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How the Gopher raced with the Runners of K'iákime

A Zuni Legend

There was a time in the days of the ancients when the runners of K'iákime were famed above those of all other cities in the Valley of Shíwina for their strength, endurance, and swiftness of foot. In running the tikwa, or kicked-stick race, they overcame, one after another, the runners of Shíwina or Zuñi, of Mátsaki or the Salt City, of Pínawa or the Town of the Winds, and in fact all who dared to challenge them or to accept their challenges.

The people of Shíwina and Mátsaki did not give up easily. They ran again and again, only to be beaten and to lose the vast piles of goods and precious things which they had staked or bet; and at last they were wholly disheartened and bereft of everything which without shame a man might exhibit for betting.

So the people of the two towns called a council, and the old men and runners gathered and discussed what could be done that the runners of K'iákime might be overcome. They thought of all the wise men and wise beings they knew of; one after another of them was mentioned, and at last a few prevailed in contending that for both wisdom and cunning or craft the Gopher took precedence over all those who had been mentioned. Forthwith a young man was dispatched to find an old Gopher who lived on the side of the hill near which the race-course began.

He was out sunning himself, and finishing a cellar, when the young man approached him, and he called out: "Ha, grandson! Don't bother me this morning; I am busy digging my cellars."

The young man insisted that he came with an important message from his people. So the old Gopher ceased his work, and listened attentively while the young man related to him the difficulties they were in.

Said he: "Go back, my grandson, and tell your people to challenge the runners of K'iákime to run the race of the kicked stick with a runner whom they have chosen, a single one, the fourth day from this day; and tell your people, moreover, that I will run the race for them, providing only that the runners of K'iákime will permit me to go my own way, on my own road, which as you know runs underground."

The youth thanked the old Gopher and was about to retire when the fat-sided, heavy-cheeked old fellow called to him to hold on a little. "Mind you," said he. "Tell your people also that they shall bet for me only two things--red paint and sacred yellow pollen. These shall, as it were, be the payment for my exertions, if I win, as I prize this sort of possession above all else."

The young man returned and reported what the Gopher had said. Thereupon the people of Shíwina and Mátsaki sent a challenge to the people of K'iákime for a race, saying: "We bet all that we have against what you have won from us from time to time that our runner, the Gopher, who lives beside the beginning of our race-course, will beat you in the race, which we propose shall be the fourth day from this day. The only condition we name is, that the Gopher shall be permitted to run in his own way, on his own road, which is underground."

Right glad were the runners of K'iákime to run against anyone proposed by those whom they had so often beaten. They hesitated not a moment in replying that they would run against the Gopher or any other friend of the people of Mátsaki and Shíwina, stipulating only that the Gopher, if he ran underground, should appear at the surface occasionally, that they might know where he was. So it was arranged, and the acceptance of the challenge was reported to the Gopher, and the stipulation also which was named by the runners of K'iákime.

That night the old Gopher went to his younger brother, old like himself, heavy-cheeked, gray-and-brown-coated, and dusty with diggings of his cellars. "My younger brother," said the old Gopher, "the fourth day from this day I am to run a race. I shall start at the beginning of the race-course of the people of K'iákime over here, which is near my home, as you know. There I shall dig two holes; one at the beginning of the race-course, the other a little farther on. Now, here at your home, near the Place of the Scratching Bushes, do you dig a hole, down below where the race-course passes your place, off to one side of it, and another hole a little beyond the first. The means by which I shall be distinguished as a racer will be a red plume tied to my head. Do you also procure a red plume and tie it to your head. When you hear the thundering of the feet of the racers, run out and show yourself for a minute, and rush into the other hole as fast as you can."

"I understand what you would have of me, and right gladly will I do it. It would please me exceedingly to take down the pride of those haughty runners of K'iákime, or at least to help in doing it," replied the younger brother.

The old Gopher went on to the Sitting Space of the Red Shell, where dwelt another of his younger brothers precisely like himself and the one he had already spoken to, near whose home the race-course also ran. To him he communicated the same information, and gave the same directions. Then he went on still farther to the place called K'ópak'yan, where dwelt another of his younger brothers. To him also he gave the same directions; and to still another younger brother, who dwelt beneath the base of the two broad pillars of Thunder Mountain, at the last turning-point of the race-course; and to another brother, who dwelt at the Place of the Burnt Log; and lastly to another brother quite as cunning and inventive as himself, who dwelt just below K'iákime where the racecourse turned toward its end. When all these arrangements had been made, the old Gopher went back and settled himself comfortably in his nest.

Bright and early on the fourth day preparations were made for the race. The runners of K'iákime had been fasting and training in the sacred houses, and they came forth stripped and begirt for the racing, carrying their stick. Then came the people of Mátsaki and Shíwina, who gathered on the plain, and there they waited. But they waited not long, for soon the old Gopher appeared close in their midst, popping out of the ground, and on his head was a little red plume. He placed the stick which had been prepared for him, on the ground, where he could grab it with his teeth easily, saying: "Of course, you will excuse me if I do not kick my stick, since my feet are so short that I could not do so. On the other hand," he said to the runners, "you do not have to dig your way as I do. Therefore, we are evenly matched."

The runners of K'iákime, contemptuously laughing, asked him why he did not ask for some privilege instead of talking about things which meant nothing to them.

At last the word was given. With a yell and a spring, off dashed the racers of K'iákime, gaily kicking their stick before them. Grabbing his stick in his teeth, into the ground plunged the old Gopher. Fearful lest their runner should be beaten, the people of Shíwina and Mátsaki ran to a neighboring hill, watching breathlessly for him to appear somewhere in the course of the race above the plain. Away over the plain in a cloud of dust swept the runners of K'iákime. They were already far off, when suddenly, some distance before them, out of the ground in the midst of the race-course, popped the old Gopher, to all appearance, the red plume dusty, but waving proudly on his forehead. After looking round at the runners, into the ground he plunged again. The people of Shíwina and Mátsaki yelled their applause. The runners of K'iákime, astounded that the Gopher should be ahead of them, redoubled their efforts. When they came near the Place of the Red Shell, behold! somewhat muddy round the eyes and nose, out popped the old Gopher again, to all appearance. Of course it was his brother, the red plume somewhat heavy with dirt, but still waving on his forehead.

On rushed the runners, and they had no sooner neared K'ópak'yan than again they saw the Gopher in advance of them, now apparently covered with sweat,--for this cunning brother had provided himself with a little water which he rubbed over his fur and made it all muddy, as though he were perspiring and had already begun to grow tired. He came out of his hole and popped into the other less quickly than the others had done; and the runners, who were not far behind him, raised a great shout and pushed ahead. When they thought they had gained on him, behold! in their pathway, all bedraggled with mud, apparently the same old Gopher appeared, moving with some difficulty, and then disappeared under the ground again. And so on, the runners kept seeing the Gopher at intervals, each time a little worse off than before, until they came to the last turning-place; and just as they reached it, almost in their midst appeared the most bedraggled and worn out of all the Gophers. They, seeing the red plume on his crest, almost obscured by mud and all flattened out, regarded him as surely the same old Gopher.

Finally, the original old Gopher, who had been quietly sleeping meanwhile, roused himself, and besoaking himself from the tip of his nose to the end of his short tail, wallowed about in the dirt until he was well plastered with mud, half closing his eyes, and crawled out before the astonished multitude at the end of the goal, a sorry-looking object indeed, far ahead of the runners, who were rapidly approaching. A great shout was raised by those who were present, and the runners of K'iákime for the first time lost all of their winnings, and had the swiftness, or at least all their confidence, taken out of them, as doth the wind lose its swiftness when its legs are broken.

Thus it was in the days of the ancients. By the skill and cunning of the Gopher--who, by digging his many holes and pitfalls, is the opponent of all runners, great and small--was the race won against the swiftest runners among the youth of our ancients. Therefore, to this day the young runners of Zuñi, on going forth to prepare for a race, take with them the sacred yellow pollen and red paint; and they make for the gophers, round about the race-course in the country, beautiful little plumes, and they speak to them speeches in prayer, saying: "Behold, O ye Gophers of the plains and the trails, we race! And that we may have thy aid, we give ye these things, which are unto ye and your kind most precious, that ye will cause to fall into your holes and crannies and be hidden away in the dark and the dirt the sticks that are kicked by our opponents."

Thus shortens my story.

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