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How Deer Got His Horns

A retelling of a Cherokee myth

When the world was young, the animals would often amuse themselves by having contests, awarding special prizes to the winners.

Now Deer was the best runner, and Rabbit the best jumper. The animals would argue among themselves about which of the two was faster.

One day the animals got together and fashioned a set of horns and proposed a contest, a race through a thicket. Whichever animal could go through the thicket faster while wearing the horns on his head would win them and wear them forever. Now in those days Deer had no horns of his own; his head was as smooth as a doe's.

Rabbit objected to the contest, saying, "I have no tail to balance the horns. I will fall over on my face." So the animals made a tail for him from bird's down, and attached it to his backside with a stick.

Then Rabbit objected again, saying, "I am unfamiliar with this place. Allow me to look ahead into the thicket to see where I am to run. So they let him go in to look.

When he didn't return after a long time, the animals sent a messenger to find him. The messenger went into the thicket and found a path. He followed the path until he saw Rabbit chewing on bushes and pulling down tree limbs, clearing a path through the thicket. Without letting Rabbit see him, the messenger returned to inform the animals of what he saw.

Finally Rabbit returned from the thicket. The other animals asked him what he was doing that took so long. When he had no answer, they asked, "Were you clearing a path for yourself?" but Rabbit denied it. So they went into the thicket to check for themselves. All the animals saw the path, and they disqualified Rabbit for cheating.

Then they put the horns on Deer and gave him a chance to show what he could do. He crashed through the thicket to the other side, then came back on a different track, and did such a fine job that all of the animals agreed that Deer had earned the horns. And he has worn them ever since.

As for Rabbit, the animals told him, "Since you obviously love chewing on twigs and bushes, you can do it the rest of your days." And he does so, even to this day.

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