Native American Legends
The origin of stories
A Seneca Legend [Told by Henry Jacob]
In a Seneca village lived a boy whose father and mother died when
he was only a few weeks old. The little boy was cared for by a woman,
who had known his parents, She gave him the name of Poyeshaon
The boy grew to be a healthy, active little fellow. When he was
old enough, his foster mother gave him a bow and arrows, and said
"It is time for you to learn to hunt. Tomorrow morning go to the
woods and kill all the birds you can find."
Taking cobs of dry corn the woman shelled off the kernels and parched
them in hot ashes; and the next morning she gave the boy some of
the corn for his breakfast and rolled up some in a piece of buckskin
and told him to take it with him, for he would be gone all day and
would get hungry.
Poyeshaon started off and was very successful. At noon
he sat down and rested and ate some of the parched corn, then he
hunted till the middle of the afternoon. When he began to work toward
home he had a good string of birds.
The next morning Poyeshaon's foster mother gave him
parched corn for breakfast and while he was eating she told him
that he must do his best when hunting, for if he became a good hunter
he would always be prosperous.
The boy took his bow and arrows and little bundle parched corn
and went to the woods; again he found plenty of birds. At midday
he ate his corn and thought over what his foster mother had told
him. In his mind he said, "I'll do just as my mother tells me, then
some time I'll be able to hunt big game."
Poyeshaon hunted till toward evening, then went home
with a larger string of birds than he had the previous day. His
foster mother thanked him, and said, "Now you have began to help
me get food."
Early the next morning the boy's breakfast was ready and as soon
as he had eaten it he took his little bundle of parched corn and
started off. He went farther into the woods and at night came home
with a larger string of birds than he had the second day. His foster
mother praised and thanked him.
Each day the boy brought home more birds than the previous day.
On the ninth day he killed so many that he brought them home on
his back. His foster mother tied the birds in little bundles of
three or four and distributed them among her neighbors.
The tenth day the boy started off, as usual, and, as each day he
had gone farther for game than on the preceding day,. so now he
went deeper into the woods than ever. About midday the sinew that
held the feathers to his arrow loosened. Looking around for a place
where he could sit down while he took the sinew off and wound it
on again, he saw a small opening and near the center of the opening
a high, smooth, flat-topped, round stone. He went to the stone,
sprang up on to it and sat down. He unwound the sinew and put it
in his mouth to soften, then he arranged the arrow feathers and
was about to fasten them to the arrow when a voice, right there
near him, asked, "Shall I tell you stories?"
Poyeshaon looked up expecting to see a man, not seeing
any one he looked behind the stone and around it, then he again
began to tie the feathers to his arrow.
"Shall I tell you stories?" asked a voice right there by him.
The boy looked in every direction, but saw no one. Then he made
up his mind to watch and find out who was trying to fool him. He
stopped work and listened and when the voice again asked, "Shall
I tell you stories?" he found that it came from the stone, then
he asked, "What is that? What does it mean to tell stories?"
"It is telling what happened a long time ago. If you will give
me your birds, I'll tell you stories."
"You may have the birds."
As soon as the boy promised to give the birds, the stone began
telling what happened long ago. When one story was told, another
was begun. The boy sat, with his head down, and listened. Toward
night the stone said, "We will rest now. Come again tomorrow. If
anyone asks about your birds, say that you have killed so many that
they are getting scarce and you have to go a long way to find one."
While going home the boy killed five or six birds. When his foster
mother asked why he had so few birds, he said that they were scarce;
that he had to go far for them.
The next morning Poyeshaon started off with his bow
and arrows and little bundle of parched corn, but he forgot to hunt
for birds, he was thinking of the stories the stone had told him.
When a bird lighted near him he shot it, but he kept straight on
toward the opening in the woods. When he got there he put his birds
on the stone, and called out, "I've come! Here are birds. Now tell
The stone told story after story. Toward night it said "Now we
must rest till tomorrow."
On the way home the boy looked for birds, but it was late and he
found only a few.
That night the foster mother told her neighbors that when Poyeshaon
first began to hunt he had brought home a great many birds, but
now he brought only four or five after being in the woods from morning
till night. She said there was something strange about it, either
he threw the birds away or gave them to some animal, or maybe he
idled time away, didn't hunt. She hired a boy to follow Poyeshaon
and find out what he was doing.
The next morning the boy took his bow and arrows and followed Poyeshaon,
keeping out of his sight and sometimes shooting a bird. Poyeshaon
killed a good many birds; then, about the middle of the forenoon,
he suddenly started off toward the East, running as fast as he could.
The boy followed till he came to an opening in the woods and saw
Poyeshaon climb up and sit down on a large round stone;
he crept nearer and heard talking. When he couldn't see the person
to whom Poyeshaon was talking he went up to the boy,
and asked, "What are you doing here?
"What are stories?"
"Telling about things that happened long ago. Put your birds on
this stone, and say, 'I've come to hear stories.'"
The boy did as told and straightway the stone began. The boys listened
till the sun went down, then the stone said, "We will rest now.
Come again tomorrow."
On the way home Poyeshaon killed three or four birds.
When the woman asked the boy she had sent why Poyeshaon
killed so few birds, he said, "I followed him for a while, then
I spoke to him, and after that we hunted together till it was time
to come home. We couldn't find many birds."
The next morning the elder boy said, "I'm going with Poyeshaon
to hunt, it's sport." The two started off together. By the middle
of the forenoon each boy had a long string of birds. They hurried
to the opening, put the birds on the stone, and said, "We have come,
Here are the birds! Tell us stories."
They sat on the stone and listened to stories till late in the
afternoon, then the stone said, "We'll rest now till tomorrow.
On the way home the boys shot every bird they could find, but it
was late and they didn't find many.
Several days went by in this way, then the foster mother said,
"Those boys kill more birds than they bring home," and she hired
two men to follow them.
The next morning, when Poyeshaon and his friend started
for the woods the two men followed. When the boys had a large number
of birds they stopped hunting and hurried to the opening. The men
followed and, hiding behind trees, saw them put the birds on a large
round stone, then jump up and sit there, with their heads down,
listening to a man's voice; every little while they said, "Ûn!"
"Let's go there and find out who is talking to those boys," said
one man to the other. They walked quickly to the stone, and asked,
"What are you doing, boys?"
The boys were startled, but Poyeshaon said, "You must
promise not to tell anyone."
They promised, then Poyeshaon said, "Jump up and sit
on the stone."
The men seated themselves on the stone, then the boy said, "Go
on with the story, we are listening."
The four sat with their heads down and the stone began to tell
stories. When it was almost night the Stone said, "Tomorrow all
the people in your village must come and listen to my stories. Tell
the chief to send every man, and have each man bring something to
eat. You must clean the brush away so the people can sit on the
ground near me."
That night Poyeshaon told the chief about the story.
telling stone, and gave him the stone's message. The chief sent
a runner to give the message to each family in the village.
Early the next morning every one in the village was ready to start.
Poyeshaon went ahead and the crowd followed. When they
came to the opening each man put what he had brought, meat or bread,
on the stone; the brush was cleared away, and every one sat down.
When all was quiet the stone said, "Now I will tell you stories
of what happened long ago. There was a world before this. The things
that I am going to tell about happened in that world. Some of you
will remember every word that I say, some will remember a part of
the words, and some will forget them all, I think this will be the
way, but each man must do the best he can. Hereafter you must tell
these stories to one another, now listen."
Each man bent his head and listened to every word the stone said.
Once in a while the boys said "Ûn!" When
the sun was almost down the stone said, "We'll rest now. Come tomorrow
and bring meat and bread."
The next morning when the people gathered around the stone they
found that the meat and bread they had left there the day before
was gone. They put the food they had brought on the. stone, then
sat in a circle and waited. When all was quiet the stone began.
Again it told stories till the sun was almost down, then it said,
"Come tomorrow. Tomorrow I will finish the stories of what happened
Early in the morning the people of the village gathered around
the stone and, when all was quiet, the stone began to tell stories,
and it told till late in the afternoon, then it said, "I have finished!
You must keep these stories as long as the world lasts; tell them
to your children and grandchildren generation after generation.
One person will remember them better than another. When you go to
a man or a woman to ask for one of these stories carry something
to pay for it, bread or meat, or whatever you have. I know all that
happened in the world before this; I have told it to you. When you
visit one another, you must tell these things, and keep them up
always. I have finished."
And so it has been. From the Stone came all the knowledge the Senecas
have of the world before this.
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