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Native American Tales from Appalachia / Animal Tales

Tina L. Hanlon

"The Animal Ball Game" - or -
"How the Bat and the Flying Squirrel Got Their Wings"


Notes: Stickball is a traditional Cherokee game, the precursor of lacrosse, played with deerskin balls and sticks with little baskets on the end. It was played by men in large groups as they trained to be good warriors and at times the game itself was used to settle conflicts. "Cherokee Indian Ball Game" tells the history of the game, in Underwood, Thomas B. Cherokee Legends and the Trail of Tears. Illus. Amanda Crowe. (Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Publications, 1956. Adapted from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology.) The Cherokee homeland was in the southern Appalachian Mountains for hundreds of years before Europeans and Americans forced most of the Cherokee to move west. AppLit includes tales from Cherokee oral traditions that continue to be retold within Appalachia and elsewhere.

Duvall, Deborah LGreat Ball Game of the Birds and Animals. Illus. Murv Jacob. Grandmother Stories Series. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2002. Two small furry animals ask to play with the animals in the important stickball game between Animals and Birds. The large animals such as Rabbit, Terrapin, Deer and their leader Bear, confident of winning, scoff at the small animals. The birds find ways to help these little creatures fly. The one with new wings made from the groundhog skin on their drum and splints of river cane becomes the bat, and the one with loose skin pulled out toward his feet becomes the flying squirrel. These new animals help the birds win. Also, Martin, "for her bravery in saving the ball from Bear," is given "a beautiful painted gourd in which to make her home. And even now, she still has it." Jacob's beautifully detailed white-on-black drawings help tell the story in a circular roundel within each double-page spread, accompanied by traditional border designs. Similar intricate designs are reproduced on blue backgrounds on the book jackets and end papers. See cover and description at page on 2003 Oklahoma Book Award Winners and at Duval and Jacobs' web site. In their Cyber Storybook Rabbit Goes to Kansas (2006, also published by Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2007), Rabbit and Wildcat seek blue and red feathers in a northern land of sunflowers, and get involved in a ball game between birds that are both red and blue, throwing a ball at basket fastened to their cottonwood tree. Wildcat is celebrated for scoring the winning point for the blue team. Rabbit feasts on gooseberry tea with honey supplied by nearby bees and roasted sunflower seeds served by mother birds. Wildcat goes west to find supper while Rabbit plays ball and learns about geese bringing rubber for the balls from the south every year. Wildcat prefers to stay in the flint hills to the west of the cottonwood tress, while Rabbit returns home with gifts from the birds. When the woodland animals who welcome him home don't believe in his bouncing ball, he plans to become famous by showing it to them..

Arneach, Lloyd. The Animal's Ballgame: A Cherokee Story from the Eastern Band. Illus. Lydia G. Halverson. Chicago: Children's Press, 1992. "Pictures tell the story of how a ballgame between the birds and mammals of the earth gave some common animals their characteristics. Includes text and suggestions for storytelling activities in the back of the book" (WorldCat). Also produced as audio cassette recording.

The Ballgame Between the Animals and the Birds. Online at Stonee's Web Lodge. "A story of the Cherokee People of Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Georgia," with an artwork "Call of the Weasel Clan" by Urshel Taylor. Tells how bat and squirrel, looking like small mice, were rejected by the animals, were given wings by the birds, and helped the birds defeat the larger animals in a ballgame. Bat received wings made from the skin of a drum, but there was none left over so they stretched squirrel's skin to make wings.

"Ball Game Between the Birds and Animals." In Bruchac, James, and Joseph Bruchac. The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales. Illus. Stefano Vitale. New York: Sterling, 2007. pp. 19-21. Other tales in the Southeast section are "Turtle's Race with Wolf" (Seminole), "How Rabbit Got Wisdom" (Creek), "Coming of Corn" (Choctaw). The Bruchacs "heard this version from Jerry Wolf, a Cherokee elder and ball-stick maker at the Cherokee Museum in North Carolina" (p. 94). They also refer to James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee and other versions among the Cherokee, Creeks, and other tribes. The four-legged animals of the forest have a tough team with Bear as captain. Bear scoffs at two little animals who ask to play. The birds' captain, Eagle, says that anyone can play on their good team who can fly. Eagle asks Kingfisher to make wings from their old drum for the animal who becomes Bat. Then Hawk and Raven pull the other little creature's sides until he becomes Flying Squirrel. When the day-long game becomes tiring for the birds, Flying Squirrel and Bat join in to win the game, just as they appear at evening now. "Still rejoicing in their gifts of flight, they are both always ready to play another game" (p. 21).

"How the Bat and the Flying Squirrel Got Their Wings." In Chiltoskey, Mary Ulmer. Aunt Mary, Tell Me A Story: A Collection of Cherokee Legends and Tales. Ed. Mary Regina Ulmer Galloway. Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Communications, 1990. pp.79-80. The animals and birds in the Smoky Mountains became rivals, each side boasting about their speed, strength and intelligence. After much emphasis on bragging, this tale is like the one described above. At the end, "The Cherokee know that the little ones are as valuable as those who are big and boastful."

"The Birds and Animals Stickball Game." In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998. pp. 67-68. With background on storyteller Kathi Smith Littlejohn and Cherokee culture. The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storytellers' "rhythmic style," using the "oral poetics" method developed in the 1970s. Foreword by Joyce Conseen Dugan, Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  This story takes place in a magic time when animals, birds, and people could talk the same language, and sometimes they argued. In the ball game between birds and animals, Skunk gets his stripe when Buzzard grabs him to get the ball away from him. Buzzard flies alone now because he was sprayed by Skunk. Mr. Owl got sprayed, too, which put big rings around his eyes. Bluejay took the credit for finally stealing the ball from Skunk. Bluejays have a string hanging out of their nests "as a signal to all the animals below that the birds are number one."

"The Origin of Stickball: The Story of the Bat." As retold by Freeman Owle. In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. The Origin of the Milky Way & Other Living Stories of the Cherokee. Caravan book. Illus. Shan Goshorn. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. This tale is in section 1, "Living with People." "Presented by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in their own words, the stories appear in free-verse form, like poems on the page, so that if you read them aloud, you can hear the rhythm of the stories as they were originally told."

"The Ballgame Between the Birds and the Animals." In Cherokee Nation. Traditional Stories. Provided by Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center, in official web site of the [western] Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, OK. 1998-2002. This version has two animals who become bats and no squirrels. The martin gets a gourd to live in after the birds win.

"Ball Game of the Birds and Animals," In Judson, Katharine Berry, ed. Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000. Includes other Cherokee tales "The Corn Woman," "Origin of the Bear," "The Death Trail," "Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting," "Rabbit and Tar Wolf," "How Rabbit Stole Otter's Coat," "Welcome to a Baby," "Baby Song," "Song of the Mother Bears," "The Man in the Stump," "When the Owl Married," "How Partridge Got His Whistle," "How Kingfisher Got His Bill," "The Groundhog Dance," "Why the 'Possum's Tail is Bare," "The Wolf and the Dog," "The Star Creatures," "The Thunders," "The Man of Ice," "The Nunnehi," "The Little People," "The War Medicine." Originally published Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1914.

"The Ballgame of Animals and Birds." In Howard, Gregg. Grandfather's Stories. CD. Richardson, TX: VIP Pub., 1998. Other Cherokee tales, told by Cherokee Gregg Howard: Intro -- Origin of Fire -- -- Why Mole Lives Underground -- Why Rabbit has a Short Tail -- Why Possum's Tail is Bare -- Little Turtle -- Why Bat Flies at Night.

"A Cherokee Ball Game" and "A Cherokee Legend." In USKids History: Book of the American Indians. By Marlene Smith-Baranzini and Howard Egger-Bovet. Illus. T. Taylor Bruce. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. "Offers insights into the day-to-day lives, customs, and beliefs of various North American Indian tribes before the arrival of the Europeans. Includes ideas for related activities."

See also:

Other pourquoi tales about animals, natural phenomena, and human inventions are listed in the Native American section of this index, the animal tale index, and AppLit's picture book bibliography. Pourquoi elements are also found in tall tales such as Tony Beaver, Isaacs and Zelinsky's Swamp Angel, and Steven Kellogg's Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett. See study guide on Tall Tales and Jack Tales.

Compare with:

Bruchac, Joseph. Illus. The Great Ball Game: A Muskogee Tale. Illus. Susan Roth. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1994. The animals win after the small underdog bat helps them beat the birds. The tale explains why bats are considered animals and why birds fly south in winters—because the victorious bat ordered them to leave half the year. With textured paper collages. Publishers Weekly points out that "in its call for an athletic game to settle a dispute—and thereby avoid fighting—the book handily inverts the Greco-Roman tradition of sport as training for war" (1994).

Why Bat Has No Friends - a Native American tale retold by a contributor to Animal Myths and Legends (a web site for children in which contributors retell tales they have heard, in their own words). Bat claims to be a bird or an animal, lying about being on the winning side in battles between animals and birds. After the two sides make peace, the Chief reprimands him. "And that's why Bat always flies at night and doesn't have any friends."

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