Native American Legends
Turtle Makes War On Men
An Iroquois Legend
One day Turtle decided he would go on the war path against the
Human Beings. He painted his cheeks red and climbed into his canoe,
singing a war song. He had not paddled far down the river before
he saw a figure standing on the bank. It was Bear. "Greetings!
Thanks be given that you are strong, Little Brother," said
Bear. "Where are you going?"
"I am going to make war on the Human Beings," said Turtle.
"Too long have they made war on animals. Now is the time for
us to strike back."
"Hah," Bear said. "Perhaps you are right. I would
like to go with you."
Turtle looked at thaw huge form of Bear and at his own small canoe.
"What can you do as a warrior?" Turtle quickly asked.
"Why should I take you on my war party?"
"I am very big and strong," said Bear. "I can crush
an enemy in my arms."
Turtle shook his head and paddled away. "No," he said,
"you would be too slow to go on the warpath with me."
After Turtle had gone a few more miles down the stream, he saw
another figure waving to him from the banks of the river. He paddled
his canoe closer and saw it was Wolf. "Turtle," shouted
Wolf, "I hear you are going to make war on Human Beings. You
must take me with you!" Turtle looked at Wolf and at Wolf's
long sharp teeth. Wolf was not as big as Bear, but he was still
big enough to make Turtle worry if his small canoe could hold so
"What can you do?" asked Turtle.
"I can run very fast to attack the enemy. With my long teeth
I can bite them."
But Turtle was already paddling away down the river. "No,"
he called back over his shoulder, "you would not do to go with
me on my war party. You are too fast and you would run away and
leave me behind."
When Turtle had rounded the bend in the river, he saw a strange
animal standing on the banks. The animal was no larger than Turtle
himself and was wearing a beautiful black and white robe. Turtle
pulled his canoe in to the shore.
"You," Turtle said, "do you want to go with me to
make war on Human Beings?"
"That is a good idea," said the strange animal. "I
know that with my secret weapon I can be of help."
"What is your secret weapon?" asked Turtle.
"I cannot tell you," said the animal, turning his back
towards Turtle, "but I can show you."
The animal, whose name was Skunk, was certainly right. His secret
weapon was very powerful and after Turtle had washed himself off
in the river, it was agreed that Skunk would accompany Turtle.
The two of them set off down the river, only stopping when another
strange animal called to them from the forest.
"Take me with you," called the animal. "I wish to
make war on the Human Beings also."
"Who are you?" asked Turtle.
"I am Rattlesnake," said the long thin animal. "I
have great magic in my long fangs and can kill any animal by touching
them. Shall I show you?"
Turtle shook his head quickly, remembering his experience with
Skunk. "No," he said, "I believe you. Come into the
boat and we will go together and make war. With a war party as powerful
as our own, we will soon destroy all of the Human Beings in the
A few miles further on down the river was a small village of the
Iroquois. It was there that Turtle decided to make his first raid.
The three warriors talked over the strategy and it was decided that
surprise attack would be most effective. Skunk hid himself in the
bushes near the small spring where the women came each morning to
fill their water pots, Snake coiled up in a pile of firewood beside
one of the lodges, and Turtle pulled his head and feet into his
shell after placing himself next to the overturned cooking pots.
Bright and early the next morning, a woman went to the spring to
get water. As soon as she went over to fill her pot, Skunk shot
her with his weapon. This woman was very brave, however, and even
though she was coughing and choking, she beat Skunk with her fists
until he was almost dead and then staggered back to the village.
When Skunk recovered, he crawled away into the bushes, resolving
never to attack human Beings again. Turtle's war party was now down
to only two.
Rattlesnake's turn was not far off. Another woman came out for
some wood to start the cooking fire. This woman had very sharp eyes
and she saw the telltale coils of Rattlesnake hidden among the logs.
Grabbing a handful of stones, she began to hurl them at Rattlesnake
and it was all he could do to escape with his life. So many of the
stones struck him, his head was flattened out and to this day all
Rattlesnakes have a flattened head as a result of Turtle's war party.
Now Turtle was the only warrior left. He bided his time, waiting
for a chance to strike. The chance finally came when a man walked
over to the cooking pots, intending to pick one up to use for the
morning meal. Instead of picking up a pot, he grabbed Turtle who
shot his head out of his shell and bit the man firmly on his leg.
"Ow, Ohhh!" shouted the man, "let go of me."
But Turtle would not let go. The man grabbed a big stick and began
beating Turtle with it so hard that it cracked Turtle's shell in
many places, but still Turtle would not let go.
"I am going to place you in the fire and burn you," panted
the man, and this frightened Turtle very much.
"I have not used my wits," thought Turtle. He cried out
in a loud boasting voice. "Put me in the fire. It is my home
and will make me grow stronger. Only do not put me in the water."
"Ah-ha!" cried the man, "so you are afraid of water!"
He gritted his teeth from the pain and hobbled down to the river
where he thrust in his leg with Turtle still holding on firmly.
Turtle waited until was deep enough, and then, letting go of the
man's leg, he swam away under water as fast as he could. Ever since
that day, even though Turtle still wears the red paint of war on
his cheeks, he has avoided human Beings, his cracked shell a reminder
to him of what happened when he decided to make war human Beings.
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