Myths & Legends



Apache: The Man who visited the Sky with the Eagles

The White Mountain Apache are one of several Western Apache tribes, each of which has a different language, history, and culture despite being related. The account of their legends is the result of anthropological work done in and about 1910, recorded for the American Museum of Natural History, collected by Pliny Earle Goddard in Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History Vol. XXIV, Part II

Pliny Earle Goddard (November 24, 1869 – July 12, 1928) was an American linguist and ethnologist noted for his extensive documentation of the languages and cultures of the Athabaskan peoples of western North America. He played a major role in creating the academic infrastructure for American Indian linguistics and anthropology in North America.

The tale that follows is said to be the myth of a ceremony used to cure one who gets ill from eagle feathers when he uses them to put on his arrows.
— Orly

Long ago, there was a man who had a wife and two children, both boys. He went with Coyote on a hunting trip and camped near where they expected to secure game. He went out to hunt in the morning; and Coyote also went by himself and, as he was walking along, he came where there was an eagle's nest on a point of rock jutting out in the middle of a high cliff. There were young eagles in the nest.

Coyote returned to the camp and reported to the hunter that he had seen young eagles in a nest. Saying he wished some good feathers for feathering arrows, he asked the other man to lower him from the top of the cliff to the nest. When they had come to the place, Coyote asked the other man to allow himself to be lowered and to throw the feathers down for him. Coyote lowered him, asking if he had come to the young eagles. The reply was, “Not yet.” A little later, the same question was repeated and the answer this time was, “Yes.” Coyote then let the rope fall on the man saying, “Cousin, she who was your wife will be mine.”

The man then sat with the young eagles. He asked what sort of weather prevailed when their father returned. They replied that a “male” rain fell. Soon a “male” rain fell and the father of the young eagles flew back in the rain. When he came where the man was sitting with the young eagles, he asked who was there. The man replied that Coyote had lowered him and that he was hovering his children for him. The male bird told him he might remain there and flew off.

The man then asked the young birds in what sort of weather their mother came back. They said she returned when a “female” rain was falling. Soon a “female” rain fell and the eagle's wife returned. She asked the man who he was; he told her that Coyote had lowered him down there and that he was staying with her children. Now she told him he might remain there and departed.

The male bird came back accompanied by a “male” rain. He brought with him a water vessel made of turquoise and bade the man drink. He drank and the water was not exhausted although the vessel of turquoise was very small.

Accompanied by a “female” rain the female bird returned and perched nearby. She put down a horn vessel of boiled corn and invited the man to eat it. It was a small vessel, but it was not empty when he had finished his meal.

She flew away again and after four days the eagle people all assembled. They gave him an eagle shirt and instructed him to do as they did. He put on the shirt and flew a little way with it. He put on one shirt after another and flew farther and farther each time, four times. He was a man but he became an eagle.

“Where am I going?” he asked.

“Where the black mirage is located at the center of the sky, I go up.

In the shadow of his dark wings, I come.

“Where the blue mirage is located at the center of the sky, I go up.

In the shadow of his blue wings, I come.

“Where the yellow mirage is located at the center of the sky, I go up.

In the shadow of the yellow wings, I come.

“Where the white mirage is located at the center of the sky, I go up.

In the shadow of the white wings, I come,” he sang.

“Between the two who sit on the white sky, I go up. Where the white weeds tower up, white on the sky at its center, I go up,” he sang.

“Where the dark houses of the eagles project, I come,” he sang.

“Where the blue houses of eagles project, I go up.

“Where the red houses of the eagles project, I go up.

“Where the white houses of the eagles project, I go up,” he sang.

He lay down where there were no habitations. They asked him in vain to come inside the building, for soon the person with a skull that kills would come.

Saying he would remain there, he refused, and lay down. In the night, he heard the one with a skull that kills coming. He took up a stone and hit him with it as he walked by and killed him. He also killed the bees that had caused the eagles to die out by stinging them. He took the bees from their nests and killed them all. He killed, too, the wasps that lived in rocks, and all the yellow jackets. The tumble weeds, also, were killing the eagles by rolling on them. He beat these weeds with a stick and destroyed them.

He inquired of an old eagle woman where others were living. She told him of wood-rats which have many houses and bring back much material when they go abroad. He went where cactus was standing and when night came, lay down to sleep. He heard the sound of people shouting toward the east. They were saying, “Down here.” They were chasing an insect called agetdlic. He killed it.

The stars were people and were coming to get arrows. Those who were running after agetdlic jumped over his body one by one as they reached it. The last one who was running succeeded in jumping over the body but fell back on it.

They removed the skin, cut up meat, tied it up, and put it on the man's back for him to carry. They warned him against looking back. He started away with it and carried it until he came to the top of a hill. Wondering why he had been told not to look back, he did so and fell over backward. He went to the camp of the eagles and told them his load was on the hill. They went to get the load and brought it to the camp. There was a big pile of the meat which they brought back. “This was what he meant,” they said. It was sunset by the time they brought the meat back.

“The man is a good helper,” they said. “He has killed for us all those who used to kill us.” The man then said he was going home, and the eagle people told him he might do so. They told him, though, that if he was afraid four times to fly down, that he could not go down. He was afraid the fourth time and came back saying that he would start home again on the fourth day.

They went with him to the place where the trail came up. He was afraid three times, but when it was to be the fourth time he flew down.

“Where the white mirage is located in the center of the sky he rested; where the yellow house stands, resting in its shadow he sat down.

“The blue house, standing at the center of the sky; resting in the shade he sat down again.

“The black house, standing at the center of the sky; resting in its shade he sat down again.”

From there he flew down and lit on the earth. He alighted on a tree near which sat the Coyote who had lowered him. He was saying he would shoot the eagle there and get feathers to fix his arrow's. When Coyote tried to steal up close under him the eagle flew away to his house and became a man again. Those, who used to be his children had been renamed, “They grew up by eating the neck.” Coyote had punched their eyes out. “He did it with an awl,” they told their father.

When he came back from hunting, his two children had been all right. He heard him bring his load as he came back. He was saying, “Raised-with-neck-meat, come and meet me.” “Do not go there,” he told his sons. Coyote kept shouting as he came. He brought the load there and threw it down. He called out. “Good, Cousin. You have come back? I took good care of your children.”

The man who had been with the eagles then told his wife to put four stones on the fire. She put them on the fire to heat. She put one here and one here. “Put two of the stones in your mouth and put your feet on these two,” he told Coyote. Coyote did as he was told to, but ran only a little way before his tail fell out. His wife had an ill odor from being with Coyote. He beat among Coyote's children with a stick.

He did not like living on the earth. He placed eagle plumes in a row which multiplied fourfold. With the aid of these the man became an eagle. The people living here came to have medicinemen with power from eagles. He was a man but became an eagle and is now in the sky above.



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