Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 232


In the southern part of California, near the Arizona line, is the famous Death Valley—a tract of arid, alkaline plain hemmed in by steep mountains and lying below the level of the sea. For years it was believed that no human being could cross that desert and live, for horses sink to their knees in drifts of soda dust; there is no water, though the traveller requires much drink; and the heat is terrific. Animals that die in the neighborhood mummify, but do not decay, and it is surmised that the remains of many a thoughtless or ignorant prospector lie bleached in the plain. On the east side of Dead Mountain are points of whitened rock that at a distance look like sheeted figures, and these, the Indians say, are the ghosts of their brethren.

In the heart of this desert is said to be the ruin of a pueblo, or village, though the shape and size of it suggest that it was made for a few persons rather than for a tribe or family. Long ago, the tale runs, this place of horrors was a fair and fertile kingdom, ruled by a beautiful but capricious queen. She ordered her subjects to build her a mansion that should surpass those of her neighbors, the Aztecs, and they worked for years to make one worthy of her, dragging the stones and timbers for miles. Fearing lest age, accident, or illness should forbid her to see the ending of her dream, she ordered so many of her subjects to assist that her tribe was reduced to practical slavery.

In her haste and heartlessness she commanded her own daughter to join the bearers of burdens, and when the toilers flagged in step in the noonday heat she strode among them and lashed their naked backs. As royalty was sacred, they did not complain, but when she struck her daughter the girl turned, threw down her load of stone, and solemnly cursed her mother and her kingdom; then, overcome by heat and weariness, she sank to the earth and died. Vain the regrets and lamentations of the queen. The sun came out with blinding heat and light, vegetation withered, animals disappeared, streams and wells dried up, and at last the wretched woman gave up her life on a bed of fever, with no hand to soothe her dying moments, for her people, too, were dead. The palace, half-completed, stands in the midst of this desolation, and sometimes it seems to lift into view of those at a distance in the shifting mirage that plays along the horizon.


The vast ravine of Yo Semite (Grizzly Bear), formed by tearing apart the solid Sierras, is graced by many water-falls raining down the mile-high cliffs. The one called Bridal Veil has this tale attached to it. Centuries ago, in the shelter of this valley, lived Tutokanula and his tribe—a good hunter, he, a thoughtful saver of crops and game for winter, a wise chief, trusted and loved by his people. While hunting, one day, the tutelary spirit of the valley—the lovely Tisayac—revealed herself to him, and from that moment he knew no peace, nor did he care for the well-being of his people; for she was not as they were: her skin was white, her hair was golden, and her eyes like heaven; her speech was as a thrush-song and led him to her, but when he opened his arms she rose lighter than any bird and vanished in the sky.

Lacking his direction Yo Semite became a desert, and when Tisayac returned she wept to see the corn lands grown with bushes and bears rooting where the huts had been. On a mighty dome of rock she knelt and begged the Great Spirit to restore its virtue to the land. He did so, for, stooping from the sky, he spread new life of green on all the valley floor, and smiting the mountains he broke a channel for the pent-up meltings of the snows, and the water ran and leaped far down, pooling in a lake below and flowing off to gladden other land. The birds returned, the flowers sprang up, corn swayed in the breeze, and the people, coming back, gave the name of Tisayac to South Dome, where she had knelt.

Then came the chief home again, and, hearing that the spirit had appeared, was smitten with love more strong than ever. Climbing to the crest of a rock that spires three thousand feet above the valley, he carved his likeness there with his hunting-knife, so that his memory might live among his tribe. As he sat, tired with his work, at the foot of the Bridal Veil, he saw, with a rainbow arching around her, the form of Tisayac shining from the water. She smiled on him and beckoned. His quest was at an end. With a cry of joy he sprang into the fall and disappeared with Tisayac. Two rainbows quivered on the falling water, and the sun went down.


Old Governor Hermenegildo Salvatierra, of Presidio, California, sported only one eye—the left—because the other had been shot out by an Indian arrow. With his sound one he was gazing into the fire, on a windy afternoon in the rainy season, when a chunky man in a sou'wester was-ushered into his presence, and after announcing that he was no other than Captain Peleg Scudder, of the schooner General Court, from Salem, he was made welcome in a manner quite out of proportion in its warmth to the importance that such a disclosure would have for the every-day citizen.