From the Navaho, The Wanderings

There were 12 young men and 2 young women. The men went hunting and they killed 2 of the Eagle Dancers of Wide Ruin. The Cliff Dwellers were angered over this and they chased the 12 young men to the top of a flat mesa. Now the 12 hunters rode on sun dogs; but the Great Warrior of the Cliff Dwellers and his chief through their power took the sun dogs from them.

Soon the flat mesa was surrounded by warriors, and the 12 young men knew that they must make a plan. They cut down a tall cedar tree, and, after trimming off the branches and making it a straight pole, they tied eagle feathers to the top of it. When it was ready the 2 youngest brothers climbed to its top, and the 10 other brothers dropped it over the side of the cliff. The 2 young men landed safely. They gave the call of the owl, which told the others that they were safe. Now the owl heard this and said: "But the 10 on the mesa top must die." And it was so. The Great Warrior of the Cliff Dwellers killed the 10 young men. Before they died these brothers gave the coyote call, and the 2 who had been saved knew that they would have to kill the Great Warrior of the Cliff Dwellers and his chief.

note: bits'is'ye osho'shi, ceremonial name of the female snake.

note: Many writers recording myths of Hopi and Zuni have come upon the serpent legends.

Now these two warriors of the Cliff Dwellers lived under the ground. They wore strings of shell and turquoise around their necks and their arms and their legs. On their heads they wore large caps shaped like shells with turquoise and white shell beads tied to the middle of them. They would crawl through a little hole in their dwelling and come on top of the ground only when the Cliff Dwellers were at war. After the latter were successful the warriors would crawl back under the earth.

The two brothers traveled far to the great ocean of the West, to the home of the Woman Who Changes. She told the brothers that they must get the help of the Flint Knife Woman who lived on the mountain called Tso dzil, that the Flint Knife People were great warriors and would help the two brothers fight the Cliff Dweller People. The brothers journeyed to the home of the Flint Knife People, and they promised to give their two sisters, who were beautiful maidens, to the two warriors who would kill the Great Warrior and his chief.

The brothers and Flint Knife Warriors started out for Kin teel. It was night when they arrived near it. The Flint Knife men made a fire and held a Fire Dance. They used sticks that made a curious whirring sound. "The enemy will see this," said the brothers. "No, for they will believe it to be stars," said the Flint Knife warriors. The next morning they still danced, and the huge fire sent a great smoke cloud into the sky. Again the brothers said: "The Cliff Dwellers will see this." But the Flint Knife warriors answered: "They will think that they see a storm cloud."

Then the two brothers and the Flint Knife warriors went near Kin teel and they fought the Cliff Dwellers. They took many scalps the first day. That night they looked them over, but the scalps of the two great chiefs were not among them. They waited 3 days and they again fought the Cliff Dwellers. Then they waited for 5 days. At this time two old men appeared. They were the Turtle and the Frog.

These two old men went to the water hole or spring where the women came for water. They took stone axes and they killed all the people who came for water. They took their scalps and they tied them to a pole. (This is the origin of the pole in the Scalp or Squaw Dance which now has branches representing scalps tied to it.) When the Cliff Dwellers learned of the killings at the spring they rushed there and prepared to kill the Turtle and the Frog with their stone axes. "Now they will kill us," said the Frog. The Turtle said: "Be not afraid. Come, get under me." So the Cliff Dwellers struck the Turtle, but their blows glanced off his shell, and they were not harmed.

note: This cap is undoubtedly the cap worn by the priests of the bow in Zuñi, as is shown on ceremonial pottery. It is also the old cap of the warriors of the Navaho.

The Cliff Dwellers said: "Now we will burn them." The Turtle said: "This time they will kill us." But the Frog answered: "Be not afraid." And after they were thrown into the fire the Frog made water and put it out. "We will boil them," said the Cliff Dwellers. They brought out a huge pot and filled it with water. This time it was the Frog who was frightened, but the Turtle reassured him. Arid when they were thrown into the pot the Turtle expanded his shell and cracked the pot and they were free. Finally the Cliff Dwellers decided to drown them. They threw them into the river where they swam off to the opposite shore.

Now when the Brothers and the Flint Knife warriors counted the scalps on the pole which the Frog and the Turtle had made they did not find those of the Great Warrior and his chief among them. So on the seventh day they prepared to attack again.

Then two old men came and sat on a rock One was the old man Bear and the other was the old man Snake. "Where do you come from?" the Flint Knife warriors asked. "I come from the mountains, said the Bear. "I come from the plains," said the Snake.

While the warriors were fighting, the Bear said to the Snake: "Let us look around." So they climbed into the cliff dwelling. Presently they saw coming toward them two creatures crawling on their hands and knees. Taking up a stone, the Bear struck them and killed them. The Snake split their skins and took them, covered as they were with turquoise and shell beads. Then the two old men went back to the rock and waited.

Again when the Flint Knife warriors and the Brothers returned and counted the scalps they did not find those of the Great Warrior and his chief. Then the Bear and the Snake threw the two skins on the ground, and the others saw what they were. They asked who had killed them. "You killed them," said the Bear indicating the Snake. "No, you killed them," returned the Snake.

The Cliff Dwellers cried aloud and wept, as they knew that now they would all die.

The two Brothers were greatly troubled when they thought that they must give their two beautiful sisters to the two old men, the Bear and the Snake, so they stopped many times on their journey to their home and held games. Each time they held the games they promised that the winners would have their sisters, and each time the Bear and the Snake won.

At last they came to the place where the two maidens waited. They prepared to give a great Scalp and Squaw Dance. The two maidens were dressed in ceremonial robes; and the warriors of the Flint Knife People were also dressed in ceremonial attire. The brothers said: "Now we will let the maidens choose their own husbands." Soon the dance began and the maidens danced and danced with the young warriors.

Now the two old men, the Bear and the Snake, climbed to the top of a nearby mountain. They bathed and clothed themselves, and they appeared as two handsome young men. They took their pipes and filled them with certain herbs from their medicine bags and began to smoke quietly.

About this same time the maidens grew weary and were covered with sweat. The elder sister said: "Come, let us go apart and bathe." And they went to a little stream, and the elder maiden took the water in her hand and threw it into her mouth, and the younger sister cupped her hand and so drank. After they had bathed and drunk and were refreshed the older sister said: "I smell a sweet odor." "Let us find out what it is," said the younger maiden. And they went in search of the origin of this sweet smoke. They had no idea that it came from the pipes of the Bear and the Snake.

The maidens climbed the mountain, and when they reached the summit they saw the two beautiful youths there smoking. "Where did you come from?" asked the elder maiden. "I came from the mountain," said the Bear. "And I came from the plain," said the Snake. "Give us also something sweet to smoke," said the younger sister. The two youths gave them their pipes, and after a few puffs the maidens fell asleep.

When the maidens awakened they found that they had slept with a Bear and a Snake, for the two creatures lay there beside them.

Being very frightened, the two sisters started to run down the mountain path. "Wait," said the Bear, "if you return your brothers will kill you." So the Bear and the Snake gave the sisters each a basket with feathers tied to the outer rim. "Place the basket on the ground and step into it if you are in trouble or in danger," said the Bear, and the Snake repeated this advice. And so they let the sisters go on their way.

When the sisters came to the place where their two Brothers and the Flint Knife people waited they saw at once that they would be killed. The warriors tied their hands behind them and prepared to beat them to death. The elder sister said: "If we are to die we should be allowed to stand in our baskets." And as soon as they stepped in the baskets they disappeared.

Now the two sisters landed on the summit of a mountain. And as soon as they stepped from their baskets, they sent them back to the Bear and the Snake by the Wind. Almost at once they saw the Bear and the Snake coming towards them. "We must separate," they said. The elder sister stayed in the mountain, and the younger sister ran down to the plain. On and on they traveled. They became thin and almost without clothing.

The elder sister came to a great cave, and, being very weary, she wished to enter it. She saw two bears guarding the entrance. They were fierce and she knew that she could not pass. Just then she heard a whistling and she saw a chipmunk. He said: "Follow me." She did this, and he whistled so lively a tune that the two bears listened to him and let her pass. Next they came to a second cave, and guarding the entrance were two dlo'ee, animals with faces like dogs, one was white and one was yellow. The chipmunk whistled his tune again, and again they passed unharmed. The entrance of the third cave was guarded by two cranes, male and female. From there the elder sister and the chipmunk went into the big kiva of the Yei'bichai. Four men and four women in ceremonial robes came forward to meet her. The women took her aside and bathed her; they rubbed her first with cornmeal and then with pollen and she was beautiful. They dressed her in ceremonial robes and led her into a room lined with fur. And there her little baby girl was born. The child had little tufts of hair back of its ears and downy hair on its arms and legs.

After the child was born the Yei instructed the people to give the Mountain Chant.

They all went to the hogan of the old Mountain Woman (which is the mountain near Taos.) There they ate yellow cornmeal. They left the baby in the home of the old Mountain Woman. Then they went to the great flat plain towards Taos, and there they ate white cornmeal. The old Mountain Woman and the Elder Sister, or the Bear Maiden as she was now called, traveled together. A great Squaw Dance was given and the Flint Knife Warriors came. The Turkey Maiden ground the corn into meal while the Squirrel sang and played the flute. The men liked the old Mountain Woman and the Bear Maiden best, because the Turkey Maiden had pimples on her long neck, and the Dove Maiden rolled white lids over her large eyes, and the Rattle Snake Maiden had long, sharp teeth.

note: From here the narrative follows the Elder Sister. The Younger Sister's adventure is another story.

After that they traveled to the Black Mountain near Ignacio, about 40 miles from Durango--the Turkey Clan lived there. They had snowshoes on their feet, the snow being deep. Here another dance was held. And the old Mountain Woman and the Bear Maiden danced with the young men. Then they took them into the mountain and they either starved to death or sickened and died, having sores on their bodies.

Later the Bear Maiden married a man and lived with him in his hogan. There a son was born. But a famine came and everyone left. The Bear Maiden left the little baby tied on his cradleboard hanging from a beam.

Now an owl flew by and she heard the baby crying. She planned to take the baby home for food for her young. When the owl had carried the baby safely, to the nest he cried so pitifully that she felt sorry for him and she decided to bring him up with her own children. The boy grew rapidly, being half holy or sacred. The owl fashioned a bow for him; and she made arrows, using her own feathers for the shafts. Soon the boy could shoot everything the owl needed for food. Then the owl became frightened and said: "Soon he will kill me and my children. I must kill him." But she had forgotten that she had taught him to understand what the Wind said. Now the Wind had heard her and he told the boy that he must leave the owl and go to his own people. The sticks in the nest told him that he must follow the Mancos River eastward.

The boy started out at once and came to the place of an old campsite. He saw a little burned stick which told him to go on. The next day he came to another campsite, and there a little potsherd told him to go on. Each time he traveled and came to an old camp, something told him to go on: first a little stick, then the piece of a bowl, then an itching on his arm told him, then a hiccup, then a buzzing in his ears, and lastly a tickle in his nose. Finally he came to some hogans. An old man and an old woman were there, and a boy and a girl ran about. But the Owl's Boy as he was now called, thinking that they were strange animals, shot them with his arrows. The people came out of the hogans and chased him, and he fled toward the North.

The Owl's Boy needed more arrows. He cut the branches of the mountain mahogany, tses'gizie, and the chokecherry, did se, for new shafts. And each time he cut a branch there sprang into being a person. Some were male and some were female. Some had red lips and some had blue lips. This was the origin of the No'daa', the Ute tribe. And today, some have red lips and some blue.

Now the boy came to the Montezuma Valley, and an old man, da'sani, the porcupine, saw him, and as the boy was very tired he took him on his back to the foot of the mountain called Dzil na'gine. There they entered a hole in the ground. And only just in time, for the warriors were after them and they came and stuck their spears in the hole and almost touched the boy. The old porcupine was so frightened that the boy soon left. But he took with him the old one's medicine which, by its magic, made any burden light to carry.

In his travels the Owl's Boy met the Rat and then the Spider, and he gave them gifts, and they taught him many things. When he was 24 years of age he married the daughter of a great chief and he was known as a medicine man. They had born to them two daughters. Now after the two little girls were born his wife's sister came to live with them. Now this girl he wished to marry and he made a plan.

He pretended to be very ill. He told his wife that be would die. He had them build a frame of four upright poles and poles crosswise on top. Branches were piled on the poles and a fire laid under it. He told his wife to take the three young girls, their two daughters and her sister, and to leave that place after she had lighted the fire. He told her that she must marry her sister to the stranger who would help them. Then he climbed to the top of the structure and lay there, apparently dead. His wife lit the fire, and taking the girls, departed.

But this man rolled off the burning frame and, screened by the smoke, got away. He followed the woman and the girls for about a year. He would kill a deer and eat, and soon he grew healthy and young. He dressed himself in buckskins. He went hunting, and killing a deer he carried it to the woman's camp. They were in need and they gladly accepted the gift. This be did several times, always coming after dark. The woman remembered her husband's words, and she married her young sister to the man. The young wife lived with the man for some time before she discovered that he was her sister's husband. She told the first wife, her sister, who beat him for his wickedness. But after that he lived with them both. When the young wife bore him a son she hid the baby in the bushes. This baby was found by the Bear.

note: Dzil na'gine is Sleeping Ute Mountain.

note: The Chant "With Beauty" is sung when this part of the story was told.


1. With beauty before me,
With beauty behind me,
With beauty above me,
With beauty below me,
With beauty about me,
With sacred pollen the White Bead Woman circles her foot.
With sacred pollen I circle my foot.

[The last lines alone change in the verses.]

2. With the sacred pollen the White Bead Woman circles her ankle.
With sacred pollen I circle my ankle.
3. . . . her knee.
With sacred pollen I circle my knee.
4. . . . her thighs.
With sacred pollen I circle my thighs.
5. . . . her breast.
With sacred pollen I circle my breast.
6. . . . her arms.
With sacred pollen I circle my arms.
7. . . . her hands.
With sacred pollen I circle my hands.
8. . . . her head.
With sacred pollen I circle my head.