Sketch of the Mythology of the North American Indians
by John Wesley Powell
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His slumber continued three days and three nights, and when he awoke he said to his grandmother, "I am going away to enlist all nations in my fight," and straightway he departed.

(Here the boy's travels are related with many circumstances concerning the way he was received by the people, all given in a series of conversations, very lengthy; so they will be omitted.)

Finally, he returned in advance of the people whom he had enlisted, bringing with him Cin-au'-aev, the wolf, and To-go'-a, the rattlesnake. When the three had eaten food, the boy said to the old woman: "Grandmother, cut me in two." But she demurred, saying she did not wish to kill one whom she loved so dearly. "Cut me in two," demanded the boy, and he gave her a stone ax which he had brought from a distant country, and with a manner of great authority he again commanded her to cut him in two. So she stood before him, and severed him in twain, and fled in terror. And lo! each part took the form of an entire man, and the one beautiful boy appeared as two, and they were so much alike no one could tell them apart.

When the people or natives whom the boy had enlisted came pouring into the camp, Cin-au'-aev and To-go'-a were engaged in telling them of the wonderful thing that had happened to the boy, and that now there were two; and they all held it to be an augury of a successful expedition to the land of Stone Shirt. And they started on their journey.

Now the boy had been told in the dream of his three days' slumber of a magical cup, and he had brought it home with him from his journey among the nations, and the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets carried it between them, filled with water. Cin-au'-aev walked on their right and To-go'-a on their left, and the nations followed in the order in which they had been enlisted. There was a vast number of them, so that when they were stretched out in line it was one day's journey from the front to the rear of the column.

When they had journeyed two days and were far out on the desert all the people thirsted, for they found no water, and they fell down upon the sand groaning, and murmuring that they had been deceived, and they cursed the One-Two.

But the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets had been told in the wonderful dream of the suffering which would be endured and that the water which they carried in the cup was only to be used in dire necessity, and the brothers said to each other: "Now the time has come for us to drink the water." And when one had quaffed of the magical bowl, he found it still full, and he gave it to the other to drink, and still it was full; and the One-Two gave it to the people, and one after another did they all drink, and still the cap was full to the brim.

But Cin-au'-aev was dead, and all the people mourned, for he was a great man. The brothers held the cup over him, and sprinkled him with water, when he arose and said: "Why do you disturb me? I did have a vision of mountain brooks and meadows, of cane where honey-dew was plenty." They gave him the cup, and he drank also; but when he had finished there was none left. Refreshed and rejoicing they proceeded on their journey.

The next day, being without food, they were hungry, and all were about to perish; and again they murmured at the brothers, and cursed them. But the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets saw in the distance an antelope, standing on an eminence in the plain, in bold relief against the sky; and Cin-au'-aev knew it was the wonderful antelope with many eyes, which Stone Shirt kept for his watchman; and he proposed to go and kill it, but To-go'-a demurred, and said: "It were better that I should go, for he will see you and run away." But the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets told Cin'-au'-aev to go; and he started in a direction away to the left of where the antelope was standing, that he might make a long detour about some hills, and come upon him from the other side. To-go'-a went a little way from camp, and called to the brothers: "Do you see me?" and they answered they did not. "Hunt for me;" and while they were hunting for him, the rattlesnake said: "I can see you; you are doing"—so and so, telling them what they were doing; but they could not find him.

Then, the rattlesnake came forth, declaring: "Now you know I can see others, and that I cannot be seen when I so desire. Cin-au'-aev cannot kill that antelope, for he has many eyes, and is the wonderful watchman of Stone Shirt; but I can kill him, for I can go where he is and he cannot see me." So the brothers were convinced, and permitted him to go; and he went and killed the antelope. When Cin-au'-aev saw it fall, he was very angry, for he was extremely proud of his fame as a hunter, and anxious to have the honor of killing this famous antelope, and he ran up with the intention of killing To-go'-a; but when he drew near, and saw the antelope was fat, and would make a rich feast for the people, his anger was appeased. "What matters it," said he, "who kills the game, when we can all eat it?"

So all the people were fed in abundance, and they proceeded on their journey.

The next day the people again suffered for water, and the magical cup was empty; but the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets, having been told in their dream what to do, transformed themselves into doves, and flew away to a lake, on the margin of which was the home of Stone Shirt.

Coming near to the shore, they saw two maidens bathing in the water; and the birds stood and looked, for the maidens were very beautiful. Then they flew into some bushes, near by, to have a nearer view, and were caught in a snare which the girls had placed for intrusive birds. The beautiful maidens came up, and, taking the birds out of the snare, admired them very much, for they had never seen such birds before. They carried them to their father, Stone Shirt, who said: "My daughters, I very much fear these are spies from my enemies, for such birds do not live in our land"; and he was about to throw them into the fire, when the maidens besought him, with tears, that he would not destroy their beautiful birds; but he yielded to their entreaties with much misgiving. Then they took the birds to the shore of the lake, and set them free.

When the birds were at liberty once more, they flew around among the bushes, until they found the magical cup which they had lost, and taking it up, they carried it out into the middle of the lake and settled down upon the water, and the maidens supposed they were drowned.

The birds, when they had filled their cup, rose again, and went back to the people in the desert, where they arrived just at the right time to save them with the cup of water, from which each drank; and yet it was full until the last was satisfied, and then not a drop remained.

The brothers reported that they had seen Stone Shirt and his daughters.

The next day they came near to the home of the enemy, and the brothers, in proper person, went out to reconnoiter. Seeing a woman gleaning seeds, they drew near, and knew it was their mother, whom Stone Shirt had stolen from Si-kor', the crane. They told her they were her sons, but she denied it, and said she had never had but one son; but the boys related to her their history, with the origin of the two from one, and she was convinced. She tried to dissuade them from making war upon Stone Shirt, and told them that no arrow could possibly penetrate his armor, and that he was a great warrior, and had no other delight than in killing his enemies, and that his daughters also were furnished with magical bows and arrows, which they could shoot so fast that the arrows would fill the air like a cloud, and that it was not necessary for them to take aim, for their missiles went where they willed; they thought the arrows to the hearts of their enemies; and thus the maidens could kill the whole of the people before a common arrow could be shot by a common person. But the boys told her what the spirit had said in the long dream, and had promised that Stone Shirt should be killed. They told her to go down to the lake at dawn, so as not to be endangered by the battle.

During the night, the So'-kus Wai'-un-aets transformed themselves into mice, and proceeded to the home of Stone Shirt, and found the magical bows and arrows that belonged to the maidens, and with their sharp teeth they cut the sinew on the backs of the bows, and nibbled the bowstrings, so that they were worthless, while To-go'-a hid himself under a rock near by.

When dawn came into the sky, Tum-pwi-nai'-ro-gwi-nump, the Stone Shirt man, arose and walked out of his tent, exulting in his strength and security, and sat down upon the rock under which To-go'-a was hiding; and he, seeing his opportunity, sunk his fangs into the flesh of the hero. Stone Shirt sprang high into the air, and called to his daughters that they were betrayed, and that the enemy was near; and they seized their magical bows, and their quivers filled with magical arrows, and hurried to his defense. At the same time, all the nations who were surrounding the camp rushed down to battle. But the beautiful maidens, finding their weapons were destroyed, waved back their enemies, as if they would parley; and, standing for a few moments over the body of their slain father, sang the death-song, and danced the death-dance, whirling in giddy circles about the dead hero, and wailing with despair, until they sank down and expired.

The conquerers buried the maidens by the shores of the lake; but Tum-pwi-nai'-ro-gwi-nump was left to rot, and his bones to bleach on the sands, as he had left Si-kor'.


Ta-vwots', the little rabbit, was wont to lie with his back to the sun when he slept. One day he thus slept in camp while his children played around him. After a time they saw that his back was smoking, and they cried out "What is the matter with your back, father?" Startled from his sleep, he demanded to know the cause of the uproar. "Your back is covered with sores and full of holes," they replied. Then Ta-vwots' was very angry, for he knew that Ta'-vi, the sun, had burned him; and he sat down by the fire for a long time in solemn mood, pondering on the injury and insult he had received. At last rising to his feet, he said, "My children I must go and make war upon Ta'-vi." And straightway he departed.

Now his camp was in the valley of the Mo-a-pa.[1] On his journey he came to a hill, and standing on its summit he saw in a valley to the east a beautiful stretch of verdure, and he greatly marveled at the sight and desired to know what it was. On going down to the valley he found a corn-field, something he had never before seen, and the ears were ready for roasting. When he examined them, he saw that they were covered with beautiful hair, and he was much astonished. Then he opened the husk and found within soft white grains of corn, which he tasted. Then he knew that it was corn and good to eat. Plucking his arms full he carried them away, roasted them on a fire, and ate until he was filled.

Now, when he had done all this, he reflected that he had been stealing, and he was afraid; so he dug a hole in which to hide himself.

Cin-au'-aev was the owner of this field, and when he walked through and saw that his corn had been stolen, he was exceedingly wroth, and said, "I will slay this thief Ta-vwots'; I will kill him, I will kill him." And straightway he called his warriors to him and made search for the thief, but could not find him, for he was hid in the ground. After a long time they discovered the hole and tried to shoot Ta-vwots' as he was standing in the entrance, but he blew their arrows back. This made Cin-au'-aev's people very angry and they shot many arrows, but Ta-vwots'' breath as a warder, against them all. Then, with one accord, they ran to snatch him up with their hands, but, all in confusion, they only caught each others fists, for with agile steps Ta-vwots' dodged into his retreat. Then they began to dig, and said they would drag him out. And they labored with great energy, all the time taunting him with shouts and jeers. But Ta-vwots' had a secret passage from the main chamber of his retreat which opened by a hole above the rock overhanging the entrance where they were at work.

[1] A stream in Southeastern Nevada.

When they had proceeded with this digging until they were quite under ground, Ta-vwots', standing on the rock above, hurled the magical ball which he was accustomed to carry with him, and striking the ground above the diggers, it caved the earth in, and they were all buried. "Aha," said he, "why do you wish to hinder me on my way to kill the Sun? A'-nier ti-tik'-a-nump kwaik-ai'-gar" (fighting is my eating tool I say; that's so!), and he proceeded on his way musing. "I have started out to kill; vengeance is my work; every one I meet will be an enemy. It is well; no one shall escape my wrath."

The next day he saw two men making arrow-heads of hot rocks, and drawing near he observed their work for a time from a position where he could not be seen. Then stepping forth, he said: "Let me help you"; and when the rocks were on the fire again and were hot to redness he said: "Hot rocks will not burn me." And they laughed at him. "May be you would have us believe that you are a ghost?" "I am not a ghost," said he, "but I am a better man than you are. Hold me on these hot rocks, and if I do not burn you must let me do the same to you." To this they readily agreed, and when they had tried to burn him on the rocks, with his magic breath he kept them away at a distance so slight they could not see but that the rocks did really touch him. When they perceived that he was not burned they were greatly amazed and trembled with fear. But having made the promise that he should treat them in like manner, they submitted themselves to the torture, and the hot rocks burned them until with great cries they struggled to get free but unrelenting Ta-vwots' held them until the rocks had burned through their flesh into their entrails, and so they died. "Aha," said Ta-vwots', "lie there until you can get up again. I am on my way to kill the Sun. A'-nier ti-tik'-a-nump kwaik-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he proceeded on his way.

The next day he came to where two women were gathering berries in baskets, and when he sat down they brought him some of the fruit and placed it before him. He saw there were many leaves and thorns among the berries, and he said, "Blow these leaves and thorns into my eyes," and they did so, hoping to blind him; but with his magic breath he kept them away, so that they did not hurt him.

Then the women averred that he was a ghost. "I am no ghost," said he, "but a common person; do you not know that leaves and thorns cannot hurt the eye? Let me show you;" and they consented and were made blind. Then Ta-vwots' slew them with his pa-rum'-o-kwi. "Aha," said he, "you are caught with your own chaff. I am on my way to kill the Sun. This is good practice. I must learn how. A'-nier ti-tik'-a-nump kwaik-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he proceeded on his way.

The next day he saw some women standing on the Hurricane Cliff, and as he approached he heard them say to each other that they would roll rocks down upon his head and kill him as he passed; and drawing near he pretended to be eating something, and enjoying it with great gusto; so they asked him what it was, and he said it was something very sweet, and they begged that they might be allowed to taste of it also. "I will throw it up to you," said he; "come to the brink and catch it." When they had done so, he threw it up so that they could not quite reach it, and he threw it in this way many times, until, in their eagerness to secure it, they all crowded too near the brink, fell, and were killed. "Aha," said he, "you were killed by your own eagerness. I am on my way to kill the Sun. A'-nier ti-tik'-a-nump kaiwk-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he passed on.

The following day he saw two women fashioning water-jugs, which are made of willow-ware like baskets and afterwards lined with pitch. When afar off he could hear them converse, for he had a wonderful ear. "Here comes that bad Ta-vwots'," said they; "how shall we destroy him?" When he came near, he said, "What was that you were saying when I came up?" "Oh, we were only saying, 'here comes our grandson,'"[2] said they. "Is that all?" replied Ta-vwots', and looking around, he said, "Let me get into your water-jug"; and they allowed him to do so. "Now braid the neck." This they did, making the neck very small; then they laughed with great glee, for they supposed he was entrapped. But with his magic breath he burst the jug, and stood up before them; and they exclaimed, "You must be a ghost!" but he answered, "I am no ghost. Do you not know that jugs were made to hold water, but cannot hold men and women?" At this they wondered greatly, and said he was wise. Then he proposed to put them in jugs in the same manner, in order to demonstrate to them the truth of what he had said; and they consented. When he had made the necks of the jugs and filled them with pitch, he said, "Now, jump out," but they could not. It was now his turn to deride; so he rolled them about and laughed greatly, while their half-stifled screams rent the air. When he had sported with them in this way until he was tired, he killed them with his magical ball. "Aha," said he, "you are bottled in your own jugs. I am on my way to kill the Sun; in good time I shall learn how. A'-nier ti-tik'-a-nump kaiwk-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he passed on.

The next day he came upon Kwi'-ats, the bear, who was digging a hole in which to hide, for he had heard of the fame of Ta-vwots', and was afraid. When the great slayer came to Kwi'-ats he said, "Don't fear, my great friend; I am not the man from whom to hide. Could a little fellow like me kill so many people?" And the bear was assured. "Let me help you dig," said Ta-vwots', that we may hide together, for I also am fleeing from the great destroyer. So they made a den deep in the ground, with its entrance concealed by a great rock. Now, Ta-vwots' secretly made a private passage from the den out to the side of the mountain, and when the work was completed the two went out together to the hill-top to watch for the coming of the enemy. Soon Ta-vwots' pretended that he saw him coming, and they ran in great haste to the den. The little one outran the greater, and going into the den, hastened out again through his secret passage.

[2] This is a very common term of endearment used by elder to younger persons.

When Kwi'-ats entered he looked about, and not seeing his little friend he searched for him for some time, and still not finding him, he supposed that he must have passed him on the way, and went out again to see if he had stopped or been killed. By this time Ta-vwots' had perched himself on the rock at the entrance of the den, and when the head of the bear protruded through the hole below he hurled his pa-rum'-o-kwi and killed him. "Aha," said Ta-vwots', "I greatly feared this renowned warrior, but now he is dead in his own den. I am going to kill the Sun. A'-nier ti'-tik'-a'-nump kwaik-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he went on his way.

The next day he met Ku-mi'-a-poets, the tarantula. Now this knowing personage had heard of the fame of Ta-vwots', and determined to outwit him. He was possessed of a club with such properties that, although it was a deadly weapon when used against others, it could not be made to hurt himself, though wielded by a powerful arm.

As Ta-vwots' came near, Ku-mi'-a-poets complained of having a headache; moaning and groaning, he said there was an u-nu'-pits, or little evil spirit, in his head, and he asked Ta-vwots' to take the club and beat it out. Ta-vwots' obeyed, and struck with all his power, and wondered that Ku-mi'-a-poets was not killed; but he urged Ta-vwots' to strike harder. At last Ta-vwots' understood the nature of the club, and guessed the wiles of Ku-mi'-a-poets, and raising the weapon as if to strike again, he dexterously substituted his magic ball and slew him. "Aha," said he, "that is a blow of your own seeking, Ku-mi'-a-poets. I am on my way to kill the Sun; now I know that I can do it. A'-nier ti'-tik'-a'-nump kwaik-ai'-gar." And sounding the war-whoop he went on his way.

The next day he came to a cliff which is the edge or boundary of the world on the east, where careless persons have fallen into unknown depths below. Now to come to the summit of this cliff it is necessary to climb a mountain, and Ta-vwots' could see three gaps or notches in the mountain, and he went up into the one on the left; and he demanded to know of all the trees which where standing by of what use they were. Each one in turn praised its own qualities, the chief of which in every case was its value as fuel.[3] Ta-vwots' shook his head and went into the center gap and had another conversation with the trees, receiving the same answer. Finally he went into the third gap—that on the right. After he had questioned all the trees and bushes, he came at last to a little one called yu'-i-nump, which modestly said it had no use, that it was not even fit for fuel. "Good," said Ta-vwots', and under it he lay down to sleep.

[3] Several times I have heard this story, and invariably the dialogues held by Ta-vwots' with the trees are long and tedious, though, the trees evince some skill in their own praise.

When the dawn came into the sky Ta-vwots' arose and stood on the brink overhanging the abyss from which the Sun was about to rise. The instant it appeared he hurled his pa-rum'-o-kwi, and, striking it full in the face, shattered it into innumerable fragments, and these fragments were scattered over all the world and kindled a great conflagration. Ta-vwots' ran and crept under the yu'-i-nump to obtain protection. At last the fire waxed very hot over all the world, and soon Ta-vwots began to suffer and tried to ran away, but as he ran his toes were burned off, and then slowly, inch by inch, his legs, and then his body, so that he walked on his hands, and these were burned, and he walked on the stumps of his arms, and these were burned, until there was nothing left but his head. And now, having no other means of progression, his head rolled along the ground until his eyes, which were much swollen, burst by striking against a rock, and the tears gushed out in a great flood which spread out over all the land and extinguished the conflagration.

The Uinta Utes add something more to this story, namely, that the flood from his eyes bore out new seeds, which were scattered over all the world. The Ute name for seed is the same as for eye.

Those animals which are considered as the descendants of Ta-vwots' are characterized by a brown patch back of the neck and shoulders, which is attributed to the singeing received by him in the great fire.

The following apothegms are derived from this story:

"You are buried in the hole which you dug for yourself."

"When you go to war every one you meet is an enemy; kill all."

"You were caught with your own chaff."

"Don't get so anxious that you kill yourself."

"You are bottled in your own jugs."

"He is dead in his own den."

"That is a blow of your own seeking."


Some UTF-8 characters have been downgraded to their Latin-1 equivalents; for the accurate representation please see the HTML or UTF-8 file.


"dext" changed to "next"—The next day, being without food... "decedents" changed to "descendants"—The descendants of these people... "philosopic" changed to "philosophic"—...great philosophic question


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