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A Seneca Legend
Once, when the Senecas were at war with the Cherokees, they got
very hungry and seeing a bear they chased it till it came to a den
and one of the men followed it into the den. When some distance
in, he no longer saw the bear but he saw a fire and around it a
number of men. A very old man looked up, and asked, “Why did you
try to shoot one of my men? I sent him out to entice you to us.
I want to send word to the oldest man in your camp. Tell him from
me that his friend is here and in need of tobacco. Tomorrow as many
of your people as care to can come to us.”
The young man went back to camp and the next day five of his companions,
each with a pouch of tobacco went to the den. When they gave the
tobacco to the old man, he was glad, and said, “This will last me
a long time.”
One of the men in the den said, “I am tired.”
“Lie down,” said the old man.
He lay down. The old man got up and going to him rubbed his body
from the feet to the top of the head. Then, putting down a vessel
he had been holding in his hand, he unjointed every joint in the
man’s body and cut the body to pieces. He put each piece into a
mortar and taking a pestle pounded the flesh and bones to jelly
and poured the mass into a bowl. Then he took the bowl and the other
vessel to another part of the den. After a time he came back, sat
down and began to smoke.
Soon he called, “Come out, Nephew, you have slept long enough.”
When the man came out, he looked as light and fresh as a young
One of the Senecas asked, “Can you do this for me?”
“I can,” said the old man, “if you want me to.”
The Seneca lay down and the old man did with him exactly as he
had with the other man. After he had carried the two vessels to
another part of the den he came back and began to smoke. Soon he
called, “Come out, Nephew, you have slept long enough.”
The man rose up and came out fresh and young. He felt no weight
in his body.
Another Seneca asked to be treated in the same way, the old man
consented, and he too came out light and young.
A third Seneca asked the old man to change him, but he refused,
saying, “I have done enough, now I will tell you why I did this.
There is a wide opening extending from one end of the world to the
other. In this opening there is a great rock and in the rock is
a person with enormous horns. He is our enemy and we have tried
to kill him, but cannot. I want the men, whom I have made young
and strong, to try and crush the rock and destroy this person. But
first you two must test your strength.”
The two went outside and shot at a rock; it crumbled to pieces.
They shot at a large tree; it fell to the ground, only a stump was
“Now,” said the old man, “you may go to the opening and see what
you can do. You will never die for we never die. Your companions
can stay here. I always help my grandchildren. I cover their trail
whenever they need to hide it. It is I who makes rain come.”
The two went to the opening and seeing the rock, shot at it. Then
they went back to the old man.
He asked “Did you use all of your strength?”
“We could have struck harder,” said one of the men.
“Go back,” said the old man, “and use all of your strength.”
This time they struck the rock with all their strength. After listening
a while they heard someone coming, and soon saw a man and, strapped
on his back was the head of an enormous horned snake–they had killed
The two men said, “Our work is done, Rain Old Man’s enemy, the
great horned snake, is dead.”
And they went back to their camp.
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