See Books for the pages. 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).