How they brought back the Tobacco
A Cherokee Legend
In the beginning of the world, when people and animals were all the same, there was only one tobacco plant, to which they all came for their tobacco until the Dagûl`kû geese stole it and carried it far away to the south.
The people were suffering without it, and there was one old woman who grew so thin and weak that everybody said she would soon die unless she could get tobacco to keep her alive.
Different animals offered to go for it, one after another, the larger ones first and then the smaller ones, but the Dagûl`kû saw and killed every one before he could get to the plant. After the others the little Mole tried to reach it by going under the ground, but the Dagûl`kû saw his track and killed him as he came out.
At last the Hummingbird offered, but the others said he was entirely too small and might as well stay at home. He begged them to let him try, so they showed him a plant in a field and told him to let them see how he would go about it.
The next moment he was gone and they saw him sitting on the plant, and then in a moment he was back again, but no one had seen him going or coming, because he was so swift. "This is the way I'll do," said the Hummingbird, so they let him try.
He flew off to the east, and when he came in sight of the tobacco the Dagûl`kû were watching all about it, but they could not see him because he was so small and flew so swiftly. He darted down on the plant--tsa!--and snatched off the top with the leaves and seeds, and was off again before the Dagûl`kû knew what had happened.
Before he got home with the tobacco the old woman had fainted and they thought she was dead, but he blew the smoke into her nostrils, and with a cry of "Tsâ'lû! [Tobacco!]" she opened her eyes and was alive again.
The people had tobacco in the beginning, but they had used it all, and there was great suffering for want of it. There was one old man so old that he had to be kept alive by smoking, and as his son did not want to see him die he decided to go himself to try and get some more. The tobacco country was far in the south, with high mountains all around it, and the passes were guarded, so that it was very hard to get into it, but the young man was a conjurer and was not afraid.
He traveled southward until he came to the mountains on the border of the tobacco country. Then he opened his medicine bag and took out a hummingbird skin and put it over himself like a dress. Now he was a hummingbird and flew over the mountains to the tobacco field and pulled some of the leaves and seed and put them into his medicine bag. He was so small and swift that the guards, whoever they were, did not see him, and when he had taken as much as he could carry he flew back over the mountains in the same way. Then he took off the hummingbird skin and put it into his medicine bag, and was a man again.
He started home, and on his way came to a tree that had a hole in the trunk, like a door, near the first branches, and a very pretty woman was looking out from it. He stopped and tried to climb the tree, but although he was a good climber he found that he always slipped back. He put on a pair of medicine moccasins from his pouch, and then he could climb the tree, but when he reached the first branches he looked up and the hole was still as far away as before. He climbed higher and higher, but every time he looked up the hole seemed to be farther than before, until at last he was tired and came down again.
When he reached home he found his father very weak. but still alive, and one draw at the pipe made him strong again. The people planted the seed and have had tobacco ever since.
Return to Cherokee Legends