Native American Legends
Turkey's brother goes in search of a Wife
A Seneca Legend
An old man had two nephews: one, perhaps, fifteen or sixteen, the
other two or three years old. The three lived together in a bark
house in the woods.
When the uncle went hunting, the elder brother stayed at home.
When the young man was hunting, the uncle was at home, for the younger
boy was too small to be left alone.
One day the elder brother said, "Uncle, if you will kill a turkey,
I will make a coat for my little brother to wear."
"How can you do that?" asked the uncle.
"Oh, I will skin the turkey and make a feather coat."
The next day the uncle brought home a large, white turkey-gobbler.
The young man took the skin off from head, legs and body, in one
piece. Then he rubbed the skin and made it soft and when it was
ready he put it on the little boy. It fitted him nicely, for he
was the same size as the turkey. He put his feet into the skin of
the legs and his arms into the wings, and then went around hunting
for beechnuts. He could fly into trees and he looked exactly like
a turkey so they called him Otsoon (Turkey).
The uncle and nephews lived together till the elder nephew was
old enough to marry. Then the uncle said to him, "I am tired of
cooking, I want to eat food cooked by a woman. You are old enough
to marry. The chief of a village far from here has three daughters.
You can get one of them for the asking."
"Very well, I will go and ask for her," said the young man and
he began to get ready.
Turkey wanted to go too, but his brother said, "You must stay at
home with our uncle. How can we leave him alone?"
"I don't want to stay here," said Turkey, "I want to go with you."
No matter how the brother and uncle coaxed or scolded Turkey insisted,
and at last they told him he could go.
"Now, Nephew," said the uncle, "You must have an outfit. They must
see that you are a great man, I will give you what I have."
He brought a coat of wild-cat skin and put it on the young man,
then, standing back and looking at him, he said, "That is not good
He brought a lynx-skin; that didn't please him.
"Oh," said he, "I have another coat; that's the one for you."
He brought a gasyondetha skin coat with the head for a cap,
whenever the wearer was angry the head would roar. In the cap he
put two loon feathers that sang all the time.
"This will do!" said the old man. "Now they will see you as you
He gave the young man beautiful moccasins, with leggings to match,
and a pouch of fisher-skin, whenever an enemy came near the fisher
would snap at him and bite him. In the pouch was a pipe. The bowl
of the pipe was a bull frog, the stem a water snake. When the young
man began to smoke the bull frog croaked and the snake wriggled
and tried to swallow the frog.
The uncle said, "Now, my Nephew, go straight toward the West. It
is a long journey. We are the only ones left of our nation. All
of our people have been captured and carried off, that is why you
must go so far for a wife. When half way to the chief's village,
you will see a spring on one side of the trail. Don't stop there
or touch the water. Farther on, about half way between the spring
and the chief 's house, you will meet an old man. He is a great
thief. Don't stop with him or listen to him."
The brothers set out at sunrise and at midday they came to the
spring, though it was a year's journey for an ordinary person. As
soon as the elder brother saw the spring he was thirsty and wanted
to drink, but Turkey said, "Our uncle told us not to touch that
They were passing the spring when the elder brother looked again
at the water and this time he was so thirsty that Turkey couldn't
keep him from drinking. Lying down be had just touched the water
with his lips when something caught him by the hair and pulled him
into the spring, but he grasped the creature and, struggling hard,
got out of the water bringing the creature with him. It was not
a man, though it looked something like one.
It gasped and begged, "Oh, Grandson, throw me back! Oh, Grandson,
throw me back!"
"No, you can stay where you are," said the young man. He lay down
again to drink and a second creature caught him; he pulled that
"Oh, Grandson," it gasped, "throw me back! Throw me back!"
A third time he lay down to drink and this time he was undisturbed.
The water was sweet and cool. When he had finished drinking, he
killed the two creatures. With Turkey's help he gathered all the
dry sticks to be found, put the creatures on the pile and burned
them to ashes, then the two traveled on. In the middle of the afternoon
they came to a place where there were many tall trees and around
one of them an old man was running as fast as he could go.
When he saw the young man he called to him, "Oh, my Grandson, shoot!
Look, such a nice fat, coon! Shoot him for me!"
He begged so hard that the young man shot at the coon. The arrow
stuck in its body and the coon ran into a hole in the tree, as the
young man thought.
"Oh, we must find the coon," said the old man, "You mustn't lose
your arrow. Go into the hole and pull, him out, but take off your
clothes so as not to spoil them. You needn't be afraid, I won't
touch them. I am going in too."
The young man took off his coat, leggings and moccasins and put
them on the ground, then climbed the tree, the old man following
him. When they came to the hole, the young man looked into it and
right at hand, as he thought, saw the coon. He reached in to pull
the arrow out, but that instant the old man pushed him and down
he went through the hollow tree to the very bottom. There was no
coon in the tree.
The old man slipped to the ground, put on the young man's coat,
leggings and moccasins, and taking his pouch and bow and arrows
started off westward, toward the chief's village.
Turkey cried a long time for his brother, then he flew on to a
tree and sat there moaning.
The elder brother thought, "Now I am in trouble. My uncle told
me not to listen to that old man."
There was no way of getting out of the hole, for the sides were
as smooth as ice. On the ground, at the bottom, were the bones of
people, who had been thrown in by the old man.
Toward morning the young man remembered that in his boyhood a great
spider had appeared to him in a dream, and said, "If ever you get
into trouble I will help you.
"Oh, Spider!" cried he, "Come and help me now."
That minute a great spider came to the opening and began to make
a web. When the web reached the bottom of the hole the spider called
out, "Now climb!"
The young man started but wasn't half way up when the web broke.
"Oh, Spider," moaned he, "You are not strong enough to help me."
Then he remembered that in his boyhood a black snake had appeared
to him in a dream and had promised to help him if ever he were in
"Oh, Black Snake," cried he, "help me now."
Straightway a black snake looked into the hole, then it slipped
its body down till the end of it reached the ground. The young man
took hold of it. The snake coiled itself up, brought him to the
top, then disappeared.
When Turkey saw his brother he was glad. He flew to the ground,
and said, "Now, we must go home."
"No," said the young man, "We must go t o the chief's village.
I will put on the old man's clothes."
As soon as he had on the stiff leggings, the torn moccasins and
the dirty blanket, his voice grew weak and he began to cough, and
right away he looked and felt like an old man.
The thief meanwhile felt young and strong and could travel fast.
In front of the chief's village was a broad river. When the thief
came to it he shouted for some one to ferry him across.
The chief's eldest daughter rowed over in a canoe and seeing a
fine looking man, she asked, "Where did you come from, and where
are you going?"
"I came from the East. I am going to the chief's house, I am looking
for a wife, and I have heard that he has three daughters."
"I am his eldest daughter," said the girl, "I think you would suit
"Very well," answered the thief.
"Then you are my husband," said the girl.
She led him to her father's house and showing him a couch covered
with beautiful skins, said, "That is your place."
The next evening Turkey and his brother came to the river. The
old man shouted for somebody to come and row them over, but his
voice was so weak and thin that for a long time he wasn't heard.
At last some one on the opposite bank said, "An old man and a turkey
want to cross the river."
The chief's youngest daughter got her canoe and went over. She
asked the old man who he was and where he came from.
"I came from the East," said he, "I am looking for a wife."
"Looking for a wife? Why you are too old," said the girl.
"I am young, but maybe I look old. Here is my brother. He is a
"Did you come from beyond the wizard spring?" asked the girl.
"I did, and I cleared the spring of two strange creatures."
"Did you meet an old man?"
"I did, and that is why I look old; he stole my clothes."
"This is the man we are waiting for," thought the girl, "I'll marry
She rowed him across the river, led him to the chief's house and
pointing out a couch covered with beautiful skins, said, "That is
your place." Above the couch was a smaller one, the girl said, "Your
brother can have that place up there."
When the girl's family saw the husband she had chosen they were
dissatisfied and tried to persuade the chief to drive him out, but
he said, "Let the girl alone, she knows what she is doing."
The husband and wife lived quietly for a number of days, then the
husband said, "I am sick, go to your father and ask him for his
She brought the bowl and the man filled it with beautiful black
"Take this wampum to your father," said he, "and say that I give
it to him."
"Oh," said the chief when he saw the wampum, "I knew he was a great
man. He is the greatest man I have ever heard of. This is beautiful
When the husband of the eldest sister heard what had happened,
he said to his wife, "Ask your father for his best bowl, I am sick."
She brought the bowl, but in place of filling it with wampum he
filled it with lizards and foul things.
The chief was angry and said to his daughter, "Go to the river,
wash the bowl and scrape it clean."
A few days later the husband of the youngest sister said, "Go and
ask your father for his bowl."
She brought the bowl and he filled it with beautiful white wampum.
The chief was delighted, and said, "My son-in-law is a great man;
he comes from the Wampum people."
When the thief heard about the white wampum he sent for the chief's
bowl, but again he filled it with lizards and foul things, and again
his wife spent a whole day at the river cleaning and scouring the
Now Wildcat and Fox came to see the youngest sister's husband,
for they were his friends. After a while Fox spied Turkey sitting
on his shelf over his brother's couch and he said to Wildcat, "That's
a nice gobbler up there, can't you get him for us?"
That night Wildcat crawled down the smoke-hole till he could reach
Turkey. Turkey was sitting with his eyes wide open. He saw Wildcat
and waited till he was near, then he raised his club and struck
him such a heavy blow that he fell into the fire, and before he
could get out his coat was so singed and burned, that to this day
Wildcats have yellow, smoky coats.
Wildcat screamed, "Oh, I've had a fit. I fell into the fire and
"You can't have fits here!" said the eldest sister, and jumping
up she pushed Wildcat out of the house.
Fox was waiting outside.
"That's not a turkey," said Wildcat, "that's a wizard. He will
The two hurried off without saying good-bye to their friend.
"Ask your father for his bow and arrows," said the young man to
She brought them and the next day he killed more deer than had
ever been killed in that place. The game was carried to the chief's
house and all the people had enough to eat, no man was left without
meat, and everybody wondered at the great number of deer killed.
The chief notified the people that there would be a council at
daybreak the next morning.
Every one was awake early, except the chief's eldest daughter and
her husband; they were sound asleep. While they slept the young
man took his coat, leggings, moccasins and pouch from the thief
and put them on, then he went to the council.
"Get up," said the mother, shaking her daughter, "your husband
must go to the council." Then, glancing at the man, she started
back in fright, and cried, "What a looking husband you have!"
As soon as the clothes were gone, the man was old and shrunken,
with a face like an owl's.
The young woman woke up and looking at her husband was frightened
to see what an ugly old creature he was. She pulled him up, pushed
him out of the house, and said, "I won't have you for a husband!"
The thief disappeared and was never seen again.
When the young man went into the council house, he was fine looking
and strong. He opened his pouch, took out his pipe, lighted it and
began to smoke. The bull frog croaked, the snake wriggled and tried
to swallow the frog.
Then all the people said, "We have never seen such a powerful man!"
The young man said to his father-in-law, "Now that I have my clothes,
I must go back to my uncle who lives in the East."
"We will go with you," said the chief.
And the people shouted, "We will go too!"
"My brother and I will go ahead," said the young man, and, turning
to Turkey he said, "Now, brother, take off your turkey skin and
dress as other boys do."
Turkey took off the skin and he looked fine in his new blanket
The brothers went home in one day; the chief and his people were
a long time on the road. The uncle was glad to see-his nephews and
to welcome the chief. "This is my story."
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