Return of Ice Man


Native American Lore

Once during the autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains some dry leaves in the woods caught fire, and before the people could beat out the flames the fire spread to a big poplar tree. The tree blazed fiercely until it turned to ashes, and then the fire went down into the roots and burned a great hole in the ground. It burned and burned, and the hole grew constantly larger, until the people became frightened and were afraid it would burn the whole world. Time after time they tried to extinguish the fire, but it had gone too deep, and they did not know what to do.

At last a chief said that Ice Man was the only one who could put out the fire, and he lived in a house of ice far away to the north. The chief called the people together for a council to choose two messengers to journey northward in search of Ice Man.

After travelling a long distance the messengers found Ice Man. He was a very old person with long hair hanging down to the ground in two plaits. The messengers told him why they had come to ask his help.

"Oh, yes," replied Ice Man, "I can help you put out that fire." He began to unplait his long hair. When it was all unbraided, he took a thatch of it in one hand and struck it across his other hand, and the messengers felt a chill wind blow against their faces. A second time he struck his hair across his hand, and a light rain began to fall. The third time he struck his hair across his open hand, sleet rattled upon the ground, and when he struck the fourth time a heavy snow began to fall, as if it had come from the ends of his hair.

"Go back to your village," Ice Man said, "and I shall be there in a few days." The messengers speedily returned to their people, who were still gathered helplessly around the great burning pit.

A few days later, while they were all fearfully watching the fire, a strong wind blew from the north, and they knew it came from Ice Man. But the wind only made the fire blaze brighter. Then a light rain began to fall, but the drops seemed only to make the fire hotter with scalding steam. Then the shower turned into a heavy sleet storm that smothered the blaze but made clouds of smoke rise from the red coals.

While the people fled to their houses for shelter, the storm rose to a whirlwind that drove countless flakes of snow into every burning crevice and covered the embers with a white blanket until the fire was dead. Not even a wisp of smoke could be seen in the deep hole.

When at last the storm ended, the people returned and found a lake where the pit had been. Today some people in the Great Smokies say that below the waters of that lake they can hear the sound of coals still crackling.

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