Myths & Legends



Iroquois: The Stone Giants

Legends involving a race of Giants that lived on Earth - usually malevolent - is a universal archetype. The Legends that follows are from the Iroquois as recorded by Erminnie A. Smith, published by the Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology “Myths of the Iroquois”.
— Orly


Related by Mr. O'BEILLE BEILLE, grandson of Cornplanter.

The stone giants, who principally inhabited the far West, resolved to come East and exterminate the Indians. A party of Senecas, just starting out on the war-path, were warned of their impending danger and were bidden to accept the challenge to fight the stone giants and appoint a time and place. This they did. At the appointed time the giants appeared at the place, which was near a great gulf. Then there came a mighty wind from the west which precipitated the whole race of giants down into the abyss, from which they were never able to extricate themselves, and the God of the West Wind was ever after held in reverence by the Senecas.



It was the custom at a certain season for the medicine men to go about demanding gifts of the people; but an icy figure had also appeared, demanding a man as a sacrifice; whereupon the Thunder God was appealed to, and he came to the rescue with his assistants and chased the figure far into the north, where they doomed the icy demon to remain. To this day his howling and blustering are heard, and when any venturesome mortal dares to intrude too far towards his abode his frosty children soon punish the offender. He is termed Kă-tăsh-hŭaht, or North Wind, and ranks as an evil spirit.



It was a common belief among Indians that there was a strange, human-like creature, consisting simply of a head made terrific with large eyes and covered with long hair. His home was upon a huge rock, a rifted promontory, over which his long hair streamed in shaggy fierceness.

Seen or unseen, if he saw anything that had the breath of life he growled: "Kûⁿñ´´-kuⁿ, Kuⁿñ´´-kuiⁿ, wă´´-h-tci´-ha´´-i-h"; that is, "I see thee, I see thee, thou shalt die," or "thou shalt suffer."

In a distant wilderness there lived a man and his wife with ten children, all boys. In the course of events the father died, and was soon followed by the mother of the boys, who were now left alone with their uncle. They were greatly afflicted by the loss of both parents but after a while resumed their hunting for support.

As was customary, the older brothers went to their hunting grounds and the younger ones staid at home. One day they looked for the return of their elder brother in vain; they also looked in vain for the second brother's return. Then the oldest of those at home said, "I will go to look them up"; and he went off, but did not return that night. The next brother then went to hunt for his lost brothers. He also did not return, and thus it was with all until the youngest brother was left alone with his aged uncle.

The youngest brother was forbidden to go away from home lest he too should be lost. One day the two were out in the woods, when the younger one, stepping over a log, heard a noise like a groan, which seemed to come from the earth. The groan being repeated, they concluded to dig into the earth, where they discovered a man covered with mould, and taking him and setting him up they saw some signs of life and were convinced that he was alive. Then the old man said to the lad, "Run for the bear's oil." When brought, they rubbed it over him, and at last were well pleased to see returning consciousness.

In caring for him they at first fed him on oil until he began to move his eyes and talk. The strange man then told them that he did not know how long he had been there, that all he knew was that the last time he went out was to hunt. They persuaded him to stay with them, whereupon he related the story of the nine brothers who had so mysteriously disappeared. They then discovered that the stranger was somewhat supernatural, for he told them very strange things.

One night he said, "I cannot sleep; hearken to the great noise in this direction. I know what it is—it is my brother, the Great Head, who is howling through this hurricane. He is an awful being, for he destroys those who go near him." "Is he your brother?" "Yes, own brother." "If you sent for him would he come here?" "No," he replied; "but perhaps I might entice him to come here. I will try; but if he comes you must make great provision for him; you must cut a huge maple tree into blocks, for that is what he eats." The stranger inquired how far he would be obliged to go to find the home of the "Head." The uncle replied, "You would get there about noon." Early the next morning he took his bow and started. When he came to a hickory tree he pulled it up, and from its roots he made arrows, and then ran onward until he came to a place answering the description given him, near which he was to find the end of his journey. Remembering that he was warned to look out for the "Great Eyes," which would be sure to see him, he called for a mole, to which he said, "I am going in this direction and I want you to creep down under the grass where you will not be seen." Having gone into the mole, he at last saw the Great Head through the blades of grass. Ever watchful, the head cried out "Kuⁿñ-kuⁿ," "I see thee." The man in the mole saw that the "Head" was watching an owl, then drawing his bow, he shot an arrow into the Great Head, crying, "I came after you." The arrow as it flew to its mark became very large, but as it was returning became as small as when it left the bow. Thereupon, taking the arrow, he ran swiftly toward home; but he had not gone far when he heard a great noise like the coming of a storm. It was the Great Head riding on a tempest. Unshaken by this, he continued to run until he saw that the Great Head was coming down to the spot where he was, when he drew his bow again, and as the arrow left the bow it became larger as it sped, and it drove the Great Head away as before it had done. These maneuvers were repeated many times. In the meanwhile the uncle had prepared a mallet, and now he heard the rush and roar of the coming hurricane and said, "The stranger has allured him home." He now went to the door and said, "We must hammer him; here, take this mallet." As the Great Head came bursting through the door, the two men industriously plied their mallets to it. At this proceeding, the Great Head began to laugh, thus: "Si-h si-h si-h," for he was pleased to see his brother. When the tumult had subsided, the uncle asked the Great Head to remain, and gave him to eat the blocks which had been prepared for him. Then the two men told the Great Head about the brothers who were lost and about the stranger. Then the Great Head said, "I know where they have gone; they have gone to a place where lives a woman who is a witch and who sings continually."

Now, the Great Head said, "I have been here long enough; I want to go home; this young man is pretty bright, and if he wishes to go to see this witch, I will show him her abode and all the bones of his brothers." The young man consenting, he and the Great Head started on the morrow, and finally came to a place where they heard this song: "Dy-giñ-nyă-de, he´´-oñ-we, he´-oñ-we-ni´´-ă-h gi-di-oñ-ni-ăh," which the witch was singing. At length she spoke and said,"Schis-t-ki-añ"; this was the magical word at which, when heard, all turned to dry bones. Upon hearing this the Great Head said, "I will ask the question, 'How long have you been here?' and the hair will fall from my head and you must replace it, and it will grow fast, and then I will bite her flesh and pull it from her, and as it comes off you must take it from my mouth and throw it off, saying 'Be a fox, a bird, or anything else,' and it will then run off never to return."

They did as they had planned, and when the witch begged for mercy the Great Head said, "You had no mercy; see the dry bones; you must die": and so they killed her, and her flesh was turned into animals, and birds, and fish.

When she had died, the Head said, "Let us burn her to ashes." When this was done, the Head said, "Let us search for the year-old bones and cause them to lie in rows," and they worked together selecting those they thought were bones of the nine brothers, and placed them together. When this was done, the Great Head said, "I am going to my old home in the great mountain, and when I fly over here on a tempest then you say to these bones, 'All arise,' and they all will rise and you may go home with them." Great Head departed, and then arose a storm and a terrific hurricane, and the Great Head out of the wind called to the nine brothers to awake, and they all arose to life, shouting for joy at seeing each other and their youngest brother again.



An old squaw who resided at Onondaga was alone in her wigwam one evening. While sitting by the fire parching some acorns one of the monstrous heads made its appearance at the door. Thinking that the woman was eating coals of fire, by which these monsters were put to flight, it suddenly disappeared, and none of its kind have been seen since that day.



In the olden days the hunters always took their wives with them on their expeditions. It was a wife's duty to fetch home the game that was killed and prepare and cook it.

A great hunter set forth upon a hunting excursion and took his wife with him. He found so much game that finally he built a wigwam and settled down. One day he had gone hunting in one direction while his wife was sent in another to collect the game he had killed the previous day.

When she returned towards home one evening, laden with game, she was surprised at hearing a woman's voice, and as she entered her surprise changed to fear, for she saw a stone giant woman nursing the chief's child. "Do not be afraid," said the giantess; "come in." And as the wife obeyed she told her that she had run away from her cruel husband, who wanted to kill her, and that she wished to stay a while with the hunter's family. She had come from very far, from the land of the Stone Giants, and was very tired, and added that they must be careful what food they gave her. She could not eat raw food, but it must be well cooked, so thoroughly cooked, indeed, that she could not taste the blood, for if she once tasted blood she might wish to kill them and the child and eat them. She knew that the woman's husband was a mighty hunter, and she knew that his wife brought in the game, but now she would do it instead; then she said that she knew where to find it and would start after it at once.

After a while she returned, bringing in one hand a load which four ordinary men could not have carried. The woman cooked it, and they dined together.

As evening came on the Stone Giantess bade the woman go out and meet her husband and tell him of her visit; so she started, and the hunter was much pleased to hear of the help she had given.

In the morning, after he had gone on his hunting expedition, the giantess said, "Now I have a secret for you: My husband is after me. In three days he will be here. We shall have a terrible fight when he comes, and you and your husband must help me to kill him."

In two days afterwards she said, "Now your husband must remain at home, for mine is coming. But do not be afraid; we shall kill him, only you must help catch and hold him. I will show you where to strike him so that the blow will go right through to his heart." The hunter and his wife were both frightened at this, but she reassured them, and they all three awaited the coming of the giant. So she placed herself in the entrance, and as he came in sight she was ready. She seized him and threw him on the ground. "Now," she said, "strike him on the arms, now on the back of the neck"; and so he was finally killed. Then said she, "I will take him out and bury him," which she did.

She staid a while quietly with the hunter and his wife, fetching in the game and being useful until they were ready to leave and return to the settlement. Then she said, "Now I must go home to my people, for I need fear nothing." So she bade them farewell.

And this is the end of the story of the Stone Giantess.



A Stone Giant challenged a Seneca chief to a race. The challenge was accepted, and the time for the start appointed two days later.

The hunter employed the time in making a pair of moccasins, and in due time the race began. The hunter was in advance; he led the way over cornfields and through bushes, over and around brooks, and went a weary distance until he was very tired and his moccasins were nearly worn off his feet. At last he began to climb rocks. Now, the Stone Giant had no power to raise his head and could not tell where the hunter was when once he was above him, and in this dilemma he had recourse to a charm, and took from his pocket a human finger. He placed it upright upon his hand, and it immediately pointed the way for him to go.

Now, the hunter had turned and seen him do it, so he stooped and snatched the charm from him, whereupon the giant commenced crying and said: "You have won. You have taken my charm, and now you can always find game and all you want, for the finger will direct you to it."



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