2 Origin of Folk Stories (Seneca)

Various Authors

There was once a boy who had no home. His parents were dead and his uncles would not care for him. In order to live this boy, whose name was Gaqka, or Crow, made a bower of branches for an abiding place and hunted birds and squirrels for food.

He had almost no clothing but was very ragged and dirty. When the people from the village saw him they called him Filth-Covered-One, and laughed as they passed by, holding their noses. No one thought he would ever amount to anything, which made him feel heavy-hearted. He resolved to go away from his tormentors and become a great hunter.

One night Gaqka found a canoe. He had never seen this canoe before, so he took it. Stepping in he grasped the paddle, when the canoe immediately shot into the air, and he paddled above the clouds and under the moon. For a long time he went always southward. Finally the canoe dropped into a river and then Gaqka paddled for shore.

On the other side of the river was a great cliff that had a face that looked like a man. It was at the forks of the river where this cliff stood. The boy resolved to make his home on the top of the cliff and so climbed it and built a bark cabin.

The first night he sat on the edge of the cliff he heard a voice saying, “Give me some tobacco.” Looking around the boy, seeing no one, replied, “Why should I give tobacco?”

There was no answer and the boy began to fix his arrows for the next day’s hunt. After a while the voice spoke again, “Give me some tobacco.”

Gaqka now took out some tobacco and threw it over the cliff. The voice spoke agai: “Now I will tell you a story.” Feeling greatly awed the boy listened to a story that seemed to come directly out of the rock upon which he was sitting. Finally the voice paused, for the story had ended. Then it spoke again saying, “It shall be the custom here after to present me with a small gift for my stories.” So the boy gave the rock a few bone beads. Then the rock said, “Hereafter when I speak, announcing that I shall tell a story you must say, ‘Nio,’ and as I speak you must say ‘Hen”,’ that I may know that you are listening. You must never fall asleep but continue to listen until I say ‘Da’neho nigaga’is.’ (So thus finished is the length of my story). Then you shall give me presents and I shall be satisfied.”

The next day the boy hunted and killed a great many birds. These he made into soup and roasts. He skinned the birds and saved the skins, keeping them in a bag.

That evening the boy sat on the rock again and looked westward at the sinking sun. He wondered if his friend would speak again. While waiting he chipped some new arrow-points, and made them very small so that he could use them in a blow gun. Suddenly, as he worked, he heard the voice again. “Give me some tobacco to smoke,” it said. Gaqka threw a pinch of tobacco over the cliff and the voice said, “Hau’nio”,” and commenced a story. Long into the night one wonderful tale after another flowed from the rock, until it called out, “So thus finished is the length of my story.” Gaqka was sorry to have the stories ended but he gave the rock an awl made from a bird’s leg and a pinch of tobacco.

The next day the boy hunted far to the east and there found a village. Nobody knew who he was but he soon found many friends. There were some hunters who offered to teach him how to kill big game, and these went with him to his own camp on the high rock. At night he allowed them to listen to the stories that came forth from the rock, but it would speak only when Gaqka was present. He therefore had many friends with whom to hunt.

Now after a time Gaqka made a new suit of clothing from deer skin and desired to obtain a decorated pouch. He, therefore, went to the village and found one house where there were two daughters living with an old mother. He asked that a pouch be made and the youngest daughter spoke up and said, “It is now finished. I have been waiting for you to come for it.” So she gave him a handsome pouch.

Then the old mother spoke, saying, “I now perceive that my future son-in-low has passed through the door and is here.” Soon thereafter, the younger woman brought Gaqka a basket of bread and said, “My mother greatly desires that you should marry me.” Gaqka looked at the girl and was satisfied, and ate the bread. The older daughter was greatly displeased and frowned in an evil manner.

That night the bride said to her husband, “We must now go away. My older sister will kill you for she is jealous.” So Gaqka arose and took his bride to his own lodge. Soon the rock spoke and began to relate wonder stories of things that happened in the old days. The bride was not surprised, but said, “This standing rock, indeed, is my grandfather. I will now present you with a pouch into which you must put a trophy for every tale related.”

All winter long the young couple stayed in the lodge on the great rock and heard all the wonder tales of the old days. Gaqka’s bag was full of stories and he knew all the lore of former times.

As springtime came the bride said, “We must now go north to your own people and you shall become a great man.” But Gaqka was sad and said, “Alas, in my own country I am an outcast and called by an unpleasant name.” The bride only laughed, saying, “Nevertheless we shall go north.” Taking their pelts and birdskins, the young couple descended the cliff and seated themselves in the canoe. “This is my canoe,” said the bride. “I sent it through the air to you.”

The bride seated herself in the bow of the canoe and Gaqka in the stern. Grasping a paddle he swept it through the water, but soon the canoe arose and went through the air. Meanwhile the bride was singing all kinds of songs, which Gaqka learned as he paddled.

When they reached the north, the bride said, “Now I shall remove your clothing and take all the scars from your face and body. She then caused him to pass through a hollow log, and when Gaqka emerged from the other end he was dressed in the finest clothing and was a handsome man.

Together the two walked to the village where the people came out to see them. After a while Gaqka said, “I am the boy whom you once were accustomed to call ‘Cia”dddaV I have now returned.” That night the people of the village gathered around and listened to the tales he told, and he instructed them to give him small presents and tobacco. He would plunge his hand in his pouch and take out a trophy, saying, “Ho ho’! So here is another one!” and then looking at his trophy would relate an ancient tale.

Everybody now thought Gaqka a great man and listened to his stories. He was the first man to find out all about the adventures of the old-time people. That is why there are so many legends now.


Seneca Myths and Folk Tales, Arthur C. Parker, Public Domain


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