Great Head

It was a common belief among Indians that there was a strange, human-like creature, consisting simply of a head made terrific with large eyes and covered with long hair. His home was upon a huge rock, a rifted promontory, over which his long hair streamed in shaggy fierceness.

Seen or unseen, if he saw anything that had the breath of life he growled: “Kûⁿñ´´-kuⁿ, Kuⁿñ´´-kuiⁿ, wă´´-h-tci´-ha´´-i-h”; that is, “I see thee, I see thee, thou shalt die,” or “thou shalt suffer.”

In a distant wilderness there lived a man and his wife with ten children, all boys. In the course of events the father died, and was soon followed by the mother of the boys, who were now left alone with their uncle. They were greatly afflicted by the loss of both parents but after a while resumed their hunting for support.

As was customary, the older brothers went to their hunting grounds and the younger ones staid at home. One day they looked for the return of their elder brother in vain; they also looked in vain for the second brother’s return. Then the oldest of those at home said, “I will go to look them up”; and he went off, but did not return that night. The next brother then went to hunt for his lost brothers. He also did not return, and thus it was with all until the youngest brother was left alone with his aged uncle.

The youngest brother was forbidden to go away from home lest he too should be lost. One day the two were out in the woods, when the younger one, stepping over a log, heard a noise like a groan, which seemed to come from the earth. The groan being repeated, they concluded to dig into the earth, where they discovered a man covered with mould, and taking him and setting him up they saw some signs of life and were convinced that he was alive. Then the old man said to the lad, “Run for the bear’s oil.” When brought, they rubbed it over him, and at last were well pleased to see returning consciousness.

In caring for him they at first fed him on oil until he began to move his eyes and talk. The strange man then told them that he did not know how long he had been there, that all he knew was that the last time he went out was to hunt. They persuaded him to stay with them, whereupon he related the story of the nine brothers who had so mysteriously disappeared. They then discovered that the stranger was somewhat supernatural, for he told them very strange things.

One night he said, “I cannot sleep; hearken to the great noise in this direction. I know what it is—it is my brother, the Great Head, who is howling through this hurricane. He is an awful being, for he destroys those who go near him.” “Is he your brother?” “Yes, own brother.” “If you sent for him would he come here?” “No,” he replied; “but perhaps I might entice him to come here. I will try; but if he comes you must make great provision for him; you must cut a huge maple tree into blocks, for that is what he eats.” The stranger inquired how far he would be obliged to go to find the home of the “Head.” The uncle replied, “You would get there about noon.” Early the next morning he took his bow and started. When he came to a hickory tree he pulled it up, and from its roots he made arrows, and then ran onward until he came to a place answering the description given him, near which he was to find the end of his journey. Remembering that he was warned to look out for the “Great Eyes,” which would be sure to see him, he called for a mole, to which he said, “I am going in this direction and I want you to creep down under the grass where you will not be seen.” Having gone into the mole, he at last saw the Great Head through the blades of grass. Ever watchful, the head cried out “Kuⁿñ-kuⁿ,” “I see thee.” The man in the mole saw that the “Head” was watching an owl, then drawing his bow, he shot an arrow into the Great Head, crying, “I came after you.” The arrow as it flew to its mark became very large, but as it was returning became as small as when it left the bow. Thereupon, taking the arrow, he ran swiftly toward home; but he had not gone far when he heard a great noise like the coming of a storm. It was the Great Head riding on a tempest. Unshaken by this, he continued to run until he saw that the Great Head was coming down to the spot where he was, when he drew his bow again, and as the arrow left the bow it became larger as it sped, and it drove the Great Head away as before it had done. These maneuvers were repeated many times. In the meanwhile the uncle had prepared a mallet, and now he heard the rush and roar of the coming hurricane and said, “The stranger has allured him home.” He now went to the door and said, “We must hammer him; here, take this mallet.” As the Great Head came bursting through the door, the two men industriously plied their mallets to it. At this proceeding, the Great Head began to laugh, thus: “Si-h si-h si-h,” for he was pleased to see his brother. When the tumult had subsided, the uncle asked the Great Head to remain, and gave him to eat the blocks which had been prepared for him. Then the two men told the Great Head about the brothers who were lost and about the stranger. Then the Great Head said, “I know where they have gone; they have gone to a place where lives a woman who is a witch and who sings continually.”

Now, the Great Head said, “I have been here long enough; I want to go home; this young man is pretty bright, and if he wishes to go to see this witch, I will show him her abode and all the bones of his brothers.” The young man consenting, he and the Great Head started on the morrow, and finally came to a place where they heard this song: “Dy-giñ-nyă-de, he´´-oñ-we, he´-oñ-we-ni´´-ă-h gi-di-oñ-ni-ăh,” which the witch was singing. At length she spoke and said, “Schis-t-ki-añ”; this was the magical word at which, when heard, all turned to dry bones. Upon hearing this the Great Head said, “I will ask the question, ‘How long have you been here?’ and the hair will fall from my head and you must replace it, and it will grow fast, and then I will bite her flesh and pull it from her, and as it comes off you must take it from my mouth and throw it off, saying ‘Be a fox, a bird, or anything else,’ and it will then run off never to return.”

They did as they had planned, and when the witch begged for mercy the Great Head said, “You had no mercy; see the dry bones; you must die”: and so they killed her, and her flesh was turned into animals, and birds, and fish.

When she had died, the Head said, “Let us burn her to ashes.” When this was done, the Head said, “Let us search for the year-old bones and cause them to lie in rows,” and they worked together selecting those they thought were bones of the nine brothers, and placed them together. When this was done, the Great Head said, “I am going to my old home in the great mountain, and when I fly over here on a tempest then you say to these bones, ‘All arise,’ and they all will rise and you may go home with them.” Great Head departed, and then arose a storm and a terrific hurricane, and the Great Head out of the wind called to the nine brothers to awake, and they all arose to life, shouting for joy at seeing each other and their youngest brother again.

Myths of the Iroquois