Myths / Mythologies / Legends
Battle With the Snakes
Native American Lore
There was a man who was not kind to animals. One day when he was hunting, he found a
rattlesnake and decided to torture it. He held its head to the ground and pierced it with a piece
of bark. Then as it was caught there, he tormented it.
"We shall fight," he said and then burned the snake until it was dead. He thought this was a
great jest and so, whenever he found a snake, he would do the same thing.
One day another man from his village was walking through the forest when he heard a strange
sound. It was louder than the wind hissing through the tops of tall pine trees. He crept closer to
see. There, in a great clearing, were many snakes. They were gathered for a war council and as
he listened in fright he heard them say:
"We shall now fight with them. Djisdaah has challenged us and we shall go to war. In four days
we shall go to their village and fight them."
The man crept away and then ran as fast as he could to his village to tell what he had heard and
seen. The chief sent other men to see if the report was true. They returned in great fright.
"Ahhhh," they said, "it is so. The snakes are all gathering to have a war."
The chief of the village could see that he had no choice. "We must fight," he said and ordered
the people of the village to make preparations for the battle. They cut mountains of wood and
stacked it in long piles all around the village. They built rows of stakes close together to keep
the snakes out. When the fourth day came, the chief ordered that the piles of wood be set on
fire. Just as he did so they heard a great noise, like a great wind in the trees. It was the noise of
the snakes, hissing as they came to the village to do battle.
Usually a snake will not go near a fire, but these snakes were determined to have their revenge.
They went straight into the flames. Many of them died, but the living snakes crawled over the
bodies of the dead ones and continued to move forward until they reached the second row of
Once again, the chief ordered that the piles of wood in the second row of defense be set on
fire. But the snakes crawled straight into the flames, hissing their war songs, and the living
crawled over the bodies of the dead. It was a terrible sight. They reached the second row of
stakes and, even though the people fought bravely, it was no use. The snakes were more
numerous than fallen leaves and they could not be stopped. Soon they forced their way past the
last row of stakes and the people of the village were fighting for their lives. The first man to be
killed was Djisdaah, the one who had challenged the snakes to battle.
It was now clear that they could never win this battle. The chief of the village shouted to the
snakes who had reached the edge of the village: "Hear me, my brothers. We surrender to you.
We have done you a great wrong. Have mercy on us."
The snakes stopped where they were and there was a great silence.
The exhausted warriors looked at the great army of snakes and the snakes stared back at
them. Then the earth trembled and cracked in front of the human beings. A great snake, a
snake taller than the biggest pine tree, whose head was larger than a great long house, lifted
himself out of the hole in the earth
"Hear me," he said. "I am the chief of all the snakes. We shall go and leave you in peace if you
will agree to two things."
The chief looked at the great snake and nodded his head. "We will agree, Great Chief," he
"It is well," said the Chief of the Snakes. "These are the two things. First, you must always treat
my people with respect. Secondly, as long as the world stands, you will never name another
And so it was agreed and so it is, even today.
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