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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 18 , 2002 - Issue 61


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The Legend of the Thunderhawk

by Geoff Hampton
Note: This is the first in a series about Thunderhawk
Thunderhawk was a red tail hawk that lived in the area of Eastern Tennessee known as happy valley, which is nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. All creatures, both great and small knew of Thunderhawk. The massive redtail was a great hunter, with extraordinary strength, speed and agility. Thunderhawk was an unbelievable sight. His massive body, the awesome blaze of white across the front of his body, the majestic manner in which he soared and the way the sun glistened off of his striking red tail feathers made this hawk a sight to see! His face appeared to be etched in granite by the finest sculptor in the world. He was extraordinarily beautiful, yet frightening. The very sight of him sent shivers up and down the spines of all of the creatures of happy valley. Many animals and birds in happy valley had fallen prey to the powerful Thunderhawk. His hunting prowess was legendary throughout happy valley and all of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

The legend of Thunderhawk was born when a young Cherokee warrior discovered the bird at the verge of death. Thunderhawk was only six months old and had been shot by a careless human. The young warrior, who was named "Running Deer" was foraging for food when he came upon the critically wounded hawk. It was a terrible day, with powerful thunderstorms ripping through happy valley.

Running Deer gently picked Thunderhawk up and put him in his buckskin pouch, speaking to him softly with reassuring words as he returned to his camp. Upon returning to camp, Running Deer ever so gently took the bird out of his pouch. As the youth picked the dying hawk up to look into it's eyes, a tremendous clap of thunder echoed down from the heavens. The young Cherokee decided to name the beautiful raptor "Thunderhawk", to immortalize the moment that he and the bird had shared. It was an acceptance of each other and a lifelong promise to remember this powerful moment.

Running Deer spent the next year of his life away from his family, tending to the young hawk. The hawk responded with a will to live that the young Cherokee had never seen before. He would constantly speak softly and with great kindness to the beautiful bird. As Running Deer spoke to the hawk, it would look directly and intently, deeply into his eyes. The two had formed a special bond that most creatures can never experience. The closeness that the two developed was a big factor in the healing of Thunderhawk.

The hawk grew stronger and more powerful with each passing day. The young Cherokee was amazed at the size, strength and beauty of the redtail. Finally, one beautiful spring day, around the time when the deer bear their young, Running Deer knew that the time had come for him to return to his family and leave his special friend. His heart was overwhelmed with emotion as he began to break camp. Clearly, the hawk knew something was happening. He was very excitable and stayed very close to his Cherokee savior.

In an emotional, softly spoken farewell, Running Deer tried to explain what was happening. As he spoke, he began to remember all of the different things that had happened over the past year. He remembered how at first, he thought that the hawk would certainly die. Running Deer remembered how he had worked with Thunderhawk to help him learn about hunting and how inquisitive the red tail had been on so many different occasions. It had been a wonderful experience and he knew that he would never forget any of it. He wondered about how Thunderhawk would do on his own. He knew that the hawk was a tremendous hunter, so any fears were most likely unfounded. As he said his final farewell and turned to leave, Thunderhawk did something quite unexpected. He flew down onto the ground and grabbed Running Deer's pantleg! He began to tug at first gently, and then more aggressively.

The young Cherokee was deeply moved and sort of chuckled at the huge bird's actions. Running Deer stooped down and looked Thunderhawk directly in the eyes. "I must go now my friend. I will always remember you and your brave spirit. I know that I will probably never see you again, but I will never forget this special experience." The hawk seemed to understand. He let go of the pantleg and Running Deer slowly began to walk away. Thunderhawk took off and flew up into the sky. The Cherokee looked up in awe at the sight of this magnificent bird soaring up above him. The hawk began speak to Running Deer, "Screeee...Screee". The young Cherokee could not help but smile. He now was certain that the hawk would be fine!

The first year after Running Deer left, Thunderhawk worked hard to perfect his skills. He learned that he could make animals and birds flee easily. He realized that they were all scared of him. Sometimes, when he wasn't hungry, and felt mischievous, he would fly over one animal or another in a manner that caused his great shadow to pass directly over the target of his fun. Immediately, the creature would scamper, full speed for cover. It made the great hawk smile.

Other times, he would simply let out a call, "Screee...Screee", and enjoy a similar reaction. Thunderhawk would never forget the lessons that Running Deer had taught him. Especially how the young man had saved his life. The hawk was aware that he would have died without the assistance of the Cherokee.

Meet The O'Malley's

There were many inhabitants of happy valley. Included was a family of field mice named O'Malley. The O'Malley family originally came to the United States from Ireland in the late 19th century. They had come over on a ship bearing human settlers. As the settlers moved west from their point of entry at Norfolk, Virginia, they fell in love with the beauty and splendor of happy valley. Unbeknownst to the settlers, the O'Malley family had been traveling in their belongings!

This family of mice also fell in love with happy valley. Several generations of O'Malley's had settled throughout the valley and was the largest family of mice to be found. Papa Sean O'Malley was happily married to Virginia, who had been named for the state of Virginia, which is where her family entered America. Her maiden name was McWilliams, and her family had been in happy valley for many generations.

The two mice had met at a St. Patrick's day celebration seven years ago. St. Patrick's day is a very important day for the mice of Ireland. St. Patrick's day marks the age-old celebration of when St. Patrick successfully drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. Snakes of course love to eat mice, so the mice revered St. Patrick. They had been listening to one of the elders spinning tales about the "old country" when they met. The elders said that happy valley reminded them of the beautiful area of Ireland that the original mice settlers of the valley had come from. Sean and Virginia fell in "love at first sight". They were married within three months in an elaborate Irish mouse wedding. All of the mice in the valley came to the ceremony.

Papa O'Malley and Virginia, were very happy together and had seven children. Fiona was the oldest, followed by Sean Jr., Paddy, Colleen, Kelly, Meaghan and baby Shannon. Meaghan had been taken by a huge black snake three years ago. Kelly had fallen victim to a coyote about ten months later, and the family had been deeply saddened by these losses. Baby Shannon was the youngest of the O'Malley brood, and Papa O'Malley and Virginia would worry themselves sick every time the children went on adventures outside their home ground out of fear that something horrible might happen to their little baby Shannon!

Their home ground was a small crevice in an earthen mound of dead trees and overgrown ground vegetation. The home ground offered the family a safe haven, where they could move about in safety from most predators.

Papa O'Malley and Virginia were always on guard around their home ground, so the children were safe there. The children were happy and played together every day. Papa O'Malley had been teaching the children about life in the valley. Included in Papa's teachings were tips about how to have fun, different mouse games, places to go and a lot about safety.

The majority of the time spent talking about safety was in stories about the fearsome predator, Thunderhawk. The mighty hawk struck fear in the hearts of all the creatures in the valley. Papa O'Malley told the children many stories of different animals and birds that had been taken. In addition, there were many rumors about the mighty hawk taking young mice on the other side of the valley. Papa warned the children repeatedly to beware and stay alert for the hawk. He told them that the enormous hawk would just swoop down out of the sky to "tear them apart!" "It would just be for the fun of it for that hawk!", said Papa.

The children were understandably frightened about the hawk. All of the mice families were aware of the danger of the great bird and were always on the lookout. The danger was real, as many adult mice from both the O'Malley clan and the McWilliams clan had been taken through the years. However, the children were adventuresome and would go on exciting adventures throughout the valley. Some days, the children would go down to Chilhowie Lake to swim and play fun water games. Other days, they would climb up the mountain to "look rock" where they could gaze down in amazement at the beauty of their world!

Dangerous Mouse Games

As much fun as these great "adventures" were, they were filled with great danger. On one adventure, Paddy had gotten in a playful mood and had gotten away from the other children. Thunderhawk was hunting in that part of the valley that day and saw Paddy getting into trouble, as a coyote was hunting in the same area. The other children were busy playing and did not notice that their brother had wandered off.

As Paddy sang loudly, he carelessly jumped over an old dead log and suddenly found himself staring at the legs of the enormous hawk. As Paddy's eyes slowly, fearfully scanned up the huge body of the bird, he was frozen with fear! He wanted to scream out but no sound would come from his mouth. His body was being told to "run!" by his brain, but the fear had caused his muscle's to freeze.

Now he found himself looking straight into the fearsome eyes of the huge predator. Paddy's mouth was moving, but no sound came out. Suddenly, the hawk opened his mouth as if to take the mouse and menacingly snapped his beak. Suddenly, Paddy's muscle's unfroze. He let out a blood-curdling scream and began to run very, very fast.

The scream got the attention of his brothers and sisters. Suddenly, they were on full alert. Baby Shannon asked "What is that?" Fiona told the little mouse to be quiet and listen. Suddenly, the mice saw Paddy. His eyes were bulging out of his head from fear, and he was running faster than any mouse had ever seen him run before.

Fiona called out "What's the matter Paddy?". Paddy did not say a word, but ran past them as fast as his legs would carry him. This panicked the other mice, who also began to run and scream. They ran all the way home without stopping.

When they got there, Paddy was gasping for air and could not speak. Finally, Papa O'Malley was able to get him to explain what had happened. Everyone was horrified, but thanked their lucky stars that the mouse had been able to escape. Thunderhawk of course was pleased that he had taught the mouse a lesson about safety, but he could not control his laughter at the sight of the mouse's reaction.

The children stayed close by the home ground for a few weeks after the incident, but their sense of adventure wouldn't keep them there forever. About three weeks later, the young mice went down to Chilhowie Lake to play. They were having a great time. On this particular day, safety minded thinking again seemed to slip away. Fiona was busy flirting with her new boyfriend, Matty. Matty was from the town of Maryville many miles away, so when they were able to get together, they were totally involved with each other.

All of the little mice were paying so much attention to Matty and Fiona that they had forgotten completely about baby Shannon. Matty and Fiona were paying so much attention to each other, that danger was unknowingly creeping into the picture!

On this day, while the children were playing in the lake, a large water snake was slowly creeping toward them. The snake had his eyes set on baby Shannon. Water snakes love to eat mice and baby Shannon was a tempting morsel that was going to be easy to take.

Thunderhawk had seen the young O'Malley children heading for the lake. He had also seen the large water snake hunting in the area where the children were playing in. Baby Shannon was playing her favorite game. She would climb up on her favorite big rock and jump out as far as she could into the water and then swim back as fast as she could. It was soooo much fun! She even dreamed about it at night she loved it so much.

Normally, the other children would either play with Shannon, or at least watch over her for her safety sake. Unfortunately, on that day the other children were preoccupied with the budding romance between Fiona and Matty. No one saw the snake sneaking up on baby Shannon.

The snake was excited. He was about to take a delicious young mouse to enjoy for his lunch. He slithered very slowly, timing his movement's to coincide with baby Shannon's. The snake kept a watchful eye on the other children in order to avoid them detecting his evil movements

The snake watched baby Shannon take her last jump off of the big rock, screeching and laughing as she went out into the water. She turned around to swim back to her favorite rock, just as fast as she could. She was having such a wonderful time!

As the tiny mouse climbed up onto the rock she had a sensation that something wasn't quite right. The crickets that had been chirping in the grass next to her favorite rock had suddenly become mysteriously quiet. Baby Shannon became nervous. Meekly she said "Hello? Hello? Fiona, is that you?" Suddenly she realized that the huge snake was right next to her. There was no way to escape! She screamed at the top of her lungs.

At this point, the other children realized that they had made a terrible mistake. Where was baby Shannon? Why was she screaming? The children ran full speed in her direction and were panic stricken. As the children came to the top of a rise they saw a horrible sight!

As the huge snake lunged at baby Shannon, she closed her eyes and was filled with terror. She heard terrible noises, and felt the rushing of air.

As the other children gasped in horror, a giant hawk swooped down where baby Shannon was. They watched the gruesome sight. The huge great redtail was busy ripping it's prey to death. "Poor baby Shannon", they thought. Fiona screamed out "No! No! No! Not baby Shannon!" Sean Jr. screamed out "Please, not this!" All of the children burst into uncontrollable sobbing.

The giant raptor was preparing to take off. Paddy couldn't control his emotions. He began to run blindly toward the massive redtail, screaming through his tears, "I'm going to kill you!". Suddenly, Thunderhawk did take off.

The children's mouths fell open in disbelief. The hawk was carrying the huge snake and not baby Shannon! Where was baby Shannon? Fiona called out "Shannon! Shannon! Please...Shannon...answer me!" Paddy ran over to where the baby should be. Suddenly, his heart jumped into his throat. Baby Shannon was laying on the ground motionless. Paddy called out, "Help! Help! Help!" The other children ran over. They all screamed at the same time. "No! No!" said Sean Jr. as he ran over to the baby. He put his ear on her chest. She was breathing! Sean Jr. screamed out "She's alive!".

The other children ran over. "She's alive! She's alive!" They were all screaming and sobbing. Fiona ran over and picked a leaf from a "lambs ear" plant. She wet the leaf and began to gently rub it over baby Shannon's face.

After a few minutes, baby Shannon began to respond. "Where am I?" she asked in a foggy frame of mind. She opened her bleary eyes to see the "lambs ear" leaf moving across her face. She screamed out at the top of her lungs "No!!"

This scared all of the other children who screamed out also! Fiona was the first to realize that the baby was just scared and had passed out. Fiona said "Hush baby Shannon. It's alright now. We're here for you baby." Baby Shannon then burst into tears. She said "I thought I was going to die for sure. That nasty snake was breathing right on me. I thought he was going to eat me!"

Paddy said, "I thought that Thunderhawk got you!" Baby Shannon said, "What are you talking about?". All of the other children starting talking at once. Baby Shannon said, "Please! I can't understand a word that any of you are saying!"

Fiona said, "Let me explain. We heard you scream and as we looked over where you were, Thunderhawk swooped down out of the sky We saw him ripping something up and we were afraid that it was you!". "Thunderhawk was here?" cried baby Shannon. "Yes", said Fiona. "He took the snake instead of you." she said. "Why?", sobbed baby Shannon. "I mean...I'm glad, but why did he do that?" she asked. Fiona couldn't answer that question. Neither could any of the other mice. The children decided that it was a good time to get back home. From this day forward, they would never let baby Shannon get out of their sight.

When the children got home, they told the story about what happened to Papa O'Malley and Virginia. They were relieved that nothing had happened to baby Shannon, but they were angry at the other children for allowing the baby to have danger come so close to taking her.

The children accepted their grounding punishment politely. They saw the giant hawk circling over their home ground every single day of their two week punishment. No one could figure out why he hadn't taken the baby, but his presence around the home ground was very scary.

None of the residents of happy valley could ever know that Thunderhawk had learned about caring for young creatures from Running Deer. The giant hawk had never taken a baby, or for that matter, not a single young bird or animal, nor would he ever! Thunderhawk actually watched over the young creatures of happy valley. The lesson of Running Deer was very important to Thunderhawk and would stay with him the rest of his life.


Print and Color Thunderhawk

(c) 1997 Geoff Hampton

Copyright 1997 Geoff Hampton - Geoff Hampton is an internationally known author, speaker, motivator and business consultant. He is also the Marketing Director for Indian Voices newspaper and can be reached by E-mail at

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