In the old times the people used to dance often and all night. Once there was a dance at the old town of Sâkwi’yï, on the head of Chattahoochee, and after it was well started two young women with beautiful long hair came in, but no one knew who they were, or whence they had come.
They danced with one partner and another, and in the morning slipped away before anyone knew that they were gone; but a young warrior had fallen in love with one of the sisters on account of her beautiful hair, and after the manner of the Cherokee had already asked her through an old man if she would marry him and let him live with her.
To this the young woman had replied that her brother at home must first be consulted, and they promised to return for the next dance seven days later with an answer, but in the meantime if the young man really loved her he must prove his constancy by a rigid fast until then. The eager lover readily agreed and impatiently counted the days.
In seven nights there was another dance. The young warrior was on hand early, and later in the evening the two sisters appeared as suddenly as before. They told him their brother was willing, and after the dance they would conduct the young man to their home, but warned him that if he told anyone where he went or what he saw he would surely die.
He danced with them again and about daylight the three came away just before the dance closed, so as to avoid being followed, and started off together. The women led the way along a trail through the woods, which the young man had never noticed before, until they came to a small creek, where, without hesitating, they stepped into the water.
Ayâsta, one of three Cherokee storytellers interviewed extensively by James Mooney between 1887 and 1890 for this collection. “She was the only woman privileged to speak in council among the East Cherokee.” Photo by the author, 1888.
The young man paused in surprise on the bank and thought to himself, “They are walking in the water; I don’t want to do that.” The women knew his thoughts just as though he had spoken and turned and said to him, “This is not water; this is the road to our house.” He still hesitated, but they urged him on until he stepped into the water and found it was only soft grass that made a fine level trail.
They went on until the trail came to a large stream which he knew for Tallulah River. The women plunged boldly in, but again the warrior hesitated on the bank, thinking to himself, “That water is very deep and will drown me; I can’t go on.” They knew his thoughts and turned and said, “This is no water, but the main trail that goes past our house, which is now close by.” He stepped in, and instead of water there was tall waving grass that closed above his head as he followed them.
They went only a short distance and came to a rock cave close under Ugûñ’yï (Tallulah Falls). The women entered, while the warrior stopped at the mouth; but they said: “This is our house; come in and our brother will soon be home; he is coming now.” They heard low thunder in the distance. He went inside and stood tip close to the entrance. Then the women took off their long hair and hung it up on a rock, and both their heads were as smooth as a pumpkin. The man thought, “It is not hair at all,” and he was more frightened than ever.
The younger woman, the one he was about to marry, then sat down and told him to take a seat beside her. He looked, and it was a large turtle, which raised itself up and stretched out its claws as if angry at being disturbed. The young man said it was a turtle, and refused to sit down, but the woman insisted that it was a seat. Then there was a louder roll of thunder and the woman said, “Now our brother is nearly home.” While they urged and he still refused to come nearer or sit down, suddenly there was a great thunder clap just behind him, and turning quickly he saw a man standing in the doorway of the cave.
“This is my brother,” said the woman, and he came in and sat down upon the turtle, which again rose up and stretched out its claws. The young warrior still refused to come in. The brother then said that he was just about to start to a council, and invited the young man to go with him. The hunter said he was willing to go if only he had a horse; so the young woman was told to bring one. She went out and soon came back leading a great uktena snake, that curled and twisted along the whole length of the cave. Some people say this was a white uktena and that the brother himself rode a red one. The hunter was terribly frightened, and said “That is a snake; I can’t ride that.”
The others insisted that it was no snake, but their riding horse. The brother grew impatient and said to the woman, “He may like it better if you bring him a saddle, and some bracelets for his wrists and arms.” So they went out again and brought in a saddle and some arm bands, and the saddle was another turtle, which they fastened on the uktena’s back, and the bracelets were living slimy snakes, which they got ready to twist around the hunter’s wrists.
He was almost dead with fear, and said, “What kind of horrible place is this? I can never stay here to live with snakes and creeping things.” The brother got very angry and called him a coward, and then it was as if lightening flashed from his eyes and struck the young man, and a terrible crash of thunder stretched him senseless.
When at last he came to himself again he was standing with his feet in the water and both hands grasping a laurel bush that grew out from the bank, and there was no trace of the cave or the Thunder People, but he was alone in the forest. He made his way out and finally reached his own settlement, but found then that he had been gone so very long that all the people had thought him dead, although to him it seemed only the day after the dance. His friends questioned him closely, and, forgetting the warning, he told the story; but in seven days he died, for no one can come back from the underworld and tell it and live.
Source: “Myths of the Cherokee,” by James Mooney, Bureau of American Ethnology, 19th Annual Report to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Congressional Serial Set, publ. by US Government Printing Office, 1900