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p. 34


The First of the Rattlesnakes

OW there is a tail to you, compadre [friend]," said old Desiderio, nodding at Patricio 1 after we had sat awhile in silence around the crackling fire.

Patricio had a broad strip of rawhide across his knee, and was scraping the hair from it with a dull knife. It was high time to be thinking of new soles, for already there was a wee hole in the bottom of each of his moccasins; and as for Benito, his shy little grandson, his toes were all abroad.

But shrilly as the cold night-wind outside hinted the wisdom of speedy cobbling, Patricio had no wish

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to acquire that burro's tail, so, laying the rawhide and knife upon the floor beside him, he deliberately rolled a modest pinch of the aromatic koo-ah-rée in a corn-husk, lighted it at the coals, and drew Benito's tousled head to his side.

"You have heard," he said, with a slow puff, about Nah-chu-rú-chu, the mighty medicine-man who lived here in Isleta in the times of the ancients?"

"Ah-h!" (Yes) cried all the boys. "You have promised to tell us how he married the moon!"

"Another time I will do so. But now I shall tell you something that was before that--for Nah-chu-rú-chu had many strange adventures before he married Páh-hlee-oh, the Moon-Mother. Do you know why the rattlesnake--which is the king of all snakes and alone has the power of death in his mouth-always shakes his guaje 1 before he bites?"

"Een-dah!" chorused Ramon and Benito, and Fat Juan, and Tomas, 2 very eagerly; for they were particularly fond of hearing about the exploits of the greatest of Tée-wahn medicine-men.

"Listen, then, and you shall hear."


In those days Nah-chu-rú-chu had a friend who lived in a pueblo nearer the foot of the Eagle-Feather Mountain than this, in the Place of the Red Earth, where still are its ruins; and the two young men went often to the mountain together to bring wood and to hunt. Now, Nah-chu-rú-chu

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had a white heart, and never thought ill; but the friend had the evil road and became jealous, for Nah-chu-rú-chu was a better hunter. But he said nothing, and made as if he still loved Nah-chu-rú-chu truly.

One day the friend came over from his village and said:

"Friend Nah-chu-rú-chu, let us go to-morrow for wood and to have a hunt.

"It is well," replied Nah-chu-rú-chu. Next morning he started very early and came to the village of his friend; and together they went to the mountain. When they had gathered much wood, and lashed it in bundles for carrying, they started off in opposite directions to hunt. In a short time each returned with a fine fat deer.

"But why should we hasten to go home, friend Nah-chu-rú-chu?" said the friend. "It is still early, and we have much time. Come, let us stop here and amuse ourselves with a game."

"It is well, friend," answered Nah-chu-rú-chu; "but what game shall we play? For we have neither pa-toles, nor hoops, nor any other game here."

"See! we will roll the mah-khúr1 for while I was waiting for you I made one that we might play"--and the false friend drew from beneath his blanket a pretty painted hoop; but really he had

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made it at home, and had brought it hidden, on purpose to do harm to Nah-chu-rú-chu.

"Now go down there and catch it when I roll it," said he; and Nah-chu-rú-chu did so. But as he caught the hoop when it came rolling, he was no longer Nah-chu-rú-chu the brave hunter, but a poor Coyote with great tears rolling down his nose!

"Hu!" said the false friend, tauntingly, "we do this to each other! So now you have all the plains to wander over, to the north, and west, and south; but you can never go to the east. And if you are not lucky, the dogs will tear you; but if you are lucky, they may have pity on you. So now good-by, for this is the last I shall ever see of you."

Then the false friend went away, laughing, to his village; and the poor Coyote wandered aimlessly, weeping to think that he had been betrayed by the one he had loved and trusted as a brother. For four days he prowled about the outskirts of Isleta, looking wistfully at his home. The fierce dogs ran out to tear him; but when they came near they only sniffed at him, and went away without hurting him. He could find nothing to eat save dry bones, and old thongs or soles of moccasins.

On the fourth day he turned westward, and wandered until he came to Mesita. 1 There was no town of the Lagunas there then, and only a shepherd's hut and corral, in which were an old Quères Indian and his grandson, tending their goats.

Next morning when the grandson went out very early to let the goats from the corral, he saw a Coyote run out from among the goats. It went

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off a little way, and then sat down and watched him. The boy counted the goats, and none were missing, and he thought it strange. But he said nothing to his grandfather.

For three more mornings the very same thing happened; and on the fourth morning the boy told his grandfather. The old man came out, and set the dogs after the Coyote, which was sitting a little way off; but when they came near they would not touch him.

"I suspect there is something wrong here," said the old shepherd; and he called: "Coyote, are you coyote-true, or are you people?"

But the Coyote could not answer; and the old man called again: "Coyote, are you people?"

At that the Coyote nodded his head, "Yes."

"If that is so, come here and be not afraid of us; for we will be the ones to help you out of this trouble."

So the Coyote came to them and licked their hands, and they gave it food--for it was dying of hunger. When it was fed, the old man said:

"Now, son, you are going out with the goats along the creek, and there you will see some willows. With your mind look at two willows, and mark them; and to-morrow morning you must go and bring one of them."

The boy went away tending the goats, and the Coyote stayed with the old man. Next morning, when they awoke very early, they saw all the earth wrapped in a white manta1

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"Now, son," said the old man, "you must wear only your moccasins and breech-clout, and go like a man to the two willows you marked yesterday. To one of them you must pray; and then cut the other and bring it to me."

The boy did so and came back with the willow stick. The old man prayed, and made a mah-khúr hoop; and bidding the Coyote stand a little way off and stick his head through the hoop before it should stop rolling, rolled it toward him. The Coyote waited till the hoop came very close, and gave a great jump and put his head through it before it could stop. And lo! there stood Nah-chu-rú-chu, young and handsome as ever; but his beautiful suit of fringed buckskin was all in rags. For four days he stayed there and was cleansed with the cleansing of the medicine-man; and then the old shepherd said to him:

"Now, friend Nah-chu-rú-chu, there is a road. 1 But take with you this faja2 for though your power is great, you have submitted to this evil. When you get home, he who did this to you will be first to know, and he will come pretending to be your friend, as if he had done nothing; and he will ask you to go hunting again. So you must go; and when you come to the mountain, with this faja you shall repay him."

Nah-chu-rú-chu thanked the kind old shepherd, and started home. But when he came to the Bad Hill and looked down into the valley of the Rio Grande, his heart sank. All the grass and

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fields and trees were dry and dead--for Nah-chu-rú-chu was the medicine-man who controlled the clouds, so no rain could fall when he was gone; and the eight days he had been a Coyote were in truth eight years. The river was dry, and the springs; and many of the people were dead from thirst, and the rest were dying. But as Nah-chu-rú-chu came down the hill, it began to rain again, and all the people were glad.

When he came into the pueblo, all the famishing people came out to welcome him. And soon came the false friend, making as if he had never bewitched him nor had known whither he disappeared.

In a few days the false friend came again to propose a hunt; and next morning they went to the mountain together. Nah-chu-rú-chu had the pretty faja wound around his waist; and when the wind blew his blanket aside, the other saw it.

"Ay! What a pretty faja!" cried the false friend. "Give it to me, friend Nah-chu-rú-chu."

"Een-dah!" (No) said "Nah-chu-rú-chu. But the false friend begged so hard that at last he said:

"Then I will roll it to you; and if you can catch it before it unwinds, you may have it."

So he wound it up, 1 and holding by one end gave it a push so that it ran away from him, unrolling as it went. The false friend jumped for it, but it was unrolled before he caught it-

"Een-dah!" said Nah-chu-rú-chu, pulling it back. "If you do not care enough for it to be spryer than that, you cannot have it."

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The false friend begged for another trial; so Nah-chu-rú-chu rolled it again. This time the false friend caught it before it was unrolled; and lo! instead of a tall young man, there lay a great rattlesnake with tears rolling from his lidless eyes!

"We, too, do this to each other!" said Nah-chu-rú-chu. He took from his medicine-pouch a pinch of the sacred meal and laid it on the snake's flat head for its food; and then a pinch of the corn-pollen to tame it. 1 And the snake ran out its red forked tongue, and licked them.

"Now," said Nah-chu-rú-chu, "this mountain and all rocky places shall be your home. But you can never again do to another harm, without warning, as you did to me. For see, there is a guaje 2 in your tail, and whenever you would do any one an injury, you must warn them beforehand with your rattle."

"And is that the reason why Ch'ah-rah-ráh-deh always rattles to give warning before he bites?" asked Fat Juan, who is now quite as often called Juan Biscocho (John Biscuit), since I photographed him one day crawling out of the big adobe bake-oven where he had been hiding.

"That is the very reason. Then Nah-chu-rú-chu left his false friend, from whom all the rattlesnakes are descended, and came back to his village. From that time all went well with Isleta, for Nah-chu-rú-chu was at home again to attend to the clouds. There was plenty of rain, and the river began to run again, and the springs flowed.[paragraph continues]

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The people plowed and planted again, as they had not been able to do for several years, and all their work prospered. As for the people who lived in the Place of the Red Earth, they all moved down here, 1 because the Apaches were very bad; and here their descendants live to this day."

"Is that so?" sighed all the boys in chorus, sorry that the story was so soon done.

"That is so," replied old Patricio. "And now, compadre Antonio, there is a tail to you."

"Well, then, I will tell a story which they showed me in Taos 2 last year," said the old man.

"Ah-h!" said the boys.

"It is about the Coyote and the Woodpecker."


34:1 Pronounced Pah-trée-see-oh.

35:1 The Pueblo sacred rattle.

35:2 Pronounced Rah-móhn, Bay-née-toh, Whahn, Toh-máhs.

36:1 The game of mah-khúr, which the Pueblos learned from the Apaches many centuries ago, is a very simple one, but is a favorite with all witches as a snare for those whom they would injure. A small hoop of willow is painted gaily, and has ornamental buckskin thongs stretched across it from side to side, spoke-fashion. The challenger to a game rolls the hoop rapidly past the challenged, who must throw a lance through between the spokes before it ceases to roll.

39:1 An outlying colony of Laguna, forty miles from Isleta.

40:1 This figure is always used by the Pueblos in speaking of snow in connection with sacred things.

43:1 That is, you can go home.

43:2 A fine woven belt, with figures in red and green.

44:1 Like a roll of tape.

47:1 This same spell is still used here by the Hee-but-hái, or snake-charmers.

47:2 Pronounced Gwáh-heh.

48:1 It is a proved fact that there was such a migration.

48:2 The most northern of the Pueblo cities. Its people are also Tée-wahn.

Next: VII. The Coyote and the Woodpecker