Native American Tales: Skeleton Island

This is a retelling of a Native American story from  The Myths of the North American Indians, (1914), collected by Lewis Spence called The Friendly Skeleton.

The Boy in the Woods

Once there was a boy who lived in the woods with his elderly uncle.   Although the boy was free to play in the woods close to the lodge his uncle always warned him that he must not go eastwards.  The boy was always full of life and like most boys filled with a natural curiosity about his surroundings and explored the woods all around his uncle’s lodge except those that lay to the east.  Although the boy often wondered what could possibly lie eastwards he always obeyed his uncle’s warning.

One day his uncle went on a long hunting expedition  leaving the boy alone in the lodge. After playing in the woods north, south and west the boy became bored and he thought about his uncle’s warning not to go eastwards.  The more he thought about it the more his curiosity was aroused and he decided he would go eastwards in the woods but be very, very careful.

The Stranger

He set off to the east through the woods and eventually came to a large lake and he stopped on its shores to rest and noticed there was an island in the middle of it .  While he was resting a strange man approached him and asked him his name and where he had come from and the boy told him.

After he had told him the stranger said, “Very well, now let us fire an arrow and see who can shoot it the highest”  The boy agreed and he shot his arrow much higher than the man did.  Next the stranger suggested they have a competition to see who could swim the furthest underwater without coming up for breath.  Once again the boy won the competition. Then the stranger suggested they sail to the island in the middle of the lake to see the beautiful birds that lived there.

Skeleton Island

The stranger showed the boy his canoe which was most strangely carved and was pulled by three swans.  Two swans were harnessed to each side and one was tethered to the front.  The man motioned the boy to take a seat next to him in the canoe and began singing a strange song.  The swans moved off taking the canoe along with them.  It didn’t take them long to reach the island which the boy now noticed was a considerable distance from the shore and surrounded by deep water making him feel his trust in a stranger was foolish.

Then the strange man ordered him to undress and he took his clothes and got back into the boat and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,”  and the swans took him in the canoe back towards the shore leaving the boy naked and alone on the island.

The Skeleton

The boy was angry at his own foolish naivety but as  evening came and darkness fell he began to feel very cold, very miserable and very frightened.  Huddled alone in the darkness to his utter shock he heard a husky voice nearby that appeared to be talking to him.  Looking around the boy was terrified to see lying on the ground next to him a bleached white skeleton.  “I feel very sorry for you and I will help you if you will help me.” With no other choice the boy agreed though he too felt sorry for the skeleton.

The Skeleton then told him, “I will tell you that tonight a man is coming to look for you.  If you make as many tracks as you can all over the island and hide in that hollow tree over there, the man will become confused by so many marks and will not find you.”

The boy obeyed the skeleton and when the man came ashore he had three dogs with him.  Fortunately the boy had made so many tracks going this way and that all over the island that the dogs were so confused they could not find him in his hiding place and the man left empty handed and angry.

The next morning the boy went to the skeleton  who said, “Beware, tonight the man who brought you to this island is coming back to drink your blood.  You must dig a hole in the sand on the shore and hide in it.  When his canoe arrives and he steps onto the island you must quickly jump into the canoe and say to the swans, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and they will immediately take the canoe back with you on board.  The man will call to you but you must not look back.”

Escape From Skeleton Island

So the boy dug a hole in the sand and hid in it.  Just as the skeleton had said the canoe arrived and the man got out and stepped ashore and began searching for the boy.  The boy jumped in the canoe and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and began to sing just as he had heard the stranger sing when he had brought him in the canoe to the island.  The man called to him but the boy did not look back and the swans took the canoe back to a cave on the shore of the lake.

The boy found his clothes in the cave and put them on and found plenty of food and he ate his fill.  He then lay down and went to sleep.   The next morning he went back to the island and found the dead body of the stranger lying in the sand.  He went to see the skeleton who told him he must now take the canoe and go eastwards across the lake to look for his sister who an evil man had captured many years ago to be his wife.

The Evil Man

He set off eastwards across the lake in the canoe and after three days he came to the place where the evil man kept his sister which was just a hut.  The evil man was out and he soon found his sister and said, “Sister, Let us go quickly from this place now!”

“I dare not! An evil man keeps me here and he will be back any minute and will surely catch us.   Let me hide you away and in the morning we shall runaway together!”  said she said.  She dug a hole and told her brother to hide in it and just as she had finished hiding him the evil man came into the hut with his dogs demanding his dinner. The boy’s sister had cooked a child for the evil man and put it before him.  He looked on her grimly and said, “You have had visitors while I was out!.”

The girl shivered inside and tried not to let him see this and said, “No one has been and you are the only person I have seen.”  But the evil man said, “I will wait until tomorrow and then I will find and kill him and you shall cook him for me to eat!”  

He knew someone was there by the way the dogs were snuffling about.  He said nothing more and the next morning he left the hut saying he was going hunting to a distant swamp.  However, instead of going hunting he hid himself where he could easily spy on the entrance to the hut.  Presently he saw the boy and his sister leave the hut and make their way to the lake shore and get into a canoe.  Barely had they sat down when they saw him running quickly towards them with a large hook in his hand which he threw and it latched onto the vessel as they moved through the water and he began pulling them back.  The boy reached down into the shallow water and grabbed a stone and smashed the hook with it and the canoe shot forward over the lake.

For a second the man did not know what to do and then he dropped down to the ground and began to drink in the water.   This began to draw the canoe back to him but the boy took aim and threw the stone hitting the man on the head killing him instantly.   This caused the water to gush out of him and back into the lake sending the canoe rapidly on its way.

Return to Skeleton Island

In three days time the brother and his sister arrived back on the island and together they went to see the skeleton to thank him. The skeleton told the boy that it was now turn for the boy to help him as he had promised.  He said,

“Take your sister back to your uncle’s lodge and then return to the island.  There are very many bones laid around the island and when you come back in a loud voice tell them to arise and this will bring them all back to life.”

When the brother and sister arrived at their uncle’s lodge the old man was delighted to see them back safe and sound.  He had come home to find the boy gone and had spent the rest of the time worrying and fretting over his safety.  On hearing about the boy’s adventures he advised they should build a new lodge to accommodate all the people who he would bring back with him.   When the lodge was finished the boy went back to the island and said in a loud voice, “All arise!” and the bones formed into people and he took them back to the new lodge he and his uncle and sister had built for them.  There they all lived very happily together for a very long time.

© 25/10/2017 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 10th, 2017 zteve t evans

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Mountain Legends and Folklore: Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA

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Devil’s Tower, Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming has a familiar look about it for many people who watched the classic 1974 sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  That is because it was the place that people desperately tried to reach to rendezvous with the giant alien spacecraft.  It is situated in Crook County in the Bear Lodge Mountains which is part of the Black Hills and not far from Sundance and Hulett in the north eastern part of Wyoming and rises to a height of 5,112 feet above sea level.  In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national park.  It was named Devil’s Tower in 1875 when an interpreter working for an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge who mistakenly interpreted a Native American name for it as “Bad God’s Tower”.   The Native Americans have several names for it including, Bear’s House, Bear’s Tipi, Bear’s Lodge and many others and features in many myths, legends and traditions.

Native American Folklore

The Kiowa and the Lakota people have a legend that tells how it originated.  This tells how a group of young girls were out playing when they came across several gigantic bears who on seeing then gave chase.  To escape the bears the girls climbed to the top of the summit and got down on their knees and prayed to the Great Spirit.   The Great Spirit heard their prayers and caused the rock to rise up from the ground towards the sky out of the reach of the bears. The bears tried to climb up to get them and dug their claws in the rock to gain a grip but kept sliding down because it was too steep for them to climb.  Their claws scratched the straight vertical marks that are seen to this day in the sides of the massive rock tower.  As the tower reached the sky the girls were transformed into a group of stars that are now called the Pleiades.

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Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge – Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Sioux Legend

One day two young Sioux boys roamed far from their village when they had the bad luck to come across Mato the bear. Mato was a gigantic bear who had massive sharp claws on his front paws.  As soon as he saw the boys he became intent on catching and eating them and chased after them.  Although the boys ran fast Mato ran faster and as he was about to pounce the boys prayed to the Great Spirit for help.   He heard their prayer and caused a great tower of rock to rise out of the ground underneath the boys who were lifted up beyond the reach of Mato who left his claw marks the sides of the tower of rock trying to climb up to get at them.   Eventually, tired and frustrated he sauntered off to look for an easier meal and eventually rested at a place now called Bear Butte.

The Cheyenne Legend

In a Cheyenne version of the legend a group of girls are chased by giant bears and most of them are killed.  Two sisters manage to escape and make it back to their village but the bear has followed them there.  The girls tell their brothers that the bear can only be killed by an arrow shot through the underside of its paw.  The brothers tell their sisters to lead it to Devil’s Tower and trick it into thinking they had climbed up it to escape.  This they did and the bear attempted to climb the rock tower clawing at its face but each time it slips down leaving its claw marks. As the bear is trying to climb the brothers are shooting arrows at its paws and eventually one arrow comes close to its mark scaring the bear off and the arrow continued to fly higher and higher and never came down.

The Northern Cheyenne Legend

There is a Northern Cheyenne legend which tells how a man fell asleep at the bottom of the tower of rock next to the head of a buffalo head.  In the morning when he woke up he discovered both he and the buffalo head by some unknown magic had been transported to the top of the rock.  Looking all around her could for see for miles in all directions but could see no way down.  He had no choice other than stay where was for another another day and night with no food or water.  So he spent the day praying and then went to sleep.  When he woke up the next morning  he had returned to the base of the massive rock where he has first gone to sleep.   According to legend the buffalo’s head could be still be seen on high by using a telescope and in those days the Devil’s Tower had never been climbed so there was no logical explanation as to how it got there.  The buffalo head had special significance to the Northern Cheyenne.  It was there practice in their camps to keep a sacred teepee dedicated to the Great Medicine where they kept the sacred objects of the people.  The sacred object of the Northern Cheyenne was a buffalo head which makes the story more significant for them.

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Bear by Pexels – Pixabay – Pixabay License

The Legend of Mato the Bear

Another legend tells how two young boys playing in the sagebrush on the great prairie.  They had been shooting arrows seeing how far they could fire them and roamed further and further from home.  As they were having fun they heard a noise like a small animal would make and went to investigate.   Creeping along in the direction came from they found a stream of fast running water that flowed over a bed of many colored pebbles.   The boys followed it for a while and came across a herd of deer, which they just had to track for a while.  After tracking the deer for a while they realized they were hungry and decided to return home, but realized they had no idea which way to go.  They decided to go in one direction but this only took them further and further from their home village.

As the day wore on the boys grew tired and finding a tree went to sleep under its branches.  The next morning they woke and still had no idea which way was home but chose to head west.  They managed to find berries and roots which ket them from starving and they slaked their thirst from the streams of clear water they crossed. For the next three days they continued walking into the west and despite being tired and footsore they found enough wild food and water to survive on.  They desperately wished their parents or their older brothers and sisters would turn up and find them but no one came.

On the fourth day the boys began to feel nervous and realized they were being tracked.  Although the boys had wanted to be found they wanted it to be by their family or friends or by someone who could help them, but they knew that this was no friend tracking them but Mato the bear.  Mato was a bear of gargantuan stature and so big both the boys together would be nothing but a snack to it.  He had picked up the scent of the boys from afar and followed it and was now hot on their trail and approaching fast.  Seeing him approach the boys ran off as fast as they could look for a place to hide but there was nowhere.  The giant bear was much faster than they and was rapidly catching them up and in their fear they stumbled.  He reared above them and they saw his great red maw full of sharp teeth and his hot breath was like a flame.   The boys had been taught about the Great Spirit and how to pray and called upon him to save them.  As Mato was about to strike the earth trembled and rose taking the boys high into the sky out of reach of the great bear.

The boys found themselves on tower of rock that kept rising higher and higher.  The boys looked all around and could see they were high above the ground and below them was the angry bear.  Mato had long sharp claws like steel and tried to climb up the rock tower after the boys but although he dug his claws in he kept slipping down.  As he slipped he left great grooves in the rock face from his claws that can be seen today.  Eventually he gave up and wandered off looking for easier game.    The boys were hundreds of feet in the air and could see the countryside for miles around and wondered how they could get down but they could see no way.  Wanblee the great eagle, who was a friend of their people saw him and came and carried them back safely to their people and they told them the marvelous tale of their escape from Mato the bear.

© 09/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2017 zteve t evans

The Legend of Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (Multnomah Falls) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Multnomah Falls

The Multnomah Falls is a waterfall situated not far from Portland in Oregon.  It is a local beauty spot which many people visit to see  torrents of cool, crystal clear, water cascade over the edge of a cliff to fall over 611 feet in a spectacular cascade.  A legend is associated with its creation that tells a story of love, devotion, faith and sacrifice.

Chief Multnomah

Many, many, years ago there was a Native American chief called Multnomah who had a beautiful daughter that he loved more than anything. Having lost his sons in wars he loved and cherished her even more and wanted to be sure when the time came she would have the best possible husband. To meet this goal he spent a lot of time looking over the young men of his own and neighbouring villages for the best possible match.  At last he decided that the best husband for his daughter would be a young chief from the Clatsop people who were neighbours.  It proved to be very good match and the two quickly developed a deep rapport and fell in love with one another.

Celebrations

Multnomah was pleased and planned to hold a great celebration in honour of the couple. He would invite people from miles around to wish the couple good luck, celebrate the match and take part in all kinds of activities that he would host.  There would be singing and dancing, and the young men would compete against each other in contests of archery, wrestling, swimming, canoe racing and naturally there would be feasting. It would be a spectacular and happy event but it did not go as planned.

The Plague

A terrible sickness came and laid many people low.  The children and the old died first but soon even the young and strong were also succumbing to this terrible plague.  The chief grew very worried.  He called a great council of his elders and sent off for eldest and wisest medicine man in the tribe who lived as a hermit on the mountain. The old medicine man rarely left his mountain home but when a message arrived from Multnomah begging him to come down he knew an important time long prophesized had come. The old medicine man told Chief Multnomah and the council that what he had to say was very grave and troubling but there was no other way to put the situation to right.

The Prophecy

He told Multnomah and the council of a prophecy that had been told to him when he was in his youth by his father just before he died at a very great age.  His father told him that a time would come when he had lived to a great age when a plague would fall upon the people. There would be no survivors unless an innocent daughter of a chief of the people willingly sacrificed her life to the Great Spirit. This and only this, was the only thing way the people could be saved.  The old medicine man then begged leave of the council saying that now the prophecy was revealed it was time for him to die and he went back to the mountain.

When the people heard of the prophecy many of the young maidens of the tribe presented themselves to Chief Multnomah, including his own beloved daughter, offering up themselves as sacrifices. Multnomah was appalled.  He could not come to terms with any of the maidens losing their lives and he thought long and hard about what he should do.  At last he made a decision and he called a general meeting of the people and explained the situation to them.  He told them he would not ask any of the maidens to sacrifice their lives.  Instead, he told the people they must be brave and prepare themselves as their forefathers would have done to meet with the inevitable end.

More and more people died and then Multnomah’s daughter again went to her father to ask his permission to sacrifice her life to save the people. Again, he refused and sadly she reluctantly obeyed her him.  When the plague struck down the man she loved she knew what she had to do.  After nursing and caring for him with all her love and tenderness she slipped out of the village and took the path to the highest cliff.

The Sacrifice

With her heart beating fast she walked resolutely to the cliff edge and stood looking down at the ragged rocks far, far below.   Closing her eyes she called upon the Great Spirit to give her a sign as proof that her sacrifice would bring a halt to the plague.   Then she cast her eyes to the skies looking all around for some kind of sign.   She saw the sun and she saw the clouds and then she saw the full moon rise in broad daylight on the distant horizon.   Accepting this as the sign she stepped off the cliff.

The following day in the village those who had been sick rose from their beds feeling hale, healthy and very happy to have fully recovered and great celebrations began.  Then the people started to think and wondered how their sudden, surprise cure had come about.

Multnomah called all the maidens to him and they were all present with the exception of one, his daughter.   Immediately the young Clatsop chief ran up the path to the cliff.  Peering over the edge he was devastated to see her broken body lying twisted among the rocks below.

The Great Spirit

The people were sad and wept long and loudly,  In gratitude they climbed to the bottom of the cliff and honored her in the tradition of their people and then raised a cairn over her body.  Her grieving father called upon the Great Spirit for a sign that he had welcomed her into his care.   Immediately they heard the sound of running water and a pure stream of crystal water cascaded over the cliff and has flowed continuously ever since.

Some say they have seen the spirit of the maiden all in white walking the path to the cliff top.  There she would stand by the waterfall now called Multnomah Falls that was sent by the Great Spirit to show the people that she, who had sacrificed all for love, was in his care.

© 19/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 19th, 2017 zteve t evans

Folklore of the Paiute People: The Legend of the North Star

The Paiute people of North America are spread over a wide territory ranging across Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho and Oregon. They are an ancient nomadic people who made a living from hunting and gathering and some basic farming.  The Paiutes were made up of two or three main groups which were split into a number of tribes and bands that lived scattered across their territory.  Their spiritual beliefs reflected their closeness to the natural world and they created many myths and legends which attempted to explain the world they lived in.  The following is a rewrite of a legend that tells how the North Star was created and how it helped the Paiutes and other earth-dwellers find their way in the dark.

The Legend of the North Star

Many, many, years ago when the world was still in its youth the People of the Sky were restless and wandered through the heavens leaving their trails behind them.  Today, people on Earth can see the ways they went by watching the trails they left which show in the night sky.  Of all the millions and millions of stars we see in the night sky the only star that does not appear to journey across the night sky is the North Star.

However, the North Star does move.  It moves in a small circle around the north celestial pole each day but from earth, it looks stationary.  Unlike the sun, moon, and stars it does not rise or set.  It appears like the hub of a wheel to stay still in a constant position in the sky and in the northern hemisphere is used as a guide to find north.  However, according to Paiute tradition back in the time of the earth’s youth there was not a  North Star.

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Käna’sta: The Lost Settlement of the Cherokees

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le:Chief Standing Deer – Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina (5756036106).jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Source: Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina – Author: Boston Public Library

James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who studied among the Southeastern Native American people as well as those on the Great Plains.  He spent several years living with the Cherokee people and compiling their myths, legends, and traditions into a book,  Myths of the Cherokee (1902),   Some of these legends and myths reveal that the Cherokees believed that there existed a kind of “otherworld”.  This was populated by a people who appeared similar to themselves but were invisible unless certain rituals and fasting was performed which allowed the Cherokees to make contact with them.  However, these people could make themselves known to the Cherokee at will and sometimes did. There were also various spirit beings large and small similar to giants, dwarves, and fairies.  Presented here is a legend collected by Mooney called  Käna’sta, The Lost Settlement that feature the belief in the otherworld and its spiritual inhabitants  and what follows is a rewrite base upon this.

Two Strangers Arrive

A legend says that one day two strangers visited Käna’sta and asked to be taken to see the chief as they had a message for him.  The strangers looked very much the same as the villagers and did not seem to be a threat so they were taken to see the chief.

After making the traditional greetings and welcoming them with full Cherokee hospitality the chief asked them what message they carried to him, thinking they were probably from a Cherokee village to the west of Käna’sta. To his surprise, they told him,

“Like you, we are also Cherokees and our town is very close but you have never seen it, but we are there.  In Käna’sta you have sickness and disease.  All around you are enemies who make war on you when they can. One day a stronger enemy will attack and drive you from your homes and take Käna’sta and make you homeless and miserable.  All who live in our town are happy and free of sickness and no enemy can find us.  We have been sent to Käna’sta to invite you to come and live with us in Tsuwa`tel’da which is the name of our town.”

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Petrification Myths:  Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

Petrification Myths: Coyote and the Legend People of Bryce Canyon

In the desert of southwest Utah in the United States of America is a remarkable place known as Bryce Canyon which many, many bizarre and colorful rock formations. The canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the area in 1874.  However, the Native American Paiute people of the region who were there long before the arrival of pioneers called it Angka-ku-wass-a-wits or red painted faces.

Bryce Canyon must surely be one of the most extraordinary natural places on earth.  It is a place where strange rock formations of yellow, orange and reddish brown that change hue as the light changes and fill the mind with many fantastical shapes and forms that appear grotesquely humanoid.

In geological terms, these columns are called hoodoos a term also used in witchcraft and the supernatural.  The Paiute people tell a very different story to the geologists but both explanations are really very extraordinary.   Presented first is a brief and simplified version of the geological explanation.  This is followed by a version of the traditional explanation given by the Paiute people who believed the columns were created when a mythical race called the Legend people were punished by their divine entity Coyote.

The Creation of the Landscape

First of all Bryce Canyon is not a canyon in geological terms.  It was created in a very different way to canyons which are created by weathering and the erosive action of rivers.   Instead, the Bryce landscape was created by a natural process called frost wedging which works over a great period of time to alter and recreate the entire landscape.  This process happens in Bryce Canyon because for most days of the year the temperature fluctuates to above freezing and drops to below zero in the course of a single day.

During daytime, seasonal snow melts and the water seeps into cracks and fractures in the rock and when it freezes at night it turns to ice and expands causing it to crack and fracture further and forcing sections of it apart making wedges into the rock forcing it apart.  This happens about 200 times a year in Bryce Canyon and an another process called frost heaving also comes into play forcing rocks upward from the bottom.   These two natural actions are supplemented by wind and rainwater which is naturally slightly acidic and this gently rounds off the rocks slowly dissolving the edges. And it is these natural processes that have combined to create the fantastical landscape of Bryce Canyon and it’s weird and wonderful hoodoos that are its main feature.  So that is a very quick and simplified precis of the scientific explanation but the Paiute people have another explanation

The Legend People of Bryce Canyon

According to Paiute legend and tradition millions of years before they appeared on earth there was another people who lived in the area called To-when-an-ung-wa or the Legend people.  In those days the land was said to be different being very green and verdant with streams and rivers of fresh clean running water.  Animals and birds were plentiful and the hoodoos were not yet created.

The Legend people took the form of giant animals, reptiles, and birds and in their land of plenty gave no thought to others who shared it with them.  They would drink up all the water and despoil what was left so others could not use.  They would eat and take all the nuts, fruits and berries leaving nothing for other creatures to survive the winter on.  They never gave a thought for the other animals and birds that shared the land which became less fertile and abundant.

Coyote

At last the animals and birds began to complain loudly about the inconsiderate and selfish behavior of the legend people and how carelessly and recklessly they despoiled all the fruits and good resources of the Earth.  One day the spirit they called Coyote heard them while he was out walking and went to see what was going on.  Coyote was angry at what he saw and decided to punish the Legend people.  He had a reputation for being a trickster which was well earned and he decided there and then he would trick the Legend people.

Coyote invited them to a great feast promising them they would be served the best food and drink they had ever been given.  The Legend people were always greedy for more food and drink and readily accepted the invitation.  They put on their best clothing and painted their faces red as was their custom at such occasions and went to the great feast of Coyote to eat their fill.

When they arrived they found the best food they had ever seen all laid out and ready for them to tuck into.  Coyote was watching and just as they were about to take the first bite of food he cast a spell.   Suddenly, one, by one they all began turning to stone.  Naturally, those not yet affected began to panic and tried to escape trying to climb over the ridge of the valley. They all pushed and pulled and scrambled over one another but there was no escape and gradually they all succumbed to the spell of Coyote.   It was a scene of madness, mayhem and sheer hell.  Soon their struggling ceased and all were turned into columns of stone, their bodies and faces rigid and paralyzed in their final act of standing, sitting, crawling,  climbing, running or whatever and there they have remained through the ages as a testament to their greed and selfishness.

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By Don Graham from Redlands, CA, USA – God bless it! (Ancestors, Bryce Canyon NP, UT 9-09) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Pauite People

When the Paiute people arrived they found the hoodoos and could see their red faces in the rock columns just as they were before they were petrified.  This is why they called the place Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, which means red painted faces and these are the hoodoos we see today in Bryce Canyon.  Some people today say their faces have been eroded so much over the centuries that they cannot be recognized and people will forget the story of the Legend people.  Those who can see know Coyote still wanders the wilderness and know he has not lost his power and they will not forget why he turned red painted faces to stone.

© 23/05/17 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright May 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

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


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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