Sacred Texts  Native American  Southwest  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 130



IN the times that were farthest back, the forefathers of those who now dwell in Isleta were scattered about in many small villages. You have already heard the myths of how the inhabitants of several villages finally abandoned their homes and came to live in the one big town of the Tée-wahn. Three miles north of Isleta, amid the sandy plain of Los Padillas, stands the strange round mesa of Shee-em-tóo-ai. It is a circular "island" of hard, black lava, cut off from the long lava cliffs which wall the valley of the Rio Grande on the west. Its level top, of over fifty acres, is some two hundred feet above the plain; the last fifty feet being a stern and almost unbroken cliff. Upon its top are still visible the crumbling ruins of the pueblo of Poo-reh-tú-ai--a town deserted, as we are historically sure, over three hundred and fifty years ago. The mound outlines of the round estufa, the houses and the streets, are still easy to be traced, and bits of pottery, broken arrow-heads, and other relics still abound there. In history we know no more of the pueblo than that it was once there, but had been abandoned already when Coronado passed in [paragraph continues]

p. 131

1540; but my aboriginal friends and fellow-citizens of Shee-eh-whíb-bahk have an interesting legend of the pueblo of Poo-reh-tú-ai and the cause which led to its abandonment.

When the mesa town was inhabited, so was Isleta; and, being but three miles apart, the intercommunication was constant. At one time, four hundred years ago or more, there lived in Isleta a very handsome youth whose name was Koo-ah-máh-koo-hóo-oo-aí-deh--which means Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob.

In spite of this serious burden of a title, the young man was greatly admired, and had many friends. Probably they called him something else "for short," or people would n't have had time to associate with him. There were two sisters, very pretty girls, living in Poo-reh-tú-ai, and they fell very seriously in love, both with this same youth. But he had never really found out how handsome he was, and so thought little about girls anyhow, caring more to run fastest in the races and to kill the most game in the hunts. The sisters, finding that he would not notice their shy smiles, began to make it in their way to pass his house whenever they came to Isleta, and to say hin-a-kú-pui-yoo (good morning) as they met him on the road. But he paid no attention to them whatever, except to be polite; and even when they sent him the modest little gift which means "there is a young lady who loves you!" he was as provokingly indifferent as ever.

After long coquetting in vain, the girls began to hate him as hard as before they had loved him. [paragraph continues]

p. 132

They decided, no doubt, that he was oó-teh, the Tée-wahn word for "a mean old thing"; and finally one proposed that they put him out of the way, for both sisters, young and pretty as they were, were witches.

"We will teach him," said one.

"Yes," said the other, "he ought to be punished; but how shall we do it?"

"Oh, we will invite him to play a game of mah-khúr, and then we'll fix him. I'll go now and make the hoop."

The witch-sisters made a very gay hoop, and then sent word to the youth to meet them at the sacred sand-hill, just west of Isleta, as they had important business with him. Wondering what it could be, he met them at the appointed time and place.

"Now, Brother Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob," said the eldest Sister, "we want to amuse ourselves a little, so let us have a game of mah-khúr. We have a very nice hoop to play it. You go half-way down the hill and see if you can catch it when we roll it to you. If you can, you may have the hoop; but if you fail, you come and roll it to us and we'll see if we can catch it."

So he went down the hill and waited, and the girls sent the bright wheel rolling toward him. He was very nimble, and caught it "on the fly"; but that very instant he was no longer the tall, handsome Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob, but a poor little Coyote, with great tears rolling down his cheeks. The witch-sisters came laughing and taunting him, and said:

p. 133

"You see it would have been better to marry us! But now you will always be a Coyote and an outcast from home. You may roam to the north and to the south and to the west, but never to the east" (and therefore not back to Isleta).

The Coyote started off, still weeping; and the two wicked sisters went home rejoicing at their success. The Coyote roamed away to the west, and at last turned south. After a time he came across a party of Isleteños 1 returning from a trading-trip to the Apache country. He sneaked about their camp, snapping up odd scraps--for he was nearly starved. In the morning the Indians spied this Coyote sitting and watching them at a little distance, and they set their dogs on him. But the Coyote did not run; and when the dogs came to him they merely sniffed and came away without hurting him--though every one knows that the dog and the Coyote have been enemies almost ever since the world began. The Indians were greatly astonished; and one of them, who was a medicine-man, began to suspect that there was something wrong. So, without saying anything to the others, he walked over to the Coyote and said: "Coyote, are you Coyote-true, or somebody bewitched?" But the Coyote made no reply. Again the medicine-man asked: "Coyote, are you a man?" At this the Coyote nodded his head affirmatively, while tears rolled from his eyes.

"Very well, then," said the medicine-man, "come with me." So the Coyote rose and followed him to the camp; and the medicine-man fed and cared

p. 134

for him as the party journeyed toward Isleta. The last night they camped at the big barranca, just below the village; and here the medicine-man told his companions the story of the bewitchment,- for the Coyote had already told him,--and they were all greatly astonished, and very sad to learn that this poor Coyote was their handsome friend, Koo-ah-máh-koo-hóo-oo-aí-deh.

"Now," said the medicine-man, "we will make a nice hoop and try a game." He made it, and said to the Coyote: "Friend, go and stand over there; and when I roll this hoop toward you, you must jump and put your head through it before it stops rolling or falls over upon its side."

The Coyote stood off, and the medicine-man sent the hoop rolling toward him very hard. just as it came near enough the Coyote made a wonderful jump and put his head squarely through the middle of it-and there, instead of the gaunt Coyote, stood the Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob, handsome and well and strong as ever. They all crowded around to congratulate him and to listen to what had befallen him.

"Now," said the medicine-man, "when we get home, the two witch-sisters will come to congratulate you, and will pretend not to know anything of the trouble that befell you, and when you see them you must invite them to a game of mah-khúr."

It all came about as he said. When the party got back to Isleta all the people welcomed the young man whose mysterious disappearance had made all sad. The news of his return spread rapidly, and soon reached the village of Poo-reh-tú-ai. [paragraph continues]

p. 135

In a day or two the witch-sisters came to Isleta, bringing on their heads baskets of the choicest foods and other gifts, which they presented to him in the most cordial manner. To see how they welcomed him, one would never fancy that they had been the wicked causes of his suffering. He played his part equally well, and gave no sign that he saw through their duplicity. At last, when they were about to start home, he said: "Sisters, let us come to the sand-hill to-morrow to play a little game."

An invitation--or rather a challenge--of that sort must be accepted under all Indian etiquette; and the witch-sisters agreed. So at the appointed hour they met him at the sacred hill. He had made a very beautiful hoop, and when they saw it they were charmed, and took their positions at the foot of the declivity. "One, two, three!" he counted; and at the word, "three!" sent the hoop rolling down to them. They both grabbed it at the same instant, and lo! instead of the pretty, but evil-minded sisters of Poo-reh-tú-ai, there lay two huge rattlesnakes, with big tears falling from their eyes. Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob laid upon their ugly, flat heads a pinch of the sacred meal, and they ran out their tongues and licked it.

"Now," he said, "this is what happens to the treacherous. Here in these cliffs shall be your home forever. You must never go to the river, so you will suffer with thirst and drag yourselves in the dust all the days of your life."

The Young-Man-Who-Embraces-a-Corncob went back to Isleta, where he lived to a ripe old

p. 136

age. As for the snakes, they went to live in the cliffs of their own mesa. The people of Poo-reh-tú-ai soon learned of the fate of the witch-sisters, and knew that those two great snakes, with tears in their eyes, were they. That was the beginning of the downfall of Poo-reh-tú-ai; for the people grew fearful of one another, lest there might be many more witches, unbeknown, among them. The distrust and discontent grew rapidly--for to this day nothing on earth will disrupt any Indian community so quickly or so surely as the belief that some of the people are witches. In a very short time the people decided to abandon Poo-reh-tú-ai altogether. Most of them migrated to the Northwest, and I have not as yet found even a legend to tell what became of them. The rest settled in Isleta, where their descendants dwell to this day. There are old men here now who claim that their great-grandfathers used to see the two huge rattlesnakes basking on the cliffs of the mesa of Shee-em-tóo-ai, and that the snakes always wept when people came near them.


133:1 Pronounced Eez-lay-táyn-yos.

Next: XXI. The Drowning of Pecos