Native American Legends
The origin of the Iroquois Nations
An Iroquois Legend
About 1390, today's State of New York became the stronghold of
five powerful Indian tribes.
They were later joined by another great tribe, the Tuscaroras from
the south. Eventually the Iroquois, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas,
and Cayugas joined together to form the great Iroquois Nation. In
1715, the Tuscaroras were accepted into the Iroquois Nation.
The Five Nations
Long, long ago, one of the Spirits of the Sky World came down and
looked at the earth. As he traveled over it, he found it beautiful,
and so he created people to live on it.
Before returning to the sky, he gave them names, called the people
all together, and spoke his parting words: "To the Mohawks,
I give corn," he said.
"To the patient Oneidas, I give the nuts and the fruit of
To the industrious Senecas, I give beans.
To the friendly Cayugas, I give the roots of plants to be eaten.
To the wise and eloquent Onondagas, I give grapes and squashes to
eat and tobacco to smoke at the camp fires."
Many other things he told the new people. Then he wrapped himself
in a bright cloud and went like a swift arrow to the Sun. There
his return caused his Brother Sky Spirits to rejoice.
The Six Nations
Long, long ago, in the great past, there were no people on the
earth. All of it was covered by deep water. Birds, flying, filled
the air, and many huge monsters possessed the waters. One day the
birds saw a beautiful woman falling from the sky. Immediately the
huge ducks held a council.
"How can we prevent her from falling into the water?"
they asked. After some discussion, they decided to spread out their
wings and thus break the force of her fall. Each duck spread out
its wings until it touched the wings of other ducks. So the beautiful
woman reached them safely.
Then the monsters of the deep held a council, to decide how they
could protect the beautiful being from the terror of the waters.
One after another, the monsters decided that they were not able
to protect her, that only Giant Tortoise was big enough to bear
her weight. He volunteered, and she was gently placed upon his back.
Giant Tortoise magically increased in size and soon became a large
After a time, the Celestial Woman gave birth to twin boys. One
of them was the Spirit of Good. He made all the good things on the
earth and caused the corn, the fruits, and the tobacco to grow.
The other twin was the Spirit of Evil. He created the weeds and
also the worms and the bugs and all the other creatures that do
evil to the good animals and birds.
All the time, Giant Tortoise continued to stretch himself. And
so the world became larger and larger. Sometimes Giant Tortoise
moved himself in such a way as to make the earth quake. After many,
many years had passed by, the Sky-Holder, whom Indians called Ta-rhu-hia-wah-ku,
decided to create some people.
He wanted them to surpass all others in beauty, strength, and bravery.
So from the bosom of the island where they had been living on moles,
the Sky- Holder brought forth six pairs of people.
The first pair were left near a great river, now called the Mohawk.
So they are called the Mohawk Indians. The second pair were told
to move their home beside a large stone. Their descendants have
been called the Oneidas. Many of them lived on the south side of
Oneida Lake and others in the valleys of Oneida Creek. A third pair
were left on a high hill and have always been called the Onondagas.
The fourth pair became the parents of the Cayugas, and the fifth
pair the parents of the Senecas. Both were placed in some part of
what is now known as the State of New York. But the Tuscaroras were
taken up the Roanoke River into what is now known as North Carolina.
There the Sky- Holder made his home while he taught these people
and their descendants many useful arts and crafts.
The Tuscaroras claim that his presence with them made them superior
to the other Iroquois nations. But each of the other five will tell
you, "Ours was the favored tribe with whom Sky- Holder made
his home while he was on the Earth."
The Onondagas say, "We have the council fire. That means that
we are the chosen people." As the years passed by, the numerous
Iroquois families became scattered over the state, and also in what
is now Pennsylvania, the Middle West and southeastern Canada.
Some lived in areas where bear was their principal game. So these
people were called the Bear Clan.
Others lived where beavers were plentiful. So they were called
the Beaver Clan.
For similar reasons, the Deer, Wolf, Snipe and Tortoise clans received
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends