Cherokee Cultural Department » The Myth of the Crane

The Myth of the Crane

The Myth of the Crane


When most of the Cherokee people were moved to Oklahoma, they took the fire with them and have kept it burning for over 150 years. It is said that as long as that fire burns, there will always be Cherokee people. The people who remained in the Smoky Mountains have also kept the fire going. This myth is about the time before there were people, and the animals were in charge of the fire.


Before there were humans, the animals had dances. They held dances once every month in order to help the seasons change. During these dances the animals made medicine, ate good food, said prayers, sang the songs, and danced around the fire. The dances would usually start late at night and last until morning.


One time the animals realized it was time for a dance and nobody had prepared for it yet. Everybody tried to find someone to host the dance. They finally asked Bear. Bear said he wasn't prepared to host the dance but he would do the very best he could. " I don't have a place to have the dance yet," Bear said. "I don't have very much food. But I will try to find a place for the dance, and you may have all the food I can find."


Bear went looking all through the woods. He was looking for a place level enough for the fire and for the others to come and dance. Finally, just in time, Bear found a place he thought would do. He shuffled around and around, beating down the brush so that the ground would be good for dancing. He put the fire in the center of that area. Bear found as much food as he could and put it out for the animals to share. "I have fixed a place for our dance," he said. "I could not find but just a little food. You are welcome to all I have found."


The dance was indeed wonderful. The food ended up being more than enough. Everybody was pleased with the dance and they talked on and on about what a great time they were having. The only one who was not happy was the crane.


In those days the crane had a strong, beautiful voice. It was so beautiful everyone could cry from happiness from just hearing it. Crane had long beautiful feathers all over his legs. When he danced the feathers swayed and swirled in the moonlight.He was used to the other animals' compliments about his voice and feathers during the dances. This time all anyone could talk about was how great the dance was which bear had prepared.


"This dance is not so good,"Crane muttered under his breath. He griped about the food. He complained that the dance area was all downhill. "I have led all the beautiful songs. I have swayed and danced with my beautiful feathers moving all around the fire, but the others will only talk about how good this dance is." Crane waited until everyone was ready to go home. "I will host the next dance," he declared.


Crane had a whole month to prepare for the dance. He found a level place. He got a big mess of food. He put the fire in a neat circle, on a big platform. He could hardly wait for the dance to begin.


At the dance no one was talking about how neat everything was. No one mentioned how good the food tasted or remarked about how much food there was. Everybody was talking about everyday things. Crane was getting mad. He decided to lead the next dance. He danced around the fire singing in his beautiful voice about how great the dance was. His beautiful feathers swayed in the moonlight one minute and glowed in the fire light the next minute.


On the fourth time around the fire caught his beautiful leg feathers. They began to burn. Crane stood for a moment in shock. Then he did something he had never done before. He ran to the river and jumped in. He hoped the water would put out the fire. As the steam and smoke rose up to burn his throat Crane looked down. He picked up one leg and then the other. All his beautiful feathers were burned off.


Everybody said, "Come on out of the water. The fire is out." But Crane was so ashamed of his long bare legs that he would not come out of the water. His beautiful voice was ruined by the smoke and the steam.


Even today Crane stands in the water, and if he does make a sound it is a squawk. His legs still have no beautiful feathers. He did the dance around the fire for all the wrong reasons. He did not dance to help with the cycle of the seasons, not to make medicine to help others, and not to keep the fire going. Crane had simply forgotten that doing good things for other people is what keeps the fire going. He had danced for himself and no one else.