Tsul ‘Kalu—The Giant of Cherokee Lore

Today, in Jackson County, North Carolina, there is a massive soapstone boulder called the Judaculla Stone. It is covered in petroglyphs and it said to have a handprint—with seven fingers—from when the giant leapt from his mountain home onto the ground below and used the stone to steady himself.

The story of, or Tsul ‘Kalu (pronounced: sool kaloo) as recounted above was told to ethnographer James Mooney who recorded it in his book Myths of the Cherokee.

The Tale of the Giant

Long ago, a young woman—of age to marry—lived with her widowed mother. Her mother counselled her to be patient in settling with a mate; a good hunter, though hard to find, was essential to ensure that she and her daughter would be cared for and well-fed.

The young maiden slept in an asi outside the main home at night. One night, a stranger paid a visit in hopes of courting the girl. She made it clear that her mother would only allow her to keep the company of a great hunter. Declaring himself to be a great hunter, the girl allowed him inside and he spent the night. He left before daybreak; when the morning came, there was a freshly killed deer waiting for the girl and her mother.

He returned the following night and stayed with the girl. Again, he left before daylight. This time, there were two deer waiting for the girl and her mother. The mother was very pleased with her daughter’s new sweetheart. She said, though, that she wished he would bring them some wood. The next morning, there were several large trees in front of the house—entire trees, including the roots. This angered the mother and she told her daughter that she wanted smaller wood that could be used. The next morning, there was nothing waiting for the pair; instead, the land had been cleared of its trees.

Every night he stayed with the girl; every morning he left before daybreak. There was always a game animal waiting for the mother and her girl. The girl’s mother became frustrated; she desperately wanted to meet her new son-in-law. The girl told he husband of this, but he did not want her mother to see him. She began to cry and finally, he relented. However, he warned the girl that her mother must not say that he looked frightful.

When morning came, the girl brought her mother to the asi where her new husband lay. The mother peered and saw a giant with long, slanting eyes; he was so large that he barely fit in the small asi. The mother fled and cried out, “Usga’ se ti’ yu,” which means frightful. The giant was enraged and he left vowing to never let the mother see him again. He returned to his homeland.

Eventually, Tsul ‘Kalu returned for his bride and brought her back to his home. The girl had a brother who lived in another village and wished to see her and meet his new brother-in-law. When he arrived, they were gone and his mother explained what had happened. Feeling pity for his lonely mother, he went to find his sister in hopes of bringing her home.

It was easy to track his sister and Tsul ‘Kalu; the giant left enormous footprints on the ground that led him to the mountain where Tsul ‘Kalu lived. In the side of the mountain, there was a cave where he saw his sister and others dancing. It was too steep for him to reach; he called out for his sister and she came and met him. This happened a number of times but she never invited her brother inside. He also didn’t get to see his new brother-in-law.

Four years later, the girl came home for a visit while Tsul ‘Kalu was out hunting. She told her mother and brother that she and her husband would be leaving in the morning but if they wanted to see him before he left to come out early in the morning. If she and Tsul ‘Kalu left before they got there, the great hunter would leave meat for them. Morning came but the giant and his bridge were gone. As promised, freshly killed deer were hanging. In fact, there was enough meat to feed the entire village.

The people of the village also wanted to see the great Master of Game, Tsul ‘Kalu. Tsul ‘Kalu, a booming, unseen voice from the sky, spoke to his brother-in-law and told him that no one could see him until they were dressed in new clothes. He instructed the people to meet in the communal house and fast for seven days. At the end of seven days, he would provide new garments for everyone and allow himself to be seen. There was a caveat: no one was to leave the townhouse or raise the war cry.

As fate would have it, the giant’s orders were disobeyed. The people stayed in the communal house and fasted for an entire week. There was one person among them—from another village—who left each night to get something to eat. On the seventh day, this same man fled the townhouse in fear when a loud sound kept getting nearer—the sound of rocks crashing down a mountain. As the disobedient man fled, he sounded the war cry. With that, the sound disappeared; Tsul ‘Kalu did not show up to reveal himself to the people.

The giant’s brother-in-law returned to the mountain and asked why he did not come with the new clothes. Tsul ‘Kalu answered, “I came with them, but you did not obey my word, but broke the fast and raised the war cry.” The brother-in-law explained that it was a person from another village who transgressed and pleaded with Tsul ‘Kalu to reconsider. He would not be swayed, however, he said, “Now you can never see me.”

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