The Three Sisters is a cluster of large Volcanoes in the High Cascades in Oregon. This formation is similar to the Mount Mazama area which was a cluster of volcanoes prior to the formation of Crater Lake caldera. Made up of three main volcanoes. The North Sister, the Middle Sister and the South Sister.

Corn, beans and squash are called the Three Sisters by many Native American tribes, most notably the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). These crops are grown together and mutually benefit from the association; the corn supports the climbing bean and the bean "fixes" nitrogen in the soil for the heavily feeding corn. The squash fills the spaces between the hills of corn, shading the soil and helping to retain moisture.

In addition to being staples in the Iroquois diet the Three Sisters are the foundation of many stories and traditions. They are said to want to be together, just as Indians want to be together. They are celebrated as a gift from the Creator and are a part of the creation stories. Ceremonial festivals such as the Seed Blessing or Planting Dance and the Green Bean Dance and the Green Corn Dance are centered around the Three Sisters.

This is the way I heard the legend of the Three Sisters, and the way I tell it.

The Legend of the Three Sisters

It was the time of the Trail of Tears, the time when the people (Cherokee) were being forced to leave their lands and walk to a strange home far to the West. There were three sisters who had no family except for themselves. They were very afraid, for they had heard of the dangers of the trail, and knew that three women alone would have a hard time making it to Indian Territory.

These sisters were very different from one another. The first sister, Corn Woman was very tall and strong. The second sister, Bean Girl, was thin and quick and agile...always moving from here to there, and always alert and observant, but she wasn't very strong physically. The third sister, Squash Blossom, was short and thick. She didn't move very fast, and was worried about keeping up with the others on the long trail to Oklahoma territory.

The sisters helped each other out along the way. Corn Woman would use her strength to help her sisters keep upright and moving when they tired towards the end of the day. Bean Girl would dart about, disappearing often into the thick brush around the trail and often reappearing with food to keep her sisters alive. Squash Blossom plodded steadily along all day long, seldom stopping, but with her slow steady pace, she noticed things along the trail that the others missed, and several times discovered small springs that refreshed her sisters.

Many people died on the long trail called "The Trail where they cried". Old ones that couldn't keep up were left to die along the path. Young children who didn't have the strength to follow were left to fend for themselves. Despair and suffering were all around, but the three sisters helped each other to keep moving and to keep alive.

When the people reached Indian Territory, the elders began to talk about how the sisters helped each other. When it came time to plant the crops that spring, one old woman used what she had learned from watching the sisters to plant her garden. She planted the corn, the beans, and the squash together, rather than separately as she had always done. Sure enough, her garden flourished, and from that day on, the people have planted the three crops together. The tall strong corn supports the bean plants and keeps them away from the muddy ground and bugs, while the bean takes nourishment from the air to help the corn and the squash grow. The squash grows slowly but steadily, and during the hottest part of the summer shades the ground and keep the moisture in.

Today the people tell the story of the Three Sisters to teach their children that sometimes working together helps everyone. Sometimes supporting and helping others makes for the best growth.

I've told this legend in my children's school for several years now, and after telling the story we go outside and plant the three crops, just as the legend tells us to. It's a wonderful teaching tool, and the kids enjoy it almost as much as I do.

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