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Monday, 3 November 2014

 Saponi Tutelo Peoples

Hi dear friends and followers.

Today we take a brief look at two tribes who inhabited the Virginia/North Carolina region, the Saponi and Tutelo Peoples. Both were related by language, religion, and customs and they eventually joined together into one single tribe, after the arrival of the white man.

I could not locate myths or legends of either people, however, my research did find something that is, to me, at least as fascinating as any myth or legend I have read so far.




The Saponi were a Siouan-speaking people who lived in the Virginia Piedmont near present-day Charlottesville. John Smith found them there, in a region he broadly labeled Monacan, in 1607. Sometime during the next several decades they moved south, seldom remaining stationary until the mid-eighteenth century. A small group of corn farmers and hunters, the Saponi moved to find protection from more powerful enemies.

In 1670 German explorer John Lederer found the Saponi among the Nahyssan on the Staunton River in Virginia. In the 1680s, they were on the upper Roanoke River, living adjacent to the Occaneechi. When John Lawsonvisited them in 1701, the Saponi were on the Yadkin River near present-day Salisbury, along with the Tutelo andKeyauwee. The Saponi chief told Lawson that the three tribes were planning to join and move again. In 1714 the Saponi, Occaneechi, Tutelo, and other small tribes concluded a treaty with Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood to return to that colony and settle on a six-mile-square reservation laid out on the Meherrin River. Named Fort Christanna, the reservation was to be a refuge for Piedmont Indians willing to serve the Virginia settlements as frontier scouts. In 1729 the Saponi and their friends abandoned the fort and headed for the Catawba River, where the Catawba Nation offered sanctuary.


In 1728 the survey of the border between Virginia and North Carolina was undertaken. Each colony provided commissioners to see that the task was performed correctly. One of the commissioners for Virginia was William Byrd. Byrd kept a very detailed diary in contemporary English of the day in which he described much of the interaction between the survey party and one of their Saponi scouts, a man whose name was Bearskin.
From Byrd and his Saponi informant several little points in regard to Indian habit and belief are obtained. Although not always definitely so stated, the references are usually intended to apply to the Saponi, and their associated tribes – the Tutelo, Occaneechi, and others at Fort Christanna.

Fire was made by rubbing together two dry sticks of papaw wood, the process requiring about ten minutes. On the occasion of any religious ceremony new fire was always made for the purpose from two sticks which had never before been used, as it was deemed a sacrilege to use the fire already kindled. From the fiber of a kind of “silk grass” the women made a strong thread from which they wove baskets and the aprons which formed the chief part of the woman’s dress. These aprons or skirts were wrapped round the body and hung from the waist to the knee, bordered with a fringe at the bottom. Spoons were made of buffalo horn, and the Indians believed that these spoons would split and fall to pieces if poison were put into them. Skins were dressed with deer’s brains, a method which the English learned to pattern, and the skin was sometimes stretched over a smoke to dry it more speedily. 

They annointed their bodies with bear’s grease as a protection against mosquitos and all other insects. A diet of bear’s meat was supposed to increase the generative power. It was believed that venison and turkey (i. e., the flesh of birds and of quadrupeds) must never be cooked together, on penalty of provoking the anger of the hunting gods, who would drive the game away so that the offending hunter would never be able to kill anything afterward. When the party laughed at Bearskin’s fears on this score and deliberately violated the taboo to convince him that he was in error, he took the precaution afterward when he had shot a buck and a wild turkey together, of leaving the turkey behind and bringing only the deer into camp, in order to put such a sacrilege out of their power. They justified their laying of the heavier burdens on the weaker sex by a tradition that work had originally come upon the human race through some fault of the woman18.
The general statement of the Saponi belief in regard to the spirit world, as obtained from Bearskin in a Sunday night talk around the fire, is best told in the language of Byrd himself, always making liberal allowance for the preconceived notions of a white man who did not claim to be an ethnologist. The transmigration idea here set forth agrees with what Lederer says of the same people:

In the evening we examin’d our friend Bearskin, concerning the religion of his country, and he explain’d it to us, without any of that reserve to which his nation is subject, He told us he believ’d there was one supreme God, who had several sub-altern deities under him. And that this master-God made the world a long time ago. 

That he told the sun, the moon, and stars, their business in the beginning, which they, with good looking after, have faithfully perform’d ever since. That the same power that made all things at first has taken care to keep them in the same method and motion ever since. He believ’d. God had form’d many worlds before he form’d this, but that those worlds either grew old and ruinous, or were destroyed for the dishonesty of the inhabitants.

That God is very just and very good-ever well pleas’d with those men who possess those God-like qualities. That he takes good people into his safe protection, makes them very rich, fills their bellies plentifully, preserves them from sickness, and from being surpriz’d or overcome by their enemies. But all such as tell lies, and cheat those they have dealings with, he never fails to punish with sickness, poverty and hunger, and, after all that, suffers them to be knockt on the head and scalpt by those that fight against them.

He believ’d that after death both good and bad people are conducted by a strong guard into a great road, in which departed souls travel together for some time, till at a certain distance this road forks into two paths, the one extremely level, and the other stony and mountainous. Here the good are parted from the bad by a flash of lightening, the first being hurry’d away to the right, the other to the left.. 

The right hand road leads to a charming warm country, where the spring is everlasting, and every month is May; and as the year is always in its youth, so are the people, and particularly the women are bright as stars, and never scold. 

That in this happy climate there are deer, turkeys, elks, and buffaloes innumerable, perpetually fat and gentle, while the trees are loaded with delicious fruit quite throughout the four seasons. That the soil brings forth corn spontaneously, without the curse of labour, and so very wholesome, that none who have the happiness to eat of it are ever sick, grow old, or dy. Near the entrance into this blessed land sits a venerable old man on a mat richly woven, who examines strictly all that are brought before him, and if they have behav’d well, the guards are order’d to open the crystal gate, and let them enter into the land of delights.

The left hand path is very rugged and uneaven, leading to a dark and barren country, where it is always winter. The ground is the whole year round cover’d with snow, and nothing is to be seen upon the trees but icicles. All the people are hungry, yet have not a morsel of anything to eat, except a bitter kind of potato, that gives them the dry-gripes, and fills their whole body with loathsome ulcers, that stink, and are insupportably painfull. Here all the women are old and ugly, having claws like a panther, with which they fly upon the men that slight their passion. For it seems these haggard old furies are intolerably fond, and expect a vast deal of cherishing. They talk much, and exceedingly shrill, giving exquisite pain to the drum of the ear, which in that place of the torment is so tender, that every sharp note wounds it to the quick. 

At the end of this path sits a dreadful old woman on a monstrous toad-stool, whose head is cover’d with rattle-snakes instead of tresses, with glaring white eyes, that strike a terror unspeakable into all that behold her. This hag pronounces sentence of woe upon all the miserable wretches that hold up their hands at her tribunal. After this they are deliver’d over to huge turkey- buzzards, like harpys, that fly away with them to the place above mentioned. Here, after they have been tormented a certain number of years, according to their several degrees of guilt, they are again driven back into this world, to try if they will mend their manners, and merit a place the next time in the regions of bliss.

This was the substance of Bearskin’s religion, and was as much to the purpose as could be expected from a meer state of nature, without one glimps of revelation or philosophy19 .
In 1731 growing dissatisfaction with their situation caused the Saponi to fragment. A few remained with the Catawba, but most left. Some moved north to join those Tuscaroras who remained in North Carolina after the Tuscarora War (1711-13); others migrated to New York, where the Cayuga, one of the Six Nations of Iroquois, adopted them. Still others drifted toward the English settlements, where they were ultimately absorbed into the general population. By the early 2000s the Haliwa-Saponi tribe was a small, state-recognized tribe with headquarters in the town of Hollister in Halifax County.

Other interesting cultural features:

- Myth: This addition to our knowledge of the Tutelo relates that the name of the last Tutelo chief was Ka'stQ'hagq, the term referring to his "Dwelling in Stone." Legend states that he had killed a number of people; that he was the "first

Tutelo who came to the Six Nations;" and that he had formerly lived in a cave having a room perpendicular to the entry passage in which recess he lived for protection. The cave was so formed that only one invader at a time could enter and turn the corner. Entrenched in this cavern he had accounted for his enemies.

-The Tutelo came up from the south. They did not have any settlements and lived in the woods and caves like wild people. They were a very timid people and were afraid of other Indians. The Tutelo scouts who went out to look for the smoke

from camp fires (settlements) would transform themselves into mice and travel under the leaves so that they would not be discovered by unfriendly Indians. When they wished to look over the country they would resume their natural form and climb to the tops of trees.

The Tutelo scouts were at last seen by the Cayuga who, being a friendly and peaceful tribe, invited them to join their settlement. They accepted and mingled with the Cayuga and learned their language. The Tutelo scouts returned to

their people and told them how they had been taken in by the Cayuga. They brought back the other Tutelo and their families to the Cayuga settlement. There they built a camp of logs. When sleeping at night they were arranged like spokes of a wheel, feet to the fire: the children first, then the women, and last, the men to guard the camp.

One night the Tutelo overheard the Cayuga talking in council with the Seneca. They could not understand all that was being said, but it sounded to the Tutelo like a plan to eat them. They thought that the Cayuga and Seneca were saying, "The Tutelo are good to eat." It proved to be that the members of the council were talking over the proposed plan for the adoption of the Tutelo [6].

6. Speck, Frank G. Siouan Tribes of the Carolinas as Known from Catawba, Tutelo, and Documentary Sources. American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 37, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr. - Jun., 1935), pp. 201-225

Thank you again for dropping by to read this native American legend, I hope you have enjoyed the read. I would appreciate some comments on what your thoughts are on this topic. Have a wonderful week.

ڰۣIn Loving Light from the Fairy Ladyڰۣ

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