SW/CA: The Great Fire; The Origin of Light

These stories take you back to California, coming from the Patwin (southern Wintu) of the Sacramento Valley and the Gallinomero (southern Pomo) who live in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Southwestern and California Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest by Katharine Berry Judson (1912).

The Great Fire
Patwin (Sacramento Valley, California)

Long ago a man loved two women and wished to marry both of them. But the women were magpies and they laughed at him. Therefore the man went to the north, and made for himself a tule boat. Then he set the world on fire, and he himself escaped to sea in his boat.

But the fire burned with terrible speed. It ate its way into the south. It licked up all things on earth, men, trees, rocks, animals, water, and even the ground itself.

Now Old Coyote saw the burning and the smoke from his place far in the south, and he ran with all his might to put it out. He put two little boys in a sack and ran north like the wind. He took honey-dew into his mouth, chewed it up, spat on the fire, and so put it out. Now the fire was out, but there was no water and Coyote was thirsty. So he took Indian sugar again, chewed it up, dug a hole in the bottom of the creek, covered up the sugar in it, and it turned to water and filled the creek. So the earth had water again.

But the two little boys cried because they were lonesome, for there was nobody left on earth. Then Coyote made a sweat house, and split a number of sticks, and laid them in the sweat house over night. In the morning they had all turned into men and women.

Origin of Light
Gallinomero (Russian River, Cal.)

In the earliest beginning, the darkness was thick and deep. There was no light. The animals ran here and there, always bumping into each other. The birds flew here and there, but continually knocked against each other.

Hawk and Coyote thought a long time about the darkness. Then Coyote felt his way into a swamp and found a large number of dry tule reeds. He made a ball of them. He gave the ball to Hawk, with some flints, and Hawk flew up into the sky, where he touched off the tule reeds and sent the bundle whirling around the world.

But still the nights were dark, so Coyote made another bundle of tule reeds, and Hawk flew into the air with them, and touched them off with the flints. But these reeds were damp and did not burn so well. That is why the moon does not give so much light as the sun.


(400 words)

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