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Myths of the Cherokee [NOOK Book]


Comprehensive selection of 126 myths, including sacred stories, animal myths, local legends, wonder stories, historical traditions and miscellaneous myths and legends. Also, extensive background on Cherokee history, notes on the myths, parallels between Cherokee and other myths, much more. 20 maps and illustrations.
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Myths of the Cherokee

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Comprehensive selection of 126 myths, including sacred stories, animal myths, local legends, wonder stories, historical traditions and miscellaneous myths and legends. Also, extensive background on Cherokee history, notes on the myths, parallels between Cherokee and other myths, much more. 20 maps and illustrations.
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Editorial Reviews

Anthropologist James Mooney (1861-1921) spent much of his life studying American Indians, living for several years with a group of Cherokee while studying their language, culture, and mythology. This volume (first published in 1900) is the result, comprising 126 Cherokee sacred stories, animal myths, and local legends, as well as extensive background information and history. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940020317383
  • Publisher: Washington :, G.P.O.
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Digitized from 1902 volume
  • File size: 2 MB

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Myths of Time Cherokee

By James Mooney

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13132-0



The myths given in this paper are part of a large body of material collected among the Cherokee, chiefly in successive field seasons from 1887 to 1890, inclusive, and comprising more or less extensive notes, together with original Cherokee manuscripts, relating to the history, archeology, geographic nomenclature, personal names, botany, medicine, arts, home life, religion, songs, ceremonies, and language of the tribe. It is intended that this material shall appear from time to time in a series of papers which, when finally brought together, shall constitute a monograph upon the Cherokee Indians. This paper may be considered the first of the series, all that has hitherto appeared being a short paper upon the sacred formulas of the tribe, published in the Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau in 1891 and containing a synopsis of the Cherokee medico-religious theory, with twenty-eight specimens selected from a body of about six hundred ritual formulas written down in the Cherokee language and alphabet by former doctors of the tribe and constituting altogether the largest body of aboriginal American literature in existence.

Although the Cherokee are probably the largest and most important tribe in the United States, having their own national government and numbering at any time in their history from 20,000 to 25,000 persons, almost nothing has yet been written of their history or general ethnology, as compared with the literature of such northern tribes as the Delawares, the Iroquois, or the Ojibwa. The difference is due to historical reasons which need not be discussed here.

It might seem at first thought that the Cherokee, with their civilized code of laws, their national press, their schools and seminaries, are so far advanced along the white man's road as to offer but little inducement for ethnologic study. This is largely true of those in the Indian Territory, with whom the enforced deportation, two generations ago, from accustomed scenes and surroundings did more at a single stroke to obliterate Indian ideas than could have been accomplished by fifty years of slow development. There remained behind, however, in the heart of the Carolina mountains, a considerable body, outnumbering today such well-known western tribes as the Omaha, Pawnee, Comanche, and Kiowa, and it is among these, the old conservative Kitu'hwa element, that the ancient things have been preserved. Mountaineers guard well the past, and in the secluded forests of Nantahala and Oconaluftee, far away from the main-traveled road of modern progress, the Cherokee priest still treasures the legends and repeats the mystic rituals handed down from his ancestors. There is change indeed in dress and outward seeming, but the heart of the Indian is still his own.

For this and other reasons much the greater portion of the material herein contained has been procured among the East Cherokee living upon the Qualla reservation in western North Carolina and in various detached settlements between the reservation and the Tennessee line. This has been supplemented with information obtained in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory, chiefly from old men and women who had emigrated from what is now Tennessee and Georgia, and who consequently had a better local knowledge of these sections, as well as of the history of the western Nation, than is possessed by their kindred in Carolina. The historical matter and the parallels are, of course, collated chiefly from printed sources, but the myths proper, with but few exceptions, are from original investigation.

The historical sketch must be understood as distinctly a sketch, not a detailed narrative, for which there is not space in the present paper. The Cherokee have made deep impress upon the history of the southern states, and no more has been attempted here than to give the leading facts in connected sequence. As the history of the Nation after the removal to the West and the reorganization in Indian Territory presents but few points of ethnologic interest, it has been but briefly treated. On the other hand the affairs of the eastern band have been discussed at some length, for the reason that so little concerning this remnant is to be found in print.

One of the chief purposes of ethnologic study is to trace the development of human thought under varying conditions of race and environment, the result showing always that primitive man is essentially the same in every part of the world. With this object in view a considerable space has been devoted to parallels drawn almost entirely from Indian tribes of the United States and British America. For the southern countries there is but little trustworthy material, and to extend the inquiry to the eastern continent and the islands of the sea would be to invite an endless task.

The author desires to return thanks for many favors from the Library of Congress, the Geological Survey, and the Smithsonian Institution, and for much courteous assistance and friendly suggestion from the officers and staff of the Bureau of American Ethnology; and to acknowledge his indebtedness to the late Chief N. J. Smith and family for services as interpreter and for kindly hospitality during successive field seasons; to Agent H. W. Spray and wife for unvarying kindness manifested in many helpful ways; to Mr William Harden, librarian, and the Georgia State Historical Society, for facilities in consulting documents at Savannah, Georgia; to the late Col. W. H. Thomas; Lieut. Col. W. W. Stringfield, of Waynesville; Capt. James W. Terrell, of Webster; Mrs A. C. Avery and Dr P. L. Murphy, of Morganton; Mr W. A. Fair, of Lincolnton; the late Maj. James Bryson, of Dillsboro; Mr H. G. Trotter, of Franklin; Mr Sibbald Smith, of Cherokee; Maj. R. C. Jackson, of Smithwood, Tennessee; Mr D. R. Dunn, of Conasauga, Tennessee; the late Col. Z. A. Zile, of Atlanta; Mr L. M. Greer, of Ellijay, Georgia; Mr Thomas Robinson, of Portland, Maine; Mr Allen Ross, Mr W. T. Canup, editor of the Indian Arrow, and the officers of the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, Indian Territory; Dr D. T. Day, United States Geological Survey, Washington, D. C., and Prof. G. M. Bowers, of the United States Fish Commission, for valuable oral information, letters, clippings, and photographs; to Maj. J. Adger Smyth, of Charleston, S. C., for documentary material; to Mr Stansbury Hagar and the late Robert Grant Haliburton, of Brooklyn, N. Y., for the use of valuable manuscript notes upon Cherokee stellar legends; to Miss A. M. Brooks for the use of valuable Spanish document copies and translations entrusted to the Bureau of American Ethnology; to Mr James Blythe, interpreter during a great part of the time spent by the author in the field; and to various Cherokee and other informants mentioned in the body of the work, from whom the material was obtained.




The Cherokee were the mountaineers of the South, holding the entire Allegheny region from the interlocking head-streams of the Kanawha and the Tennessee southward almost to the site of Atlanta, and from the Blue ridge on the east to the Cumberland range on the west, a territory comprising an area of about 40,000 square miles, now included in the states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Their principal towns were upon the headwaters of the Savannah, Hiwassee, and Tuckasegee, and along the whole length of the Little Tennessee to its junction with the main stream. Itsât, or Echota, on the south bank of the Little Tennessee, a few miles above the mouth of Tellico river, in Tennessee, was commonly considered the capital of the Nation. As the advancing whites pressed upon them from the east and northeast the more exposed towns were destroyed or abandoned and new settlements were formed lower down the Tennessee and on the upper branches of the Chattahoochee and the Coosa.

As is always the case with tribal geography, there were no fixed boundaries, and on every side the Cherokee frontiers were contested by rival claimants. In Virginia, there is reason to believe, the tribe was held in check in early days by the Powhatan and the Monacan. On the east and southeast the Tuscarora and Catawba were their inveterate enemies, with hardly even a momentary truce within the historic period; and evidence goes to show that the Sara or Cheraw were fully as hostile. On the south there was hereditary war with the Creeks, who claimed nearly the whole of upper Georgia as theirs by original possession, but who were being gradually pressed down toward the Gulf until, through the mediation of the United States, a treaty was finally made fixing the boundary between the two tribes along a line running about due west from the mouth of Broad river on the Savannah. Toward the west, the Chickasaw on the lower Tennessee and the Shawano on the Cumberland repeatedly turned back the tide of Cherokee invasion from the rich central valleys, while the powerful Iroquois in the far north set up an almost unchallenged claim of paramount lordship from the Ottawa river of Canada southward at least to the Kentucky river.

On the other hand, by their defeat of the Creeks and expulsion of the Shawano, the Cherokee made good the claim which they asserted to all the lands from upper Georgia to the Ohio river, including the rich hunting grounds of Kentucky. Holding as they did the great mountain barrier between the English settlements on the coast and the French or Spanish garrisons along the Mississippi and the Ohio, their geographic position, no less than their superior number, would have given them the balance of power in the South but for a looseness of tribal organization in striking contrast to the compactness of the Iroquois league, by which for more than a century the French power was held in check in the north. The English, indeed, found it convenient to recognize certain chiefs as supreme in the tribe, but the only real attempt to weld the whole Cherokee Nation into a political unit was that made by the French agent, Priber, about 1736, which failed from its premature discovery by the English. We frequently find their kingdom divided against itself, their very number preventing unity of action, while still giving them an importance above that of neighboring tribes.

The proper name by which the Cherokee call themselves (1) is Yûñ'wiy', or Ani'-Yûñ'wiya' in the third person, signifying "real people," or "principal people," a word closely related to Oñwe-hoñwe, the name by which the cognate Iroquois know themselves. The word properly denotes "Indians," as distinguished from people of other races, but in usage it is restricted to mean members of the Cherokee tribe, those of other tribes being designated as Creek, Catawba, etc., as the case may be. On ceremonial occasions they frequently speak of themselves as Ani'-Kitu'hwag, or "people of Ktu'hwa," an ancient settlement on Tuckasegee river and apparently the original nucleus of the tribe. Among the western Cherokee this name has been adopted by a secret society recruited from the full-blood element and pledged to resist the advances of the white man's civilization. Under the various forms of Cuttawa, Gattochwa, Kittuwa, etc., as spelled by different authors, it was also used by several northern Algonquian tribes as a synonym for Cherokee.

Cherokee, the name by which they are commonly known, has no meaning in their own language, and seems to be of foreign origin. As used among themselves the form is Tsa'lg' or Tsa'rg'. It first appears as Chalaque in the Portuguese narrative of De Soto's expedition, published originally in 1557, while we find Cheraqui in a French document of 1699, and Cherokee as an English form as early, at least, as 1708. The name has thus an authentic history of 360 years. There is evidence that it is derived from the Choctaw word choluk or chiluk, signifying a pit or cave, and comes to us through the so-called Mobilian trade language, a corrupted Choctaw jargon formerly used as the medium of communication among all the tribes of the Gulf states, as far north as the mouth of the Ohio (2). Within this area many of the tribes were commonly known under Choctaw names, even though of widely differing linguistic stocks, and if such a name existed for the Cherokee it must undoubtedly have been communicated to the first Spanish explorers by De Soto's interpreters. This theory is borne out by their Iroquois (Mohawk) name, Oyata'ge'ronon', as given by Hewitt, signifying "inhabitants of the cave country," the Allegheny region being peculiarly a cave country, in which "rock shelters," containing numerous traces of Indian occupancy, are of frequent occurrence. Their Catawba name also, Mañterañ, as given by Gatschet, signifying "coming out of the ground," seems to contain the same reference. Adair's attempt to connect the name Cherokee with their word for fire, atsila, is an error founded upon imperfect knowledge of the language.

Among other synonyms for the tribe are Rickahockan, or Recnahecrian, the ancient Powhatan name, and Tallige', or Tallige'wi, the ancient name used in the Walam Olum chronicle of the Lenape'. Concerning both the application and the etymology of this last name there has been much dispute, but there seems no reasonable doubt as to the identity of the people.

Linguistically the Cherokee belong to the Iroquoian stock, the relationship having been suspected by Barton over a century ago, and by Gallatin and Hale at a later period, and definitely established by Hewitt in 1887. While there can now be no question of the connection, the marked lexical and grammatical differences indicate that the separation must have occurred at a very early period. As is usually the case with a large tribe occupying an extensive territory, the language is spoken in several dialects, the principal of which may, for want of other names, be conveniently designated as the Eastern, Middle, and Western. Adair's classification into "Ayrate" (e'ladi), or low, and "Ottare" (â'tali), or mountainous, must be rejected as imperfect.

The Eastern dialect, formerly often called the Lower Cherokee dialect, was originally spoken in all the towns upon the waters of the Keowee and Tugaloo, head-streams of Savannah river, in South Carolina and the adjacent portion of Georgia. Its chief peculiarity is a rolling r, which takes the place of the l of the other dialects. In this dialect the tribal name is Tsa'ragi', which the English settlers of Carolina corrupted to Cherokee, while the Spaniards, advancing from the south, became better familiar with the other form, which they wrote as Chalaque. Owing to their exposed frontier position, adjoining the white settlements of Carolina, the Cherokee of this division were the first to feel the shock of war in the campaigns of 1760 and 1776, with the result that before the close of the Revolution they had been completely extirpated from their original territory and scattered as refugees among the more western towns of the tribe. The consequence was that they lost their distinctive dialect, which is now practically extinct. In 1888 it was spoken by but one man on the reservation in North Carolina.

The Middle dialect, which might properly be designated the Kituhwa dialect, was originally spoken in the towns on the Tuckasegee and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee, in the very heart of the Cherokee country, and is still spoken by the great majority of those now living on the Qualla reservation. In some of its phonetic forms it agrees with the Eastern dialect, but resembles the Western in having the l sound.

The Western dialect was spoken in most of the towns of east Tennessee and upper Georgia and upon Hiwassee and Cheowa rivers in North Carolina. It is the softest and most musical of all the dialects of this musical language, having a frequent liquid l and eliding many of the harsher consonants found in the other forms. It is also the literary dialect, and is spoken by most of those now constituting the Cherokee Nation in the West.

Scattered among the other Cherokee are individuals whose pronunciation and occasional peculiar terms for familiar objects give indication of a fourth and perhaps a fifth dialect, which can not now be localized. It is possible that these differences may come from foreign admixture, as of Natchez, Taskigi, or Shawano blood. There is some reason for believing that the people living on Nantahala river differed dialectically from their neighbors on either side (3).


Excerpted from Myths of Time Cherokee by James Mooney. Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I Introduction
II Historical sketch of the Cherokee
    The traditionary period
    The period of Spanish exploration-1540-?
    The Colonial and Revolutionary period-1654-1784
    Relations with the United States
      From the first treaty to the Removal-1785-1838
      The Removal-1838-1839
      The Arkansas band-1817-1838
      The Texas band-1817-1900
      The Cherokee Nation of the West-1840-1900
      The East Cherokee-1838-1900
III Notes to the historical sketch
IV Stories and story-tellers
V The myths
    Cosmogonic myths
    1. How the world was made
    2. The first fire
    3. Kana'ti and Selu: Origin of corn and game
    4. Origin of disease and medicine
    5. The Daughter of the Sun: Origin of death
    6. How they brought back the Tobacco
    7. The journey to the sunrise
    8. The Moon an the Thunders
    9. What the Stars are like
    10. Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine
    11. The milky way
    12. Origin of strawberries
    13. The Great Yellow-jacket: Origin of fish and frogs
    14. The Deluge
    Quadruped myths
    15. The four-footed tribes
    16. The Rabbit goes duck hunting
    17. How the Rabbit stole the Otter's coat
    18. Why the Possum's tail is bare
    19. How the Wildcat caught the turkeys
    20. How the Terrapin beat the Rabbit
    21. The Rabbit and the tar wolf
    22. The Rabbit and the Possum after a wife
    23. The Rabbit dines the Bear
    24. The Rabbit escapes from the wolves
    25. Flint visits the Rabbit
    26. How the Deer got his horns
    27. Why the Deer's teeth are blunt
    28. What became of the Rabbit
    29. Why the Mink smells
    30. Why the Mole lives under ground
    31. The Terrapin's escape from 'the wolves
    32. Origin of the Groundhog dance: The Groundhog's head
    33. The migration of the animals
    34. The Wolf's revenge: The Wolf and the Dog
  Bird myths
    35. The bird tribes
    36. The ball game of the birds and animals
    37. How the Turkey got his beard
    38. Why the Turkey gobbles
    39. How the Kingfisher got his bill
    40. How the Partridge got his whistle
    41. How the Redbird got his color
    42. The Pheasant beating corn: The Pheasant dance
    43. The race between the Crane and the Humming-bird
    44. The Owl gets married
    45. The Huhu gets married
    46. Why the Buzzard's head is bare
    47. The Eagle's revenge
    48. The Hunter an the Buzzard
  "Snake, fish, and insect myths"
    49. The snake tribe
    50. The Uktena and the Ulûñsû´ti
    51. Âgan-Uni´tsi's search for the Uktena
    52. The Red Man and the Uktena
    53. The Hunter and the Uksu´hi
    54. The Ustû´tli
    55. The Uw'tsûñ´ta
    56. The Snake Boy
    57. The Snake Man
    58. The Rattlesnake's vengeance
    59. "The smaller reptiles, fishes, and insects"
    60. Why the Bullfrog's head is striped
    61. The Bullfrog lover
    62. The Katydid's warning
  Wonder stories
    63. "Ûñtsaiyi´, the Gambler"
    64. The nest of the Tla´nuwa
    65. The Hunter and the Tla´nuwa
    66. "U'tlûñ´ta, the Spear-finger"
    67. "Nûñ´yunu´wi, the stone man"
    68. The Hunter in the Dakwa´
    69. "Atagâ´hi, the enchanted lake"
    70. The Bride from the south
    71. The Ice Man
    72. The Hunter and Selu
    73. The underground panthers
    74. The Tsundige´wi
    75. Origin of the Bear: The Bear songs
    76. The Bear Man
    77. The Great Leech of Tlanusi´yi
    78. The Nûñne´hi and other spirit folk
    79. The removed townhouses
    80. The spirit defenders of Nikwasi´
    81. "Tsul'kaû´, the slant-eyed giant"
    82. "Kana´sta, the lost settlement"
    83. "Tsuwe´nahi, a legend of Pilot knob"
    84. The man who married the Thunder's sister
    85. The haunted whirlpool
    86. Yahula
    87. The water cannibals
  Historical traditions
    88. First contact with whites
    89. The Iroquois wars
    90. "Hiadeoni, the Seneca"
    91. The two Mohawks
    92. Escape of the Seneca boys
    93. The unseen helpers
    94. Hatciñondoñ's escape from the Cherokee
    95. Hemp-carrier
    96. The Seneca peacemakers
    97. Origin of the Yontoñwisas dance
    98. Ga'na's adventures among the Cherokee
    99. The Shawano wars
    100. The raid on Tikwali´tsi
    101. The last Shawano invasion
    102. The false warriors of Chilhowee
    103. Cowee town
    104. The eastern tribes
    105. The southern and western tribes
    106. The giants from the west
    107. The lost Cherokee
    108. The massacre of the Ani´-Kuta´ni
    109. The war medicine
    110. Incidents of personal heroism
    111. The mounds and the constant fire: The old sacred things
  Miscellaneous myths and legends
    112. The ignorant housekeeper
    113. The man in the stump
    114. Two lazy hunters
    115. The two old men
    116. The star feathers
    117. The Mother Bear's song
    118. "Baby song, to please the children"
    119. When babies are born: The Wren and the Cricket
    120. The Raven Mocker
    121. Herbert's spring
    122. Local legends of North Carolina
    123. Local legends of South Carolina
    124. Local legends of Tennessee
    125. Local legends of Georgia
    126. Plant lore
VI Notes and parallels
VII Glossary

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  • Posted April 14, 2009

    Myths of the Cherokee by James Mooney

    I am extremely interested in the first few chapters of this book for the history that it presents of the Native Americans that lived in the south eastern United States. It focuses on the Cherokee but brings in the Spanish incursion into the area starting in 1540, and other indigineous tribes. I found that the local trading and especially eating habits most interesting.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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