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Miwok Myths by Edward Winslow Gifford

Stories by Thomas Williams


“I am going to visit my father,” said young Valley Quail, “I am going up the mountain to visit my father. Give me my father’s ‘poison'. His father’s “poison” consisted of yellowjackets and other stinging insects, which he kept in a bag. “I am going up the up the mountain,” said young Quail.

He tried his father’s poison. He said to himself, “I will try it and now my father uses it.” That is what young Quail said when he saw the deer. He saw a large band of deer. Then he opened his bag of yellowjackets. When he opened it, they flew to the deer and killed them. He killed all of the deer in his father’s poison.

“No one will bother me,” said young Quail. Then he went up the mountains through the deep canyons and forests.

He found Coyote. Coyote saw him and asked him what he carried in the bag. He told Coyote that he cancel. His father’s poison. Coyote did not believe him and told young Quail that he was too small to carry poison. “1 think you have something good to eat in that bag,” said Coyote. Young Quail retorted, “No, I have nothing good to eat. If I open this bag, you will die. I am taking this poison to my father.”

Coyote was not satisfied, but begged young Quail to open the bag. Quail became angry and gave Coyote the bag, telling him to open it and eat what he found within. When Coyote opened it, the yellowjackets flew out and stung him to death. Then young Quail called his poison back into the bag. All of the yellowjackets entered the bag at his request. He proceeded upon his way.

Next he met a bear. He said to himself, “I do not know what I am going to do with that bear. I do not think my poison will kill him. I will try it, anyhow.” So saying, he opened the bag. The yellowjackets flew to the bear, to a number of bears under the trees. The yellowjackets killed all of the bears. Then young Quail recalled them.

He did not know which way to go after the yellowjackets had returned to the bag. He was very tired, but he said, “I will continue on my way.” Proceeding farther, he found a mountain lion in a large tree. He did not know what to do when he saw the mountain lion. He said, “Mountain lion will eat me, I fear.” Then he sat on a rock. He feared to pass the tree in which the mountain lion sat. He said to himself, “I think I shall not reach my father’s place. I fear this mountain lion will kill me. I do not know what to do. I think that this animal in the tree is the one my father has always warned me about. I think this is a mountain lion, the king that slaps people. I fear that I cannot kill him, but I will try. “He turned loose his yellowjackets. They killed the mountain lion. After he had killed the mountain lion, he recalled his yellowjackets.

“That is the way I will do to anything that attempts to hurt me.” Then he proceeded upon his way. He found a spring between two large rocks. Just as he stooped to drink he saw a mountain sheep. He said to himself, “Mountain sheep is all that my father eats. I think that I will try to kill this one.” Then he opened his bag. The yellowjackets flew to the mountain sheep and stung him to death. He went over to look at the mountain sheep after he had killed him. The mountain sheep, being dead, was unable to attack him. Young Quail called his yellowjackets into the bag and went on his way.

After he had gone a distance, he found a rattlesnake. “I do not know what I shall do with him,” said young Quail. “I think this is rattlesnake, of which my father has told me. At any rate, I will try to kill him.” So saying he opened the bag and sent the yellowjackets to the rattlesnake. After they had killed the rattlesnake, he called them back, called them back.

After his yellowjackets had re-entered the bag, he journeyed until he came to the immense rattlesnake Hamaua. “I do not know what I shall do now. Hamaua reaches almost a quarter of the distance to my father’s place. I fear he will kill me here. I do not know what to do. I do not know what I shall do. I will try to kill him with my father’s poison. Then he released the yellowjackets. They killed Hamaua. After he killed Hamaua, he said, “My father always takes the skin of Hamaua. I think I will take it too.” He skinned Hamaua. After he had taken the skin, he called the yellowjackets back.

Then he continued up the mountain. He saw another mountain sheep much larger than the one which he had already killed. “I think I will kill that one. I think I will try to kill him. That is a mountain sheep, for which my father always searches.”

He next met a band of black bears. He became so frightened that he climbed a tree. “I will try to kill them,” he said, “but I fear that I cannot.” Then he opened his bag and released his yellowjackets. They pursued the bears and made them run. Then they killed all of the bears. After they had killed the bears, he called them back into the bag and then continued up the mountain.

At last he arrived at his father’s house. His father asked, “Who brought you?” Young Quail replied, “I came alone. I felt lonely below. I worried every day about you.”

His father asked him if he had not seen something coming up the road, Young Quail replied, “I killed many things.” His father asked him if he had seen Hamaua. Then his father asked him if he had skinned Hamaua. He told his father that he had. Young Quail said, “You told me to test those yellowjackets, when I came to see you. I tried them and killed that everything that I saw. I brought this poison to you.

His father asked him what he proposed to do with the yellowjackets, asked him if he wanted them for himself. “If you want me to try my poison, you may do so,” his father said. Young Quail then proceeded up the mountain beyond his father’s home. He found a deer and killed it in the usual way. His father watched him. At first his father said, “I do not know how he will do it.” Then Young Quail turned loose his yellowjackets. His father laughed and asked him if that was what he did as he came up the road. “Who taught you?” asked his father. “How do you recall the yellowjackets?” Young Quail replied, “I recall them. Nobody taught me. I learned by myself. You did not teach me.”

Then his father stopped questioning him and told him that he might do whatever he pleased. Young Quail replied, “I will return tomorrow the same way that I came. I just came up to see how you were faring, so that I might stop worrying about you.” His father said, “All right, you may return, but I would rather keep you hen, with me. However, I suppose you like it better below. All right, you may go tomorrow.” Young Quail said, “But I will return to see you. I will go back the same way. I shall arrive home sometime if nothing happens to me on the way.”

[The story-teller said that young Quail started from his camp on the west side of the San Joaquin River and visited his father, who lived high in the Sierra Nevada.]

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