The “Flood Story” of Appalachia’s Native Americans

PHOTO: Two Woodland Native American houses. Courtesy - Yinan Chen
PHOTO: Two Woodland Native American houses.
Courtesy – Yinan Chen

According to the Christian Bible, roughly 4,000 years ago, the unrighteousness of humankind reached an unacceptable level, forcing God to destroy the entire planet with water, in what would become known as the “Great Flood.”

Only Noah and his family were spared from the destruction, as they took cover in a massive ark that had been designed by God in order to preserve humanity and animal-life.

Interestingly, stories of cataclysmic worldwide floods are not unique to the Bible but have been found in nearly every culture’s history around the globe, including the Native Americans of Appalachia.

The Woodland Indians who originally lived in the area south of the Great Lakes between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, tell of a worldwide flood.

Robert G. McWilliams, Professor Emeritus at Miami University (Ohio), shared the following story in “The Geology of North America as Illustrated by Native American Stories“:

A very long time ago, the people lived in the sky because the earth was covered with water. In the sky, there lived a beautiful woman who was the daughter of a powerful chief. The chief thought his daughter was sick and asked the tribal healer to cure her. The healer told the woman to sit next to a tree in the sky, where the people lived. 

Then the healer told his assistants to dig a large circular trench around the roots of the tree. They dug so far that the woman, the tree, and the earth clinging to its roots fell from the sky. For this reason the woman is called Woman-Who-Fell-From-theSky.

The swans saw the woman falling from the sky and so they gathered her up on their wings just before she fell into the World Ocean. The swans carried her to Great Turtle, the oldest and wisest of all the animals, set her on his back and told Great Turtle: She has no place to live.

The great turtle summoned all of the animals and said: The tree that fell from the sky and that is now on the bottom of the world ocean, has attached to its roots to sacred earth. We need someone to dive to the bottom and bring some sacred earth to the surface.

Without hesitation, Duck dove into the sea. Even though Duck was a powerful swimmer he couldn’t dive deep enough to even see the bottom of the ocean. Then Beaver tried. Beaver was gone a long time but even though Beaver could see it, he couldn’t touch the bottom. Otter plunged and managed to touch bottom but had to return immediately for air. The animals thought that the project was so hopeless that hardly anyone noticed when Old Lady Toad, the homeliest and most ridiculed of all the animals dove into the ocean. Old lady toad was gone for so long that everyone thought she drowned. When she finally emerged, she climbed up on the back of the great turtle and spit out the sacred earth that she had gathered from around the roots of the tree which fell from the sky— and died.

Great Turtle remained silent and when he was certain that all of the animals understood the necessity of Old Lady Toad’s sacrifice, he said: This is sacred earth and it has the power to grow. And it did. It grew into the place where Native Americans lived and called Turtle Island. Turtle Island is the continent that we now call North America.

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