Native American Legends
A Cherokee Legend
There was once a great serpent called the Ustu'tli that made its
haunt upon Cohutta mountain. It was called the Ustu'tli or "foot"
snake, because it did not glide like other snakes, but had feet
at each end of its body.
The Ustu'tli moved by strides or jerks, like a great measuring
worm. Its feet were three-cornered and flat and could hold on to
the ground like suckers. It had no legs, but would raise itself
up on its hind feet, with its snaky head waving high in the air
until it found a good place to take a fresh hold; then it would
bend down and grip its front feet to the ground while it drew its
body up from behind. It could cross rivers and deep ravines by throwing
its head across and getting a grip with its front feet and then
swinging its body over.
Wherever its footprints were found there was danger. It used to
bleat like a young fawn, and when the hunter heard a fawn bleat
in the woods he never looked for it, but hurried away in the other
direction. Up the mountain or down, nothing could escape the Ustu'tli's
pursuit, but along the side of the ridge it could not go, because
the great weight of its swinging head broke its hold on the ground
when it moved sideways.
It came to pass after a while that not a hunter about Cohutta would
venture near the mountain for dread of the Ustu'tli. At last a man
from one of the northern settlements came down to visit some relatives
in that neighborhood. When he arrived they made a feast for him,
but had only corn and beans, and excused themselves for having no
meat because the hunters were afraid to go into the mountains.
He asked the reason, and when they told him he said he would go
himself tomorrow and either bring in a deer or find the Ustu'tli.
They tried to dissuade him from it, but as he insisted upon going
they warned him that if he heard a fawn bleat in the thicket he
must run at once and if the snake came after him he must not try
to run down the mountain, but along the side of the ridge.
In the morning he started out and went directly toward the mountain.
Working his way through the bushes at the base, he suddenly heard
a fawn bleat in front. He guessed at once that it was the Ustu'tli,
but he had made up his mind to see it, so he did not turn back,
but went straight forward, and there, sure enough, was the monster,
with its great head in the air, as high as the pine branches, looking
in every direction to discover a deer, or maybe a man, for breakfast.
It saw him and came at him at once, moving in jerky strides, every
one the length of a tree trunk, holding its scaly head high above
the bushes and bleating as it came.
The hunter was so badly frightened that he lost his wits entirely
and started to run directly up the mountain. The great snake came
after him, gaining half its length on him every time it took a fresh
grip with its fore feet, and would have caught the hunter before
he reached the top of the ridge, but that he suddenly remembered
the warning and changed his course to run along the sides of the
At once the snake began to lose ground, for every time it raised
itself up the weight of its body threw it out of a straight line
and made it fall a little lower down the side of the ridge. It tried
to recover itself, but now the hunter gained and kept on until he
turned the end of the ridge and left the snake out of sight. Then
he cautiously climbed to the top and looked over and saw the Ustu'tli
still slowly working its way toward the summit.
He went down to the base of the mountain, opened his fire pouch,
and set fire to the grass and leaves. Soon the fire ran all around
the mountain and began to climb upward. When the great snake smelled
the smoke and saw the flames coming it forgot all about the hunter
and turned to make all speed for a high cliff near the summit.
It reached the rock and got upon it, but the fire followed and
can hit the dead pines about the base of the cliff until the heat
made the Ustû'tlï's scales crack. Taking a close grip
of the rock with its hind feet it raised its body and put forth
all its strength in an effort to spring across the wall of fire
that surrounded it, but the smoke choked it and its hold loosened
and it fell among the blazing pine trunks and lay there until it
was burned to ashes.
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