UʻTLÛÑ′TĂ, THE SPEAR-FINGER
Long, long ago—hĭlahi′yu—there dwelt in the mountains a terrible ogress, a
woman monster, whose food was human livers. She could take on any shape or
appearance to suit her purpose, but in her right form she looked very much like
an old woman, excepting that her whole body was covered with a skin as hard as
a rock that no weapon could wound or penetrate, and that on her right hand shehad a long, stony forefinger of bone, like an awl or spearhead, with which she
stabbed everyone to whom she could get near enough. On account of this fact
she was called Uʻtlûñ′tă, “Spear-finger,” and on account of her stony skin she
was sometimes called Nûñ′yunu′wĭ, “Stone-dress.” There was another stone-
clothed monster that killed people, but that is a different story.
Spear-finger had such powers over stone that she could easily lift and carry
immense rocks, and could cement them together merely striking one against
another. To get over the rough country more easily she undertook to build a
great rock bridge through the air from Nûñyû′-tluʻgûñ′yĭ, the “Tree rock,” on
Hiwassee, over to Sanigilâ′gĭ (Whiteside mountain), on the Blue ridge, and had
it well started from the top of the “Tree rock” when the lightning struck it and
scattered the fragments along the whole ridge, where the pieces can still be seen
those who go there. She used to range all over the mountains about the heads
of the streams and in the dark passes of Nantahala, always hungry and looking
for victims. Her favorite haunt on the Tennessee side was about the gap on the
trail where Chilhowee mountain comes down to the river.
Sometimes an old woman would approach along the trail where the children
were picking strawberries or playing near the village, and would say to them
coaxingly, “Come, my grandchildren, come to your granny and let granny dress
your hair.” When some little girl ran up and laid her head in the old woman’s lap
to be petted and combed the old witch would gently run her fingers through the
child’s hair until it went to sleep, when she would stab the little one through the
heart or back of the neck with the long awl finger, which she had kept hidden
under her robe. Then she would take out the liver and eat it.
She would enter a house taking the appearance of one of the family who
happened to have gone out for a short time, and would watch her chance to stab
some one with her long finger and take out his liver. She could stab him without
being noticed, and often the victim did not even know it himself at the time—for
it left no wound and caused no pain—but went on about his own affairs, until all
at once he felt weak and began gradually to pine away, and was always sure to
die, because Spear-finger had taken his liver.
When the Cherokee went out in the fall, according to their custom, to burn the
leaves off from the mountains in order to get the chestnuts on the ground, they
were never safe, for the old witch was always on the lookout, and as soon as shesaw the smoke rise she knew there were Indians there and sneaked up to try to
surprise one alone. So as well as they could they tried to keep together, and were
very cautious of allowing any stranger to approach the camp. But if one went
down to the spring for a drink they never knew but it might be the liver eater that
came back and sat with them.
Sometimes she took her proper form, and once or twice, when far out from the
settlements, a solitary hunter had seen an old woman, with a queer-looking hand,
going through the woods singing low to herself:
Uwe′la nátsĭkû′. Su′ să′ sai′.
Liver, I eat it. Su′ să′ sai′.
It was rather a pretty song, but it chilled his blood, for he knew it was the liver
eater, and he hurried away, silently, before she might see him.
At last a great council was held to devise some means to get rid of Uʼtlûñ′tă
before she should destroy everybody. The people came from all around, and
after much talk it was decided that the best way would be to trap her in a pitfall
where all the warriors could attack her at once. So they dug a deep pitfall across
the trail and covered it over with earth and grass as if the ground had never been
disturbed. Then they kindled a large fire of brush near the trail and hid
themselves in the laurels, because they knew she would come as soon as she saw
Sure enough they soon saw an old woman coming along the trail. She looked
like an old woman whom they knew well in the village, and although several of
the wiser men wanted to shoot at her, the others interfered, because they did not
want to hurt one of their own people. The old woman came slowly along the
trail, with one hand under her blanket, until she stepped upon the pitfall and
tumbled through the brush top into the deep hole below. Then, at once, she
showed her true nature, and instead of the feeble old woman there was the
terrible Uʼtlûñ′tă with her stony skin, and her sharp awl finger reaching out in
every direction for some one to stab.
The hunters rushed out from the thicket and surrounded the pit, but shoot as true
and as often as they could, their arrows struck the stony mail of the witch only to
be broken and fall useless at her feet, while she taunted them and tried to climbout of the pit to get at them. They kept out of her way, but were only wasting
their arrows when a small bird, Utsŭ′ʻgĭ, the titmouse, perched on a tree
overhead and began to sing “un, un, un.” They thought it was saying u′nahŭ′,
heart, meaning that they should aim at the heart of the stone witch. They directed
their arrows where the heart should be, but the arrows only glanced off with the
flint heads broken.
Then they caught the Utsŭ′ʻgĭ and cut off its tongue, so that ever since its tongue
is short and everybody knows it is a liar. When the hunters let it go it flew
straight up into the sky until it was out of sight and never came back again. The
titmouse that we know now is only an image of the other.
They kept up the fight without result until another bird, little Tsĭ′kĭlilĭ′, the
chickadee, flew down from a tree and alighted upon the witch’s right hand. The
warriors took this as a sign that they must aim there, and they were right, for her
heart was on the inside of her hand, which she kept doubled into a fist, this same
awl hand with which she had stabbed so many people. Now she was frightened
in earnest, and began to rush furiously at them with her long awl finger and to
jump about in the pit to dodge the arrows, until at last a lucky arrow struck just
where the awl joined her wrist and she fell down dead.
Ever since the tsĭ′kĭlilĭ′ is known as a truth teller, and when a man is away on a
journey, if this bird comes and perches near the house and chirps its song, his
friends know he will soon be safe home.