Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 65


COUNTLESS ages back, lost in the seas of antiquity, thousands of years before the Christian Era, the Indian people began--no one knows how. Did they spring from the soil, or migrate, by some aimless wandering, across the Bering Strait from ancient Mongolia, or did they actually descend from Noah, after the Flood? Their many centuries of known history is full of wonderful happenings.

California was a mythical land of romance long before the white man discovered it. Somehow the tales of a country rich in sunshine, fruits and gold crept out to the ears of explorers, although the tale-bearers were unknown. California is still a land of romance. Its history runs back through periods of civilization whose traditions are picturesquely fascinating. Our thoughts of early days are so tinted with tales of the Dons and the Missions that we don't always realize that before the Don the redskin ruled, and that our whole state, once upon a time, was an Indian hunting ground. The Indians who fought and hunted throughout the length and breadth of the state tried, even as we do now, to account for things. Where we use science they used imagination, and

p. 66

out of this effort were developed a myriad of myths and legends.

These were all, or nearly all, of more or less religious significance, for the Indian universally acknowledged the existence of a supreme power, who held their fortune in his hands, who answered prayers and punished wrong doing. So while from border to border, the length of our coast, the smoke curled upward from ten thousand lodge-poles, the Indian roamed, and hunted and fished, unafraid, o'er a thousand plains and hills, and the wild fox dug his hole unscared, from many a dusky breast went up a grateful prayer to The Great Spirit.

Of these myths or legends the Yo-sem-i-tes had their share. Ethnologists have found the gathering of authentic information on this subject a matter of the greatest difficulty. The Indians as a rule regard their legends as sacred and are opposed to speaking of them to the white man. Due partly to this reluctance, and in part to the fact that the present day Indian himself is but poorly informed on the subject, it is almost impossible to secure any reliable information as to the origin or meaning of many of them. While it is true that a great many of the myths or legends attributed to the Yo-sem-i-tes have some foundation in that they are, or have been, vouched for by some apparently reputable Indians, and have been repeatedly recounted with but little variation, it is equally true that a number of those told, or published are patently but the bedtime stories of the mothers of another age, designed, as are our own of today, to point a

p. 67

moral to the younger generation, or the product of a vivid imagination belonging to some later-day Indian, possessing also a sense of humor and a penchant for having some fun at the expense of his questioner. The late Galen Clark says in his book, "Indians of the Yosemite" . . . "I have known of cases where 'legends' would be manufactured on the spur of the moment by some young Indian to satisfy an importunate and credulous questioner, to the keen but suppressed amusement of other Indians present."

Many of these legends, even those accepted as authentic by leading ethnologists, have no doubt been more or less embellished in translation, and garbled by countless repetitions. Some of them are conflicting and contradictory to a degree. All of them, however, are interesting, more or less poetic, and serve the purpose of an added fascination in the objects or localities with which they are connected.

Next: The Legend Of Tu-tok-a-na