Native American Tales

The Snake Brothers

The Snake BrothersThe Snake Brothers

Brule Sioux

It was rumored that a giant rattlesnake lived in a hill. Some said they smelt it and other said they heard it.

Some time ago, four brothers were out hunting. They found a buffalo standing on his own and killed it. When they were butchering the buffalo they heard a voice that told them to put the skin, and other bits back together as a buffalo should be. One brother suggested they do it, but the others didn’t want to, after all, maybe they didn’t even actually hear that voice.

The one brother decided to heed the voice. He took the buffalo’s skin and the rest of it that wasn’t butchered and put them back together, some distance away. When he did, the buffalo came back to life. The buffalo left and the brother returned to camp. His brothers accused him of burying the skin and other pieces.

That night, the brothers woke up. There was soon panic. One brother said something was wrong with his legs, and indeed there was. There were now rattles where his feet had been. their legs soon became snake tails and the grew scales. Just before they completely turned all the way into snakes, they promised to watch over the Sioux people.

The one brother was the only one who was left. He was the one who had obeyed the voice. He helped his snake brothers get into a large snake den, they were very large snakes, and he went back to his people to tell them what had happened.

Sixteen days later, the brother was preparing for a war party. He went back to the snake den and spoke to his brothers. He told them he was going to war and would like their help. One of the snakes brought out a bundle of snake medicine, which the brother then used in battle. People were scared of him. He counted much coup. Afterwards, he went back to his snake brothers with offerings of red meat and tobacco. From this time forward, the Sioux did not kill rattlesnakes in return for the help they receive by being watched over by the rattlesnake brothers.


Snakes certainly have different meanings to different people. To some people snakes are good, and, to others, snakes are evil. In the Christian way of looking at things, snakes always get a bad rap because of that one serpent in the Bible. Snakes are not inherently evil, but we have all kinds of different stories about them. Maybe they help you keep rats out of your house, or maybe they’re a bad omen. It all depends on what culture you come from. With this being said, not all native tribes have the same respect for snakes as the Sioux seem to. For the most part, it seems to be recognized, among various Native American tribes that snakes aren’t all that bad.


Again, this is a culture thing. It’s the story of why the Sioux don’t kill rattlesnakes. This is a fine line. Rattlesnakes do not actively seek out harming humans. They don’t follow you and hunt you down just to bite you. You get bit by a rattlesnake because you surprised it, not because it’s like a serial-killer snake. Rattlesnakes can be deadly though. You can die if you get bit by a rattlesnake. Luckily, we have modern medicine and anti-venom, so if you do get bit by one, you can go to the hospital, and hopefully, you’ll live. I’m sure you’re still going to feel like crap and be sick a while, but chances are pretty high of you living.

That doesn’t negate the fact that rattlesnakes can kill us. If something is dangerous to you, do you automatically go out and seek it in order to destroy it? Do you hit first before they can hit you?

We have enemies, of all sorts, in the world. If we went out to destroy everything that posed us a threat, we would always be at war. The Earth would constantly be one big battle and lots of extinct species. We live alongside our enemies because we don’t always want to be at war, but also because our enemies have their own places in the world. Our enemies can even benefit us in various ways, all while still being our enemies.

Some people hate spiders, but, you know, you’re welcome for all the mosquitoes they ate.

The point of this story is that the Sioux and the rattlesnakes developed a relationship knowing that they could destroy one another. They each have the power to take the other down, but because of their respectful relationship, they do not.

This story just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to get along one-hundred percent with a person to respect them.


Don’t bite the snakes and they won’t bite you, well, maybe they will, just don’t step on them.

Weigh In

Could you develop an agreement with someone who was deadly to you?

Do you think it is wise to respect those who would hurt you?


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