Native American Legends
How Ahaiyutaa and Matsailema stole the Thunderstone and the Lightning-Shaft
A Zuni Legend
Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma, with their
grandmother, lived where now stands the ancient Middle Place of
Sacrifice on Thunder Mountain.
One day they went out hunting prairie-dogs, and while they were
running about from one prairie-dog village to another, it began
to rain, which made the trail slippery and the ground muddy, so
that the boys became a little wrathful. Then they sat down and cursed
the rain for a brief space. Off in the south it thundered until
the earth trembled, and the lightning-shafts flew about the red-bordered
clouds until the two brothers were nearly blinded with the beholding
Presently the younger brother smoothed his brow, and jumped up
with an exclamation somewhat profane, and cried out: "Elder
brother, let us go to the Land of Everlasting Summer and steal from
the gods in council their thunder and lightning. I think it would
be fine fun to do that sort of thing we have just been looking at
and listening to."
The elder brother was somewhat more cautious; still, on the whole,
he liked the idea. So he said "Let us take our prairie-dogs
home to the grandmother, that she shall have something to eat meanwhile,
and we will think about going tomorrow morning."
The next morning, bright and early, they started out. In vain the
old grandmother called rather crossly after them: "Where are
you going now?" She could get no satisfaction, for she knew
they lied when they called back: "Oh, we are only going to
hunt more prairie-dogs." It is true that they skulked round
in the plains about Thunder Mountain a little while, as if looking
for prairie-dogs. Then, picking up their wondrously swift heels,
they sped away toward that beautiful country of the corals, the
Land of Everlasting Summer.
At last,--it may be in the mountains of that country, which are
said to glow like shells of the sea or the clouds of the sunset,--they
came to the House of the Beloved Gods themselves. And that red house
was a wondrous terrace, rising wall after wall, and step after step,
like a high mountain, grand and stately; and the walls were so smooth
and high that the skill and power of the little War-gods availed
them nothing; they could not get in.
"What shall we do?" asked the younger brother.
"Go home," said the elder, "and mind our own affairs."
"Oh, no," urged the younger I have it, elder brother.
Let us hunt up our grandfather, the Centipede."
"Good!" replied the elder. "A happy thought is that
of yours, my brother younger."
Forthwith they laid down their bows and quivers of mountain-lion
skin, their shields, and other things, and set about turning over
all the flat stones they could find. Presently, lifting one with
their united strength, they found under it the very old fellow they
sought. He doubled himself, and covered his eyes from the sharpness
of the daylight.
He did not much like being thus disturbed, even by his grandchildren,
the War-gods, in the middle of his noonday nap, and was by no means
polite to them. But they prodded him a little in the side, and said:
"Now, grandfather, look here! We are in difficulty, and there
is no one in the wide world who can help us out as you will."
The old Centipede was naturally flattered. He unrolled himself
and viewed them with a look which he intended to be extremely reproachful
and belittling. "Ah, my grandchildren," said he, "what
are you up to now? Are you trying to get yourselves into trouble,
as usual? No doubt of it! I will help you all I can; but the consequences
be on your own heads!"
"That's right, grandfather, that's right! No one in the world
could help us as you can," said one of them. "The fact
is, we want to get hold of the thunder- stone and the lightning-shaft
which the Rain-gods up there in the tremendous house keep and guard
so carefully, we understand. Now, in the first place, we cannot
get up the wall; in the second place, if we did, we would probably
have a fuss with them in trying to steal these things. Therefore,
we want you to help us, if you will."
"With all my heart, my boys! But I should advise you to run
along home to your grandmother, and let these things alone."
"Oh, pshaw, nonsense! We are only going to play a little while
with the thunder and lightning."
"All right," replied the old Worm; "sit here and
wait for me." He wriggled himself and stirred about, and his
countless legs were more countless than ever with rapid motions
as he ran toward the walls of that stately terrace. A vine could
not have run up more closely, nor a bird more rapidly; for if one
foot slipped, another held on; so the old Centipede wriggled himself
up the sides and over the roof, down into the great sky-hole; and,
scorning the ladder, which he feared might creak, he went along,
head-downward, on the ceiling to the end of the room over the altar,
ran down the side, and approached that most forbidden of places,
the altar of the gods themselves.
The beloved gods, in silent majesty, were sitting there with their
heads bowed in meditation so deep that they heard not the faint
scuffle of the Centipede's feet as he wound himself down into the
altar and stole the thunder-stone. He took it in his mouth--which
was larger than the mouths of Centipedes are now--and carried it
silently, weighty as it was, up the way he had come, over the roof,
down the wall, and back to the flat stone where he made his home,
and where, hardly able to contain themselves with impatience, the
two youthful gods were awaiting him.
"Here he comes!" cried the younger brother, "and
he's got it! By my war-bonnet, he's got it!"
The old grandfather threw the stone down. It began to sound, but
Áhaiyúta grabbed it, and, as it were, throttled its
world-stirring speech. "Good! good!" he cried to the grandfather;
"thank you, old grandfather, thank you!"
"Hold on!" cried the younger brother; "you didn't
bring both. What can we do with the one without the other?"
"Shut up!" cried the old Worm. "I know what I am
about!" And before they could say any more he was off again.
Ere long he returned, carrying the shaft of lightning, with its
blue, shimmering point, in his mouth.
"Good!" cried the War-gods. And the younger brother caught
up the lightning, and almost forgot his weapons, which, however,
he did stop to take up, and started on a full run for Thunder Mountain,
followed by his more deliberate, but equally interested elder brother,
who brought along the thunder-stone, which he found a somewhat heavier
burden than he had supposed.
It was not long, you may well imagine, so powerful were these Gods
of War, ere they reached the home of their grandmother on the top
of Thunder Mountain. They had carefully concealed the thunder-stone
and the shaft of lightning meanwhile, and had taken care to provide
themselves with a few prairie-dogs by way of deception.
Still, in majestic reverie, unmoved, and apparently unwitting of
what had taken place, sat the Rain-gods in their home in the mountains
Not long after they arrived, the young gods began to grow curious
and anxious to try their new playthings. They poked one another
considerably, and whispered a great deal, so that their grandmother
began to suspect they were about to play some rash joke or other,
and presently she espied the point of lightning gleaming under Mátsailéma's
"Demons and corpses!" she cried. "By the moon! You
have stolen the thunder-stone and lightning-shaft from the Gods
of Rain themselves! Go this instant and return them, and never do
such a thing again!" she cried, with the utmost severity; and,
making a quick step for the fireplace, she picked up a poker with
which to belabor their backs, when they whisked out of the room
and into another.
They slammed the door in their grandmother's face and braced it,
and, clearing away a lot of rubbish that was lying around the rear
room, they established themselves in one end, and, nodding and winking
at one another, cried out: "Now, then!" The younger let
go the lightning-shaft; the elder rolled the thunder-stone.
The lightning hissed through the air, and far out into the sky,
and returned. The thunder-stone rolled and rumbled until it shook
the foundations of the mountain. "Glorious fun!" cried
the boys, rubbing their thighs in ecstasy of delight. "Do it
again!" And again they sent forth the lightning and rolled
And now the gods in Summerland arose in their majesty and breathed
upon the skies; and the winds rose, and the rains fell like rivers
from the clouds, centering their violence upon the roof of the poor
old grandmother's house. Heedlessly those reckless wretches kept
on playing the thunder-stone and lightning-shaft without the slightest
regard to the tremendous commotion they were raising all through
the skies and all over Thunder Mountain; but nowhere else as above
the house where their poor old grandmother lived fell the torrent
of the rain, and there alone, of course, burst the lightning and
rolled the thunder.
Soon the water poured through the roof of the house; but, move
the things as the old grandmother would, she could not keep them
dry; scold the boys as she would, she could not make them desist.
No, they would only go on with their play more violently than ever,
exclaiming: "What has she to say, anyway? It won't hurt her
to get a good ducking, and this is fun!" By-and-by the waters
rose so high that they extinguished the fire.
Soon they rose still higher, so that the War-gods had to paddle
around half submerged. Still they kept rolling the thunder-stone
and shooting the lightning. The old grandmother scolded harder and
harder, but after awhile desisted and climbed to the top of the
fireplace, whence, after recovering from her exertion, she began
again. But the boys heeded her not, only saying: "Let her yell!
Let her scold! This is fun!"
At last they began to take the old grandmother's scolding as a
matter of course, and allowed nothing but the water to interrupt
their pastime. It rose so high, finally, that they were near drowning.
Then they climbed to the roof, but still they kept on.
"By the bones of the dead! why did we not think to come here
before? 'T is ten times as fine up here. See him shoot!" cried
one to the other, as the lightning sped through the sky, ever returning.
"Hear it mutter and roll!" cried the other, as the thunder
bellowed and grumbled.
But no sooner had the Two begun their sport on the roof, than the
rain fell in one vast sheet all about them; and it was not long
ere the house was so full that the old grandmother--locked in as
she was--bobbed her poor pate on the rafters in trying to keep it
above the water. She gulped water, and gasped, coughed, strangled,
and shrieked to no purpose.
"What a fuss our old grandmother is making, to be sure!"
cried the boys. And they kept on, until, forsooth, the water had
completely filled the room, and the grandmother's cries gurgled
away and ceased. Finally, the thunder-stone grew so terrific, and
the lightning so hot and unmanageable, that the boys, drawing a
long breath and thinking with immense satisfaction of the fun they
had had, possibly also influenced as to the safety of the house,
which was beginning to totter, flung the thunder-stone and the lightning-shaft
into the sky, where, rattling and flashing away, they finally disappeared
over the mountains in the south.
Then the clouds rolled away and the sun shone out, and the boys,
wet to the skin, tired in good earnest, and hungry as well, looked
around. "Goodness! the water is running out of the windows
of our house! This is a pretty mess we are in Grandmother! Grandmother!"
they shouted. Open the door, and let us in!" But the old grandmother
had piped her last, and never a sound came except that of flowing
They sat themselves down on the roof, and waited for the water
to get lower. Then they climbed down, and pounded open the door,
and the water came out with a rush, and out with a rush, too, their
poor old grandmother,--her eyes staring, her hair all mopped and
muddied, and her fingers and legs as stiff as cedar sticks.
"Oh, ye gods! ye gods!" the two boys exclaimed; "we
have killed our own grandmother--poor old grandmother, who scolded
us so hard and loved us so much! Let us bury her here in front of
the door, as soon as the water has run away."
So, as soon as it became dry enough, there they buried her; and
in less than four days a strange plant grew up on that spot, and
on its little branches, amid its bright green leaves, hung long,
pointed pods of fruit, as red as the fire on the breast of the red-bird.
"It is well," said the boys, as they stood one day looking
at this plant. "Let us scatter the seeds abroad, that men may
find and plant them. It seems it was not without good cause that
in the abandonment to our sport we killed our old grandmother, for
out of her heart there sprung a plant into the fruits of which,
as it were, has flowed the color as well as the fire of her scolding
tongue; and, if we have lost our grandmother, whom we loved much,
but who loved us more, men have gained a new food, which, though
it burn them, shall please them more than did the heat of her discourse
Poor old grandmother! Men will little dream when they eat peppers
that the seed of them first arose from the fiery heart of the grandmother
of Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma."
Thereupon the two seized the pods and crushed them between their
hands, with an exclamation of pleasure at the brisk odor they gave
forth. They cast the seeds abroad, which seeds here and there took
root; and the plants which sprang from them being found by men,
were esteemed good and were cultivated, as they are to this day
in the pepper gardens of Zuni.
Ever since this time you hear that mountain wherein lived the gods
with their grandmother called Thunder Mountain; and often, indeed,
to this day, the lightning flashes and the thunder plays over its
brows and the rain falls there most frequently.
It is said by some that the two boys, when asked how they stole
the lightning- shaft and the thunder-stone, told on their poor old
grandfather, the Centipede. The beloved Gods of the Rain gave him
the lightning-shaft to handle in another way, and it so burned and
shriveled him that he became small, as you can see by looking at
any of his numerous descendants, who are not only small but appear
like a well-toasted bit of buckskin, fringed at the edges.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends