Native American Legends
Uncle and Nephew
A Seneca Legend
An uncle and nephew lived off in a forest. There had been a large
family, but all were dead except the two. The uncle and nephew were
the last of their race.
One day the uncle said, "My nephew, you have grown to be a large
boy. Now you must learn to hunt. You may use the bow and arrows
that I used when I was young."
The old man took his bow from the wall and cleaned it, for it was
smoky. Then he said, "We will make a trial of shooting."
They went out together and the uncle tried first, shot at a tree
a long way off. The nephew made a good shot and the uncle said,
"That was well done. You can begin hunting. You must hunt between
sunrise and sunset and always keep on the sunny side, never go North."
The boy hadn't been out long when he killed a deer.
When he took it home his uncle thanked him, and said, "We can live
now; we have plenty of meat."
He cut up the meat, tied bark strings around the pieces and hung
them up to dry.
For a while the boy brought game each day, then it became scarce
and he had to go far South before coming upon any animals.
One time when the boy was sitting around in the house, his uncle
said, "When I was young I had something to amuse myself with. I
will get it for you."
He brought a flute and when he blew on it the flute talked, said,
"Tomorrow you will kill such and such game."
The boy was greatly pleased, and soon learned to play on the flute.
The next morning he started off hunting and sure enough he killed
exactly what the flute said he would.
That night, after the boy had rested from hunting, he took his
flute, and again it said, "You will kill such and such game tomorrow."
Again the boy killed exactly what the flute said.
He began to wonder why he must always go South. At last he made
up his mind to go North, and, making a circuit, he was soon north
of his uncle's cabin. He found elk tracks, followed them and came
to a broad opening and in the opening he saw an elk; he ran after
it, ran in a circle, and came out in the opening.
All at once he heard a woman call, "Stop! Stop!" but he ran on
full speed, after the elk, and again he came out in the opening.
A second time the woman called, "Stop! Stop! Wait and rest."
Looking around, the boy saw that the woman was sitting on a fallen
tree. She called, "Come and sit down. I know you are tired. When
you have rested you can chase the elk."
He sat down near her and soon his head was on her knees. The boy
had very long hair, so long that he kept it tied up, for when he
let it down it swept the ground. Now he tied one of his hairs to
a root in the ground. After a while he fell asleep. The woman put
him in a basket, swung the basket on to her back and started off
on a run, then she rose in the air and ran very fast.
The hair stretched till it could stretch no longer, then it pulled
them back to the place they started from.
The woman said to herself, "There is witchcraft about this boy,
I will try again."
The boy wakened, again she searched in his hair till he closed
his eyes, then she asked, "Are you asleep?"
"I am not asleep," said the boy.
After a while she asked again, "Are you asleep?"
He didn't answer; he was asleep.
The woman put him in the basket, swung it on to her back, ran a
while, then rose in the air. When she had gone a long distance she
came down by the bank of a river, roused the boy, and asked, "Do
you know this place?"
"I know it, my uncle and I used to come here to fish. "He had never
been there; he wanted to deceive the woman.
Again she put him to sleep and again she rose in the air. When
she had gone a long distance she came down on an island, shook the
boy, roused him and asked, "Do you know this place?"
"I know it, my uncle and I used to come here."
Again she put him to sleep, and again she rose in the air; this
time she carried him to the edge of a ravine that was so deep that
the tops of the tallest trees that grew in it could not be seen.
She put the basket down on the very edge of the cliff, turned it
over, and the boy went headlong into the ravine. He fell slowly,
for he had power. He came to the ground unhurt, but he could find
no way of escape. The sides of the ravine were like a wall.
The uncle waited and waited. At last he said to himself, "It is
late. Something has happened. My nephew is not coming home. I must
find out what the trouble is."
He took the flute down and saw that the mouth-piece was bloody.
Then he said, "They have beaten my poor nephew, trouble has come
to him." As there wasn't much blood he thought, "Maybe he will free
himself and come back."
The nephew lay down among the rocks in the deep, blind ravine and
tried to sleep, but could not. All at once he heard a great bird
coming. As it swept past him, it caught a mouthful of flesh out
of his arm. He spat on his arm, rubbed and cured it. When the bird
had been gone a while, he heard it coming again, and as it flew
past, it took a second bite out of his arm. He spat on the arm,
rubbed and cured it.
When daylight came the boy stood up and looking around saw bones
and skeletons on every side, and one man just alive. He said to
himself, "I suppose I shall die here just as these men have died."
That morning the uncle looked at the flute and seeing that there
was more blood on it than before, he gave up his nephew as lost.
In despair he sat down and cried, meanwhile scattering ashes over
his head and shoulders.
The second night the bird flew past twice, each time taking a piece
of flesh out of the boy's arm. When the bird had gone, the boy fell
asleep and dreamed.
In his dream he heard an old woman's voice say, "Grandson, I have
come to help you, you think you are going to die, but you are not.
Just at sunrise you will vomit. if you vomit up something that looks
like a hemlock leaf you may know that you are going to escape from
here. Pick up the leaf, stick it in the ground and sing. As you
sing the leaf will become a tree. Sit on one of the limbs and keep
on singing. The tree will grow till it reaches the top of the cliff,
then jump off and run."
Just at sunrise the next morning the boy vomited as the woman of
the dream had said he would, and he found a little hemlock leaf.
He stuck the leaf in the ground near the wall of the ravine and
began to sing. The leaf became a tree, and as the boy sang the tree
grew higher and higher. He didn't sit on a limb of the tree, but
stayed below and sang till the tree was higher than the top of the
cliff, then he gathered all the skeletons and bones into a pile
and going to a great hickory tree which stood near he pushed it,
and called out, "Rise up and run or the tree will fall on you!"
The bones became living men and the men sprang up and ran away
from the tree. Two of them had unequal legs, each had a leg that
belonged to the other.
The boy said to the crowd, "Now you must follow me up this tree
to the bank above. You must not look back, if you do you will fall."
The limbs of the tree were near together, like a ladder, and the
men climbed easily.
The two men with one leg short and one leg long were behind. After
climbing quite a distance one of them looked back to see how high
up he was. Right away he turned to bones and the bones, rattling
through the limbs of the tree, fell to the ground.
Now there was but one man with uneven legs. He went on till near
the top of the cliff, then he looked back. Right away he turned
to bones and the bones, rattling through the branches of the tree,
fell to the ground.
When the boy was some distance away from the cliff, he said to
the men who here with him, "Stay here while I go and bring the woman,
who has done all this mischief. She has a mother, who is a wizard.
We will punish them both."
He started off and hadn't gone far when he came to the house of
the woman who had deceived him. He sat down by her, and said, "I
Soon her mother came in, and said, "I am glad that my son-in-law
That night the young man heard the old woman groaning. She crawled
out of bed on her hands and knees and rolled around on the ground.
He took a corn-pounder, struck her, and said, "Mother-in-law, wake
up and tell us your dream."
She stood up, and said, "I dreamed that my son-in-law must kill
the two white otters that are in the lake."
"Go to sleep," said the young man, "I will do that tomorrow."
The woman went back to her blankets. In the morning she said, "You
must kill the two white otters in the lake and bring them home before
the door stops shaking after you have slammed it in going out. If
you don't, something bad will happen."
The young man tied one of his long hairs to the door, and, unknown
to his mother-in-law, kept pulling it to make the door tremble.
He reached the bank of the lake and called to the otters. They
came in sight. He threw a round stone, which he had in his pocket,
at one of the otters and killed it. Great waves rose up and rushed
towards him. The second otter came near, on the top of a wave. He
threw the second stone and killed the second otter, then the waves
When the young man came to the house, he called out, "Here, Mother-in-law,
are your two otters!"
"Where?" asked she, "Where?"
The two otters were her brothers.
The young man's uncle thought he was dead and often he sat in front
of the fire and, with a handful of ashes in each hand, held his
hands above his head and let the ashes fall over his hair and face.
At night he often heard some one coming. Then a voice called out,
"Uncle, I have come!" The old man jumped up, brushed off the ashes,
went to the door and opened it only to find a fox or an owl. At
last he made up his mind not to be deceived again.
The night after the otters were killed, the old woman groaned and
rolled around on the ground. The young man hit her with the corn-pounder.
She woke up, and said, "I dreamed that my son-in-law must kill the
bird on the top of the tall tree."
"Go to sleep, Mother-in-law. I will do that in the morning."
In the morning she said, "If you get back after the door, that
you slam in going out, stops swinging, something bad will happen."
The young man fixed the door as before, and going to the tall tree
saw, on the very top, a black eagle. He drew his bow. The first
arrow that he sent went almost to the top of the tree, but was driven
back by the power of the eagle.
He sent a second arrow. It struck the eagle in the heart and brought
it to the ground.
The young man picked up the bird and ran to the house. When he
came he called out, "Mother-in-law, here is your eagle!"
"Whu! Whu!" said she. The eagle was her third brother
and had always fed on men killed by his sister and nieces.
"Come outside," said the young man to his wife.
When she was outside, he fastened up the house, walked around it,
and said, "I want this house to turn to stone," and immediately
it was stone. The old woman and three of her daughters were inside.
They cried out, "Have pity on us! Have pity on us!"
"You had no pity on me," said the young man, and he left them to
Then with his wife he went to the men near the ravine and said
to them, "I have brought back this woman. She is the one who threw
us over the precipice to die in the ravine."
They stripped a wide piece of bark from a tree, tied the woman
on it, with bark straps, and placed it against a tree.
Then the men gathered wood, piled it around her and burned her
The young man had two brothers among the men he had rescued. He
told the other men to go to their own homes. Then, with his brothers
he went to his uncle's house. When near they heard the old man crying.
They listened; he stopped crying and began to sing, "Ten Summers
I will mourn for him."
The door was fastened. The young man called out, "Uncle, I have
come, let me in!"
"Be off!" answered the old man. "You have deceived me times enough."
The nephew begged to be let in, said he had his brothers with him.
"Be off!" cried the uncle. Then he relented, made a hole in the
skin-door, and said, "Put your arm in, I will see if you are my
The young man put his arm through the hole. The old man tied it
to the door with a bark string, then he opened the door cautiously.
When he saw his nephew, he cried out, "Wait, till I clean up a
He brushed off the ashes, then he welcomed his nephews, and they
lived happily together.
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