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Lacrosse Legends (Eastern Cherokee)

According to a Cherokee myth, the animals once challenged the birds to a great ball play. The wager was accepted, everything was prepared, and at last the contestants came together - the animals on the ground, while the birds took position in the tree tops to await the throwing up of the ball. On the side of the animals were the bear, the deer and the terrapin. On the side of the birds were the eagle, the hawk, and the great Tlaniwa - all noted for their swiftness and power of flight. While the birds were preening their feathers and watching every motion of their opponents below, they noticed two small creatures, hardly larger than mice, climbing up the tree on which was the leader of the birds. Finally they reached the top and asked the captain to be allowed to join in the game. The captain looked at them a moment and, seeing that they were four footed, asked them why they did not go to the animals where they properly belonged. The little things explained that they had done so, but had been laughed at and sent away because they were so small. On hearing their story the bird captain felt pity for them, but there was one serious difficulty in the way - how could they join the birds when they had no wings? The eagle, the hawk, and the rest now sat together, and after some discussion, it was decided to try and make wings for the little fellows. But how to do it! All at once one thought of the drum which should be used in the dance. The head was made of leather and perhaps a corner could be cut off and used for wings. No sooner suggested than it was done. Two pieces of leather taken from the drumhead were cut into shape and attached to the legs of one of the small animals, and thus originated Tlameha, the bat. The ball was then tossed up, and the bat was told to catch it, and his expertness in dodging and circling about, keeping the ball constantly in motion and never allowing it to fall to the ground, soon convinced the birds that they had gained a most valuable ally.

They next turned their attention to the other little creature and now found a worse difficulty! All their leather had been used in making wings for the bat, and there was no time to send for more. In this dilemma it was suggested that perhaps wings might be made by stretching out the skin of the animal itself. So two large birds seized him form opposite sides with their strong bills, and by tugging and pulling at his fur for several minutes succeeded in stretching the skin between the fore and hind feet until at last the thing was done and there was Tewa, the flying squirrel. Then the bird captain, to try him, threw up the ball, when the flying squirrel, with a graceful bound, sprang off the limb and, catching it in his teeth, carried it through the air to another tree-top a hundred feet away.

When all was ready, the game began, but at the very outset the flying squirrel caught the ball and carried it up a tree, then threw it to the birds, who kept it in the air for some time, when it dropped, but just before it reached the ground the bat seized it, and by his dodging and doubling kept it out of the way of even the swiftest of the animals until he finally threw it in at the goal, and thus won the victory for the birds. Because of their assistance on this occasion, the ball player invokes the aid of the bat and the flying squirrel and ties a small piece of the bat's wing to his ball stick or fastens it to the frame on which the sticks are hung during the dance.

  1. Read this Cherokee legend about a game that later became Lacrosse. Find out what elements of the ball play between the animals and the birds remind you of Lacrosse as you have seen it in the television programme.
  2. Illustrate the legend and put up your drawings in your classrooms.

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