Native American Legends
The origin of the society of Rattlesnakes
A Zuni Legend
In very ancient times, there lived at Tâ'ia,' below the Zuñi
Mountains, an old shíwani or priest-chief, who had a young
son named Héasailuhtiwa ("Metal- hand"), famed
throughout the land of the Zuñis for his success in hunting.
When very young, this lad had said to his parents: "My old
ones, let me go away from the home of my fathers and dwell by myself."
"Why do you, a young boy, wish to go and dwell by yourself,
my son? Know you not that you would fare but badly, for you are
careless and forgetful? No, no! remain with us, that we may care
But the boy answered: "Why should I fare badly? Can I not
hunt my own game and roast the meat over the fire? It is because
you never care to have me go forth alone that I wish to live by
myself, for I long to travel far and hunt deer in the mountains
of many countries: yet whenever I start forth you call me back,
and it is painful to my longing thoughts thus to be held back when
I would go forward."
It was not until the lad had spoken thus again and again, and once
more, that the parents sadly yielded to his wish. They insisted,
however, much to the boy's displeasure, that his younger sister,
Waíasialuhtitsa, should go with him, only to look after his
house, and to remind him here and there, at times, of his forgetfulness.
So the brother and sister chose the lofty rooms of a high house
in the upper part of the pueblo and lived there.
The boy each day went out hunting and failed not each time to bring
in slain animals, while the sister cooked for him and looked after
the house. Yet, although the boy was a great hunter, he never sacrificed
to the Deer he had slain, nor to the Gods of Prey who delight in
aiding the hunter who renews them; for the lad was forgetful and
careless of all things.
One day he went forth over the mountain toward the north, until
he came to the Waters of the Bear. There he started up a huge Buck,
and, finding the trail, followed it far toward the northward. Yet,
although swift of foot, the youth could not overtake the running
Deer, and thus it happened that he went on and on, past mesas, valleys,
and mountains, until he came to the brink of a great river which
flows westward from the north. On the banks of this great river
grew forests of cottonwood, and into the thickets of these forests
led the trail, straight toward the river bank. just as the young
man was about to follow the track to the bank, he thought he saw
under a large tree in the midst of the thickets the form of the
Deer, so, bending very low, he ran around close to the bank, and
came up between the river and the thicket.
As he guardedly approached the tree, his eyes now following the
track, now glancing up, he discovered a richly dressed, handsome
young man, who called out to him: "How art thou these days,
and whither art thou going?"
The young man straightened up, and quickly drawing his breath,
replied: "I am hunting a Deer whose tracks I have followed
all the way from the Waters of the Bear."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the stranger, "and where has
thy Deer gone?"
"I know not," replied the youth, "for here are his
tracks." Then he observed that they led to the place where
the stranger was sitting, and the latter at the same time remarked:
"I am the Deer, and it was as I would have it that I enticed
"Hai-í!" exclaimed the young man.
"Aye," continued the stranger. "Alas! alas! thou
forgetful one! Thou hast day after day chased my children over the
plains and slain them; thou hast made thyself happy of their flesh,
and of their flesh added unto thine own meat and that of thy kindred;
but, alas! thou hast been forgetful and careless, and not once hast
thou given unto their souls the comfort of that which they yearn
for and need. Yet hast thou had good fortune in the chase. At last
the Sun-father has listened to the supplications of my children
and commanded that I bring thee here, and here have I brought thee.
Listen! The Sun-father commands that thou shalt visit him in his
house at the western end of the world, and these are his instructions."
"Indeed! Well, I suppose it must be, and it is well!"
exclaimed the young man.
"And," continued the Deer-being, "thou must hasten
home and call thy father. Tell him to summon his Pithlan Shíwani
(Priest of the Bow, or Warrior) and command him that he shall instruct
his children to repair to the rooms of sacred things and prepare
plumed prayer-sticks for the Sun-father, the Moon-mother, and the
Great Ocean, and red plumes of sacrifice for the Beings of Prey;
that fully they must prepare everything, for thou, their child and
father, shalt visit the home of the Sun-father, and in payment for
thy forgetfulness and carelessness shalt render him, and the Moon-mother,
and the Beings of the Great Ocean, plumes of sacrifice. Hasten home,
and tell thy father these things. Then tell thy sister to prepare
sweetened meal of parched corn to serve as the food of thy journey,
and pollen of the flowers of corn; and ask thy mother to prepare
great quantities of new cotton, and, making all these things into
bundles, thou must summon some of thy relatives, and come to this
tree on the fourth day from this day. Make haste, for thou art swift
of foot, and tell all these things to thy father; he, will understand
thee, for is he not a priest-chief? Hast thou knives of flint?"
"Yes," said the young man, "my father has many."
"Select from them two," said the Deer-being--"a
large one and a smaller one; and when thou hast returned to this
place, cut down with the larger knife yonder great tree, and with
the smaller knife hollow it out. Leave the large end entire, and
for the smaller end thou must make a round door, and around the
inside of the smaller end cut a notch that shall be like a terrace
toward the outside, but shall slope from within that thou mayest
close it from the inside with the round door; then pad the inside
with cotton, and make in the bottom a padding thicker than the rest;
but leave space that thou mayest lie thy length, or sit up and eat.
And in the top cut a hole larger inside than out, that thou mayest
close it from the inside with a plug of wood. Then when thou hast
placed the sweetened meal of parched corn inside, and the plumed
prayer-sticks and the sacred pollen of corn-flowers, then enter
thyself and close the door in the end and the hole in the top that
thy people may roll thee into the river. Thou wilt meet strange
beings on thy way. Choose from amongst them whom thou shalt have
as a companion, and proceed, as thy companion shall direct, to the
great mountain where the Sun enters. Haste and tell thy father these
things." And ere the youth could say, "Be it well,"
and, "I will," the Deer-being had vanished, and he lifted
up his face and started swiftly for the home of his fathers.
At sunset the sister looked forth from her high house-top, but
nowhere could she see her brother coming. She turned at last to
enter, thinking and saying to her breast: "Alas! what did we
not think and guess of his carelessness." But just as the country
was growing dim in the darkness, the young man ran breathlessly
in, and, greeting his sister, sat down in the doorway.
The sister wondered that he had no deer or other game, but placed
a meal before him, and, when he had done, herself ate. But the young
man remained silent until she had finished, then he said: "Younger
sister, I am weary and would sit here; do you go and call father,
for I would speak to him of many things."
So the sister cleared away the food and ran to summon the father.
Soon she returned with the old man, who, sighing, "Ha hua!"
from the effort of climbing, greeted his son and sat down, looking
all about the room for the fresh deer- meat; but, seeing none, he
asked: "What and wherefore hast thou summoned me, my son?"
"It is this," replied the son, and he related all that
had been told him by the Deer-being, describing the magnificent
dress, the turquoise and shell ear- rings, necklaces, and wristlets
of the handsome stranger.
"Certainly," replied the father. "It is well; for
as the Sun-father hath directed the Deer-being, thus must it be
Then he forthwith went away and commanded his Priest of the Bow,
who, mounting to the topmost house, directed the elders and priests
of the tribe, saying:
Ye, our children, listen!
Ye I will this day inform,
Our child, our father,
He of the strong hand,
He who so hunts the Deer,
Goes unto the Sunset world,
Goes, our Sun-father to greet
Gather at the sacred houses,
Bring thy prayer-sticks, twines, and feathers,
And prepare for him,
For the Sun-father,
For the Moon-mother,
For the Great Ocean,
For the Prey-beings, plumes and treasures.
Hasten, hasten, ye our children, in the morning!"
So the people gathered in the kiwetsiwe and sacred houses next
morning and began to make prayer-plumes, while the sister of the
young man and her relatives made sweet parched cornmeal and gathered
pollen. Toward evening all was completed. The young man summoned
his relatives, and chose his four uncles to accompany him. Then
he spread enough cotton- wool out to cover the floor, and, gathering
it up, made it into a small bundle. The sweet meal filled a large
sack of buckskin, and he took also a little sack of sacred red paint
and the black warrior paint with little shining particles in it.
Then he bade farewell to his lamenting people and rested for the
Next morning, escorted by priests, the young man, arrayed in garments
of embroidered white cotton and carrying his plumes in his arms,
started out of the town, and, accompanied only by his four uncles,
set out over the mountains. On the third day they reached the forest
on the bank of the great river and encamped.
Then the young man left the camp of his uncles and went alone into
the forest, and, choosing the greatest tree he could find, hacked
midway through it with his great flint knife. The next day he cut
the other half and felled it, when he found it partly hollow. So
with his little knife he began to cut it as he had been directed,
and made the round door for it and the hole through the top. With
his bundle of cotton he padded it everywhere inside until it was
thickly coated and soft, and he made a bed on the bottom as thick
When all was ready and he had placed his food and plumes inside,
he called his uncles and showed them the hollow log. "In this,"
said he, "I am to journey to the western home of our Sun-father.
When I have entered and closed the round door tightly and put the
plug into the upper hole securely, do ye, never thinking of me,
roll the log over and over to the high brink of the river, and,
never regarding consequences, push it into the water."
Then it was that the uncles all lamented and tried to dissuade
him; but he persisted, and they bade him "Go," as forever,
"for," said they, "could one think of journeying
even to the end of the earth and across the waters that embrace
the world without perishing?"
Then, hastily embracing each of them, the young man entered his
log, and, securely fastening the door from the inside, and the plug,
called out (they heard but faintly), "Kesi!" which means
"All is ready."
Sorrowfully and gently they rolled the log over and over to the
high river bank, and, hesitating a moment, pushed it off with anxious
eyes and closed mouths into the river. Eagerly they watched it as
it tumbled end-over-end and down into the water with a great splash,
and disappeared under the waves, which rolled one after another
across to the opposite banks of the river. But for a long time they
saw nothing of it. After a while, far off, speeding on toward the
Western Waters of the World, they saw the log rocking along on the
rushing waters until it passed out of sight, and they sadly turned
toward their homes under the Mountains of the South.
When the log had ceased rocking and plunging, the young man cautiously
drew out the plug, and, finding that no water flowed in, peered
out. A ray of sunlight slanted in, and by that he knew it was not
yet midday, and he could see a round piece of sky and clouds through
the hole. By-and-by the ray of sunlight came straight down, and
then after a while slanted the other way, and finally toward evening
it ceased to shine in, and then the youth took out some of his meal
and ate his supper. When after a while he could see the stars, and
later the Hanging Lines [the sword-belt of Orion], he knew it was
time to rest, so he lay down to sleep.
Thus, day after day, he traveled until he knew he was out on the
Great Waters of the World, for no longer did his log strike against
anything or whirl around, nor could he see, through the chink, leaves
of overhanging trees, nor rocks and banks of earth. On the tenth
morning, when he looked up through the hole, he saw that the clouds
did not move, and wondering at this, kicked at his log, but it would
not move. Then he peered out as far as he could and saw rocks and
trees. When he tried to rock his log, it remained firm, so he determined
to open the door at the end.
Now, in reality, his log had been cast high up on the shore of
a great mountain that rose out of the waters; and this mountain
was the home of the Rattlesnakes. A Rattlesnake maiden was roaming
along the shore just as the young man was about to open the door
of his log. She espied the curious vessel, and said to herself in
thought: "What may this be? Ah, yes, and who? Ah, yes, the
mortal who was to come; it must be he!" Whereupon she hastened
to the shore and tapped on the log.
"Art thou come?" she asked.
"Aye," replied the youth. "Who may you be, and where
"You are landed on the Island of the Rattlesnakes, and I am
one of them. The other side of the mountain here is where our village
is. Come out and go with me, for my old ones have expected you long."
"Is it dry, surely?" asked the young man.
"Why, yes! Here you are high above the waters."
Thereupon the young man opened from the inside his door, and peered
out. Surely enough, there he was high among the rocks and sands.
Then he looked at the Rattlesnake maiden, and scarcely believed
she was what she called herself, for she was a most beautiful young
woman, and like a daughter of men. Yet around her waist--she was
dressed in cotton mantles-- was girt a rattlesnake-skin which was
open at the breast and on the crown of the head.
"Come with me," said the maiden; and she led the way
over the mountain and across to a deep valley, where terrible Serpents
writhed and gleamed in the sunlight so thickly that they seemed,
with their hissing and rattling, like a dry mat shaken by the wind.
The youth drew back in horror, but the maiden said: "Fear not;
they will neither harm you nor frighten you more, for they are my
people." Whereupon she commanded them to fall back and make
a pathway for the young man and herself; and they tamely obeyed
her commands. Through the opening thus made they passed down to
a cavern, on entering which they found a great room. There were
great numbers of Rattlesnake people, old and young, gathered in
council, for they knew of the coming of the young man. Around the
walls of their houses were many pegs and racks with serpent skins
hanging on them--skins like the one the young girl wore as a girdle.
The elders arose and greeted the youth, saying: "Our child
and our father, comest thou, comest thou happily these many days?"
"Aye, happily," replied the youth.
And after a feast of strange food had been placed before the young
man, and he had eaten a little, the elders said to him: "Knowest
thou whither thou goest, that the way is long and fearful, and to
mortals unknown, and that it will be but to meet with poverty that
thou journeyest alone? Therefore have we assembled to await thy
coming and in order that thou shouldst journey preciously, we have
decided to ask thee to choose from amongst us whom thou shalt have
for a companion."
"It is well, my fathers," said the young man, and, casting
his eyes about the council to find which face should be kindest
to him, he chose the maiden, and said: "Let it be this one,
for she found me and loved me in that she gently and without fear
brought me into your presence."
And the girl said: "It is well, and I will go."
Instantly the grave and dignified elders, the happy-faced youths
and maidens, the kind-eyed matrons, all reached up for their serpent
skins, and, passing them over their persons,--lo! in the time of
the telling of it, the whole place was filled with writhing and
hissing Serpents and the din of their rattles. In horror the young
man stood against the wall like a hollow stalk, and the Serpent
maiden, going to each of the members of the council, extracted from
each a single fang, which she wrapped together in a piece of fabric,
until she had a great bundle. Then she passed her hand over her
person, and lo! she became a beautiful human maiden again, holding
in her hand a rattlesnake skin. Then taking up the bundle of fangs,
she said to the young man: "Come, for I know the way and will
guide you,"--and the young man followed her to the shore where
his log lay.
"Now," said she, "wait while I fix this log anew,
that it may be well," and she bored many little holes all over
the log, and into these holes she inserted the crooked fangs, so
that they all stood slanting toward the rear, like the spines on
the back of a porcupine.
When she had done this, she said: "First I will enter, for
there may not be room for two, and in order that I may make myself
like the space I enter, I will lay on my dress again. Do you, when
I have entered, enter also, and with your feet kick the log down
to the shore waters, when you must quickly close the door and the
waters will take us abroad upon themselves."
In an instant she had passed into her serpent form again and crawled
into the log. The young man did as he was bidden, and as he closed
the door a wave bore them gently out upon the waters. Then, as the
young man turned to look upon his companion coiled so near him,
he drew back in horror.
"Why do you fear?" asked the Rattlesnake.
"I know not, but I fear you; perhaps, though you speak gently,
you will, when I sleep, bite me and devour my flesh, and it is with
thoughts of this that I have fear."
"Ah, no!" replied the maiden, "but, that you may
not fear, I will change myself." And so saying, she took off
her skin, and, opening the upper part of the door, hung the skin
on the fangs outside.
Finally, toward noon-time, the youth prepared his meal food, and
placing some before the maiden, asked her to eat.
"Ah, no! alas, I know not the food of mortals. Have you not
with you the yellow dust of the corn-flower?"
"Aye, that I have," said the young man, and producing
a bag, opened it and asked the girl: "How shall I feed it to
"Scatter it upon the cotton, and by my knowledge I will gather
Then the young man scattered a great quantity on the cotton, wondering
how the girl would gather it up. But the maiden opened the door,
and taking down the skin changed herself to a serpent, and passing
to and fro over the pollen, received it all within her scales. Then
she resumed her human form again and hung the skin up as before.
Thus they floated until they came to the great forks of the Mighty
Waters of the World, and their floating log was guided into the
southern branch. And on they floated toward the westward for four
months from the time when the uncles had thrown him into the river.
One day the maiden said to the youth: "We are nearing our
journey's end, and, as I know the way, I will guide you. Hold yourself
hard and ready, for the waters will cast our house high upon the
shores of the mountain wherein the Sun enters, and these shores
are inaccessible because so smooth."
Then the log was cast high above the slippery bank, and when the
waters receded there it remained, for the fangs grappled it fast.
Then said the maiden: "Let us now go out. Fear not for your
craft, for the fangs will hold it fast; it matters little how high
the waves may roll, or how steep and slippery the bank."
Then, taking in his arms the sacred plumes which his people had
prepared for him, he followed the girl far up to the doorway in
the Mountain of the Sea. Out of it grew a great ladder of giant
rushes, by the side of which stood an enormous basket-tray. Very
fast approached the Sun, and soon the Sun- father descended the
ladder, and the two voyagers followed down. They were gently greeted
by a kind old woman, the grandmother of the Sun, and were given
seats at one side of a great and wonderfully beautiful room.
Then the Sun-father approached some pegs in the wall and from them
suspended his bow and quiver, and his bright sun-shield, and his
wonderful traveling dress Behold! there stood, kindly smiling before
the youth and maiden, the most magnificent and gentle of beings
in the world-the Sun- father.
Then the Sun-father greeted them, and, turning to a great package
which he had brought in, opened it and disclosed thousands of shell
beads, red and white, and thousands more of brilliant turquoises.
These he poured into the great tray at the door-side, and gave them
to the grandmother, who forthwith began to sort them with great
rapidity. But, ere she had done, the Sun-father took them from her;
part of them he took out with unerring judgment and cast them abroad
into the great waters as we cast sacred prayer-meal. The others
he brought below and gave them to the grandmother for safe-keeping.
Then he turned once more to the youth and the maiden, and said
to the former: "So thou hast come, my child, even as I commanded.
It is well, and I am thankful." Then, in a stern and louder
voice, which yet sounded like the voice of a father, he asked: "Hast
thou brought with thee that whereby we are made happy with our children?"
And the young man said: "Aye, I have."
"It is well; and if it be well, then shalt thou precious be;
for knowest thou not that I recognize the really good from the evil,--even
of the thoughts of men,-- and that I know the prayer and sacrifice
that is meant, from the words and treasures of those who do but
lie in addressing them to me, and speak and act as children in a
joke? Behold the treasure which I brought with me from the cities
of mankind today! Some of them I cherished preciously, for they
are the gifts to me of good hearts and I treasure them that I may
return them in good fortune and blessing to those who gave them.
But some thou sawest I cast abroad into the great waters that they
may again be gathered up and presented to me; for they were the
gifts of double and foolish hearts, and as such cannot be treasured
by me nor returned unto those who gave them. Bring forth, my child,
the plumes and gifts thou hast brought. Thy mother dwelleth in the
next room, and when she appeareth in this, thou shalt with thine
own hand present to her thy sacrifice."
So the youth, bowing his head, unwrapped his bundle and laid before
the Sun- father the plumes he had brought. And the Sun-father took
them and breathed upon them and upon the youth, and said: "Thanks,
this day. Thou hast straightened thy crooked thoughts."
And when the beautiful Mother of Men, the Moon-mother--the wife
of the Sun- father--appeared, the boy placed before her the plumes
he had brought, and she, too, breathed upon them, and said: "Thanks,
this day," even as the Sun- father had.
Then the Sun-father turned to the youth and said: "Thou shalt
join me in my journey round the world, that thou mayest see the
towns and nations of mankind--my children; that thou mayest realize
how many are my children. Four days shalt thou join me in my journeyings,
and then shalt thou return to the home of thy fathers."
And the young man said: "It is well!" but he turned his
eyes to the maiden.
"Fear not, my child," added the Father, "she shall
sit preciously in my house until we have returned."
And after they had feasted, the Sun-father again enrobed himself,
and the youth he dressed in appearance as he himself was dressed.
Then, taking the sun-dress from the wall, he led the way down through
the four great apartments of the world, and came out into the Lower
Country of the Earth.
Behold! as they entered that great world, it was filled with snow
and cold below, and the tracks of men led out over great white plains,
and as they passed the cities of these nether countries people strange
to see were clearing away the snow from their housetops and doorways.
And so they journeyed to the other House of the Sun, and, passing
up through the four great rooms, entered the home of the aunts of
the Sun-father; and here, too, the young man presented plumes of
prayer and sacrifice to the inmates, and received their thanks and
Again they started together on their journey; and behold! as they
came out into the World of Daylight, the skies below them were filled
with the rain of summer-time.
Across the great world they journeyed, and they saw city after
city of men, and many tribes of strange peoples. Here they were
engaged in wars and in wasting the lives of one another; there they
were dying of famine and disease; and more of misery and poverty
than of happiness saw the young man among the nations of men. "For,"
said the Sun-father, "these be, alas! my children, who waste
their lives in foolishness, or slay one another in useless anger;
yet they are brothers to one another, and I am the father of all."
Thus journeyed they four days; and each evening when they returned
to the home where the Sun-father enters, he gave to his grandmother
the great package of treasure which his children among men had sacrificed
to him, and each day he cast the treasures of the bad and double-hearted
into the great waters.
On the fourth day, when they had entered the western home of the
Sun- father, said the latter to the youth: "Thy task is meted
out and finished; thou shalt now return unto the home of thy fathers--my
children below the mountains of Shíwina. How many days, thinkest
thou, shalt thou journey?"
"Many days more than ten," replied the youth with a sigh.
"Ah! no, my child," said the Sun-father. "Listen;
thou shalt in one day reach the banks of the river whence thou camest.
Listen! Thou shalt take this, my shaft of strong lightning; thou
shalt grasp its neck with firm hands, and as thou extendest it,
it will stretch out far to thy front and draw thee more swiftly
than the arrow's flight through the water. Take with thee this quiver
of unerring arrows, and this strong bow, that by their will thou
mayest seek life; but forget not thy sacrifices nor that they are
to be made with true word and a faithful heart. Take also with thee
thy guide and companion, the Rattlesnake maiden. When thou hast
arrived at the shore of the country of her people, let go the lightning,
and it will land thee high. On the morrow I will journey slowly,
that ere I be done rising thou mayest reach the home of the maiden.
There thou must stop but briefly, for thy fathers, the Rattle-tailed
Serpents, will instruct thee, and to their counsel thou must pay
strict heed, for thus only will it be well. Thou shalt present to
them the plumes of the Prey-beings thou bringest, and when thou
hast presented these, thou must continue thy journey. Rest thou
until the morrow, and early as the light speed hence toward the
home of thy fathers. May all days find ye, children, happy."
With this, the Sun-father, scarce listening to the prayers and thanks
of the youth and maiden, vanished below.
Thus, when morning approached, the youth and the maiden entered
the hollow house and closed it. Scarce did the youth grasp the lightning
when, drawn by the bright shaft, the log shot far out into the great
waters and was skimming, too fast to be seen, toward the home of
the Rattle-tailed Serpents.
And the Sun had but just climbed above the mountains of this world
of daylight when the little tube was thrown high above the banks
of the great island whither they were journeying.
Then the youth and the maiden again entered the council of the
Rattlesnakes, and when they saw the shining black paint on his face
they asked that they too might paint their faces like his own; but
they painted their cheeks awkwardly, as to this day may be seen;
for all rattlesnakes are painted unevenly in the face. Then the
young man presented to each the plumes he had brought, and told
the elders that he would return with their maiden to the home of
"Be it well, that it may be well," they replied; and
they thanked him with delight for the treasure-plumes he had bestowed
"Go ye happily all days," said the elders. "Listen,
child, and father, to our words of advice. But a little while, and
thou wilt reach the bank whence thou started. Let go the shaft of
lightning, and, behold, the tube thou hast journeyed with will plunge
far down into the river. Then shalt thou journey with this our maiden
three days. Care not to embrace her, for if thou doest this, it
will not be well. journey ye preciously, our children, and may ye
be happy one with the other."
So again they entered their hollow log and, before entering, the
maiden placed her rattlesnake skin as before on the fangs. With
incredible swiftness the lightning drew them up the great surging
river to the banks where the cottonwood forests grow, and when the
lad pressed the shaft it landed them high among the forest trees
above the steep bank. Then the youth pressed the lightning-shaft
with all his might, and the log was dashed into the great river.
While yet he gazed at the bounding log, behold! the fangs which
the maiden had fixed into it turned to living serpents; hence today,
throughout the whole great world, from the Land of Summer to the
Waters of Sunset, are found the Rattlesnakes and their children.
Then the young man journeyed with the maiden southward; and on
the way, with the bow and arrows the Sun-father had given him, he
killed game, that they might have meat to eat. Nor did he forget
the commandments of his Sun- father. At night he built a fire in
a forest of piñons, and made a bower for the maiden near
to it; but she could not sit there, for she feared the fire, and
its light pained her eyes. Nor could she eat at first of the food
he cooked for her, but only tasted a few mouthfuls of it. Then the
young man made a bed for her under the trees, and told her to rest
peacefully, for he would guard her through the night.
And thus they journeyed and rested until the fourth day, when at
evening they entered the town under the mountains of Shíwina
and were happily welcomed by the father, sister, and relatives of
the young man. Blessed by the old priest-chief, the youth and the
maiden dwelt with the younger sister Waíasialuhtitsa, in
the high house of the upper part of the town. And the boy was as
before a mighty hunter, and the maiden at last grew used to the
food and ways of mortals.
After they had thus lived together for a long time, there were
born of the maiden two children, twins.
Wonderful to relate, these children grew to the power of wandering,
in a single day and night; and hence, when they appeared suddenly
on the housetops and in the plazas, people said to one another:
"Who are these strange people, and whence came they?"--and
talked much after the manner of our foolish people. And the other
little children in the town beat them and quarreled with them, as
strange children are apt to do with strange children.. And when
the twins ran in to their mother, crying and complaining, the poor
young woman was saddened; so she said to the father when he returned
from hunting in the evening:
"Ah!, 'their father,' it is not well that we remain longer
here. No, alas! I must return to the country of my fathers, and
take with me these little ones," and, although the father prayed
her not, she said only: "It must be," and he was forced
Then for four days the Rattlesnake woman instructed him in the
prayers and chants of her people, and she took him forth and showed
him the medicines whereby the bite of her fathers might be assuaged,
and how to prepare them. Again and again the young man urged her
not to leave him, saying: "The way is long and filled with
dangers. How, alas! will you reach it in safety?"
"Fear not," said she: "go with me only to the shore
of the great river, and my fathers will come to meet me and take
Sadly, on the last morning, the father accompanied his wife and
children to the forests of the great river. There she said he must
not follow but as he embraced them he cried out:
"Ah, alas! my beautiful wife, my beloved children, flesh of
my flesh, how shall I not follow ye?"
Then his wife answered: "Fear not, nor trouble thyself with
sad thoughts. Whither we go thou canst not follow, for thou eatest
cooked food (thou art a mortal); but soon thy fathers and mine will
come for thee, and thou wilt follow us, never to return." Then
she turned from him with the little children and was seen no more,
and the young man silently returned to his home below the mountains
It happened here and there in time that young men of his tribe
were bitten by rattlesnakes; but the young man had only to suck
their wounds, and apply his medicines, and sing his incantations
and prayers, to cure them. Whenever this happened, he breathed the
sacred breath upon them, and enjoined them to secrecy of the rituals
and chants he taught them, save only to such as they should choose
and teach the practice of their prayers.
Thus he had cured and taught eight, when one day he ascended the
mountains for wood. There, alone in the forest, he was met and bitten
by his fathers. Although he slowly and painfully crawled home, long
ere he reached his town he was so swollen that the eight whom he
had instructed tried in vain to cure him, and, bidding them cherish
as a precious gift the knowledge of his beloved wife, he died.
Immediately his fathers met his breath and being and took them
to the home of the Maiden of the Rattlesnakes and of his lost children.
Need we ask why he was not cured by his disciples?
Thus it was in the days of the ancients, and hence today we have
fathers amongst us to whom the dread bite of the rattlesnake need
cause no sad thoughts,--the Tchi Kialikwe (Society of the Rattlesnakes).
Native American Legends
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