Father Sun and Mother Moon lived inside the huge hollow rocks of Rock House. Their light did not shine from the sky, so the People and the Animals
lived in darkness.
Now Coyote, who was always playing ricks, thought it would be great fun to dump some fleas on Father Sun and Mother Moon. So he began to
gather fleas and place them in bags. On his way to Rock House he met Rabbit. When Coyote bragged about his bags of fleas, Rabbit would not
believe him. They began to argue. Between them, Rabbit and Coyote began to tug on one of the bags. As Rabbit yanked it from Coyote's grasp, the
bag opened and the fleas spilled out on the ground. And to this day, Rabbit and Coyote are always scratching fleas.
Rabbit liked Coyote's idea of taking the fleas to Rock House. So together they trudged up the peak to Rock House carrying the bags of fleas. As they
walked they tried to think of a plan to get the fleas inside of Rock House.
Along the path they found Gopher digging a hole. They decided to include Gopher in their trick. Gopher could dig a hole down through the soil to
Rock House. When they reached the top of the peak, Gopher began to dig quietly so Father Sun and Mother Moon would not be alarmed. As soon as
Gopher backed out of the hole, Coyote and Rabbit shook the bags of fleas down the opening. Then they plugged up the hole and ran away feeling
very pleased with themselves. The fleas soon covered Father Sun and Mother Moon. When Mother Moon could no longer stand the fleas, she flew
out of Rock House and began to circle the Earth. Father Sun followed Mother Moon out of Rock House. They raced around the Earth trying to get
rid of those fleas.
That is why, to this day, the Sun follows the Moon across the sky.
This legend is sometimes listed as a Cherokee legend. It is in fact a Maidu legend. They story was collected in Yuba County by Don May, a Cherokee
and told to Barbara Warren in 1990. Don originally heard the story in 1980 from his eighty year old Southern Maidu friend, Frazier Edwards.
Frazier had lived in this area all his days; this was the home of his ancestors. The Maidu are a Northern-Central Valley tribe of California.
Originally their territory encompassed both sides of the Sacramento River. The Maidu are among the most gifted basket makers in the world.
As a legend which has never been previously recorded, it is being placed on Cherokees of California's web page so that others may "hear the words"
Rock House is the Southern Maidu name for Paines Peak. The twelve hundred foot high Paines Peak is a jagged out-cropping of volcanic rock. It is
located within a circle of the foothill roads of Old Marysville, Fruitland, Loma Rica and Scott-Grant in northern Yuba county.
Why the Sun Follows the Moon
A Maidu Legend
Music: The Dance of Butterfly Badger Girl by Kevin Mockingbird
A Maidu Legend
In the beginning there was no sun, no moon, so stars. All was dark, and everywhere there was only water. A raft came floating on the water. It
came from the north, and in it were two persons,-Turtle and Father- of -the -Secret- Society.
The stream flowed very rapidly. Then from the sky a rope of feathers was let down, and down it came Earth-Initiate. When he reached the end of the
rope, he tied it to the bow of the raft, and stepped in. His face was covered and was never seen, but his body shone like the sun. He sat down, and for
a long time said nothing.
At last Turtle said, "Where do you come from?" and Earth-Initiate answered, "I come from above."
Then Turtle said, "Brother, can you not make for me some good dry land so that I may sometimes come up out of the water?"
Then he asked another time, "Are there going to be any people in the world?"
Earth-Initiate thought awhile, then said, "Yes."
Turtle asked, "How long before you are going to make people?"
Earth-Initiate replied, "I don't know. You want to have some dry land: well, how am I going to get any earth to make it of?"
Turtle answered, "If you will tie a rock about my left arm, I'll dive for some."
Earth-Initiate did as Turtle asked, and then, reaching around, took the end of a rope from somewhere, and tied it to Turtle. When Earth-Initiate
came to the raft, there was no rope there: he just reached out and found one.
Turtle said, "If the rope is not long enough, I'll jerk it once, and you must haul me up; if it is long enough, I'll give two jerks, and then you must pull
me up quickly, as I shall have all the earth that I can carry." Just as Turtle went over the side of the boat, Father-of- the-Secret -Society began to
Turtle was gone a long time. He was gone six years; and when he came up, he was covered with green slime, he had been down so long. When he
reached the top of the water, the only earth he had was a very little under his nails: the rest had all washed away. Earth-Initiate took with his right
hand a stone knife from under his left armpit, and carefully scraped the earth out from under Turtle's nails.
He put the earth in the palm of his hand, and rolled it about till it was round; it was as large as a small pebble. He laid it on the stern of the raft. By
and by he went to look at it: it had not grown at all. The third time that he went to look at it, it had grown so that it could be spanned by the arms.
The fourth time he looked, it was as big as the world, the raft was aground, and all around were mountains as far as he could see.
The raft came ashore at Ta'doiko, and the place can be seen today.
When the raft had come to land, Turtle said, "I can't stay in the dark all the time. Can't you make a light, so that I can see?"
Earth-Initiate replied, "Let us get out of the raft, and then we will see what we can do." So all three got out. Then Earth-Initiate said, "Look that way,
to the east! I am going to tell my sister to come up." Then it began to grow light, and day began to break; then Father-of -the -Secret- Society began
to shout loudly, and the sun came up.
Turtle said, "Which way is the sun going to travel?" Earth-Initiate answered, "I'll tell her to go this way, and go down there." After the sun went
down, Father-of -the-Secret -Society began to cry and shout again, and it grew very dark.
Earth-Initiate said, "I'll tell my brother to come up." Then the moon rose. Then Earth-Initiate asked Turtle and Father-of -the-Secret -Society, "How
do you like it?" and they both answered, "It is very good." Then Turtle asked, "Is that all you are going to do for us?"
Earth-Initiate answered, "No, I am going to do more yet." Then he called the stars each by its name, and they came out.
When this was done, Turtle asked, "Now what shall we do?"
Earth-Initiate replied, "Wait, and I'll show you." Then he made a tree grow at Ta'doiko,--the tree called Hu'kiimtsa; and Earth-Initiate and Turtle
and Father-of -the-Secret -Society sat in its shade for two days. The tree was very large, and had twelve different kinds of acorns growing on it.
After they had sat for two days under the tree, they all went off to see the world that Earth-Initiate had made. They started at sunrise, and were back
by sunset. Earth-Initiate traveled so fast that all they could see was a ball of fire flashing under the ground and the water. While they were gone,
Coyote and his dog Rattlesnake came up out of the ground. It is said that Coyote could see Earth-Initiate's face.
When Earth-Initiate and the others came back, they found Coyote at Ta'doiko. All five of them then built huts for themselves, and lived there at
Ta'doiko, but no one could go inside of Earth-Initiate's house. Soon after the travelers came back, Earth-Initiate called the birds from the air, and
made trees and then the animals. He took some mud, and of this made first a deer; after that, he made all the other animals.
Sometimes Turtle would say, "That does not look well: can't you make it some other way?"
Some time after this, Earth-Initiate and Coyote were at Marysville Buttes. Earth-Initiate said, "I am going to make people." In the middle of the
afternoon be began, for he had returned to Ta'doiko. He took dark red earth, mixed it with water, and made two figures, -one a man, and one a
woman. He laid the man on his right side, and the woman on his left, inside his house. Then he lay down himself, flat on his back, with his arms
stretched out. He lay thus and sweated all the afternoon and night.
Early in the morning the woman began to tickle him in the side. He kept very still, did not laugh. By and by he got up, thrust a piece of pitch-wood
into the ground, and fire burst out. The two people were very white. No one today is as white as they were. Their eyes were pink, their hair was
black, their teeth shone brightly, and they were very handsome. It is said that Earth-Initiate did not finish the hands of the people, as he did not know
how it would be best to do it. Coyote saw the people, and suggested that they ought to have hands like his. Earth-Initiate said, "No, their hands shall
be like mine."
Then he finished them. When Coyote asked why their hands were to be like that, Earth-Initiate answered, "So that, if they are chased by bears, they
can climb trees." This first man was called Ku'ksuu; and the woman, Morning-Star Woman.
When Coyote had seen the two people, he asked Earth-Initiate how he had made them. When he was told, he thought, "That is not difficult. I'll do it
myself." He did just as Earth-Initiate had told him, but could not help laughing, when, early in the morning, the woman poked him in the ribs.
As a result of his failing to keep still, the people were glass-eyed. Earth-Initiate said, "I told you not to laugh," but Coyote declared he had not. This
was the first lie.
By and by there came to be a good many people. Earth-Initiate had wanted to have everything comfortable and easy for the people, so that none of
them should have to work. All fruits were easy to obtain, no one was ever to get sick and die. As the people grew numerous, Earth-Initiate did not
come as often as formally, he only came to see Ku'ksuu in the night. One night he said to him, "Tomorrow morning you must go to the little lake near
here. Take all the people with you. I'll make you a very old man before you get to the lake."
So in the morning Ku'ksuu collected all the people, and went to the lake. By the time he had reached it, he was a very old man. He fell into the lake,
and sank down out of sight. Pretty soon the ground began to shake, the waves overflowed the shore, and there was a great roaring under the water,
like thunder. By and by Ku'ksuu came up out of the water, but young again, just like a young man.
Then Earth-Initiate came and spoke to the people, and said, "If you do as I tell you, everything will be well. When any of you grow old, so old that
you cannot walk, come to this lake, or get some one to bring you here. You must then go down into the water as you have seen Ku'ksuu do, and you
will come out young again." When he had said this, he went away. He left in the night, and went up above.
All this time food had been easy to get, as Earth-Initiate had wished. The women set out baskets at night, and in the morning they found them full of
food, all ready to eat, and lukewarm. One day Coyote came along. He asked the people how they lived, and they told him that all they had to do was
to eat and sleep.
Coyote replied, "That is no way to do: I can show you something better." Then he told them how he and Earth-Initiate had had a discussion before
men had been made; how Earth-Initiate wanted everything easy, and that there should be no sickness or death, but how he had thought it would be
better to have people work, get sick, and die.
He said, "We'll have a burning." The people did not know what he meant; but Coyote said, "I'll show you. It is better to have a burning, for then the
widows can be free." So he took all the baskets and things that the people had, hung them up on poles, made everything all ready. When all was
prepared, Coyote said, "At this time you must always have games." So he fixed the moon during which these games were to be played.
Coyote told them to start the games with a foot-race, and every one got ready to run. Ku'ksuu did not come, however. He sat in his hut alone, and
was sad, for he knew what was going to occur. Just at this moment Rattlesnake came to Ku'ksuu, and said, "What shall we do now? Everything is
spoiled!" Ku'ksuu did not answer, so Rattlesnake said, "Well, I'll do what I think is best." Then he went out and along the course that the racers were
to go over, and hid himself, leaving his head just sticking out of a hole.
By this time all the racers had started, and among them Coyote's son. He was Coyote's only child, and was very quick. He soon began to outstrip all
the runners, and was in the lead. As he passed the spot where Rattlesnake had hidden himself, however, Rattlesnake raised his head and bit the boy
in the ankle. In a minute the boy was dead.
Coyote was dancing about the home-stake. He was very happy, and was shouting at his son and praising him. When Rattlesnake bit the boy, and
he fell dead, every on laughed at Coyote, and said, "Your son has fallen down, and is so ashamed that he does not dare to get up." Coyote said, "No,
that is not it. He is dead."
This was the first death. The people, however, did not understand, and picked the boy up, and brought him to Coyote. Then Coyote began to cry, and
every one did the same. These were the first tears.
Then Coyote took his son's body and carried it to the lake of which Earth-Initiate had told them, and threw the body in. But there was no noise, and
nothing happened, and the body drifted about for four days on the surface, like a log. On the fifth day Coyote took four sacks of beads and brought
them to Ku'ksuu, begging him to restore his son to life. Ku'ksuu did not answer. For five days Coyote begged, then Ku'ksuu came out of his house
bringing all his bead and bear-skins, and calling to all the people to come and watch him. He laid the body on a bear-skin, dressed it, and wrapped it
Then he dug a grave, put the body into it, and covered it up. Then he told the people, "From now on, this is what you must do. This is the way you
must do till the world shall be made over."
About a year after this, in the spring, all was changed. Up to this time everybody spoke the same language. The people were having a burning,
everything was ready for the next day, when in the night everybody suddenly began to speak a different language. Each man and his wife, however,
spoke the same. Earth-Initiate had come in the night to Ku'ksuu, and had told him about it all, and given him instructions for the next day.
So, when morning came, Ku'ksuu called all the people together, for he was able to speak all the languages. He told them each the names of the
different animals, etc., in their language, taught them how to cook and to hunt, gave them all their laws, and set the time for all their dances and
festivals. Then he called each tribe by name, and sent them off in different directions, telling them where they were to live. He sent the warriors to the
north, the singers to the west, the flute-players to the east, and the dancers to the south. So all the people went away, and left Ku'ksuu and his wife
alone at Ta'doiko.
By and by his wife went away, leaving in the night, and going first to Marysville Buttes. Ku'ksuu staid a little while longer, and then he also left. He
too went to the Buttes, went into the spirit house, and sat down on the south side. He found Coyote's son there, sitting on the north side. The door
was on the west.
Coyote had been trying to find out where Ku'ksuu had gone, and where his own son had gone, and at last found the tracks, and followed them to the
spirit house. Here he saw Ku'ksuu and his son, the latter eating spirit food. Coyote wanted to go in, but Ku'ksuu said, "No, wait there. You have just
what you wanted, it is your fault.
"Every man will now have all kinds of troubles and accidents, will have to work to get his food, and will die and be buried. This must go on till the
time is out, and Earth-Initiate comes again, and everything will be made over. You must go home, and tell all the people that you have seen your son,
that he is not dead." Coyote said he would go, but that he was hungry, and wanted some of the food. Ku'ksuu replied, "You cannot eat that. Only
ghosts may eat that food."
Then Coyote went away and told all the people, "I saw my son and Ku'ksuu, and he told me to kill myself." So he climbed up to the top of a tall tree,
jumped off, and was killed. Then he went to the spirit house, thinking he could now have some of the food; but there was no one there, nothing at all,
and so he went out, and walked away to the west, and was never seen again. Ku'ksuu and Coyote's son, however, had gone up above.
|The Theft of Fire
A Maidu Legend
At one time the people had found fire, and were going to use it; but Thunder wanted to take it away from them, as he desired to be the only one who
should have fire. He thought that if he could do this, he would be able to kill all the people.
After a time he succeeded, and carried the fire home with him, far to the south. He put Woswosim (a small bird) to guard the fire, and see that no one
should steal it. Thunder thought that people would die after he had stolen their fire, for they would not be able to cook their food; but the people
managed to get along.
They ate most of their food raw, and sometimes got Toyeskon (another small bird) to look for a long time at a piece of meat; and as he had a red eye,
this after a long time would cook the meat almost as well as a fire. Only the chiefs had their food cooked in this way. All the people lived together in a
big sweat-house. The house was as big as a mountain.
Among the people was Lizard and his brother; and they were always the first in the morning to go outside and sun themselves on the roof of the
sweat-house. One morning as they lay there sunning themselves, they looked west, toward the Coast Range, and saw smoke. They called to all the
other people, saying that they had seen smoke far away to the west.
The people, however, would not believe them, and Coyote came out, and threw a lot of dirt and dust over the two. One of the people did not like this.
He said to Coyote, "why do you trouble people? Why don't you let others alone? Why don't you behave? You are always the first to start a quarrel.
You always want to kill people without any reason."
Then the other people felt sorry. They asked the two Lizards about what they had seen, and asked them to point out the smoke. The Lizards did so,
and all could see the thin column rising up far to the west.
One person said, "How shall we get that fire back? How shall we get it away from Thunder? He is a bad man. I don't know whether we had better
try to get it or not."
Then the chief said, "The best one among you had better try to get it. Even if Thunder is a bad man, we must try to get the fire. When we get there, I
don't know how we shall get in but the one who is the best, who thinks he can get in, let him try."
Mouse, Deer, Dog, and Coyote were the ones who were to try, but all the other people went too. They took a flute with them for they meant to put the
fire in it.
They traveled a long time, and finally reached the place where the fire was. They were within a little distance of Thunder's house, when they all
stopped to see what they would do. Woswosim, who was supposed to guard the fire in the house, began to sing, "I am the man who never sleeps. I
am the man who never sleeps."
Thunder had paid him for his work in beads, and he wore them about his neck and around his waist. He sat on the top of the sweat-house, by the
After a while Mouse was sent up to try and see if he could get in. He crept up slowly till he got close to Woswosim, and then saw that his eyes were
shut. He was asleep, in spite of the song that he sang. When Mouse saw that the watcher was asleep, he crawled to the opening and went in.
Thunder had several daughters, and they were lying there asleep.
Mouse stole up quietly, and untied the waist-string of each one's apron, so that should the alarm be given, and they jump up, these aprons or skirts
would fall off, and they would have to stop to fix them. This done, Mouse took the flute, filled it with fire, then crept out, and rejoined the other people
who were waiting outside.
Some of the fire was taken out and put in the Dog's ear, the remainder in the flute being given to the swiftest runner to carry. Deer, however, took a
little, which he carried on the hock of his leg, where today there is a reddish spot. For a while all went well, but when they were about half-way back,
Thunder woke up, suspected that something was wrong, and asked, "What is the matter with my fire?"
Then he jumped up with a roar of thunder, and his daughters were thus awakened, and also jumped up; but their aprons fell off as they did so, and
they had to sit down again to put them on. After they were all ready, they went out with Thunder to give chase. They carried with them a heavy wind
and a great rain and a hailstorm, so that they might put out any fire the people had. Thunder and his daughters hurried along, and soon caught up
with the fugitives, and were about to catch them, when skunk shot at Thunder and killed him.
Then skunk called out, "After this you must never try to follow and kill people. You must stay up in the sky, and be the thunder. That is what you will
be." The daughters of Thunder did not follow any farther; so the people went on safely, and got home with their fire, and people have had it ever
|Tolowim Woman and Butterfly Man
A Maidu Legend
A Tolowim woman went out to gather food. She took her child with her, and while she worked, she stuck the point of the cradle-board in the ground
and left the child alone.
A large butterfly flew past, and she started after it and chased it for a long time. She would almost catch it, and then just miss. She thought, "Perhaps
I can't run fast enough because of this heavy thing," and she threw away her deerskin robe. But still she never could quite overtake the creature.
Finally she threw away her apron too and hurried on, chasing the butterfly until night came. Then, her child forgotten, she lay down under a tree
and went to sleep.
When she awoke in the morning, she found a man lying beside her. He said, "You have followed me this far; perhaps you would like to follow me
always. If so, you must through a lot of my people."
Without thinking of her child at all, the woman rose and followed the butterfly man. By and by they came to a large valley, whose southern side was
full of butterflies.
When the two reached the edge of the valley, the man said, "No one has ever come through this valley alive. But you'll be safe if you don't lose sight of
me. Follow closely."
They traveled for a long time. "Keep tight hold of me; don't let go," the butterfly man said again and again.
When they had come half way through the valley, other butterflies swarmed them in great numbers. They flew every way, all around the couple's
heads and in their faces, for they wanted to get the Tolowim woman for themselves.
She watched them for a long time, holding tightly to her new husband. But at last, unable to resist, she let go of him and reached out to seize one of
the others, but always failed, and so she wandered in the valley forever, dazed and lost.
She died there, and the butterfly man she had lost went on through the valley to his home.
And now when people speak of the olden times they say that this woman lost her lover, and tried to get others but lost them, and went crazy and died.
-Based on a tale reported by Roland Dixon in 1904.-