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Lights and Shadows of Yosemite (1926) by Katherine Ames Taylor


Legend of Tu-tok-a-na

[Editor’s note: this “legend” “was almost certainly fabricated” according to NPS Ethnologist Craig D. Bates. It was first published in Hutchings “The Great Yo-Semite Valley” (1859) and reprinted in Hutchings Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity (1862) and In the Heart of the Sierras (1888) —dea.]

“When El Capitan was but a bowlder” is an expression sometimes heard in Yosemite. This refers to that epoch before Tu-tok-a-na distinguished himself among all the wild folk of Yosemite. El Capitan, according to legend, was not always the massive cliff it is today. Mythically speaking, it achieved its growth, as well as its name, in the following manner:

One warm summer day, when there were only animal people in the world, two little bear cubs ran away from their home to go swimming. Scrambling out of the water, they lay down upon a warm rock to dry. The sun, and their swim, made them drowsy, and they soon fell fast asleep. While they were sleeping, the rock upon which they lay began to grow. It grew and grew, until it towered up into the very clouds, with the little bear cubs still asleep on its top.

When the mother bear learned what had happened she was overcome with grief. All the animals in the woods gathered about the foot of the great rock, and each, in turn, tried to leap up to bring the bear cubs down. One after another they failed, even to the agile cougar and the powerful grizzly bear. Finally, the Measuring Worm, Tu-tok-a-na, humblest of all the mountain peoples, began to climb up the face of the cliff. Inch by inch he made his way until he reached the top, and there he found the bear cubs and took them back to their waiting mother. Overjoyed by the rescue, the animals hereafter called the cliff by the name of the valiant measuring worm, and it is still known as Tu-tok-a-nu-la.

A sequel to this story, no less amazing than the original, is that Tu-tok-a-na, elated by his prowess, began now to “show off” a bit. He climbed again to the top of the cliff, and, stretching himself clear across the Valley, drew himself over. Then he returned, repeating his acrobatics until he so weakened the walls of the Valley that they caved in, thus widening the canyon at this point quite noticeably.

El Capitan, guardian of Yosemite, rises abruptly 3,604 feet from the floor of the Valley. PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
[click to enlarge]
El Capitan, guardian of Yosemite, rises abruptly 3,604 feet from the floor of the Valley


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