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

Cherokee Folklore: The Strange Legend of Tsuwe’nähï and the Secret Town

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Pilot Mountain, North Carolina – Image Credit: Wahkeenah – Public Domain

In his book Myths of the Cherokee People (1902) the American ethnographer, James Mooney (1861-1921) compiled a large bank of folklore, legend, and mythology of the Cherokee people that provides a remarkable insight into how they viewed and made sense of the world around them.   Some of these legends tell of a secret or invisible tribe of Cherokees who live either inside Pilot Mountain or in some hidden valley only reached by passing a concealed entrance in the mountain’s side.  The following work is a rewrite of the legend called Tsuwe’nähï: A Legend of Pilot Knob from Mooney’s book that tells of these secret people and their hidden town.

Lazy Tsuwe’nähï

There was once a lazy man whose name was Tsuwe’nähï.  He lived in an old town called Känuga that was situated on the banks of the Pigeon River.  He was too lazy to build his own house so instead, he lived with friends and relatives moving frequently from one to another.   Although he liked to spend all of his time in the woods he never bothered to hunt to bring back game as thanks to those who kept him through their good nature.

At last the good nature of his friends and relatives ran thin and they tired of him living off their generosity and they told him so.  Tsuwe’nähï pleaded for a last chance and asked them to prepare some parched corn for him to take on a hunting trip.  He promised them he would bring back deer, or some other kind of game, telling them if he failed he would never bother them again.

So his friends and relatives gave him a pouch with enough corn to sustain him on his hunting trip and he headed off into the mountains.   Many days passed, and weeks turned to months but he did not return and everyone thought they would never see him again.  Then one day he appeared in the town with a strange tale to tell.

The Strange Tale of Tsuwe’nähï

He told his friends and relatives that he had followed the trail towards the mountains and as he passed across a ridge he had met a stranger.  They greeted each other in a friendly fashion and stopped to talk to each other.  The stranger asked him where he was going out in the wilds on his own.   Tsuwe’nähï told him that his friends had relatives had driven him out of their homes telling him he was lazy.  He told him that he must bring back game to share with them or they would not have him back and ruefully he explained he was not a very good hunter.  The stranger smiled at him and said, “Come and visit my town. It is not far and you will see that you have relatives and friends there.”

The Secret Town on Pilot Mountain

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Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain – Image Credit:AnDrew McKenzie – CC BY-SA 3.0

Tsuwe’nähï was very grateful for the offer.  He was ashamed about how he had lived off his family and friends for so long and did not want to return empty handed, so he accepted.  The stranger led him towards the mountain called Tsuwa`tel’da which is also known as Pilot Mountain or Pilot Knob.   Eventually, they came to a bare rock face and the stranger led him to a hidden cave and gestured and said, “Please follow me!”

Tsuwe’nähï followed the stranger into the cave and down along a passage that ran into the heart of the mountain,  Eventually the passage opened out into a wide and beautiful valley. Looking down into the valley Tsuwe’nähï saw a great town thronged with many people.

Tsuwe’nähï and the stranger walked down the valley towards the town.  The townsfolk seeing him coming ran to meet him greeting him in warmth and friendship and showed him to the house of their chief.   The chief greeted him warmly and told him he was welcome and offered him a seat beside the fire.  Tsuwe’nähï gladly accepted and sat down but was surprised to find the seat moved underneath him.  Then he looked down and saw there was a turtle’s head poking out of its shell and realized he was seated upon the back of a huge turtle and jumped up in surprise.

“It’s alright,” said the chief, “he is only looking to see who you are!”   Tsuwe’nähï sat down gently and carefully and the turtle drew its head back into its shell. He was then offered food the kind of which he was accustomed to and he was encouraged to eat and drink his fill.  When he had finished the chief took him on a tour around the settlement and introduced him to many of its people.  Eventually, Tsuwe’nähï grew tired and was allowed to rest.  After he had rested the chief led him back to the mouth of the cave he had entered the strange country from and showed him the path that led back to the river telling him,  “Although you are going back to the place you call home you will never again be happy there. Nevertheless, you have seen us and whenever you are ready you can come to us as you now know where we are.”

Tsuwe’nähï Returns Home

The chief turned and left. Tsuwe’nähï made his way back down the mountain path towards the river following it until he found his way back to Känuga.  On his return, he told his story to his family and friends but none of them would believe him and laughed calling him foolish.   After his return, he would often go off alone into the forest sometimes being away for several days at a time.  When he came back he would tell folk he had been visiting the hidden people on Pilot Mountain but still, no one believed him.

Then one day after returning from such a trip he told a group of friends about his visit to the hidden people.   Most laughed at dismissed his story and walked away but one man stayed and told him he believed him and would like to go with him to see for himself the next time he visited the hidden people on Pilot Mountain.

At Last Someone Believes Him

Tsuwe’nähï was pleased that he had, at last, found someone who would listen to him and readily agreed to his company. A few days later he took the man into the forest and the two of them made their way to Pilot Mountain.    After a good trek, they decided to make rest and Tsuwe’nähï said to his companion to remain at the spot and set up camp while he went on ahead telling him he would soon return.

So his friend set up camp and waited for the return of his guide.  While he waited he did some hunting and set up a fire to cook his game.  After two days and two nights the man heard  Tsuwe’nähï approaching but although he appeared to be alone he was talking to someone else close by him.  Although he could see no one the man heard the voices of two girls who were talking to Tsuwe’nähï and he to them.

As Tsuwe’nähï stepped into the firelight he greeted his friend and said,  “Look I have returned with friends and they say that in two nights time there will be a dance at their town and they are inviting us to go.”  

His friend liked the idea of a dance at the strange town and readily accepted even though he could not see who else he was talking to.   Then Tsuwe’nähï spoke as if to someone nearby saying, “He accepts and thanks you for the invitation” and turned to his friend and said, “Our sisters ask for some venison”

His friend said, “What parts would they like?” and the girls said,  “Mother has asked us to request ribs,” and although he could not see who was speaking he cut them generous portions of ribs and handed them to Tsuwe’nähï.

“Thank you,” said Tsuwe’nähï taking the ribs and said, “We shall return for you in two days,”  and then turned about and disappeared into the forest night.  The man watched him disappear and listened as the voices faded into the forest and then all was quiet.

Just as he said two days later Tsuwe’nähï returned but this time the man could see he was accompanied by two girls who went and stood by the fire to warm themselves.  The man thought they were very handsome girls but one thing struck him as strange.  He noticed that their feet were not like human feet but more like the paws of a wolf.  As soon as they realized he had seen their feet they sat down to cover them up but said nothing about them and he decided out of politeness not to ask.

The party ate a meal together and then set out along a nearby creek to the trail that led to Tsuwa`tel’da and the hidden land.  They came to a bare cliff face where they entered a cave that was hidden by folds in the rock.  They made their way down a passage which opened up into a broad valley and walked down the path to the town below.  The man was surprised by everything he saw but found his legs became very weak and began to give way under him and he fell to the ground.

Tsuwe’nähï and the girls tried to help him to him to his feet but he could not move so one of the girls ran and fetched a medicine man.  The medicine man told him he could not walk because he had not prepared himself by fasting.  He then took out some old tobacco he kept in a pouch at his side and rubbed it on the legs of the man and placing it under his nose told him to smell it.  After this, the man was able to walk and went with others to the dance which had not yet begun.

The Dance

Tsuwe’nähï took his friend to the townhouse and gave him a seat close to the fire.  His friend looked warily at the seat.  It was covered in the long thorns of the honey locust and he was worried they may pierce his skin if he sat on it.  However, his Tsuwe’näh told him it would be safe to sit on so he sat down and found the long thorns soft and comfortable.

The drummer entered the townhouse and was followed by the dancers and the dancing commenced.  A man followed the dancers around crying, “Kû! Kû!” and Tsuwe’nähï explained that he was not one of the dancers.  He told him that the man had once got lost in the mountains and had gone round in circles calling out to his friends.  Eventually, the hidden people found him and took him in but he had lost his voice and was only able to say “Kû! Kû!” ever after.

Return to Känuga

When the dance finished Tsuwe’nähï and his friend went back to Känuga.  They told the people of Känuga all about the town on Pilot Mountain and how good and kind the townsfolk were.  This time because there were two of them the people listened and some said they wanted to go there.  Tsuwe’nähï told them that they had to fast for seven days while he went up to Pilot Mountain to tell the hidden people so that they could prepare for their coming.  After seven days he returned and led the people of Känuga who wanted to go to the town on Pilot Mountain.  The people who remained behind never saw those who went with Tsuwe’nähï to the secret town again.

© 22/02/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 22nd, 2017 zteve t evans

North American Mythology: The First Hummingbird

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Hovering male rufous hummingbird – Image by Ryan Bushby(HighInBC) – CC BY 2.5

In her book, The Book of Nature Myths (1904) Florence Holbrook collected over fifty traditional Native American myths and legends many of which tell of the origin of how things came to be.   What follows is a rewrite of The Story of the First Hummingbird.

The Great Fire Mountain

In a time when the earth was still young and growing there were two hunters in the forest searching for game.  They had followed the trail of a deer for many days and had traveled a great distance from their village, much further than they or any other villager had ever been before.  When evening came and the sun began to slowly sink and darkness fell all around them they stopped to rest for the night.  Huddling together for warmth they looked out over the western sky and saw a bright light glowing in the distant darkness, flickering, red, yellow and orange.

“What can that be?” said one.

“It must be the moon,” said the other.

“Surely not.  We have seen many moons and we have seen it round and full and we have seen its shapes and it is not like we have seen before.  Could it be the northern lights?”

“We have seen the northern lights and they are not like this,” replied the other.

“Whatever can they be?” said the other.

“Perhaps it is the fire of the Great Spirit and maybe he is cooking?” one asked.

“Perhaps he is angry with us and will punish us with flames!” said the other.

With nothing else to be done until sunrise, they sat up all night watching as the lights flickered red, yellow and orange in the western sky.  At sunrise, they were astonished to see flames of red, yellow and orange flickering on the distant horizon and thick plumes of dark, blue smoke rising high into the clear blue sky.   They had no idea what the flickering flames could be so they decided they would go and see.  As they drew near they could see the flames and the smoke more clearly and saw they were rising from the crest of a steep mountain way off in the distance.

“It looks like a great mountain of fire, what shall we do?” said one.

“Let’s go a bit closer and see more,” said the other.

So they trekked on until they came so close they could see fire leaping out of splits in the mountainside and flickering around its peak like a fiery crown.

“It is a mountain of fire!  This will be of great help to our people.  Let’s go on,” said one,

They came to the foothills and climbed steadily up the sides of the fiery mountain until they stood right on its to top and looked down into its center and saw a sea of red hot molten rock with flames dancing across it.

One turned to the other and said, “We have discovered the secret of the fire mountain and our people will be so glad to have this.  Let us now go and tell them.”  Quickly, they made their way down the mountain and back through the forest to their village.

 “We have been far, much further than anyone else had ever been from the village and we have discovered a wonderful secret,” said one excitedly to the people who gathered around to greet their return.

“We have discovered the secret of where the Fire Spirit has her home.  We have found where the flames are kept that warm the children of the Great Spirit,” continued the other.

“We have found the fire mountain where the flames dance and the blue smoke rises day and night and at its top there lies a lake of fire and molten rock.  Come with us and we will lead you there,” said the first.

“And we shall never be cold again and always have a flame to cook with!” said the second.

The people were glad to hear this for they suffered greatly in the cold and snow of winter and needed flame to cook their game.  They all agreed it would be a wonderful thing to go and live on the Fire Mountain so they packed up their belongings and made ready to leave.

The two hunters led their people to the foot of the mountain of fire where they set up their village and were glad.  The Fire Spirit looked down and saw them come and was glad for them for she was a kindly spirit.  She knew they would benefit greatly from her fire when the hard, bleak,  months of winter came.  The people lived for many years at the foot of the mountain and gave thanks to the beneficence of the Fire Spirit who gave her flames to stop them perishing in the winter and to cook their food with.

The Dance of the Flames

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Image Attribution Dr. Carlos Costales Terán [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many moons passed and the people lived happily in their village at the foot of the Fire Mountain.  Often on summer evenings the children would gaze up to its summit and watch in wonder as the great flames flickered and danced and lit up the night sky and would ask,

“Father, what are the beautiful lights that dance upon the mountain top?” and the father would answer,  “The mountain is the home of the Fire Spirit and it is her flames that dance around the mountain top.  She is our friend gives us her flames to warm us in winter and for us to cook by.”  With that, the children would settle down and sleep safely and gently until dawn.

One night the flames on the mountain danced themselves into a frenzy leaping and jumping upon the molten lake like warriors dancing a great war dance.  In their excitement, they caught hold of great rocks and threw them high in the air.  Great plumes of blues smoke issued from from cracks and gaps that appeared on the mountain and billowed into the sky blackening out the moon and stars.  From deep within the mountain, the throbbing, beating sound of drums shook the ground and the flames danced wildly, higher and higher. In their frenzy, they left the fiery lake at the center of the mountain summit and ran wildly down the mountainside.

The gentle Fire Spirit was alarmed at her excited children and called to them, “Quiet now, calm yourselves, you will frighten the people of the village.  They will not understand that you are just dancing!”

The flames continued dancing wildly and were too excited to listen.  They ran down the mountainside burning flowers and trees and anything else that was in their path. They drove the animals away and hunted them in the woods below and frightened the birds causing them to take to the air.  Burning rivers of molten rock and flame annihilated all that stood in the way.  The Fire Spirit begged and pleaded with them to stop but they would not and headed towards the village.

In the village, all slept soundly unaware of the danger, but the acrid smell of the smoke awoke one of the warriors who looked out and saw the danger.  Crying out warnings he quickly roused the villagers.  In fear, the terrified villager quickly abandoned the village and ran into the forest as the flames descended upon their settlement and greedily ate the homes they had grown to love.

Thankfully all the villagers escaped into the forest unharmed though still terrified.  They huddled together and debated what they should do.  The two hunters said they would go up to the mountaintop and see what could be seen and they set off.  When they returned, they shook their heads sadly and one said, “All the flowers are burnt.  All the grass is burnt.  All the trees are burnt and the birds and animals have fled.  Nothing lives on or around the mountain.”

The other said, “It is bare and burnt nothing can live on or near the Fire Mountain.  The Fire Spirit is still there as her flames can be seen in the cracks and the fissures and smoke still rises, though it is much lighter.  We think the Fire Spirit will never again be our friend.”

The Hummingbird is Born of Flame

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Female rufous hummingbird – Photo Credit: Peter Pearsall/USFWS – CC BY 2.0

The Great Spirit looked down and saw what damage the flames had done and he was angry.  “The flames must perish.  No longer will they dance and flicker in the night sky!”

The gentle Fire Spirit trembled for her wayward children.  “Great Spirit have mercy upon them!  It is true they grew wild and out of control, but they know not what they do.  They have burnt the flowers and grass, burnt the trees and driven away the birds and the animals and frightened off your own children and ate their village.  They have been cruel and unkind but they know not what they did.  

For many, many moons, in the coldness of winter, they have given their flames so the people and their children would not perish of cold and they could cook their food.  For many moons, they listened to me and were of great benefit to your children on earth, but in the wildness of their dance, they lost control.  How will your people keep warm and cook if the flames die completely from the earth?”

The Great Spirit heard the pleas of the gentle Fire Spirit and thought for a while but then said, “The flames must perish.  They lost control and were cruel to my children and they and their little children now fear them.  I hear what you say and the flames will not be lost entirely and they will still warm the people.  Because the people once loved them and because they know not what they did, the beauty of the flames shall live and warm and gladden the hearts of whoever looks upon them.”

Taking up his war-club the Great Spirit struck the top of the mountain a mighty blow.  The fires flickered and faded and the smoke slowly vanished and all the flames shrank slowly to condense into one small shining, flickering flame.  It was of such purity and glory and in its heart of hearts one tiny flame flicked with brilliant intensity.  The Great Spirit looked upon what he had done and was pleased.  It was looked like a star from the night sky but much brighter and much more beautiful.

“Although the fire of the mountain must perish this gentle flame shall have wings to fly and all my children will love her as I do myself!”  Thus, spoke the Great Spirit and from the mountain, a tiny bird fluttered up and hovered briefly.  Then it flew swiftly from the mountain into the blue sky.   As the sunshine caught upon its feathers they flickered, red, gold, orange and yellow and all the wonderful colors of the flame flickered from the bird.
So it was from the heart of the fiery mountain the bird of flame called the hummingbird was born and all the children of the Great Spirit that walk upon the earth rejoice whenever they see it.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans

Sacred Texts – THE BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS BY FLORENCE HOLBROOK [1904] – THE STORY OF THE FIRST HUMMINGBIRD

 

Wilderness Tales: First Falling Thunder and the Little Bird

This is a retelling of a folktale from the Colorado foothills collected by  Charles M. Skinner called Riders of the Desert, published in his book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land  (1896).

Ta-in-ga-ro and Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro, which means First Falling Thunder, built his lodge in the Colorado foothills among the towering sandstone columns.  Although he was brave in battle and swift in the chase he preferred to spend his time in the company of Zecana, which means Little Bird, who was his wife, rarely joining in with the forays of the men of his tribe.

He trapped beaver and hunted the wild sheep and would take them to a trading post on the Mexican border.  He would take his beloved Zecana along with him as he could not bear to be parted from her.  It was on one such outing when a Spanish trader saw Zecana and became enamored with her.  He dreamed about her day and night to the point where he became consumed by his own lust for her and craved for his fill of her body.  To satisfy his hunger he plotted to separate her from Ta-in-ga-ro who rarely left her side.

To achieve this aim while keeping his feelings for Zecana secret he persuaded Ta-in-ga-ro to undertake a journey to a distant mountain, promising him that Zecana could remain in safety and comfort at the trading post until he returned.  Ta-in-ga-ro was an honest man who would never knowingly hurt anyone and could not envisage that everyone was not like himself and  he agreed and began the journey.

A Bad Omen

Along the way, he stopped at a spring to rest and refresh himself.  He saw how the blue sky and clouds reflected in the cool clear waters and after he had drunk his fill he cast some beads and wampum into the water as was customary to thank the spirit.  Throwing his offering into the spring he was most shocked to see a bad omen manifest within the water.  Instead of reflecting the sky to his horror and fear he saw the agonized and anguished face of his beloved wife appear.

As fear washed over him he jumped to his feet and jumped upon his horse and galloped back to the trading post without stopping for rest or food.  When he arrived at he jumped from his horse and ran into the building looking for his wife.  Neither she or the Spaniard were there and not knowing what else to do he returned to his lodge.

Zecana

It was a long and lonely journey and both he and his horse were exhausted, but he rode day and night and one morning as the dawn was breaking he saw the sun coming up over his lodge.  There to his absolute joy as entered his home was his beloved wife Zecana.  She was happily singing as she went about the care of the home just as she always had done.  Joyfully he greeted her holding arms out to embrace.  She turned her head to look at him and then casually returned to her singing.   He turned her towards him and looked into her eyes.  what had once been dark and mysterious pools that shone with inner beauty were now dead.  She looked at him through dead eyes and she did not know who he was.  Her mind and reason were  no longer there.

The Madness of Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro cried out in shock and stepped back and then gently sat her down and cradled her lovingly in his arms.  Slowly with his gentleness and patience, he learned from her babble the terrible ordeal the Spaniard had inflicted upon her.  When she had finally managed to tell her story a fleeting look of remembrance came into her dark eyes and in her tortured mind she briefly saw her husband and remembered her love for him.  Then, pain came into her eyes and tears flooded down her face.  Suddenly, her hand snaked out and grasped the dagger he always carried at his side.  Stepping back she raised it with both hands and plunged it into her heart falling dead at her shocked husband’s feet.

Ta-in-ga-ro watched this all happen as if it was in slow motion and as the blade entered her heart he let out a cry and reached forward but was too late to stop her.  He stood frozen to the spot for hours overcome by the horror of his wife’s suicide.  Eventually, the strength of his forefathers came to his rescue and he knew she had passed on.  Setting his house in order he wrapped his wife’s body in buffalo skin and laid her in what he thought was a comfortable position for her to sleep, though he knew the body was not her and her soul had flown.   Then he lay down beside her and slept for his body was exhausted and his emotions numb.

The Spaniard

Two nights later the Spaniard lay sleeping in his bed at the trading post.  Ta-in-ga-ro had passed the guards unseen like a shadow and now stood over the sleeping man looking down upon him.  In the darkest hours the Spaniard awoke with a start by strange feeling as his mouth was gagged by his belt.  Although he tried he could not cry out and his teeth bit into leather.  He felt fear as a noose tightened around his throat and struggled to free himself but to no avail.  In seconds he found himself bound hand and foot and flung over someone’s shoulder.  Struggle though he did he could not break free and could not even make a sound as he was carried stealthily out of the house.

Ta-in-ga-ro placed him across a horse tying him to the beast’s body firmly.  He then wrapped an arrow in cotton and set it a light firing it into a nearby haystack to create a diversion.  While everyone was busy dousing the flaming haystack he mounted his own horse bound Spaniard into the desert concealed by the smoke.

Ta-in-ga-ro took his captive back to his home lodge where his dead wife lay.  Arriving back Ta-in-ga-ro he ungagged him and loosened his bonds enough for him to eat.  The Spaniard ate and when he had finished Ta-in-ga-ro led a horse he had placed a wooden saddle upon to the door way.  He then cut off the clothes of the Spaniard  and placed him upon the horse ignoring his terrified pleas to stop.  Ta-in-ga-ro then tied the man firmly to the horse.  He then went inside and carried out his dead wife and lifted her corpse upon the horse so that she sat face to face with the Spaniard.  He then freed the burdened  horse  and mounting his own set it free in into the desert.  The horse wandered off carrying the Spaniard and the corpse.  The more the Spaniard struggled the closer his face came to the face of the dead woman.

Into the Desert

The horse carried them both further into the desert.  The Spaniard slipped in and out of consciousness and each came time came to face to face with his victim.  Slowly and surely the horse continued ever deeper into the endless desert.  In the fierceness of the desert heat, the Spaniard sweat profusely and his bonds cut him into his skin and blood dripped from him.  At night the cold desert air froze his bones and although he nodded into sleep each time he did Ta-in-ga-ro yelled at him.  With a jolt, he would awaken to face the corpse whose dead eyes stared into his own.  And so this living nightmare  continued and occasionally, Ta-in-ga-ro gave him a mouth full ,of water to keep him alive but never any food and the Spaniard’s hunger grew.  This nightmare continued for many days and all the time the Spaniard sat face to face with the corpse of Zecana.  He had eaten nothing for days and hunger gnawed at him as he looked into the dead of eyes of the woman he had once so hungered for.

The Madman and the Corpse

At last the Spaniard could bear the hunger no longer and though he hated what he did he sank his teeth into the face of the woman who he had so lusted after.  Ta-in-ga-ro looked on grimly each time hunger took the Spaniard but still continued taking them further and further into the desert.  At last, he heard the Spaniard sobbing and gibbering and knew that madness had come upon him.  Only then did he rein in his own horse and watch as the horse bearing the babbling Spaniard and the corpse wandered deeper into the desert.  Not until he had seen them disappear into the wilderness did he turn his own horse around and ride off.  He never went home but went to join Zecana.

The madman and the corpse were carried into the wilderness that is the  abode of lost and wandering souls.    Few people willingly go to that barren and empty wasteland and fewer return but those who do have an eerie tale to tell.  They say when the little bird stops singing and the first falling thunder is heard the phantom riders appear.  The ghost of the babbling madman staring into the dead eyes of  the woman that he had so hungered for doomed to forever feast upon her flesh on an endless journey through the wilderness.

© 12/10/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright October 12th, zteve t evans

 

Superstition Mountain Tales: Pale Faced Lightning

Superstition Mountain is a mountain in the Superstitions Mountains of Arizona, USA and a place of many myths and legends of the Native American and local people  One Native American legend tells how a tribe of Pueblo dwarfs settled in the area establishing settlements and growing crops and breeding flocks of animals.

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Image by Scotto Bear – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pueblo Dwarfs

They practiced their own religion in their own way which was based on the sun. Although these people were small in stature being only on average four feet tall, they were very intelligent and as is often the case with intelligent people, they were peace loving.  They were rumored to possess a great treasure beyond belief.

Being small in stature other tribes sometimes sought to rob and bully them.  The dwarves were not easy victims.  They had learned how to make strong potions and incantations that would usually frighten off their enemies without the need for bloodshed.  Once these were invoked all that was usually needed was a show of arms to discourage fighting.

One day they learned that their enemies were preparing a massive attack on them. Their chief had called together all the braves of his people and was leading them towards Superstition Mountain determined to wipe out the peace loving dwarfs and take all their flocks but what they really wanted was to steal their great treasure.

Pale-faced Woman

The dwarfs hid their flocks of sheep in hidden valleys and built walls and fortifications in strategic places that guarded the passes to their land and made plans for their self-defense.  All of these plans and works were supervised and directed by a woman who was not of their race but who had come among them from an unknown land.  This woman was tall, with golden hair and a pale face and she exuded an air of command.  Although she was not of their kind the Pueblo dwarfs held her in awe and reverence following her every word and treasuring her.

She was also known to their enemies.  They justified the attack by saying they had brought her from the waters of the rising sun and their chief had fallen in love with her and had wanted to marry her.  In their minds, they believed she should have seen this as a great honor and agreed to the marriage.  The fact was she did not love him and had refused marriage and fled rather than be taken by force.

She had wandered in the wilderness until she found the Pueblo dwarfs who had taken her in.  In return, she taught them how animal husbandry and how to plant seeds, build houses and she had healed many of their sick.  The dwarfs would have given their enemies all their flocks in exchange for her but she would not let them.  Instead, she told them she would stand and fight and urged them to escape.  The dwarfs refused to leave without her and told her they would defend her to the death so she devised a plan of defense.

Superstition Mountain

The dwarfs met the invaders on the borders but instead of fighting retreated across the land drawing them towards Superstition Mountain.  Their enemy followed thinking they were afraid that all the time they led them on to the mountain.  Eventually, the enemy reached Superstition Mountain and  the dwarfs took up the defensive positions they had prepared.  The enemy chief marshaled his braves on the lower slopes ready for all out attack.

On a nearby hill other tribes also gathered to watch the attack looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation whichever way the pending battle should fall.  They knew that while the battle was raging they had the opportunity to sneak behind the dwarfs and steal their flocks though what they really wanted was their treasure.  Whichever way the battle went they intended to rob the exhausted survivors. Like vultures waiting for the death of their victim, they bided their time.

The Attack

The invading chief gave the order for the attack to begin and wave after wave of braves ran up the slopes to attack the defensive walls of the Pueblo dwarfs. The Pueblo dwarfs stood ready behind their defenses. The walls had been built behind a pool of water and now the pale-faced woman stood tall and commanding like a queen in front of the pool calmly waiting for the enemy to arrive.  Her adopted people looked on in love and admiration ready to fight to the death for her.  As the enemy came up the slope they saw her standing proud and impassive and they were too were filled with admiration and desire.  They began shouting fiercely and threateningly and running towards her with outstretched arms.

Pale Faced Lightning

The pale-faced woman stood tall and erect and calmly watched their frenzied attack.  As they approached ready to take her she quickly stooped down, picked up a clay jar and emptied its contents into the pool and strode ran back behind the defensive walls to join the dwarfs.   As soon as she joined her people on the walls from the rocks and crevices all around there burst red hot sparks and tongues of fire that killed many of the attacking braves instantly. Lightning struck from the skies killing many others while other perished as they fell off the cliffs as they fled in their panic.

The pale-faced woman stood calmly and stately among her people and watched impassively as her enemies were routed without so much as an arrow being shot. From this day on she was known as Pale Faced Lightning.  The watchers in the nearby hills also looked on and were appalled and terror-stricken at what they saw.  The lust for treasure though will burn the hearts of the unworthy and a few years later they mustered the courage to attempt to attack the Pueblo dwarfs.  Pale Faced Lightning routed them as she had previously routed her enemies but with greater loss of life.  After that no foe dared to threaten the Pueblo dwarfs but just as they had arrived out of nowhere so they left taking their treasure with them.

Some say they their leader dreamed a dream of hordes of people moving out of the eastern lands into the west bring death and misery to the First Peoples.  Some say she led the Pueblo dwarfs to a secret place on Superstition Mountain where they live to this day in peace and happiness ruled over by their treasure, their Pale Faced Lightning.

© 27/09/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright September 27th, 2016 zteve t evans