Manataka American Indian Council






Seneca Traditional Stories



Child Fed and Cared for by Porcupine and a Bear
Seneca Indian Myths by Jeremiah Curtin 1922


A widower, who had a little son, married a second time, and soon after he took his wife and child and went to the forest to camp and hunt.

The three lived happily till the woman began to think that her husband loved the child better than he did her. This worried her and made her uneasy. She could think of nothing else, and she began to study how to get rid of the boy.

One day, while her husband was hunting, she led the child to a cave in the woods, told him there was a bear in the cave and that he must crawl in and scare it, make it run out at the other end of the opening.

The child crept in. The woman rolled a stone up, closed the opening, and went home.

When the man came from hunting, he missed his boy and asked where he was. The woman said that when she went to gather bark the child was at play near the house, but when she came back she couldn't find him, that she had hunted everywhere. She was afraid he had been carried off by some wild beast.

The father was nearly crazy. He hunted many days for the child, but could only find tracks made by his little moccasins, tracks that the step-mother had made far into the woods, to mislead and deceive the father. When the child found that it couldn't get out of the cave it began to scream.

All at once a voice said, "Poor child, stop crying, I am your grandmother. I will give you something to eat," and a hand wiped away his tears. Then somebody brought him food that he thought was very nice, though it was only hemlock burrs.

The woman in the cave was a porcupine and she gave the boy some of the food she had saved for herself. When he had eaten enough she said, "You are tired, my little grandson, come and lie down."

In this way the woman cared for the child a long time.

One day she said, "My burrs are gone. It is Spring now, you'll not be cold out-of-doors. Your step-mother fastened us in here, but I can call my neighbors and they will let us out. When we are out, I must leave you in their care and go to hunt for food."

She went to the opening and called for help. Soon the boy heard a noise and voices outside the cave, and after a while he heard a man ask, "Who can push away this stone?"

The Bird people came and pecked at the stone; they could do nothing. Small animals scratched at the stone, but it didn't move. One after another tried and all failed. At last Wolf said, "I can pull that stone away! I'm the man to do it."

He pushed his long claws under the stone and pulled and pulled till at last his hold gave way and he fell over on his back.

Deer, with his long horns, tried to raise the stone. All tried, each one in his own way, from the smallest to the largest, except a bear that sat off a short distance with three cubs playing near her.

When all had failed, Bear said, "I will try."

She walked slowly to the stone, examined it and made up her mind how to act, then she quickly moved the stone. Looking into the cave she saw Porcupine and a little boy and was so frightened that she ran away from the opening. Others looked in, were frightened and ran till they were far enough away to make sure of escape, then they waited to see what would happen.

Porcupine came out and called to them not to be afraid, and said, "We are very poor, my grandson and I," and she told them how the boy came to be there and that her burrs were gone.

She said, "You are able to care for my grandson and I want to leave him with you."

Even the Bird people said they would care for the child.

"I must know what you can give him to eat," said Porcupine, "and when I find out which one of you can supply food that my grandson can eat I will give him to that one."

Each one brought a little of the food they could furnish and put it down before Porcupine.

Wolf brought what he had to eat, Porcupine looked at it and then asked, "What would you and the boy do in case of danger?"

"We would run."

"No," said Porcupine, "My grandson can't go with you; he couldn't run fast enough."

Deer came with food, but when Porcupine asked, "What would you do in case of danger?" he ran off so swiftly that his horns could be heard knocking against the trees.

Last of all Bear came forward, and said, "Others have failed and though I have a large family of my own, I will take care of the boy and feed him as I feed my cubs; on blackberries, chestnuts and fruit."

When asked what she would do in danger she went back to her cubs, and gave the sign of danger. The cubs crouched down by a log and the mother Bear lay down near them and watched.

"This is what I do," said she. "We lie still till the danger is past. I know where berries grow, I will take the boy there. I know where my Winter quarters will be. My cubs and your  grandson will get nourishment by sucking my fat paws."

"You are the one to care for the child," said Porcupine, "I am going for food."

The boy never saw Porcupine again.

When Bear led him to the berries, he thought she took him by the hand, as a human being would.

The cubs became fond of the boy and when their mother was lying asleep in the sun, they pulled his finger-nails to make them long like their own, and tried to teach him to climb trees as they did. At last the boy could almost equal the cubs in climbing for his nails were long and sharp.

One day the mother Bear woke up and couldn't see the boy. Then, a long way off, she saw him high up in a tree. She scolded the cubs, was angry with them, and put the boy's nails back as they were before.

Summer passed and Winter came. Then the mother Bear said, "It is time to go to our den." And she led her cubs and the boy to a hollow tree. The boy thought there was plenty of room in the tree; he and the cubs played together and were happy. The mother Bear slept most of the time, but when there was a noise she wakened in an instant, and said, "Keep still! There is a hunter around." There was a crack in the tree and they could look out. Soon after a warning they would see a man coming. Then the boy thought the mother Bear put her hand in her pocket and drew out something that had two prongs, put it through the crack and moved it to and fro till the hunter was out of sight, then she drew it in.

All went well till one day towards Spring when they heard a hunter coming. Though they all kept very still the mother Bear said to the boy, "I think that our time has come, you can stay here, but we must go. We are bears, but you are a human being. The hunter will take you home and you will be cared for."

The mother Bear put out her two-pronged bough, but she could do nothing; all her magic power was gone. When the hunter came near he saw claw marks in the bark of the tree.

The mother Bear knew then that the end had come, and she said to her eldest cub, "You must go first, the others will follow."

The eldest crawled out of the tree and that instant the boy heard the whiz of an arrow. As he watched the little bear it seemed to throw off a pack. The pack fell to the ground but the little bear itself went straight on, never stopping.

The other little bears followed and each shared the fate of the first. Each time the boy heard the whiz of an arrow and saw the pack fall, but as he saw his friends still running he wasn't frightened.

When her children had gone, the mother Bear said to the boy, "I have to go, you must be obedient and all will be well."

The boy heard a whiz and saw a burden drop to the ground, but the mother Bear ran on as her children had done.

Now the boy screamed, for he was alone.

The hunter heard the scream and was frightened, but remembering that a child had been lost, he set to work and soon had the boy out of the tree.

The child was naked and unable to talk. The hunter skinned the bears and made him clothing. The boy was terribly grieved but he couldn't speak to let the hunter know how dear the bears were to him.

The hunter took the boy to his father, who was overjoyed to find his child, and ever after took him with him wherever he went.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories

Bald Eagle Sends Mud-Turtle To The Edge Of The World
Seneca Indian Myths by Jeremiah Curtin [1922]





ONCE upon a time, a bald-headed old man lived on the top of a mountain, and his wife and three children lived near a lake about half way to the summit of the same mountain.

Each day the old man went down to fish in the lake. On his way home he stopped and gave some of the fish to his wife, and thus they lived well and happily. After they had passed many years in this manner, the old man became curious to know how large the world is.

Being chief of his people he called a council, and said, "I want to know how large the world is. I wish some man would volunteer to find out."

One young man said, "I will go and find out."

"Very well," said the chief, "How long will you be gone?"

"I can't tell, for I don't know how far I shall have to travel."

"Go," said the chief, "And when you return you will tell us about your journey."

The young man started and after traveling two moons he came to a country where everything was white--the forests, the water, the grass. It hurt his feet to walk on the white ground, so he hurried back. When he reached home he notified the chief.

The chief said, "I don't believe that he has been to the end of the world, but I will call a council and we will hear what he has to say."

When the people were assembled, the young man said: "I did not go very far, but I went as far as I was able." And he told all he knew of the White Country. The chief said, "We must send another man."

They sent a second man. He was gone four moons and returned. The chief called a council, and then asked: "Did you go to the end of the world?"

"No," said the man, "but I went as far as I was able to go. Everything was as it is here till I came to the White Country. I traveled two moons in the White Country and could go no farther. I could not have lived had I continued my journey."

The chief sent a third man. He traveled farther than the second man, then came back and related that there were people who lived in white houses and dressed in fur.

The chief was encouraged and he sent a fourth man. As the man traveled he noticed everything. He crossed white rivers and white lakes and was gone eight moons.

On his return, he said, "I came back quicker than I went, for I came a shorter way and reached the green land sooner than I would if I had come on the trail by which I went."

The chief sent a fifth man. He crossed the White Country and beyond that he found a place where there was nothing but rocks. He climbed very high then went down, and so he went up and down till he wore his moccasins off. He was gone ten moons and came back.

At the council called by the chief the man said, "I passed over the White Country, crossed rocky places, and then came straight home. It cannot be very far across the world."

"How did you know the way home?" asked the old man.

''As I went I noticed the trees. The tops of the hemlocks leaned toward the East and our home is in that direction, so I followed the bend of the hemlocks."

The bald-headed chief was learning something all the time.

Many men were sent, one after another, and each turned with a story a little different from that told by others, but still no one satisfied the chief. At last a man said, "I will start and I will go to the end of the world before I come back."

The chief looked at the man and saw that he was very homely, but very strong, and he said, "I think you will do as you promise. You may go."

The chief called a council of the whole nation and each man agreed to make a journey by himself, and then come home and describe all he had seen. The chief and his men went and were gone forty moons. When they came home a council was held and each told what he had seen.

When the man came who had promised to go to the end of the world, he said, "I have been to the end of the world, I have seen all kinds of people, all kinds of game, all kinds of forests and rivers. I have seen things which no one else has ever seen."

The chief was satisfied, he said, "I am chief of all the people, you will be next to me. You'll be second chief."

This was the pay the man got for his journey. He took his position as second chief.

The old chief was Bald Eagle. The first man sent out was Deer. His feet were tender, he could not endure the ice and snow of the White Country. The homely man who went to the end of the world was Mud-turtle.

From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories