Yuchi Mythology

Some of the most important mythologic accounts have been given in the description of religious beliefs and need not be repeated. If the following interpretation of Southern mythology be correct, it would seem that the myths of the Yuchi and the other southeastern tribes belong in one fairly homogeneous group, and that the fundamental myth elements, here somewhat specialized on account of local interests, also belong in the extensive common category widely distributed over the continent.

The cosmogonic idea of the Yuchi, and the other tribes of the Southeast, is purely creational, in contrast to the transformational concept of the Algonkian, Siouan, and especially of the tribes of the northwest Pacific coast. The cosmogonic myth type of the Cherokee, Muskogi and Yuchi is, with a few exceptions, as follows:

Water is everywhere. The only living creatures are flying beings and water beings. They dispute over existing conditions and some decide to make, a world. They induce Crawfish (Creek, Yuchi) or Beetle (Cherokee) to dive for it. When earth is brought up from the depths of the water, it is made to grow until it becomes the present earth. Buzzard is deputed to fly over, and flatten it, but he tires and so causes roughness in the form of mountains. After this comes the creation of sun, moon and stars for the benefit of the terrestrial creatures. Then follows the creation of man, which varies too much among the types for composite rendering. 1

The following two classes may be distinguished in the myths: the sacred, relating to the culture hero and the deeds of the animal creators, and the commonplace, relating to the Rabbit trickster, various animals, and their exploits, etc. The latter class, subject to much variation and change at the hands of different individuals, is extremely characteristic of the whole Southeast.

The culture hero concept so general throughout America is found among the Yuchi embodied in the personality of the Sun. The trickster and trans-former character is found in the Rabbit, a personage here quite separate and distinct from the culture hero.

The culture hero concept is closely connected with religion and ritual, while the trickster concept is not. The culture hero is believed to be the author of Yuchi tribal existence, their clan system, ceremonies, etc., but does not seem to be concerned in the creation myth. As the myth relates, the Sun deity placed the Yuchi under obligation to follow out his instructions in worship to insure their tribal integrity and they look to him as the author of all good.

The culture hero myth of the Yuchi, with the one personality, his coming, his creation of the Yuchi, his instructions to them, and his departure and promise, suggests a legend of the Creeks quoted by numerous authors and first recorded by Hawkins. 2 Here four deities, ‘hiyouyulgee’, 3 probably cardinal point deities, appear analogous to the Sun deity of the Yuchi. Although no other authentic mention has been made of the entire myth among the Creeks, the one described by Hawkins looks very much like a partial outline of the Yuchi culture-hero myth.

Another important mention of the four culture heroes of the Creeks and the origin of ceremonies and medicine plants is found in the Tuggle collection of Creek Myths. 4 The myth comes from Tookabatchie (Tukaba?tci} town.

Four persons came from “Esakutumisi” 5 and brought some metal plates to them, which are retained and exhibited to this day in the public square at the ceremonies, as town “palladia.” These four deities instructed the Tookabatchie, prophesied the coming of the whites, bequeathed them their ceremonial care of the metal plates and made their future welfare dependent upon it. One of the four died and over the spot where he was buried a plant appeared which was tobacco. (Tookabatchie town is credited by Tuggle with a migration legend similar to that of Kasi?ta.)

Owing to the fact that so many of the myths, or parts of myths, current among the southeastern tribes are analogous to those found among the southern Negroes, much discussion has arisen over their origin. Without regard to the names of characters involved in the tales, the elements of action ought to be the means of determining to some extent the source of a large number. Where analogous events are found in the mythologies of other American tribes less influenced by outsiders, it may be safely assumed that those myths, or parts, are native to America. And in some cases, too, purely indigenous myth actions have been recorded from both Africa and America. No discussion is necessary in such cases of accidental similarity. But a large number of Indian myths of the Southeast show both Indian and Negro aspects, and it is in regard to this class of myth that the question arises.

From Indian informants it has been recently learned that stories describing the cunning and wisdom of various animals corresponding to clan totems, have been welcomed by the Indians to illustrate the superiority of some particular totemic animal. As the honor of the totem is carefully maintained by each clan, it is quite natural that any tale adding to the glory of a totem should be adopted by the members of the clan and told as though it were actually concerned with their totem. Wherefore elements of African or European myths have been continually engrafted in whole or in part on the native stock of animal tales, until it is hardly possible now to distinguish which is which. This explanation was furnished by Indians and seems to be generally understood among the Yuchi, Creek and Chickasaw, and it may possibly apply to other southern tribes in a like manner.

As the Yuchi material appears to belong so inseparably to the general type of mythology of the Southeast as a whole, we shall deal in brief with the whole region instead of with the Yuchi alone. Such a thing as exclusively pure Yuchi mythology, I fear, could not truthfully be spoken of nowadays, since borrowing has gone on so extensively. A few cognates of the myths, found by collateral reading in the mythologies of other tribes, are given incidentally in footnotes. They do not represent any attempt to make a complete concordance.

Leaving the important myths relating to cosmogony, we find a great many myths relating to heroes, monsters, tricksters and other beings concerned with transformation in the Southeast, some elements of which are cognate with Algonkian and Iroquois myths, others with those of the Southwest. A general review of these myths from the Southeast brings out the following features and comparisons.

Stories of monsters clad in bone, stone, metal or scales are very characteristic of the region. The monster is usually a cannibal, and is finally slain by persons or beings who have learned the secret of its only vulnerable spot. The culture hero often appears as the slayer. 6 The account of the trickster who, when invited to dine with a friend who produces food by miracles, is unable to imitate his host when he himself tries, is even more general and uniform. 7 Other elements of wide distribution are: The race between two rivals and the victory of the trickster by strategy. 8 The narrative of the men who travel to the spirit land to visit some deity for the purpose of obtaining a boon, upon the receipt of which one of them fails to heed certain restrictions, and suffers disastrous results. 9 The accepted type of what is now known as the magic flight or obstacle myth, with various modifications. 10 The stealing of fire by the culture hero, or an animal concourse (Cherokee), or Rabbit (Creek, Yuchi). 11 The dispute over day and night by the animals, and the introduction of day. 12 And lastly, for the present, the tar-man story, so common throughout western Africa and among the American Negroes, 13 which tells of the capture of a rogue by setting a figure made of adhesive pitch, or other substances, where he must come into contact with it. The Jicarilla Apache version, though remote from the Southeast, is closely analogous to the latter account. In eastern Algonkian, Gluscap punishes a rogue, Pitcher, by causing him to stick to a tree by his back, and transforming him into a toad. Arapaho tradition tells of a child, born from the cut in a man’s foot, being pursued by a buffalo who wants to marry her. She takes refuge in a hollow stump to which the buffalo sticks, when he strikes it with his head in trying to dislodge her. In Wichita, After-birth Boy and his brother lay on a stone which they find, and stick to it. 14

There are a few more legends that deserve emphasizing in their connection with the Southeast. One of these is the migration legend, found in all branches of the Muskogi, the Yuchi and the Cherokee. Nearly all the Algonkian tribes have it, and the Plains tribes share it. 15

The common element to the whole region is the eastward or westward journey of the soul and the obstacles it meets with. The most general type of obstacle is the cloud swaying at the end of the earth, where it and sky meet. This is the barrier to the spirit world, through which everyone desiring entrance to the spirit realm must pass. 16 Some of the transformations brought about by the animal creators of the Southeast are the procuring of land, 17 fire, 18 tobacco 19 and the bestowing of characteristics upon various beasts.

Lastly, mention need only be made of the almost universal occurrence, in North America, of the tradition which recounts the experiences of someone who fell into a trance, believed that he passed over to the spirit world where he saw the supreme deity, received a message from him to the people on earth and eventually returned to life, becoming a sort of prophet or messenger of the supreme deity. The myth explaining the origin of death, Wherein death is introduced upon the earth through the mistake or disobedience of someone, or by mere chance, is also fairly typical of America.

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  1. Myths of the Creeks, W. O. Tuggle, MSS. Bur. Amer. Eth.; Myths of Cherokee, J. Mooney, Nineteenth Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., p. 239; Creek Inds. of Taskigi Town, Speck, op. cit., p. 145.[]
  2. Myth from Hawkins, Sketch of Creek Country, 1798-99, pp. 81, 82.
    “Opinion of Tassekiah Micco on Origin of the Creeks, and the New Fire.

    “There are in the forks of Red river two mounds of earth Here they were visited by the Hiyouyulgee, four men who came from the four corners of the world. One of these asked the Indians where they would have their fire. They pointed to a place; it was made, and they sat down around it. The Hiyouyulgee directed that they should pay particular attention to the fire, that it would preserve them and let Esaugetuh Emissee know their wants. One of these visitors took them and showed them the passau (Button Snake Root, ƒeâde’, of the Yuchi); another showed them the Micco ho yo ejau (Red Root, to teala’, of the Yuchi), then the Auchenau (Cedar) and Tooloh (Sweet Bay) After this, the four visitors disappeared in a cloud going from whence they came “[]

  3. Ha’yayA’lgi, ‘ Light people,’ ‘People of the light/ Brinton, Myths of New World, pp. 94, 95.[]
  4. MS. unpublished in Bureau American Ethnology.[]
  5. Hisákida imíssi, ‘Master of Breath.’[]
  6. Creek (Migration Leg. of Creeks, Gatschet, p. 248). Cherokee (Cher. Myths, Mooney, 19th Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., pp. 319, 326, 311). Menomini (Menomini Inds., Hoffman, 14th Rep. Bur. Am. Eth., p. 229). Micmac (Alg. Leg. of N. E., Leland, p. 38). Wyandot (Wyandot Folk-Lore, Connelly, p. 91). Sarcee (J. A. F. L., Journal of American Folk-Lore. Vol. XVII, p. 181). Saulteaux and Cree (Alg. Ind. Tales, E. R. Young, p. 166). Dakota (Contr. to N. A. Ethn., Vol. IX, p. 101). Sia (11th Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., Stevenson, p, 45). Jicarilla Apache ( Amer. Anth., Vol. XI, p. 208). Wichita.[]
  7. Creek (Tuggle, MS.) Cherokee (Mooney, p. 273). Thompson River (Teit, p. 40). Algonkin (Leland, p. 208-213). Jicarilla Apache (Russel, J. A. F. L., Vol. II, p. 265-66). Arapaho (Field Col. Mus., Vol. V, p. 116). Navaho (Mathews, p. 87). Micmac (Rand, p. 302-3). Chilcotin (Trad, of the Chilcotin, Farrand, p. 18). Biloxi (J. A. F. L., Vol. VI, p. 49). Wichita.[]
  8. Creek (Tuggle, MS.). Cherokee (Mooney, pp. 270, 290). Menomini, Saulteaux and Cree (Young, p. 246). Zuni (Gushing, Zuni Folk-Tales, p. 277). Arikara (Trad, of the Arikara, Dorsey, p. 143). Wichita.[]
  9. Creek, Cherokee (Mooney, p. 253-5). Menomini (Hoffman, p. 118). Thompson River (Teit, pp. 53, 85). Algonkin (Leland, p. 94). Saulteaux and Cree (Young, p. 244). Micmac (Rand, p. 233). Article in Amer. Anth., Dorsey, Vol. VI, p. 64. Omaha (Cont. to N. A. Eth., Vol. VI. p. 185-188). Shawnee (Gregg, Commerce of Prairies, Vol. II, p. 239-240). New Brunswick (Parkman, Jesuits in N. A.). Chinook, Wichita.[]
  10. Creek (Tuggle, MS.). Menomini (Hoffman, p. 188-9). Thompson River (Teit, p. 92). Passamaquoddy (Leland, p. 214). Navaho (Mathews, p. 102). Dakota (Riggs, p. 108, Vol. IX). General European distribution (Boas, J. A. F. L., Vol. 4, 1891, p. 19). Cree (Canadian Sav. Folk, MacLean, p. 71). Blackfoot (J. A. F. L., Vol. VI, p. 44). Mohegan (J. A. F. L., Vol. XVI, p. 104). Cheyenne (J. A. F. L., Vol. XVI, p. 108). Chippewyan (J. A. F. L., Vol. XVI, p. 80-84). Ojibway (Schoolcraft, Myth of Hiawatha, p. 249). Wichita.[]
  11. Creek (Tuggle, MS.). Jicarilla (Russel, p. 261). Cherokee (Mooney, p. 240). Menomini (Hoffman, p. 126). Saulteaux and Cree (Young, 96-105, 89-94). Nez Perces (J. A. F. L., Vol. 4, p. 327). Chilcotin (Memoirs Amer. Mus. Natl. Hist., Vol. IV). Tsimshian (Tsimshian Texts, Boas, p. 31). Maidu (Bull. Amer. Mus. Natl. Hist., Vol. XVII, Part II, p. 65).[]
  12. Cherokee (Mooney, p. 251). Thompson River (Teit, p. 61). Iroquois (Second Rep. Bur. Am. Eth., Smith).[]
  13. Africa (Ewe Speaking People, Ellis, p. 275; Yoruba Speaking People, Ellis, p. 252). Amer. Negro (Uncle Remus, Harris, p. 23). Angola (Chatelain, p. 183-9). Kaffir (Theal., p. 179). Louisiana (J. A. F. L. Memoirs, Vol. II, Fortier, p. 98). Bahama (J. A. F. L. Memoirs, Vol. Ill, Edwards, p. 73).[]
  14. Creek (Tuggle, MS.). Cherokee (Mooney, p. 271-2). Jicarilla Apache (Russel, J. A. F. L., Vol. II, p. 268). Algonkin (Leland, p. 48). Arapaho (Pub. of Field Col. Museum, Vol. V, p. 153). Wichita (J. A. F. L., Vol. XVII, p. 159). Biloxi (J. A. F. L., Vol. VI, p. 48). Osage (Traditions of the Osage, G. A. Dorsey, p. 24).[]
  15. Cherokee (Mooney, p. 391). Creek (Migration Legend, Gatschet). Choctaw, Chickasaw, Hitchiti (Gallatin, Synopsis of Ind. Tribes, Amer. Antiq. Soc., Vol. II, p. 100, 1836). Len-ape (Brinton, The Lenape and their Legends, p. 138, 141-3). Tonkawa (Mooney, Harper’s Mag., Aug., 1901). Kiowa (17th Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., Part 1, p. 153). Sarcee (J. A. F. L., Vol. XVII, p. 180). Tuscarora (Legends of Iroquois, Elias Johnson, p. 43). Menomini (Hoffman, p. 217). Blackfoot (Amer. Anth., Vol. 5, p. 162). Nanticoke (Lenape and their Legends, p. 139). Shawnee (Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, Vol. II, p. 256). Arikara (Trad, of Arikara, Dorsey, p. 31).[]
  16. Cherokee (Mooney, p. 255-6). Micmac (Rand, p. 233). Siouan (Amer. Anth., Vol. VI, p. 64, Dorsey). Iroquois (Amer. Anth., 1892, p. 344). Shawnee (Gregg, Commerce of Prairies, Vol. II, p. 239-40). New Brunswick (Parkman, Jesuits of N. A.). Thompson River (Teit, p. 85, 53). Menomini (Hoffman, p. 206). Tillamook (Boas, J. A. F. L., Vol. II, p. 30). Ottawa (Schoolcraft, p. 386). Wichita.[]
  17. Cherokee, Creek, Yuchi.[]
  18. Creek, Yuchi, Cherokee Myths, p. 200.[]
  19. Creek, Yuchi, Cherokee Myths, p. 254.[]

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