Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes


the_pyramid

Pyramid Lake, Nevada – by Rhalden – Public Domain

The Paiute people are a Native American people living in areas of California, Nevada and Oregon, Arizona, southeastern parts of California and Utah. They have a rich heritage of culture and tradition and strong family values.   In the past, much of their known history had been passed on orally to their children from a long line of ancestors.  Like many other cultures, they used folktales to pass on information and to attempt to make sense of the world around them.   Presented here is the story of the Great Stone Mother is one of their folktales and what is presented here is a rewrite from more than one source,  but first a word about the Great Stone Mother.

The Great Stone Mother of the Paiutes people sits on the eastern shore of Pyramid Lake, in eastern Nevada, North America and is actually an extraordinary natural tufa rock formation. It bears a remarkable likeness to the figure of a hooded Indian woman sat looking out over the lake with her basket resting next to her.  To the Paiutes she has not always been stone but was the mother of their people.  What follows next is an extraordinary legend that tells of their origin and how she became petrified into stone.

The Legend of the Great Stone Mother

When the world was very young Man, the father of the people, roamed the earth alone and came to a mountain that was near still water.  Finding the place to his liking he made the Reese River and decided to live there. The father had a good and great soul but he was lonely living on his own and longed for company.

Many days passed and eventually rumor of the existence of Man reached Woman, who became the mother of the people, but at then was married to Bear.  She grew very curious about Man and longed to see him.   When Bear found out about her longing he grew very jealous and fought with Woman.   The two fought fiercely for many days until Woman hit Bear with a club and killed him.

Now she was on her own Woman decided she would search for Man so she left her home country and traveled north in the hope of finding him.   On her journey, she saw many strange things and had many adventures.  The tracks of her footprints can be seen to this day at Mono Lake and revered by the people.   As she traveled she faced many dangers and fought with a giant near a place now called Yerington and killed him.  As he died his body turned to stone and can be seen today.

After many more days Woman came to Stillwater near the mountain where Man lived.  When at last she saw  Man she saw he was handsome and she liked him.  However,  she would not show herself to him for fear he would not accept her and leave her alone in the world. Not knowing what else to do she hid from him and watched him from a distance.

Man and Woman

One day Man was out walking and came across tracks he had not seen before and he knew he was no longer alone in the world.  He followed the tracks and called out saying he knew someone was there and pleaded for them to stop hiding from him.  Woman heard Man calling to her and wanted to join him but she was nervous and afraid.    After listening to his calls she eventually plucked up courage and came out of hiding to meet him.

Man saw her nervousness and fear and spoke to her with kind and soothing words and her anxiety left her.   He saw she was tired and hungry and invited her to his camp for food and rest. She was hungry and very tired and she listened to his kind words and feeling reassured she followed him.

Man prepared them both some food and when they had finished eating he asked her if she would like to stay with him the night as it darkness was falling.   Woman agreed but slept by the fire away from him.  The following night she slept a little closer to him.  The night after she slept even closer.  Over the following night’s Woman slept closer and closer each night until at last on the fourth night they slept together.   On the fifth night, they were married and later on had many, many children together.

The Separation of the Children

Their first child was a boy but he had a very disagreeable and argumentative nature.  When the other children came he was always teasing and bullying them and caused them trouble all the time.  One day their father saw them fighting and warned them that if they continued this behavior he would separate them. The children provoked by the firstborn began fighting before he had even finished talking.

This angered him and he stopped them fighting and told them he had made up his mind they should be separated there and then.  He told them that he was leaving earth to go and live in his home in the sky and that when they died they could follow him by traveling along the dusty way,  which is called the Milky Way today, where he would be waiting for them.  Then he told them that he hoped one day they would all come to their senses and live peacefully together.

He called his eldest boy and his eldest daughter to him and told them they must go west and they became the Pit River Tribe.   Then he sent his youngest son with the youngest daughter eastwards and they became the Bannock Tribe.  The other children who had been less troublesome he told to remain at home instructing them to look after their mother well as she would also be staying behind.   These children of Man and Woman who stayed behind became the Paiutes Tribe.    When Man had finished giving instructions he traveled to the mountain top and up into the sky and along the Dusty way to his home in the stars.
The two brothers went their separate ways with their sisters as their father had instructed.

Bitter Tears

Soon they had many children and both families returned to their parent’s home bringing their families with them.  They soon began fighting again and their mother was heartbroken.  Taking her basket she climbed to the summit of a hill and watched her sons and their families fight against each other in the valley below and she began to cry bitter tears for she loved her children.  The harder they fought the more she cried.

The Great Stone Mother

They fought for many moons and their mother cried more and more and her tears flowed down her face and filled the valley.  Many more moons passed and still, they fought and still she cried and her bitter tears filled up the valley to create a great and beautiful body of water that today is called Pyramid Lake.  She sat on the hill crying for so long that she turned to stone and there she sits to this day with her basket sitting next to her and the Paiutes call her their Great Stone Mother.

© 02/05/2017  zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 5th, 2017 zteve t evans

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