Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

Week 13: Native American Tales - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


This week, the Cherokee materials come from an anthropologist, James Mooney, who is famous (even notorious) for his field work. The Indian stories from California and Southwest come instead from a book written by a woman, Katharine Berry Judson, who is more of a compiler rather than someone doing fieldwork as an anthropologist. In that sense, Judson (who was based in the History department at the University of Washington) has a lot in common with 19th-century scholars such as Joseph Jacobs and Andrew Lang who created their folktale collections based on the materials gathered by anthropologists working in the field. Judson wrote several collections of Indian stories which have remained extremely popular and which are regularly reprinted. The stories for this week come from her book "Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest," which was first published in 1912. She is also the author of "Myths and Legends of the Pacific Northwest," "Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley," and "Old Crow Stories." Here is how Judson explained her intentions as a writer in compiling these collections:

In the compilation of this volume, the same idea has governed as in the two preceding volumes - simply the preparation of a volume of the quainter, purer myths, suitable for general reading, authentic, and with illustrations of the country portrayed, but with no pretensions to being a purely scientific piece of work. Scientific people know well the government documents and reports of learned societies which contain myths of all kinds, good, bad, and indifferent. But the volumes of this series are intended for popular use. Changes have been made only in abridgments of long conversations and of ceremonial details which detracted from the myth as a myth, even though of great ethnological importance.

Fortunately, here at OU you have access in the library to many books that are intended to provide detailed ethnographic information about Native storytelling traditions - so if you are interested in the stories that Judson has compiled, you will be able to find many more resources in the library to help you learn more about these cultural traditions, including their "long conversations and ceremonial details."

Here is some basic information about some of the tribal traditions that are represented in Judson's collection.

The Karok (or Karuk) people live along the Klamath River in far northern California, near the Oregon border. There are approximately 5000 Karok still living there (making it one of the largest tribes in California today), with approximately 120 who are Karok language speakers. The Shasta peoples spoke a language related to Karok, although there are only a few Shasta speakers alive today living in the Quartz Valley Reservation in Siskiyou County. The Achomawi Indians who live along the Pit River in far northern California are speakers of a Shasta language.

The Tolowa people also lived in far northern California in the redwood forests along the coast; around 1850 the Tolowas were forcibly removed to the Klamath River, and then in 1860 they were relocated to Oregon. There are perhaps 500 Tolowa people alive today, living in California and in Oregon.

The Miwok had lived around the coastal regions of northern California and in the Yosemite Valley. In the early 19th century, many Yosemite Miwok were relocated by white settlers to a reservation near Fresno. The resettlement was a disaster and in 1855 the Miwok were allowed to return to Yosemite. There are only a few scattered speakers of Miwok alive today, out of a total population of around 3000, although there are continuing efforts at cultural preservation, especially among the coastal Miwok in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

The Nishinam (Nisenan) belongs, like the Miwok language, to the Penutian language family, in the Maidu subgroup. The Nishinam lived in central California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains along the Bear River, but there are only a few Nishinam speakers alive today. The Yokuts are also Penutian speakers who lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and in the San Joaquin Valley. There are around two thousand Yokuts people still living, although very few of them speak Yokuts.

The Paiute language is a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family (Hopi is also an Uto-Aztecan language). The Northern Paiutes live mostly in northern Nevada and in the border regions of California, Oregon and Idaho; out of a population of approximately 6000 people, there are 1500 Northern Paiute speakers alive today. The Southern Paiutes live mostly in Nevada, Utah and northern Arizona; out of a population of around 5000, there are still approximately 2000 Southern Paiute speakers. The Paiutes who lived around the Kern River near Mount Whitney in California were the "Tubatulabal" clan of Paiutes, and there are still about 400 Tubatulabal people living on the Kern River today.

Like Paiute, the Pima languages also belong to the Uto-Aztecan language family. One of these languages, O'Odham, is still spoken by over ten thousand people who live on seven different reservations in south central Arizona, many of them on the Gila River and Salt River near the city of Phoenix. The name "Pima" is a name given by the Spaniards: "It may come from the phrase Pi-nyi-match which means "I don't know," the answer given by the Indians to all the questions asked by the Spanish" (Tumacácori National Historical Park website). The Pima call themselves "A’a’tam a’kimult," meaning "The River People."

Walpi is a Hopi settlement in Arizona, near Flagstaff. Hopi also belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family. There are over 10,000 Hopi living in the Hopi reservation in Arizona today, and many of them are still Hopi speakers. Walpi is the oldest of the villages on the "First Mesa", and was established in 1690. It continues to be a site for important Hopi religious rituals, such as the semi-annual Snake Dance.

Like the Hopi, northern Arizona is historically the home of the Navajo or "Dineh", "The People." Probably sometime around 1500, the Navajo came to this territory from the north; their language is related to the Athabaskan languages of the Pacific Northwest. As white settlers came to Arizona, the conflict with the Navajo was intense. In the 1860's most of the surviving Navajo were imprisoned in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In 1868 they were relocated to a reservation with land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. At that time, the Navajo numbered approximately 9,000 people. Today, the Navajo number approximately a quarter million, making them the second largest Indian population in the United States. Approximately half of them are Navajo speakers. You may have heard something about the role of the Navajo in World War II as "code talkers."

The Zuni are a Pueblo Indian people of New Mexico. The Zuni pueblo is located just south of Gallup. There are approximately 12,000 people who reside in the pueblo, making it one of the most populated of the New Mexico Indian pueblos. The Zuni language is an isolate, not related to any other known languages. The Zuni have lived in this same pueblo for approximately the past three hundred years, following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and its aftermath. In 1990, Congress passed the Zuni Land Conservation Act, which settled Zuni claims against the United States government for damage that had been done to the land belonging to the Zuni.

The Sia, or Zia, are another Pueblo people living in New Mexico. The Zia pueblo is located near the Jemez River near the New Mexico town of Bernalillo. The New Mexico state flag is based on a Zia sun symbol design.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM