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


The Legend of Tu-tok-a-nu-la and Tis-sa-ack

If you look closely upon the massive face of El Capitan, you will see there the fancied likeness of a man, in flowing robes, hastening westward. The Indians know him as Tu-tok-a-nu-la, and there is woven about him the following legend:

When the Great Spirit first made Ah-wah-nee, now known as Yosemite, and led into it the children of the sun, he placed the great god Tu-tok-a-nu-la on his granite tower as guardian of the Valley, to watch over them and care for them.

Tu-tok-a-nu-la it was who called upon the Great Spirit to bring rains when they were needed to ripen the acorns and make fat the tender grass roots. The deer he would drive from the thickets that the hunters might bring home venison to their women. The streams he kept filled that the-fish might abound there. He was beloved of all the children of Ah-wah-nee, for he brought happiness and prosperity to the Valley.

Then, one morning at dawn, he heard a voice on the breeze, calling to him in tones more sweet than the ripple of the waters. “Tu-tok-a-nu-la!”

And as he looked in wonder, he saw, for one fleeting moment, the form of a beautiful maiden, not like the dark children of Ah-wah-nee but of great radiance and fairness, with eyes blue as the mountain lakes and hair golden as sunlight. Eagerly he reached out to her, but she vanished in a snowy mist, and he knew her to be Tis-sa-ack, who dwelt upon Half Dome.

From that day forward he could think of nothing else but his love for her. As he roamed the mountain peaks and the forests, in search of her, neglect and desolation fell upon Ah-wah-nee. In vain did his people call to him, imploring him to bring rain to revive the parching earth. The streams shriveled up and the fishermen returned empty-handed. No longer did the deer come from the mountains, and sickness and starvation came to the Ah-wah-nee-chees.

Still Tu-tok-a-nu-la heeded them not. He was consumed only with a desire to see again his vision of Tis-sa-ack. But she had

Azalea time along the Merced River, with El Capitan in the background. PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
[click to enlarge]
Azalea time along the Merced River, with El Capitan in the background
vanished, and when she returned and saw the distress that Tu-tok-a-nu-la’s love of her had brought upon his people, her heart was heavy and she called upon the Great Spirit to bring rain to Ah-wah-nee.

At once there came an answer to her prayer, for with a mighty crash the Great Spirit split in two the throne rock upon which she had stood, and the water flowed from its side, filling the streams and the valley. And Tis-sa-ack’s tears flowed down the cleft rock, leaving at its foot a little lake, so that the streams might ever be replenished.

Tis-sa-ack was banished forever into the mists, but as she departed, white down from her breast fell beside the water, where it can be seen to this day in the form of countless white violets.

Tu-tok-a-nu-la returned at last from his vain searchings, and, with his hunting knife, he carved his form upon El Capitan, to show the people he had gone into the West again, always seeking his vanished Tis-sa-ack. And upon the tip of the rock he carved the face of a stern warrior, to guard, in his absence, the Gates of Ah-wah-nee.

Occasionally, it is said, just as the last rays of the sun creep over the crest of Half Dome, Tis-sa-ack comes back, wreathed in a cloud, to gaze once more into the valley she loved so well, and to make sure that the children of Ah-wah-nee still live in peace and plenty.

A Jeffrey Pine growing from the rock of Sentinel Dome, 8,117 feet above sea level. PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
[click to enlarge]
A Jeffrey Pine growing from the rock of Sentinel Dome, 8,117 feet above sea level


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