The ball game between the Birds and the Animals
A Cherokee Legend
The old ones tell us that one time, the animals challenged the birds to a great ball game, and the birds accepted. The leaders of each made the plans and set the date, and when the time came, both parties met at the place for the ball dance. The animals met on a nice smooth grassy area near the river, and the birds perched in the treetops overlooking the animals. The captain of the animal team was Yo-na, the bear, and he was strong and heavy, and could take care of anyone who got in his way. All along the way to the ball game, he was showing his strength by tossing logs and boulders into the air. He boasted of what he would do to the birds at the ball game. Da-ga-si, the terrapin, was a huge terrapin, and his shell was so hard, not even the heaviest blow to him would hurt. He kept standing on his hind legs and then dropping to the ground, bragging that this is what he would do at the ball game. He would crush any bird that tried to take the ball from him. There was also A-wi, the deer, who could easily outrun any and every animal. They thought they had a great team.
The birds had A-wo-ha-li, the eagle, as their captain. Ta-wo-di, the hawk, and other strong birds were on their side. Although they were swift and strong, they were still a little afraid of the animals. After the dance, they were all pruning their feathers while perched in the trees, and waited for the captain to give the word. All of a sudden, here came two little things hardly bigger than field mice, and they climbed up the tree where A-wo-ha-li, the bird captain, was sitting. They asked to join in the game. The captain looked at them, and seeing that they were four-legged, asked why they didn't go down to the animal team. They said they had, but the animals laughed at them, and made fun of them, because they were so small. A-wo-ha-li felt sorry for them, and wanted to take them.
But they had no wings. A-wo-ha-li, Ta-wo-di, and the others consulted, and finally decided to make some wings for the little ones. They tried for a very long time to think of a solution, when finally someone thought about the drum they had used in the dance. The head was made of ground-hog skin, and maybe they could take off a corner of it and make some wings. They took two pieces from the drum head and cut them into shape for wings, and stretched them with cane splints and fastened them to the front legs of one of the little animals.
This is how Tla-me-ha, the bat, came to be.
They threw the ball to him and told him to catch it. He dodged and circled about, and always kept the ball in the air and never let it hit the ground. The birds soon felt that he would be one of their best players.
Now they figured they better fix the other poor animal, but they had no more leather to make wings. Somebody thought of stretching his skin, the way the leather had been stretched on the drum. Two large birds took a hold from each side of him with their strong beaks, and pulled at his fur for several minutes. They managed to stretch the skin between his front and back legs, until they had Te-wa, the flying squirrel. To see how well he could play, the captain threw the ball up in the air, and Te-wa leaped off the limb, caught it in his teeth, and carried it through the air until he reached another tree, far, far away.
When everyone was ready, the signal was given and the game began. Almost at the very first, Te-wa caught the ball and carried it to a tree, from which he threw it to the other birds. They kept it in the air for a very long time, but it finally dropped. Yona rushed to grab it, but Tlu-tlu, the martin, darted after it and threw it to Tla-me-ha. By his dodging and circling, he kept it out of the way of even A-wi, until he finally threw it to the pole and won the game for the birds.
Yo-na and Da-ga-si, who had bragged about how good they were and what they would do to the birds, never even got a chance to play. For saving the ball when it dropped, they gave Tlu-tlu a beautiful gourd in which he could build his nest. Today, he still has it.
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