Cherokee Legend - How the
World Was Made
By Katharine Berry
Judson in 1913
earth is a great floating island in a sea of water. At each of the four
corners there is a cord hanging down from the sky. The sky is of solid
rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the cords will break, and
then the earth will sink down into the ocean. Everything will be water
again. All the people will be dead. The
Indians are much afraid of this.
the long time ago, when everything was all water, all the animals lived up
above in Galun'lati, beyond the stone arch that made the sky. But it was
very much crowded. All the animals wanted more room. The animals began to
wonder what was below the water and at last Beaver's grandchild, little
Water Beetle, offered to go and find out. Water Beetle darted in every
direction over the surface of the water, but it could find no place to
There was no land at all. Then Water Beetle dived to the bottom of the
water and brought up some soft mud. This began to grow and to spread out
on every side until it became the island which we call the earth.
Afterwards this earth was fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one
remembers who did this.
first the earth was flat and soft and wet. The animals were anxious to get
down, and they sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but
there was no place to alight; so the birds came back to Galun'lati. Then
at last it seemed to be time again, so they sent out Buzzard; they told
him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father
of all the buzzards we see now.
Standing at the Pool of Creation courtesy
flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft.
When he reached the
he was very tired; his wings began to flap and strike the ground. Wherever
they struck the earth there was a valley; whenever the wings turned
upwards again, there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they
were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him
back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.
[This was the original home, in North Carolina.]
When the earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark.
Therefore they got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across
the island from east to west, just overhead. It was too hot this way. Red
Crawfish had his shell scorched a bright red, so that his meat was
spoiled. Therefore, the Cherokee do not eat it.
Then the medicine men raised the sun a handsbreadth in the air, but it was
still too hot. They raised it another time; and then another time; at last
they had raised it seven handsbreadths so that it was just under the sky
arch. Then it was right and they left it so. That is why the medicine men
called the high place " the seventh height." Every day the sun goes along
under this arch on the under side; it returns at night on the upper side
of the arch to its starting place.
There is another world under this earth. It is like this one in every way.
The animals, the plants, and the people are the same, but the seasons are
different. The streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by
which we reach this underworld. The springs at their head are the doorways
by which we enter it. But in order to enter the other world, one must fast
and then go to the water, and have one of the underground people for a
guide. We know that the seasons in the underground world are different,
because the water in the spring is always warmer in winter than the air in
this world; and in summer the water is cooler.
do not know who made the first plants and animals. But when they were
first made, they were told to watch and keep awake for seven nights. This
is the way young men do now when they fast and pray to their medicine.
They tried to do this. The first night, nearly all the animals stayed
awake. The next night several of them dropped asleep. The third night
still more went to sleep. At last, on the seventh night, only the owl, the
panther, and one or two more were still awake. Therefore, to these were
given the power to see in the dark, to go about as if it were day, and to
kill and eat the birds and animals which must sleep during the night.
Even some of the trees went to sleep. Only the
cedar, the pine, the spruce, the holly, and the laurel were awake all
seven nights. Therefore they are always green. They are also sacred trees.
But to the other trees it was said, " Because you did not stay awake,
therefore you shall lose your hair every winter."
After the plants and the animals, men began to come to the earth. At first
there was only one man and one woman. He hit her with a fish. In seven
days a little child came down to the earth. So people came to the earth.
They came so rapidly that for a time it seemed as though the earth could
not hold them all.
Judson, 1913. Compiled and
of America, updated April, 2017.
Cherokee Myths & Legends
Proverbs & Wisdom
Myths & Tales of Native Americans
Native American People
About the Author: Excerpted from the
book Myths and Legends of the Great Plains, by Katharine Berry Judson,
Katharine Berry Judson published several books
on the myths and legends of the Native Americans in the early part of the
20th Century. Judson was a professor of history at the University of