Spearfinger: A Scary Cherokee Story For Halloween (And Benjamin)

As per Benjamin's request after a previous post here is another Cherokee story.
And this is the perfect time of year to tell it. Enjoy :)

Long, long ago--hïlahi'yu--there dwelt in the mountains a terrible
ogress, a woman monster, whose food was human livers. She could take on
any shape or appearance to suit her purpose, but in her right form she
looked very much like an old woman, excepting that her whole body was
covered with a skin as hard as a rock that no weapon could wound or
penetrate, and that on her right hand she had a long, stony forefinger
of bone, like an awl or spearhead, with which she stabbed everyone to
whom she could get near enough. On account of this fact she was called
U`tlûñ'tä "Spear-finger," and on account of her stony skin she was
sometimes called Nûñ'yunu'ï, "Stone-dress." There was another
stone-clothed monster that killed people, but that is a different story.

Spear-finger had such powers over stone that she could easily lift and carry immense
rocks, and could cement them together by merely striking one against
another. To get over the rough country more easily she undertook to
build a great rock bridge through the air from Nûñyû'-tlu`gûñ'yï, the
"Tree rock," on Hiwassee, over to Sanigilâ'gï (Whiteside mountain), on
the Blue ridge, and had it well started from the top of the "Tree rock"
when the lightning struck it and scattered the fragments along the whole
ridge, where the pieces can still be seen by those who go there. She
used to range all over the mountains about the heads of the streams and
in the dark passes of Nantahala, always hungry and looking for victims.
Her favorite haunt on the Tennessee side was about the gap on the trail
where Chilhowee mountain comes down to the river


Sometimes an old woman would approach along the trail where the children were picking
strawberries or playing near the village, and would say to them
coaxingly, "Come, my grandchildren, come to your granny and let granny
dress your hair." When some little girl ran up and laid her head in the
old woman's lap to be petted and combed the old witch would gently run
her fingers through the child's hair until it went to sleep, when she
would stab the little one through the heart or back of the neck with the
long awl finger, which she had kept hidden under her robe. Then she
would take out the liver and eat it.

She would enter a house by taking the appearance of one of the family who happened to have gone out
for a short time, and would watch her chance to stab someone with her
long finger and take out his liver. She could stab him without being
noticed, and often the victim did not even know it himself at the
time--for it left no wound and caused no pain--but went on about his own
affairs, until all at once he felt weak and began gradually to pine
away, and was always sure to die, because Spear-finger had taken his

When the Cherokee went out in the fall, according to their custom, to burn the leaves off from the mountains in order to get the
chestnuts on the ground, they were never safe, for the old monster was
always on the lookout, and as soon as she saw the smoke rise she knew
there were people there and sneaked up to try to surprise one alone. So
as well as they could they tried to keep together, and were very
cautious of allowing any stranger to approach the camp. But if one went
down to the spring for a drink they never knew but it might be the liver
eater that came back and sat with them.

Sometimes she took her proper form, and once or twice, when far out from the settlements, a
solitary hunter had seen an old woman, with a queer-looking hand, going
through the woods singing low to herself:

Uwe'la na'tsïkû'. Su' sä' sai'.
Liver, I eat it. Su' sa' sai'.

It was rather a pretty song, but it chilled his blood, for he knew it was
the liver eater, and he hurried away, silently, before she might see

At last a great council was held to devise some means to get rid of U`tlûñ'tä before she should destroy everybody. The people came
from all around, and after much talk it was decided that the best way
would be to trap her in a pitfall where all the warriors could attack
her at once. So they dug a deep pitfall across the trail and covered it
over with earth and grass as if the ground had never been disturbed.
Then they kindled a large fire of brush near the trail and hid
themselves in the laurels, because they knew she would come as soon as
she saw the smoke.

Sure enough they soon saw an old woman coming along the trail. She looked like an old woman whom they knew well in the
village, and although several of the wiser men wanted to shoot at her,
the other interfered, because they did not want to hurt one of their own
people. The old woman came slowly along the trail, with one hand under
her blanket, until she stepped upon the pitfall and tumbled through the
brush top into the deep hole below. Then, at once, she showed her true
nature, and instead of the feeble old woman there was the terrible
U`tlûñ'tä with her stony skin, and her sharp awl finger reaching out in
every direction for some one to stab.

The hunters rushed out from the thicket and surrounded the pit, but shoot as true and as often as
they could, their arrows struck the stony mail of the monster only to be
broken and fall useless at her feet, while she taunted them and tried to
climb out of the pit to get at them. They kept out of her way, but were
only wasting their arrows when a small bird, Utsu'`gï, the titmouse,
perched on a tree overhead and began to sing "un, un, un." They thought
it was saying u'nahü', heart, meaning that they should aim at the heart
of the stone witch. They directed their arrows where the heart should
be, but the arrows only glanced off with the flint heads broken.

Then they caught the Utsu'`gï and cut off its tongue, so that ever since its
tongue is short and everybody knows it is a liar. When the hunters let
it go it flew straight up into the sky until it was out of sight and
never came back again. The titmouse that we know now is only an image of
the other.

*They kept up the fight without result until another bird, little Tsï'kïlilï', the chickadee, flew down from a tree and
alighted upon the witch's right hand. The warriors took this as a sign
that they must aim there, and they were right, for her heart was on the
inside of her hand, which she kept doubled into a fist, this same awl
hand with which she had stabbed so many people. Now she was frightened
in earnest, and began to rush furiously at them with her long awl finger
and to jump about in the pit to dodge the arrows, until at last a lucky
arrow struck just where the awl joined her wrist and she fell down

Ever since the tsï'kïlilï' is known as a truth teller, and when a man is away on a journey, if this bird comes and perches near the
house and chirps its song, his friends know he will soon be safe home.

*editor's note: In another version of this story recorded by the ethnographer, James Mooney, the chickadee tells a young boy about the location of Spearfinger's weak spot. He had wanted to join in the hunt for her, but his brother wouldn't allow him as he was too young to be a warrior. The boy ran to the side of the pit in defiance of his elder brother, who scolded him for his disobedience. But after repeated attempts the boy got his brother to listen, and his true aim was effective in slaying the monster. This is the way I always told the story to my children, because the moral was to be persistent when alerting elders of a real danger or concern. Larry

Views: 446

Comment by Benjamin on September 22, 2010 at 11:16am
BEAUTIFUL.... so when do I get the next installment. May I post this on my forum. (http://freepagans.freeforums.org/index.php?sid=e41c4b843a62fe8863c9...)
Comment by Laramie Roush on September 22, 2010 at 11:17am
Yes, Sir! You certainly may.
Comment by mara rising-phoenix on September 22, 2010 at 12:37pm
Neat! Thank you Larry!
Comment by Gaia'l on September 23, 2010 at 7:32am
What we come up with to keep our children from wandering away. Thank you! Gaia'l
Comment by fantumofthewinds on September 23, 2010 at 8:37am
wow Larry nice indeed, I love old lore and good for this time of year thanks for telling it BB


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