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The Ustû'tlï


There was once a great serpent called the Ustû'tlï that made its haunt upon Cohutta mountain. It was called the Ustû'tlï or "foot" snake, because it did not glide like other snakes, but had feet at each end of its body, and moved by strides or jerks, like a great measuring worm. These feet were three-cornered and flat and could hold on to the ground like suckers. It had no legs, but would raise itself up on its hind feet, with its snaky head waving high in the air until it found a good place to take a fresh hold; then it would bend down and grip its front feet to the ground while it drew its body up from behind. It could cross rivers and deep ravines by throwing its head across and getting a grip with its front feet and then swinging its body over. Wherever its footprints were found there was danger. It used to bleat like a young fawn, and when the hunter heard a fawn bleat in the woods he never looked for it, but hurried away in the other direction. Up the mountain or down, nothing could escape the Ustû'tlï's pursuit, but along the side of the ridge it could not go, because the great weight of its swinging head broke its hold on the ground when it moved sideways.

It came to pass after a while that not a hunter about Cohutta would venture near the mountain for dread of the Ustû'tlï. At last a man from one of the northern settlements came down to visit some relatives in that neighborhood. When he arrived they made a feast for him, but had only corn and beans, and excused themselves for having no meat because the hunters were afraid to go into the mountains. He asked the reason, and when they told him he said he would go himself to-morrow and either bring in a deer or find the Ustû'tlï. They tried to dissuade him from it, but as he insisted upon going they warned him that if he heard a fawn bleat in the thicket he must run at once and if the snake came after him he must not try to run down the mountain, but along the side of the ridge.

In the morning he started out and went directly toward the mountain. Working his way through the bushes at the base, he suddenly heard a fawn bleat in front. He guessed at once that it was the Ustû'tlï, but he had made up his mind to see it, so he did not turn back, but went straight forward, and there, sure enough, was the monster, with its great head in the air, as high as the pine branches, looking in every direction to discover a deer, or maybe a man, for breakfast. It saw him and came at him at once, moving in jerky strides, every one the length of a tree trunk, holding its scaly head high above the bushes and bleating as it came.

The hunter was so badly frightened that he lost his wits entirely and started to run directly up the mountain. The great snake came after him, gaining half its length on him every time it took a fresh grip with its fore feet, and would have caught the hunter before he reached the top of the ridge, but that he suddenly remembered the warning and changed his course to run along the sides of the mountain. At once the snake began to lose ground, for every time it raised itself up the weight of its body threw it out of a straight line and made it fall a little lower down the side of the ridge. It tried to recover itself, but now the hunter gained and kept on until he turned the end of the ridge and left the snake out of sight. Then he cautiously climbed to the top and looked over and saw the Ustû'tlï still slowly working its way toward the summit.

He went down to the base of the mountain, opened his fire pouch, and set fire to the grass and leaves. Soon the fire ran all around the mountain and began to climb upward. When the great snake smelled the smoke and saw the flames coming it forgot all about the hunter and turned to make all speed for a high cliff near the summit. It reached the rock and got upon it, but the fire followed and can ht the dead pines about the base of the cliff until the heat made the Ustû'tlï's scales crack. Taking a close grip of the rock with its hind feet it raised its body and put forth all its strength in an effort to spring across the wall of fire that surrounded it, but the smoke choked it and its hold loosened and it fell among the blazing pine trunks and lay there until it was burned to ashes.

‘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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