A group of children gathered Wednesday under the Cherokee Nation Peace Pavilion in Tahlequah, where they listened to Miss Cherokee Whitney Roach during June's Stories on the Square program.
Many Cherokee stories go back to before people roamed the earth, when animals could still talk.
And one story told under the pavilion described the first fire, when the animals prayed to Unetlanvhi - the Creator - to bring them warmth so they could survive the winter.
"So he answered their prayers," said Roach. "Way over on another island, he sent a storm, and at that storm, a lightning bolt struck down and it lit a tree on fire. The animals came together and said, 'We need to go get that fire. That's going to keep us warm.'"
The animals discussed which of them should be the one to retrieve the fire. They chose the "biggest and the baddest of all the land animals" to travel to the island and bring back the fire.
"They said, 'All right, bear, you'll go get that fire for us and you'll keep us warm,'" Miss Cherokee said. "So he takes off and he starts swimming. He swims, but he's just too big. Gets back to his friends and he says, 'Guys, I'm just too big. I can't make it to the island. I guess I'm not the biggest and the strongest.'"
With the biggest and strongest of the animals not able to get to the fire, the others began to discuss again whom they should send. That's when it occurred to them that if the biggest and strongest animal couldn't bring back the fire, maybe the swiftest could.
"They were going to send our deer," said Roach. "The deer said, 'I'm the fastest. I'm the swiftest. I can run over the water and bring that fire back.' The animals said, 'Oh yes, deer can definitely bring that fire back to us.' So they get ready for the deer to go, he sets up, and he takes off. But he's not fast enough to run over water; only Jesus can do that."
So the deer had to swim back to his animal friends, returning in defeat. Deer admitted there was no way he could bring the burning tree back. But the animals were worried cold weather that winter was going to arrive soon, so they decided they would use a different type of animal to retrieve the fire.
"'We'll use the birds. They'll go over the water and they'll definitely make it over to that fire.' So they said, 'Which bird is going to get this fire for us? Maybe the most beautiful of all the birds will be able to go get this fire for us,'" Roach relayed.
That's when the raven stepped up to the challenge. A long time ago, the raven was not what it is today.
It actually had long, white feathers, and the raven was so confident that it thought surely it could bring the fire back for all the animals.
"So she takes off and she flies over to the stuff that's on fire, she reaches down, and as soon she reaches down, the fire [bursts] and the fire hits her feathers," Roach said before letting out scream of her own.
When the raven returned to the animals, she admitted she wasn't able to get the fire. Also, the fire had burnt her feathers, turning them black.
"So if you guys see a raven out in the wild, all of their feathers are black, because the first fire burnt her feathers when she tried to bring the fire back to the animals," said Roach. "So that's one reason why the raven looks the way she does."
The animals were convinced they had run out of options. They were unsure whether they would survive the next winter, as no animal was capable of bringing them the warmth of fire. That's when a tiny voice spoke up from the back of the group.
"'Hey, can I try to go get the fire?' The animals said, 'Oh, little water spider, there's no way you can go get that fire. You're just way too small and you're not fast enough.' She said, 'Well, let me try.' They said, 'Well, all right, there's no other option.'"
With the other animals' permission, the water spider swam across the sea and made it to the other island. When she reached the fire, she began to spin a web, creating a basket that she placed on her back. She was able to reach down, grab some of the fire, put it in her web basket, and safely swim back to the other animals.
"Ever since, our little water spider has been able to bring our fire back to us, and the animals and our people have been able to stay warm," said Roach. "This little water spider, even though the animals told her she was too small and too slow, she thought she could do it, and she tried her best, and that paid off in the end. So if anyone ever tells you you're too slow or you're not good enough, don't believe them. Keep doing what you're doing, try your best, and that's all you can ask for."