Native American Legends
U`tlun'ta, The Spear-Finger
A Cherokee Legend
Long, long ago--hïlahi'yu--there dwelt in the mountains a
terrible ogress, a woman monster, whose food was human livers. She
could take on any shape or appearance to suit her purpose, but in
her right form she looked very much like an old woman.
But not an ordinary woman: her whole body was covered with a skin
as hard as a rock that no weapon could wound or penetrate, and that
on her right hand she had a long, stony forefinger of bone, like
an awl or spearhead, with which she stabbed everyone to whom she
could get near enough.
On account of this fact she was called U`tlun'ta "Spear-finger,"
and on account of her stony skin she was sometimes called Nûñ'yunu'ï,
"Stone- dress." There was another stone-clothed monster
that killed people, but that is a different story.
Spear-finger had such powers over stone that she could easily lift
and carry immense rocks, and could cement them together by merely
striking one against another. To get over the rough country more
easily she undertook to build a great rock bridge through the air
from Nûñyû'-tlu`gûñ'yï, the
"Tree rock," on Hiwassee, over to Sanigilâ'gï
(Whiteside mountain), on the Blue ridge, and had it well started
from the top of the "Tree rock" when the lightning struck
it and scattered the fragments along the whole ridge, where the
pieces can still be seen by those who go there.
She used to range all over the mountains about the heads of the
streams and in the dark passes of Nantahala, always hungry and looking
for victims. Her favorite haunt on the Tennessee side was about
the gap on the trail where Chilhowie mountain comes down to the
Sometimes an old woman would approach along the trail where the
children were picking strawberries or playing near the village,
and would say to them coaxingly, "Come, my grandchildren, come
to your granny and let granny dress your hair."
When some little girl ran up and laid her head in the old woman's
lap to be petted and combed the old witch would gently run her fingers
through the child's hair until it went to sleep, when she would
stab the little one through the heart or back of the neck with the
long awl finger, which she had kept hidden under her robe. Then
she would take out the liver and eat it.
She would enter a house by taking the appearance of one of the
family who happened to have gone out for a short time, and would
watch her chance to stab someone with her long finger and take out
She could stab him without being noticed, and often the victim
did not even know it himself at the time--for it left no wound and
caused no pain--but went on about his own affairs, until all at
once he felt weak and began gradually to pine away, and was always
sure to die, because Spear-finger had taken his liver.
When the Cherokee went out in the fall, according to their custom,
to burn the leaves off from the mountains in order to get the chestnuts
on the ground, they were never safe, for the old witch was always
on the lookout, and as soon as she saw the smoke rise she knew there
were Indians there and sneaked up to try to surprise one alone.
So as well as they could they tried to keep together, and were
very cautious of allowing any stranger to approach the camp. But
if one went down to the spring for a drink they never knew but it
might be the liver eater that came back and sat with them.
Sometimes she took her proper form, and once or twice, when far
out from the settlements, a solitary hunter had seen an old woman,
with a queer- looking hand, going through the woods singing low
Uwe'la na'tsïkû'. Su' sä' sai'.
Liver, I eat it. Su' sa' sai'.
It was rather a pretty song, but it chilled his blood, for he knew
it was the liver eater, and he hurried away, silently, before she
might see him.
At last a great council was held to devise some means to get rid
of U`tlun'ta before she should destroy everybody. The people came
from all around, and after much talk it was decided that the best
way would be to trap her in a pitfall where all the warriors could
attack her at once.
So they dug a deep pitfall across the trail and covered it over
with earth and grass as if the ground had never been disturbed.
Then they kindled a large fire of brush near the trail and hid themselves
in the laurels, because they knew she would come as soon as she
saw the smoke.
Sure enough they soon saw an old woman coming along the trail.
She looked like an old woman whom they knew well in the village,
and although several of the wiser men wanted to shoot at her, the
other interfered, because they did not want to hurt one of their
own people. The old woman came slowly along the trail, with one
hand under her blanket, until she stepped upon the pitfall and tumbled
through the brush top into the deep hole below.
Then, at once, she showed her true nature, and instead of the feeble
old woman there was the terrible U`tlun'ta with her stony skin,
and her sharp awl finger reaching out in every direction for some
one to stab.
The hunters rushed out from the thicket and surrounded the pit,
but shoot as true and as often as they could, their arrows struck
the stony mail of the witch only to be broken and fall useless at
her feet, while she taunted them and tried to climb out of the pit
to get at them. They kept out of her way, but were only wasting
their arrows when a small bird, Utsu'`gï, the titmouse, perched
on a tree overhead and began to sing "un, un, un."
They thought it was saying u'nahü', heart, meaning that they
should aim at the heart of the stone witch. They directed their
arrows where the heart should be, but the arrows only glanced off
with the flint heads broken.
Then they caught the Utsu'`gï and cut off its tongue, so that
ever since its tongue is short and everybody knows it is a liar.
When the hunters let it go it flew straight up into the sky until
it was out of sight and never came back again. The titmouse that
we know now is only an image of the other.
They kept up the fight without result until another bird, little
Tsïkïlilï', the chickadee, flew down from a tree
and alighted upon the witch's right hand. The warriors took this
as a sign that they must aim there, and they were right, for her
heart was on the inside of her hand, which she kept doubled into
a fist, this same awl hand with which she had stabbed so many people.
Now she was frightened in earnest, and began to rush furiously
at them with her long awl finger and to jump about in the pit to
dodge the arrows, until at last a lucky arrow struck just where
the awl joined her wrist and she fell down dead.
Ever since the tsïkïlilï' is known as a truth teller,
and when a man is away on a journey, if this bird comes and perches
near the house and chirps its song, his friends know he will soon
be safe home.
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