Seminole Indian Legends

 




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SEMINOLE INDIAN LEGENDS



FLORIDA STATE LIBRARY 



STORIES OF FLORIDA



Prepared for use in Public Schools 



FEDERAL WORKS AGENCY



John M. Carmody, Administrator 





WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION



F. C. Harrington, Commissioner 



Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner 



Roy Schroder, State Administrator 

  



Sponsored by



FLORIDA STATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION 



Compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects 



Administration in the State of Florida 





1940 



FLORIDA STATE LIBRARY 



The Seminole Indians are a primitive race who still live in the Everglades of 

south Florida. Animals and the elements play a large part in their lives. Many 

of their necessities are obtained from animals. Out of this need, many legends 

have originated which even today are important to the Indians. They are a 

people who enjoy the out-of-doors and at their ceremonial festivities they gather 

around the campfire to listen to the old men tell strange tales about the 

elements and ages, long past, when supernatural animals roamed through the 

jungle-like forests. 



IN THE BEGINNING 



One legend gives an interpretation of creation. Ages ago there was no earth, 

only water everywhere and no moving object except in the water. All the moving 

things wanted to find earth so, in their search, they went deeper into the water. 

But their hunt was fruitless until a large crawfish, after long searching, finally 

found a tiny bit of earth. He told the other crawfish and they dove deeper and 

deeper into the water, each bringing a bit to the surface. With this earth they 

formed a small ball. Every day they brought up more earth and added to the ball 

until they had a large one. Then they did not know what to do with it. 



While the crawfish had been working so industriously, the beaver had been 

watching, and now he came to the rescue. After they had rolled the ball of earth 

on to his wide, flat tail, the beaver waited patiently, begging the East Wind to help 

him. The East Wind blew hard, scattering the earth over the waters so that it 

made an island. Then the Great Father came down to earth and brought three 

people with him. He made a large hole in the rock between Coconut Grove and 

Coral Gables. A big rain came down from Heaven, filling the large rock and forming 

a well. 



The three people camped by the well with the Great Father. They became hungry 

and the Great Father told them to look for something to eat. When they came back 

with coontie bread, he sent them out for more. Ever since, the coontie root has 

been used for bread. 



GREAT FATHER CAPTURED 



The Great Father wanted to see more land so he started north, taking the three 

people with him. As he went, he made more land. When the sun became too hot, 

he made shade trees of all colors. After they had gone a long distance, the Great 

Father left the three people and returned to the large well at the middle of the earth, 

where some white people tried to capture him to make trees and rain for them. But 

the Great Father escaped. They traced him to the big forest but he made a boat 

from a large tree and when they came with long spikes to capture him, he escaped. 

However, he left behind a large box with a key on top of it. The white people did not 

know what to do with it, so the Great Father revealed to them the way to open the 

box with the key. In the box were tools with which boats could be made. 



The white people were afraid of the Great Father because he knew so much, and 

wanted to kill him. After searching the forests and waters, they finally captured 

and tortured him. But the Great Father would not die. He told his friends, the 

Indians, to send a blind man to him. When the blind man came, the white people 

placed a block of wood on the Great Father’s Adam’s apple, at his own direction. 

The Great Father then told the blind man to hit the block, which he did, the blood 

spattering all over him. AS the blood touched his eyes, the blind man could see 

and the first thing he saw was that the blow had killed the Great Father. 



Covering the body, the people kept watch to see that the Great Father did not 

leave. The Great Father had always told time by the bark of his dog and his 

rooster’s crowing. Now dog and the rooster sat by the Great Father’s body and 

watched with the people. One day he just rose up before the people’s eyes and 

left the earth, taking the dog and rooster with him to the sky. (1) Thus the world 

was created. 



ESHSCKETOMISSEE 



The Seminole Indians tell another story of creation. A long, long time ago, in a rich 

valley bordering on a river, Eshscketomissee (God) scattered seeds about him. 

After some time, human fingers began springing from the soil, and, following the 

fingers, came the bodies. Soon, the people emerged from the ground and began 

walking about. When they went to the river to bathe off the dirt, some of them 

remained in the water too long and became white and weak. They were the white 

race. Others stayed in the water the right length of time, becoming strong and 

courageous. These people comprise the red race. Still others did not bathe at all, 

and they form the Negro race. 



Another Seminole story is that the Son of God came many, many years ago and 

inhabited the southernmost part of Florida. When he arrived he was carried on the 

shoulders of three braves, scattering coontie seeds all over the peninsula. The 

coontie, or sage palm, is “a gift from God,” according to their belief. (2) 



STOLEN FIRE 



Fire is one of the most sacred of all things to the Florida Seminoles. They tell a 

strange legend of how the secret of fire came into their possession. 



Many, many moons ago there was only one Indian tribe that knew the secret of fire. 

The other Indian tribes tried ceaselessly to learn the secret. Each year when the 

Green Corn Dance was held, the Indians danced around a circle of fire. Indians from 

other tribes were always there, but could never get close enough to the fire to 

secure the secret, it was guarded so well. 



One time the biggest, finest, handsomest rabbit the Indians had ever seen came 

to the Green Corn Dance, and begged to the allowed to dance around the fire with 

them. He could sing sweeter, dance better, and whoop louder than any person or 

animal they had ever seen. But the older Indians were suspicious of the rabbit; they 

thought he might be a disguised Indian from a rival tribe, trying a steal the secret of 

fire. The younger Indians were more susceptible to his charm and the rabbit was 

allowed to take part in the dance. He danced closer and closer to the blaze, extending 

first one paw and then the other toward the fire. Suddenly he reached forward, grabbed 

a burning stick and, before the startled Indians could prevent him, disappeared swiftly 

into the forest. After holding a council, the wise men of the tribe decided to bring rain 

in order to extinguish the fire stolen by the rabbit. The medicine men went to the spring, 

and, for four mornings, made magic by charming the snake who kept guard there. 

Torrents of rain came down, soaking the rabbit who was fleeing through the forest. The 

fire went out.



However, the rabbit did not despair, but attended the Green Corn Dance the following 

year. This time it was harder to persuade the reluctant Indians to let him dance with 

them, but finally they consented. Again he seized a burning brand and escaped to 

the forest. The medicine men made magic the second time, causing heavy rains and 

the fire was again extinguished. For three consecutive years the rabbit succeeded in 

getting the fire, but each time the medicine men caused the fire to be put out by rain. 



The fourth year the rabbit was wiser. After much persuasion, the Indians again allowed 

him to attend the Green Corn Dance. He obtained the fire and escaped. Again the 

Indians made the rains but, this time, the rabbit hid under a coral reef and protected 

the fire under the shelter of the rock. When the rain ceased, he hurried to his tribe with 

the fire, and now all the Indians know the secret of fire. (1)





THE NEW RIVER 



One legend told by the Seminoles is of unusual local interest because it explains the 

origin of New River at Fort Lauderdale. The legend has it that the Indians had gone 

peacefully to rest after a long, hard day of hunting in the forest. An angry wind started 

blowing from the southeast, and roaring, thundering noises came through the jungles 

as the ground shook and trembled. Even the bravest Indians feared to venture forth 

until the break of a new day. But their fear was turned to wonder when they looked out 

and saw a mighty river flowing where before there had been land. 



Himmarshee they called it, and it is still known by the white man’s translation, “ New 

River.” 



Geologists say that it was an underground river running through buried coral ridges, 

an outlet for the waters in the Everglades. An ancient earthquake caused these rocks 

to collapse, and now waters rose to form a river. Much of the enchantment and 

mystery still remain. Gray moss hangs on the large oak and cypress trees that sway 

to touch the quiet dark water. The banks are covered with ferns. Old yet ever new is 

“Himmarshee,” New River. (1) 



THE GIRL WHO LOST HER FINGER 



Once upon a time there was an old woman who lived by herself. She was lonely and 

decided to adopt an orphan boy. The woman always told the boy when he was young 

not to go to the East. As he grew older, he became curious and one day slipped away 

to the East. He was nothing unusual and after walking beside a clear, clean creek for 

some distance, returned home. The old woman was wise and knew what he had done. 

She told him that now he was older he could go East, and also told him what he would 

find. 



The boy ran fast to the creek and found that his mother had told him the truth. He found 

three girls bathing in the creek, their clothes on the banks. Snatching their clothes, he 

climbed a tree. 



The girls begged and begged the boy to give back their clothes, but he would not. They 

offered him money, cattle, anything if he would return their clothes. One girl offered to 

become his wife. He agreed and gave back the clothes. The girl told him that her father 

was a very mean man, but she would try to get him to let the boy stay if he went home 

with her. When she told her father, he instructed her to bring the boy before him. 



The father did not seem angry and was very nice to the boy. The next day he decided 

to test him to learn if he was a fit man for his daughter. He took the boy to a steep hill 

and commanded him to flatten it. The boy knew he could not so he went to his wife-to-be. 

She had great power but her father did not know it. When the boy told her of her father’s 

request, she said, “Come with me.” She stretched out her hands when they arrived at the 

hill, and it immediately became flat. 



The father could not believe that this was true until he looked at the hill. He was much 

pleased, but he decided to put the boy to another test before allowing him to marry his 

daughter. Many, many moons ago, the old man said, he had lost a ring in the creek and 

could not find it. If the boy could get it for him, he would consent to his marriage with any 

of the daughters, also he would receive much gold, land, and cattle. 



The boy told the girl of her father’s second desire, and she promised to help again. She 

said he must kill her, cut her in tiny pieces and throw every piece into the water. A fish 

would then eat the flesh, and, as it did so, the boy must put his hand into its mouth, 

and he would get the ring. The girl promised to come back to life, when the boy 

hesitated to kill her. He did as she directed him, but he failed to throw one little finger 

into the water. After putting his hand into the fish’s mouth and obtaining the ring, he 

started to take it to her father. He was sad because the girl was gone, but as he turned 

away from the creek, she came smilingly down the creek bank to meet him. 



They went to the father and he seemed very pleased, telling the boy that in a little while 

he could choose the girl he wanted. Some hours later all the girls were led before the 

boy. By magic each looked exactly like the other. The boy chose the girl who had 

helped him, distinguishing her from the others by her short finger, and they got married. (1) 



THE ALLIGATOR AND THE EAGLE 



Many legends are told about the alligator which has long been a favorite animal with the 

Seminoles. Nearly every Indian hut today has an alligator pen near it. The story the 

Indians tell about the loud “Ah-ah-ah!” the alligator makes when he is surprised is perhaps 

the favorite one. 



When the world first began, according to legend, nothing but birds and animals lived on the 

earth. All of them could talk. One day the birds set a date to play ball. The birds, large and 

small, gathered on the day arranged. One large, strong bird threw the ball higher than anyone 

else had. An old alligator was lying in the sun watching the birds play. He was angry because 

he was not invited to play with them. When he saw the ball go high into the air, he made magic 

and kept it in mid air. All the birds flew about trying to bring the ball back to earth, but it could 

not come down. 



After a long time, the alligator let the ball drop, and caught it in his mouth. The birds tried in 

vain to pry his mouth open. A wise cunning eagle sat on a rock and watched the weak, 

helpless little birds fluttering around the great reptile, begging him to return their ball. Finally 

he decided to help. He flew down and pinched the alligator’s back with his sharp claws. The 

alligator was so surprised his mouth flew wide open and he hissed “Ah-ah-ah!” at the eagle. 

As he hissed, the ball dropped out of his mouth, the birds quickly seized it and flew away. 

That is the reason the alligator opens his mouth and hisses “Ah-ah-ah!” to this day when he 

is surprised. (1) 



THE ALLIGATOR AND THE RABBIT 



Another legend about the alligator shows how the rabbit tricked him into a confession. When 

all the animals could talk to each other, that he decided to kill him. Every time the rabbit 

saw him lying in the grass placidly sunning himself, he set fire to it, but each time the 

alligator succeeded in reaching the water before the fire could touch him. 



One day the rabbit decided he would have to find some other way of killing the worrisome 

alligator. But he did not know where to strike to kill him. However, the rabbit was cunning 

so he pretended to be friendly and finally got the alligator’s confidence. Through trickery 

and clever questioning, he made the stupid alligator admit that he could be killed by a 

blow in the middle of the back. The wise rabbit picked up a large stick and hit the big 

reptile hard on the back. The alligator took a deep breath and died. (1) 



THE MORNING STAR 



But not all of the interesting legends are about animals. The origin of the stars and 

marvelous feats of birds are subjects of stories often told to children by aged and venerated 

elders of the tribe. Chok-fee, an Indian lad, lived with his grandmother in a great cypress 

forest. Chok-fee spent a great deal of his time hunting and making good, straight arrows. 

When he was a little boy his grandmother told him that a young man’s part in life was to be 



a good warrior and hunter. To accomplish this, he must be able to shoot straight and be 

a swift runner. Chok-fee grew to be a tall man and was the swiftest runner and best 

marksman in his tribe. 



When Chok-fee was young grandmother would not allow him to hunt far from home, but 

as he grew older he ventured father and father into the forest. One morning, as he set 

eating breakfast, his grandmother said to him, “now, my dear grandson, you are a 

grown man and you are going to be covering more and more territory in your hunting 

trips. That is very good, but, Chok-fee, my grandson, be careful that in wondering 

through the great forest you do not go two days’ journey towards the south. I am 

warning you, my grandson, you must not go that way. If you do great misfortune 

will befall you and you may never come back. When you go hunting, you must 

go east, north or west. There are many deer and turkeys there, but do not go 

south.” 



After finishing his breakfast, Chok-fee secured his bows and arrows and started out. 

As he traveled, he wondered why his grandmother had told him not to travel south. 

The farther he traveled, the more curious he became, until finally he decided to do 

what his grandmother had warned him not to do. He traveled southward all day, not 

killing any game, although there were numerous deer and turkeys. The next morning 

he continued his trip to the south. 



After a time, he saw some big deer tracks, all leading southward. He followed the trail, 

and finally came to the end. Deep in a jungle-like forest were two lodges, a large one 

and a small one, but the trail led to the large one. As he stood at the door, wondering 

if this was the place about which his grandmother had warned him, a man’s gruff 

voice spoke from within the lodge. “My dear friend, do not stand outside wondering if 

it would not be safe to come in. Come right in, my friend, nothing will hurt you. I am 

home alone.” 



Chok-fee entered and sat down near the door. The old man sat at the other end of the 

lodge, covered so that his head was hidden. Chok-fee was hungry, so the old man 

ordered food for him. When he had finished eating, he asked the man if there was 

anything he could do for him, in return for the food. The old man told him to go to bed, 

and on the morrow he would tell him why he had come to this place. 



When Chok-fee awoke the next morning, the sun was rising. The man still had not 

uncovered his head. He spoke to Chok-fee, “My friend, I am the one who made you 

come here. Your grandmother was right in telling you not to come, but I made you 

come here, because I need your help. This is the last day.” So saying, the man 

removed the cover, and Chok-fee observed that he had no head: 



The man explained to Chok-fee that four days ago, an Unga, a very large bird with 

a face like a man, came and cut off his head. When Chok-fee asked why, the man 

said that the Unga wanted to marry his daughter, Wah-see-get, and when he refused 

his permission, the Unga cut off his head. If, at the end of the fourth day, the man 

had not changed his mind, he would not live any more and the Unga would take his 

daughter away. 



When Chok-fee offered to help, the man told him to go to the big cypress tree that 

almost touched the sky, and there he would find the Unga. Chok-fee must kill the 

Unga by shooting him in the heart, and bring the man’s head back to him by mid-day. 

Otherwise, the man would die. Chok-fee took his bow and arrows and followed the 

directions the old man had given him. Just before noon, he reached the tall cypress 

tree and found the Unga holding the man’s head in his hands. The head had beautiful 

red hair. 



There were two birds, and one of them flew towards Chok-fee, dropping a big snake 

which failed to hit him. Chok-fee shot it down and, as he did so, the other bird flew at 

him. Again Chok-fee shot, with the same result. 



At this time the head spoke and said, “You have done well, my friend, but you have to 

kill the Unga when he flies to attack or else both of us will die. He will not let me go 

unless you kill him. And you must hit him in the heart if you want to kill him. 



When you kill him, you must pick me up and hurry me home because after mid-day I 

will not live, if I don’t get back. 



Just at this moment the Unga flew toward Chok-fee still carrying the head. As the bird 

swooped down, Chok-fee took a shot at him but missed. The bird did this three times a

nd each time Chok-fee shot but always missed. On the third time the bird came so 

near Chok-fee that he was knocked down by the Unga’s wings. As the bird attacked 

him the fourth time, Chok-fee’s fourth arrow, pierced the Unga’s heart, and it fell dead 

to the ground. 



Picking up the head, which the bird had dropped near by, Chok-fee ran for the ledge, 

as it was very near mid-day. In order to save time, he threw the head to the man, as he 

came near the door. The man caught it and placed it on his shoulders, one minute 

before mid-day. 



“Well done,” said the man, and invited Chok-fee into the lodge. “My friend,” he said, 

“you have saved my life and saved your people by killing the bad bird, and for your 

reward everything that belongs to me is yours, but, my friend, do not enter that other 

lodge for four days after I leave. My beautiful daughter lives there and she is going to 

be your wife. That is part of your reward for your brave deed, but remember what I say. 

If you do not look inside for four days after I leave, you will accomplish a lot for your 

people. You will never have to hunt. You will never go hungry and you will have 

everything you want by just wishing for it. All the deer in the land are yours now. 

They all belong to you and that is the reason the deer trail leads to this lodge.” 



The man prepared to go, dressing himself in red and carrying a red bow and arrow. 

Again warning the boy not to go to the other lodge for four days, he walked skyward. 

He went higher and higher until there was nothing but a red spot in the sky. Even to 

this day it can be seen, the only red star in the sky. It is the Indian with the beautiful 

red hair. 



Curiosity overcame Chok-fee and, at the end of the third day, he peeped into the small 

lodge. There he saw a beautiful girl dressed in white doeskin. He entered and stood 

staring at her. The light became brighter and brighter, until he was blinded by it. 

When he could see again, there was no sign of the lodge, only a vast swamp-land. 

The girl had risen to the sky in the blinding light and had become the bright morning 

star. 



If Chok-fee had waited four days to enter the lodge, as the legend goes, to this day 

the Indians would have everything they want, only by wishing for it. Instead, they 

have to walk miles and miles to get deer to eat. (3) 





REFERENCES



(1) Legend told by Billie Stuart (Indian), Brighten, Florida. 



(2) From files of Agnew Welsh, Miami Daily News writer. 



(3) Secured from William McKinley Osceola (Indian). 



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