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The Nest Of The Tlä'nuwä


On the north bank of Little Tennessee river, in a bend below the mouth of Citico creek, in Blount county, Tennessee, is a high cliff hanging over the water, and about half way up the face of the rock is a cave with two openings. The rock projects outward above the cave, so that the mouth can not be seen from above, and it seems impossible to reach the cave either from above or below. There are white streaks in the rock from the cave down to the water. The Cherokee call it Tlä'nuwâ'ï, "the place of the Tlä'nuwä," or great mythic hawk.

In the old time, away back soon after the creation, a pair of Tlä'nuwäs had their nest in this cave. The streaks in the rock were made by the droppings from the nest. They were immense birds, larger than any that live now, and very strong and savage. They were forever flying up and down the river, and used to come into the settlements and carry off dogs and even young children playing near the houses. No one could reach the nest to kill them, and when the people tried to shoot them the arrows only glanced off and were seized and carried away in the talons of the Tlä'nuwäs.

At last the people went to a great medicine man, who promised to help them. Some were afraid that if he failed to kill the Tlä'nuwäs they would take revenge on the people, but the medicine man said he could fix that. He made a long rope of linn bark, just as the Cherokee still do, with loops in it for his feet, and had the people let him down from the top of the cliff at a time when he knew that the old birds were away. When he came opposite the month of the cave he still could not reach it, because the rock above hung over, so he swung himself backward and forward several times until the rope swung near enough for him to pull himself into the cave with a hooked stick that he carried, which he managed to fasten in some bushes growing at the entrance. In the nest he found four young ones, and on the floor of the cave were the bones of all sorts of animals that had been carried there by the hawks. He pulled the young ones out of the nest and threw them over the cliff into the deep water below, where a great Uktena serpent that lived there finished them. Just then he saw the two old ones coming, and had hardly time to climb up again to the top of the rock before they reached the nest.

When they found the nest empty they were furious, and circled round and round in the air until they saw the snake put up its head from the water. Then they darted straight downward, and while one seized the snake in his talons and flew far up in the sky with it, his mate struck at it and bit off piece after piece until nothing was left. They were so high up that when the pieces fell they made holes in the rock, which are still to be seen there, at the place which we call "Where the Tlä'nuwä cut it up," opposite the mouth of Citico. Then the two Tlä'nuwäs circled up and up until they went out of sight, and they have never been seen since.

‘Myths Of The Cherokee’ by James Mooney [From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I.]


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