Although the rabbit was a prominent figure in Cherokee legends, he was not an admirable character. He was a trickster and a deceiver, but he often got beaten at his own game, usually by his intended victim.
In order to understand the tale of why the deer has blunt teeth, it is necessary to preface that legend with an earlier one. The wily rabbit plays a prominent role in each story.
How the Deer Got His Horns
Long ago, the deer had no horns. His head was smooth and sleek and he was able to run swiftly through the fields on the Cherokee land.
The rabbit was a great jumper. He could hop through the fields so quickly you sometimes had trouble following him with your eyes.
The animals began to wonder which of the two was the faster. A race was arranged and the prize was to be an elegant pair of antlers.
The sneaky rabbit was found to be cheating before the race had even begun. He was caught trying to clear away bushes and grass in the thicket so that he would have a straight, uncluttered path to the finish line.
The other animals were so disgusted with him they awarded the antlers to deer without holding the race at all. The deer has worn the antlers proudly ever since.
Why the Deer Has Blunt Teeth
The rabbit was angry that the deer had won the antlers and he resolved to get even. He found a long grape vine and spread it out across the trail. Then he proceeded to chew it almost in half with his sharp teeth.
Just as the deer came along, the rabbit took a good run, jumped at the vine and bit it in half easily at the place where he had gnawed it through before.
“Wow”, said the deer. “You must have very strong teeth to do that! Well, if you can do it, so can I”.
The rabbit spread an even larger grape vine across the trail, but this one had not been chewed almost in half. The deer took a long run, jumped at the vine, but it threw him backwards. He flipped over and landed on his head.
The deer tried again and again. Soon he all bruised and bleeding, but he could not bite the vine in half.
“Let me see your teeth,” said the rabbit. “Aha, there’s the trouble, they are not sharp enough. Let me sharpen them for you. I will make them as sharp as mine.”
The rabbit got a black locust twig and he bit it in half with his teeth as easily as if he had had a knife. The deer agreed to let the rabbit file his teeth to make them sharper.
The rabbit got a rough, hard stone, but instead of sharpening the teeth he ground them away until they were worn right down, almost to the gums.
The deer complained that his teeth were hurting, but the rabbit replied that they always hurt when they were being sharpened. When he was finished, he asked the deer to try biting the grape vine again. This time, the poor deer could not bite at all.
“Well there,” said the tricky rabbit. “Now you have paid for your horns.” With a nasty grin, he turned and hopped off into the thicket.
Ever since that day, the deer’s teeth are so blunt he cannot eat anything except grass and leaves.