Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

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

Two Flood Stories

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

You have already seen an elaborate flood story told by the Pima Indians of Arizona; here are two more flood stories: one from the Hopi people in Walpi Arizona, and another story told by the Tolowas who live on the California coast.

The Migration of the Water People (Walpi, Arizona)

In the long ago, the Snake, Horn, and Eagle people lived here (in Tusayan) but their corn grew only a span high and when they sang for rain, the Cloud god sent only a thin mist. My people lived then in the distant Pa-lat Kwa-bi in the South. There was a very bad old man there. When he met any one he would spit in their faces. He did all manner of evil.

Baholihonga got angry at this and turned the world upside down. Water spouted up through the kivas and through the fire places in the houses. The earth was rent in great chasms, and water covered everything except one narrow ridge of mud. Across this the Serpent-god told all the people to travel. As they journeyed across, the feet of the bad slipped and they fell into the dark water. The good people, after many days, reached dry land.

While the water was rising around the village, the old people got on top of the houses. They thought they could not struggle across with the younger people. But Baholihonga clothed them with the skins of turkeys. They spread their wings out and floated in the air just above the surface of the water, and in this way they got across. There were saved of us, the Water people, the Corn people, the Lizard, Horned-toad, and Sand peoples, two families of Rabbit, and the Tobacco people. The turkey tail dragged in the water. That is why there is white on the turkey's tail now. This is also the reason why old people use turkey-feathers at the religious ceremonies.

The Flood and the Theft of Fire (Tolowa, Del Norte Co., Cal.)

Along time ago there came a great rain. It lasted a long time and the water kept rising till all the valleys were submerged, and the Indian tribes fled to the high lands. But the water rose, and though the Indians fled to the highest point, all were swept away and drowned-all but one man and one woman. They reached the very highest peak and were saved. These two Indians ate the fish from the waters around them.

Then the waters subsided. All the game was gone, and all the animals. But the children of these two Indians, when they died, became the spirits of deer and bear and insects, and so the animals and insects came back to the earth again.

The Indians had no fire. The flood had put out all the fires in the world. They looked at the moon and wished they could secure fire from it. Then the Spider Indians and the Snake Indians formed a plan to steal fire. The Spiders wove a very light balloon, and fastened it by a long rope to the earth. Then they climbed into the balloon and started for the moon. But the Indians of the Moon were suspicious of the Earth Indians. The Spiders said, "We came to gamble." The Moon Indians were much pleased and all the Spider Indians began to gamble with them. They sat by the fire.

Then the Snake Indians sent a man to climb up the long rope from the earth to the moon. He climbed the rope, and darted through the fire before the Moon Indians understood what he had done. Then he slid down the rope to earth again. As soon as he touched the earth he travelled over the rocks, the trees, and the dry sticks lying upon the ground, giving fire to each. Everything he touched contained fire. So the world became bright again, as it was before the flood.

When the Spider Indians came down to earth again, they were immediately put to death, for the tribes were afraid the Moon Indians might want revenge.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did Baholihonga send a flood into the world?
  • how did Baholihonga help people escape from the waters?
  • how did the Snake Indians and Spider Indians bring fire into the world?

Source: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest. Compiled and Edited by Katharine Berry Judson. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1912. Weblink.

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