Turkey and Kingfisher
Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.
How The Turkey Got His Beard
When the Terrapin won the race from the Rabbit all the animals wondered and talked about it a great deal, because they had always thought the Terrapin slow, although they knew that he was a warrior and had many conjuring secrets beside. But the Turkey was not satisfied and told the others there must be some trick about it. Said he, "I know the Terrapin can't run--he can hardly crawl--and I'm going to try him."
So one day the Turkey met the Terrapin coming home from war with a fresh scalp hanging from his neck and dragging on the ground as he traveled. The Turkey laughed at the sight and said: "That scalp don't look right on you. Your neck is too short and low down to wear it that way. Let me show you."
The Terrapin agreed and gave the scalp to the Turkey, who fastened it around his neck. "Now," said the Turkey, "I'll walk a little way and you can see how it looks." So he walked ahead a short distance and then turned and asked the Terrapin how he liked it. Said the Terrapin, "It looks very nice; it becomes you."
"Now I'll fix it in a different way and let you see how it looks," said the Turkey. So he gave the string another pull and walked ahead again. "O, that looks very nice," said the Terrapin. But the Turkey kept on walking, and when the Terrapin called to him to bring back the scalp he only walked faster and broke into a run. Then the Terrapin got out his bow and by his conjuring art shot a number of cane splints into the Turkey's leg to cripple him so that he could not run, which accounts for all the many small bones in the Turkey's leg, that are of no use whatever; but the Terrapin never caught the Turkey, who still wears the scalp from his neck.
Why The Turkey Gobbles
The Grouse used to have a fine voice and a good halloo in the ballplay. All the animals and birds used to play ball in those days and were just as proud of a loud halloo as the ball players of to-day. The Turkey had not a good voice, so he asked the Grouse to give him lessons. The Grouse agreed to teach him, but wanted pay for his trouble, and the Turkey promised to give him some feathers to make himself a collar. That is how the Grouse got his collar of turkey feathers. They began the lessons and the Turkey learned very fast until the Grouse thought it was time to try his voice. "Now," said the Grouse, "I'll stand on this hollow log, and when I give the signal by tapping on it, you must halloo as loudly as you can." So he got upon the log ready to tap on it, as a Grouse does, but when he gave the signal the Turkey was so eager and excited that he could not raise his voice for a shout, but only gobbled, and ever since then he gobbles whenever he hears a noise.
How The Kingfisher Got His Bill
Some old men say that the Kingfisher was meant in the beginning to be a water bird, but as he had not been given either web feet or a good bill he could not make a living. The animals held a council over it and decided to make him a bill like a long sharp awl for a fish-gig (fish-spear). So they made him a fish-gig and fastened it on in front of his mouth. He flew to the top of a tree, sailed out and darted down into the water, and came up with a fish on his gig. And he has been the best gigger ever since.
Some others say it was this way: A Blacksnake found a Yellowhammer's nest in a hollow tree, and after swallowing the young birds, coiled up to sleep in the nest, where the mother bird found him when she came home. She went for help to the Little People, who sent her to the Kingfisher. He came, and after flying back and forth past the hole a few times, made one dart at the snake and pulled him out dead. When they looked they found a hole in the snake's head where the Kingfisher had pierced it with a slender tugälû'nä fish, which he carried in his bill like a lance. From this the Little People concluded that he would make a first-class gigger if he only had the right spear, so they gave him his long bill as a reward.
Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:
Source: Myths of the Cherokee, by James Mooney. From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. Weblink.
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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