Most readers of this magazine are familiar with ancient legends that seem to describe human encounters with extraterrestrials in prehistoric times—Ezekiel and the wheels within wheels, stories of sky-gods in ancient Egypt, winged gods in Mesopotamia, the Dogon tribe in Africa. Less well known are Native American legends that may also point to an awareness of beings from the skies, of actual encounters with aliens.
Any number of New Age books and websites now purport to contain accounts of Native American interactions with ETs and other beings—be it through direct physical contact, ethereal shamanism or other means—but a serious look at the subject of ancient encounters requires sources that predate modern influences.
This author had an early interest in such Indian/Native American stories because my maternal grandmother in rural Arkansas used to talk about such things. Because she considered herself and our family to be of Cherokee descent, I was naturally drawn to the stories of that tribe of Native Americans. Her mother, my great-grandmother, used to regale us kids with stories of legendary Cherokee figures—The Ridge, Stand Watie, John Ross—and told us about tribal legends as well. Unfortunately, I was too young to write down, or to remember, the details of those strange tales, and later I was too involved with teenage concerns to tape-record them while my grandmother was still living. But, with that interest in mind, I later visited the Eastern Cherokees in Cherokee, North Carolina, where I found an old book by nineteenth century anthropologist, James Mooney. Reading his work reinforced many of the old stories.
In Myths of the Cherokees and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, originally published in 1888, Mooney presents information about how one Native American tribe may have encountered aliens and other mysterious creatures, recording these accounts as campfire stories and legends. As an anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution, Mooney spent the years of 1887 through 1890 living with the Cherokees of North Carolina, listening to their stories, recording their myths, legends, and sacred formulas. Because Mooney’s works were published long before the age of flight and even before the Great Airship Flap of the late 1890’s, we can consider these reports as untainted by more modern interest in UFOs and aliens of all stripes.
Encounters of the Third Kind?
Of particular interest are Cherokee legends of strange flying creatures. As with Ezekiel and other ancient witnesses to strange objects and beings descending from the sky, we can readily interpret the old stories in light of the thousands of UFO encounters reported in the modern age. One of Mooney’s interviewees, an old chief named Swimmer, for example, told the story of “What the Stars Are Like.”
“There are different opinions about the stars. Some say they are balls of light, others say they are human, but most people say they are living creatures covered with luminous fur or feathers. “One night a hunting party camping in the mountains noticed two lights like large stars moving along the top of a distant ridge. They wondered and watched until the light disappeared on the other side. The next night, and the next, they saw the lights again moving along the ridge, and after talking over the matter decided to go on the morrow and try to learn the cause. In the morning they started out and went until they came to the ridge, where, after searching some time, they found two strange creatures about so large (making a circle with outstretched arms), with round bodies covered with fine fur or downy feathers, from which small heads stuck out like the heads of terrapins. As the breeze played upon these feathers, showers of sparks flew out. “The hunters carried the strange creatures back to the camp, intending to take them home to the settlements on their return. They kept them several days and noticed that every night they would grow bright and shine like great stars, although by day they were only balls of gray fur, except when the wind stirred and made the sparks fly out. They kept very quiet, and no one thought of their trying to escape, when, on the seventh night, they suddenly rose from the ground like balls of fire and were soon above the tops of the trees. Higher and higher they went, while the wondering hunters watched, until at last they were only two bright points of light in the dark sky, and then the hunters knew that they were stars.”
Interpretation of this story depends upon one’s viewpoint. A folklorist or mythologist might claim that the tale merely serves to satisfy a primitive society’s curiosity about the nature of the heavenly lights. But a UFOlogist can well imagine that an actual encounter event might have occurred first, with the explanation of the stars coming later.
The initial sighting of lights moving along the ridge could be compared to current reports of UFO landings, or of the recent ubiquitous “orbs,” and the fuzzy, rotund star-men, to extraterrestrial visitors. The Cherokee hunting party may have indeed come upon alien creatures with reptilian heads (or with hard, head-covering helmets that could look similar to a tortoise’s), dressed in pressurized suits of a shiny, reflective or radiant material that crinkled as the creatures moved or the wind blew. Static electricity or defensive systems could explain the sparks, which may appear to the natives to be driven by wind. They would have no concept of an advanced technology able to generate sparks or illumination at will.
When the two creatures escaped through whatever means and rose into the sky, the Cherokees would have seen them disappear into the distance. A primitive observer, knowing nothing else about cosmology, could logically conclude that since these shining man-like creatures went back into the sky, they must be stars, and thus by extension, all stars are such creatures.
An open-minded modern observer, armed with more sophisticated knowledge of the universe and its phenomena, must keep open the possibility that the ancient Cherokees of the story were reporting an encounter with aliens, or at least some sort of beings with advanced technologies.
Encounters of the Second Kind?
According to Mooney, the North Carolina Cherokees had more local legends than did all their relatives in the rest of their vast ancient territory. This may be affected by the more extreme topology in western North Carolina—taller mountains, darker valleys, numerous bald knobs, dangerous crevasses, rivers, waterfalls, whirlpools—or merely because more strangeness does occur in the mountains of the Tar Heel State. Several of these legends and their locales carry on the tradition of strange creatures that today would be classified as Close Encounters of the Second Kind.
“TSUKILÛÑNÛÑ’YÏ: ‘Where he alighted,’ two, small bald spots on the side of the mountain at the head of Little Snowbird creek, southwest of Robbinsville, in Graham county. A mysterious being, having the form of a giant, with head blazing like the sun, was once seen to fly through the air, alight at this place, and stand for some time looking out over the landscape. It then flew away, and when the people came afterward to look, they found the herbage burned from the ground where it had stood. They do not know who it was, but some think it may have been the Sun.”
From the UFOlogical viewpoint, this “giant” could have been a flying craft of some kind, its landing legs causing the Cherokees to think it a giant humanoid. The “head blazing like the sun” could describe a polished metal nose or fuselage, an illuminated forward cabin, a retro rocket or a nose cone glowing from re-entry. The fact that this mysterious being stood “…for some time looking out over the landscape…” suggests a reconnaissance mission, and the burnt herbage the remnant of a powered landing and ascent. In our modern times, Ted Phillips of MUFON has researched and documented nearly 4000 UFO landing events that left behind burnt debris and various chemicals. There is no reason to believe that prehistoric UFO landings would not have had similar physical effects.
Possible Physical Artifacts
Most ancient peoples and tribes told stories of monsters, and the Cherokee were no different. In particular, their legends of the serpent-like monster, the Uktena, describe an almost robot-like creature: “…as large around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a bright, blazing crest like a diamond upon its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length, and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life. The blazing diamond is called Ulûñsû’tî, ‘Transparent,’ and he who can win it may become the greatest wonder worker of the tribe, but it is worth a man’s life to attempt it, for whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.” “Of all the daring warriors who have started out in search of the Ulûñsû’tî, only Âgän-uni’tsï ever came back successful. The East Cherokee still keep the one which he brought. It is like a large transparent crystal, nearly the shape of a cartridge bullet, with a blood-red streak running through the center from top to bottom.”
In modern technology, transparent crystals often form the basis of laser-driven energy weapons. A transparent crystal with a red streak running through it suggests an electronic component with an internal wire for power or other electronic connection. Could it have happened that a Cherokee warrior encountered a robotic alien device or landing craft having a dazzling bright light—the Uktena—attacked it, and broke off a part? If that artifact still exists, it would be of great interest to science, and proof of alien visitation.
All over the world, ancient cultures spoke of hidden worlds adjacent to our own, where the ravages of primitive life were salved, where peace reigned and food was plentiful. Some of the Cherokee legends Mooney recorded also tell of offers by strange creatures to remove the Native Americans from their villages and take them to live immortal lives of plenty and peace. One such story is this:
“Long ago, long before the Cherokee were driven from their homes in 1838, the people on Valley river and Hiwassee heard voices of invisible spirits in the air calling and warning them of wars and misfortunes which the future held in store, and inviting them to come and live with the Nûñnë’hï, the Immortals, in their homes under the mountains and under the waters. For days the voices hung in the air, and the people listened until they heard the spirits, say ‘If you would live with us, gather everyone in your townhouses and fast there for seven days and no one must raise a shout or a warwhoop in all that time. Do this and we shall come and you will see us and we shall take you to live with us.’ ”
The people were afraid of the evils that were to come, and they knew that the Immortals of the mountains and the waters were happy forever, so they counciled in their townhouses and decided to go with them. Those of Anisgayâ’yï town came all together into their townhouse and prayed and fasted for six days. On the seventh day there was a sound from the distant mountains, and it came nearer and grew louder until a roar of thunder was all about the townhouse and they felt the ground shake under them. Now they were frightened, and despite the warning some of them screamed out. The Nûñnë’hï, who had already lifted up the townhouse with its mound to carry it away, were startled by the cry and let a part of it fall to the earth, where now we see the mound of Së`tsï. They steadied themselves again and bore the rest of the townhouse, with all the people in it, to the top of Tsuda’ye`lûñ’yï (Lone peak), near the head of Cheowa, where we can still see it, changed long ago to solid rock, but the people are invisible and immortal.”
Again, a UFOlogist or Fortean may choose to interpret this story as a report of the voluntary abduction of some Native Americans by a power that “came nearer and grew louder until a roar of thunder was all about the townhouse and they felt the ground shake under them.” To a modern reader, this sounds much like a huge craft coming over the village and lifting up a portion of it to take away.
Encounters or Tall Tales?
Although some legends and campfire stories can possibly be attributed to story-telling to explain certain natural phenomena, these few Cherokee tales contain some factors that should lead researchers to study their reality further:
Reptilian creatures in shiny, sparkling suits, captured after nights of observing lights along a ridge; beings that float up and away, disappearing into the distant sky.
A giant with a blazing head, which landed on a hilltop, surveilled the area for a while, and then took off, leaving a burned area at the landing site.
An alien artifact, a transparent crystal with a thin red wire down its center, the size of a rifle cartridge, taken by a warrior who fought a robot-like entity and broke off a piece of it.
A loud thundering noise that grew ever closer, finally shaking the ground of a village townhouse, and raising up a portion of that structure, taking it away.
Standing alone, each strange story might be mildly interesting, but put together as pieces of an unfinished puzzle, in my estimation they describe a primitive people’s encounters with strange beings with great power.