Manataka American Indian Council






Achomawi Stories II

The Achomawi and Atsugewi lived in north-eastern California






In the beginning it was always dark. Darkness was a woman, who had two daughters, and came from the eastward to gamble with Wildcat.  She reached Wildcat's house at night, and after supper began to talk about gambling, saying, "I never came here before. I came to gamble." The others present advised Wildcat to play: so all the preparations were made, and, sitting on either side of the fire, they began to play. Darkness bet her two daughters against all the people which Wildcat had. Darkness wanted Wildcat to bet her husband, Chicken-Hawk, but she did not wish to. Finally, on Coyote's advice, she bet him as chief first. Then they began to play, Coyote helping to sing. He thought the game was going favorably, and that Wildcat would win the two girls, and that he would get them for wives. But just as she almost won, Darkness beat her, and, taking Coyote, broke him in two and threw him outside. Darkness then threatened to "stay dark all the time" unless Wildcat would bet her husband, as Darkness wanted him for a husband for her daughters.

Wildcat refused, and bet other people in the house. All but three offered themselves to be bet. These were Rabbit, Weasel, and Caterpillar. Finally all were lost to Darkness but these; and then Caterpillar said, "Bet me," and he came near where Wildcat sat. They were gambling with a small slippery thing like ice, instead of the usual gambling-bone. Caterpillar began to sing, and to win. Pretty soon all but one of Darkness' counters were gone, and she began to be afraid. She was afraid of the smooth gambling-stick. Caterpillar told her to sit still, as she was moving about nervously. Suddenly he slid the gambling-stick across at her, and, entering her body, it caused her to burst. Then Caterpillar took her body and threw it outside.

The two girls were sitting there crying. One of them was going to gamble. She told Caterpillar to deal, but he refused. So she began, and won until Caterpillar had only one counter left. Then he began to win, and finally killed her just as he had her mother. He then threw her body outside. Only the youngest sister was left. Caterpillar told her not to cry, as he was not crying, although all his people were lost. They played and played, and, as before, Caterpillar killed her by the same trick. Then Caterpillar said, "In after time, people will say that I was the one who won my people back." 

Still, however, it was dark. So Lizard set to work to try to make light. He went over to Big-Lizard's house, and took a light with him. He told Big-Lizard all about what had happened, and told him that he and Caterpillar and Rabbit were the only ones left. Then Lizard put on his cap and began to dance. His cap was made of a grizzly bear's head. Rabbit was talking, singing, while Lizard was dancing near the house-post. By and by it began to grow light. Lizard made daylight come by dancing. Rabbit said, "That is what people will say; that is what people must say, 'Daylight is coming."' Lizard's grandmother was sitting there, and she sang, "Daylight is coming, daylight is coming!" Then she made a mistake, and sang about a man. Lizard was angry, and said, "You are always thinking about men." His grandmother answered, "I meant to sing properly, but my teeth are all gone, and so I made a mistake."

Lizard then told Rabbit to go out and see where light was coming. He went up and looked, and, looking to the east, saw the dawn and heard the birds singing. He came back and said, "I did not see anything." By and by he went up again, after Lizard had danced some more. This time daylight had come. All over the world people woke up, and made a noise. Then Lizard stopped dancing. He told people to open the doors, to build a fire and go out. It was spring-time, and sunflowers were ripening. All the people came out and talked about Lizard's having made the light.

[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 and Longevity

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, "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.

From Myths and Legends of California, compiled by Katharine Berry Judson, 1912.  Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.


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