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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Creation Myths of Primitive America

I included a fairly long excerpt from two different parts of this book. The first gives the flavour and content of the story-telling. The second tells of the terrible massacre of the Yanas people.

Creation Myths of Primitive America
by Jeremiah Curtin (1898)

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Kopus smoked, became tunindili,--that is, possessed. A Tsudi yapaitu came to him and began to chant. The yapaitu, speaking through Kopus, said,--

"I have looked all around the world, I have looked everywhere; every smell has come to my nose, every sight to my eyes, every sound to my ears, but to-night nothing comes to me. I cannot see, I cannot hear, I cannot smell." And he stopped.

"I am going to dance the spirit dance," said Kopus. "Who will sing for me?"

"Let these two Tsudi girls sing," said Olelbis.

Hubit was lying on the east side of the sweat-house, and he said,--

"Make haste, you two girls, and sing for that Hlahi. I am nearly dead, almost cut in two, I am so dry."

He had tightened his belt a little that evening. Kopus danced all night, and the two girls sang for him.

"I have not found out which way that woman went," said he, next morning.

He danced five days and nights, and then said: "I can tell nothing. I know nothing about this woman, Mem Loimis."

Every bola heris[3] that was lying inside the sweat-house was terribly thirsty. One old man got up and said,--

[3] Bola means "to tell one of the creation myths;" bolas means "one of the myths;" bola heris is an actor in any of them, a personage mentioned or described in a creation myth.

"What kind of a Hlahi have you here? What kind of a Hlahi is Kopus? He is here five days and nights and can tell nothing, knows nothing. If you wish to learn something, bring a Hlahi who has knowledge of water."

"This old Kopus knows nothing of water," said Toko. "Old Kopus is a good Hlahi for acorns and for the Tsudi and Kaisus people; that is all he is good for. I know this Kopus well. Get a Hlahi who knows more than he does."

"You bola herises tell us," said Olelbis, "who is a good Hlahi for water, and we will get him. Look at my children; they are almost dying of thirst. Tell us where their mother, Mem Loimis, is."

"Oh, daylight, come quickly; be here right away! I am almost cut in two I am so dry. Oh, daylight, come quickly!" groaned Hubit.

No one mentioned another Hlahi. So Olelbis talked on,--

"All the people said that Kopus was a good Hlahi. That is why I got him; but he is not a good Hlahi for water. Now we will get Sanihas Yupchi, the archer of daylight, who lives in the farthest east, he is the son of Sanihas. He is small, but he is a great Hlahi. Lutchi, you must go now for Sanihas Yupchi. Here are one hundred yellowhammer-wing arrows for him, all red, and many others."

Lutchi went to the east end of the sweat-house, danced a little, sprang onto the sweat-house, danced a little more, and then whizzed away through the air. Lutchi travelled all day and all night, reached the place about daylight next morning, and said to Sanihas,--

"Olelbis sent me here to ask your son to come and hlaha for him. He sends you all these five hundred arrows made of kewit reed and one hundred yellowhammer-wing arrows to come and hlaha."

"You must go," said Sanihas to her son, "and I will follow you. Olelbis is a yapaitu himself; he ought to know where that woman is,--he thinks that he knows everything; but you go and hlaha, and hear what your yapaitu tells you."

Sanihas Yupchi started, and was at the sweat-house in Olelpanti next morning just as the sun was rising. He went into the sweat-house, and Olelbis gave him many things.

"Give me tobacco," said Sanihas Yupchi. "I am going to hlaha."

Olelbis gave him a pipe with tobacco; he smoked it out and was not possessed. Olelbis gave him another pipeful, and he smoked it out, but was not possessed. He smoked out ten pipefuls, and then people said,--

"I am afraid that the yapaitu will not come to him."

He smoked twenty more pipefuls, still he was not possessed; then twenty more, did not hlaha.

"He is no Hlahi," cried people on all sides; "if he were, the yapaitu would have come to him long ago."

"The yapaitu he is waiting for does not live near this sweat-house; he is very far away," said Toko. "Give him more tobacco."

They gave him five pipefuls, then four, then one more,--sixty in all; after that a yapaitu came to him.

"The yapaitu has come," said Olelbis. "I want you to look everywhere and learn all you can; my children are nearly dead from lack of water; you must tell where Mem Loimis is."

Sanihas Yupchi began to sing, and he said, "I will have the spirit dance to-night; the two Tsudi girls may sing for me."

He danced twenty nights and days without saying a word,--danced twenty days and nights more. The two Tsudi girls sang all the time. Then Sanihas Yupchi sat down, said nothing; he had found out nothing.

Again he danced five days and nights, then four days and nights, then one day and one night more. After that he sat down and said,--

"I am going to speak. The place of which I am going to tell is a long way from here, but I am going to talk and let you hear what I say. Did any one see which way this woman Mem Loimis went?"

One person answered: "She went west a short distance to get something. That was the last seen of her."

"Was anything the matter with that woman?" asked Sanihas Yupchi. "Does any one know?"

"Yes," said Olelbis, "she was with child."

"Well, while she was out, a man came to her and took her away with him, took her far north and then east beyond the first Kolchiken Topi, where the sky comes down, where the horizon is; he took her to the place where he lives, and he lives in Waiti Kahi Pui Hlut. His name is Kahit, and after he took her home they lived pleasantly together till her child was born. Kahit did not claim that child as his.

After a while Mem Loimis grew angry at Kahit, left her child with him, and went eastward, went to the other side of the second horizon. She stayed there awhile, and gave birth to two sons, children of Kahit. Then she went farther east to a third horizon, went to the other side of that, stayed there, is living there now. The boy that was born when she lived with Kahit was Sotchet. Sotchet's father was Olelbis. When the child grew up a little, Kahit said to him: 'Your father lives in Olelpanti.'"


As a preface to the few myths of the Yanas which have survived, I beg to offer the following words touching this ill-fated people:

Previous to August, 1864, the Yanas numbered about three thousand, as I have been informed on the sound authority of reliable white men. Taking the names and population of villages given me by surviving Indians, I should say that this estimate is not too large.

During the second half of August, 1864, the Yanas were massacred, with the exception of a small remnant.

The Indians of California, and especially those of Sacramento Valley, were among the most harmless of human beings. Instead of being dangerous to settlers, they worked for them in return for fair wages. The Yanas were distinguished beyond others for readiness to earn money. White men occupied in tilling land knew their value, and employed them every season in haymaking and harvesting.

At the present day the Wintus, and the few Yanas that are left, go down the valley and labor during the season in hop-fields and vineyards.

Why were the Yanas killed?

The answer is as follows: Certain Indians lived, or rather lurked, around Mill Creek, in wild places somewhat east of Tehama and north of Chico. These Mill Creek Indians were fugitives; outlaws from various tribes, among others from the Yanas. To injure the latter, they went to the Yana country about the middle of August, 1864, and killed two white women, Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones. Four children also were left for dead by them, but the children recovered. After the murders the Mill Creeks returned home unnoticed, carrying various plundered articles with them.

Two parties of white men were formed at once to avenge the women and four children. Without trying in any way to learn who the guilty were, they fell upon the Yanas immediately, sparing neither sex nor age. They had resolved to exterminate the whole nation. The following few details will show the character of their work:--

At Millville, twelve miles east of Redding, white men seized two Yana girls and a man. These they shot about fifty yards from the village hotel. At another place they came to the house of a white woman who had a Yana girl, seven or eight years of age. They seized this child, in spite of the woman, and shot her through the head. "We must kill them, big and little," said the leader; "nits will be lice."

A few miles north of Millville lived a Yana girl named Eliza, industrious and much liked by those who knew her. She was working for a farmer at the time. The party stopped before this house, and three of the men entered it. "Eliza, come out," said one of them; "we are going to kill you." She begged for her life. To the spokesman, who had worked for her employer some time before, she said: "Don't kill me; when you were here I cooked for you, I washed for you, I was kind to you; I never asked pay of you; don't kill me now."

Her prayers were vain. They took Eliza, with her aunt and uncle, a short distance from the house and shot the three. My informant counted eleven bullets in Eliza's breast.

After this murder the party took a drink and started; but the leader, in killing Eliza, said, "I don't think that little squaw is dead yet." So he turned back and smashed in her skull with his musket. The man who counted the bullet holes in her bosom, himself a white man, saw her after the skull was broken. He knew the girl well, and gave me these details.

Another party went to a farm on Little Cow Creek where they found three Yana men threshing hayseed in a barn. The farmer was not at home. They killed the three Indians, and went to the house. The three wives of the men killed in the barn were there and began to scream. The farmer's wife hurried out with a quilt, threw it around the three women, and stood in front of them, holding the ends of the quilt. "If you kill them you will kill me," said she, facing the party. The woman was undaunted, and, as it happened, was big with child. To kill, or attempt to kill, under those conditions, would be a deed too ghastly for even such heroes; so they went away, swearing that they would kill the "squaws" later. These three Indian women were saved and taken beyond the reach of danger by two white men.

And so the "avengers" of Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones continued. At one place they killed an Indian woman and her infant, at another three women. In the town of Cottonwood they killed twenty Yanas of both sexes. The most terrible slaughter in any place was near the head of Oak Run, where three hundred Yanas had met at a religious dance. These were attacked in force, and not a soul escaped.

The slaughter went on day after day till the entire land of the Yanas was cleared. The few who escaped were those who happened to be away from home, outside their country, and about twelve who were saved by Mr. Oliver and Mr. Disselhorst, both of Redding. The whole number of surviving Yanas of pure and mixed blood was not far from fifty.

Some time after the bloody work was done it was discovered that the Mill Creek outlaws had killed Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones, and that the Yanas were innocent. The Mill Creeks were left unpunished.

My inquiries as to how civilized men could commit such atrocities found the following answers:--

In 1864 there was a large floating and mining population in Northern California, which "had no use for Indians," and was ready to kill them on slight provocation. In distinction to these people was a small number of settlers who lived among the Yanas in friendship, and hired them to work on land.

The killing was done by men who did not know the Yanas. Those settlers who did know the Yanas were overawed, and were unable to save them, except secretly, as in the case of the two men who rescued the three women on Little Cow Creek by conveying them beyond danger. Oliver and Disselhorst, who saved twelve, were at the edge of Redding, where support was possible.

At first the rage of the killing parties was boundless; they swore that white women would not be murdered again in that country, and that not an Indian should be left alive in it. An intense feeling of indignation at the murder, coupled with an unspeakable contempt for Indians, was the motive in the breasts of most of the white men.

 Had they looked on the Yanas with ordinary feelings of justice, they would have tried to find the guilty instead of slaughtering a whole nation. There was another element among the slayers of the Indians,--a vile one, an element which strives to attach itself to every movement, good or bad in all places--a plundering element.

That year the Yanas had worked a good deal, and it was not uncommon for single persons of them to have from $40 to $60. One informant told me that a man showed a friend of his $400 which he had taken from murdered Indians. Money and everything of value that the Yanas had was snatched up by these robbers.

Nearly all the men who killed the Yanas have gone out of the country or are dead. A few are in Northern California yet, and the children of some of the dead ones are living there now. Though one's indignation at the deeds of 1864 be great, there is no use in mentioning names at this hour. All that is left is to do for the poor remnant of an interesting people that which we have done for Indians in other parts: give them land properly surveyed and the means to begin life on it.

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