Myths and Legends of the Great Plains
MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE GREAT PLAINS
Osage (Wazhá zhe group)
Way beyond, once upon a time, some of the Osages lived in the sky. They did not know where they came from, so they went to Sun. They said, “From where did we come?”
He said, “You are my children.”
Then they wandered still further and came to Moon.
Moon said, “I am your mother; Sun is your father. You must go away from here. You must go down to the earth and live there.”
So they came to the earth but found it covered with water. They could not return up above. They wept, but no answer came to them. They floated about in the air, seeking help from some god; but they found none.
Now all the animals were with them. Elk was the finest and most stately. They all trusted Elk. So they called to Elk, “Help us.”
[Pg 20] Then Elk dropped into the water and began to sink. Then he called to the winds. The winds came from all sides and they blew until the waters went upwards, as in a mist. Now before that the winds had traveled in only two directions; they went from north to south and from south to north. But when Elk called to them, they came from the east, from the north, from the west, and from the south. They met at a central place; then they carried the waters upwards.
Now at first the people could see only the rocks. So they traveled on the rocky places. But nothing grew there and there was nothing to eat. Then the waters continued to vanish. At last the people could see the soft earth. When Elk saw the earth, he was so joyous, he rolled over and over on the earth. Then all the loose hairs clung to the soil. So the hairs grew, and from them sprang beans, corn, potatoes, and wild turnips, and at last all the grasses and trees.
Now the people wandered over the land. They found human footsteps. They followed them. They joined with them, and traveled with them in search of food.
The Hoga came down from above, and found the earth covered with water. They flew in every direction. They sought for gods who would help them [Pg 21] and drive the water away. They found not one. Then Elk came. He had a loud voice and he shouted to the four corners of the sky. The four winds came in answer. They blew upon the water and it vanished upwards, in a mist. Then the people could see the rocks. Now there was only a little space on the rocks. They knew they must have more room. The people were crowded. So they sent Muskrat down into the water. He did not come back. He was drowned. Then they sent Loon down. He did not come back. He was drowned. Then they sent Beaver down into the water. The water was too deep. Beaver was drowned. Then Crawfish dived into the water. He was gone a long time. When he came up there was a little mud in his claws. Crawfish was so tired he died. But the people took the mud out of his claws and made the land.
HOW THE WORLD WAS MADE
The earth is a great floating island in a sea of water. At each of the four corners there is a cord hanging down from the sky. The sky is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the cords will break, and then the earth will sink down into the ocean. Everything will be water again. All the people will be dead. The Indians are much afraid of this.
In the long time ago, when everything was all water, all the animals lived up above in Galun’lati, beyond the stone arch that made the sky. But it was very much crowded. All the animals wanted more room. The animals began to wonder what was below the water and at last Beaver’s grandchild, little Water Beetle, offered to go and find out. Water Beetle darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but it could find no place to rest. There was no land at all. Then Water Beetle dived to the bottom of the water and brought up some soft mud. This began to grow and to spread out on every side until it became the [Pg 23] island which we call the earth. Afterwards this earth was fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this.
At first the earth was flat and soft and wet. The animals were anxious to get down, and they sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but there was no place to alight; so the birds came back to Galun’lati. Then at last it seemed to be time again, so they sent out Buzzard; they told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father of all the buzzards we see now. He flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired; his wings began to flap and strike the ground. Wherever they struck the earth there was a valley; whenever the wings turned upwards again, there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day. [This was the original home, in North Carolina.]
When the earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark. Therefore they got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across the island from east to west, just overhead. It was too hot this way. Red Crawfish had his shell scorched a bright red, so that [Pg 24] his meat was spoiled. Therefore the Cherokees do not eat it.
Then the medicine men raised the sun a handsbreadth in the air, but it was still too hot. They raised it another time; and then another time; at last they had raised it seven handsbreadths so that it was just under the sky arch. Then it was right and they left it so. That is why the medicine men called the high place “the seventh height.” Every day the sun goes along under this arch on the under side; it returns at night on the upper side of the arch to its starting place.