Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 9, 2000 - Issue 18

The Alligator and the Hunter
Choctaw Legend

There once was a man who had very bad luck when he hunted. Although the other hunters in his village were always able to bring home deer, this man never succeeded. He was strongest of the men in the village and he knew the forest well, but his luck was never good.

Each time he came close to the deer, something bad would happen. A jay would call from the trees and the deer would take flight. He would step on dry leaves and he deer would run before he could shoot. His arrow would glance off a twig and miss the deer. It seemed there was no end to his troubles. Finally the man decided he would go deep into the swamps where there were many deer. He would continue hunting until he either succeeded or lost his own life.

The man hunted for three days without success. At noon on the fourth day, he came to a place in the swamp where there had once been a deep pool. The late summer had been a very dry one, however, and now there was only hot sand where once there had been water. There, resting on the sand, was a huge alligator. It had been without water for many days. It was so dry and weak that it was almost dead. Although the hunter's own luck had been bad, he saw that this alligator's luck was even worse.

"My brother," said the man. "I pity you."

Then the alligator spoke. Its voice was so weak that the man could barely hear it. "Is there water nearby?? said the alligator. "Yes," said the man. "There is a deep pool of clear cool water not far from here. It is just beyond that small stand of trees to the west. There the springs never dry up and the water always runs. If you go to that place, you will survive."

"I cannot travel there by myself," said the alligator. "I am too weak. Come close so I can talk to you. I will not harm you." "Help me and I will also help you" said the alligator.

The hunter was afraid of the great alligator, but he came a bit closer. As soon as he was close, the alligator spoke again.

"I know that you are a hunter but the deer always escape from you. If you help me, I will make you a great hunter. I will give you the power to kill many deer."

This sounded good to the hunter, but he still feared the alligator's great jaws. "My brother," the man said, "I beleive that you will help me, but you are still an alligator.

I will carry you to that place, but you must allow me to bind your legs and bind your jaws so that you can do me no harm."

Immediately the alligator rolled over to its back and held up its legs. "Do as you wish," the alligator said.

The man bound the alligator's jaws firmly with his sash. He made a bark strap and bound the alligator's legs together. Then, with his great strength, he lifted the big alligator to his shoulders and carried it to the deep cool water where the springs never dried. He placed the alligator on its back close to the water and he untied its feet. He untied the alligator's jaws, but still held those jaws together with one hand. Then he jumped back quickly. The alligator rolled into the pool and dove underwater. It stayed under a long time and then came up. Three more times the alligator dove, staying down longer each time. At last it came to the surface and floated there, looking up at the hunter who was seated high on the bank.

"You have done as you said you would," said the alligator. "You have saved me Now I shall help you, also. Listen closely to me now and you will become a great hunter. Go now into the woods with your bow and arrows. Soon you will meet a small doe. That doe has not yet grown large enough to have young ones. Do not kill that deer. Only greet it and then continue on and your power as a hunter will increase. Soon after that you will meet a large doe. That doe has fawns and will continue to have youngs ones each year. Do not kill that deer. Greet it and continue on and you will be an even greater hunter. Next you will meet a small buck. That buck will father many young ones. Do not kill it. Greet it and continue on and your power as a hunter will become greater still. At last you will meet an old buck, larger than any of the others. Its time on Earth has been useful. Now it is ready to give itself to you. Go close to that deer and shoot it. Then greet it and thank it for giving itself to you. Do this and you will be the greatest of hunters."

The hunter did as the alligator said. He went into the forest and met the deer, killing only the old buck. He became the greatest of the hunters in his village. He told this story to his people. Many of them understood the alligator's wisdom and hunted that way. That is why the Choctaw's became great hunters of the deer. As long as they remembered to follow the alligator's teachings, they were never hungry.

Print and Color your own pictures from this story:

Grinning Gator


Now, reread the story and without peeking answer these questions:

  1. What happened every time the hunter tried to get a deer?
  2. Why did the hunter take pity on the alligator
  3. What did the hunter mean when he said "but, you're still an alligator?"
  4. Why did the hunter's luck change, what made the difference?

White-tailed Deer

Native Americans and the Deer

The deer as messenger enlightens or teaches, particularly with regard to hunting and wildlife ethics. Dennis Olson relates a story from the Native American Ojibwe. Once upon a time, the deer suddenly vanished from the land of the Anishnabeg. After finally locating the lost deer far to the north, the Anishnabeg fight a fierce battle with crows for control of the animals. Finally during a truce, the Anishnabeg ask the deer chief why all the deer moved north with the crows. The deer chief reveals they came to live with the crows by choice. Men, he said, had "wasted their flesh, spoiled their lands, and desecrated their bones," bringing dishonor both to deer and to humans. The contrite Anishnabeg promise forevermore to treat the deer with respect--and even today, says Olson, the Anishnabeg honor this promise to the deer as their oldest and most sacred treaty.

Other Native American legends emphasize that deer must only be hunted when their meat is actually needed, and always taken with respect. In a Cherokee tale, Awi Udsi-- Little Deer--visits humans in their sleep, warning them not to kill deer wantonly, but only when necessary and when the hunt is preceded with the proper rituals of respect. Likewise, the Wintu tribe believe unless a deer hunt is carried out with forbearance and honor, the deer will "forget" to show up for hunters in the future.

As our society changes, we find ourselves constantly redefining our relationship with wild creatures. Perhaps the lesson of forbearance, respect, and restraint brought by the animal messengers in the old deer legends can serve as a guideline for us as we continue to negotiate that tricky balance with the natural world. Symbol of the chase, of food, of grace and beauty; representing both nature revealed to man and nature run amok, deer have been intricately bound to our existence for eons--and we can look forward to this complex dance between humans and deer for many generations to come.

When Europeans landed on North America's shores, deer were found in nearly every corner of the continent, from rainforest to the edge of the arctic tundra. There may have been as many as 10 million mule deer and 34 million whitetail when Europeans made contact.

White-tailed Deer Facts:

Identification: The white-tailed deer is a stately, graceful animal distinguished by conspicuous ears, long legs, and narrow, pointed hooves. Adult males have spreading, branching antlers. The most noticeable feature is the tail, which is brown above and white underneath. When the animal is alarmed, the tail is raised high, revealing a white "flag" as the deer bounds off through the woods.

White-tailed deer vary seasonally in coloration. Their summer coat is reddish-brown to tan and is composed of short, thin hairs. The winter coat is grayish-brown to gray, with long, thick hairs. Fawns are reddish-brown with white spots, which they lose when they are three to four months old, usually by the end of August in Connecticut.

Range: White-tailed deer are found over most of southern Canada and the United States (except for most of California, Nevada, and Utah) and south to Panama.

Reproduction: The mating or rutting season starts in late October and extends through early January. Fawns, weighing from four to eight pounds, are usually born in June. They remain under the femaleís care through September, when they are weaned. The number of young born ranges from one to four, depending upon the age and condition of the doe. Twins are common and triplets and quadruplets have been recorded. Female fawns born early in spring have the potential to breed by the following fall.

Interesting Facts: Male white-tailed deer grow and shed antlers annually. The antlers begin to grow in April or May. They are soft and covered with a sensitive tissue known as velvet. By fall, the antlers harden; the deer scrape them against saplings to remove the velvet in preparation for the rut. Antlers are used in sparring during the mating season. They are shed from mid-December to late-January. Antler size is determined by age, genetics, and nutritional value of the deer's diet.

Frequently, well-meaning people find a fawn alone in the woods and bring it home without realizing that the doe was nearby all the time. To divert the attention of predators, female deer only visit their fawns three or four times a day, for about 15 minutes per visit, in order to feed them. Not only is removing a healthy fawn from the wild illegal, but it also reduces the animalís chances of survival. To assist a fawn that has definitely been abandoned or injured, contact the Wildlife Division for the name of a licensed rehabilitator in your area. These
trained volunteers are the only people who can legally rehabilitate wildlife in the state.

Population Reduction: Farmers who are experiencing deer damage problems would be wise to encourage hunting on their property during the regulated deer seasons. The only practical way to control free-ranging deer herds in the state is by harvesting animals each year to help curb population expansion and maintain the deer herd at a level compatible with the habitat and farming interests.

Population Management: Because deer have a high reproductive potential and few natural predators, deer populations have the potential to increase rapidly. In the absence of significant mortality, deer populations can double in size in two years. High deer populations can significantly alter forested habitats reducing plant diversity and habitat suitability for other wildlife species. In addition, deer can impact flower and vegetable gardens, landscape plantings, and pose a threat to motorists.

Learn more about the White-tailed Deer at these sites:

White-tailed Deer Kids Page

Wildlife of the Rocky Mountains Photographs

White-Tailed Deer



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