Native American Legends
The ball game between the Birds and the Animals
A Cherokee Legend
The old ones tell us that one time, the animals challenged the
birds to a great ball game, and the birds accepted. The leaders
of each made the plans and set the date, and when the time came,
both parties met at the place for the ball dance. The animals met
on a nice smooth grassy area near the river, and the birds perched
in the treetops overlooking the animals. The captain of the animal
team was Yo-na, the bear, and he was strong and heavy, and could
take care of anyone who got in his way. All along the way to the
ball game, he was showing his strength by tossing logs and boulders
into the air. He boasted of what he would do to the birds at the
ball game. Da-ga-si, the terrapin, was a huge terrapin, and his
shell was so hard, not even the heaviest blow to him would hurt.
He kept standing on his hind legs and then dropping to the ground,
bragging that this is what he would do at the ball game. He would
crush any bird that tried to take the ball from him. There was also
A-wi, the deer, who could easily outrun any and every animal. They
thought they had a great team.
The birds had A-wo-ha-li, the eagle, as their captain. Ta-wo-di,
the hawk, and other strong birds were on their side. Although they
were swift and strong, they were still a little afraid of the animals.
After the dance, they were all pruning their feathers while perched
in the trees, and waited for the captain to give the word. All of
a sudden, here came two little things hardly bigger than field mice,
and they climbed up the tree where A-wo-ha-li, the bird captain,
was sitting. They asked to join in the game. The captain looked
at them, and seeing that they were four-legged, asked why they didn't
go down to the animal team. They said they had, but the animals
laughed at them, and made fun of them, because they were so small.
A-wo-ha-li felt sorry for them, and wanted to take them.
But they had no wings. A-wo-ha-li, Ta-wo-di, and the others consulted,
and finally decided to make some wings for the little ones. They
tried for a very long time to think of a solution, when finally
someone thought about the drum they had used in the dance. The head
was made of ground-hog skin, and maybe they could take off a corner
of it and make some wings. They took two pieces from the drum head
and cut them into shape for wings, and stretched them with cane
splints and fastened them to the front legs of one of the little
This is how Tla-me-ha, the bat, came to be.
They threw the ball to him and told him to catch it. He dodged
and circled about, and always kept the ball in the air and never
let it hit the ground. The birds soon felt that he would be one
of their best players.
Now they figured they better fix the other poor animal, but they
had no more leather to make wings. Somebody thought of stretching
his skin, the way the leather had been stretched on the drum. Two
large birds took a hold from each side of him with their strong
beaks, and pulled at his fur for several minutes. They managed to
stretch the skin between his front and back legs, until they had
Te-wa, the flying squirrel. To see how well he could play, the captain
threw the ball up in the air, and Te-wa leaped off the limb, caught
it in his teeth, and carried it through the air until he reached
another tree, far, far away.
When everyone was ready, the signal was given and the game began.
Almost at the very first, Te-wa caught the ball and carried it to
a tree, from which he threw it to the other birds. They kept it
in the air for a very long time, but it finally dropped. Yona rushed
to grab it, but Tlu-tlu, the martin, darted after it and threw it
to Tla-me-ha. By his dodging and circling, he kept it out of the
way of even A-wi, until he finally threw it to the pole and won
the game for the birds.
Yo-na and Da-ga-si, who had bragged about how good they were and
what they would do to the birds, never even got a chance to play.
For saving the ball when it dropped, they gave Tlu-tlu a beautiful
gourd in which he could build his nest. Today, he still has it.
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