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Native American Legends

The origin of the animals

An Apache Legend

When Apaches emerged from the underworld, they traveled southward for four days. They had no other food than two kinds of seeds, which they ground between two stones.

Near where they camped on the fourth night, one tipi stood apart from the others. While the owner and his wife were absent for a short time, a Raven brought a quiver of arrows and a bow, hanging them on the lodge pole. When the children came out of the lodge, they took down the quiver and found some meat inside. They ate it and instantly became very fat.

Upon her return, the mother noticed grease on the hands and faces of her children, who told her what had happened. The woman hurried to tell her husband the tale. All the tribe marveled at the wonderful food that made the children so fat. How they hoped the Raven might soon return with more of his good food.

When Raven discovered that his meat had been stolen, he flew eastward to his mountain home beyond the normal range of man. A bat followed Raven and later informed the Apaches where Raven lived. That night the Apache Chief called a council meeting. They decided to send a delegation to try and obtain some of Raven's special kind of meat.

In four days the Apache delegation reached the camp of the ravens, but could not obtain the information they desired. They discovered, however, a great circle of ashes where the ravens ate their meals. The Apaches decided to spy upon the ravens. That night the Medicine Man changed an Apache boy into a puppy to spy from a nearby bush. The main delegation broke camp and started homeward, leaving behind the puppy.

Next morning the ravens examined the abandoned camp of the Apaches. One of the young ravens found the puppy and was so pleased, he asked for permission to keep it under his blanket. Toward sunset, the puppy peaked out and saw an old raven brush aside some ashes from the fireplace. He then removed a large flat stone. Beneath was an opening through which the old raven disappeared. But when he returned he led a buffalo, which was then killed and eaten by all the ravens.

For four days the puppy spied upon the ravens, and each evening a buffalo was brought up from the depths and devoured. Now that he was certain where the ravens obtained their good food, the puppy resumed his normal shape.

Early on the fifth morning, with a white feather in one hand and a black one in the other, he descended through the opening beneath the fireplace.

In the underworld, he saw four buffaloes and placed the white feather in the mouth of the nearest one. He commanded it to follow him. But the first buffalo told him to take the feather to the last buffalo. This he did, but the fourth buffalo sent him again to the first one, into whose mouth the boy thrust the white feather.

"You are now the King of the Animals," declared the boy.

Upon returning to the above-world, the boy was followed by all the animals present upon the Earth at that time. As the large herd passed through the opening, one of the ravens awoke, hurrying to close the lid. Upon seeing that all the animals willingly followed the Apache boy, the raven exclaimed, "When you kill any of the animals, remember to save the eyes for me."

For four days the boy followed the tracks of the Apaches and overtook them with his giant herd of animals. Soon they all returned to the camp of the Apaches, where the Chief slew the first buffalo for a feast that followed. The boy remembered and saved the eyes for the ravens.

One old grandmother who lived in a brush lodge was annoyed with one of the deer that ate some of her lodge covering. Snatching a stick from the fire, she struck the deer's nose and the white ash stuck there leaving a white mark that can still be seen on the descendants of that deer.

"Hereafter, you shall avoid mankind," she pronounced. "Your nose will tell you when you are too close to them."

Thus ended the short period of harmony between man and the animals. Each day the animals wandered farther and farther from the tribes. Apaches prayed that the animals would return so they could enjoy the good meat again. It is mostly at night when the deer appear, but not too close, because the old grandmother told them to be guided by their noses!

Apaches developed skill in using the bows and arrows to hunt the good animal meat they liked so much, especially the buffalo.

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