Native Legends Around the United States

Native Legends Of The United States

The nations and people indigenous to the United States of America have very complex histories that, like ours, includes explanations and reasons for how things happen in the universe.  These legends and myths were taught throughout the centuries, being preserved by word of mouth, generation unto generation.  It is their heritage and their gift to those who come after them.  They are stories, to be sure, and not much different from other stories and myths that have explained things in the past.  These legends were meant to be treasured and shared, and we would like to take you, the reader, on a little journey through some of the different nations that are indigenous to what we now call America–and the legends that are part of their very rich culture.

The Arapaho people were among the Great Plains nations, once roaming the lands of what is now South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska.  A resourceful people, they were able to often move their entire tipi and belongings at a moment’s notice if necessary.  It was a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho that were attacked by Union troops in November of 1864, which was later referred to as the Sand Creek Massacre.  In 1878, they were forced into the Wind River Reservation with the Eastern Shoshone located in the Central West part of Wyoming.  It is the seventh largest reservation for indigenous people in the United States.

One of the Arapaho People’s most sinister legends involved the Hecesiiteihii or the “little people”.  There were nations that had legends of these “little people”, although for the most part they were regarded as harmless.  The Arapaho Hecesiiteihii however were creatures of ill intent.  They were also referred to by their more ominous name of “Cannibal Dwarves”.  They were said to have lived at the base of the mountains, in carved stone huts.  Their short stature made it easy for them to hide and catch their enemy by surprise..their enemy being the Arapaho!

One night it is said that an Arapaho, tall in stature found an ingenious way to escape.  As he came across a stream, he jumped the waters to the safety of the other side.  The adversary stopped short of the stream, and realized his legs were too small to jump across.  Apparently, he decided it wasn’t worth the effort to try to get across, and the Arapaho man was safe.  It was generally believed that the Cannibal Dwarves lived off of the flesh of Arapaho that they killed.

The Mojave Desert of Southern California, as well as parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah is still home to the Mojave People in the confines of the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation.  They share this reservation with members of the Hopi, Chemehuevi, and Navajo People and maintain the political unit of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.  However, they also maintain their own identity and culture.  They surrendered to the Army of the United States in 1859 and had moved to the reservation by 1865.  Their ancestral lands went from the northern part of the Hoover Dam  and ended below Parker Dam at the Colorado River.

It is always interesting going back through the legends of peoples who were far away from the land of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob and the similarities that show up.  Judeo-Christian people have been taught about a great Flood that took place in the time of Noah.  The Mojave and Apache People speak of a Great Flood as well.  In this version of the story it is said that the people of old lived under the Earth until such a time came that they ran short on food and came to live up above.  When the people looked through the earth and saw the water rising from the bottom of the earth where they once resided, it was determined they had to take drastic measures to save the human race.

mojave territory

A canoe was built from a hollowed out log and the elders of the tribe placed a young girl inside.  They told her that no matter what…even if she saw that the waters were going down…she should stay in the vessel until she hit dry land.  For many days she floated along as the waters rose higher and higher.  When the canoe finally hit dry land she got out and laid down on the rocks, tired from her journey and most likely very shaken at the thought of being the only person left on Earth.  As she slept, the waters that were made fertile by Matevilye, the great Creator impregnated the young woman, and the legend continues with all of the Mojave People descending from her.

The Comanche nation comprised all of present day Oklahoma, and much of the northwest of Texas, the eastern half of New Mexico, and all the way to the northeastern section of Arizona and the southern parts of Colorado and Kansas.  They were a numerous people that roamed their native land as they hunted and gathered.  Their numbers were said to have reached to nearly 50,000 by the end of the 1700’s.  The Comanche originated from the Shoshone People of Wyoming, which they broke off from just before the beginning of the 18th century.  They quickly found great value in horses, and used them for travel and for trade.  What is left of the Comanche People remain mainly in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The Comanche Nation Flag



The Comanche legend of the creation story centers around the great deity that they referred to as the Great Spirit.  It was said that this Great Spirit had created the Universe and from the dust gathering from the four corners of the Earth, the Spirit created the Comanche People.  These people, the first of the Comanches were said to be tall and mighty, living in a type of Paradise.   A negative force was created as well in the form of an evil entity that could change shape and form at will.

The Great Spirit felt great compassion for the people who were being tortured daily by this entity and cast it into the deepest recesses of the Earth.  It was said that the entity took revenge by implanting bits of itself into the fangs and stingers of all the creatures that had poisonous venom.  In this way, the entity continues to cause torment to anyone that comes in its path.

Genesee River to Lake Canandaigua in the western section of the state of New York.

The Seneca People were part of the original five nations of Iroquois (a sixth was later added when the Tuscarora joined).  They lived in the land by the Genesee River to Lake Canandaigua in the western section of the state of New York.  This tribe was not afraid to fight for their land or their loved ones and were skilled at the art of conflict.  There are stories of cannibalism and torture to enemies, but it is also known that the Seneca along with the nations of Iroquois were politically minded and developed a democratic system of government.  There were Seneca who lived outside of the region. especially in Ohio, however they were not part of the original nations.

The Seneca had a legend which explained why even the snakes on the ground should be shown respect.  A villager was out hunting one day and saw a rattlesnake.  He decided to have some fun and caught the snake, making a hole through its body and fastening it to the ground.  Then he would challenge the snake to fight.  After he had taunted the snake for a while, he burned it to ashes.  He continued doing so with every snake he saw.

The snakes then rose up and went en masse to the village.  The village had been warned of the upcoming attack and prepared with a large bonfire to burn the snakes out.  There were too many, and the snakes put the fire out.  They first killed the villager that had begun all of this with his lack of respect and then attacked anyone who tried to fight them.  The chief of the snakes went to the chief of the village and told him they would leave as long as the solemn promise was made to never harm or torment another snake again.  The agreement was made and the snakes left.

These legends and myths of those who lived here before us are not only stories of another time, they are part of the tradition and culture that so many indigenous people have fought to maintain.  They were stories and parables, much like what is taught in the Bible.  Stories that explained how the world began and how people were supposed to treat the land, the sky, and most importantly–each other.  Many have been archived for posterity so that many generations to come will enjoy the tales and legends of old.

Written By Angela Sangster 2011 all rights reserved

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