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Why the Possum Plays Dead

Why the Possum Plays Dead

A Legend of the Cherokee Nation

Rabbit and Possum each wanted a wife, but no one would marry either of them. They talked over the matter and Rabbit said, “We can’t get wives here. Let’s go to the next village. I’ll say I’m messenger for the council and that everybody must marry at once, and then we’ll be sure to get wives.”

Off they started for the next town. As Rabbit traveled the faster, he got there first. He waited outside the village until people noticed him and took him into the council lodge. When the chief asked his business, Rabbit said he brought an important message: everyone must be married at once. So the chief called a great council of the people and told them the message.

Every animal took a mate at once, and thus Rabbit got a wife.

But Possum traveled slowly. Therefore, he reached the village so late that all the males were married and there was no wife for him. Rabbit pretended to be sorry. He said, “Never mind. I’ll carry the same message to the next village.”

So, Rabbit traveled ahead to the next village. He waited outside until they invited him to the council lodge. There he told the chief he brought an important message: there had been peace so long, there must be war at once. The war must begin in the council lodge.

The animals all began to fight at once, but Rabbit got away in just four leaps. Then Possum reached the lodge. Now Possum had brought no weapons. So, all the animals began to fight Possum. They hit him so hard that after a while he rolled over in a corner and shut his eyes and pretended to be dead. The animals were fooled by his trick and began to fight one another instead. When they were not looking, Possum slipped away.

And that is why Possum pretends to be dead when he finds the hunters after him.


Citation: Judson, Katharine Berry, ed. Myths and Legends of the Great Plains. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1913. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This article is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series published by Globe Pequot Press. She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of “let’s pretend” quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children’s Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author.