This story comes from the Seneca people, who lived in the Iroquois Nation in what is now central and western New York and Pennsylvania. This story is a synthesis of two stories recorded on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York by Jeremiah Curtin in the 1880's and J.N.B. Hewitt in the 1890's. Curtin and Hewitt collected their stories from several elderly Seneca, including Abraham Johnny-John, Solomon O'Bail, George Titus, George Armstrong, Zachariah Jimeson, Andrew Fox, Henry Jacob, Henry Silverheels, Peter White, Black Chief, Phoebe Logan, Truman Halftown, and Chief Priest Henry Stevens.

Long ago, before this earth existed, humans lived in the sky, and they were ruled by a great chief. This chief’s lodge was near a tall tree that had white blossoms and that every year produced corn for the people to eat. When this tree bloomed, there was light, but once its blossoms fell, darkness descended until its next flowering.

Once this chief’s daughter became ill with a disease no one had seen before. Despite her people’s best efforts to cure her, she did not get well, and all the people were worried. Someone in the tribe dreamed that she would be cured if the tree was pulled up by its roots. No one in the tribe wanted to do that, so they ignored the dream as an aberration. This person had another dream that the people must dig a trench around the tree and uproot it to save the chief’s daughter, but again the dream went ignored. Only after a third such dream did the people begin digging. They dug a trench around the tree, severing the roots as they went. When the last root was cut, the tree disappeared into the ground, into what seemed to be a bottomless hole.

Many of the people were distraught, and one young man in particular complained about the destruction of the tree. The chief’s daughter had been brought to the tree in hopes that she would be cured, and the young man was so angry that he kicked her into the hole. Soon she disappeared from the view of her people as she fell into the apparent abyss.

The young woman fell through darkness, but eventually it became light and she saw that she was falling into water, and in fact there was no land at all in sight. The animals saw her, however, and they resolved to save her. At the loon’s direction, the fish hawk flew up to catch her, and the fish hawk deposited her on the turtle’s back. Even Turtle grew tired of holding her, however, and the animals decided they needed land on which to place her. Several dove down to find mud in the water, but they failed until Toad tried and came back with some wet dirt. Soon the other diving animals did likewise, and Beaver patted the mud down on Turtle’s back to make an island. Before long the island was quite large, and bushes began to grow at its banks.

The young woman recovered from her disease, and in fact she soon gave birth to a daughter. She raised her daughter on the island, and they ate potatoes that they grew there. When they went out to dig potatoes, she warned her daughter that she must always face the west. This was so that the west wind could not enter her and make her pregnant. The daughter nonetheless disobeyed, and soon she was heavy with child. She could hear twins inside her debating how to exit her body. One was born naturally, but the other was born through his mother’s armpit, and she died from the wound.

The two brothers grew up together, but the younger was disagreeable and angry. They decided that the island needed more life, so they the made the forests and lakes. One day they divided the island in half, with each to make his own animals. The older brother made human beings, and he breathed life into them. He also made many animals that were fat and slow moving, he made the sycamore tree bear fruit, and he made the rivers flow both ways, with one half going upstream and one half going downstream. The younger brother also made many animals, including a huge mosquito that knocked down trees when it flew, and he made his half of the island rocky and full of ledges and precipices. The younger brother tried to make humans, but he could only make ugly animals, and in his anger he vowed that he would make animals that would eat humans.

The two brothers returned home to their grandmother’s lodge, and decided that the next day they would go out to see what each other had done. First they went to the younger brother’s half, where the older brother was distressed at the huge mosquito that could kill his people. He grabbed the mosquito and rubbed it between his hands until it was tiny, and it flew away when he blew on it. Then they went to see the older brother’s half of the island, where the younger brother was disgusted because life would be too easy for the humans. He took many of his brother’s animals and made them smaller and faster so they couldn’t be caught, and he made the fruit of the sycamore tiny and unpalatable, and he made all the rivers flow downstream so that humans would have to work to travel.

Soon the two brothers got into a terrible fight about how each had changed the other half of the island, and in their battle the older brother was killed. The older brother went to his home in the sky, where those who live good lives go to join him, and the younger brother went on to spread evil, and when evil people die they are tormented by him because he could not make a human.