Native American Legends
The Jicarilla Genesis
A Jicarilla Apache Legend
In the beginning the earth was covered with water, and all living
things were below in the underworld. Then people could talk, the
animals could talk, the trees could talk, and the rocks could talk.
It was dark in the underworld, and eagle plumes were used for torches.
The people and the animals that go about by day wanted more light,
but the night animals - the bear, the panther, and the owl - wanted
After a long argument they agreed to play the thimble-and-button
game, and if the day animals won there would be light, but if the
night animals won it would always be dark.
The game began. The magpie and the quail, who love the light and
have sharp eyes, watched until they could see the button through
the thin wood of the hollow stick that served as a thimble. This
told the people where the button was, and in the first round, the
The morning star came out and the black bear ran and hid in the
darkness. They played again, and the people won. It grew bright
in the east and the brown bear ran and hid in a dark place.
They played a third time, and the people won. It grew brighter
in the east and the mountain lion slunk away into the darkness.
They played a fourth time, and again the people won. The sun came
up in the east, and it was day, and the owl flew away and hid.
Even though it was light now, the people still didn't see much
because they were underground.
But the sun was high enough to look through a hole and discover
that there was another world - this earth. He told the people, and
they all wanted to go up there. They built four mounds to help them
reach the upper world.
In the east they mounded the soil and planted it with all kinds
of fruits and berries that were colored black.
In the south they heaped up another mound and planted all kinds
of fruits that were blue.
In the west they built a mound that they planted with yellow fruits.
In the north they planted the mound with fruits of variegated colors.
The mounds grew into mountains and the bushes blossomed, fruited,
and produced ripened berries.
One day two girls climbed up to pick berries and gather flowers
to tie in their hair. Suddenly the mountains stopped growing. The
people wondered, and they sent Tornado to learn the cause.
Tornado went everywhere and went into every corner, and at last
he found the two girls and brought them back to their people.
But the mountains did not grow anymore, and this is why a boy stops
growing when he goes with a woman for the first time. If he never
did, he would continue to grow taller.
The mountains had stopped growing while their tops were still a
long way from the upper world. So the people tried laying feathers
crosswise to make a ladder, but the feathers broke under weight.
The people made a second ladder of larger feathers, but again they
were too weak. They made a third ladder of eagle feathers, but even
these would not bear much weight.
Then a buffalo came and offered his right horn, and three others
also contributed their right horns. The horns were strong and straight,
and with them the people were able to climb up through the hole
to the surface of the earth.
But the weight of all those humans bent the buffalo horns, which
have been curved ever since.
Now the people fastened the sun and the moon with spider threads
so that they could not get away, and sent them up into the sky to
And since water covered the whole earth, four storms went to roll
the waters away.
The black storm blew to the east and rolled up the waters into
the eastern ocean.
The blue storm blew to the south and rolled up the waters in that
The yellow storm rolled up the waters in the west, and the varicolored
storm went to the north and rolled up the waters there.
So the tempests formed the four oceans in the east, the south,
the west, and the north. Having rolled up the waters, the storms
returned to where the people were waiting, grouped around the mouth
of the hole.
The Polecat first went out, when the ground was still soft, and
his legs sank in the black mud and have been black ever since.
They sent the Tornado to bring him back, because it wasn't time.
The badger went out, but he too sank in the mud and got black legs,
and Tornado called him back.
Then the beaver went out, walking through the mud and swimming
through the water, and at once began to build a dam to save the
water still remaining in pools. When he did not return, Tornado
found him and asked why he had not come back. "Because I wanted
to save the water for the people to drink," said the beaver.
"Good," said Tornado, and they went back together.
Again the people waited, until at last they sent out the gray crow
to see if the time had come. The crow found the earth dry, and many
dead frogs, fish, and reptiles lying on the ground. He began picking
out their eyes and did not return until Tornado was sent after him.
The people were angry when they found he had been eating carrion,
and they changed his color to black.
But now the earth was all dry, except for the four oceans and the
lake in the center, where the beaver had dammed up the waters.
All the people came up. They traveled east until they arrived at
the ocean; then they turned south until they came again to the ocean;
then they went west to the ocean, and then they turned north. And
as they went, each tribe stopped where it wanted to.
But the Jicarillas continued to circle around the hole where they
had come up from the underworld. Three times they went around it,
when the Ruler became displeased and asked them where they wished
to stop. They said, "In the middle of the earth." So he
led them to a place very near Taos and left them, and there near
the Taos Indians, the Jicarillas made their home.
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