Grandmother Turtle - A Cherokee Creation Story

Grandmother Turtle - A Cherokee Creation Story


Cheroeke creation story - Grandmother turtle and mountainIN THE BEGINNING 

When the earth was first made, it was covered all over with water except for one small island.  This island was at the top of a high mountain. This was Blue Mountain (Shaconage), in the Cherokee country. Everyone lived together on this mountaintop island. The human beings and the animals all lived in harmony.  In those days they could understand one another's speech, for this was before the humans broke the harmony. It was a good place to live. 

Sure, the island was small, but it was what everyone knew and was used to.  All were content, until there came to be more of them than the small bit of land could support. As they noticed they were getting crowded, a general council of all the people (both humans and animals) was called. The question was asked, "What can we do?"  The only answer given was, "We can pray. All we can do is pray and ask the Grandfather Above to please give us some more land.

So all the people prayed, and Creator answered, "Oh my precious children, there is nothing I enjoy so much as giving good gifts to my children. But if I do everything for you without asking you to help in any way, how will you ever learn any responsibility? I really want to teach you some responsibility. Here's what I will do: If one of you will swim to the bottom of the ocean and bring up some mud, just a little bit of mud, I will take that mud, that little bit of mud, and make a whole great land of it."


All the people (animals and humans) began to look at one another.  Someone asked, "Who will go?  Who will get the mud?"

 A slow, deep voice answered, "I will go.  I will get the mud."  It was Grandma Turtle.

  "Grandma Turtle, you can't go!"  They said.  "You're too old and slow.  We don't know what it's like down there.  We don't know how deep it is."

  "I'll go," quacked Duck.

"Now that's more like it," they said.  "You're a good swimmer, Duck. You can go; you can do it."

 Duck paddled out onto the ocean and dived, but he popped right back up to the surface. 

Duck dived again and again and again, but the same thing happened each time. Well, you know how ducks are. They dive well, but they float much better. Duck paddled back to shore, shook the water off his tail and said, "I can't dive that deep. I float too well."

The question was asked again, "Who will go? Who will get the mud?"

Grandma Turtle said, "I will go. I will get the mud."

"Grandma Turtle," they said, "we settled that before! You can't go. You're too old. Who will go? Who will get the mud? Hey Otter, how about you?"


What?" Otter said.

  "How about you going to get the mud?"

  "Mud?  What mud?"

  "The mud we need so Creator can make more land!"

  "Oh, sure," said Otter, and he slid off into the water and was gone a good long while. When he came back, he had a fish in his mouth, but no mud. Without a word to anyone, Otter climbed up onto the beach and began munching on the fish.

Everyone was watching him, but Otter paid them no mind, just kept eating his fish.  "Hey Otter!" someone yelled.

  "What?"  Otter said.

  "Where's the mud?"

  "Mud?  What mud?" Otter asked.  "Ohhh the mud! Well, I left here to go and get it. Then I started playing. Then I caught this fish. Then I forgot all about the ummm, ummmm, whatever it was I was supposed to get."

They were nearly at their wits end. "Who will go?" they all asked. "Who will get the mud?"

  Grandma Turtle said, "I will go. I will get the mud."  No one even paid her any mind.

  "Who will go?  Who will get the mud?"

  "I will go," said Beaver.  "I will get the mud. I don't play, and I do not eat fish."

  Resolutely, Beaver swam out into the ocean.  He took a deep, deep breath and dived.  Wow, Beaver was gone a long time.  Some of the people watching and waiting were holding their breath in sympathy, but none seemed able to hold it that long.  Finally, Beaver popped to the surface gasping for air.  He swam to shore and climbed onto the beach shaking his head.  "It's too deep!" Beaver said.  "I don't know how deep it is.  I never reached the bottom."

  Everyone was in despair.  Beaver was the last best hope.  How would they ever get mud?  Maybe there would never be anything but the little mountaintop island.  "Who will go?" they asked.  "Who will get the mud?

A slow deep voice answered, "I will go.  I will get the mud."

  "You can't go, Grandma Turtle, you're too...."


There were no other volunteers, so they let Grandma Turtle go. She slowly paddled her way out onto the surface of the ocean. As everyone watched, she took a slow, deep breath, then another and another and another. She took three more breaths and disappeared beneath the water.

They waited a long time. Grandma Turtle was gone much longer than Duck or Otter or even Beaver had been. She was gone all that day and the next and the next and the next. 

They posted a sentry up on the very top of the mountain.  Finally, on the seventh day, the sentry called out, "I think I see something coming up.  Yes, yes, something is rising in the water.  Could it be?  Could it be?  Yes!  It's Grandma Turtle!"

  Sure enough, Grandma Turtle rose to the surface of the ocean, and there she lay, not moving, with her legs, her tail, her head all hanging down....  Grandma Turtle was dead.

  Quietly, reverently, Duck, Otter and Beaver swam out and drew Grandma Turtle's body to the shore.  They pulled her up on the beach, as all the people (humans and animals) gathered sadly around, and what's this?  There, under her front feet, they found.... mud.

  Someone took the mud, that little bit of mud from under Grandma Turtle's front feet, rolled it into a ball and lifted it up toward the sky.  The Creator  took that mud, that little bit of mud and cast it out, making this whole, great land that many nations call Turtle Island .

We were so inspired by the story of Grandmother Turtle that we created this special necklace. The design is reminiscent of the pre-Columbian, Mississippian cutlures whose mounds still stand today in the Southeastern part of the United States. 

Our family started Cherokee Copper to help us and others connect to Cherokee culture. We make everything we sell in our home studio near, Tulsa, OK. Greg is an award winning Cherokee Coppersmith who is helping to keep the tradition of coppersmithing alive .


We were so inspired by the story of Grandmother Turtle that we created this special necklace. The design is reminiscent of the pre-Columbian, Mississippian cutlures whose mounds still stand today in the Southeastern part of the United States. 

Each time we wear this necklace we are reminded of Grandmother Turtle's sacrifice and her determination to help others. You can keep these ideals of Grandmother Turtle close to your heart too, with the Grandmother Turtle Necklace. Find it here. 

 grandmother turtle necklace by cherokee copper


More Posts


  • Author image
    Christine Williams-Miller : May 24, 2023

    Oh Lisa, that made me cry. What a great story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Author image
    Sandra Byrd: May 24, 2023

    Beautiful story I love the Indian storys

  • Author image
    Diane Wagner : May 24, 2023

    Thank-you that was beautiful 😍

  • Author image
    Cindy French: May 24, 2023

    I collect turtles, have many items of ceramic, jewelry, etc.

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing

Join for More Cherokee Blog Posts & Jewelry Updates

Signup for our newsletter to stay up to date on sales and events.

*By completing this form you're signing up to receive our emails and can unsubscribe at any time