Wolves' revenge, turtle's pride impart life lesson

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Interpretive Guide Janelle Adair told a story about how turtles came to look the way they do during the Cherokee Nation's Stories on the Square program Wednesday.

A turtle, possum, and wolf were the subjects of another story told under the Cherokee Nation Peace Pavilion Wednesday, when Interpretive Guide Janelle Adair returned to share creation tales with a crowd of young and old.

The tale began "a long, long time ago," before people roamed the earth and there were only animals. A turtle and possum were best friends.

"That turtle, he looked just like he does today," said Adair. "He has a dome-shaped shell, but there were no markings; it was completely smooth. And that possum, he was a really good friend to that turtle and he tried to take care of him when he could."

On warm fall days, the possum and turtle ventured around, looking for persimmon trees. Once they found a tree, the possum would climb and pick a persimmon to eat. Then, he would pick a persimmon and drop it to the ground, where the turtle would listen for it to land before eating it.

"They would do this all day long - picking persimmons and eating them, picking them and dropping them," said Adair. "They were happy."

One day, as the possum and turtle were enjoying their usual meal, "old man wolf" happened to be walking by. When the wolf saw what the two animals were doing, he started to laugh.

"But old man wolf stopped laughing soon, because [he] was hungry and he was watching," said Adair. "He liked persimmons, too."

As he watched the possum eat a persimmon and drop one to the turtle, he devised a plan. He crept up to the tree, stood against it, and waited. As soon as the possum dropped a persimmon, old man wolf stuck his head out from behind the tree and snatched it out of the air before getting behind the tree to wait. Once again, the possum ate a persimmon and dropped another one to the ground. And once again, old man wolf reached his head around the tree and snatched the persimmon in midair.

"When he did this the second time, though, that possum saw him," said Adair. "That possum thought, 'Hey, those are our persimmons. That old man wolf, he can probably shake this tree and knock all of these persimmons down. He's so lazy.'"

The possum started to become angry with the wolf and decided to teach him a lesson. So he scurried up the tree and found the biggest persimmon he could find, then threw it as hard as he could to the ground. Old man wolf didn't know how hard and fast the possum threw the persimmon, nor the size of it. As he went to snatch it out of the air again, it was so big that it became lodged in his throat.

"Old man wolf hit the ground on all four paws," said Adair. "He couldn't breathe, because it was stuck in his throat and he died right there underneath that tree."

The possum didn't mean to kill the wolf, but also believed it was the wolf's fault. The turtle had witnessed the wolf keel over and die, and was also upset that his persimmons were being eaten.

"He was so angry that he walked over to where old man wolf's body was lying," said Adair. "He pulled out his flint knife and he cut off both of old man wolf's ears to take them home to use them as soup spoons."

A few days later, the animals gathered to eat with one another. The animals were enjoying a corn soup when the turtle showed up and began to use old man wolf's ears to eat the soup.

"All the animals around are watching and they say, 'Look at that turtle. He's got old man wolf's ears. He must have killed old man wolf. That turtle is not scared of anybody. He'll fight anybody. He must have beat him up and killed him. He's not scared of anything,'" said Adair.

Word started to spread among the animals that the turtle had killed old man wolf. The story even spread to old man wolf's relatives, who all came together to decide how they would avenge old man wolf.

"So they said, 'All right, we'll go find that turtle and we'll get our revenge,'" said Adair. "So the very next day, they go out looking for him and they go where he lives. They know where he stays and he's just kind of hanging out in his house."

The turtle heard a knock on his door and when he opened it, he saw the group of wolves. The turtle knew what they wanted, because hanging up on the wall behind him were old man wolf's ears. The wolves were upfront about their visit, telling the turtle they were there to get revenge.

"They said, 'We've got this big clay pot of boiling water out here and we're going to throw you in that pot. We're going go to cook you alive and that's going to be our revenge,'" said Adair. "Well, that turtle started to laugh and he said, 'That's not going to do anything to me.'"

The turtle told the wolves he would just push his arms and legs out of his shell as far they would go and bust the clay pot open to get away. So the wolves decided to skip the clay pot and said they would simply throw the turtle directly into the fire.

"That turtle started to laugh again," said Adair. "He said, 'If you throw me in that fire, I'm going to pull my body into my shell. I'll roll around and my smooth shell will smother those flames and I'll get away.'"

The wolves were angry they couldn't frighten the turtle. Then they got the idea to throw the turtle into the river and drown him. At that point, the turtle started to cry.

"He started to beg and plea for his life," said Adair. "He said, 'Please don't throw me out there. I don't want to drown.'"

The more the turtle cried, the more excited the wolves became. The turtle continued to cry as the wolves picked him up by his hands and feet, brought him over to the river, lifted him up and swung him into the air. But the turtle knew that he would make a fine landing into the water.

"As that turtle is flying into the air, he's thinking to himself about how smart he is," said Adair. '"I must be the smartest animal in the world. Those wolves are so stupid. That was too easy.'"

However, as he was flying in the air, he noticed the wolves didn't throw him out as far as they wanted to. He was a big turtle, and right before be landed, he saw a large, flat rock. He fell directly on the rock, which broke his shell. Then, he started to genuinely cry. As he was crying, he thought that was the end for him and began to sing a "death song," which was more about his life than death.

"The Creator hears this song and he's listening to it," said Adair. "The Creator likes it and knows everything that's happened. He knows about old man wolf stealing those persimmons, he knows about that possum and what he did to old man wolf, and he knows about this turtle and all those wolves that came to revenge on him."

The Creator felt sorry for the turtle and healed his shell.

"Now that turtle, his back is mended and he turns over on that rock and swims away in the water," said Adair. "But to this day, when you see that turtle and look at his back, you can still see the marks on his back from where it was broken and where it was put back together."

Adair said she hoped people remember what lesson the animals learned and how people's actions can affect them.

"If you think about that old man wolf, he was stealing something that didn't belong to him and ended up getting himself killed," said Adair. "Then that possum that was up in the tree; he was trying to get revenge and teach old man wolf a lesson, but ended up killing something and that's not what he meant to do. And if you think about those wolves, they wanted revenge so badly that they did end up looking foolish and they ended up letting this turtle go in essence. They wanted that revenge so badly that it blinded them to anything else. Then that turtle, he thought he was so smart and he was so prideful, and he ended up nearly getting himself killed."

You're invited

The next Stories on the Square event is July 10, at 10 p.m., under the Cherokee Nation Peace Pavilion on Water Avenue.