Myths & Legends



Ute: Ta-vwots has a Fight with the Sun

Ute people are Native Americans of the Ute tribe and culture. They are now living primarily in Utah and Colorado. The State of Utah is named after them.

The fable that follows is cited in First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1879-1880 by J. W. Powell.

The fable has many morals, including:

“You are buried in the hole which you dug for yourself.”

“When you go to war every one you meet is an enemy; kill all.”

“You were caught with your own chaff.”

“Don’t get so anxious that you kill yourself.”

“You are bottled in your own jugs.”

“He is dead in his own den.”

“That is a blow of your own seeking.
— Orly

Ta-vwots´, the little rabbit, was wont to lie with his back to the sun when he slept. One day he thus slept in camp while his children played around him. After a time they saw that his back was smoking, and they cried out, “What is the matter with your back, father?” Startled from his sleep, he demanded to know the cause of the uproar. “Your back is covered with sores and full of holes,” they replied. Then Ta-vwots´ was very angry, for he knew that Ta´-vĭ, the sun, had burned him; and he sat down by the fire for a long time in solemn mood, pondering on the injury and insult he had received. At last rising to his feet, he said, “My children I must go and make war upon Ta´-vĭ.” And straightway he departed.

Now his camp was in the valley of the Mo-a-pa. On his journey he came to a hill, and standing on its summit he saw in a valley to the east a beautiful stretch of verdure, and he greatly marveled at the sight and desired to know what it was. On going down to the valley he found a corn-field, something he had never before seen, and the ears were ready for roasting. When he examined them, he saw that they were covered with beautiful hair, and he was much astonished. Then he opened the husk and found within soft white grains of corn, which he tasted. Then he knew that it was corn and good to eat. Plucking his arms full he carried them away, roasted them on a fire, and ate until he was filled.

Now, when he had done all this, he reflected that he had been stealing, and he was afraid; so he dug a hole in which to hide himself.

Cĭn-au´-äv was the owner of this field, and when he walked through and saw that his corn had been stolen, he was exceedingly wroth, and said, “I will slay this thief Ta-vwots´; I will kill him, I will kill him.” And straightway he called his warriors to him and made search for the thief, but could not find him, for he was hid in the ground. After a long time they discovered the hole and tried to shoot Ta-vwots´ as he was standing in the entrance, but he blew their arrows back. This made Cĭn-au´-äv’s people very angry and they shot many arrows, but Ta-vwots´’ breath was a warder against them all. Then, with one accord, they ran to snatch him up with their hands, but, all in confusion, they only caught each others fists, for with agile steps Ta-vwots´ dodged into his retreat. Then they began to dig, and said they would drag him out. And they labored with great energy, all the time taunting him with shouts and jeers. But Ta-vwots´ had a secret passage from the main chamber of his retreat which opened by a hole above the rock overhanging the entrance where they were at work.

When they had proceeded with this digging until they were quite under ground, Ta-vwots´, standing on the rock above, hurled the magical ball which he was accustomed to carry with him, and striking the ground above the diggers, it caved the earth in, and they were all buried. “Aha,” said he, “why do you wish to hinder me on my way to kill the Sun? A´-nier ti-tĭk´-a-nûmp kwaik-ai´-gar” (fighting is my eating tool I say; that’s so!), and he proceeded on his way musing. “I have started out to kill; vengeance is my work; every one I meet will be an enemy. It is well; no one shall escape my wrath.”

The next day he saw two men making arrow-heads of hot rocks, and drawing near he observed their work for a time from a position where he could not be seen. Then stepping forth, he said: “Let me help you”; and when the rocks were on the fire again and were hot to redness he said: “Hot rocks will not burn me.” And they laughed at him. “May be you would have us believe that you are a ghost?” “I am not a ghost,” said he, “but I am a better man than you are. Hold me on these hot rocks, and if I do not burn you must let me do the same to you.” To this they readily agreed, and when they had tried to burn him on the rocks, with his magic breath he kept them away at a distance so slight they could not see but that the rocks did really touch him. When they perceived that he was not burned they were greatly amazed and trembled with fear. But having made the promise that he should treat them in like manner, they submitted themselves to the torture, and the hot rocks burned them until with great cries they struggled to get free, but unrelenting Ta-vwots´ held them until the rocks had burned through their flesh into their entrails, and so they died. “Aha,” said Ta-vwots´, “lie there until you can get up again. I am on my way to kill the Sun. A´-nier ti-tĭk´-a-nûmp kwaik-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-whoop he proceeded on his way.

The next day he came to where two women were gathering berries in baskets, and when he sat down they brought him some of the fruit and placed it before him. He saw there were many leaves and thorns among the berries, and he said, “Blow these leaves and thorns into my eyes,” and they did so, hoping to blind him; but with his magic breath he kept them away, so that they did not hurt him.

Then the women averred that he was a ghost. “I am no ghost,” said he, “but a common person; do you not know that leaves and thorns cannot hurt the eye? Let me show you;” and they consented and were made blind. Then Ta-vwots´ slew them with his pa-rûm´-o-kwi. “Aha,” said he, “you are caught with your own chaff. I am on my way to kill the Sun. This is good practice. I must learn how. A´-nier ti-tĭk´-a-nûmp kwaik-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-whoop he proceeded on his way.

The next day he saw some women standing on the Hurricane Cliff, and as he approached he heard them say to each other that they would roll rocks down upon his head and kill him as he passed; and drawing near he pretended to be eating something, and enjoying it with great gusto; so they asked him what it was, and he said it was something very sweet, and they begged that they might be allowed to taste of it also. “I will throw it up to you,” said he; “come to the brink and catch it.” When they had done so, he threw it up so that they could not quite reach it, and he threw it in this way many times, until, in their eagerness to secure it, they all crowded too near the brink, fell, and were killed. “Aha,” said he, “you were killed by your own eagerness. I am on my way to kill the Sun. A´-nier ti-tĭk´-a-nûmp kaiwk-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-whoop he passed on.

The following day he saw two women fashioning water-jugs, which are made of willow-ware like baskets and afterwards lined with pitch. When afar off he could hear them converse, for he had a wonderful ear. “Here comes that bad Ta-vwots´,” said they; “how shall we destroy him?” When he came near, he said, “What was that you were saying when I came up?” “Oh, we were only saying, ‘here comes our grandson,’” said they. “Is that all?” replied Ta-vwots´, and looking around, he said, “Let me get into your water-jug”; and they allowed him to do so. “Now braid the neck.” This they did, making the neck very small; then they laughed with great glee, for they supposed he was entrapped. But with his magic breath he burst the jug, and stood up before them; and they exclaimed, “You must be a ghost!” but he answered, “I am no ghost. Do you not know that jugs were made to hold water, but cannot hold men and women?” At this they wondered greatly, and said he was wise. Then he proposed to put them in jugs in the same manner, in order to demonstrate to them the truth of what he had said; and they consented. When he had made the necks of the jugs and filled them with pitch, he said, “Now, jump out,” but they could not. It was now his turn to deride; so he rolled them about and laughed greatly, while their half-stifled screams rent the air. When he had sported with them in this way until he was tired, he killed them with his magical ball. “Aha,” said he, “you are bottled in your own jugs. I am on my way to kill the Sun; in good time I shall learn how. A´-nier ti-tĭk´-a-nûmp kaiwk-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-hoop he passed on.

The next day he came upon Kwi´-ats, the bear, who was digging a hole in which to hide, for he had heard of the fame of Ta-vwots´, and was afraid. When the great slayer came to Kwi´-ats he said, “Don’t fear, my great friend; I am not the man from whom to hide. Could a little fellow like me kill so many people?” And the bear was assured. “Let me help you dig,” said Ta-vwot´, “that we may hide together, for I also am fleeing from the great destroyer.” So they made a den deep in the ground, with its entrance concealed by a great rock. Now, Ta-vwots´ secretly made a private passage from the den out to the side of the mountain, and when the work was completed the two went out together to the hill-top to watch for the coming of the enemy. Soon Ta-vwots´ pretended that he saw him coming, and they ran in great haste to the den. The little one outran the greater, and going into the den, hastened out again through his secret passage.

When Kwi´-ats entered he looked about, and not seeing his little friend he searched for him for some time, and still not finding him, he supposed that he must have passed him on the way, and went out again to see if he had stopped or been killed. By this time Ta-vwots´ had perched himself on the rock at the entrance of the den, and when the head of the bear protruded through the hole below he hurled his pa-rûm´-o-kwi and killed him. “Aha,” said Ta-vwots´, “I greatly feared this renowned warrior, but now he is dead in his own den. I am going to kill the Sun. A´-nier ti´-tĭk´-a´-nûmp kwaik-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-whoop he went on his way.

The next day he met Ku-mi´-a-pöts, the tarantula. Now this knowing personage had heard of the fame of Ta-vwots´, and determined to outwit him. He was possessed of a club with such properties that, although it was a deadly weapon when used against others, it could not be made to hurt himself, though wielded by a powerful arm.

As Ta-vwots´ came near, Ku-mi´-a-pöts complained of having a headache; moaning and groaning, he said there was an u-nu´-pĭts, or little evil spirit, in his head, and he asked Ta-vwots´ to take the club and beat it out. Ta-vwots´ obeyed, and struck with all his power, and wondered that Ku-mi´-a-pöts was not killed; but he urged Ta-vwots´ to strike harder. At last Ta-vwots´ understood the nature of the club, and guessed the wiles of Ku-mi´-a-pöts, and raising the weapon as if to strike again, he dexterously substituted his magic ball and slew him. “Aha,” said he, “that is a blow of your own seeking, Ku-mi´-a-pöts. I am on my way to kill the Sun; now I know that I can do it. A´-nier ti´-tĭk´-a´-nûmp kwaik-ai´-gar.” And sounding the war-whoop he went on his way.

The next day he came to a cliff which is the edge or boundary of the world on the east, where careless persons have fallen into unknown depths below. Now to come to the summit of this cliff it is necessary to climb a mountain, and Ta-vwots´ could see three gaps or notches in the mountain, and he went up into the one on the left; and he demanded to know of all the trees which where standing by of what use they were. Each one in turn praised its own qualities, the chief of which in every case was its value as fuel. Ta-vwots´ shook his head and went into the center gap and had another conversation with the trees, receiving the same answer. Finally he went into the third gap—that on the right. After he had questioned all the trees and bushes, he came at last to a little one called yu´-i-nump, which modestly said it had no use, that it was not even fit for fuel. “Good,” said Ta-vwots´, and under it he lay down to sleep.

When the dawn came into the sky Ta-vwots´ arose and stood on the brink overhanging the abyss from which the Sun was about to rise. The instant it appeared he hurled his pa-rûm´-o-kwi, and, striking it full in the face, shattered it into innumerable fragments, and these fragments were scattered over all the world and kindled a great conflagration. Ta-vwots´ ran and crept under the yu´-i-nump to obtain protection. At last the fire waxed very hot over all the world, and soon Ta-vwots began to suffer and tried to run away, but as he ran his toes were burned off, and then slowly, inch by inch, his legs, and then his body, so that he walked on his hands, and these were burned, and he walked on the stumps of his arms, and these were burned, until there was nothing left but his head. And now, having no other means of progression, his head rolled along the ground until his eyes, which were much swollen, burst by striking against a rock, and the tears gushed out in a great flood which spread out over all the land and extinguished the conflagration.

The Uinta Utes add something more to this story, namely, that the flood from his eyes bore out new seeds, which were scattered over all the world. The Ute name for seed is the same as for eye.

Those animals which are considered as the descendants of Ta-vwots´ are characterized by a brown patch back of the neck and shoulders, which is attributed to the singeing received by him in the great fire.

The following apothegms are derived from this story:

“You are buried in the hole which you dug for yourself.”

“When you go to war every one you meet is an enemy; kill all.”

“You were caught with your own chaff.”

“Don’t get so anxious that you kill yourself.”

“You are bottled in your own jugs.”

“He is dead in his own den.”

“That is a blow of your own seeking.”


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