Manataka American Indian Council






Achomawi Stories I

The Achomawi and Atsugewi lived in north-eastern California






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 cat 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 to-day. 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. "To-morrow 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 the 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, for he wanted to steal obsidian. 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.

[Secured by Roland B. Dixon during the summers of 1900 and 1903, while engaged in work among the tribes of northeastern California for the Huntington Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. The chief
informants were Charley Snook, Charley Green and "Old Wool."]

Achomawi and Atsugewi Tales and Achomawi Myths by Roland B. Dixon JAFL Vol. 22, no. 81, pp. 159-77 [1908] and JAFL Vol. 23, no. 85, pp. 283-7 [1909].  Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories


Creation of the Atsugewi

In the beginning there was nothing but water. Coyote and Silver Fox lived above in the sky, where there was a world Eke this one. Silver Fox was anxious to make things, but Coyote was opposed to the plan. Finally  Silver Fox got tired of Coyote's opposition, and sent him off one day to get wood. While he was gone, Silver Fox took an arrow-flaker and made a hole through the upper world, and looked down on the sea below. When Coyote came back, Silver Fox did not tell him about the hole he had made. Next day he sent Coyote off again for wood; and in his absence Silver Fox thrust down  the arrow-flaker, and found that it reached to the water, and down to the bottom even. So he descended; and as he came near the surface of the water, he made a small round island, on which he stayed.

When Coyote returned, he could not find Silver Fox, and, after hunting for a long time, began to feel remorse. Finally he found the hole, and peeped through, seeing Silver Fox far below on the island. He called down that he was sorry he had acted as he had, and asked how to get down. Receiving no reply, he said that Silver Fox ought not to treat him this way; and after a while the latter put up the arrow-flaker, and Coyote came down.

The island was very small, and there was not room enough for Coyote to stretch out. For some time they slept, and when they woke were very hungry, as there was no food to be had. For five days things continued thus, Silver Fox finally giving Coyote some sunflower- seeds. This pleased him much, and he asked where they came from, but received no answer. After five days more, Silver Fox made the island a little larger, so that Coyote could have room to stretch out. At last he could be comfortable, and went fast asleep. At once Silver Fox got up, dressed himself up finely, and smoked awhile, and then made a big sweat-house. When it was all done, he woke Coyote, and the latter was much surprised to find the house there. Silver Fox then told Coyote to sweep out the house, spread grass down on the floor, and go to sleep again. He did so, and then Silver Fox dressed up again, putting on a finely-beaded (?) shirt and leggings, and sang and smoked some more. Then, going outside, he pushed with his foot, and stretched the earth out in all directions, first to the east, then to the north, then to the west, and last to the south. For five nights he repeated this performance, until the world became as large as it is to-day.

Each day Silver Fox told Coyote to run around the edge, and see how large it was getting.

At first he was able to do this very quickly; but after the last time he grew old and gray before he got back. Then Silver Fox made trees and springs, and fixed the world up nicely. He also made all kinds of animals merely by thinking them. These animals, however, were like people.
When the world was all made, Coyote asked what they were going to have for food, but Silver Fox did not reply. Coyote then said that he thought there ought to be ten moons of winter in the year, to which Silver Fox replied that there would not be enough food for so long a winter. Coyote declared it would be better not to have much food, that people could make soup out of dirt. To this he received no answer. Silver Fox then said that it was not right that there should be ten moons, that two were enough, and that people could then eat sunflower-seeds, roots, and berries. Coyote repeated what he had said before, and they argued about it for a long time. Finally Silver Fox said, "You talk too much! I'm going to make four moons for the whole year. I won't talk about it any more. There are going to be two moons of winter, and one of spring, and one of autumn. That's enough."

They, Silver Fox said, "When people get married, they will have children by taking a dentalium- shell and putting it between them, or a disk-bead: the one win make a boy, the other a girl." Coyote replied, "Hm! That's not the right way. It will be better for people to get married: they will not be satisfied any other way. People must live as man and wife: they ought not to do as you said." Silver Fox did not want to argue the matter; and finally, after repeating what he said before, he yielded to Coyote, and said, "Let it
be as you say."

Silver Fox then went out to get some pine-nuts. He climbed a tree and shook the branches, and the nuts fell down already shelled and ready to eat. He filled a basket with them, and brought them in. Coyote had gone to get wood; and when he got back, Silver- Fox divided the pine-nuts, and gave him half. Silver Fox ate only part of his, and put the rest away; but Coyote ate nearly all night, going out and defecating, and then returning and eating more, until he had finished them. Next morning Silver Fox went out and looked for pines having large "witch-brooms" on them. When he found one, he  would set fire to it, then walk away looking constantly on the ground, and a grouse would straightway fall out of the tree. Then he placed them in a basket, and brought them back to the house. Coyote wanted to begin eating at once, and helped him in with his load. As before, Coyote ate all his share up, whereas Silver Fox kept most of his.

Next day Coyote asked Silver Fox how he got his pine-nuts. He told him to go to a tree, scrape the brush away, climb up, and then shake the boughs with his foot. Coyote thought he could do this, so went out to try. He was successful, but, on coming down, ate up all the nuts. Then he went to another tree and attempted to repeat the process; but this time no nuts fell, and Coyote himself lost his footing, and was badly hurt by the fall.  He came back to the house with his neck bent to one side, and in great pain. Silver Fox knew all that had been going on, but said nothing. After a while Coyote told him what had happened.

The next day Coyote asked how the grouse had been secured, and Silver Fox told him to set fire to the tree, and then sit with his back to the trunk, and not look up. So Coyote went off to get grouse. He was successful in his attempt, but opened his eyes and looked up, and saw the grouse falling. When he had picked them all up, he cooked and ate them on the spot, and then went to another tree to repeat the process. This time, however, it was burning branches that fell, and they hit him and burned him badly. So he ran away back to the house, crying. Silver Fox gave him some of his food, however.

In the morning Silver Fox went out, and, going up to a cedar-tree, pulled off the boughs, which became a sort of camas (?). He brought back a great load of these; and when he got back, as before, Coyote ate all his share at once. He then asked how to get them, and was told to make a long hook and pull the limbs off, but to keep his eyes shut all the time. As in the other cases, Coyote was very successful the first time, and ate all the roots up. When he tried to repeat the plan, however, only big limbs came down, and hit him on the head.

By and by Silver Fox went rabbit-hunting. He built a brush fence, and drove the rabbits into it, where they all piled up. Then he killed them with a club, and carried them to the house. Just as before, Coyote ate up all his share at once. Silver Fox could not prevent Coyote from eating up all there was in the house, except by not letting him know when he was eating. He would put pine-nuts in a milkweed-stem, and pretend to be making cord, whereas in reality he was eating the nuts. Coyote soon suspected, and asked Silver Fox to let him help make string. He agreed, but gave Coyote the stems without any nuts in them. Next night Coyote pretended to sleep, and so caught Silver Fox putting the nuts in the stems. He jumped up and seized Silver Fox; but the latter swallowed quickly, and when he opened his mouth there were no nuts there. He told Coyote that before people ate nuts, they would put them in a basket, and Coyote believed him. Silver Fox then went out to get more milkweed, as he said; and while he was gone, Coyote took a large stone and struck the roof-beams, trying to find where Silver Fox had hidden the nuts.

Finally he found the right one, and the nuts began to pour down. He called out, "Stop! That is enough. I am a chief! That is enough." But the nuts kept falling, and by and by there was a huge pile there. Then Coyote said, "Let big baskets come! " and they were there; and he gathered up the nuts, and put them in the baskets, and then ate and ate all the nuts he could. Then he brought in some wood, and was going to say that the nuts fell down when he threw in the wood, as he had hit the beam by accident. just then Silver Fox came in with a lot of milkweed, and began to make string. Coyote told him his story, and said that he had been scared when the nuts began to fall, that it was not right to put them in the roof-beams, but in baskets as he had now done. Silver Fox, however, did not reply, until he said, "You eat on that side of the house, and I will eat on this." Then he went on making string; while Coyote, after eating all he could, went to sleep.

When he had finished making string, Silver Fox got up softly, and measured Coyote's nose. Then he sat down and began to make a net. He had to measure again pretty soon; and then Coyote woke up, and asked what was the trouble.  Silver Fox said that he was only blowing ashes off Coyote's face, so he went to sleep again. Coyote woke up again later, and asked Silver Fox what he was doing; and he said that he was making a net to catch rabbits in, so Coyote went to sleep once more. Finally the net was complete, and then Silver Fox told Coyote to eat breakfast, to eat a big breakfast, and then they would go out and get rabbits. They started out, Silver Fox carrying a big club.  Coyote asked why he took so large a one, but Silver Fox said that it was the right size. By and by Silver Fox set up the net, and showed Coyote where it was. Then Silver Fox said, "Now you run off.

When you get a little distance away, shut your eyes, and run as fast as you can." Coyote said that he would do so, and started off; and then quickly Silver Fox took up the net, and put it where Coyote would run into it.  Pretty soon Coyote came in sight, driving the rabbits slowly; and when he got only a little ways off, he shut his eyes, and ran as fast as he could.  He ran squarely into the net, and this drew up; and Silver Fox then rushed up and struck him with the club. Coyote cried out, "You are hitting me!" and Silver Fox said, "Yes, don't mind that." He kept on hitting him until he had killed him. Then he went back to the house, and started off over the world; and wherever Coyote had urinated, Silver Fox scraped up the ground and smoothed it over nicely. He went everywhere thus, and thought he had fixed every place. There was one, however, on a little island in a lake, that he overlooked. This lake lay far off to the northeast. Then Silver Fox came back to the house and went to sleep. At dawn he got up, went up and looked out of the house, and listened. For a while he heard nothing, but then he heard faintly Coyote howling far away.

He then knew he had missed one place, and felt very sad. He sat down and thought, but did not know what to do. Coyote was too smart for him, he thought. Finally he heard the howling coming closer. Then he thought of a plan. He made a lot of manzanita, wild cherries, plums, etc., grow along the road that Coyote was following. Coyote was very angry, and wanted to kill Silver Fox. He came to the manzanita, and Silver Fox thought he would delay him thus; but Coyote only took one berry, and continued on his way. He came to the plums; and of these Coyote ate largely, as he thought he could fight better if he was not hungry. As he ate, he forgot about his anger. Then he started on again. Silver Fox was afraid, however, and pretended to be very sick when Coyote got back. Coyote told him he had better eat some plums, that they were very good, and that it was useless to lie still all day. Finally Silver Fox got up and ate some, and so Coyote forgot all about his revenge.

Coyote said next day that he was going out to pick fruit. He went, and picked plums and cherries and manzanita, and brought them back, saying that there was plenty of food. Silver Fox told him to go and get some wood; and then he went out and caught some rabbits, and they cooked and ate them, and lived without quarrelling any more.

[Secured by Roland B. Dixon during the summers of 1900 and 1903, while engaged in work among the tribes of northeastern California for the Huntington Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. The chief informants were Charley Snook, Charley Green and "Old Wool."]   Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.

EMAIL   |   HOME   |     INDEX    |   TRADING POST