In The Shadow Of The Eclipse, Cherokee Legends Are Told

Aug 18, 2017

With the Great American Eclipse right around the corner, the small towns of Western North Carolina set to fall directly in its path are  busy with last minute preparations before the big event. But for the town of Cherokee, the celestial spectacle is more than just another tourist event.  BPR’s Davin Eldridge met with organizers there to find out what’s in store for the reservation…

On the Cherokee Indian Reservation, things are hectic.

Especially for Frieda Huskey, Events Supervisor at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds. She’s in charge of organizing eclipse festivities on the reservation.

Her office is a revolving door of fairgrounds staff, emergency services, vendors, and others involved in the big event... And her phone will not stop ringing.

BPR: You are obviously very busy. What is it like right now?

Huskey: “This is a big event happening in Cherokee. It’s crazy. Yeah, just in preparing for it, because of the large number of people that are eclipse followers that are coming from all over.”

Of course, like most towns, Cherokee is getting in on the action.  There will be live music, food trucks, and bonfires along with souvenirs like t-shirts, hats, and eclipse shades. But for Cherokee, this is more than just a chance to cash in on tourism dollars.

Because of the eclipse, the tribe can share its culture and heritage with more visitors than usual, and it’ll do this by sharing with them a Cherokee legend about solar eclipses told to children on the reservation for untold generations.

“A long time ago, whenever there was an eclipse, they had an explanation for this,” says tribal storyteller Mike Crowe, of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Crowe is scheduled to give a retelling of the legend during the eclipse. “The frog would come up, and he would swallow the sun.  They would come out and bang the drum and make loud noise and this would frighten the frog away. After a time, things would return to normal. Everything would be okay.”

But, as visitors will come to find, the Cherokee have many more stories to share. With a smile, Huskey fondly recalls another, racier story about the sun and the moon.

“There’s one where the sun was visited by the moon, and she didn’t know who it was, but it would come to her," she grins. "Sort of… Intimate. What she did was she put spots on the moon so that she could tell who it was the next time he visited.”

But then, just as she was getting to the good part Fairgrounds events coordinator Lisa Frady walks in. She says nowadays, many tribal members rarely think about these kinds of stories, but with the eclipse returning to the reservation once more, it brings back old memories for members like her. Tasked with building an event around the legends and stories that were part of her childhood, Frady's excited about getting to relive them with others.

“They just told us all the different legends, and as you’re growing up you hear them," says Frady. "As you get older, you don’t hear it as much, because I think they target more towards the kids.”

Stories like how the world grew with the help of grandma turtle, or how the bear lost its tail, and why the rabbit’s tail is so small today.

“I catch myself sometimes you know, with your little kids," she says. "They’re always asking you questions, you know, they’re always asking you questions and you just come up with something off the wall—I think that’s how our legends started!”. 

And so, with the approaching eclipse now just days away, tribal members are staying busy with their preparations, with little time to think about anything else. But once the Frog comes to devour the sun, for just a few minutes at least, they’ll get to take a step back in time and tell their story once more. 

Special Audio Credit: Cherokee One Feather