bowls."
The boys burned the old man's house and then went on. Three looks
away they came to the edge of a forest and saw a house close by.
The younger boy said to the elder, "Stay here, I'll go to the house
and come back."
There were four witches in the house. As soon as the boy went in,
the old woman said to her daughters, "Hurry up and get the kettle
over the fire." The boy watched them, thinking that maybe they would
The elder brother waited a long time, then got out of patience
and called his medicine, a mole. It came, and he said, "You must
take me to that house. I want to find my brother."
When the water in the kettle was boiling, the old woman said to
her eldest daughter, "Lay a skin on the ground and put the animal
that has come to us on the skin."
The boy knew that they intended to kill him, but he sat down on
the skin. The old woman's second daughter took a mallet from the
wall and raised it to strike him, but he said, "Let the mallet come
down on the old woman." It struck her a terrible blow on the head.
As the girl raised the mallet a second time, he said, "Let it strike
the eldest sister."
Right away the three sisters began to fight with one another. The
boy kept telling the mallet to strike, first one and then another.
For a time there was a terrible struggle, then all was quiet; the
sisters were dead.
A voice from under the ground asked, "What are you doing, brother?"
"Oh, the old woman and her daughters have been having a little
"All right," said a voice behind him, and there stood the elder
boy. "I was out of patience. We might have gone a long way on our
journey. We'll burn up the house."
"I don't want my mind to be different from yours," said the younger
boy, "but before we go on we must purify ourselves (swim). When
we get to the river, you must be careful, I'll go in first and you
will stay on the bank till I call you. Unless we purify ourselves,
we will meet with misfortune, for the people where we are going
are fun of witchcraft."
The water of the river was thick and red. When the elder boy saw
his brother go in, he thought, "that must be fun!" and without waiting
to be called he waded in. Filth gathered on his body and he sank
out of sight. His brother rescued him, then said, "If you had waited
till I called, you would have been saved this trouble. Now we will
go on till we come to a village where they are playing ball."
They soon came to an opening and saw a crowd of people standing
near a pole in the center of the opening. The two went forward and
the younger said to the chief, "We have come to challenge you. What
are your rules?"
"We wager heads."
"There must be two men on a side," said the boy.
The chief said to the people, "These strangers challenge us to
a game of ball. There will be two players on a side!"
"You must be one of those players," said the boy to the chief.
Then he commanded a spider to weave a strong web across the ball
The game began. The ball flew off in the direction of the web and
hitting it was thrown back. The elder boy caught the ball and ran
for the first point, got it, had one inning and called out, "The
game is mine! We have the inning! The game is finished."
"It is not," said the chief.
"This is the way we play," said the younger boy.
"Whoever gets the first inning wins the game."
"Very well," said the chief, "You have won the head of the men
you played with."
"We bet with you," said the boy. "We don't care who played for
you," and running up he caught the chief by the hair, and saying
"If it hadn't been for you we should have been far on our way,"
he cut off his head.
The people asked the boys to be their chief, but they said, "No,
our work is done. We have killed all the man-eaters, now we are
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