Native American Legends
Achomawi Creation Myth
An Achomawi Legend
In the beginning all was water. In all directions the sky was clear
and unobstructed. A cloud formed in the sky, grew lumpy, and turned
into Coyote. Then a fog arose, grew lumpy, and became Silver-Fox.
They became persons. Then they thought. They thought a canoe, and
they said, "Let us stay here, let us make it our home."
Then they floated about, for many years they floated; and the canoe
became old and mossy, and they grew weary of it.
"Do you go and lie down," said Silver-Fox to Coyote, and he did so.
While he slept, Silver-Fox combed his hair, and the combings he
saved. When there was much of them, he rolled them in his hands,
stretched them out, and flattened them between his hands. When he
had done this, he laid them upon the water and spread them out,
till they covered all the surface of the water. Then he thought,
"There should be a tree," and it was there. And he did
the same way with shrubs and with rocks, and weighted the film down
with stones, so that the film did not wave and rise in ripples as
it floated in the wind. And thus he made it, that it was just right,
this that was to be the world. And then the canoe floated gently
up to the edge, and it was the world.
Then he cried to Coyote, "Wake up! We are going to sink!"
And Coyote woke, and looked up; and over his head, as he lay, hung
cherries and plums; and from the surface of the world he heard crickets
chirping. And at once Coyote began to cat the cherries and the plums,
and the crickets also.
After a time Coyote said, "Where are we? What place is this
that we have come to?"
And Silver-Fox replied, "I do not know. We are just here.
We floated up to the shore."
Still all the time he knew; but he denied that he had made the
world. He did not want Coyote to know that the world was his creation.
Then Silver-Fox said, "What shall we do? Here is solid ground.
I am going ashore, and am going to live here."
So they landed, and built a sweat-house and lived in it. They thought
about making people; and after a time, they made little sticks of
service-berry, and they thrust them all about into the roof of the
house on the inside. And by and by all became people of different
sorts, birds and animals and fish, all but the deer, and he was
as the deer are today. And Pine-Marten was the chief of the people;
and Eagle was the woman chief, for she was Pine- Marten's sister.
And this happened at 'texcag-wa [the word will not translate].
And people went out to hunt from the sweat-house. And they killed
deer, and brought them home, and had plenty to eat. Arrows with
pine-bark points were what they used then, it is said, for there
was no obsidian. And Ground-Squirrel, of all the people, he only
knew where obsidian could be found. So he went to steal it.
To Medicine Lake he went, for there Obsidian-Old-Man lived, in
a big sweat- house. And Ground-Squirrel went in, taking with him
roots in a basket of tules. And he gave the old man some to eat;
and he liked them so much, that he sent Ground-Squirrel out to get
more. But while he was digging them Grizzly-Bear came, and said,
"Sit down! Let me sit in your lap. Feed me those roots by handfuls."
So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear as he had asked,
for he was afraid. Then Grizzly-Bear said, "Obsidian-Old-Man's
mother cleaned roots for some one," and went away.
Ground-Squirrel went back to the sweat- house, but had few roots,
for Grizzly-Bear had eaten so many. Then he gave them to the old
man, and told him what the bear had said about him, and how he had
robbed him of the roots. Then Obsidian-Old-Man was angry. "Tomorrow
we will go," he said, Then they slept.
In the morning they ate breakfast early and went off, and the old
man said that Ground-Squirrel should go and dig more roots, and
that he would wait, and watch for Grizzly-Bear.
So Ground-Squirrel went and dug; and when the basket was filled,
Grizzly-Bear came, and said, "You have dug all these for me.
So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear roots by the
handful. But Obsidian-Old-Man had come near. And Grizzly-Bear got
up to fight, and he struck at the old man; but he turned his side
to the blow, and Grizzly-Bear merely cut off a great slice of his
own flesh. And he kept on fighting, till he was all cut to pieces,
and fell dead. Then Ground-Squirrel and Obsidian-Old-Man went home
to the sweat-house, and built a fire, and ate the roots, and were
happy. Then the old man went to sleep.
In the morning Obsidian-Old-Man woke up, and heard Ground-Squirrel
groaning. He said, "I am sick. I am bruised because that great
fellow sat upon me. Really, I am sick."
Then Obsidian-Old-Man was sorry, but Ground-Squirrel was fooling
the old man. After a while the old man said, "I will go and
get wood. I'll watch him, for perhaps he is fooling me. These people
are very clever."
Then he went for wood; and he thought as he went, "I had better
go back and look."
So he went back softly, and peeped in; but Ground-Squirrel lay
there quiet, and groaned, and now and then he vomited up green substances.
Then Obsidian-Old -Man thought, "He is really sick," and
he went off to get more wood; but Ground-Squirrel was really fooling,
for he wanted to steal obsidian.
When the old man had gotten far away, Ground-Squirrel got up, poured
out the finished obsidian points, and pulled out a knife from the
wall, did them up in a bundle, and ran off with them.
When the old man came back, he carried a heavy load of wood; and
as soon as he entered the sweat-house, he missed Ground-Squirrel.
So he dropped the wood and ran after him. He almost caught him,
when Ground-Squirrel ran into a hole, and, as he went, kicked the
earth into the eyes of the old man, who dug fast, trying to catch
Soon Ground-Squirrel ran out of the other end of the hole; and
then the old man gave chase again, but again Ground-Squirrel darted
into a hole; and after missing him again, Obsidian-Old-Man gave
up, and went home.
Ground-Squirrel crossed the river and left his load of arrow-points,
and came back to the house and sat down in his seat. He and Cocoon
slept together. Then his friend said, "Where have you been?"
And Ground-Squirrel replied, "I went to get a knife and to
get good arrow-points. We had none."
Then the people began to come back with deer. And when they cooked
their meat, they put it on the fire in lumps; but Ground-Squirrel
and Cocoon cut theirs in thin slices, and so cooked it nicely.
And Weasel saw this, and they told him about how the knife had
been secured. In the morning Ground-Squirrel went and brought back
the bundle of points he had hidden, and handed it down through the
smoke-hole to Wolf. Then he poured out the points on the ground,
and distributed them to every one, and all day long people worked,
tying them onto arrows. So they threw away all the old arrows with
bark points; and when they went hunting, they killed many deer.
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