Myths & Legends


Navajo: Wanderings of the Jicarillas

Jicarilla Apache refers to the members of the Jicarilla Apache Nation currently living in New Mexico and speaking a Southern Athabaskan language. Referred to as “Apache” by the Spanish explorers, the people and the legends here explored are properly Navajo.

The wanderings of the people prior to finding their home is recounted in the legend that follows.

The source for this legend is the work “The North American Indian, Being A Series Of Volumes Picturing And Describing The Indians Of The United States And Alaska,” Written, Illustrated, And Published By Edward S. Curtis, Edited By Frederick Webb Hodge with a Foreword By Theodore Roosevelt.
— Orly

During the wanderings of the people a girl, Yólkai Ĕstsán, became separated from the rest. She would lie all day on a hillside in the sunshine, and the Sun saw that no harm came to her. By and by she bore a child, whose father was Chunnaái, the Sun, and the child was Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ. Another girl, Ĕstsán Nátlĕshĭn, was fond of lying asleep under a rock, and by the trickling water that fell upon her Kobadjischínĭ was begotten.

The two women and their sons lived together. To amuse the children the mothers made them a wheel, but cautioned them never to roll it toward the north. Whenever he heard the sound of water, Kobadjischínĭ, to seek its source, would leap straight into any torrent, and his mother hoped that the toy would deter him from falling into such danger. One day the two boys became curious to know what was in the north, so they rolled the wheel in that direction. It went straight on for a long time, then came to a ladder leading up the steep side of a rock, up which it rolled. The boys stopped in astonishment. The wheel rolled on down into a cave, where lived Yíyĕ, a monster Owl, who ate human flesh. A young girl, Yíyĕ's slave, was sent up to see who was outside. "Two young, fine-looking boys," she reported. Yíyĕ sent her to tell them to come into the cave, but this they refused to do, even when he urged them himself, saying, "No! Give us our wheel!" But at last the boys yielded to Yíyĕ's persuasions and proceeded up the ladder and down into the cave. Owl built a fire under a huge pot of water, seized the boys, and put them into it. He boiled them a long time, then lifted them out with a stick. They stood up and said, "Why do you not give us our wheel and let us go home?" Then Yíyĕ became angry and thrust them into a great heap of hot ashes and built a fresh fire over them. After a long time he took them out, but they were still unharmed, and only asked, "Why do you not give us our wheel?" At this Owl became very angry and, seizing them, cut them into small pieces, put them into the pot, and boiled them again; but when he took them out they were alive and whole. Owl said not a word, but gave them their wheel and motioned them to go. All this time the mothers of the two boys knew from the Sun where they were, and by a burning stick could tell when their children were in danger; for if they were safe the flame burned high, but if in danger it burned low.

Because there were so many monsters on the earth that destroyed people, the mothers of Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ and Kobadjischínĭ sent them on a visit to Chunnaái to learn how to kill these evil beings. Chunnaái sent down the rainbow, and up this the two boys climbed and went into the house of the Sun. For Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ the Sun made a complete suit of turquoise—shirt, leggings, and moccasins—and in his hair fastened a long eagle feather. He gave him also huge arrows made of pine trees pointed with flint of white, blue, yellow, and all-colors, and a bow made of a part of the rainbow. To Kobadjischínĭ he gave a suit of flint of many colors and a long whip with which to drive away sickness, and in his hair he tied a downy eagle feather. Then he said to Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ, "Shoot down and see if you can hit that tree." So Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ shot, and the arrow shattered the tree like a bolt of lightning.

After his return from the home of the Sun, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ and his mother, Yólkai Ĕstsán, went over to the pueblo of Taos, where in a lake lived a monster Turtle which had destroyed many people by dragging them beneath the water. Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ went into the village and asked for food, but the people refused him, not knowing who he was. In the night he sent worms into their corn, spoiling it all; and in the morning, when they discovered it, they were filled with fear, and said:

"You must be some great man. In the west is a large lake, and in it a being which has dragged many of our people into the water. Will you go and kill it?"

"I will kill it," replied Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ, "but first you must give me as much turquoise as I now have in my suit."

This they did, and Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ asked Chunnaái how he should kill this creature. His father gave him four wheels—white, blue, yellow, and all-colors. Then from the east he threw the white one into the middle of the lake, and the water receded a little. From the south he threw the blue wheel, from the west the yellow, from the north the wheel of all-colors, and each time the water decreased a little more, until a ladder leading downward was exposed. From the centre in four directions led rows of large stones, upon which Turtle walked in going to his house. Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ went out on one of these stone-trails and down the ladder. At the bottom he found two mountain lions, which he quieted by giving them eagle feathers. He went through a long passage and successively met two fierce bears, two snakes, and two spotted wildcats, but each in turn was pacified with eagle feathers. At the end of the passage was a door, which Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ burst open, coming suddenly upon the great Turtle. The monster tried in vain to seize and kill him, but Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ took out his fire-stick, and said:

"Release the people you have here, or I will destroy you with my fire!"

"I have only one," said Turtle, "and you may take him."

When the one came out Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ asked him if there were any more captives in the house, and the man said there were many more. So again he threatened Turtle, and other prisoners were released; but these were not all, and he compelled Turtle to free still more. On the fourth demand, however, the monster refused to give up any more of his prisoners, whereupon Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ killed him with his fire and smoke. Then going through the rooms he released all the people he found. There were two young Turtles, whom he told not to grow any larger, nor to kill people or animals; and small Turtles yet inhabit the land.

Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ heard that to the east of the mountains of the Haísndayĭn lived Tzĕs, the enormous Elk, in the midst of a great high plain, which no one could approach unseen. So he journeyed thither, thinking to ascend the eastern side; but Elk saw him, and he went no closer. Then he tried from the south, the west, and the north, but always Elk saw him. At the northern side of the plain Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ heard someone ask, "What are you doing here?"

It was Maínĕlin, the Gopher; and when he learned what Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ wished to do, he promised his help. So he burrowed into the ground and came up under the spot where Elk was lying, and just behind the shoulder gnawed away the thick hair that protected the monster's heart. Elk felt the gnawing, and cried out, "Who is doing that?"

Gopher answered, "I need fur to make a nest for my little children."

So Elk became quieted and Gopher went back into the ground, and from the centre dug holes in four directions to the edge of the plain. Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ then entered one from the east, and coming to the centre looked up and saw Elk's heart beating. Drawing his flint-pointed arrow to the head, he shot the monster through the heart, then quickly dropped down into Gopher's burrow beneath four stones which, one below the other, stopped the vertical channel. But first he made with his fire-stick a dense white smoke at the end of the burrow that ran to the east. Elk leaped down into the opening and rushed in the direction of the smoke, seeking his enemy. Then in his rage he went to the centre, but in the meantime Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ had made a cloud of blue smoke at the south, so Elk ran thither. Successively Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ made yellow smoke at the west and all-color smoke at the north, each time at the mouth of the burrow, and each time Elk ran in the direction of the newly made smoke. All the time blood was pouring from the wound in Tzĕs' heart. At last he espied the hole blocked with four stone doors of white, blue, yellow, and all-colors, which led straight down from the floor of the passage. With his great antlers the monster broke through the first three doors, but at the fourth he fell dead. Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ divided the meat with Gopher, and taking the greater portion on his back, for by this time he was grown large and strong, he started back to his mother, who was overjoyed by his safe arrival and because he had brought such a quantity of meat. Near the village he stopped to rest, and the weight of himself and of Elk's body flattened the top of the hill on which he sat. Where Elk's blood soaked into the ground the soil is still red.

From his father, Chunnaái, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ had knowledge of another evil thing and how to destroy it. Cutting off a piece of Elk's intestine, he filled it with blood and fastened it about his waist. Then he told his mother to strip off the hide and while it was still soft sew it into a suit that would cover him completely. When the suit was finished he put it on, hid Elk's antlers under it, and departed westward in search of Itsá, the Eagle, who every day killed a man. When Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ approached the home of Eagle the latter swooped down from his high rock and four times tried to seize him, but could not fasten his talons in the hardened hide. At the fourth attempt Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ allowed Eagle to take hold of his suit in the front, whereupon the bird carried him up and up, and from a tremendous height dropped him upon the sharp rocks. Though unhurt, to deceive Eagle he tore open the piece of intestine, allowing the blood to gush out upon the rock. Itsá told his two children to go and eat, but when they drew near Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ made a sound, "Sh!" and they stopped in fright. Again they came near and again heard the sound "Sh!" So the Eaglets went to their father, perched high on the point of the rock, and said:

"That body is not dead, it makes a noise 'Sh!'"

"Never mind that; go and eat!" commanded the parent Eagle, who then flew away for his day's hunting.

When Itsá was gone, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ arose, took off the elk-skin suit, and addressed the frightened Eagle children:

"In what weather does your father come home?"

"In a great storm of thunder and lightning," they answered.

"And in what weather does your mother come home?"

"When all the sky is clouded and a slow rain falls."

Presently a great storm arose, and the Eaglets exclaimed, "Our father is coming!" Soon the Eagle came rushing through the air, and from afar Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ heard wailing, for Eagle had a man in his talons. From far aloft, as was his wont, he dropped the man upon the rocks. Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ took up one of Elk's antlers and just as the great bird was alighting on his perch hurled it at him, striking him on the head. Listening, he heard the body drop upon the rocks far below. Then a slow rain began to fall, and the Eaglets cried, "Our mother is coming!" Soon the mother Eagle came. She too had a man in her talons, and with the other horn Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ killed her. Then he warned the Eagle children that they must not grow any larger, or ever attempt to carry away people; and they promised to be content with hunting animals.

But Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ found that there was no way to get down from the rock, for it was steep and very high, so high that it made him dizzy to look over the edge. Chunnaái told him to wait there, for he would send someone to bring him down safely. At last Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ saw somebody below, who proved to be Bat.

"Come, help me down!" he called.

Bat came up, flying round and round the rock. On his back was a basket, supported from his shoulders by two cords that looked like Spider's thread.

"That will not hold me!" exclaimed Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ.

"But it will," answered Bat; "it will hold the biggest of mountain sheep!" And to prove the truth of his assertion he filled the basket with stones and jumped up and down, and the threads held. Then Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ was satisfied and got in, and Bat began the descent. "Don't open your eyes!" he commanded. After a long time, feeling that they must be near the bottom, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ opened his eyes, but the sight made him dizzy, and he almost fell out of the basket. Bat became angry at this, for the lurch almost threw him from the rock. At last, however, they reached the ground in safety.

There they dragged the bodies of the two great Eagles together, plucked them, and filled Bat's basket with the feathers, which Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ wished to take home. "Don't go in the low places," he advised Bat, as the latter started on ahead. But Bat forgot, and because the walking was easier went across the low places, where the birds stole all the feathers for their nests; so he had to return and fill the basket again. These he carried safely to Yólkai Ĕstsán, who gave many of them to the people of the village.

From Chunnaái, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ learned of one more monster on the earth, a huge Rolling Stone, which lived in the south near the pueblo of Picuris; so he and his mother went southward. They stopped in a cañon through which Rolling Stone often passed on its way to and from the village, and by and by it came crashing along, destroying everything in its path. Just as it passed, Nayé̆nayĕzganĭ shot with one of his great flint-pointed arrows and shattered it, as he had shattered the tree when Chunnaái first gave him his weapons; and the ground in that spot is still red from the blood that flowed from Rolling Stone's heart.




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