Maheo (also spelled Maheo’o) is the Cheyenne name for the Creator God. Literally his name means Great One, and he is often referred to as Great Medicine or the Great Spirit.
Maheo is a divine spirit without human form or attributes and is rarely personified in Cheyenne folklore. In some myths, Maheo is referred to as Heammawihio (or Heamaveeho,) which means Spider Above.
This useage may be an borrowed from their Arapaho kinfolk, who referred to the Creator this way to differentiate him from the earthly Spider figure (see below.) Maheo is by far the more common name.
Common Characters in Cheyenne Legends:
Axxea or Mehne – Water monsters who live in springs and menace travelers. Some Cheyenne people believe that these are two names for the same monster, others say that Axxea was the individual name of one particular Mehne monster, and still others that they are two different species of water monster.
Mehne is always described as a horned serpent, while Axxea is sometimes described as a horned serpent, sometimes as a four-legged creature like a bull or water panther, and other times compared to a caterpillar or worm. Nonoma is the sworn enemy of both, and while both are dangerous to humans, they may be calmed by respectful offerings.
Enemy Dwarves (Vo’estanehesono): A race of dangerous little people, about knee-high to a man, who lived in the Rocky Mountains and warred with the Cheyenne. Sometimes they were said to eat humans; other times, they were merely described as warlike and violent. Their Cheyenne name literally means “little people.”
Ma’xemestaa’e – A large, hairy humanoid creature, somewhat like the
Sasquatch or Bigfoot of the Northwestern tribes, only with birdlike feet.
Nonoma – The Cheyenne spirit of thunder. Some Cheyenne people describe Nonoma as a Thunderbird; others consider him a wind spirit like the Winter Wind, who is his spiritual opposite.
Rolling Head – A horrible, vampiric sort of creature from Cheyenne myth, created when a man murders his unfaithful wife and her disembodied head returns from the dead to seek revenge.
Sweet Medicine ( Arrow Boy or Metzehouf) – Legendary prophet and medicine man of the Cheyenne tribe. He predicted the arrival of white men, among other things.
Two-Face (Hestovatohkeo’o) -A malevolent monster resembling a man with a second face on the back of his head; a person who makes eye contact with this second face will be murdered by the monster, who tries many ploys to try to get victims to look at him.
Wihio (also spelled Veeho, Veho) – is the spider trickster of Cheyenne mythology. Though he is associated with spiders and his name means “spider,” he has the form of a man in every Cheyenne tale. In some stories, Wihio plays the role of the clever and benevolent trickster/transformer hero, similar to Nanabozho of the Anishinabe tribes; but in most stories, he is merely a silly and foolish character who behaves as inappropriately as possible by Cheyenne social standards.
In any case, the literal meaning of the character’s Cheyenne name is “Spider.” It is given as “White-Man” in some older translations, but this is a misleading translation– the Cheyennes named white people after the trickster character, not vice versa!
Two young men were living together. One day one of them heard his comrade chopping outside the lodge.
He saw that the other man was sharpening his leg to a point, after having chopped off his feet. He was frightened and fled, running for a night and a day.
He arrived at some high trees, and climbed up one of them. Sharpened-Leg pursued him. When he got to the tree, he spied his comrade, and fell to kicking the trunk.
With a dozen kicks he split the tree, so that it tumbled down. He looked for his former comrade, whom he found lying on the ground.
“Why did you run away? We used to play together.” He kicked his comrade with the point of his leg, and killed him. Then he walked away to some other trees.
He began kicking these also, but his leg stuck fast, and he died in this position.
When the two men did not return to camp, the father of the one slain went to look for them. He got to their lodge, and then followed their tracks until he reached the corpse of his son and the tree where Sharpened-Leg was caught.
As told by members of the Strange Owl family on the Lame Deer Indian Reservation, Montana, 1967, recorded by Richard Erdoes.
A long time ago the people had no laws, no rules of behavior- they hardly knew enough to survive. And they did shameful things out of ignorance, because they didn’t understand how to live.
There was one man among them who had a natural sense of what was right. He and his wife were good, hard- working people, a family to be proud of. The knew how to feel ashamed, and this feeling kept them from doing wrong.
AUTHOR: Cheyenne Legend, Myth, Oral Story
When the world was created Death did not occur. The Earth became so overcrowded that eventually there wasn’t room for any more beings.