DALA: Digital American Literature Anthology
Edited by Dr. Michael O'Conner, Millikin University
Version 1.3, 2015 Edition
Part A, Native Peoples, Native Influences

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Native American Selections

Unit 1: Native Peoples, Native Influences

Resources for Native Peoples, Native Influences

Editor’s note: Under any definition of American literature, the story of this nation’s heritage must begin with the native peoples who occupied this continent before the Europeans arrived on its eastern shores. Their interactions with these arriving explorers, conquerors, and colonists are inextricably bound and woven into the fabric of the evolving cultural inheritance and the very institutions that will become a part of the United States of America.

"The Creation Story of the Iroquois" Iroquois Nation/Six Nations

Central and Northern New York

from Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations (1827) by David Cusick

Cusick, David. Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nation. Lockport. N.Y.: Cooley & Lothrop, 1828.

electronic text from http://olivercowdery.com/texts/1827cusk.htm

A Tale of the Foundation of the Great Island, now North America.
The two Infants born, and the Creation of the Universe.

Among the ancients there were two worlds in existence. The lower world was in a great darkness; the possession of the great monster; but the upper world was inhabited by mankind; and there was a woman [Sky Woman] conceived and would have the twin born. When her travail drew near, and her situation seemed to produce a great distress on her mind, and she was induced by some of her relatives to lay herself on a mattress which was prepared, so as to gain refreshments to her wearied body; but while she was asleep the very place sunk down towards the dark world.

The monsters of the great water were alarmed at her appearance of descending to the lower world; in consequence, all the species of the creatures were immediately collected into where it was expected she would fall. When the monsters were assembled and they made consultation, one of them was appointed in haste to search the great deep, in order to procure some earth, if it could be obtained: accordingly the monster descends, which succeeds, and returns to the place. Another requisition was presented, who would be capable to secure the woman from the terrors of the great water, but none was able to comply except a large turtle came forward and made proposal to them to endure her lasting weight, which was accepted. The woman was yet descending from a great distance. The turtle executes upon the spot and a small quantity of earth was varnished on the back part of the turtle. The woman alights on the seat prepared, and she receives a satisfaction. While holding her, the turtle increased every moment, and become a considerable island of earth, and apparently covered with small bushes.

The woman remained in a state of unlimited darkness, and she was overtaken by her travail to which she was subject. While she was in the limits of distress one of the infants was moved by an evil opinion, and he was determined to pass out under the side of the parent's arm, and the other infant in vain endeavored to prevent his design. The woman was in a painful condition during the time of their disputes, and the infants entered the dark world by compulsion and their parent expired in a few moments. They had the power of sustenance without a nurse, and remained in the dark regions.

After a time the turtle increased to a great Island and the infants were grown up, and one of them possessed with a gentle disposition and named Enigorio. i. e, the good mind. The other youth possessed an insolence of character, and was named Enigonhahetgea, i. e. the bad mind. The good mind was not contented to remain in a dark situation, and he was anxious to create a great light in the dark world; but the bad mind was desirous that the world should remain in a natural state.

The good mind determined to prosecute his designs, and therefore commences the work of creation. At first he took the parent's head (the deceased) of which he created an orb, and established it in the center of the firmament, and because of very superior nature to bestow light to the new world, (now the sun) and again he took the remnant of the body and formed another orb, which was inferior to the light, (now the moon.) In the orb a cloud of legs appeared to prove it was the body of the good mind, (parent.) The former was to give light to the day, and the latter to the night; and he also created numerous spots of light, (now stars;) these were to regulate the days, nights, seasons, years. etc.

Whenever the light extended to the dark world the monsters were displeased and immediately concealed themselves in the deep places, lest they should be discovered by some human beings. The good mind continued the work of creation, and he formed numerous creeks and rivers on the Great Island and then created numerous species of animals of the smallest and greatest, to inhabit the forests, and fish of all kinds to inhabit the waters.

When he had made the universe he was in doubt respecting some being to possess the Great Island; and he found two images of the dust of the ground in his own likeness, male and female, and by his breathing into their nostrils he gave them the living souls. and named them Ea-gwe-howe, i e. a real people; and he gave the Great Island, all the animals of game for their maintenance: and he appointed thunder to water the earth by frequent rains; agreeable to the nature of the system; after this the Island became fruitful, and vegetation afforded the animals subsistence.

The bad mind, while his brother was making the universe, went throughout the Island and made numerous high mountains and falls of water, and great steeps, and also creates various reptiles which would be injurious to mankind; but the good mind restored the Island to its former condition. The bad mind proceeded further in his motives, and he made two images of clay in the form of mankind; but while he was giving them existence they became apes; and when he had not the power to create mankind he was envious against his brother; and again he made two of clay. The good mind discovered his brother's contrivances, and aided in giving them living souls, * (It is said these had the most knowledge of good and evil.)

The good mind now accomplishes the works of creation. Notwithstanding the imaginations of the bad mind were continually evil; and he attempted to enclose all the animals of game in the earth, so as to deprive them from mankind; but the good mind released them from confinement, (the animals were dispersed, and traces of them were made on the rocks near the cave where it was closed.) The good mind's experiences that his brother was at variance with the works of creation, and feels not disposed to favor any of his proceedings, but gives admonitions of his future state.

Afterwards the good mind requested his brother to accompany him, as he was proposed to inspect the game, etc., but when a short distance from their nominal residence, the bad mind became so unmanly that he could not conduct his brother any more. The bad mind offered a challenge to his brother and resolved that who gains the victory should govern the universe; and appointed a day to meet the contest. The good mind was willing to submit to the offer, and he enters the reconciliation with his brother; which he falsely mentions that by whipping with flags would destroy his temporal life; and he earnestly solicits his brother also to notice the instrument of death, which he manifestly relates by the use of deer horns, beating his body he would expire.

On the day appointed the engagement commenced, which lasted for two days, after pulling up the trees and mountains as the track of a terrible whirlwind, at last the good mind gains the victory by using the horns, as mentioned the instrument of death, which he succeeded in deceiving his brother, and he crushed him in the earth: and the last words uttered from the bad mind were, that he would have equal power over the souls of mankind after death; and he sinks down to eternal doom, and becomes the Evil Spirit. After this tumult the good mind repaired to the battle ground, and then visited the people and retires from the earth.

"The Story of Creation" Pima Nation

Central and Southern Arizona

from Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights: The Myths and Legends of the Pimas (1911) by J. William Lloyd

Lloyd, J. William. Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights: The Myths and Legends of the Pimas. Westfield N.J: The Lloyd Group, 1911.

electronic source: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38064

"The Story Of The Creation"

In the beginning there was no earth, no water--nothing. There was only a Person, Juh-wert-a-Mah-kai (The Doctor of the Earth).

He just floated, for there was no place for him to stand upon. There was no sun, no light, and he just floated about in the darkness, which was Darkness itself.

He wandered around in the nowhere till he thought he had wandered enough. Then he rubbed on his breast and rubbed out moah-haht-tack, that is perspiration, or greasy earth. This he rubbed out on the palm of his hand and held out. It tipped over three times, but the fourth time it staid straight in the middle of the air and there it remains now as the world.

The first bush he created was the greasewood bush.

And he made ants, little tiny ants, to live on that bush, on its gum which comes out of its stem.

But these little ants did not do any good, so be created white ants, and these worked and enlarged the earth; and they kept on increasing it, larger and larger, until at last it was big enough for himself to rest on.

Then he created a Person. He made him out of his eye, out of the shadow of his eyes, to assist him, to be like him, and to help him in creating trees and human beings and everything that was to be on the earth.

The name of this being was Noo-ee (the Buzzard).

Nooee was given all power, but he did not do the work he was created for. He did not care to help Juhwertamahkai, but let him go by himself.

And so the Doctor of the Earth himself created the mountains and everything that has seed and is good to eat. For if he had created human beings first they would have had nothing to live on.

But after making Nooee and before making the mountains and seed for food, Juhwertamahkai made the sun.

In order to make the sun he first made water, and this he placed in a hollow vessel, like an earthen dish to harden into something like ice. And this hardened ball he placed in the sky. First he placed it in the North, but it did not work; then he placed it in the West, but it did not work; then he placed it in the South, but it did not work; then he placed it in the East and there it worked as he wanted it to.

And the moon he made in the same way and tried in the same places, with the same results.

But when he made the stars he took the water in his mouth and spurted it up into the sky. But the first night his stars did not give light enough. So he took the Doctor-stone (diamond), the tone-dum-haw-teh, and smashed it up, and took the pieces and threw them into the sky to mix with the water in the stars, and then there was light enough.

And now Juhwertamahkai rubbed again on his breast and from the substance he obtained there made two little dolls, and these he laid on the earth. And they were human beings, man and woman.

And now for a time the people increased till they filled the earth. For the first parents were perfect, and there was no sickness and no death. But when the earth was full then there was nothing to eat, so they killed and ate each other.

But Juhwertamahkai did not like the way his people acted, to kill and eat each other, and so he let the sky fall to kill them. But when the sky dropped he, himself, took a staff and broke a hole through, through which he and Nooee emerged and escaped, leaving behind them all the people dead.

And Juhwertamahkai, being now on the top of this fallen sky, again made a man and a woman, in the same way as before. But this man and woman became grey when old, and their children became grey still younger, and their children became grey younger still, and so on till the babies were gray in their cradles.

And Juhwertamahkai, who had made a new earth and sky, just as there had been before, did not like his people becoming grey in their cradles, so he let the sky fall on them again, and again made a hole and escaped, with Nooee, as before.

And Juhwertamahkai, on top of this second sky, again made a new heaven and a new earth, just as he had done before, and new people.

But these new people made a vice of smoking. Before human beings had never smoked till they were old, but now they smoked younger, and each generation still younger, till the infants wanted to smoke in their cradles.

And Juhwertamahkai did not like this, and let the sky fall again, and created everything new again in the same way, and this time he created the earth as it is now.

But at first the whole slope of the world was westward, and though there were peaks rising from this slope there were no true valleys, and all the water that fell ran away and there was no water for the people to drink. So Juhwertamahkai sent Nooee to fly around among the mountains, and over the earth, to cut valleys with his wings, so that the water could be caught and distributed and there might be enough for the people to drink.

Now the sun was male and the moon was female and they met once a month. And the moon became a mother and went to a mountain called Tahs-my-et-tahn Toe-ahk (sun striking mountain) and there was born her baby. But she had duties to attend to, to turn around and give light, so she made a place for the child by tramping down the weedy bushes and there left it. And the child, having no milk, was nourished on the earth.

And this child was the coyote, and as he grew he went out to walk and in his walk came to the house of Juhwertamahkai and Nooee, where they lived.

And when he came there Juhwertamahkai knew him and called him Toe-hahvs, because he was laid on the weedy bushes of that name.

But now out of the North came another powerful personage, who has two names, See-ur-huh and Ee-ee-toy.

Now Seeurhuh means older brother, and when this personage came to Juhwertamahkai, Nooee and Toehahvs he called them his younger brothers. But they claimed to have been here first, and to be older than he, and there was a dispute between them. But finally, because he insisted so strongly, and just to please him, they let him be called older brother.

from "The Story of the Flood" Pima Nation

Central and Southern Arizona

from Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights: The Myths and Legends of the Pimas (1911) by J. William Lloyd

Lloyd, J. William. Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights: The Myths and Legends of the Pimas. Westfield N.J: The Lloyd Group, 1911.

electronic source: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38064

"The Story of the Flood"

[omitted text]

Then Juhwerta Mahkai got into his walking stick and floated, and Toehahvs got into his tube of cane and floated, but Ee-ee-toy's vessel was heavy and big and remained until the flood was much deeper before it could float.

And the people who were left out fled to the mountains; to the mountains called Gah-kote-kih (Superstition Mts.) for they were living in the plains between Gahkotekih and Cheoffskawmack (Tall Gray Mountain.)

And there was a powerful man among these people, a doctor (mahkai), who set a mark on the mountain side and said the water would not rise above it.

And the people believed him and camped just beyond the mark; but the water came on and they had to go higher. And this happened four times.

And the mahkai did this to help his people, and also used power to raise the mountain, but at last he saw all was to be a failure. And he called the people and asked them all to come close together, and he took his doctor-stone (mahkai-haw-teh) which is called Tonedumhawteh or Stone-of-Light, and held it in the palm of his hand and struck it hard with his other hand, and it thundered so loud that all the people were frightened and they were all turned into stone.

[text omitted]

Creation Story of the Jicarillas Apache Nation

Northern New Mexico

Curtis, Edward S. The North American Indian. Volume 1: Apache. Norwood, MA: Plimpton Press, 1907.

source of extext: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19449

In the beginning all people, birds, and beasts were far beneath this earth, somewhere in the darkness; there was no sun, no moon. It was not a good place in which to live, because of the darkness. After a time came Chunnaái, the Sun, and Klĕnaái, the Moon. They directed the people to leave the world of darkness, showing the way they were to go by passing up through a rift in the sky. But the sky was so far above that the people knew of no way to reach it, so they made a pile of sand in the form of a mountain, and painted the east side white, the south blue, the west yellow, and the north side all colors. Then they gathered seeds from all the plants they knew and placed them inside the little mountain. Chunnaái sent back his messenger, Ánltsĭstn, the Whirlwind, to instruct them how to make the mountain increase in size.

Then all gathered about it and danced and sang, until after four days the seeds sprouted and the mountain began to expand and to increase in height. This continued for four days, at the end of which time the mountain seemed almost to reach the sky; but suddenly its growth ceased, and none knew the cause. From Chunnaái came Whirlwind to tell the inhabitants how two of their maidens had entered the sacred space on the mountain top and had wantonly broken and destroyed plants and fruits, thus causing the mountain to cease growing.

With two long poles and four buffalo horns, which then were straight, the people made a ladder, which, when placed on the mountain top, reached the sky. One of the four Great Whirlwinds, Níchitso, went up to see what this new place was like. He put his head through the opening, and seeing that the world was covered with water, at once descended the ladder. The four Whirlwinds then went up; White Wind rolled the water to the east, but still there was water at the south; Blue Wind rolled it away to the south, but still there was water at the west; so Yellow Wind blew it away to the west, and then there was water only at the north, which All-Color Wind quickly blew away. Then the Winds blew over the earth for four days to dry it; but they left some of the water, which flowed along in streams.

When they returned and told what they had done, the people sent Ká̑gĕ, the Crow, who was wise, to view the land. They waited long, but Ká̑gĕ did not return. Then they sent Little Whirlwind, who found the Crow perched upon some dead bodies, plucking out their eyes; and because of his wickedness in forgetting the people, his feathers, once white, had turned black. Then Nagánschitn, the Badger, was sent to see if the land was good, but just as soon as he had crawled through he sank in the black mud and could go no farther, so Little Whirlwind was despatched to succor him. To this day Badger's legs are black. Next Kĕldinshé̆n, the Skunk, was sent, because he was light in weight; but even he sank in the mud and blackened his legs. Then the people sent Cha, the Beaver, who travelled about for a long time, and finding all the water running away in streams, built dams and thus formed many lakes. He came back and told the people that the land was good to live in, which pleased them greatly. Then they started up the ladder, and when all had passed over, it was found that their weight had bent the buffalo horns, which ever since have been curved. Thus all the people came out upon this earth at a place in the north.

During the first days the Sun did not rise above the horizon, having been held back in the east by a web that Mansché̆, the Spider, had woven about him. But the people succeeded in tearing the web away, and from that time the Sun each day has travelled across the whole sky.

On emerging from the underworld the inhabitants began moving in a great circle, travelling from the north to the east, then to the south, then to the west. When any found a spot that pleased them, they settled there, and Chunnaái and Klĕnaái gave them a language of their own. Four times the land was thus encircled, but each time the circle became smaller, and when the people came the last time to the north, Haísndayĭn, the Jicarillas, found their home in the mountains near the Rio Chama.

End of Digital Anthology of American Literature, Part A
Version 1.3

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Dr.Michael O'Conner, Millikin University