Native American Legends
The Spirit Defenders of Nikwasi'
A Cherokee Legend
Long ago a powerful unknown tribe invaded the country from the
southeast, killing people and destroying settlements wherever they
went. No leader could stand against them, and in a little while
they had wasted all the lower settlements and advanced into the
No leader could stand against them, and in a little while they
had wasted all the lower settlements and advanced into the mountains.
The warriors of the old town of Nikwasi', on the head of Little
Tennessee, gathered their wives and children into the townhouse
and kept scouts constantly on the lookout for the presence of danger.
One morning just before daybreak the spies saw the enemy approaching
and at once gave the alarm.
The Nikwasi' men seized their arms and rushed out to meet the attack,
but after a long, hard fight they found themselves overpowered and
began to retreat, when suddenly a stranger stood among them and
shouted to the chief to call off his men and he himself would drive
back the enemy. From the dress and language of the stranger the
Nikwasi' people thought him a chief who had come with reinforcements
from the Overhill settlements in Tennessee.
They fell back along the trail, and as they came near the townhouse
they saw a great company of warriors coming out from the side of
the mound as through an open doorway. Then they knew that their
friends were the Nûñnë'hï, the Immortals,
although no one had ever heard before that they lived under Nikwasi'
The Nûñnë'hï poured out by hundreds, armed
and painted for the fight, and the most curious thing about it all
was that they became invisible as soon as they were fairly outside
of the settlement, so that although the enemy saw the glancing arrow
or the rushing tomahawk, and felt the stroke, he could not see who
Before such invisible foes the invaders soon had to retreat, going
first south along the ridge to where joins the main ridge which
separates the French Broad from the Tuckasegee, and then turning
with it to the northeast. As they retreated they tried to shield
themselves behind rocks and trees, but the Nûñnë'hï
arrows went around the rocks and killed them from the other side,
and they could find no hiding place.
All along the ridge they fell, until when they reached the head
of Tuckasegee not more than half a dozen were left alive, and in
despair they sat down and cried out for mercy. Ever since then the
Cherokee have called the place Dayûlsûñ'yï,
"Where they cried."
Then the Nûñnë'hï chief told them they had
deserved their punishment for attacking a peaceful tribe, and he
spared their lives and told them to go home and take the news to
their people. This was the Indian custom, always to spare a few
to carry back the news of defeat. They went home toward the north
and the Nûñnë'hï went back to the mound.
And they are still there, because, in the last war, when a strong
party of Federal troops came to surprise a handful of Confederates
posted there they saw so many soldiers guarding the town that they
were afraid and went away without making an attack.
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