Rabbit's Short Tail

Rabbit's Short Tail is a Cherokee trickster story told by Gregg Howard. The video was recorded with an audience of children and parents, and was uploaded onto on June 13, 2007 to gain attention for the DVDs of other performances sold on a website. Accompanying Gregg in his performance is an unnamed flute player who accompanies him throughout the entire story, but not during his introduction. The introduction explains to the audience of children, in very simple terms, that the story was an explanation of "the way things are", a recurring purpose of Native American stories. (Thompson 1929)

Similar to Grandma Coyote's tale, Gregg refers that the story was told to him by his grandfather. This important of reverence to elders is reflected in the children's attentive eyes in ears in the video. (Grinnell 2008) Gregg uses many Cherokee words in his performance. Not all of them were entirely decipherable, so they are represented by <Cherokee>. Likewise, he makes audible grunts and other noises that are represented within "< >"s. The name for rabbit used in the story is "Tsi-s-du", pronounced "Gestew"; the fox is "Tsu-la", pronounced "Chula"; and the bear is "Yo-na" pronounced "Yona". See for more Cherokee pronunciations and words.

Video Transcription
Native American Indian Childrens Stories Storyteller Tales Legends Myths Flute Music

Native American Indian Childrens Stories Storyteller Tales Legends Myths Flute Music

<Cherokee> Remember, that tells me you are ready to hear the story.

This is another Rabbit story. This explains why rabbit that we know today, is the way he is today.

<Cherokee> This is what my grandfather told me.

<Cherokee> A long, long time ago <flute starts> Tsi-s-du had a long, fluffy tail, just like Tsu-la Fox, and he was always bragging about his tail, always showing it off and this and that and the other.

Well this cold day, he had been out hunting, all day, and had been very unsuccessful. He hadn't found anything to eat. So he was coming home with his tail wrapped around him for warmth. And he was very glad he had a big bushy tail 'cause it was really cold. Well as he was going home, up the path came Tsu-la with a nice string of fish.

Well Tsi-s-du saw that Tsu-la coming, he said "Oh Tsu-la! Where'd you get those fish?"

Now Tsu-la knew that old Rabbit was a trickster - he was always up to no good. So he decided he was going to have some fun with him, so he said to him "I caught 'em in the creek."

Tsi-s-du says "Nooooo I don't think so. Creek is frozen. You can't get fish out of a frozen creek." Tsu-la says "Uh huh! I just went down to the creek, I chopped a hole in the ice, and I put my tail down through that hole, and the fish came along and bite my tail, and when it felt heavy I stood up and that's where I got all these fish."

Tsi-s-du said "Is that true?" Tsu-la says "Uh huh!" And without another word Tsi-s-du turned and ran down to the creek. Well as soon as he got down there, he looked around, found a stick, and chopped a hole in the ice. Then he sat down, and took his long tail and he put it down through the hole, and he sat down on the ice, which was very cold.

<aside to the audience>If you've ever sat on ice, you'd know it's very cold.<end aside>

Well he sat there, and sat there, and he got colder, and colder, and old Tsi-s-du got hungrier, and hungrier and finally said "<exhales> I better go get something to eat! Old Fox's way of catching fish ain't workin'." So he just tried to stand up and <grunts> <grunts> he couldn't stand up. He was frozen to the ice. So he started yelling for help. "Aste la! Aste la!" <aside>Which is "help me" in Cherokee<end aside> "Aste la!"

Old Yo-na, Bear was going by. He came over and he said "What't all this noise about?" And Tsi-s-du told him about what Tsu-la had said about the fish, and the tail and the ice and so forth. Yo-na just shook his head and said "No, no, no. That's no way to catch fish! Here, let me help you." so he reached down and he got a good grip on Tsi-s-du and <grunt> he wouldn't move. He said "<grunt>" wouldn't move. He said <spits on hands> "We'll get him this time" so he reached down, got a good grip on him and poped him right off the ice, which was good, and bad, because down there, underneith the ice, waving in the water was Tsi-s-du's tail.

That's why Rabbit has such a short tail today. Because of what Tsu-la had told him, and because Yo-na pulled it off. <Cherokee> <end flute> <laughs>

Source: YouTube permalink
Source: Transcribed from multiple viewings of the video.


A hungry Rabbit, or Tsi-s-du, is tricked by Tsu-la Fox to use his tail in a frozen river as a fishing pole. After it gets frozen in the lake, Yo-na, the Bear pulls Tsi-s-du off of the ice, ripping his long tail off.

Approach : Immanent ArtEdit

Immanent Art
Performance Arena
Communication Economy
HROPAll Approaches

Immanent Art seeks to understand the idiomatic implications of the building blocks of an oral performance. It concentrates on recurrent phrases, scenes, and story-patterns as clues of more-than-literal meaning. (Foley 2002) While these building blocks may seem similar to keys to performance, they focus more on "how" they mean to the audience what the non-literal implications are.

The register of the story of Rabbit's Short Tail and that of the Cherokee tradition is similar to the registers of other Native American Oral Traditions. Stories of these traditions are generally told in a very straight-forward style with a high emphasis on nature. Long adjective sequences are rarely used, and each character has its characteristics already built into them, similar to how their motives are built into them. This is mainly accomplished because the material of the tradition is material that the audience is familiar with. The Native American style of story telling also focuses highly on repetition and recurrence. Repetition occurs in this story when Gregg is describing how Rabbit is very cold and very hungry. Rather than say "He got very very hungry", Gregg says "He got hungrier, and hungrier." This seems to not only show a progression of time but reinforces it's importance to both the story and Rabbit's motive by repeating it instantly.

The performance arena of this story is not simply a room with a fireplace and a stool. While those are present in this transcription of a performance, the performance arena more broadly refers to a "virtual space" where the performance could occur. (Foley 2002) An interview with Calvin Grinnell revealed that many stories were told around a fire. In this case, the presence of a fire might be an important aspect to the performance arena of the tradition. Time of day, time of year, and audience also play important roles into the definition of the performance arena.

Finally the communication economy of the performance is extremely important to it's success. Although the audience on the story doesn't seem to be Cherokee, they still understand the story. Gregg does use some Cherokee words to add distinction to his performance, but it can be assumed that the original performances of these tales hundreds of years ago would be in the language of Cherokee. Either way, Gregg's performance holds an economy with the children and their parents present in the room. One aspect of this economy is shared experience. The children know what a rabbit is, so the performer does not have to focus on explaining what a rabbit is. Gregg does make two asides to the audience, and his verbal cues hint that it is an add-on to the story, in case they do not understand. The asides do not really affect the performance because they teach the audience, which is an important requirement for the tradition in the first place. (Grinnell 2008)

Further AnalysisEdit

Like the majority of other Native American stories, this story teaches a lesson. It teaches "the way it is" on why rabbits have short tales. It also could teach the children that being a trickster can make people want to play tricks on you. It could also teach children that they should not go out and try any "get rich quick" schemes, or double check advice before you blindly accept it.

Further ThoughtEdit

See Talk:Rabbit's Short Tail for questions to think about and discuss.

External LinksEdit

  Twbtg2's Project on Native American Trickster Stories edit

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Elements: Trickster story type - Coyote - List and maps of Native American tribes
Stories: The Coyote & The Prairie Dog - Coyote and Junco - Coyote and Turtle Story - Coyote Races Buffalo - Coyote Steals a Drink - Don't Be Too Curious - Rabbit's Short Tail
Approaches: Ethnopoetics - Performance Theory - Immanent Art - All
Sources: American Indian Trickster Tales - Calvin Grinnell Interview - A Coyote Reader - Coyote Stories - Finding the Center - How to Read an Oral Poem - Inconstant Companions - Tales of the North American Indians - The Telling of the World - All

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