The following TsaLaGi Legends are re-told by
Echota Cherokee Tribal member and Storyteller Tali Shaffer as told to him as a child by his grandmother Bessie Bird.
The Story Of The Turtle Calendar
Long before there were humans, the creatures of the animal kingdom held dominion over the land, sky and waters. All animals could talk and communicate with each other just as humans did much later.
In this time long ago, the Turtle was walking across a hillside. As you know, he is a slow creature that never travels very far.
High above Turtle, Wohali the eagle was soaring and with his keen eyes saw Turtle far below. The great eagle flew down to speak with his brother and landed on a limb just above turtle. Upon seeing the eagle, Turtle drew his head into his shell, fearing eagle was going to take him as prey.
"Come out of your shell Turtle" said Eagle, I come as a friend. Turtle slowly stuck his head from his shell and asked eagle what he wanted.
"I only want to be your friend"said eagle. "I saw you slowly crawling from high above and wondered how far you have traveled in your life?" "Not far" said Turtle, I am very slow and the ground is filled with stones and sticks.
Eagle lifted open his wings and flew down in front of Turtle, "Climb up on my back" said eagle"Hold on tightly and I will show you the world as you have never sen it before"
Cautiously, Turtle climbed up eagle's wing and onto his feathered back."Hold on tightly" eagle said, as he lifted off into the sky.
As they climbed higher and higher, Turtle could see all the distance he had ever traveled in his whole life and all the distance he could have traveled if he crawled along the rest of his life. It was amazing!! Turtle forgot that he was holding on and let go of the eagle's feathers.
Down he fell off eagle's back. Eagle tried hard to catch his falling friend but could not.
Turtle hit the earth shattering his shell into many ragged pieces.
When eagle landed beside his friend, a great sorrow came over him for he knew that he had caused his new friend a great injury.
The eagle, most spiritual of all creatures began to pray to the Creator" Please give me the strength , wisdom and help to save my new friend.
As soon as he asked, many creatures came from the woods to the place where turtle lay dying. The Beaver with his sharp teeth, The termite, Squirrels, opossum, Raccoons, more and more came. Some began gathering pine tar, others grinding charcoal so tar pitch could be made. The animals that could, began shaping the broken shell pieces with their teeth. Slowly, the Turtle's shell began to take a shape that we know today for all terrapins, all turtles, all over Earth Mother. Turtle was saved and his shell was given a purpose by the Creator of all things and assembled by all the creatures.
Today all terrapins and turtles , descendants of that one Turtle, have 13 large spaces on their back. Likewise all terrapins and turtles have 28 smaller spaces ringing the outside of their shell. This is a calendar which equals 364 days. It never changes and is usually easily found in the forest on Turtle's back.
You will ask why 364 days and not 365.
Since the beginning time, The Cherokee people have a day called the Green Corn. This is usually in mid summer when the corn crop is young, green and growing, a promise of another years harvest. On this day, all grudges are forgiven, great feasts are prepared and eaten. The Black Drink is consumed, everything is given away. This is a day that does not count as a day because everything starts anew.
From now on, when you see Brother Turtle crossing the road, remember what he is. If you ca do so safely, stop and give him a little help just like the Eagle did long ago.
As told by Bessie Bird, about 1963-64
Copyright~ Echota Usdi Productions LLC.
Why Crow Hates Hawk
Most of us have been witness to Crows harassing and attacking the Hawk. Have you ever wondered why? This story as told by Bessie Bird was probably an attempt by early Cherokee to explain it.
Long ago when the Creator was making all the creatures which live on the Turtle island, he gave each one a special gift that set them apart from the other. The Skunk, he gave a smell, Awi, the Deer he gave antlers, all the birds , insects and furry creatures each had their own gift, be it stripes, stings, bites or colors.
When almost all the gifts were given, the Creator saw he still had a set of beautiful red tail feathers to give to one of his creations. He sent out word of a council and asked all the birds of the air to come and sit before him so he could decide who was worthy of this great gift..
When all the birds sat before him, he asked who among them was worthy of these beautiful red tail feathers. Crow immediately spoke up, "I am worthy, I am great, black, smart, look how beautiful I am," he said.
The Creator waited, no one else spoke. Crow was arrogant, and unliked by all other birds because he all the land he flew over , he thought was his own. No other bird made this claim and shared equally amongst others.
Creator saw his Great Hawk, Towodi, sitting in council.
"Towodi", said the Creator,"I give you these tail feathers because you are humble, wise and strong.You do not think you are more attractive or smarter than others, therefore you deserve this gift"
Crow was angry and spoke" The feathers are mine and I will teach my children and their children to take what is ours if it takes forever". To this day, his ancestors still try to take the red tail feathers.
Creator left Crow black as the darkness of night as punishment for his arrogance.
As told by Bessie Bird, circa 1963-64
(Copyright~ Echota Usdi Productions LLC)
The Dead Bee Tribe
In the long ago time, there was a great tribe of giant bees which lived on the earth. The bees were as large as deer and built great hives in the giant trees that lived before man cut them all down. These bees were very industrious and each one worked very hard and contributed to the welfare of the entire tribe.
Slowly and over many years, a few bees at a time became lazy and quit working, depending on those who worked so hard to take up the work left undone. Over time, there were only a few bees left doing all the work while most of the bees slept all day.
Soon the great hives in the trees began to fall apart and the lazy bees fell to the ground, unable to even fly anymore from being so fat and lazy. The few bees left able to work were unable to save the rest which died from falling so far. In time the great bees all died and only this story remains. (sounds a lot like today's society?)
Bessie Bird (Copyright ~ Echota Usdi Productions LLC)
TheSnail and the Salamander
Back in the long ago time before men, Salamander was a tiny snake and had no legs. He slithered about in creeks, under stones and in leaves that cover the forest floor.
One day he met snail, who at this time had legs at the edge of a salt lick. Salamander knew what the lick was and laid on the edge watching other animals come and consume the salt. Snail had never been here before and had no idea what salt was.
Salamander looked at snail's nice legs and thought to himself how much he would like to have those for himself so he thought up a plan to kill slow witted snail and have those legs for himself. "Snail", said salamander," look over there at that beautiful leaf across the clearing, bet it sure tastes good?" tempted, snail started walking across the salt which began to immediately burn his soft body and burn holes in him. In moments the snail laid dying and his legs fell off. As he was dying, he cursed salamander as salamander grabbed his legs and slithered away with them. "As long as you wear my legs, your body will be wet and soft just like mine and you will never lay in the sun again. To this day, salamander cannot sun himself but must hide in the damp darkness.
Bessie Bird (Copyright ~ Echota Usdi Productions LLC)