Heroes: The Attack on the Giant Elk and the Great Eagle

This story is part of the Native American Hero Tales unit. Story source: Tales of the North American Indians by Stith Thompson (1929).


The Attack on the Giant Elk and the Great Eagle
Jicarilla Apache

In the early days, animals and birds of monstrous size preyed upon the people; the giant Elk, the Eagle, and others devoured men, women, and children, until the gods were petitioned for relief. A deliverer was sent to them in the person of Jonayaíyin, the son of the old woman who lives in the West, and the second wife of the Sun. She divided her time between the Sun and the Waterfall, and by the latter bore a second son, named Kobachíschini, who remained with his mother while his brother went forth to battle with the enemies of mankind.

In four days Jonayaíyin grew to manhood, then he asked his mother where the Elk lived. She told him that the Elk was in a great desert far to the southward. She gave him arrows with which to kill the Elk. In four steps he reached the distant desert where the Elk was lying.

Jonayaíyin cautiously observed the position of the Elk from behind a hill. The Elk was lying on an open plain, where no trees or bushes were to be found that might serve to shelter Jonayaíyin from view while he approached.

While he was looking at the Elk, with dried grass before his face, the Lizard said to him, "What are you doing, my friend?"

Jonayaíyin explained his mission, whereupon the Lizard suggested that he clothe himself in the garments of the Lizard in which he could approach the Elk in safety. Jonayaíyin tried four times before he succeeded in getting into the coat of the Lizard.

Next the Gopher came to him with the question, "What are you doing here, my friend?" When Jonayaíyin told the Gopher of his intention, the latter promised to aid him. The Gopher thought it advisable to reconnoitre by burrowing his way underground to the Elk. Jonayaíyin watched the progress of the Gopher as that animal threw out fresh heaps of earth on his way.

At length the Gopher came to the surface underneath the Elk whose giant heart was beating like a mighty hammer. He then proceeded to gnaw the hair from about the heart of the Elk.

"What are you doing?" said the Elk.

"I am cutting a few hairs for my little ones; they are now lying on the bare ground," replied the Gopher, who continued until the magic coat of the Elk was all cut away from about the heart of the Elk. Then he returned to Jonayaíyin, and told the latter to go through the hole which he had made and shoot the Elk.

Four times the Son of the Sun tried to enter the hole before he succeeded. When he reached the Elk, he saw the great heart beating above him and easily pierced it with his arrows; four times his bow was drawn before he turned to escape through the tunnel which the Gopher had been preparing for him. This hole extended far to the eastward, but the Elk soon discovered it and, thrusting his antler into it, followed in pursuit.

The Elk ploughed up the earth with such violence that the present mountains were formed, which extend from east to west. The black spider closed the hole with a strong web, but the Elk broke through it and ran southward, forming the mountain chains which trend north and south. In the south the Elk was checked by the web of the blue spider, in the west by that of the yellow spider, while in the north the web of the many-colored spider resisted his attacks until he fell dying from exhaustion and wounds.

Jonayaíyin made a coat from the hide of the Elk, gave the front quarters to the Gopher, the hind quarters to the Lizard, and carried home the antlers. He found that the results of his adventures were not unknown to his mother, who had spent the time during his absence in singing and watching a roll of cedar bark which sank into the earth or rose in the air as danger approached or receded from Jonayaíyin, her son.

Jonayaíyin next desired to kill the great Eagle, I-tsa. His mother directed him to seek the Eagle in the West.

(700 words)

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