In the beginning all was water. In all directions the sky was clear and unobstructed. A cloud formed in the sky, grew lumpy, and turned into
Coyote. Then a fog arose, grew lumpy, and became Silver-Fox. They became persons. Then they thought. They thought a canoe, and they said,
"Let us stay here, let us make it our home." Then they floated about, for many years they floated; and the canoe became old and mossy, and they
grew weary of it.
"Do you go and lie down," said Silver-Fox to Coyote, and he did so. While he slept, Silver-Fox combed his hair, and the combings he saved. When
there was much of them, he rolled them in his hands, stretched them out, and flattened them between his hands. When he had done this, he laid them
upon the water and spread them out, till they covered all the surface of the water. Then he thought, "There should be a tree," and it was there. And
he did the same way with shrubs and with rocks, and weighted the film down with stones, so that the film did not wave and rise in ripples as it
floated in the wind. And thus he made it, that it was just right, this that was to be the world. And then the canoe floated gently up to the edge, and it
was the world.
Then he cried to Coyote, "Wake up! We are going to sink!"
And Coyote woke, and looked up; and over his head, as he lay, hung cherries and plums; and from the surface of the world he heard crickets
chirping. And at once Coyote began to eat the cherries and the plums, and the crickets also.
After a time Coyote said, "Where are we? What place is this that we have come to?"
And Silver-Fox replied, "I do not know. We are just here. We floated up to the shore."
Still all the time he knew; but he denied that he had made the world. He did not want Coyote to know that the world was his creation. Then
Silver-Fox said, "What shall we do? Here is solid ground. I am going ashore, and am going to live here."
So they landed, and built a sweat-house and lived in it. They thought about making people; and after a time, they made little sticks of service-berry,
and they thrust them all about into the roof of the house on the inside. And by and by all became people of different sorts, birds and animals and
fish, all but the deer, and he was as the deer are today. And Pine-Marten was the chief of the people; and Eagle was the woman chief, for she was
Pine-Marten's sister. And this happened at 'texcag-wa [the word will not translate].
And people went out to hunt from the sweat-house. And they killed deer, and brought them home, and had plenty to eat. Arrows with pine-bark
points were what they used then, it is said, for there was no obsidian. And Ground-Squirrel, of all the people, he only knew where obsidian could be
found. So he went to steal it.
To Medicine Lake he went, for there Obsidian-Old-Man lived, in a big sweat-house. And Ground-Squirrel went in, taking with him roots in a basket
of tules. And he gave the old man some to eat; and he liked them so much, that he sent Ground-Squirrel out to get more. But while he was digging
them Grizzly-Bear came, and said, "Sit down! Let me sit in your lap. Feed me those roots by handfuls."
So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear as he had asked, for he was afraid. Then Grizzly-Bear said, "Obsidian-Old-Man's mother
cleaned roots for some one," and went away.
Ground-Squirrel went back to the sweat-house, but had few roots, for Grizzly-Bear had eaten so many. Then he gave them to the old man, and told
him what the bear had said about him, and how he had robbed him of the roots. Then Obsidian-Old-Man was angry. "Tomorrow we will go," he
said. Then they slept.
In the morning they ate breakfast early and went off, and the old man said that Ground-Squirrel should go and dig more roots, and that he would
wait, and watch for Grizzly-Bear.
So Ground-Squirrel went and dug; and when the basket was filled, Grizzly-Bear came, and said, "You have dug all these for me. Sit down!"
So Ground-Squirrel sat down, and fed Grizzly-Bear roots by the handful. But Obsidian-Old-Man had come near. And Grizzly-Bear got up to fight,
and he struck at the old man; but he turned his side to the blow, and Grizzly-Bear merely cut off a great slice of his own flesh. And he kept on
fighting, till he was all cut to pieces, and fell dead. Then Ground-Squirrel and Obsidian-Old-Man went home to the sweat-house, and built a fire,
and ate the roots, and were happy. Then the old man went to sleep.
In the morning Obsidian-Old-Man woke up, and heard Ground-Squirrel groaning. He said, "I am sick. I am bruised because that great fellow sat
upon me. Really, I am sick."
Then Obsidian-Old-Man was sorry, but Ground-Squirrel was fooling old man. After a while the old man said, "I will go and get wood. I'll watch
him, for perhaps he is fooling me. These people are very clever."
Then he went for wood; and he thought as he went, "I had better go back and look."
So he went back softly, and peeped in; but Ground-Squirrel lay there quiet, and groaned, and now and then he vomited up green substances. Then
Obsidian-Old-Man thought, "He is really sick," and he went off to get more wood; but Ground-Squirrel was really fooling him, for he wanted to
When the old man had gotten far away, Ground-Squirrel got up, poured out the finished obsidian points, and pulled out a knife from the wall, did
them up in a bundle, and ran off with them.
When the old man came back, he carried a heavy load of wood; and as soon as he entered the sweat-house, he missed Ground-Squirrel. So he
dropped the wood and ran after him. He almost caught him, when Ground-Squirrel ran into a hole, and, as he went, kicked the earth into the eyes
of the old man, who dug fast, trying to catch him.
Soon Ground-Squirrel ran out of the other end of the hole; and then the old man gave chase again, but again Ground-Squirrel darted into a hole;
and after missing him again, Obsidian-Old-Man gave up, and went home.
Ground-Squirrel crossed the river and left his load of arrow- points, and came back to the house and sat down in his seat. He and Cocoon slept
together. Then his friend said, "Where have you been?"
And Ground-Squirrel replied, "I went to get a knife and to get good arrow-points. We had none."
Then the people began to come back with deer. And when they cooked their meat, they put it on the fire in lumps; but Ground-Squirrel and Cocoon
cut theirs in thin slices, and so cooked it nicely.
And Weasel saw this, and they told him about how the knife had been secured. In the morning Ground-Squirrel went and brought back the bundle
of points he had hidden, and handed it down through the smoke-hole to Wolf. Then he poured out the points on the ground, and distributed them to
every one, and all day long people worked, tying them onto arrows. So they threw away all the old arrows with bark points; and when they went
hunting, they killed many deer.
|Achomawi Creation Myth
An Achomawi Legend
Music: Canyon Echoes by AH-NEE-MAH
An Achomawi Legend
Sixty little spider children shivered as they slept. Snow had fallen every day for months. All the animals were cold, hungry, and frightened. Food
supplies were almost gone. No one knew what to do. Blue jay and Redheaded Woodpecker sang and danced for Silver Gray Fox, who floats above
the clouds. Since Silver Gray Fox, the creator, had made the whole world with a song and a dance, Blue jay and Woodpecker hoped to be answered
with blue skies. But the snow kept falling.
Finally the animals decided to ask Coyote. "Coyote's been around a long time, almost since the beginning. He might know how to reach Silver
Gray Fox." They went to the cave where Coyote was sleeping, told him their troubles, and asked for help. "Grrrrowwwlll...go away," grumbled
Coyote, " and let me think." Coyote stuck his head into the cold air outside and thought till he caught an idea. He tried singing in little yelps and loud
yowls to Silver Gray Fox. Coyote sang and sang, but Silver Gray Fox didn't listen, or didn't want to. After all, it was Coyote's mischief-making
when the world was new that had caused Silver Gray Fox to go away beyond the clouds in the first place.
Coyote thought he'd better think some more. Suddenly he saw Spider Woman swinging down on a silky thread from the top of the tallest tree in the
forest. "Spider Woman's been on Earth a long, long time," Coyote thought. "She's very wise. I'll ask her what to do." Coyote loped over to the tree
and lifted his ears to Spider Woman. "Spider Woman, O wise weaver, O cleaver one," called Coyote in his sweetest voice, "we're all cold and hungry.
Everyone's afraid this winter will never end. Silver Gray Fox doesn't seem to notice. Can you help?" Spider Woman swayed her shining black
body back and forth, back and forth, thinking and thinking, thinking and thinking.
Her eight black eyes sparkled when she spoke, "I know how to reach Silver Gray Fox, Coyote, but I'm not the one for the work. Everyone will have
to help. You'll need my two youngest children, too. They're little and light as dandelion fluff, and the fastest spinners in my web." Spider Woman
called up to her two littlest ones. Spinnnnnn! Spinnnnnn! They came down fast, each spinning on eight little legs, fine, black twin Spider Boys, full
of curiosity and fun. Spider Woman said, "My dear little quick ones, are you ready for a great adventure?" "Yes! Yes!" they cried. "We're ready!"
Spider Woman told them her plan, and the Spider Boys set off with Coyote in the snow. They hadn't gone far when they met two White-Footed
Mouse Brothers rooting around for seeds to eat. Coyote told them Spider Woman's plan. "Will you help?" he asked. "Yes! Yes! We'll help" they
squeaked, and they all traveled the trail towards Mount Shasta until they met Weasel Man looking hungry and even thinner than usual.
Coyote told Weasel Man his plan. "Will you help?" asked Coyote. "Of course," rasped Weasel Man, joining them on the trail. Before long they came
across Red Fox Woman swishing her big fluffy tail through the bushes. "Will you help?" asked Coyote. "Of course, I'll come," crooned Red Fox
Woman. Then Rabbit Woman poked her head out of her hole. I'll come too," she sneezed, shivering her thick fur.
Meadowlark wrapped a winter shawl around her wings, and trudged after the others along the trail to the top of Mount Shasta. The snow had
stopped, but the sky was still cloudy. On top of Mount Shasta, Coyote barked, "Will our two best archers step forward?" The two White Footed
Mouse Brothers proudly lifted their bows.
"Everyone listen," barked Coyote. "If any one of us is only half-hearted, Spider Woman's plan will fail. To get through the clouds to Silver Gray
Fox, we must each share our powers whole-heartedly, out thoughts, our dreams, our strength, and our songs. Now, you White Footed Mouse
Brothers, I want you to shoot arrows at exactly the same spot in the sky."
Turning to the others, Coyote said, "Spider Boys, start spinning spider silk as fast as you can. Weasel Man, White Footed Mouse Brothers, Red Fox
Woman, Rabbit Woman, and I will sing and make music. We must sing with all our might or the Spider Boys won't make it." "One!" called Coyote.
Everyone got ready. "Two!" The animals drew in deep breaths. The Mouse Brothers pulled back their bowstrings. "Three!" Two arrows shot
straight up and struck at the same spot in the clouds.
"Whiff wiff! Wiff wiff!" sang the White Footed Mouse Brothers. "Yiyipyipla!" sang Red Fox Woman. "Wowooooolll!" sang Coyote. Rabbit Woman
shook her magic rattle. Weasel Man beat his very old and worn elk-hide drum. The Spider Boys hurled out long lines of spider silk, weaving swiftly
with all their legs. The animals sang up a whirlwind of sound to lift the spider silk until it caught on the arrows in the clouds. Then the Spider Twins
scurried up the lines of silk and scrambled through the opening.
All the while, down below, the animals continued singing, rattling and drumming. The little Spiders sank breathless, onto the clouds. Silver Gray
Fox spied them and called out, "What are you two doing here?" The Spider Boys bent low on their little legs and answered, "O Silver Gray Fox, we
bring greetings from our mother, Spider Woman, and all the creatures of the world below. We've come to ask if you'd please let the sun shine again.
The whole world is cold. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is afraid spring will not return, ever."
They were so sincere and polite that Silver Gray Fox became gentler, and asked, "How did you two get up here?" The Spider Boys said, "Listen, can
you hear the people singing? Can you hear the drum and rattle?" Silver Gray Fox heard the drum and rattle and the people singing. When the
Spider Boys finished telling their story, Silver Gray Fox was pleased. "I'm happy when creatures use their powers together. I'm especially glad to
hear Coyote's been helping too. Your mother, Spider Woman made a good plan. To reward all your hard work, I'll help create a sign to show that
the skies will clear. And you two may help.
"First picture the sun shining bright," called Silver Gray Fox. The Spider Boys thought hard and saw the sun sending out fiery rays in all directions.
"Now, where sun-rays meet the damp air," sang Silver Gray Fox, "picture a stripe of red, Red as Woodpecker's head. Add a stripe nearby of bluest
Blue Jay blue." The Spider Boys thought hard, and great stripes appeared of red and blue. Silver Gray Fox chanted, "Now in between, add stripes of
orange, yellow and green!" The Spider Boys thought hard. Then, dazzling their eyes, a beautiful bright arc of colors curved across the whole sky
above the clouds. It was the very first rainbow.
Meanwhile, down below, beneath the clouds, the animals and people were so cold, hungry, and tired that they had stopped singing and drumming.
Spider Woman missed her two youngest children. Each day she missed them more. She blamed Coyote for the trouble. So did the other animals.
Coyote slipped away silent, lonely and sad. Above, on the clouds, the Twins rested. Their legs ached and their minds were tired.
Silver Gray Fox said, "You did what I asked and kept it secret. That's very difficult, so I'm giving you a special reward. On wet mornings, when the
sun starts to shine, you'll see what I mean." Then the Spider Boys spun down to Earth, and ran back to their mother as fast as they could. Spider
Woman cried for joy and wrapped all her legs around her two littlest children. Their fifty-eight sisters and brothers jumped up and down with
happiness. All the animals gathered around to hear the Spiders story. When they finished, the Spider Boys cried, "Look up!" Everyone looked up.
The clouds has drifted apart. There, bridging sky to earth in a radiant arch, was the very first rainbow.
Sun began to warm the earth. Shoots of grass pushed up through the melting snow. Meadowlark blew her silver whistle of spring across the valley,
calling streams and rivers awake. Coyote came out of hiding, raced to a distant hilltop, and gave a long, long howl of joy. The animals held a great
feast to honor the rainbow, Silver Gray Fox, Spider Woman, the Spider Twins, Coyote, and the hard work everyone had done together.
To this day, after the rain, when the sun comes out, dewdrops on spider webs shine with tiny rainbows. This is the spiders' special reward. You can
see for yourself.
|Blue Jay and Lizard and the Grizzly-Bears
An Achomawi Legend
Some Grizzly-Bears lived in a sweat-house near where Blue Jay and Lizard lived. These latter had all kinds of food stored in bags of tule. The
Grizzly-Bears had only acorns, and used to have to go to the other house to get salmon and meat. A Grizzly-Bear went over at sundown and sat
down, saying, "I was sent over for scraps," then Blue Jay would say, "All right, get out some salmon," and Lizard would give Grizzly-Bear a large
pile of it. When he got back home, the others would say, "They always give us a lot." In the morning another Grizzly went, and came back with a
huge basket of pine-nuts; and in the evening then another would go, to get a lot of sunflower-seeds. In this way Blue Jay and Lizard gave away all
the food they had, and began to get hungry. Lizard, however, had been afraid that this would happen, so he had hidden ten salmon under his pillow
while Blue Jay had gone after wood one day. When all the rest of the food was gone, Lizard produced this reserve supply, and the two lived on this
for a time. The Grizzly-Bears had saved much of the food they had begged, and feasted while the others were starving. The Grizzly-Bears hoped the
others would die.
Blue Jay soon got very weak, but Lizard was still able to get about. One day Lizard covered up the coals with ashes in their house, closed the
smoke-hole, and, taking his knife, crept over to the house where the Grizzly-Bears were, all asleep. Lizard looked in and saw all the food they had
there in storage. Then he went into the house, picked out the largest Grizzly-Bear, crawled into his anus, and cut out his heart. He brought the heart
out, then skinned the body of the bear, the others meanwhile sleeping on. Lizard baked the liver quickly in the ashes, and ate it, leaning a pole up
against the door, he walked on this, so that the Grizzly-Bears could not see his tracks. He took all the Grizzly-Bear meat home with him, and one
basket of acorns. He found Blue Jay almost dead; but he cooked some meat, and gave him some, and, after getting a little stronger, he was able to
eat a great deal; and the two ate nearly all night.
In the morning the Grizzly-Bears woke up, and missed one of their number, but thought he had merely gone out of the house for a time. So they
were not worried, but built a fire and sweated. Lizard and Blue Jay kept quiet in their house, and did not move out. Every night Lizard did the same
thing, killing one of the Bears until he had killed four of them, -two on each side of the door as they slept. The Grizzly-Bears did not suspect what the
trouble was, for they thought both Lizard and Blue Jay were dead. Thus Lizard and Blue Jay lived through the winter.
|Coyote and Cloud
An Achomawi Legend
Coyote and Cloud ran a race. Cloud bet storm, and Coyote clear weather. They started far away to the south, and for a while Coyote was in the
lead. Then Cloud made fruits of all kinds to grow in front of Coyote; and he, looking back and seeing Cloud far behind, stopped to eat. In this way
Cloud caught up and won. This is why we have storms in winter-time.
|Creation and Longevity
An Achomawi Legend
Coyote began the creation of the earth, but Eagle completed it. Coyote scratched it up with his paws out of nothingness, but Eagle complained there
were no mountains for him to perch on.
So Coyote made hills, but they were not high enough. Therefore Eagle scratched up great ridges. When Eagle flew over them, his feathers dropped
down, took root, and became trees. The pin feathers became bushes and plants.
Coyote and Fox together created man. They quarreled as to whether they should let men live always or not.
Coyote said,k "If they want to die, let them die."
Fox said, "If they want to come back, let them come back."
But Coyote's medicine was stronger, and nobody ever came back.
Coyote also brought fire into the world, for the Indians were freezing. He journeyed far to the west, to a place where there was fire, stole some of it,
and brought it home in his ears.
He kindled a fire in the mountains, and the Indians saw the smoke of it, and went up and got fire.
|Fish-Hawk and his Daughter
An Achomawi Legend
Fish-Hawk lived down at Pit River. When Sun traveled in winter, he left his daughter at home, but he carried her about with him in summer. Sun
did not want his daughter to marry any poor person, but a great man, like Pine-Marten, Wolf, or Coyote. Fish-Hawk got angry at Sun because he
talked in this way of poor people, so he started and went down to the ocean, to Sun's place, and slipped into the sweat-house. It was winter now,
and Sun's daughter was put away inside the house in a basket. Fish-Hawk stole her, carried her on his back to Coyote's house, and hid her away.
He made the journey in one night.
Next morning Sun could not find his daughter, and did not know where she had gone. That morning Fish-Hawk took the basket with the woman in
it, and put it away under the rocks in muddy water, to hide it so that Sun could not see and could not find his daughter.
Sun searched everywhere in the air and on the ground, but could not find her. Then he hired all men who were good divers or swimmers to hunt in
the water, for he thought she was hidden in the water. All searched until they came to Pit River. One would search part of the way, then another.
Kingfisher was the last man to go in search of her. He went along slowly to look where the water was muddy. At last he thought he saw just a bit of
something under the water. Then he went over the place carefully again and again.
Many people were going along the river, watching these men looking for Sun's daughter. Kingfisher filled his pipe, smoked, and blew on the water
to make it clear, for he was a great shaman. Then he went up in the air and came down over the place. The people were all excited, and thought
surely he would find something. He came along slowly, and sat and smoked again, and blew the smoke over the water. Then he rose, rolled up his
pipe and tobacco, and put them away. Then he took a long pole, stood over the water, pushed his pole down deep, and speared with it until he got
hold of the basket and pulled it out. Old Sun came, untied the basket, took his daughter out, washed her, then put her back. He paid each of the men
he had hired. Part of their pay was in shells.
Kingfisher said that it was Fish-Hawk who had hidden the basket. Sun put the basket on his back and started home. He was so happy to get his
daughter back that he did no harm to Fish-Hawk for stealing her.