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May 23 2013

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The Turkey Vulture in Cherokee medicine

The buzzard (Turkey Vulture) is said to have had a part in shaping the earth, as was narrated in the genesis myth. It is reputed to be a doctor among birds, and is respected accordingly, although its feathers are never worn by ball players, for fear of becoming bald. Its own baldness is accounted for by a vulgar story. As it thrives upon carrion and decay, it is held to be immune from sickness, especially of a contagious character, and a small quantity of its flesh eaten, or of the soup used as a wash, is believed to be a sure preventive of smallpox, and was used for this purpose during the smallpox epidemic among the East Cherokee in 1866.



According to the Wahnenauhi manuscript, it is said also that a buzzard feather placed over the cabin door will keep out witches. In treating gunshot wounds, the medicine is blown into the wound through a tube cut from a buzzard quill and some of the buzzard’s down is afterwards laid over the spot.

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Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. ‘Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.’ Washington : U. S. Govt. Print. Off., 1895.


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