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Native American Origin Myth Assignment Of Rents


Blackfoot Creation
and Origin Myths

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

Contents

  1. The Making of the Earth.
  2. Languages Confused on a Mountain.
  3. Order of Life and Death.
  4. Why People Die Forever.
  5. The First Marriage.
  6. Old Man Leads a Migration.
  7. Old Man and the Great Spirit.

In rendering these narratives explanatory matter supplied by the Native-American narrator is indicated by parenthesis, that supplied by the translator or editor (Clark Wissler or D. C. Duvall) is indicated by brackets.

The Making of the Earth

During the flood, Old Man was sitting on the highest mountain with all the beasts. The flood was caused by the above people, because the baby (a fungus) of the woman who married a star was heedlessly torn in pieces by an Indian child.

Old Man sent the Otter down to get some earth. For a long time he waited, then the Otter came up dead. Old Man examined its feet, but found nothing on them. Next he sent Beaver down, but after a long time he also came up drowned. Again nothing was found on his feet. He sent Muskrat to dive next. Muskrat also was drowned.

At length he sent the Duck (?). It was drowned, but in its paw held some earth. Old Man saw it, put it in his hand, feigned putting it on the water three times, and at last dropped it. Then the above-people sent rain, and everything grew on the earth.


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, p. 19.
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Languages Confused on a Mountain

After the flood, Old Man mixed water with different colors. He whistled, and all the people came together.

He gave one man a cup of one kind of water, saying, "You will be chief of these people here."

To another man he gave differently colored water, and so on. The Blackfoot, Piegan, and Blood all received black water.

Then he said to the people, "Talk," and they all talked differently; but those who drank black water spoke the same.

This happened on the highest mountain in the Montana Reservation [Chief Mountain?].


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, p. 19.
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Order of Life and Death

There was once a time when there were but two persons in the world, Old Man and Old Woman. One time, when they were traveling about, Old Man met Old Woman, who said, "Now, let us come to an agreement of some kind; let us decide how the people shall live."

"Well," said Old Man, " I am to have the first say in everything."

To this Old Woman agreed, provided she had the second say.

Then Old Man began, "The women are to tan the hides. When they do this, they are to rub brains on them to make them soft; they are to scrape them well with scraping tools, etc. But all this they are to do very quickly, for it will not be very hard work."

"No, I will not agree to this," said Old Woman. "They must tan the hide in the way you say; but it must be made very hard work, and take a long time, so that the good workers may be found out."

"Well", said Old Man, "let the people have eyes and mouths in their faces; but they shall be straight up and down."

"No," said Old Woman, "we will not have them that way. We will have the eyes and mouth in the faces, as you say; but they shall all be set crosswise."

"Well," said Old Man, "the people shall have ten fingers on each hand."

"Oh, no!" said Old Woman. "That will be too many. They will be in the way. There shall be four fingers and one thumb on each hand."

"Well," said Old Man, "we shall beget children. The genitals shall be at our navels."

"No," said Old Woman, "that will make childbearing too easy; the people will not care for their children. The genitals shall be at the pubes."

So they went on until they had provided for everything in the lives of the people that were to be. Then Old Woman asked what they should do about life and death.

Should the people always live, or should they die? They had some difficulty in agreeing on this; but finally Old Man said, "I will tell you what I will do. I will throw a buffalo chip into the water, and, if it floats, the people die for four days and live again. But, if it sinks, they will die forever."

So he threw it in, and it floated.

"No," said Old Woman, "we will not decide in that way. I will throw in this rock. If it floats, the people will die for four days. If it sinks, the people will die forever."

Then Old Woman threw the rock out into the water, and it sank to the bottom.

"There," said she, "it is better for the people to die forever; for, if they did not die forever, they would never feel sorry for each other, and there would be no sympathy in the world."

"Well," said Old Man, let it be that way."

After a time Old Woman had a daughter, who died. She was very sorry now that it had been fixed so that people died forever. So she said to Old Man, "Let us have our say over again."

"No," said he, "we fixed it once."


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, pp. 19-21.
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Why People Die Forever

One time Old Man said to Old Woman, "People will never die."

Oh! " said Old Woman, "that will never do; because, if people live always, there will be too many people in the world."

"Well," said, Old Man, "we do not want to die forever. We shall die for four days and then come to life again."

"Oh, no!" said Old Woman, "it will be better to die forever, so that we shall be sorry for each other."

"Well," said Old Man, "we will decide this way. We will throw a buffalo chip into the water. If it sinks, we will die forever; if it floats, we shall live again."

"Well," said Old Woman, "throw it in."

Now, Old Woman had great power, and she caused the chip to turn into a stone, so it sank. So when we die, we die forever.


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, p. 21.
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The First Marriage

Now in those days, the men and the women did not live together. The men lived in one camp and the women in the other. The men lived in lodges made of skin with the hair on; the women, in good lodges. [The idea is, that the women dress the skins, hence the men could not live in dressedskin lodges.] One day Old Man came to the camp of the men, and, when he was there, a woman came over from the camp of the women. She said she had been sent by the chief of the women to invite all the men, because the women were going to pick out husbands.

Now the men began to get ready, and Old Man dressed himself up in his finest clothes. He was always fine looking. Then they started out, and when they came to the women's camp they all stood up in a row.

Now the chief of the women came out to make the first choice. She had on very dirty clothes, and none of the men knew who she was. She went along the line, looked them over, and finally picked out Old Man because of his fine appearance.

Now Old Man saw many nicely dressed women waiting their turn, and when the chief of the women took him by the hand he pulled back and broke away. He did this because he thought her a very common woman. When he pulled away, the chief of the women went back to her lodge and instructed the other women not to choose Old Man.

While the other women were picking out their husbands, the chief of the women put on her best costume. When she came out, she looked very fine, and as soon as Old Man saw her, he thought, "Oh! There is the chief of the women. I wish to be her husband." He did not know that it was the same woman.

Now the chief of the women came down once more to pick out a husband, and as she went around, Old Man kept stepping in front of her, so that she might see him. But she paid no attention to him, finally picking out another for her husband.

After a while all the men had been picked out except Old Man. Now he was very angry; but the chief of the women said to him, "After this you are to be a tree, and stand just where you are now."

Then he became a tree, and he is mad yet, because he is always caving down the bank.


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, pp. 21-22.
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Old Man Leads a Migration

The first Indians were on the other side of the ocean, and Old Man decided to lead them to a better place. So he brought them over the ice to the far north. When they were crossing the ice, the Sarcee were in the middle and there was a boy riding on a dog travois. As they were going along, this boy saw a horn of some animal sticking up through the ice. Now the boy wanted this horn, and began to cry. So his mother took an ax and cut it off. As she did so, the ice gave way, and only those on this side of the place where the horn was will ever get here.

Now Old Man led these people down to where the Blood Reserve now is, and told them that this would be a fine country for them, and that they would be very rich.

He said, "I will get all the people here."

All the people living there ate and lived like wild animals; but Old Man went among them and taught them all the arts of civilization. (When crossing the ice, only about thirty lodges succeeded in getting across, and among these were the representatives of all the tribes now in this country. At that time the Blackfoot were just one tribe.)

When he was through teaching them, he did not die, but went among the Sioux, where he remained for a time, but finally disappeared . He took his wife with him. He had no children.


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, pp. 22-23.
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Old Man and the Great Spirit

There was once a Great Spirit who was good. He made a man and a woman. Then Old Man came along. No one made Old Man. He always existed.

The Great Spirit said to him, "Old Man, have you any power?"

"Yes," said Old Man, "I am very strong."

"Well," said the Great Spirit, "suppose you make some mountains."

So Old Man set to work and made the Sweet-Grass Hills. To do this he took a piece of Chief Mountain. He brought Chief Mountain up to its present location, shaped it up, and named it. The other mountains were called blood colts.

"Well," said the Great Spirit, "you are strong."

"Now," said Old Man, "there are four of us: the man and woman, you and I."

The Great Spirit said, "All right."

The Great Spirit said, "I will make a big cross for you to carry."

Old Man said "No, you make another man so that he can carry it."

The Great Spirit made another man. Old Man carried the cross a while, but soon got tired and wanted to go. The Great Spirit told him that he could go, but he should go out among the people and the animals, and teach them how to live, etc.

Now the other man got tired of carrying, the cross. He was a white man. The Great Spirit sent him off as a traveler. So he wandered on alone.

The man and woman who had been created wandered off down towards Mexico, where they tried to build a mountain in order to get to the sky to be with their children. But the people got mixed up until they came to have many different languages.


  • Source: Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1908), v. 2, part 1, pp. 23-24.
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Return to D. L. Ashliman's , a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised January 4, 2003.

Southwest

The Native Americans of New Mexico and Arizona, along with a few small tribes related to them in southern California, have cultural traditions with some features in common. In the folklore of the Southwest, the emergence and migration myths show the indigenous peoples emerging from an unpleasant underworld at the time when the Earth is not yet completely formed. They start a long trek southward, some looking for a sacred spot and others looking specifically for the centre of the Earth. In some instances they are led by a pair of culture heroes, the Twins, also called the Little War Gods, who help stabilize the surface of the Earth and teach the people many features of their culture, including ceremonials. When the people were weary during the migration, powerful spirit-beings known as kachinas came and danced until someone made fun of their peculiar faces and insulted them. The kachinas allowed the people to copy their masks and costumes and then returned to their home in the underworld. Since that time the men from the kivas, the ceremonial chambers to which all the men belonged, have made these costumes and masks and have performed the dances necessary to stimulate and protect the harvest, bring rain, and promote general welfare.

The Twin Gods of the Pueblo villages are a combination of the helpful god and the trickster. They sometimes behave like unruly children and tease their grandmother to death. Coyote, in the Pueblo literature, is always sly and is often caught in his own wiles. A group of very crude and vulgar tales about him exist. They have been transcribed from Spanish-colonization days and surround two characters who travel together named Djos and Ley, a corruption of “God” and “King.” Certain European tales, such as the Cinderella stories, have been added to the collections of Pueblo folklore.

The Athabaskan-speaking tribes of the Southwest are the Navajo and the Apache. Nowhere in America are mythology and ceremonial more closely associated than among the Navajo, where the myths are poetically expressed through great chants (seeBlessingway). The principal characters are the gods of the wind, the rain, the dawn, the Sun, the semiprecious stones, the sacred plants, corn (maize), tobacco, squash, and the bean. The ceremonials are intended to cure sickness, both mental and physical, and protect people on dangerous missions rather than to inspire any sense of worship. All the arts are combined in the ceremonies: the story itself, the poetic expression of it, the painting of the masks, the beautiful combinations of feathers in the headdresses, the sand paintings illustrating the story while the chants are sung, and, finally, the dancing of the characters who wear the regalia. This is one of the most inspiring ceremonials devised by the American Indian.

The other Athabaskan-speaking people, the Apache, are divided into several groups, of which the Lipan are particularly interesting. The southernmost of North American tribes, they live partly across the Mexican border. They have an emergence myth and share with all southern Athabaskans the culture hero known as “Killer-of-Enemies” and his younger brother “Child-of-the-Water” (comparable to the Twin Gods of the Pueblos). One of the monsters in the tales is Big Owl, a destructive cannibal in the form of a large owl. The story of the man seeking spiritual power from the gods who goes down the Colorado River in a hollow log to reach the holy places where the spirits live is almost identical to its Navajo version. There is a Lipan Coyote cycle, but there are no Spanish-derived tales.

The White Mountain Apache tell stories only between dusk and dawn and during cold weather. They have two major cycles: the creation myths, in which something is created out of nothing, and the Coyote myths surrounding the trickster par excellence of that name. Two minor cycles centre on Big Owl and Gain, a supernatural being who lives in mountains and caves and underground worlds. The White Mountain Apache learned some European stories from captives in Spanish and Mexican towns in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Jicarilla Apache divide their didactic stories into sacred and secular, telling them at night during the winter, with a break at midnight for a festive meal. The Jicarilla are seriously engaged in their mythology, into which they inject objects of modern life such as the telegraph and the automobile. They also have creation stories and the legend of the man who went down the Colorado River in a hollow log. Among the trickster stories, the Coyote cycle is well developed.

The Colorado River tribes, which are closely affiliated with the people of southern California, constitute the last division of the Southwest cultures. These tribes were Christianized by missionaries so early that little of their mythology was recorded. It is known that Coyote played an important part in their sacred stories and that he was also portrayed as a deceitful trickster. Like the Pueblo tribes, the Luiseño also migrated, looking for the centre of the world, where their god, Wiyot, had died. His death was the first among the people, and they lost their immortality. Wiyot later returned as the new moon. There are many stories about the stars, which were regarded as the souls of the dead. The Chungichnich cult was also known here but may have come within the mission period.

Northeast

The northeastern Algonquin were the first groups of American Indians north of Mexico to have protracted contact with Europeans, so their own ways of living were disrupted at a very early date. Some of their culture traits can still be found among the Central Algonquin to the west, and some of the most elementary stories are known to all groups in this region. This mythology centres on a culture hero known as GlusKap to the Mi’kmaq and as GlusKabe among the Algonquin; his consistently altruistic character and humanlike appearance distinguish him from many other culture heroes. He carries out the usual exploits, one of the most popular being the episode in which he kills Monster Frog, who has been impounding the water. Though he revels in the trickster adventures of all American Indian characters, he appears somewhat exempt from the crude buffoonery of other culture heroes.

To the west, the Central Algonquin developed the Midewiwin, or the Grand Medicine Society—shared by the Eastern Sioux—whose activities revolved around the quest for a vision that would bring them in direct contact with supernatural beings who instructed them in curing ceremonies. The members of the society were not shamans, had no individual powers, and were effective only when they acted together. In its use of certain mnemonic devices containing a series of symbols used for instructing initiates, the society foreshadowed an approach to writing.

The Iroquois, who developed one of the great confederacies of American Indians, had a strong religious and mythological background for their folklore. In their creation story, which is the basis of their religious beliefs, they acknowledge a supreme being “beyond the conception of man.” This “being” sent from heaven is a woman who in her descent fell on a big turtle imbedded in mud. She gave birth to a daughter conceived with the turtle; this daughter in turn bore two sons. The good one was born first; the other was born through the mother’s side and killed her. The sons grew up and helped their grandmother finish the formation of the Earth. The Iroquois had curing societies similar to the Midewiwin; their members were not shamans, and they cured in a group rather than as individuals.

Many tribes in the Southeast exhibited cultural systems very similar to those of the northeastern tribes; others, especially in the lower Mississippi Valley, had a more elaborate religion and mythology that divulged a definite relationship to the higher cultures of Mesoamerica.

Plains

The expansive area of North America between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the American subarctic, embodied many cultures whose various rites and ceremonies emerged from a common background. Many tribes were seminomadic and depended more on buffalo hunting than on agriculture for their living. The more sedentary groups, the village tribes, included the Mandan and the Hidatsa. Marginal groups, which seem to have continued an older form of Plains culture before the advent of the horse, lined the borders of the Plains area.

The Sioux narrate the following creation story: the Old Man, Waziya, lived beneath the Earth with his wife. Their daughter married the Wind and bore four sons, the winds North, East, South, and West. Together with the Sun and the Moon, the winds controlled the universe, and a series of very involved stories tell of their powers. As the world was being formed, Iktoma the trickster made trouble wherever he could. The usual plots are found in this collection of trickster stories. In order to reach the supernaturals, or “controllers,” rituals and ceremonies had to be conducted. The most important ritual was the Sun Dance, because the Sun was one of the principal powers.

In contrast to the Sioux, the Crow are a bit more lighthearted about their approach to the universe. Their culture speaks of a creation myth in which Old Woman’s Grandchild, the son of an Indian woman and the Sun, destroys monsters. He then goes to the sky and becomes Morning Star. The genealogy of this character very closely resembles the Navajo myth of Changing Woman, the Sun’s mistress who bore the children Monster-Slayer and Child-Born-of-Water. This concept of change into an astral body is quite widespread in the Plains. In a Cheyenne version of the Dog Husband story, the mother and her children go to the sky and become the Pleiades constellation. The Crow liked to express themselves poetically, and often they recited in song. The military societies have many songs that express their high aims and others that are songs of bravado. In many of their amusing stories, there are plays on words that are often difficult to translate.

The Comanche, another of the Plains tribes, believe that the Great Spirit created some people but that there were white people existing before them. A flood washed these white people away, and they turned into white birds and flew away. A secondary spirit was then sent to create the Comanche. But they were not perfect at first; therefore, the spirit came a second time, giving them intelligence and showing them how to make everything. There are the usual trickster stories, with Old Coyote as the central figure, as well as many stories based on war exploits.

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