Stories 'n Stones: To Woodhenge and Beyond

In 2007, Larry and I presented a program to complement the summer reading program "To the Library and Beyond". We traveled to several libraries in Illinois and, also, presented the program at the Summer Solstice at Cahokia Mounds. In our programs I start with a story that incidentally talks about some of the archaeological undertakings and experiments that Larry has been involved in over the years.


Cahokia Mounds volunteers, after setting the center post circa 1985. On their way back to their cars, after the ceremony, a lightening bolt bounced off a large cottonwood nearby and struck this center post.

In the mid 1980's, Larry was very instrumental in reconstructing the sun calendar discovered at Cahokia in the early 1960's by Dr. Warren Wittry. It is known as Woodhenge

I found the perfect Eastern Cherokee story on-line called The Legend of the Red Cedar

 I tell it in my words, but I change nothing in the story itself. However, I did add a piece at the end about the building of a sun calendar to be able to segue into Larry's part of the program. That part of the story is written in italics. 

                                           This story is an excellent story to tell during a solstice or equinox.


                         Autumnal Equinox     Winter Solstice        Vernal Equinox     Summer Solstice

                                                           Pictures by Larry Kinsella

                       Here is my version of the Eastern Cherokee story: The Legend of the Red Cedar:

Long ago, long...long ago, when the earth was very new, the Creator made all things, and all things were good. He made the sun, the moon, and the stars in the heavens. And, He made the length of day...twelve hours of daylight - twelve hours of darkness...twelve hours of daylight - twelve hours of darkness. And that was good...until the people came around.

They did not see why they needed twelve hours of darkness! It was during the daylight that they got their work done - planting the fields, hunting, making their many crafts - arrowheads, baskets, pots. No, they wanted the light. So, they got together in a circle to discuss it. And, yes, most of the people wanted all light, but, you know, there are always the few nay-sayers. And, they said, "No! We like the night. It is cool, and we can sleep."

"Huh!" said the others. "You are just lazy. You do not like to work." Since most of the people thought it was good idea to have twenty-fours of daylight, they called forth Eagle. Now, Eagle had a special place among the people. He could talk to the Creator, he could talk to the animals, and he could talk to the people. So, the people said to Eagle, "Eagle, you must go to the Creator and tell Him that we no longer want twelve hours of darkness. It is a waste of time. We want the light."

Eagle thought this was a strange request, but he flew into the sky and landed at the foot of the Creator. He told Him what the people wanted. The Creator looked surprised for He thought the length of day was good. "Well," He said, "if you are sure that is what the people want, then, so be it. From now on, a day will be twenty-four hours of light."

Eagle came back to the circle of people and told them what the Creator said. And, those who loved the light called out "Yes! Yes! We love the light!"

At first, it was a good idea. The corn, the squash, the beans...grew and grew in the sun. The huntiing? The hunting was terrific. Never before had they so much meat to eat and hides for their clothes and houses. In the light they were able to work and work on their many crafts. Yes, this was good....except for one thing. You see, with the sun blaring down all day, the people were not able to sleep. And without sleep, they became, well...crabby.

"Where is my billet? I laid it right here. You took it."

"Me? What would I want with your old billet!"

With the sun blaring - down the vegetables grew, but then the sun dried them up. It came to be that the only things they could grow were weeds! As for as the hunting...well, they soon hunted out the surrounding woods and had to travel many many days to find any game at all...and that was usually some scrawny old rabbit.

Worst of all, with the sun blaring down - many of the elders and the youngest members became over-heated and some died. It was then that the people knew that they had made a big mistake. They called together another council. "We should have listened to the others. They were right. We do not need the sun. What we need is darkness." This time all the people decided that they wanted twenty-four hours of darkness. So, they called for Eagle and told him of their decision. Eagle did not like this idea, but he did as the people asked and flew up to the Creator. When he told the Creator about what had happened with all that sunlight, the Creator shook His head. "Sometimes, the people have to learn on their own." Then Eagle told Him that now the people wanted twenty-four hours of darkness. The Creator could hardly believe it, but he said, "If you are sure that's what the People want, then, so be it. From now on - twenty-four hours of darkness."

Eagle came back to the People, and those who loved the night shouted, "Yes, Yes! We love the night!"

At first, they were right. It was so nice and cool now that the sun was gone. They slept and slept, but when they woke was still dark! They couldn't see to do any of their work. Their gardens didn't grow vegetables or grew nothing! And there in the dark, the animals came back, but not just rabbit and deer. The big animals like mountain lion and bear came, too. Worst of all the days grew colder and colder with no sun. Many of the elders and children became sick and many died. It did not take long for the People to decide that they had made a big mistake.

Again, they talked in council. "What have we done? How can we get back to the way it was? The Creator knew what was best." They called for Eagle and begged him to go back one more time to plead with the Creator to make things as it was before.

This time Eagle was more than happy to return to the Creator. He sat at His feet and told him all that happened in the darkness. And, when he told Him about how many of the People died...the Creator wept. "Now," said Eagle, "the People want it back the way it was...twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness."

But, the Creator said, "No. We already tried that, and it did not work. I have a new plan. From now on only two days out of the year will have equal daylight and darkness. On those two days, we will call it the Equinox. Then, as the sun travels to the South, the days will get shorter and shorter until it is the shortest day of the year. We will call that the Winter Solstice. Those who love the night will be happy. And, as the sun travels back to the North, over the Equinox, the days will grow longer and longer until it is the longest day of the year. We will call that the Summer Solstice. Those who love the daylight will be happy. This you must tell the People. And, you must tell them that I will create a new tree, stained with the blood of their ancestors who died so tragically. I will call this tree "The Red Cedar" and it will be a sacred tree."

Eagle hurriedly returned to the People. He told them of the Creator's plan, and the People cheered, "Yes, the Creator know what is best for us!"

Then, they stopped and looked at each other, "But, how? How will we know when it is the Equinox or Solstice?" And, it was the People who came up with a plan. They created something called a "Sun Calendar." At Cahokia it is called a "Woodhenge." The designed circles of posts -  24, 36, 48, 60 or 72 with a middle post in the center of the circle. As the sun comes up and the center post aligns with the Equinox, the People know that there will be twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. As the sun travels to the south, the days become shorter and shorter until it reaches the Winter Solstice post...the longest night of the year. Then, as the sun travels back towards the north, the days become longer and longer as it passes over the equinox on its way to the Summer Solstice pole - the longest day of the year.

Now, do you remember me telling you that the Creator made a special tree filled with the spirits of the ancestors called the Red Cedar Tree? Well, think about this...of the hundreds of trees that grew at that time, the People chose the Red Cedar for their sun calendars. So, as they watched the rising of the sun, they were not only surrounded by their family and friends...they were surrounded by the spirits of their ancestors.


Although this is a Cherokee story, the red cedar tree is considered sacred by many tribes across the United States. It is used extensively in rituals, dances, drums, flute, medicine bags, smudges and more. I found this story on the following blog which has since been taken down: Whisper Gray Wolf's Blog on the Sacred Cedar.