Native American Legends
The Origin of Medicine
A Cherokee Legend
At one time, animals and people lived together peaceably and talked
with each other. But when mankind began to multiply rapidly, the
animals were crowded into forests and deserts. Man began to destroy
animals wholesale for their skins and furs, not just for needed
food. Animals became angry at such treatment by their former friends,
resolving they must punish mankind.
The bear tribe met in council, presided over by Old White Bear,
their Chief. After several bears had spoken against mankind for
their bloodthirsty ways, war was unanimously agreed upon. But what
kinds of weapons should the bears use?
Chief Old White Bear suggested that man's weapon, the bow and arrow,
should be turned against him. All of the council agreed. While the
bears worked and made bows and arrows, they wondered what to do
about bowstrings. One of the bears sacrificed himself to provide
the strings, while the others searched for good arrow-wood.
When the first bow was completed and tried, the bear's claws could
not release the strings to shoot the arrow. One bear offered to
cut his claws, but Chief Old White Bear would not allow him to do
that, because without claws he could not climb trees for food and
safety. He might starve.
The deer tribe called together its council led by Chief Little
Deer. They decided that any Indian hunters, who killed deer without
asking pardon in a suitable manner, should be afflicted with painful
rheumatism in their joints.
After this decision, Chief Little Deer sent a messenger to their
nearest neighbors, the Cherokee Indians.
"From now on, your hunters must first offer a prayer to the
deer before killing him," said the messenger. "You must
ask his pardon, stating you are forced only by the hunger needs
of your tribe to kill the deer. Otherwise, a terrible disease will
come to the hunter."
When a deer is slain by an Indian hunter, Chief Little Deer will
run to the spot and ask the slain deer's spirit, "Did you hear
the hunter's prayer for pardon?"
If the reply is yes, then all is well and Chief Little Deer returns
to his cave. But if the answer is no, then the Chief tracks the
hunter to his lodge and strikes him with the terrible disease of
rheumatism, making him a helpless cripple unable to hunt again.
All the fishes and reptiles then held a council and decided they
would haunt those Cherokee Indians, who tormented them, by telling
them hideous dreams of serpents twining around them and eating them
alive. These snake and fish dreams occurred often among the Cherokees.
To get relief, the Cherokees pleaded with their Shaman to banish
their frightening dreams if they no longer tormented the snakes
Now when the friendly plants heard what the animals had decided
against mankind, they planned a countermove of their own. Each tree,
shrub, herb, grass, and moss agreed to furnish a cure for one of
the diseases named by the animals and insects.
Thereafter, when the Cherokee Indians visited their Shaman about
their ailments and if the medicine man was in doubt, he communed
with the spirits of the plants. They always suggested a proper remedy
for mankind's diseases.
This was the beginning of plant medicine from nature among the
Cherokee Indian nation a long, long time ago.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends