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The Rolling Head

This version of the legend comes from Stith Thompson's 1929 collection Tales of the North American Indians.

In a solitary tent lived a lone family,--a man, his wife, and two children. When the man went out hunting, he always painted his wife's face and body before he started in the morning. His wife went for water to a lake near by. She always went to the same place; and when she came to the lake, she took off her clothes, as if to bathe. Then a large snake rose out of the lake, after the woman had spoken to it and told it to appear. The snake asked her to come out to him, since her husband had gone away hunting. The woman did as the snake said. Every morning she went to the lake.

Her husband brought back meat, and she and the children were glad. The man did not know what happened. He did not know that his wife went after water to the lake and met a large snake. But one day he asked her what made the paint come off her. She said that she took a bath. Next morning he started as if to hunt; but dug a hiding-place near the lake to see what his wife did. She came to the shore and called to the snake: "Come, I am waiting." Then he saw a big old snake rise from the water, and ask her if her husband had gone hunting. She answered: "Yes, I am coming." She took off her clothes and entered the lake, and the snake was soon around her.

The man had watched them, and now, leaving. his hiding-place, he jumped on the snake, and with a large knife cut it in pieces and at last killed it. Then he caught his wife and killed her. He cut her up, and took her meat home and gave it to his children. He cooked his wife, and the children unknowingly ate their mother.

Then the man said to them: "Tell your mother when she comes home that I went to get more meat which I left hanging on a tree so that the wolves cannot reach it." And he went away. The younger child said: "Our mother is merely teasing us by staying away." But the older girl answered: "Do not say anything against our mother." Then their mother's head came rolling to them; and it said: "I am very sorry that my children have eaten me up."

The two children ran away, but the head pursued them. At last they were worn out, but their mother's head still rolled after them. Then the older girl drew a line or mark on the ground and so deep a hole opened that the head could not cross. The younger girl was very hungry. She said to her sister: "Look at that deer." The older girl looked at the deer, and it fell down dead as if shot. So they ate of it. Then some one was kind to them and helped them, and they lived in a large lodge and had much food of various kinds to eat. Two large panthers and two large black bears guarded them against all wild animals and persons.

A camp of people was starving. Neither buffalo nor smaller game could be found. The people heard that the children had abundance of food of all kinds, and they all moved to them. When they arrived the children invited them, and the various companies came and ate with them. Finally they all went out again; only the children's father now stayed with them again. But they regretted what he had done to them. So they caused the lions to jump upon their father, and he was killed.

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More stories to read:

 American Indian horror stories
 Legends about murder
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Learn more about:

 Cheyenne storytelling
 Cheyenne language
 Cheyenne Indians
 Flying Head monsters



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