Native American Legends
The Ganyo Gowa
A Seneca Legend
An old man lived in a forest. All of his relatives had been carried
off. He was alone except for an infant that had been left without
parents. He fed the child and it grew fast. When the boy was five
or six years of age he asked where his father and mother were. "An
enemy killed them," answered the old man, and he would say no more.
The second time the boy asked, the old man said, "They went in
the direction of the Ganyo Gowa (great game)," but he wouldn't tell
in what direction that was.
One day the little boy started off to look for Ganyo Gowa. He had
not gone far when he came to a lake and on the lake was a beautiful
swan. He aimed an arrow at the swan and killed it. Then he didn't
know how to get the bird for he hadn't a canoe. At last he made
a bark string, fastened a stone to the end of it, threw the stone
beyond the swan, and drew the bird in. He shook the bird till it
was small and putting it on his back, started for home. When near
the house he placed the swan on the ground, struck it till it was
as large as when he killed it, and going into the house he said
to his grandfather, "I've killed the Ganyo Gowa."
"You shouldn't have killed that bird," said his grandfather. "Take
it back to the lake and bring it to life, That is not the Ganyo Gowa."
The boy took the swan to the lake, put it on the water, and, giving
it a push, said, "Go off and live in the water." The bird came to
life and swam away.
When the boy again asked about his parents, the old man said, "A
creature that lives in a wizard spring killed them," and he told
where the spring was.
The boy started and at midday came to the spring. The water looked
cool and refreshing, he wanted to drink, but was afraid to; he put
his foot into the water to see what would happen. The instant his
foot touched the water, a terrible creature caught it and pulled
his leg off.
Now the boy had but one leg. "Well," thought he, "I'll try again,
I may as well lose the other leg." The instant his foot touched
the water his leg was off.
Then saying, "though I've lost my legs, I'll kill this creature."
He pulled hairs out of his head and braided them into a rope, put
a wooden hook on the end of the rope and cut off bits of his own
flesh for bait.
As soon as he dropped the hook into the spring the creature swallowed
it. When the boy jerked the creature out on to the ground it cried
pitifully and begged to be thrown into the water.
The boy put the hook into the spring a second time and drew out
another creature like the first. When they begged to be thrown back,
he said, "I can do nothing for you till I have my legs." They gave
him his legs; he spat on them, put them to his body, and was as
well as ever. Then he gathered a great quantity of dry wood and
branches and setting fire to the pile, burned up the Wizards of
Then he traveled on till he came to a small house in an opening
in the forest. On the top of the house sat two white, horned owls.
As soon as the owls saw the boy, they called out to some one in
the house, "Wake up, old man. Somebody is coming."
The boy ran into the house, and found there an old white-haired
man, who was sleeping, and in his bosom was a beautiful white deer.
Straightway the deer left the old man and going to the boy crept
into his bosom.
The boy started for home and as he went all the animals in the
world and all the birds in the world followed him. When he reached
the edge of the forest, the white-haired old man woke up and finding
himself alone, said, "My brother must have another grandson; he
has been here and stolen my white deer." And taking a club he followed
When he overtook him he asked, "Why did you steal my white deer?"
"What do you want of the deer?" asked the boy, "You are an old
man. I am young; the deer will be more useful for me than for you."
The man caught the boy, pounded his head flat, and leaving him
for dead, took the white deer and went home' He sat down in his
house and fell asleep with the deer in his bosom.
When the boy came to his senses and found that his head was flattened
out he put up both hands and pressed it back into shape. Then he
went again to the old man's house. No sooner was he inside the house
than the deer was in his bosom, and when he started for home all
the birds and beasts in the world followed him. The minute he reached
the edge of the forest the old man woke up and pursued him.
The boy beat the old man to death with a club, then went on till
he came to his grandfather's house. When he told what he had done
his grandfather cried, and said, "You have killed my brother!"
That night, while the boy was sleeping, the old man stuck three
arrows in his back, when he woke up his back was stiff and sore
and he said to himself, "My grandfather has been trying to kill
He pulled the arrows out and said to the old man, "You have tried
to kill me. Now I'll go away and leave you here alone."
Early in the morning the boy started off toward the West, taking
with him the white deer and all the game that runs and flies. He
traveled on till he came to an opening in the forest and saw a house.
Then he put the deer ill a hollow tree and went toward the house.
On the way he met a boy of his own size.
"Where do you come from?" asked the strange boy.
"From the East."
"That is the country of the Ganyo Gowa, the deer that commands
all the birds and animals that live in the world."
"The Ganyo Gowa belongs to me," said the boy.
"Can you call any kind of game you want?"
"Will you come with me and kill coons?"
The two boys went on till they came to a large tree covered with
coon scratches. They climbed the tree and killed many coons. They
carried the coons to the house and each boy made himself a coon
The two boys were so happy that they decided to live together always.
So the boy from the East went to the hollow tree and taking the
white deer out told it to go wherever it wished. He liberated the
Ganyo Gowa and from that time animals and birds roam the world at
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