Extract from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology
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 kind 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.