The Great Smoky Mountains are full of wonder.
The area is rich in history and full of stories from those who lived in the mountains before us. It’s not unusual to feel a cool chill while walking by the cemeteries of Cades Cove or the old cabins in Elkmont.
The valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains is full of folklore and legends. And if you’re looking for a great story to tell by the campfire, there’s probably none more infamous than the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger.
What is Spearfinger?
Legend has it that Spearfinger is a shape-shifting witch with stone skin and a long obsidian knife in place of one of the fingers on her right hand.
She roamed the mountains between what would become the western part of North Carolina and the eastern side of Tennessee. And they say, even though the Cherokee caught and destroyed her, you can still hear her shrieks and cackles through the mountain night.
Spearfinger had a taste for human livers, especially those belonging to Cherokee children. Therefore, parents used the legend of Spearfinger to warn children to stay close to the village.
In the autumn, the Cherokee tribe would burn brush fires to clear the land so they could find fallen chestnuts for the winter, but Spearfinger would use the fires to locate their village.
What did Spearfinger look like?
Spearfinger would come in the guise of an old woman, fooling Cherokee children into trusting her because she appeared to be a village elder, or in some cases, a grandmother, a mother or an aunt.
She would offer to brush the child’s hair until they fell asleep. Then, she would stab them with her sharp finger through the back of the neck or the heart and withdraw the liver, which she would devour.
She is described as having a mouth red with blood. U’tlun’ta is the Cherokee name, which most sources say translates to “she had it sharp”.
The monster had a song that she’d sing as she moved through the mountains with her raven friend.
“Liver, I eat it.”
It flows better, I assume in the original Cherokee.
Though she most often appeared as an old lady, she could be anything she wanted. For example, she may appear as another child, a friend, an animal. She was made of stone so no weapon forged by man could stop her.
Her only weakness was her heart, which she carried in her hand for protection.
What is the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger?
Spearfinger had an enemy, as many monsters do.
Stone Man, who had stronger powers, ate livers too, so he wasn’t exactly helpful to the Cherokee.
She and Stone Man (also spelled Stoneman) also had powers to move boulders and rock.
The story of Spearfinger says that they created a great rock bridge through the air to travel from mountain to mountain, angering the higher beings, who destroyed it with lightning.
The remnants of the bridge remain visible today near her hunting ground of Whiteside in Jackson County, North Carolina, which is far to the south, close to the Georgia border.
Known as Thunder Mountain, Whiteside offers some of the highest sheer cliffs in the Appalachian range.
But Spearfinger didn’t limit herself to a single place. She moved through the mountains along streams and through the Nantahala passes of Western North Carolina. She frequently came to Chilhowee Mountain and walked down to the Little River in Walland in Blount County, seeking out her prey.
Spearfinger was a creature of stealth. She left no scars, even as she used her finger to draw out the livers. It often took days for her victims to perish.
Is Spearfinger still alive?
Eventually, the Cherokee set a trap for Spearfinger, digging a deep pit and disguising it as you would a tiger trap. They then set a fire to attract the mountain witch’s attention.
Soon, an elderly woman came along the trail and fell into the pit, revealing herself to be the old witch.
The Cherokee warriors’ arrows, however, had no effect on the stone-like skin, who taunted them with her liver-eating song, which part of me wonders if it wasn’t at least part of the inspiration for the MeowMix jingle.
Eventually, a titmouse came and told the hunters to aim for her heart. But not knowing the heart was in the figure’s right hand, aimed for her chest with little impact.
When that didn’t work, the hunters caught the titmouse and cut off its tongue. The bird was then known to the Cherokee as a liar.
Although, in fairness to the titmouse, it sounds a little bit like a miscommunication.
Finally, a chickadee came and landed on the hand, which carried the heart.
What happened to Spearfinger?
The hunters eventually severed her heart from her hand and put an end to the witch, earning the chickadee a reputation among the Cherokee as a truth-teller.
Now, if the small bird perches near a loved one’s home while they are away, you can expect a safe and happy return for the traveler.
Meanwhile, Stone Man saw Spearfinger’s fate as a warning to himself but soon went back to his liver-eating ways. Stone Man was even more powerful with rock and stone than Spearfinger and moved about the mountains with a staff.
However, the Cherokee eventually conquered Stone Man as well.
Stone Man could not bear the sight of a menstruating woman and, according to legend, the sight of seven menstruating women would end him.
The Cherokee arranged seven women along the trail where Stone Man, in the guise of an old man, would come.
Apparently, it worked. Stone Man had fallen weak. A medicine man pinned him to the ground and built a great fire over him. Stone Man called for bear and deer and all the animals of the mountains, but he eventually succumbed to the burning pile.
Do you have any ghost stories from the Great Smoky Mountains? Share them in the comments below.