Native American Legends
The Uktena and the Ulûñsû'tï
A Cherokee Legend
Long ago--hïlahi'yu--when the Sun became angry at the people
on Earth and sent a sickness to destroy them, the Little Men changed
a man into a monster snake, which they called Uktena, "The
Keen-Eyed," and sent him to kill her.
He failed to do the work, and the Rattlesnake had to be sent instead,
which made the Uktena so jealous and angry that the people were
afraid of him and had him taken up to Gälûñ'lätï,
to stay with the other dangerous things. He left others behind him,
though, nearly as large and dangerous as himself, and they hide
now in deep pools in the river and about lonely passes in the high
mountains, the places which the Cherokee call "Where the Uktena
Those who know say that the Uktena is a great snake, as large around
as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a bright, blazing crest
like a diamond upon its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks
of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length,
and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from
the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life.
The blazing diamond is called Ulûñsû'tî
"Transparent," and he who can win it may become the greatest
wonder worker of the tribe, but it is worth a man's life to attempt
it, for whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright
light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.
Even to see the Uktena asleep is death, not to the hunter himself,
but to his family.
Of all the daring warriors who Have started out in search of the
Ulûñsû'tî only Âgän-uni'tsï
ever came back successful. The East Cherokee still keep the one
which he brought. It is like a large transparent crystal, nearly
the shape of a cartridge bullet, with a blood-red streak running
through the center from top to bottom. The owner keeps it wrapped
in a whole deerskin, inside an earthen jar hidden away in a secret
cave in the mountains.
Every seven days he feeds it with the blood of small game, rubbing
the blood all over the crystal as soon as the animal has been killed.
Twice a year it must have the blood of a deer or some other large
animal. Should he forget to feed it at the proper time it would
come out from its cave at night in the shape of fire and fly through
the air to slake its thirst with the lifeblood of the conjurer or
some one of his people.
He may save himself from this danger by telling it, when he puts
it away, that he will not need it again for a long time. It will
then go quietly to sleep and feel no hunger until it is again brought
out to be consulted. Then it must be fed again with blood before
it is used.
No white man must ever see it and no person but the owner will
venture near it for fear of sudden death. Even the conjurer who
keeps it is afraid of it, and changes its hiding place every once
ill a while so that it can not learn the way out. When he dies it
will be buried with him. Otherwise it will come out of its cave,
like a blazing star, to search for his grave, night after night
for seven years, when, if still not able to find him, it will go
back to sleep forever where he has placed it.
Whoever owns the Ulûñsû'tî is sure of
success in hunting, love, rainmaking, and every other business,
but its great use is in life prophecy. When it is consulted for
this purpose the future is seen mirrored in the clear crystal as
a tree is reflected in the quiet stream below, and the conjurer
knows whether the sick man will recover, whether the warrior will
return from battle, or whether the youth will live to be old.
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