An Occaneechi Tale

ENO Journal
Volume 4, No. 2
1976

This local story is another of the traces left to us of the Occaneechi on the Eno.

Among the members of the tribe was a beautiful maiden, the daughter of the chief. Her name was Ulalee, which means wood thrush. She was fond of birds, and wherever she went she was followed by them. Her favorite resort was a certain spring near Hillsboro, and there she often sat for hours at a time surrounded by scores of her feathered friends. Ulalee had many suitors none of whom she loved; but her father at last promised her in marriage to an Oeeoneechee warrior named Oneluska. She asked that the marriage be postponed a year, and this was granted.

One May day while she was at the spring attended by many birds, a young warrior of the Tuscaroras came by, Kanandagea by name. He was as notable in his tribe for strength and manliness as was Ulalee among the Occoneechee for her beauty. He was on his way 10 fight the Catawbas who lived further west. The two young people fell into conversation, and the result was that Kanandagea washed the war paint from his face and remained in the neighborhood to win the love of Ulalee. In this he was successful; indeed he won the affection of the birds, too, and they soon showed as much friendliness for him as they did for his sweetheart.

One day while Kanandagea and Ulalee were at the spring, OneIuska passed by. He suddenly rcalizcd that his betrothed loved the brave Tuscarora, gave the couple a reserved greeting, and went on. Ulalee was alarmed, fearing that Onchiska would kill the man she loved. Kanandagea urged hcr to go away with him at once, but she was unwilling to do so without again seeing her village and her people. So she promised to meet him at the spring the following day and then flee with him to his tribe and be his wife.

She kept her promise and arrived at the spring an hour before the appointed time. Thither Oneluska followed her. She told him of her love for Kanandagea and asked to be released from her engagement. He replied that by Indian custom an engagement was legally a marriage, that she had therefore been false to him and should die. Thereupon he drove his knife into her heart and went away. The blood from the wound flowed into the spring and discolored it. The birds, who had flown away at Oncluska’s approach, returned and were greatly alarmed at the death of Ulalee, making loud and harsh noises. However, one bird, a male with a brown back and a gray breast, jumped into the spring and covered himself with the water reddened by the blood, while his male stood upon the bank and with her bill sprinkled a few drops on her breast and the tips of her wings. Thus it happens, says the legend, that ever since all male birds of that variety are red all over and their mates only partly red.


“The Red Bird and the Hiccory Tree,” Mark Catesby

After a while Kanandagea came to the spring and saw the dead body of his sweetheart. He went to the village and demanded justice. There was a trial. Oneluska claimed that as Ulalee had been engaged to him she was legally his wife and, as such had been disloyal to him, she merited death. The chiefs agreed with him but permitted Kanandagea to appeal to the Great Spirit through a duel with Oneluska. So the two rivals fought, and Oneluska was slain. But Kanandagea had no heart for warfare nor any desire to return to his own people. He asked to be admitted to the Occoneechee tribe. This was granted, and he made a wigwam in the forest and lived a hermit life, becoming as close a friend to the birds as Ulalee had been. After many years he died and was buried by the side of his sweetheart. The spirits of the two lovers continued to haunt the spring, and there, at the proper season through all the years since, one may hear the red birds calling, Ulalee-e-e.

—Frank Nash, History of Orange County, 1910.