Native American Legends
The Grandmother and Grandson
A Seneca Legend
A grandmother and her grandson lived by themselves. After the boy
had become quite large his grandmother said, "Here are the bow and
arrows that your uncle had. A witch killed him, you may take the
bow and arrows and learn to use them."
The next morning she said, "Go out and try to kill birds. Go as
far as you like, but don't go North." She gave him a breakfast of
The boy went through the woods shooting birds and by the middle
of the day, he thought, "I will go home now, my Grandmother will
be glad; I've killed so many birds."
The old woman was glad, she dressed the birds, pounded corn, made
hominy and cooked the birds with the hominy.
The next morning she gave the boy parched corn to eat, and as he
was starting off she cautioned him against going North. By the middle
of the day he had a larger string of birds than before.
When he came home his grandmother said, "Thank you, Grandson, we
are well off now, we will have plenty to eat."
That night she talked to him, said, "My Grandson, you must always
hunt on the South side, never go toward the North. You and I are
the only persons left of our people. If you listen to my words,
and are obedient, we shall live."
The next morning, after a breakfast of parched corn, the boy started
off. He went farther than on the previous days and saw a different
kind of game, such game as he had not seen before. While the birds
were feeding he got around in front of them, took aim and hit one
with an arrow. It ran a little way and fell dead; the rest escaped.
He went up to the one he had killed, pulled out the arrow, tied
a bark string around the bird, threw it over his shoulder and started
for home. When he stood at the door he said to his grandmother,
"I have larger game this time."
The old woman was glad. She thanked the boy, and said, "This is
what we call turkey."
She dressed the bird and cooked part of it. They ate together and
the grandmother was well pleased.
The next day she sent the boy off again. He went a long way before
he found game. About midday he killed another turkey, tied bark
around its body, swung it on his back and went home thinking how
far off game had gone,
The next morning the boy started away as usual. After he had gone
a short distance he began to wonder why his grandmother had forbidden
him to go North when game was getting so scarce in the South. He
decided to go North anyhow and turning he went in that direction.
He saw a great many birds but presently some one called out, "I've
caught you, Nephew!"
Looking up the boy saw a man sitting on the top of several trees
the heads of which he had drawn together and tied in a bundle. There
he sat as in a nest.
"Well, Nephew," said he, "What would you do if it should rain fish
"Oh, I should be thankful. We need some."
The boy ran home as fast as he could, caught hold of his grandmother's
hand, and said, "Grandmother, we must run and hide!"
"My Grandson," said the old woman "You have been in the North where
I told you not to go."
He pulled her along by the arm, leaped into a spring and went under
the ground till they came to a rock. They sat down under the rock
and waited a long time. At last the boy said, "The storm is over,
we will go home."
When they reached home their house was level with the ground.
"Oh," said the grandmother, "this comes of your going North."
"Never mind, Grandmother," answered the boy, "I'll have a house
soon." He walked around a space as large as he wanted the house
to be, then commanded a house to fill that space. Immediately the
house was there. He and his grandmother were more comfortable than
In the morning the boy ate his parched corn and went toward the
South, hunting, took a circuit and went North saying, "Yesterday
I had fun with that man. I'll go and see what he will do today."
The birds were so numerous and the boy was so occupied in shooting
them that he forgot about the man till a voice called out, "I've
caught you, Nephew! What .would you do if I should send a shower
"Oh, I should be pleased. Grandmother often needs stones to pound
The boy ran home, took his grandmother by the arm and dragged her
to the spring.
"Oh, Grandson," said the old woman, "You have been North again!"
and she began to cry.
They went into the spring and under the ground till they came to
the rock. Then they sat under the rock and waited. At last the boy
said, "The storm is over, we will go home."
They found their house level with the ground. The boy encouraged
his grandmother and made a new house. The next morning after he
had eaten parched corn, he started off toward the South but soon
"Now," thought he, "I won't hunt, I'll catch my uncle."
He went some distance, called a mole, and said to it, "I want you
to take me to that tree over there and go almost up to the man who
sits on the nest. I will speak to him and then you must bring me
back to this place."
The boy shook himself till he was as small as a flea, then he hid
in the mole's fur. When the mole was near enough the boy called
out "I've caught you, Uncle!"
The man looked around but saw no one, then the boy called out "What
would you do, Uncle, if a whirlwind should come?"
"Oh, Nephew don't be so hard on me as that!"
"I didn't talk that way when you asked me about spears and stones,"
said the boy.
The mole went back to the place where he had found the boy, the
boy regained his own size, ran home, caught hold of his grandmother
and drew her to the spring. They disappeared in the water, went
underground, came to the rock and sat under it till the boy stopped
the whirlwind. When they came out of the spring they found trees
torn up by the roots and their house level with the ground. But
right away the boy built a house by walking around a space and commanding
it to be there.
The next morning he started off South, but when out of sight of
the house he turned and went North to see what had become of his
uncle. All the trees were torn up by the roots and he thought, "My
uncle must be dead and buried under the trees. I can hunt in safety
now." He shot a great many partridges and went home.
The old woman was glad to have her grandson come quietly bringing
game. He said, "Grandmother, I've destroyed my uncle, he is no longer
on the trees."
"Well," said the grandmother, "you needn't think he was alone in
the world; his brother lives in a house farther on."
The next morning the boy ate his parched corn and started off determined
to find his other uncle. He came to the place where the three trees
were, found them uprooted and his uncle dead. Then he held on his
way till he came to an opening and saw a house with smoke rising
through the smoke-hole.
"I'll go there and look in," thought he, "that must be the place
where my uncle lives." He went to the house, opened the door, looked
in and said to an old man sitting there, "Well, Uncle, I've come
to visit you."
"Come in, my Nephew," said the old man. "I have a rule which all
follow who come here. Everyone who visits me must run with me across
this field and back. We bet our heads on the race."
"If that is your rule, we will run," said the boy.
They went outside. The old man made a mark across the opening,
and said, "We will run to that post over there at the end of the
opening. If I get back and cross this line first, I'll cut your
head off: if you cross first, you cut off mine."
They stood side by side. The old man called, "Now!" off they started,
and ran to the post. When half way back to the line the boy fell,
a sharpened deer horn had stuck into his foot. He sat down, pulled
out the horn and threw it far ahead; it came to the ground right
in front of the old man. He had gone on a good distance while the
boy was sitting down. Now he ran on to the deer horn. He fell and
while he was pulling the horn out of his foot, the boy ran ahead,
crossed the line and called out, "Uncle, I have won the race."
The old man disputed. When that was no use he begged for another
smoke, but the nephew refused, took a sharp flint knife from his
pocket, seized his uncle by the hair and cut off his head. Then
he pulled the body into the house and burned the house. The old
man's head burst and out flew owls.
The boy went home and told his grandmother what he had done, she
said, "You have a third uncle farther on. He, too, has great witchcraft."
The next morning the boy started off to visit the third uncle.
He passed the uprooted trees and the burned house and went some
distance through a forest. When he came to the edge of the forest,
he saw a large opening and a house at the other side of it, and
he said to himself, "That must be the house of my third uncle."
He went on till he came to the house. Going in he said to an old
man, who was sitting there, "Uncle, I've come to visit you."
"Oh, Nephew, I am glad you have come," said the old man, "I have
a game to play. Everyone who comes here plays with me, we bet heads."
"What is the game?"
"We hide here in this room. I will hide and if you don't find me
every time till midday, you are beaten and I'll cut off your head.
If you find me every time, you win and will cut off my head"
"Very well," said 'the nephew.
"Now," said the old man, "You must lie down on the ground and I'll
cover you up with an elk skin. When I am ready, I'll let you know."
The boy lay down and was covered up with the elk skin. As soon
as the old man covered his nephew, the boy turned into a wood-tick
and got on to his uncle's neck and when the old man called out,
"Ready!" the tick called out, "I've found you, Uncle!"
The old man thought the voice came from behind him he hid again,
and again the tick called out, "I've found you Uncle." He looked
everywhere but couldn't see his nephew: Again he hid, for he had
the right to keep on hiding till midday. The old man thought the
boy was still under the elk skin and he wondered how he could find
him. He continued to hide, but was always found.
Every little while the old man ran out to look at the sun and then
hurried back into the house to hide. At last he thought, "I'll hide
outside," but the boy called out, "That won't do, my Uncle, you
said we must hide in the house."
It was almost midday, the old man was frightened. He ran out, got
a long pole and punched the sun off towards the East, then he ran
in and hid. The boy called out, "I've found you, Uncle."
Again the sun was almost overhead; the old man ran out, took his
long pole and pushed it towards the East, and again hid, but was
found. At last the sun was straight overhead and the boy called
out, "I've found you, Uncle, The game is mine."
The old man begged for one more smoke, but the nephew wouldn't
let him have it. He cut off his head, dragged him into the house
and set fire to the house. The head burst and out of it flew owls.
The boy went home and told his grandmother what he had done.
She said, "You have a fourth uncle worse than all the others and
I advise you not to go near him, harm will come to you if you do."
The next morning the boy went toward the South, then made a circuit
to the North. He passed the places he had destroyed and came to
an opening with a house in the center. In the house was a very old
The boy said to him, "Uncle, I've come to visit you.
"Very well!" Said the old man, "come in and sit down. I have a
game that I play with all who come to visit me, I play dice. We
each have one throw and we bet our heads on it."
"I'll play with you," said the boy, "but first I'll go to the river."
On the river there was a flock of ducks. The boy called to the
ducks. They came to the bank and he said to them, "I have to play
a game and I want your help. I want six right eyes. I'll bring them
They agreed, and he took the right eye from six of the ducks and
said to the eyes, "When the old man plays, some of you must drop
into the bowl with your sight down, but when I play you must all
drop in looking up."
When the boy went back to the house he said to the old man, "We
will play with my dice."
They spread a deer skin on the ground and put the bowl on it.
The old man wanted to use his own dice, but the boy wouldn't let
When the eyes were in the bowl, he asked his uncle to take the
The old man didn't want to play first, but after disputing some
time he took up the bowl and shook it. The eyes went up slowly to
the top of the smoke-hole, as ducks, quacking, and came back into
the bowl as dice, some right side up and others wrong.
The boy shook the bowl; the dice flew up as ducks, quacking loudly,
went out at the smoke-hole and disappeared in the clouds.
The old man kept saying, "No count, no count!"
The boy said, "Count five, count five."
By and by they heard the ducks coming in the distance, and soon
they dropped into the bowl as dice, and all were right side up.
"I've won the game!" cried the boy.
The uncle begged to be allowed one smoke, but the nephew refused,
cut off his head with a flint knife, and set fire to the house.
The boy took the six eyes, went back to the river and called the
ducks. They came, he moistened the eyes with saliva, and put each
eye in its own place, then he thanked the ducks and set them free.
When he reached home and told his grandmother what he had done,
she said, "Now you can hunt wherever you like; there is no one to
The boy was now a man. He could kill deer, bear and other game,
but he had to go so far that he always came home late at night.
He didn't like this and one day he said to his grandmother, "I am
tired of going so far to hunt. I have power to call game to the
house. I win sing and game will come."
He went to a white ash tree and brought home wood to make arrows
and by night he had a great many arrows, The next morning he brought
a deer skin. The old woman sat down. He covered her with the skin,
and said, "You must not look out, if you do, I shall leave here
never to come back."
He placed the bundle of arrows on the ground outside and began
to sing, "Come to me, deer. Come to me, elks. Come to me, bears.
Come to me, coons."
Soon there was a great noise in the forest; animals were coming
from every side. When they were near enough the young man began
Bears, coons and hedgehogs were climbing over the house. The old
grandmother was frightened at the noise. She took the deer skin
off from her head and looked up through the smoke-hole to see what
the trouble was. That instant a white deer sprang over the others,
seized the young man on his horns, and ran off through the woods.
All the animals followed. The man was still singing.
The old woman opened the door and saw all the animals that had
been killed, but her grandson was nowhere to be seen. Then she remembered
While the white deer was rushing through the woods, a pack of wolves
came upon its track, overtook it and killed both the deer and the
man. That afternoon the cloud, in the West were very red, the grandmother
thought, "That is a bad sign, my grandson is in trouble." This was
the very time the young man was killed.
The next morning the old woman followed the tracks of the game
hoping to find her grandson. The animals had beaten a broad trail
through the woods. She followed the trail till evening. About the
time she saw the red clouds the day before, she came upon the spot
where her grandson and the deer were killed. She found pieces of
bloody buckskin, but not a bone or a bit of her grandson's body.
Then the old grandmother gave him up and started for home, crying
as she went.
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