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Native American Legends

Turtle on the War-Path

A Seneca Legend

A Turtle lived near a river. One day he thought, "I am lonesome, I'll go on the war-path," and getting into a canoe he rowed up the river, singing "I am on the war-path! I am on the war-path!"

When he had gone a short distance, a man came to the bank, and called, "Friend, stop a minute, I will go too, we will go on the war-path together."

Turtle landed. On the bank stood Deer.

Deer said, "I want to go with you."

Turtle answered, "First, let me see you run. We may get beaten and have to run for our lives, and unless we can run very fast we'll get scalped and killed. Run to that mountain over there, and back."

Deer ran to the mountain and was back in no time.

Turtle said, "You can't go, you don't run fast enough, only fast runners can go with me."

And Turtle started off in his canoe, singing, "I am on the war-path! I am on the war-path!"

Soon another man came to the bank, and called, "Stop! Come to the bank, I want to go on the war-path with you."

Turtle landed and said to the man, "You must let me see you run, I'll not take you unless you can run very fast. Run to the second mountain."

The man was Skunk. He showed his strength and started, but Turtle called, "Come back, that is enough, you can go."

They got into the canoe and started, Turtle singing, "I am on the war-path! I am on the war-path! You, Brother, smell rather strong."

Soon a man called to them, "Stop! you must land, I want to go on the war-path with you."

This man was Bear. Turtle landed and told Bear to run to the mountain. He started off and soon came back.

Turtle said, "You won't do, you don't run fast enough to suit me," and he pushed off again, singing, "I am on the war-path! I am on the war-path! You, Brother, smell rather strong."

Another man called to them from the bank; they landed and went up. The man was Hedge-hog and he wanted to go on the war-path.

Turtle said, "If you are a good runner I will take you. Run to that mountain over there."

Hedge-hog turned and started to run; his feet crossed each other, he stumbled and nearly rolled over. He had taken but a few steps when Turtle said, "Stop! You'll do, come down to the canoe."

The three started, Turtle singing, "We are on the warpath! We are on the war-path! You, Brother, smell rather strong; You, Brother, have many arrows (his quills)."

Now Elk called from the bank, "Stop! Come to land, I want to go on the war-path."

Turtle landed and told Elk to run to the second mountain and back as quickly as he could.

Elk started, and in a very short time he was back, smashing and breaking limbs and boughs as he came.

Turtle said, "You can't go," and getting into the canoe he started off, singing as before.

Soon a man appeared on the bank, and called, "Bring up the canoe. I'll go with you."

"I'll come and see you run," said Turtle, "I only take fast runners, for something may happen while we are gone, we may have to run for our lives. Go to the second mountain."

Rattlesnake rose up to go.

"Oh, you'll do," said Turtle, "You may come with us.

The four started, Turtle singing, "We are on the warpath! We are on the war-path! You, Brother, smell rather strong; You, Brother, have many arrows; You, Brother, have a black face."

Turtle was going to make war on the Seven Sisters, and their home wasn't far away. The warriors reached the place and pulled the canoe out of the water, then Turtle said, "Each man must choose the place he wants to be in when war begins."

Skunk said, "I will be near the fireplace and will attack the first person I see."

Hedge-hog said, "I'll hide near the house, in that pile of wood, and I will attack the first person who comes for wood."

Rattlesnake said he would get into the skin bucket where they kept dried corn and he would attack the first one who came for corn.

Turtle said, "I'll station myself by the spring and if any one comes for water, there will be a fight."

Early in the morning the mother of the Seven Sisters began to build a fire. Skunk attacked her, and she fell back almost dead. She couldn't open her eyes.

When the Seven Sisters heard their mother scream, they ran to her. They saw the man and began to fight with him. All seven were attacked, but, getting clubs, they pounded Skunk till they killed him. They threw him out of doors then made a fire and one of the sisters went for wood. When she stooped down to pick up sticks she felt a blow on the arm, and looking found that her arm was full of hedge-hog quills.

While the girl was fighting Hedge-hog and screaming, her sisters came and seeing Hedge-hog they picked up pieces of wood and struck him on the head and back till they killed him.

One of the sisters wanted dried corn for breakfast. She went to the bucket and put her hand into it to get the corn, that minute she felt a sharp blow; she saw Rattlesnake and called to her sisters. They came, armed themselves with sticks, and struck Rattlesnake till they killed him. But the sister he had bitten was dead.

After a time the old woman sent one of her daughters to get water. The girl went to the spring and as she stooped over to dip up the water, Turtle caught her by the toe and held on. She tried and tried, but couldn't get him off; then she walked backwards to the house dragging him along.

The old woman was so angry she screamed, "Throw him on the fire and burn him up!"

Turtle laughed, and said, "You couldn't please me more, I came from Fire and I like to be in it better than anywhere else."

The woman changed her mind, and said, "I'll carry him to the river and drown him."

Turtle cried, "Don't do that! Don't do that! I'll die."

He begged hard, but no use, they took him to the river and threw him in. He sank to the bottom, but right away he rose in the middle of the stream, held out his hand, as if showing scalps, and shouted, "I'm a brave man, and here is where I live." Then he sank out of sight.

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