Manyfeather's Corner
Lenape Stories

The following is a traditional Lenape Story as told by Dawn Manyfeathers.  There is a frybread recipe at the end.

Grandmother Turtle

by Dawn Manyfeathers

January 15, 2001 (copyrighted)


   Long, long, ago when the earth was new born, it was not like we know it today. The entire earth was covered with water. All creatures including man had no place to rest. The birds were tiring from the constant flying with no place to roost.


   One day as the animals were treading water, they cried to the creator for a place to rest. "Creator! Please give us a place to rest our feet. A place to make a home and raise our families". The Creator heard the cries of his children. He answered by saying " Deep under the water is a gift. If anyone can bring up that gift, your prayers will be answered."


   Well the animals, birds and man talked among themselves. Who would be strong enough to swim to the bottom of the great water to retrieve this gift?

Eagle said " I am strong! I carry the prayers to the creator in the 12th heaven. I will go!". The eagle took a deep breath and dived into the water. The bubbles got smaller then smaller then smaller...then bigger and bigger and bigger! The eagle came up gasping for air. He said "Sorry brothers, but I could not reach the bottom. It is just too far!". Grandmother turtle said "Let me try! Let me try!". All of the animals told grandmother turtle that she was too old and would surely die if she tried.


   Coyote was next. He said " I am fast! I can run distances! I am young! I will go!". Coyote took a very deep breath and dove down into the water. The bubbles got smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and smaller....then bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Up came coyote! He said that it is very dark down there and the water is very deep. Try as I might, I just could not reach the bottom. Grandmother turtle said "Let me try! Let me try!". Again the animals told grandmother turtle that she was so very old and it would be a great loss if she was to die on this quest.


   Otter spoke up and said " I am at home in the water. I swim very good and can hold my breath for a long time. I will try now.". The others agreed. So down went Otter. The bubbles got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller...then bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger! Up came Otter with a great splash! Otter hung his head. When he spoke he said " It is impossible! I swam and swam but never reached the bottom! Maybe there is no bottom." Grandmother spoke up and said " The Creator said there is a bottom so there is one. Let me try! Let me try!".


   The other animals murmured amoung themselves and still said no to grandmother's request.


   One by one all of the animals had a turn to dive down into the darkness to retrieve the gift that was hidden there. Not one of them could reach the bottom of the water. Not even man. Each time one tried, grandmother turtle said "Let me try! Let me try!" and each time the animals refused till there was no one left to try except grandmother turtle.


   The animals then talked amoung themselves. They told grandmother turtle that she could try but it would be a very great loss to them if she failed and died trying. Grandmother turtle gave a smile, took a very, very deep breath and slipped silently under the water. The bubbles got smaller, and smaller, and smaller until there were no bubbles at all. The animals began to sob and mourn for the grandmother turtle was the oldest and wisest of them all. This truly was a great loss to them.


   All of a sudden they saw a tiny bubble, then another and another each larger then the one before it. The animals held their breath in anticipation. Then grandmother turtle surfaced! She said " I have been to the bottom of this great water and what I found at the bottom was this!". In her hand was soil from the bottom of the water. She held it up to the creator and said "Is this the gift you have given us oh great Creator of all things?". The creator answered her "Yes, grandmother turtle, that is the gift. Now all of my children will take a little of it and smear it on the back of grandmother turtle" As the soil was smeared on grandmother turtle's back, she grew and grew. Soon plants and trees appeared. She grew and grew some more. The animals and two legged climbed upon grandmother turtles back. The birds perched in the trees that formed there. Grandmother turtle was enormous now. She was holding all life on her back as she does to this day. This is why we natives call this land we live on "Turtle Island".


   Now my story is done.



Frybread is a staple in the native american home. For each native there seems to be a different way to make frybread. Here are some of mine.


Basic frybread.

9 cups flour,

5 tablespoons baking powder,

3/4 to 1 cup dry milk,

2 cups sugar (I like it a little sweet)

2 tablespoons salt.

   Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly. Put up in plastic bags.

   When ready to cook, take out some of the mix and add enough stingy (warm enough to sting your wrist but not burn it, like a baby's bottle) water to make the dough the consistency of pizza dough. Don't over work the dough as this will make the bread tough.

   Let sit about 30 minutes to work. Put some oil in a plate and on your

hands. This will keep the frying oil clean as excess flour will darken and burn.  

   Pinch off some of the dough. The size is up to you.

I like small ones. Pat the dough out on the oiled plate then drop it into hot oil for frying. Drain on paper towels. Eat hot with toppings or plain.


   Variations...Cranberry-nut.. to the amount of basic mix I add 1 package of craisins that are plumped in 4 cups of warm orange juice. Then I add 2 cups chopped nuts and another cup of sugar.


   Apple-cinnamon...6 tart apples chopped with the peels on. 4 tablespoons cinnamon and 2 cups raisins plumped in warm water or apple juice. This is also added to the full amount of basic mix. I make that much for my family at a time. It sometimes lasts through breakfast the next day. You can adjust the variations as you please for the amount of bread you want to make.

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