Manataka American Indian Council





Seneca Traditional Stories



A Raccoon Story - Seneca
Seneca Indian Myths by Jeremiah Curtin 1922


AN uncle and nephew lived together. One day when the nephew was in the woods, hunting, a handsome young woman came to the cabin. She had a basketful of bread on her shoulders.

Unstrapping the basket and putting it down in front of the old man, she said, "Here is marriage bread, my father and mother have sent me here to marry your nephew."

"Very well," said the uncle.

When the young man came home, his uncle said, "You are married now."

"I am glad," said the nephew.

After this the young woman cooked and the men hunted. Each day the nephew returned with a heavy load of game. One day while hunting he came to a tree in which there was a large hole and in the hole was a litter of coons. He climbed the tree and threw one coon after another on to the ground.

All at once he heard a woman say, "Come down. Come down, you are tired," then she ran off through the forest.

When the young man went home, he told what had happened. His wife laughed, but said nothing. Not long after, when packing up his game ready to start for home, a woman came up behind him, took him by the arm and led him to a log. They sat down, she pulled his head on to her lap and began to look in his hair.

The man was soon asleep. The woman put him in a basket, put the basket on her back and went to an island in the middle of a lake. Then she took the man out of the basket and asked, "Do you know this place?"

"I know it. This is where my uncle and I used to fish," and giving a spring into the water the man became a bass and escaped.

When he went home, he told his wife what had happened. She laughed, but said nothing.

The man was so frightened that he stayed at home for several days. Then the feeling wore away and he started off to hunt.

As he was packing up his game to go home a woman said, right there at his side, "Stop, wait a while, you must be tired."

They sat down on a log. She drew his head to her lap and began looking in his hair. He was soon asleep. Putting him into a basket the woman carried him to a great ledge of rocks where there was only a foothold, then, taking him out of the basket, she asked, "Do you know this place?"

"I will tell you soon," said the man, looking around.

That minute the woman disappeared.

Soon he heard someone say, "I will fish a while."

A line dropped into the water below and a man began singing and pulling up fish.

At last he said, "I have enough, I'll rest and have something to eat. This is what we people eat when we are among the rocks," and he took a baked squash out of his basket.

The young man said to the rocks, "Stand back a little so that I can string my bow."

The rocks stood back; he strung his bow, and, saying, "Now boast again!" he shot the fisherman.

He heard a loud noise and looking in the direction it came from saw an enormous bat coming toward him. The bat passed a little to one side. The young man took a hemlock leaf from his pocket and dropping it over the rocks, sang, "A tree must grow from this hemlock leaf. A tree must grow from this hemlock leaf."

Soon a tree came in sight. Then the man talked to the tree, said, "Come near, and have many limbs."

As the tree came to a level with the place on the rocks where the young man was sitting, it stopped growing. He had seen that along the narrow shelf of rocks there were many men. He called to the nearest one to tell all to come and they could escape.

The men crept up, one after another, then went down on the tree. When all had reached the ground, the young man took a strawberry leaf from his pocket and dropping it said, "Grow and give berries." Then he sang, "Ripen berries. Ripen berries." The vines grew, were
covered with blossoms. The blossoms became berries and the berries ripened.

When the men had eaten as many berries as they wanted, the young man picked a leaf from the vines, put it in his pocket and the vines and berries disappeared. Then he said to the men, "Let us go to our wife"-- meaning the woman who had captured them.

When they had traveled some distance, the young man killed an elk. Taking the hide he cut it into strings and made a baby board, but one large enough for a grown person. After a while they saw a house and in front of it a woman pounding something.

When she saw them she began to scold and held up the pounder stone like she was going to strike them.

The young man said, "Let the pounder stop right there!"

The stone pounder stopped in the air, half raised.

They seized the woman, strapped her to the board, and, saying, "You must be cold," they set the board up in front of the fire. Just then the young man's wife came and, finding that they were about to roast the woman, she was angry.

She freed her, and said, "You are free now, and I will go home."

She went to the lake and called on Bloodsuckers to stretch across the water. They came and she walked over on them.

Each man went his own way. When the young man got home his wife was there.  The nephew and uncle were raccoons.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories



A Race Between Bear and Turtle
Seneca Indian Myths by Jeremiah Curtin [1922]

HANÓWA - Turtle
DASIDOWANES - One name for Bear (Big Feet)

An old man was going along, slowly and surely, by himself. After a while he met a man, who asked, "Where are you going?"

"I am going to the East to see what kind of people live there."

"You will never reach that place," said the stranger, "It is far off and you are too old and fat for the road."

Each man went his way.

Soon the old man met another person, a lean man, who asked, "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to the East to see how people live in that place."

"You will never get there," said the lean man. "You are too fat, you can't travel. How do you keep so fat?"

"When I come to a village and find people lying around, I bore a hole in each one who pleases me, and suck his fat out. That is my way of keeping fat."

"I'll try it," said the young man. "I am too lean."

Each went his own road. Soon the lean man came to an opening and at the edge of the woods saw an animal asleep. He crawled up, carefully, and began making a hole in its body near the tail. The animal sprang up, hit the man a heavy blow with its heels and ran off.

"The next time I see that fat, old fellow I'll pay him for fooling me," said the lean man. He went farther and met the old man a second time. "How do you keep so fat?" asked the lean man.

"I do it by eating fish. I put my tail through a hole in the ice; a fish bites. I pull the fish out and eat it. That is how I keep fat."

"I'll try that," thought the lean man. He traveled on till he came to a river and found a good place to fish. He made a hole in the ice, stuck his tail into the hole, and waited, waited till his tail began to bite and ache, then he tried to pull it out, but it was fast in the ice. He pulled till at last he pulled his tail off; left it in the hole. He went his way, but through losing his tail he was changed, was another kind of person. When summer came he traveled around till he met the fat man.

"Where are you going?" asked the lean man.

"I am going East to see who lives there."

"You will never reach that place," said the lean man, "You are too fat. Come and run a race with me."

"Very well, you may run on land, I'll run in the water. We'll start tomorrow."

The fat man collected a number of his people and posted them in the river from the starting place to the end of the course, and told each man to stick out his head when the runner came almost up to him. The wager was heads.

They started. The lean man ran with all his might, but every little while the fat man stuck his head out of the water, he was always in advance. When the lean man came to the goal the fat man was there before him.

"You've won the race," said the lean man.

"Of course I have!" said the fat man, and seizing the lean man by the neck he dragged him to a rock and cut his head off.

The fat man's friends came out of the river, looked at the dead runner, and said, "Oh, what a fool! Oh, what a fool!"

The lean man was a bear. Before he lost his tail, he was a fox. Since that time all bears have been stub-tailed, The fat man was a turtle. As all turtles look alike, he easily deceived the lean man.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories


Another Version...

Bear's Race with Turtle

A story of the Seneca told at a Tulsa powwow in the 1970's

One fine snowy day. Bear was walking through the snow in the forest. When he walked up on a little hill and stood up on his hind legs, he was so much taller than anything else he could see that he was very proud. Bear loved to brag about how splendid he was, so he thumped himself on the chest and roared, "I'M THE BIGGEST ANIMAL IN THE FOREST!" And nobody made a sound, because Bear really was awfully big.

Bear got an itchy spot on his back, so he walked through the snow to a little tree, leaned against it and wriggled around. While he was scratching, the whole tree broke with a snap! Bear was so impressed with how strong he was, once more he roared out, "I'M THE STRONGEST ANIMAL IN THE FOREST!" And nobody said anything, because Bear really was very strong.

Bear began to run down off that little hill. Now, every human child learns very early that you can run like the wind downhill. But Bear was so impressed with how fast he could run, he skidded to a halt by a little frozen lake and roared, "I'M THE FASTEST ANIMAL IN THE FOREST!"

Then Bear heard a little voice pipe up from the edge of the lake, "No, you're not. Bear! I'm a lot faster than you!"

"WHAT?!" Bear couldn't believe his ears. Then he couldn't believe his eyes! Because that voice came from a little green water turtle, who was sticking his head up through a hole in the ice.

Turtle said it again. "Really, Bear, I'm a lot faster than you are." Bear and Turtle began to disagree, then to argue, and then they began to make so much noise that the other animals came to see what was going on. A great argument was in the making when it was decided that the only way to settle the question was to have a race between Bear and Turtle. The animals reached a general agreement: the race would be around the lake. But then Turtle
said, "I'm a water animal, so I'll have to race in the lake."

Bear objected, "You must think I'm pretty stupid! You can just dive under the ice, then come back up and say you won!" Though the animals did think he was pretty stupid, he had a point. So a solution was agreed upon. Bear, who was a land animal, would race around the lake, while Turtle would swim from one hole in the ice to another, put his head up and say something, then swim on. Fox, who had no reason to cheat in this case, was chosen to be the starter and judge, and the race was scheduled for the next day.

The next morning. Elk, who had the biggest feet, was chosen to punch holes in the ice every few feet. All the animals had heard about the race and had come to see it. Almost all the spectators were making bets, and because most of them were so tired of listening to Bear brag, the bets were heavily in favor of Turtle.

Fox called the racers to his side. "Are you ready, Bear?" Now Bear had been warming up, doing exercises, and getting in some last minute bragging, so he yawned and said, "Yeah, I'm ready." Fox asked, "Are you ready, Turtle?" And Turtle, at his first hole in the ice said, "I'm ready!"

"Alright," said Fox, "Once around the lake and back to me. Now ... RUN!"

Turtle dived under the water, and Bear began to just walk, waving casually to his friends, just to prove how easy this was going to be. But Bear had only taken a couple of steps when Turtle's head came up in the second hole in the ice.

Turtle said, "Come on Bear, catch up with me!" And Turtle dived under and went on. Bear was flabbergasted! This turtle was faster than he thought, so Bear began to jog a little faster. But only three steps farther. Turtle's head popped up at the next hole. He said, "Come on, Bear, catch up with me!" then dived under and went on.

Now, Bear knew he had to run! He dropped to all fours and began to run as fast as he could. But before Bear passed the third hole, Turtle came up at the fourth hole and said, "Come on. Bear, I'm way ahead of you!"

Bear ran and ran as fast as he could, his tongue drooping further and further out of his mouth, so out of breath he thought he would drop. But, that turtle just kept getting farther and farther ahead, each time popping out of a hole to say, "Come on, Bear, catch up with me!" Until finally, when Bear was only half way around the lake, Turtle finished the race!

A great cheer went up from the other animals, "TURTLE IS THE FASTEST ANIMAL IN THE FOREST!" Even those that hadn't bet on Turtle came down to congratulate him and shake his clawed foot and pat his shell.

And Bear? Well, Bear was exhausted, and so humiliated that he didn't even finish the race. He turned and went to his house, which was a cave, and slept the rest of the winter. And to this day, bears sleep all winter so they don't have to remember losing that race to a turtle!

There was a big party and feast in Turtle's honor, and then, finally, everybody went home.

Now, Turtle looked around carefully, making sure everyone was gone. Then he crawled down to the edge of the ice, stuck out his clawed foot and rapped three times on the ice.

Suddenly, up through the holes in the ice came Turtle's brothers and sisters, his mom and dad, his aunts, uncles, cousins near and distant, even his grandma and grandpa turtles were there, and everyone of them looked exactly like Turtle! They nodded their heads at each other and said, "Yes, we are the fastest animals in the forest!"

Turtle said, "Thank you, my kinfolks. Today we have proved that though we turtles may be slow of foot, we are not slow of wit!"

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories