The Origin of Disease and Medicine: A Cherokee Myth

The old ones tell us that at one time the animals, fish, insects and plants could talk. Together with the people they were at peace and had a great friendship. As time went on the numbers of people grew so much that their settlements spread over the whole earth, and the animals found themselves cramped for space. To make things worse the people invented bows, knives, blowguns, spears and hooks, and they began to hunt and kill the larger animals, birds and fish only for their hides. The smaller creatures like the frogs and worms were stepped on and crushed without thought, out of carelessness, and sometimes even contempt. The animals decided to meet in council to agree on measures for their safety.
    First the bears meet in council, and decided to use man’s own weapons against him. But after much effort decided that it was useless for bears to use bows and arrows.
    Next the deer held council and decided that every time man killed a deer he would be given rheumatism, unless he made sure to ask their pardon for the offense. Notice was sent to the Cherokee settlements and even until today Little Deer, head of the deer, asks every slain deer if he heard the prayer of the man asking pardon for his death.

Finally the birds, insects and smaller animals came together for their own council. They decided each should give his opinion, and then they would vote as to whether man was guilty. Seven votes would be enough for a guilty verdict. One after another they stated their complaints. The groundsquirrel (the chipmunk) was the only one to say something in man’s defense, because he was so small he did not endure the hunting and disrespect. The others became so angry with him that they swooped on him and tore him with their claws. The stripes are on his back ’til this day to show the scars of that attack.

    The animals in their anger began to name diseases, one after another, to inflict on man for his violations against them.
    Then the plants, who were friendly to man, heard about all these things the animals were doing to the people. Each shrub, tree and herb agreed to furnish a cure for the diseases. Each said, “I will appear and help the people when they call on me.” This is how the medicines came to be. 
     Every plant has a use, if only we would learn it and remember it. They have furnished the remedy to counteract the disease brought on by the vengeful animals. Even weeds were made for some good reason, if only we would learn it and remember it. , if only


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