The Great Snake Battle
A Seneca Legend
In olden times the Indians had a great battle with snakes, and this is how it happened: One day when a man was hunting he saw a rattlesnake and tormented it. He caught the snake, made a hole through its body and putting a bark string through the hole fastened the snake to the ground. Then he built a fire and saying, "Now fight me," he burned the snake alive. Afterwards he tormented many snakes in this way, always challenging them to fight.
One day a man, who was in the woods, heard a great noise and going toward it saw a large number of snakes traveling in one direction. He listened and heard them say, "We will have a battle, Djissaa (Fire) has challenged us. The battle will be four days from now."
The man hurried back to the village and told the people what he had seen and heard. The chief sent a number of men to the place, and, as far as they could see, there were snakes, all going in one direction. They were going to a council.
The men went back and told the chief. He said, "We can't help it; they will force us to fight, we must get ready."
They drove two rows of stakes the whole length of the village, then, some distance beyond, piled up a great quantity of wood in long lines. On the fourth day they set fire to the wood.
When the snakes came, they sprang through the fire; many of them were burned, but so many rushed into the fire that they put it out. Live snakes climbed over the dead and in spite of the men, who were trying to kill them, they reached the second row of stakes and again they were killed till the living climbed over the dead, got above the second stakes, and were in the village. Then the battle for life began.
The first man killed was Djissaa, the man who had challenged the snakes. The people fought till the chief, seeing how many were being killed, screamed that he surrendered.
Then a snake, with an enormous body and head, came out of the ground, and said, "I am chief of all the snakes, we will go away from your village if you will promise that as long as the world lasts your people will not injure or torment my people."
The chief promised and the snakes went away.
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