[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Tejas Legends unit. Story source: When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends retold by Florence Stratton and illustrated by Berniece Burrough (1936).
Why the Irises Hold Hands
There used to be along the coast of Texas a tribe of Indians who were more clever than any other Indian tribe had ever been. This tribe was an old one, and for many years the people had remembered what their fathers knew, and they taught the children all that the tribe had learned. Because of this, the Indians knew how to do things no other tribes knew. They built large houses. They knew how to plant seeds in the soil and make them grow food. They knew how to paint on skins, carve bones and write the sign language.
Because these Indians were so clever the Great Spirit loved them very much. He would stretch himself out on a soft cloud high in the sky on summer days and look down on the Indians as they worked and played in their camp. Because he loved them, he sent them gentle rains when their crops needed water. He made it easy for them to find birds and animals to eat. He answered their prayers.
But these Indians at last stopped praying. They began to forget about the Great Spirit who was so good to them, and to think they could do everything for themselves. They grew proud. They no longer looked toward the sky to talk with the Great Spirit, but began to look upon themselves as gods.
When the Great Spirit saw this he became very angry. He no longer loved the proud Indians. He decided to punish them. So it happened that while the people of the tribe were walking about their camp, a great dark cloud came quickly over the sun in the blue sky, and the sky became black. Then the Great Spirit, who had sent the cloud, waited to see if this made the Indians afraid of him. They were not afraid, but went into their strong houses and laughed at the rain coming down. As the Great Spirit saw this he was more angry than ever. He decided to destroy the proud tribe.
He took a deep breath and blew strong winds across the Gulf of Mexico towards the camp. The clouds began to rush through the sky when he hurled them with his hands, and they hit each other and broke into sharp rain. He opened his mouth and shouted, and out came thunder. Lightning darted from his angry eyes. Then the winds began to drive the waters of the gulf upon the land and into the camp of the Indians. Even now they were not afraid. They would not pray to the Great Spirit, though they saw the waves pounding into their camp and they knew the Great Spirit was making war against them. The water rose higher about their houses. At last they climbed to the roofs. Husbands and wives and children joined hands to die together. Still they did not cry out. Finally the rushing waters covered them all. Together they went down into the dark, rolling waves.
They were brave. As the Great Spirit saw this, he thought that such people ought to have another chance to live. Perhaps they would become wiser and better if they lived again, so he decided that they would come alive when the last of the flood waters had rolled back into the Gulf.
While they waited to be brought to life once more, they should have the form of a new kind of plant. The Great Spirit decided this. He turned them into plants as they lay under water, and because they were in the water, they grew roots which could live in it and could live nowhere else. As they had died with their hands linked together, they now took the form of plants with their roots linked together. When spring came the plants put forth blue flowers which lifted their heads to see if the last of the flood waters had rolled back into the Gulf so they could take the shape of people once more.
This is the way they grow to this day. We call them wild irises or flag lilies. They still grow in low and watery places. Their roots still cling together. Their heads are still lifted, for they are waiting to see when the last of the waters return to the Gulf. Each year they find the marshes and low places still filled with water, and so they must wait a while longer.
And this is the legend of the wild iris.