Native American Legends
Why the North Star stands still
A Paiute Legend
Long, long ago, when the world was young, the People of the Sky
were so restless and traveled so much that they made trails in the
heavens. Now, if we watch the sky all through the night, we can
see which way they go.
But one star does not travel. That is the North Star. He cannot
travel. He cannot move. When he was on the Earth long, long ago,
he was known as Na- gah, the mountain sheep, the son of Shinoh.
He was brave, daring, sure- footed, and courageous. His father was
so proud of him and loved him so much that he put large earrings
on the sides of his head and made him look dignified, important,
Every day, Na-gah was climbing, climbing, climbing. He hunted for
the roughest and the highest mountains, climbed them, lived among
them, and was happy. Once in the very long ago, he found a very
high peak. Its sides were steep and smooth, and its sharp peak reached
up into the clouds. Na- gah looked up and said, "I wonder what
is up there. I will climb to the very highest point."
Around and around the mountain he traveled, looking for a trail.
But he could find no trail. There was nothing but sheer cliffs all
the way around. This was the first mountain Na-gah had ever seen
that he could not climb.
He wondered and wondered what he should do. He felt sure that his
father would feel ashamed of him if he knew that there was a mountain
that his son could not climb. Na-gah determined that he would find
a way up to its top. His father would be proud to see him standing
on the top of such a peak.
Again and again he walked around the mountain, stopping now and
then to peer up the steep cliff, hoping to see a crevice on which
he could find footing. Again and again, he went up as far as he
could, but always had to turn around and come down. At last he found
a big crack in a rock that went down, not up. Down he went into
it and soon found a hole that turned upward. His heart was made
glad. Up and up he climbed.
Soon it became so dark that he could not see, and the cave was
full of loose rocks that slipped under his feet and rolled down.
Soon he heard a big, fearsome noise coming up through the shaft
at the same time the rolling rocks were dashed to pieces at the
bottom. In the darkness he slipped often and skinned his knees.
His courage and determination began to fail. He had never before
seen a place so dark and dangerous. He was afraid, and he was also
"I will go back and look again for a better place to climb,"
he said to himself. "I am not afraid out on the open cliffs,
but this dark hole fills me with fear. I'm scared! I want to get
out of here!"
But when Na-gah turned to go down, he found that the rolling rocks
had closed the cave below him. He could not get down. He saw only
one thing now that he could do: He must go on climbing until he
came out somewhere.
After a long climb, he saw a little light, and he knew that he
was coming out of the hole. "Now I am happy," he said
aloud. "I am glad that I really came up through that dark hole."
Looking around him, he became almost breathless, for he found that
he was on the top of a very high peak! There was scarcely room for
him to turn around, and looking down from this height made him dizzy.
He saw great cliffs below him, in every direction, and saw only
a small place in which he could move. Nowhere on the outside could
he get down, and the cave was closed on the inside..,
"Here I must stay until I die," he said. "But I
have climbed my mountain! I have climbed my mountain at last!
He ate a little grass and drank a little water that he found in
the holes in the rocks. Then he felt better. He was higher than
any mountain he could see and he could look down on the Earth, far
About this time, his father was out walking over the sky. He looked
everywhere for his son, but could not find him. He called loudly,
"Na-gah! Na- gah!" And his son answered him from the top
of the highest cliffs. When Shinoh saw him there, he felt sorrowful,
to himself, "My brave son can never come down. Always he must
stay on the top of the highest mountain. He can travel and climb
"I will not let my brave son die. I will turn him into a star,
and he can stand there and shine where everyone can see him. He
shall be a guide mark for all the living things on the Earth or
in the sky."
And so Na-gah became a star that every living thing can see. It
is the only star that will always be found at the same place. Always
he stands still. Directions are set by him. Travelers, looking up
at him, can always find their way. He does not move around as the
other stars do, and so he is called "the Fixed Star."
And because he is in the true north all the time, our people call
him Qui-am-i Wintook Poot-see. These words mean "the North
Besides Na-gah, other mountain sheep are in the sky. They are called
"Big Dipper" and "Little Dipper." They too have
found the great mountain and have been challenged by it. They have
seen Na- gah standing on its top, and they want to go on up to him.
Shinoh, the father of North Star, turned them into stars, and you
may see them in the sky at the foot of the big mountain. Always
they are traveling. They go around and around the mountain, seeking
the trail that leads upward to Na-gah, who stands on the top. He
is still the North Star.
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