I remember a book reviewer who criticized a memoir for being “too self-absorbed.” Well! Isn’t that the point? What part of AUTO-biography don’t you understand?
I don’t want to fall into a similar trap by criticizing a Cherokee legend for “being made up.” Yes, you could say that for any legend. Somebody made it up. But this particular instance is too egregious to overlook. Western Carolina University and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have a long history of enabling each other, with questionable results. (Whatever happened to the much-hyped Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts?)
The latest news on this front concerns the decision to rename a building on the campus in Cullowhee for the legendary Cherokee creature “Judaculla.” From the news release: Judaculla refers to a great giant who, according to Cherokee legend, resided in the Cullowhee Valley along the Tuckaseigee River. Judaculla Rock, located south of campus, is a large soapstone boulder linked to the Judaculla legend that contains some of the most significant petroglyphs east of the Mississippi River.
[EBCI Principal Chief Richard] Sneed described Judaculla as a “great teacher who taught humans how to live in this place” by teaching them the languages of the birds, forest animals and fish so they could educate people after he left. “Western Carolina University is built in ‘joolth-cullah-wee’ – or Judaculla’s place, which we’ve shortened to Cullowhee – a seat of higher education in the place of a great teacher,” he said. I wonder how you say “unmitigated gall” in Cherokee? For purposes of this discussion, let’s agree that there are “authentic” legends and then there are “fake” legends. The “real” story of Judaculla and Cullowhee certainly contrasts with the horse hockey shoveled by Chief Sneed.
Judaculla, ca. 1823The name “Judaculla” has been rendered in various spellings over the years, including: Jutaculla, Juthaculla, Tsu ‘kalu, among others. As far as we know, the first published account of Judaculla came in John Haywood’s 1823 book, The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee: Up to the First Settlements Therein by the White People, in the Year 1768: The [Cherokee] have a fabulous tradition respecting the mounds, which proves that they are beyond the events of their history. The mounds, they say, were caused by the quaking of the earth, and great noise with it. A ceremony used for the adoption of their people into the family of Tuli-cula, who was an invisible person, and had taken a wife of one of their town's people. And at the time when his first son was born, this quaking of the earth and noise had commenced; but had ceased at the alarm whoop, which had been raised by two imprudent young men of the town. In consequence of which, the mounds had been raised by the quaking noise. Whereupon the father took the child and mother, and removed to near Brass-town, and had made the tracks in the rocks which are to be seen there. That last sentence is a reference to the Track Rock petroglyphs near Blairsville, Georgia. Of course, Judaculla came to be more closely associated with a somewhat similar collection of petroglyphs near Cullowhee, NC, known as Judaculla Rock.
Judaculla, ca. 1883Subsequent references to Tuli-cula/Judaculla were scarce in the 19th century. Though not mentioned by name, Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup related the local legends about the environs inhabited by Judaculla in their 1883 book, The Heart of the Alleghanies: Old Field mountain, in the Balsam range, derives its name from the tradition that it was Satan's bed-chamber. The Cherokees of a recent generation affirm that his royal majesty was often seen by their forefathers, and even some of the first white settlers had knowledge of his presence. On the top of the mountain there is a prairie-like tract, almost level, reached by steep slopes covered with thickets of balsam and rhododendron, which seem to garrison the reputed sacred domain. It was understood among the Indians to be forbidden territory, but a party one day permitted their curiosity to tempt them. They forced a way through the entangled thickets, and with merriment entered the open ground. Aroused from sleep and enraged by their audacious intrusion, the devil, taking the form of an immense snake, assaulted the party and swallowed of them before the thicket could be regained. Among the first whites who settled among the Indians and traded with them, was a party of hunters who used this superstition to escape punishment for their reprehensible conduct. They reported that they were in league with the great spirit of evil, and to prove that they were, frequented this "old field.” They described his bed, under a large overhanging rock, as a model of neatness. They had frequently thrown into it stones and brushwood during the day, while the master was out, but the place was invariably as clean the next morning "as if it had been brushed with a bunch of feathers. " But there is another legend of the Balsams more significant than any of these. It is the Paradise Gained of Cherokee mythology, and bears some distant resemblance to the Christian doctrine of mediation. The Indians believed that they were originally mortal in spirit as well as body, but above the blue vault of heaven there was, inhabited by a celestial race, a forest into which the highest mountains lifted their dark summits. It is a fact worth noticing that, while the priests of the orient described heaven as a great city with streets of gold and gates of pearl and fine gems, the tribes of the western continent aspired to nothing beyond the perpetual enjoyment of wild nature. The mediator, by whom eternal life was secured for the Indian mountaineers, was a maiden of their own tribe. Allured by the haunting sound and diamond sparkle of a mountain stream, she wandered far up into a solitary glen, where the azalea, the kalmia, and the rhododendron brilliantly embellished the deep, shaded slopes, and filled the air with their delicate perfume. The crystal stream wound its crooked way between moss covered rocks over which tall ferns bowed their graceful stems. Enchanted by the scene she seated herself upon the soft moss and overcome by fatigue was soon asleep. The dream picture of a fairyland was presently broken by the soft touch of a strange hand. The spirit of her dream occupied a place at her side, and wooing, won her for his bride. Her supposed abduction caused great excitement among her people, who made diligent search for her recovery in their own villages. Being unsuccessful, they made war upon the neighboring tribes in the hope of finding the place of her concealment. Grieved because of so much bloodshed and sorrow, she besought the great chief of the eternal hunting grounds to make retribution. She was accordingly appointed to call a council of her people at the forks of the Wayeh (Pigeon) river. She appeared unto the chiefs in a dream, and charged them to meet the spirits of the hunting ground with fear and reverence. At the hour appointed the head men of the Cherokees assembled. The high Balsam peaks were shaken by thunder and aglare with lightning. The cloud, as black as midnight, settled over the valley; then lifted, leaving upon a large rock a cluster of strange men, armed and painted as for war. An enraged brother of the abducted maiden swung his tomahawk, and raised the war whoop; but a swift thunderbolt dispatched him before the echo had died in the hills. The chiefs, terror-stricken, fled to their towns. The bride, grieved by the death of her brother and the failure of the council, prepared to abandon her new home and return to her kindred in the valleys. To reconcile her the promise was granted that all brave warriors and their faithful women should have an eternal home in the happy hunting ground above, after death. The great chief of the forest beyond the clouds became the guardian spirit of the Cherokees. All deaths, either from wounds in battle or disease, were attributed to his desire to make additions to the celestial hunting ground, or on the other hand, to his wrath which might cause their unfortunate spirits to be turned over to the disposition of the evil genius of the mountain tops. Plagues and epidemics were sometimes supposed to be the work of sorcerers, witches and monsters, human and superhuman. The “old fields” mentioned in this account are now bisected by the Blue Ridge Parkway as it follows the Balsam Mountain Range along the border of Jackson and Haywood Counties.
Judaculla, ca. 1900In his 1900 volume, Myths of the Cherokee, ethnologist James Mooney expanded upon the stories related by Zeigler and Grosscup: JUTACULLA OLD FIELDS: A bald spot of perhaps a hundred acres on the slope of Tennessee bald (Tsul`kälû' Tsunegûñ'yï), at the extreme bead of Tuckasegee river, in Jackson county, on the ridge from which the lines of Haywood, Jackson, and Transylvania counties diverge. The giant Tsul`kälû', or Jutaculla, as the name is corrupted by the whites, had his residence in the mountain (see story), and according to local legend among the whites, said to be derived from the Indians, this bald spot was a clearing which he made for a farm. Some distance farther to the west, on the north bank of Cany fork, about 1 mile above Moses creek and perhaps 10 miles above Webster, in the same county, is the Jutaculla rock, a large soapstone slab covered with rude carvings, which, according to the same tradition, are scratches made by the giant in jumping from his farm on the mountain to the creek below. From his Cherokee informants, Mooney collected the narrative of the Judaculla legend:
Tsul'kälû, The Slant-eyed GiantA long time ago a widow lived with her one daughter at the old town of Känuga on Pigeon river. The girl was of age to marry, and her mother used to talk with her a good deal, and tell her she must be sure to take no one but a good hunter for a husband, so that they would have someone to take care of them and would always have plenty of meat in the house. The girl said such a man was hard to find, but her mother advised her not to be in a hurry, and to wait until the right one came. Now the mother slept in the house while the girl slept outside in the âsï. One dark night a stranger came to the âsï wanting to court the girl, but she told him her mother would let her marry no one but a good hunter. "Well," said the stranger, "I am a great hunter," so she let him come in, and he stayed all night. Just before day he said he must go back now to his own place, but that he had brought some meat for her mother, and she would find it outside. Then he went away and the girl had not seen him. When day came she went out and found there a deer, which she brought into the house to her mother, and told her it was a present from her new sweetheart. Her mother was pleased, and they had deersteaks for breakfast. He came again the next night, but again went away before daylight, and this time he left two deer outside. The mother was more pleased this time, but said to her daughter, "I wish your sweetheart would bring us some wood." Now wherever he might be, the stranger knew their thoughts, so when he came the next time he said to the girl, "Tell your mother I have brought the wood"; and when she looked out in the morning there were several great trees lying in front of the door, roots and branches and all. The old woman was angry, and said, "He might have brought us some wood that we could use instead of whole trees that we can't split, to litter up the road with brush." The hunter knew what she said, and the next time he came he brought nothing, and when they looked out in the morning the trees were gone and there was no wood at all, so the old woman had to go after some herself. Almost every night he came to see the girl, and each time he brought a deer or some other game, but still he always left before daylight. At last her mother said to her, "Your husband always leaves before daylight. Why don't he wait? I want to see what kind of a son-in-law I have." When the girl told this to her husband he said he could not let the old woman see him, because the sight would frighten her. "She wants to see you, anyhow," said the girl, and began to cry, until at last he had to consent, but warned her that her mother must not say that he looked frightful (usga'së`ti'yu). The next morning he did not leave so early, but stayed in the âsï, and when it was daylight the girl went out and told her mother. The old woman came and looked in, and there she saw a great giant, with long slanting eyes (tsul`kälû'), lying doubled up on the floor, with his head against the rafters in the left-hand corner at the back, and his toes scraping the roof in the right-hand corner by the door. She gave only one look and ran back to the house, crying, Usga'së`ti'yu! Usga'së`ti'yu! Tsul`kälû' was terribly angry. He untwisted himself and came out of the âsï, and said good-bye to the girl, telling her that he would never let her mother see him again, but would go back to his own country. Then he went off in the direction of Tsunegûñ'yï. Soon after he left the girl had her monthly period. There was a very great flow of blood, and the mother threw it all into the river. One night after the girl had gone to bed in the âsï her husband came again to the door and said to her, "It seems you are alone," and asked where was the child. She said there had been none. Then he asked where was the blood, and she said that her mother had thrown it into the river. She told just where the place was, and he went there and found a small worm in the water. He took it up and carried it back to the âsï, and as he walked it took form and began to grow, until, when he reached the âsï, it was a baby girl that he was carrying. He gave it to his wife and said, "Your mother does not like me and abuses our child, so come and let us go to my home." The girl wanted to be with her husband, so, after telling her mother good-bye, she took up the child and they went off together to Tsunegûñ'yï. Now, the girl had an older brother, who lived with his own wife in another settlement, and when he heard that his sister was married he came to pay a visit to her and her new husband, but when he arrived at Känuga his mother told him his sister had taken her child and gone away with her husband, nobody knew where. He was sorry to see his mother so lonely, so he said he would go after his sister and try to find her and bring her back. It was easy to follow the footprints of the giant, and the young man went along the trail until he came to a place where they had rested, and there were tracks on the ground where a child had been lying and other marks as if a baby had been born there. He went on along the trail and came to another place where they had rested, and there were tracks of a baby crawling about and another lying on the ground. He went on and came to where they had rested again, and there were tracks of a child walking and another crawling about. He went on until he came where they had rested again, and there were tracks of one child running and another walking. Still he followed the trail along the stream into the mountains, and came to the place where they had rested again, and this time there were footprints of two children running all about, and the footprints can still be seen in the rock at that place. Twice again he found where they had rested. and then the trail led up the slope of Tsunegûñ'yï, and he heard the sound of a drum and voices, as if people were dancing inside the mountain. Soon he came to n eave like a doorway in the side of the mountain, but the rock was so steep and smooth that he could not climb tip to it, but could only just look over the edge and see the heads and shoulders of a great many people dancing inside. He saw his sister dancing among them and called to her to come out. She turned when she heard his voice, and as soon as the drumming stopped for a while she came out to him, finding no trouble to climb down the rock, and leading her two little children by the hand. She was very glad to meet her brother and talked with him a long time, but did not ask him to come inside, and at last he went away without having seen her husband. Several other times her brother came to the mountain, but always his sister met him outside, and he could never see her husband. After four years had passed she came one day to her mother's house and said her husband had been hunting in the woods nearby, and they were getting ready to start home to-morrow, and if her mother and brother would come early in the morning they could see her husband. If they came too late for that, she said, they would find plenty of meat to take home. She went back into the woods, and the mother ran to tell her son. They came to the place early the next morning, but Tsul`kälû' and his family were already gone. On the drying poles they found the bodies of freshly killed deer hanging, as the girl had promised, and there were so many that they went back and told all their friends to come for them, and there were enough for the whole settlement. Still the brother wanted to see his sister and her husband, so he went again to the mountain, and she came out to meet him. He asked to see her husband, and this time she told him to come inside with her. They went in as through a doorway, and inside he found it like a great townhouse. They seemed to be alone, but his sister called aloud, "He wants to see you," and from the air came a voice, "You cannot see me until you put on a new dress, and then you can see me." "I am willing," said the young man, speaking to the unseen spirit, and from the air came the voice again, "Go back, then, and tell your people that to see me they must go into the townhouse and fast seven days, and in all that time they must not come out from the townhouse or raise the war whoop, and on the seventh day I shall come with new dresses for you to put on so that you can all see me." The young man went back to Känuga and told the people. They all wanted to see Tsul`kälû', who owned all the game in the mountains, so they went into the townhouse and began the fast. They fasted the first day and the second and every day until the seventh-all but one man from another settlement, who slipped out every night when it was dark to get something to eat and slipped in again when no one was watching. On the morning of the seventh day the sun was just coming up in the east when they beard a great noise like the thunder of rocks rolling down the side of Tsunegûñ'yï. They were frightened and drew near together in the townhouse, and no one whispered. Nearer and louder came the sound until it grew into an awful roar, and every one trembled and held his breath-all but one man, the stranger from the other settlement, who lost his senses from fear and ran out of the townhouse and shouted the war cry. At once the roar stopped and for some time there was silence. Then they heard it again, but as if it where going farther away, and then farther and farther, until at last it died away in the direction of Tsunegûñ'yï, and then all was still again. The people came out from the townhouse, but there was silence, and they could see nothing but what had been seven days before. Still the brother was not disheartened, but came again to see his sister, and she brought him into the mountain. He asked why Tsul`kälû' had not brought the new dresses, as he had promised, and the voice from the air said, "I came with them, but you did not obey my word, but broke the fast and raised the war cry." The young man answered, "It was not done by our people, but by a stranger. If you will come again, we will surely do as you say." But the voice answered, "Now you can never see me." Then the young man could not say any more, and he went back to Känuga.