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The Flying Head
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois


Note: Ideally, the best way for this story to be communicated is in the Old Way - elders gathered with their younger relatives, during the colder months, educating each other within the family circle. The written word can only convey a part of the richness of a story such as this. However, in trying to convey the rhythm of the oral tradition, I have broken the story into small pieces. Enjoy.


This old Indian story was told to me by two Standing Stone Indians when I was a boy.

Many winters ago, near Oneida Lake, there was an Oneida settlement.

In this settlement there was a famous hunter whose name was Wolf Marked.

Wolf Marked lived in a bark house at the edge of the village.

His only companions were two large wolf-like dogs who never left his side. They were his constant companions and Wolf Marked treated them as his brothers.

It was said that while hunting, these swift dogs would drive the game to Wolf Marked. This famous hunter was never known to have returned from the trail empty handed.

Wolf Marked was well liked by other members of his nation. A portion of all game brought down by his arrows was always given to the needy, the widow and the orphan.

He was always ready to help those of his people who were in want or need. His aid was given willingly and he always refused pay or reward for his services.

No one was fleeter of foot than this young man and ofter the chiefs of his nation sent him with wampum messages down the long trail that bound one end of the Long House Country to the other. His wisdom was also great and his advice was often asked at Council.

He was a great ball player and many times his strong arm and fleet foot carried the ball through the goal post of a rival people. In feats of endurance and strength he excelled all others of his people.

On Sun Wolf Marked made prepararions for a hunt. With a new quiver of arrows and a pack of provisions he left the village.

His trail led toward the Great Panther.

On each side of him trotted one of his faithful dogs.

All day he traveled, his eyes ever alert for signs of game. But on this day all life in the forest seemed to have vanished. Over the entire countryside a deep silence had fallen. Not a bird sang a song. Not a rabbit crossed the trail. No leaf restled in the wind. The forest was silent.

Wolf Marked was looking for signs of bear and deer.

He wondered why his two faithful dogs traveled close to his feet. He wondered why their hair rose on their backs, why they acted as though they feared something. They sniffed the air looking toward the north, growling low in their throats. In this manner they traveled the entire day.

Toward sunset Wolf Marked prepared camp, making a fire, cooking their evening meal.

As Wolf Marked wondered at the strange behavior of his dogs he thought that he heard a strange wailing cry coming from the Great Bear. His dogs answered by growling in their throats. He knew that they feared something very unusual.

One of the dogs looked Wolf Marked straight in the face and spoke, "Friend do not be surprised that we can speak to you in your own language. Because you have been kind to us, always sharing with us, treating us as your brothers, we are going to break the rule to warn you. A terrible monster who is master in the forest is approaching you. You must flee and head for a clearing because only there can he do you no harm. Flee while you can and immediately."

There was no mistaking the terror in the eyes of his dogs. With a bound Wolf Marked flung his pack aside and ran down the trail toward the village, his dogs following close behind him.

He knew that his only hope for life was to reach the clearing that surrounded his village.

As Wolf Marked ran he heard the terrible scream of the monster. It was a high, long drawn out, piercing wail. It was a cry he had never heard before. It sounded like the combination of the howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther and the roar of the north wind. As Wolf Marked ran the wail got nearer and nearer. The creature was fast gaining on him.

Once, while at the foot of a hill, he glanced back.

What he saw startled him so much that he almost froze in his tracks. A great fiery head with large, round yellow eyes, a large hooked beak and large open mouth appeared over the brow of the hill. The creature had fiery hair that flowed in a long wavy streak as the monster traveled. It had no body but fastened to the bottom of the head were two scale-covered paws, on the ends of which were curved, ugly looking claws.

The monster traveled in a peculiar fashion. It would jump to the foot of a tree, climb the tree and then jump to the foot of another tree. In this way it traveled very rapidly. There was a wide burnt path cutting back through the forest where the creature had traveled.

Soon Wolf Marked could feel the hot breath of the creature on the back of his neack. One of his dogs spoke to him saying, "Brother, the creature is almost upon us. I am going back to fight it. I can delay it for a little while, but I will never see you again on this earth. Farewell, kind and good friend." Saying this the dog turned and ran back.

Wolf Marked heard barking and growling and then a yelp of pain. He knew that his faithful friend was dead and was being eaten by the head. His friend had given his life for him.

Wolf Marked ran on. The village was just around the bend of a hill. If he could only make it, he knew that he would be safe. Again he heard the wailing cry of the creature. Nearer and nearer it sounded. He could feel the hot breath of the head singe his head hair. Sparks from its fiery mouth fell around him. The monster was close.

His brave dog fell behind him getting between the Monster and Wolf Marked.

The remaining dog said, "Brother, the creature is almost upon us. Perhaps I can delay it until you reach the village. I am going back to fight it. I will never see you again on this earth. Farewell, kind and faithful friend."

Saying this, the dog turned and ran back over the trail. Wolf Marked heard barking and growling and then a yelp of pain. He knew that his faithful friend was dead and was being eaten by the monster.

He was tired but ran on and after a brief silence he again heard the wail of the monster. He could hear the creature getting nearer as it cut a burning path through the forest. He could feel the hot breath burn his neck. He could sense its huge eyes upon him.

Ahead of him he could see the sky lit up by the fires of the village.

With a staggering run he entered the clearing in the center of which was the village. Running across the field he came to a stop and with his startled people looked back over his trail.

A great head came bounding up to the edge of the forest. Showers of sparks shot from its mouth. Its great yellow eyes glared in fiery hatred at the people. With a mighty bound and a terrible cry of anger, it turned and disappeared over the dark forest, traveling toward the North.

In ancient days, this story was told to show the fidelity of a dog. It was and is a belief of the Old People that a person who was cruel to dogs could never reach the Land of Happy Spirits.

Please do not reprint this without asking.

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