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Miwok Myths by Edward Winslow Gifford

Stories by Thomas Williams


The Black Geese asked the White Geese to help them. They gathered in the assembly house.

Lizard lay on top of the rock and looked into the valley. It was then that he found the fire. He saw the flames issuing from the smoke hole in the top of a large assembly house. Then Lizard told Coyote that he saw the fire below. Coyote doubted him. Lizard said, “Come up here on top of the rock, look below, and you will see sparks coming from the assembly house.” Coyote asked, “Where do you see the fire? I see no fire in that direction.” Then Lizard said, “Watch. There goes another spark.” Coyote said to the Geese, “It is strange that we cannot see it. He saw it again.” The Geese did not believe him. They said that he was deceiving them.

After sundown Coyote saw the fire, entered the assembly house, and told everyone about it. Flute-player (Mouse) said nothing. The people told Flute-player to go out and look at the fire. Flute-player merely said, “Yes.” He took with him four flutes, but told no one when he left. He played two flutes while he journeyed into the valley. When he arrived at the assembly house in the valley, he did not know how to enter. Bear, Rattlesnake, and Mountain Lion guarded the door, so that none might enter. Flute-player climbed on top of the assembly house. There he found Eagle with his wing over the smoke hole, so that none might enter. Eagle, however, slept. Flute-player was puzzled, for he did not know how to enter the house undetected. Finally, he cut two feathers from Eagle’s wing and thereby entered.

When he descended into the assembly house, he found the people asleep. He went to the fire and filled two of his flutes with coals. Again he visited the fire, filling two more. He filled four flutes with the fire.

Then he started for home. All of the people awoke and looked for him. They ran all over the hills, but did not find him. Eagle sent in pursuit Wind, then Rain, then Hail. Hail caught flute-player. Flute-player, however, placed his flutes in the water before Hail caught him. He told Hail that he had nothing. He said that he would take no one’s fire. Hail believed him and departed.

Flute-player then recovered his flutes and played upon them after Hail departed. He still had his fire. He said to himself, “I have my fire.”

Finally, he arrived at home, arrived with his fire in the four flutes. Coyote came down the mountains to search for him, for he feared that someone had killed Flute-player. Flute-player sent Coyote back ahead of him to tell the people that he was returning with the fire. Coyote ran back and told the people to gather wood, told them that Flute-player was bringing the fire.

Flute-player proceeded slowly, so that Coyote, becoming impatient, went to meet him again. He met him when he was nearly home.

Upon his arrival, Flute-player climbed on top of the assembly house. Then he played his flute. Everyone inside was cold. When Flute-player finished playing one flute he dropped coals through the smoke hole into the assembly house. Then he started to play a second flute. Before he finished play the second one, Coyote interrupted him by shouting. Coyote told Flute-player to continue playing.

The people in the middle received the fire; the others received but little fire—the north people, the south people, the east people, and the west people. The west people did not talk very distinctly, because they received so little fire; the east people the same; the north people the same; the south people the same. Those who were close to the fire talked distinctly. Coyote, who stayed at the door, received but little fire. He tried to talk, but shouted instead.

The people in the middle cooked their food. The, others ate theirs raw. They talked different languages from the people in the middle. The west people talked differently; the south people talked differently; the north people talked differently; the east people talked differently. The middle people talked correctly, for they were around the fire. The people who were around the fire cooked their food. The people in the middle obtained the acorns and the manzanita. The others had nothing to eat. That which they ate was always raw. It was Coyote’s fault, that the others talked incorrectly. If Coyote had said nothing, all would have received fire. He spoiled the scheme, when he shouted at Flute-player, for Flute-player stopped. He stopped before he had played the fourth flute and before he had distributed all of the fire.

All of those who received the fire talked the same language. All of those who were close to the fire had the same language. Some received the fire. Some did not receive it. That is why they did not speak the same language.

If Lizard had not found the fire, all would have died. He found the fire and saved the people. Lizard found the fire below. Flute-player went below to steal the fire to save the people from death. Coyote shouted to Flute-player to drop one coal in front of him. Then he dropped the coal and one went without fire. All of the middle people understand each other. The others do not hear one another very plainly. They would all have talked correctly, if they had all received fire. The people fought each other, because they did not understand each other’s speech.

[The assembly house of the valley people was upon the west side of the San Joaquin River. The assembly house of the Geese was at Goodwin’s Ranch, near Montezuma, Tuolumne County.]

Next: 2. Bear and the FawnsIndex

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management