Appalachian Hummingbird Myth

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When I was a small child, we spent most of our summers in North Carolina. My “Aunt” Jean was one of my most favorite people in the whole world. She was from Waynesville, North Carolina. She was married to my mother’s
first cousin, “Uncle” Frank. She told me many stories about the Cherokee and the early fables of her home. Uncle Frank was with the Park Service, so they lived in some of the most beautiful areas of our country. Mostly we visited them in Elkin, NC and Gatlinburg, TN. Later, Waynesville became extremely important to me and I’ll recount that tale a little later.

This is the story that I believe led to my sweet “obsession” with hummingbirds.

Way back in time, the Cherokee believed that they and the animals could communicate. Indeed they believed that the animals and they were kin to each other, just in different forms.

Back then, they believed that tobacco was great medicine. There was only one tobacco plant, so there was great reverence for it. Great care was taken to assure that the plant grew and flourished. That was until the Great White Goose stole it for his own.

The Great White Goose took the tobacco to a land beyond the Hickory Gap. In the Hickory Gap lived evil spirits who hated the Cherokee. They were known to throw stones down on the Cherokee who tried to pass.

With the tobacco gone, many of the Cherokee elders became ill. There was great fear that they would die, so a young brave volunteered to go take the tobacco back from the Great White Goose. Sadly, the evil spirits saw the young brave and threw rocks down on him in the Hickory Gap. The animals stood by helplessly as the young man died, and went back to tell the humans of his loss.

As their friends, the humans, sickened, the animals said they would try to bring the tobacco back. The evil spirits didn’t hate the animals, so most of them got through Hickory Gap. However, the Great White Goose was wise to them. One after the other tried and failed. The Goose even killed the mole who tried to burrow underneath to get to the tobacco.

The humans despaired of ever getting the tobacco back. A revered old woman was on her death-bed and there was great sadness. An old man who had been praying and praying came forward and said that he felt that he knew a way to get the tobacco. He had asked the hummingbird for the secret of his quick flight. The hummingbird told the old magician his secret and a few of his feathers.

The next morning, after much praying, the old man rubbed himself with the feathers and turned himself into a hummingbird. He flew so swiftly and was so small that the evil spirits never noticed him. He flew forward and back, up and down, and darted here and there so that the Great White Goose never saw him. He took as much of the tobacco as he could carry and rushed back to the village.

It was too late for the old woman who had died during his flight. As glad as the villagers were to have some of the tobacco back, they were heartbroken at the death of the dear, old woman. The magician took some of the precious tobacco and smoked it and blew it into the woman’s nose. Miraculously, she came back to life. She begged the magician to use his magic one more time to bring the whole plant back and the body of the brave, young man who had died trying to help his people.

Once again, the old man prayed and sang to the Great Spirit to help him accomplish his mission. This time, he was transformed into a huge hummingbird. His wings were so loud and the wind so intense that the rocks fell in the Gap and frightened the evil spirits far into the caves and creases in the mountains – never to bother the humans again.

The Great White Goose was so startled by the giant hummingbird that he didn’t argue when the magician/ hummingbird took the tobacco plant. On the way home, the old man found the body of the young brave. He
prayed and prayed and blew tobacco into the nose of the lifeless youth. Another miracle occurred. The youth came back to life and helped carry the tobacco and the old man (who had turned back into a man from exhaustion from his hard work and use of magic) back to the village.

The villagers were so happy to see the old man, thrilled to have their tobacco plant back, and grateful for the return of the brave, young man, that they promised to care for the tobacco plant and share it with the animals and spread the seeds throughout the land.

I really enjoyed sharing this story with you. It goes way back in my memory to a wonderful time and a much-loved person in my life. Do you have stories of olden times that were recounted to you? I’d love for you to share them in a reply to this blog.

Up Next: We’ll see how this injury does. (It’s taken me a LONG time to get this down with the splint on.)

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8 thoughts on “Appalachian Hummingbird Myth

    • I’m a whole lot older than you, Miss Tipper. Some of these stories go WAY back. My Aunt Jean would be pushing 80 if she hadn’t died so young. She had a way of weaving a tale to children that totally absorbed and enchanted us.

  1. Loved this. My personal fave was my aunt told me that “buttermilk cures everything”. That if I drank at least a glass a day I would never have any problems. I couldn’t tolerate the taste by itself, but loved it in things she cooked. She made me the cook I am today. Unfortunately it didn’t “cure” her cancer and she passed much too young. It’s nice to have memories like that.

    • Believe it or not, I’ve become a huge fan of buttermilk. Jim still hates it, but my idea of a great snack is a big ol piece of cornbread and a big glass of cold buttermilk! I must be channeling.

  2. This was a wonderful story! I will tell it to my granddaughters someday and
    I know they’ll appreciate it as much as I did…Thank you…Ken

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have another great legend that’s even more personal that I’ll be sharing very soon. Hope you’ll check back.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I love these stories that go way back to ancestors and times before we know. I’m sure this story is almost as ancient as the hills, themselves.

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