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Indian Stories

Atagahi:The Enchanted Lake

Westward from the headwaters of the oconaluftee river, in the wildest depts of the Great Smokey Mountains, which forms a line between North Carolina and Tennesse, is the enchanted lake of Atagahi, " Gall Place" Although all the Cherokee know that it is there, noone has ever seen it, for the way is difficult and only the animals know how to reach it.

It is a place of renewal for the wounded ones. Should a stray hunter come near the place he would know it by the whirling noise made by thousands of wild ducks flying about the lake, but on reaching the spot, he would find only dry flat land, without bird or animals or blade of grass, unless he had first sharpened his spiritual vision by prayer and fasting and an all night vigil.

Because it is not seen, some people think the lake has dried up long ago, but this is not true. To one who has kept watch and fast through the night it would appear at daybreak as a wide extending but shallow sheet of purple water, fed by springs sprouting from the high cliffs around. In the water are all kinds of fish and reptiles, and swimming upon the surface or flying overhead are great flocks of ducks and pigeons, while all about the shores are bear tracks crossing in every direction.

It is the medicine lake of birds and animals, and whenever a bear is wounded by hunters he makes his way through the woods to this lake and plunges into the water, and when he comes out upon the other side his wounds are healed. For this reason the lake is invisible to the hunter.

The Moon And The Thunders

The Sun was a young woman and lived in the East, while her brother, the Moon lived in the West. The girl had a lover who used to come every month in the dark of the moon to court her. He would come at night, and leave before daylight, and although she talked with him she could not see his face in the dark, and he would not tell her his name, until she was wondering all the time who it could be.

At last she hit upon a plan to find out, so the next time he came, as they were sitting together in the dark of the asi, she slyly dipped her hand into the cinders and ashes of the fireplace and rubbed it over his face, saying, "Your face is cold; you must have suffered from the wind," and pretending to be very sorry for him, but he did not know that she had ashes on her hand. After awhile he left her and went away again.

The next night when the Moon came up in the sky his face was covered with spots, and then his sister knew he was the one who had been coming to see her. He was so much ashamed to have her know it that he went as far away as he could at the other end of the sky all the night. Ever since he tries to keep a long way behind the Sun, and when he does sometimes have to come near her in the west he makes himself as thin as a ribbon so that he can hardly be seen.

Some old people say that the moon is a ball which was thrown up against the sky in a game a long time ago. They say that two towns were playing against each other, but one of them had the best runners and had almost won the game, when the leader of the other side picked and tried to throw it to the goal, but it struck against the solid sky vault and was fastened there, to remind players never to cheat. When the moon looks small and pale it is because some one has handled the ball unfairly, and for this reason they formerly played only at the time of a full moon.

When the sun or moon is eclipsed it is because a great frog up in the sky is trying to swallow it. Everybody knows this, even the Creeks and the other tribes, and in the olden times,eighty or a hundred years ago, before the great medicine men were all dead, whenever they saw the sun grow dark the people would come together and fire guns and beat the drum, and in a little while this would frighten off the great frog and the sun would be all right again.

The common people call both Sun and Moon Nunda, one being "Nunda that dwells in the day" and the other "Nunda that dwells in the night," but the priests call the Sun Su'talidihi,"Six-killer," and the Moon Ge'yagu'ga, though nobody knows now what this word means, or why they use these names. Some-times people ask the Moon not to let it rain or snow.

The great Thunder and his sons, the two Thunder boys,live far in the west above the sky vault. The lightning and the rainbow are their beautiful dress. The priests pray to the Thunder and call him the Red Man, because that is the brightest color of his dress. There are other Thunders that live lower down, in the cliffs and mountains, and under waterfalls, and travel on invisible bridges from one high peak to another where they have their town houses. The great Thunders above the sky are kind and helpful when we pray to them, but these others are always plotting mischief. One must not point at the rain-bow, or one's finger will swell at the lower joint.

How the Rabbit Stole Otters Coat

The Animals were of different sizes and wore coats of various colors and patterns. Some wore long fur coats and others wore short. Some has rings on their tails, and then some had no tails at all. Some had coats of brown, some coats of yellow or Black. They were always arguing about their good looks, so at last they agreed to hold council to decide who had the finest coat.

They had heard a great deal about otter, who lived so far up the creek that he seldom came down to visit the other animals. Now it was said he had the finest coat of all, but no one knew just what it was like, because it was a long time since anyone had seen him. They did not even know exactly where he lived, kind of only a general direction; but they knew he would come to council when the word got out.

Now Rabbit wanted the verdict for himself, so when it began to look as if it might go to the otter he studied up a plan to cheat him out of it. He asked a few sly questions until he learned what trail the otter would take to get to the council place. Then, without saying anything, he went on ahead and after four days travel he met the otter and knew him at once by his beautiful coat of soft brown fur.

The Otter was glad to see him and asked him where he was going. "O" said the rabbit "The animals sent me to bring you to the council; because you live so far away they were afraid you mightn't know the road" The otter thanked him and on they went.

They traveled all day toward the council ground, and at night the Rabbit selected the camping place, because otter was a stranger in that part of the country, and they cut down bushes for beds and fixed everything in good shape. The next morning they started on again. In the afternoon the rabbit began to pick up wood and bark as they went along and load it on its back. When otter asked what this was for rabbit said it was that they might be warm and comfortable at night. After a while, when it was near sunset, they stopped and made their camp.

When supper was over the rabbit got a stick and shaved it down to a paddle. The otter wondered and asked again what that was for. "I have good dreams when I sleep with a paddle under my head," said Rabbit.

When the paddle was finished the rabbit began to cut away the bushes so as to make a clean trail down to the river. The otter wonder more and more what this meant.

Said the rabbit"This place is called Di'tatlaski'yi (The place where it rains fire). Sometimes it rains fire here, and the sky looks a little that way tonight you better go sleep and I'll sit up and watch, and if the fire does come, as soon as you hear me shout, you run and jump in the river. Better hang you coat on a limb over there, so it won't get burnt".

The otter did as he was told, and they both doubled up to go to sleep, but the rabbit kept awake. After a while the fire burned down to red coals. The rabbit called, but the otter was fast asleep and made no answer. In a little while he called again, but otter never stirred. Then rabbit filled the paddle with hot coals and threw them up in the air and shouted "Its raining fire! Its raining Fire!"The hot coals fell all around the otter and he jumped up. "To the water!" yelled rabbit, and otter ran and jumped into the river, and he has lived their ever since.

The rabbit took the otters coat and put it on, leaving his own instead, and went to council. All the animals were there, everyone looking for otter. At last they saw him coming in the distance and they said to one another"The otter is coming!" and sent one of the small animals to show him the best seat. They were all glad to see him and went up in turn to welcome him, but the otter kept his head down, with one paw over his face. They wondered why he was so bashful, until bear came up and pulled the paw away, and there was rabbit with his split nose. He sprang up and started to run, when the bear struck at him and pulled his tail off, but the rabbit was to quick for them and got away, that's how rabbit stole otters coat.

How Deer Got His Horns

In the beginning, the deer had no horns. His head was smooth,just like the doe's. He was a great runner. The Rabbit was the great jumper. And the animals were all curious to know which could go farther in the same time. The animals talked about it a good deal. At last they arranged a contest between Deer and Rabbit. The prize was a nice pair of antlers.

On the day chosen for the race, all the animals gathered. The antlers were laid on the ground to mark the starting point. The Rabbit spoke up and said "I don't know this part of the country. I want to take a look in the bushes where I am going to run." All the animals agreed, so the Rabbit went into the bushes. He stayed gone a long time so they sent a messenger to look for him. When the messenger found him, he was in the thicket gnawing down bushes and pulling them away where he had a road cleared. The messenger turned and came back and told the other animals what he had seen.

As soon as the Rabbit came back all the animals accused him of cheating. They agreed that such a trickster had no right to enter the race. So they gave the horns to Deer and he has worn them ever since. They told the Rabbit that since he was so fond of cutting down bushes he could do that forever for a living and so he does to this day.

The Haunted Whirlpool

At the mouth of Suck Creek, on the Tennessee, about 8 miles below Chattanooga, is a series of dangerous whirlpools, known as "The Suck" and noted among the Cherokee as the place where Untsaiyi, the gambler, lived long ago.

They call it Untiguhi "Pot in the water" on account of the appearance of the surging, tumbling water, suggesting a boiling pot. They assert that in old times the whirlpools were intermitted in charter, and the canoemen attempting to pass the spot used to hug the bank, keeping constantly on the alert for signs of a coming eruption, and when they saw the water begin to revolve more rapidly would stop and wait until it bacame quiet again before attempting to proceed.

It happened once that two men, going down the river in a canoe, as they came near this place saw the water circling rapidly ahead of them. They pulled up to the bank to wait until it became quiet again, but the whirlpool seemed to approach with wider and wider circles, until they were drawn into the vortex.

They were thrown out of the canoe and carried down under the water, where one man was seized by a great fish and was never seen again. The other was taken round and round down to the very lowest center of the whirlpool, when another circle caught him and bore him outward and upward until he was finally thrown up again to the surface and floated out into shallow water, whence he made his escape to the shore.

He told afterwards that when he reached the narrowest circle of the malestrom the water seemed to open below him and he could look down as through the roof beams of a house, and there on the bottom of the river he had seen a great company of people, who looked up and beckoned him to join them, but as they put up their hands to seize him the swift current caught him and took him out of their reach.