How Terrapin’s Shell Got Its Pattern

A Native American – Cherokee Story.

Terrapin and Possum were friends. They liked to gather persimmon fruit and eat it together in the sun. One day they found a tree with ripe fruit in its top branches. Possum climbed up, picked the persimmons and threw them down to Terrapin, who slowly rolled them into a pile with her front claws.

A wolf sauntered through the bushes and stopped to watch behind a tree. He liked persimmons too, and these were big and shiny orange. He licked his jaws with his long tongue, imagining how tasty the fruit would be and thinking how lucky it was that Possum had already thrown them down.

The wolf trotted over to Terrapin’s fruit pile, stretched out one of his front legs and rolled two of the persimmons towards him. Terrapin pulled her head and legs inside her shell, frightened, and huddled like a stone.

“Go away” shouted Possum, glaring down through the tree branches. “This is our fruit. Find another tree”. The Wolf ignored Possum and began to eat the fruit.

Possum jumped up and down on his branch angrily. “Hey, Wolf. It’s no fun taking fruit that’s already on the ground. Are you too tired to jump and catch fresh fruit?”

He started throwing persimmons down again and Wolf leaped in the air and caught them in his teeth. Then Possum broke off a sharp piece of twig and threw it down among the persimmons. Wolf, who was excitedly catching everything that fell, snapped his jaws around the twig and a persimmon. The twig stuck in his throat and he choked to death.

Terrapin waddled over and poked him to make sure he was dead. “I’ll take his ears to use as spoons”, she said. And she cut off his ears with her sharp claws. Then she waved goodbye to Possum, who settled himself on a branch and carried on eating persimmons.

Terrapin walked into the village. Over the next two days she went from house to house, dipping the ears into the jars of gruel that the women always kept by their doors. “Yum”, she muttered. “I love gruel as much as I love persimmons”.

Soon the news went around that Terrapin had killed Wolf and was using his ears as spoons to steal gruel. Other wolves got together and followed Terrapin, and took her prisoner during the night.

“I didn’t kill Wolf,” cried Terrapin. “Yes you did,” said the wolves. “Everyone says you did – and you’ve got his ears.”

The wolves held a council meeting to decide what to do with Terrapin. They decided to boil her in a clay pot. Terrapin laughed and said, “my back feet are stronger than clay. I’ll smash any pot you put me into”.

The Wolves talked it over again. They decided to burn Terrapin in the fire. Again Terrapin laughed. “My shell will protect me. I’ll roll on the fire and put it out.”

The Wolves thought again. “We’ll take you to the river and throw you in at the deepest point, to drown you”, said their leader.

Terrapin pretended to tremble and rock in her shell. “No. Please don’t. The water is so deep and my shell is so heavy, I’ll sink!” she cried. The Wolves laughed.

They dragged her to the river and the two biggest Wolves threw her as far out over the water as they could. This was just what she wanted. Splash! She hit the water and dived down towards the weeds at the bottom. But the water was muddy and she couldn’t see clearly. She thumped into a jagged rock and her shell cracked in many places.

Stunned, she floated down into the weeds. Then she sang a healing song. “I will sew myself together, I will sew myself together.” The water washed around her and slowly the pieces of her shell came together again.

But the shell’s surface was no longer smooth. Scars formed ridges, which made a pattern. Terrapin carries this shell pattern to this day.


(Source from

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