Native Languages of the Americas: Legends of the Woodland Tribes
This is our collection of links to Woodland Indian folktales and traditional stories that can be read online.
We have indexed our Native American legends section
by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same
legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to
each other. On this page, we have included myths and legends from the
and Lenape tribes.
These tribes of the Eastern Woodlands are culturally distinct but do share many cultural similarities, including much of their folklore.
Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Woodland legend for this page or think one of the ones on here
should be removed, please contact us and let us know.
Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Woodland Indian mythology.
Many of the Northeastern tribes have a powerful character in their stories called a "culture hero" or "transformer" by anthropologists.
The people themselves tend to call him a "teacher," although the term "culture hero" has caught on with many storytellers. The Woodlands culture hero
is a generally postive figure who strives to help humanity in various ways, including transforming the world to be more hospitable to them, slaying monsters,
and teaching them the arts of civilization. He may be mischievous or act like a buffoon in some of his stories, but in an ultimately lovable way. The culture hero
is not a dangerous or malicious being, and is usually a highly respected figure, even if he is not necessarily taken seriously at all times.
Some examples of Woodland Indian culture heroes are the Anishinabe hero
Nanabozho, the Wabanaki hero
Glooscap, the Cree hero
Wisakedjak, and the Iroquois hero Good Mind (or Sapling.).
There are some significant differences in the life story and powers of these heroes,
but they are generally similar figures, and sometimes the same story is told in different tribes with only the identity of
the protagonist differing.
Most of the Woodland Indian tribes shared a belief in a benevolent Creator god, best known in English as the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit is
usually conceived as a divine spirit with no human form or attributes and is rarely personified in Woodlan Indian folklore. Most often the Great Spirit is
depicted as communicating with humans through dreams. The Ojibwe name for the Great Spirit is
Gitchi Manitou, and other Anishinabe and Central Algonquian tribes have similar names;
the Iroquois tribes call him Raweno or Taronhiawagon; the Lenape know him as
Kitanitowit; and the Wabanaki tribes call him
Tabaldak or Gici Niwaskw.
Many of the Woodland Indian tribes feature the grandmother of the culture hero as an important mythological character.
The most important are the Iroquois goddess Sky Woman, the Anishinabe heroine Nokomis,
and the Wabanaki Grandmother Woodchuck.
In most stories the grandmother figure raises the hero after her daughter dies in childbirth, although she is sometimes portrayed as an adopted grandmother instead.
Evil man-eating spirits of the north. The best-known Woodland Indian ice monster is the
Windigo of the Anishinabe and Cree tribes. Variants from other tribes include
Chenoos and Kee-wakw.
Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Woodland Indian people who
commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Windigo as punishment.
Little people are a staple of Woodland Indian folklore in every tribe we know of. They are usually described as child-sized nature spirits with formidable
magic powers. Their role in legends varies from mischievous but generally benevolent creatures, to dangerous spirits who must be treated with caution and
respect, to unruly and capricious gremlins who may steal children or commit acts of sabotage. Each tribe has its own name for these creatures.
The best-known are the Pukwudgies of the Wampanoag and other southeast Algonquian
A giant mythological bird common to the northern and western tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings.
Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans, and were treated with reverence by most Woodland people.
The best-known Native names for them are Animiki,
Pinesi, and Chequa.
A powerful mythological creature something like a cross between
a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water
and causes men and women to drown.
An underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Woodland tribes. It is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.
(also known as Winter or Biboon): The spirit of Winter. In some Woodland tribes Biboon plays a somewhat adversarial
role and is defeated by the spirit of Spring; in others, he is one of the four winds and plays his seasonal role in harmony
with the rest of nature.
A horrible, vampiric sort of creature from the folklore of Iroquois and Central Algonquian tribes, usually created when a man murders his unfaithful wife
and her disembodied head returns from the dead to seek revenge.