Oral Tradition

The White Bluff Screamer

All around the world, visions of “white ladies,” or “ladies in white” can be found haunting old homes, cemeteries, forests, mountains, etc.

The universal thread is that they are always women dressed in white, and usually have had some form of tragedy surrounding their own legendary death.  The old folks say that they are bad omens and when they appear it is a sign that someone will die.  Some draw parallels from the Woman in White to the Banshee in Irish oral tradition; a wailing woman who was a harbinger of death. Many of the settlers in Appalachia and the Southeast in general share roots with the Scotch/Irish people and have kept with them many of the same traditions and stories that their families migrated with long ago.  This is not the first story with probable roots in the Old Country.

Tennessee has it’s own White Lady, named the White Bluff Screamer.  In rural White Bluff, Tennessee down Trace Creek Road lies a hollow where stood an old country house.  The owner of the house is now lost in time, but the story goes that he was being kept up each night by howling and screams from somewhere in the woods.  One night, he couldn’t take it anymore and he headed out with his gun to hunt whatever was making such a racket.  He searched and searched but then heard screams from back inside his house.  When he ran back to his house he found his children and wife ripped to shreds and saw a woman in a white mist.

It is said that she still haunts that area, and burns the grass anywhere she appears from the white mist.

Uktena

Down the serenely winding roads of an almost European looking corner of Chattanooga, Tennessee is a well-known sculpture garden in the Arts District.  There stands a striking sculpture of Icharus that looks as though he could sail off the side of the cliff into the muddy Tennessee River below.

Some know that Icharus, whose hubris was his downfall, flew too close to the sun with wax wings and fell into the sea where he drowned.  What many don’t know is that directly under where Icharus stands frozen in time, is where a living legend first appeared to the Cherokee people across riverbank.

Uktena

Uktena is the name belonging to the horned serpent, a ‘monster’ which was once human but turned into an Uktena in an attempt to kill the sun.  He failed, like Icharus, but still lives among the people.

The great horned serpent is said to have a diamond on his head, with scales that appear to be ablaze.  The crystal clear diamond has a red streak through the center and can be likened to the Holy Grail quest of Christian traditions.

Only one warrior has ever captured the U’lun sunti (the diamond), but many have tried.  With the diamond, the rightful owner can peer into the future and bring great luck to the people.  But- do not, dear friends, go in search of the Uktena for yourself for as the story goes, it will bring instant death to White Man, and death to the family of the Cherokee  person who sees it.

(From Myths of the Cherokee  by James Mooney,
Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. [1900])