The Story of Turtle Island

After the Great Spirit and creator of all, “He-Who-Creates-Us-By-Thought,” brought the world into being, there came a time very long ago when the animals were living in deep water with no dry land. They grew weary of being wet and wanted to find a way to bring up the mud from under the water. From the greatest to the least, each one dove under the water. One by one they tried to dive deep enough to bring up some of the mud. And, one by one, they failed, being unable to dive so deep and so long.

It seemed as though none could bring up enough mud from the bottom. It seemed an impossible task, for none was willing to risk their life to bring up the mud. Finally, after all the others had tried and failed, humble Muskrat took his turn. Muskrat dove deep and was under the water for a very long time. The other animals feared that Muskrat had drowned, for he stayed below the water much longer than any of them had. When Muskrat finally came back up to the surface, he was exhausted and close to death. The animals saw that there was a clump of mud scraped from the bottom in Muskrat’s paw. Humble Muskrat had risked his life to dive deeper than any of them had in order to bring the mud up from the bottom.

“He-Who-Creates-Us-By-Thought” summoned Turtle to the surface of the water and placed the mud from Muskrat’s paw upon the back of Turtle. “He-Who-Creates-Us-By-Thought” caused the mud to grow, covering Turtle’s back. As Turtle continued to raise his back, more water drained off and the mud that grew and grew became dry, becoming the land. And the animals had dry land to live upon. One day, in the middle of the land upon Turtle’s back, there grew a tree. From that tree grew a shoot. And, from that shoot sprouted a man. The Man would have been all alone, but then the tree grew another shoot. And, from that shoot sprouted a woman. This was the first man and the first woman. They are the ancestors of us all.

“The Minsi…say that in the beginning, they dwelt in the earth under a lake, and were fortunately extricated from this unpleasant abode by the discovery which one of their men made of a hole, through which he ascended to the surface; on which, as he was walking, he found a deer, which he carried back with him into his subterraneous habitation; that there the deer was killed, and he and his companions found the meat so good, that they unanimously determined to leave their dark abode, and remove to a place where they could enjoy the light of heaven and have such excellent game in abundance.”
Recorded by the Reverend John Heckewelder (c.1780) [History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States. Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1876. p.250]…

“The Delawares say, that the heavens are inhabited by men, and that the Indians descended from them to inhabit the earth: That a pregnant woman had been put away by her husband, and thrown down upon the earth, where she was delivered of twins, and thus by degrees the earth was peopled. The Nanticoks [sic] pretend, that seven Indians had found themselves all on a sudden sitting on the sea-coast, but knew not how they came there, whether they were created on the spot, or came from some other place beyond the seas, and that by these the country was peopled”. [A History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America, Part 1 by G. Henry Loskiel]