Native American Legends
The twelve brothers and their uncle, Dagwanoenyent
A Seneca Legend
Once twelve brothers lived together. Everyone knew that these brothers
had great power and could do whatever they undertook.
Each morning the twelve started off in different directions to
hunt and each evening they came back to the cabin. The eldest of
the twelve knew that there were women going around in the world
to destroy men and he avoided them.
One day while he was hunting, he saw a red-headed woodpecker tapping
on a tree and making a great noise. As he watched the bird, it went
around the tree, then went to another tree and around that, then
it flew to the ground, became a young woman, and called to him,
"Are you not ashamed to point your arrow at a woman? Come and talk
The young man went to her and that was the last he remembered.
The woman carried him to a high rock where there was another woman,
who said, "Let his bones drop to the ground!"
The young man's body fell apart, became a heap of bones. Great
piles of bones lay around the rock for many men had been brought
to the place by the first woman and destroyed by the second.
When night came and their brother did not come home, the eleven
said, "Some evil has befallen our brother. He will never come back,"
and they mourned for him.
After a time the second brother was missing, and he never came
While walking along in the forest the young man met two women.
They put him to sleep.
Then one said to the other, "We will bury him in the ground. He
will stay there till mold covers his face and body, and still he
will be alive. We'll leave him there till his brother finds where
he is and rescues him."
The ten brothers were greatly frightened. They told their youngest
brother, whom they loved much, that he must stay at home, not go
roaming around in the forest, for he was young and didn't know the
world as well as they did.
A time passed and then one night the third brother was missing.
The nine said that he must be dead or he would come home and they
mourned for him.
Now three places were empty and the brothers were lonesome and
Time went on till, one after another, ten of the brothers had disappeared,
only two were left: the youngest and the one next older.
Then the elder said to his brother, "You must not go into the forest,
you must always stay at home where no harm can come to you, for
you are the only one I have to depend on when I am old."
"But," said the younger, "Maybe our brothers are captives, maybe
they are being tormented by some one, I want to go in search of
"You cannot go," said his brother, "You are too young. We have
an uncle, who knows everything. Maybe he could bring our brothers
back, but he is such a terrible creature that no one can get near
him. He wouldn't know that we are his nephews and he would kill
us. He lives on a high rock. His long hair has swept the ground
around the rock till the ground is as smooth as ice. He has no body,
but he has a great head and enormous eyes."
"I must go to this uncle," said the younger man, "and find out
where our brothers are."
"If he doesn't tell you, you may travel the whole world and not
find them," said his brother.
"What does our uncle live on?"
"He gnaws the bark of hickory trees.
"That is good food. I'll get him plenty of it," said the young
He felled the tallest trees he could find and cut out large blocks
of bark for his uncle to eat, then he lifted six trees out of the
ground by the roots, and said to the trees, "I want you to be small."
The trees were small and of each tree he made an arrow. The blunt
end of the arrow was the part near the roots.
The elder brother didn't know that the arrows were trees. He was
afraid to have his brother go in search of their uncle. He didn't
think he could find him and if he did, he thought the old man would
While the young man was making his arrows, he practiced running.
One day he thought he heard a groan under his feet. It sounded as
though he stepped on a man and hurt him badly. Going back and forth
he found the spot the groan seemed to come from. He dug down and
came to a living man. The man's face was covered with thick mold
and there was no flesh on his body.
The young man carried the skeleton home, and said to his brother,
"We have plenty of bear's oil, you must oil this man till he gets
his natural size." The man could neither see nor hear.
The next morning the young man started off telling his brother
to stay in the house while he was gone, for he should bring his
uncle home with him. He ran toward the North till he came to the
place his brother had described and saw a terrible Head sitting
on a rock. His brother had said, "You must speak first. If the Head
speaks first, you will surely die."
The young man's medicine was a mole. He called it, and said, "You
must carry me under the ground so the leaves will not rustle. When
we are near my uncle, let me out."
He went into the mole and it ran on till near the Head.
When the young man saw his uncle, he was frightened, but he sprang
from the mole and with his bow string drawn, cried out, "Uncle,
I've come for you!"
He let the arrow fly and as it whizzed through the air it grew
to the size of a tree. The tree hit the Head above the eyes. With
a loud laugh the Head rolled from the rock and swept along in the
air leaving behind it a wide track of fallen trees. It went through
the forest as a terrible whirlwind.
The young man was just ahead, running very fast. When his uncle
was near he turned and shot another arrow. The arrow became a tree,
hit the Head and drove it back a long distance; again the young
man was ahead. He shot an arrow whenever he was in danger of being
overtaken. Each time the Head was driven back a shorter distance;
Dagwanoenyent gained on his nephew continually.
While the Head was still a long way off, the elder brother heard
a terrible roar and knew that a great whirlwind was coming; he said
to himself, "My brother has found our uncle and he will be here
soon." He opened the skin-doors; there was a door at each end of
the house, and put a stone pounder against each door. Then he built
a big fire.
The younger brother ran into the house, took up a pounder and when
his uncle came down at the threshold and rolled in, both brothers
began pounding him and they pounded till he rolled to one end of
the house and was silent.
Then the younger brother said to him, "I have brought you here,
Uncle. Now you must stay with us and tell us where our brothers
"I can't stay here," said the Head, "but I will help you and your
brothers will come back."
The elder brother had rubbed the mold from the head and face of
the dug-up man and had found that he was their brother. Dagwanoenyent
blew on his nephew and he was sound and well again. Now there were
three brothers at home.
At night the Read stayed outside and gnawed the chunks of hickory
bark that his nephew had prepared.
After a few days, Dagwanoenyent said to his youngest
nephew, "I must go home, but first I will take you to the place
where your brothers' bones are."
The two started together. The Head, springing high from the ground,
made long leaps and didn't stop till it brought the young man to
the women on the rock.
As they came to the women, the uncle said, "We must kill these
They wanted to make him laugh, but he called out, "Fall and be
The women were enraged by the words and tried to spit at the old
uncle, but he repeated the words and the third time he said them
both women rolled off the rock and as they fell their bones made
a noise like the pouring out of many shells.
"Scatter their bones!" said the Head.
The young man gathered the bones and threw them in every direction,
saying, "Become, such and such, birds."
They became the birds he mentioned, horned owls, hawks, crows and
woodpeckers, and disappeared in the air.
"Now," said the Head, "Gather up the bones that are here in piles
and make as many bodies as you can, giving each body its own bones.
While you are doing this, I'll go off a long distance and come back
straight over the forest. When you hear the roar of wind and see
trees falling, cry out to the skeletons, 'Rise up or the trees will
fall on you!' They will obey you, I will pass over them and go to
my own home. If you want me again, you can come for me."
The young man worked as fast as he could. When all the bones were
used, he heard the roar of wind and knew that his uncle was coming.
Then he called out, "Rise up or the trees will fall on you!"
Dagwanoenyent, with a terrible roar, swept over the
skeletons and they sprang up, men.
In two of the skeletons bones had been interchanged. One man, who,
from the shape of his feet, had been called "Sharp-pointed Moccasins"
had but one of his own feet. A second man had the other. Both were
cripples. Ono of these cripples, a man-eater, had been enticed from
a long distance. Right away he wanted to begin eating his companions.
The young man killed him with one blow. In the crowd were nine of
the twelve brothers.
Each man found whatever he had brought with him and all separated.
Those who did not know where their homes were went with the brothers,
and soon the twelve brothers were together again in their own home.
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