AppLit Home Native American Tales / Appalachian Animal Tales Tina L. Hanlon

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare" - or - "How the Possum Lost His Tail"


Note: Some Cherokee storytellers, such as Gayle Ross, are from outside Appalachia, but they and their stories are descended from the strong Cherokee culture that their ancestors took from the Southeast to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears.

Cherokee Tales

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Arneach, Lloyd. "Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." In Long-Ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee. Illus. Elizabeth Ellison. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008. Arneach is a native Cherokee professional storyteller.

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." In Erdoes, Richard, and Alfonso Ortiz, eds. American Indian Trickster Tales. New York: Viking, 1998. The other Cherokee tale in this book is "Rabbit and Possum on the Prowl."

"How the Possum Lost His Beautiful Tail." 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."

"How the Possum Lost His Beautiful Tail" as retold by Kathi Smith Littlejohn, "How the Possum Lost his Tail" as told by Davey Arch, and "How the Possum Lost his Tail" as retold by Freeman Owle. In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998. 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. 

Duvall, Deborah LThe Opossum's Tail. Illus. Murv Jacob. Grandmother Stories Series. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2005. 32 pp. "In this seventh volume of the Grandmother Stories, Si-qua the Opossum brags constantly about his tail until his neighbors can stand it no more. Something must be done about him! The prideful Si-qua is overcome by loss and despair when his outer beauty is suddenly gone. But an unexpected ally helps Si-qua discover powerful abilities within himself that will soon win the true admiration of his friends."

Ross, Gayle. "Why Possum's Tail is Bare." In How Rabbit Tricked Otter and Other Cherokee Trickster Stories. Illus. Murv Jacobs. The Parabola Storytime Series. HarperCollins, 1994. pp. 19-23. A Cherokee storyteller tells fifteen tales of Rabbit, the Cherokee trickster hero, from a time when animals and people spoke the same language. This tale has two full-page acrylic paintings by an illustrator of Cherokee-Kentucky descent. Foreword by Chief Wilma Mankiller. Also recorded as an audio cassette. Ross is from Texas, but she and her stories are descended from the strong Cherokee culture that their ancestors took from the Southeast to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears; she is a direct descendant of the nineteenth-century chief John Ross.

"Possum's Tail." Bruchac, Joseph. Pushing Up the Sky: Seven Native American Plays for Children. Illus. Teresa Flavin. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000. "Uses drama to tell seven different stories from Native American traditions including the Abenaki, Ojibway, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Snohomish, Tlingit, and Zuni." Bruchac's drama "Possum's Tail" is also available as an Ebook.

"Why The Possum's Tail Is Bare." In Underwood, Thomas B. Cherokee Legends and the Trail of Tears. Illus. Amanda Crowe. Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Publications, 1956. (23rd printing, 2002). Adapted from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Ten short tales with small colored drawings: "How the Earth was Made," "The Rattlesnake's Vengeance," "How The Milky Way Came To Be,""Ataga'hi, The Magic Lake," "The Race Between The Crane and The Hummingbird," "Why The Buzzard's Head Is Bare," "Why The Mink Smells," "The Katydid's Warning," and "The First Fire." "Cherokee Indian Ball Game" tells the history of the game, not the animal tale. Also the John G. Burnett version of "Removal of the Cherokees 1838-39." Background on the Cherokee Museum is given. The cover shows Stormy Weather, a picture telling a story of a quarreling man and woman.

"Why Possum Has a Naked Tail." In Caduto, Michael J. and Joseph Bruchac. Keepers of the Animals: Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1991. Similar books in this series include Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1988, with two Cherokee tales from North Carolina: "The Coming of Corn" and "Awi Usdi, The Little Deer." Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children (1994, Foreword by Appalachian writer Marilou Awiakta) contains a Cherokee story, "Why Some Trees Are Always Green." See also AppLit's Nature and the Environment in Appalachian Literature.

Smith, Jimmy Neil, ed. Why the Possum's Tail is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories. New York: Avon, 1993. pp. 121-23. In the section "How Things Got to Be the Way They Are," the title tale is labeled "A wry Cherokee legend about the foolishness of vanity" (p. 121). Reprinted from James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee (1900). Smith is a founder of the Jonesborough National Storytelling Festival.

"How the Possum Lost his Tail." In Lechner, Judith V. Allyn & Bacon Anthology of Traditional Literature. New York: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2004. Reprinted from Duncan's Living Stories of the Cherokee (see above).

"The Opossum's Tail." In Keeper, Berry. The Old Ones Told Me: American Indian Stories for Children. Portland, OR: Binford & Mort, 1989. Contents (from Worldcat): Where the dog ran (Cherokee) -- Raven steals the sun (intertribal) -- Story of Mother Bear (Haida) -- Raven and the fisherman (intertribal) -- The mermaid (Coos) -- Raven helps (Siuslaw) -- The opossum's tail (Cherokee) -- The catfish (Menomini) -- Thunderbird (Quillayute) -- The arrival of maple sugar (Chippewa) -- The love of Feather Cloud (Paiute).

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." In Scheer, George F., ed. Cherokee Animal Tales. Illus. Robert Frankenberg. Holiday House, 1968. Rpt. Tulsa, OK: Council Oak Books, 1992. pp. 75-79. With a soft pencil drawing of many animals at their council, laughing at Possum dancing with a bare tail.

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." 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. 71-73.

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." In Traveller Bird. The Path to Snowbird Mountain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972. Illustrations. Cataloged as a juvenile book. "Abstract: Fifteen legends told to the author by his kinsmen include fables, an explanation of the earth's origin, and other Cherokee lore" (WorldCat).

"Why the Possum's Tail is Bare." In Myths of the Cherokee. Ed. James Mooney. From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. 1900. Reprinted in Internet Sacred Text Archive, 2001.

"Why Possum's Tail is Bare." Told by Cherokee Gregg Howard. In Howard, Gregg, and Nash Hernandez. Tales of Wonder Traditional Native American Stories for Children. CD. Dallas, TX: Rich-Heape Films, 1998. Also in Heape, Steven R., Chip Richie, Gregg Howard, Nash Hernandez, and Kathleen Raymond Roan. Tales of Wonder: Traditional Native American Fireside Stories. VHS video. Dallas, TX: Rich-Heape Films, 1998. 60 min. DVD 2004 contains additional tales.

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

"Why Possum's Tail is Bare." In Greene, Gary. Tales from the Enchanted Land of the Cherokee. CD. [Kingston, Ga.?]: G. Greene, 2004. Other contents (from Worldcat): "Rabbit and Old Man Flint," "The Legend of the Corn Beads." "Spearfinger," "Why Owl Has a Spotted Coat," "The Ravel Mockers," "The Little People," "The Return of the Iceman," "Cherokee Names," "The World is Full of Stories," Bonus track: "The Wolves Within" (a Lakota Sioux story).

"Why the 'Possum's Tail is Bare." 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," "Ball Game of the Birds and Animals," "The Groundhog Dance," "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.

"Why the Possum's Tale is Bare." In Connolly, James E. (compiler). Why the Possum's Tale is Bare and Other North American Indian Nature Tales. Illus. Andrea Adams. Owings Mills, Maryland: Stemmer House, 1985. 64 pp. Other contents (from Worldcat): Tales of Eastern Woodland Tribes: How the bear lost its tail (Iroquois) -- The hermit thrush (Iroquois) -- How the rabbit stole the otter's coat (Cherokee) -- The race between the crane and the hummingbird (Cherokee) -- How the turtle beat the rabbit (Cherokee) -- The broken wing (Ojibway/Chippewa) -- Rabbit searches for his dinner (Micmac). Tales of Western Plains and Coastal Tribes: How the rabbit lost its tail (Sioux) -- Old Man and the bobcat (Blackfoot) -- The origin of the chickadee (Cree) -- The mallard's tail (Cree) -- Coyote in the cedar tree (Chinook).

"Possum's Beautiful Tail." In Young, Richard, and Judy Dockrey Young, eds. Race with Buffalo and Other Native American Stories for Young Readers. Little Rock: August House, 1994.

"Why the Possum's Tale is Bare." In Powell, Patricia Hruby. Hans & Gret: The Rap and Other Stories from Around the World. Sound Cassette. Tuscola, IL: One Plus One, 1996.

"Why the Opossum's Tail is Bare." Cherokee tale online in Stonees Web Lodge. This site also has legends about bear and rabbit losing their tails.

"Why Opossum's Tail is Bare" is a Cherokee legend retold by a contributor to Animal Myths and Legends, a web site that encourages contributors to send their own retellings of tales and drawings.

"Possum's Tail." In Ellington, Charlotte Jane. Dancing Leaf. Johnson City, Tenn: Overmountain Press, 2007. A novel in which "authentic Cherokee legends begin each chapter and are woven into the adventures of Dancing Leaf, a character based on the adopted daughter of Cherokee chieftainess Nancy Ward" (Worldcat). They include one about how the possum got a bare tail, "The Uktena," "Why Turtle's Shell is Scarred," "The Legend of the Strawberries," "The Daughter of the Sun," and others. See also list of Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit and Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Cowen, Agnes. Why the Possum's Tail is Bare = [Nuyheldv nuwuyatvna jigi ujejsdi ganidadv'i.]. Tahlequah, OK: Cherokee Bilingual Education Program, 1974.

Owle, Freeman. "How the Possum Lost His Tail." Lesson for K-1st grade, on Cherokee tale told by Freeman Owle, with text of tale from Living Stories of the Cherokee, ed. Barbara R. Duncan (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1998, pp. 212-215). Museum of the Cherokee Indian web site, Cherokee, NC.

brown quilt square Related Appalachian Tales

Ford, Lyn. "Why Possum's Tail is Bare."Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition. Little Rock: Parkhurst Brothers, 2012. pp. 43-46. This tale begins with the story of Noah's flood. Possum hides in a corner to sleep while everyone else is busy entertaining each other until they can get off the boat. Ham, Noah's son, invents the first banjo. When he needs new strings, he pulls them from a cobwebby pile of strings in a corner that is Possum hiding under his bushy tail. When he wakes up and sees his bare tail, he faints, as he has been doing ever since when he fears that someone will take more of his tail. Ford's father told her pourquoi tales such as this "about the Good Lord and the folks of the Bible, but never within earshot of the preachers or Sunday School teachers in the family, including my mother.... Daddy said these were stories nobody believed, 'but they told them anyway'" (p. 46).

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

Duvall, Deborah LHow Rabbit Lost his Tail: A Traditional Cherokee Legend. Illus. Murv Jacob. Grandmother Stories Series. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2003. 32 pp. Rabbit has the Cherokee name Ji-Stu in this version of the tale.

"Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun." Retold by James Mooney. Illus. Leo and Diane Dillon. In Cohn, Amy L., ed. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. New York:  Scholastic, 1993, pp. 12-13. Possum gets the fur burned off his tail trying to get light from the sun for the people. Buzzard gets his head feathers burned off. Grandmother Spider makes a pot of clay and since she is small, the people who have light don't notice her taking the sun to her side of the world, where the people now have sun, fire, and pottery making. 

brown quilt square Related Tales from Other Regions

"About Possum's Tail." Deekeelshewa, Unci, and Jason Brown. All My Relations. CD. Monterey, MA: Four Colors, 1996. "Traditional Nakota Indian legends and wisdom with musical acc. based on North American Indian folk music" (Worldcat).

"Why Possum's Tail is Bare." In Salley, Coleen, and Cactus Pryor. Texas Favorites. Sound cassettes. [New Orleans, La.]: Gateway Prods, 1986. An anthology of 23 Texas stories.

"Possum's Tail." In Ford, Lyn. Papa God's Gift: African American Creation Tales. CD. Reynoldsburgh, OH: Lyn Ford, 2003. "These tales are all rooted in stories I heard as a child. Thank you to the storytellers in my family!"--Container insert.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mr. Turtle's Flying Adventure: Hollow Tree Stories. New York: Harper, 1917. Includes tales called "Mr 'Possum's Car" and "How Mr. 'Possum's Tail Became Bare."

brown quilt square Hispanic Connection

"The Possum's Tail" (How fire came to the world): A Mazatec myth. In Vigil, Angel. The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Stories from Mexico = El águila encima del nopal: cuentos tradicionales de Mexico. Transl. Francisco Miraval. World folklore series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 2000.

"Opossum Steals Fire." In Peck, Catherine, ed. QPB Treasury of North American Folktales. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1998. pp. 10-11. Opossum convinces the old woman who is hoarding fire to let him near her fire. He takes the fire on his tail to people, so the opossum's tail is bald and he has asked people never to eat him. A Mexican tale from The Mythology of Mexico and Central America by John Bierhorst (1990). Peck notes that in some North American tales, fox gets fire and that is why his feet are black.

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