Native American Legends
Tale of Elder Brother
A Pima Legend
You people desired to capture Elder Brother so that you might destroy
him, so you went to Vulture. He made a miniature earth, shaping
the mountains, routing the water courses, and placing the trees,
and in four days he completed his task.
Mounting the zigzag ladders of his house he flew forth and circled
about until he saw Elder Brother. Vulture saw the blue flames issuing
from Brother's heart and knew that he was invulnerable. In his turn
Elder Brother knew what had made the earth, and wished to kill him.
Elder Brother, as he regained consciousness, rose on hands and
feet and swayed unsteadily from side to side. He looked at the land
about him, and at first it seemed a barren waste, but as he recovered
from his bewilderment he saw the wonderful world Vulture had built.
Looking about him he saw a river toward the west along which grew
arrow bushes. From these he cut four magic sticks; placing his hand
on these he blew smoke over them, whereupon magic power shone forth
from between his fingers. He was much pleased with this and laughed
softly to himself.
He rubbed his magic bag of buckskin four times with each of the
four sticks and then put them in and tied it. Then, with his strength
fully recovered, Elder Brother began to move.
He arose and crushed all mortal magicians; the orator, the warrior,
the industrious, and the provident woman, and even ground his own
house into the earth. Then he sank beneath the surface of the earth.
He reappeared in the east and made a transparent trail back to
the place where he had gone down. About the base of his mountains
the water began to seep forth; entering, he came out with spirit
Taking all waters, even those covered with water plants, he dipped
his hands in and made downward passes. Touching the large trees
he made downward sweeps with his hands.
Going to the place where he had killed Eagle he sat down looking
like a ghost. A voice from the darkness asked, "Why are you
He answered sadly that despite all that he had done for them the
people hated him.
He went on to the east, renewing his power four times at the place
where the sun rises. He blew his hot breath upon the people, which
like a weight held them where they were.
He went along with the sun on his journey, traveling along the
south border of the trail where there was a fringe of beads, feathers,
strings of down, and flowers. He jerked the string holding these
so that they fell and made the magicians jump. Later he did the
same thing in the north.
On his journey along the sun's orbit Elder Brother came to Talking
"Why do you come like a ghost?" asked Tree.
He replied, "Despite all I have done for the people they hate
Tree broke one of its middle branches and cut a notch around it
to form a war club and gave it to him. Then Tree took a branch on
the south side and made a bundle of ceremonial sticks from it for
He saw a trail toward the south and another toward the north bordered
with shells, feathers, down, and flowers, and he turned them all
Arriving at the drinking place of the sun, he knelt down and saw
a dark-blue stone. He left there the sticks cut from the arrow bush
which he knew contained all his enemies' power, but he kept in his
grasp the sticks cut from Talking Tree.
Toward the south were strewn necklaces, earrings, feathers, strings
of down, and flowers, all of which he jerked and threw face down.
Toward the north he threw down the same objects, and as they struck
the earth the magicians jumped again.
Reaching the place where the sun sets he slid down four times before
he reached the place where Earth Doctor lived.
"Why do you come looking like a ghost?" asked the god.
"Despite all that I have done for them the people hate me,"
By Earth Doctor's order the wind from the west caught him up and
carried him far to the east, then brought him back and violently
tossed him back down to earth. The south wind carried him to the
north; the east wind carried him to the west; the wind from the
zenith carried him to the sky; all carelessly dropped him back down
From his cigarette containing two kinds of roots Earth Doctor blew
smoke upon the breast of Elder Brother, whereupon green leaves sprang
forth and he gained consciousness. Earth Doctor cleared the ground
for a council and then picked up Elder Brother as he would have
taken up a child and put him in his house.
Earth Doctor sent Gray Gopher up through the earth to emerge in
the east by the white water where lay the eagle tail.
He came out by the black water where lay the raven feathers.
He came out by the blue water where lay the bluebird's feathers.
He came out by the yellow water where lay the hawk feathers.
He found so many people that he feared they could not be conquered.
But he gnawed the magic power of their leader until he weakened
it. Then he returned to the council in the nether world, where his
power as a magician was recognized, and he was placed on a mat with
The people were now ready to do whatever Elder Brother desired
of them and, like fierce predatory animals or birds of prey,they
poured out of the underworld and fell upon the people of the upper
world, whom they conquered without difficulty.
The victors swept the property and everything relating to the conquered
from the face of the earth.
Consider the magic power which abode with me and which is at your
This fantastic tale of creation and violence features several related
episodes in the life of the great Pima culture hero, Elder Brother,
whose task it is to assert order in the primordial chaos. Elder
Brother fixes the features of the landscape, he brings elements
of Pima culture, and he struggles with representatives of predation
and evil, vanquishing them or, in turn, being killed himself and
rising to live on another day. The Pima tell such stories not as
self- contained tales but in a narrative chain, one incident suggesting
the next, achieving an episodic progression with neither beginnings
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