Native American Legends
The Nest of the Tla'nuwä
A Cherokee Legend
On the north bank of Little Tennessee river, in a bend below the
mouth of Citico creek, in Blount county, Tennessee, is a high cliff
hanging over the water, and about half way up the face of the rock
is a cave with two openings.
The rock projects outward above the cave, so that the mouth can
not be seen from above, and it seems impossible to reach the cave
either from above or below. There are white streaks in the rock
from the cave down to the water. The Cherokee call it Tla'nuwä,
"the place of the Tlä'nuwä," or great mythic
In the old time, away back soon after the creation, a pair of Tla'nuwä
had their nest in this cave. The streaks in the rock were made by
the droppings from the nest. They were immense birds, larger than
any that live now, and very strong and savage. They were forever
flying up and down the river, and used to come into the settlements
and carry off dogs and even young children playing near the houses.
No one could reach the nest to kill them, and when the people tried
to shoot them the arrows only glanced off and were seized and carried
away in the talons of the Tla'nuwä.
At last the people went to a great medicine man, who promised to
help them. Some were afraid that if he failed to kill the Tla'nuwä
they would take revenge on the people, but the medicine man said
he could fix that. He made a long rope of linn bark, just as the
Cherokee still do, with loops in it for his feet, and had the people
let him down from the top of the cliff at a time when he knew that
the old birds were away.
When he came opposite the month of the cave he still could not
reach it, because the rock above hung over, so he swung himself
backward and forward several times until the rope swung near enough
for him to pull himself into the cave with a hooked stick that he
carried, which he managed to fasten in some bushes growing at the
entrance. In the nest he found four young ones, and on the floor
of the cave were the bones of all sorts of animals that had been
carried there by the hawks.
He pulled the young ones out of the nest and threw them over the
cliff into the deep water below, where a great Uktena serpent that
lived there finished them. Just then he saw the two old ones coming,
and had hardly time to climb up again to the top of the rock before
they reached the nest.
When they found the nest empty they were furious, and circled round
and round in the air until they saw the snake put up its head from
the water. Then they darted straight downward, and while one seized
the snake in his talons and flew far up in the sky with it, his
mate struck at it and bit off piece after piece until nothing was
They were so high up that when the pieces fell they made holes
in the rock, which are still to be seen there, at the place which
we call "Where the Tlä'nuwä cut it up," opposite
the mouth of Citico. Then the two Tla'nuwäs circled up and
up until they went out of sight, and they have never been seen since.
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