Indian Mythology | San Carlos Apache Mythology

Creation Myth


First Version1

There were no people but there were some persons existing who were without parents. These were Bec diłxił xastin, Black Metal Old Man, Nał'uletcu diłxiłn, Black Big Spider, Nłtcį diłxił, Black Whirlwind, and Godiye, Mirage.2 These were the four who did this. There was neither earth nor sky. Bec diłxił had no house. Spider had no house but his dwelling place was where his web hung crosswise. Although there was neither earth nor sky Whirlwind had his home in the space between the earth and sky. Mirage had nothing on which to dwell but he trembled about where there was no earth and no sky.

These came together and talked about what there might be on which they could dwell. They said they would live on the sky, and that they would also make the earth. They determined that there should be something. These four persons were discussing with each other how it should be done. Black Whirlwind did this way; he rubbed his hand over his breast and removed some of the cuticle. Taking this between his thumb and forefinger he asked how the earth should be. He pressed the cuticle between his thumb and finger repeatedly.3 He then walked to that which he had made and the earth nearly moved into its place. White Whirlwind came up to it and stood there. The earth moved a little way. Yellow Whirlwind came up to it and took his station. The earth moved nearly to its place. Blue. Whirlwind went to it and stood by it. Then the earth that was to be settled to its place.4

They now discussed what should support the earth. They concluded to make four supports for it of bec diłxił. They added a black whirlwind to these to help hold it up. They all agreed it was satisfactory.

When they had finished the earth they began making something to live on it. They made coyotes and the birds which have wings but are like human beings. There were all kinds of birds living on the earth. Thus people of this sort existed. Because these people were not good water covered the whole earth.

Then Ests'unnadlehi5 went into a vessel of turquoise. She put in some seeds and the two grinding stones, and stopped the opening in the vessel with clay. She floated around in this on top of the water. When she struck the side of the vessel with the muller it rang " bibit." As long as there was much water it made a sound like "bit" when it was struck. When the water was gone she hit it again and heard a sound like "dan." Thinking then that the water was gone down she broke out the stopper and came out.6 There was nothing but a level plain of sand where she came out. There was nothing there, not even bushes. She sat down by herself and began to consider what would be. She went up on the mountains where the sun's rays struck as the sun came up and took a position on her knees with her head turned away. Four times the sun refused to shine. Having tried in vain she came there the next day and did the same thing with the same lack of results. This was repeated on the third and fourth days. When she had done it four times on the fourth day the sun penetrated her and she was glad.7

Estsánnatlehi became pregnant and gave birth to a girl. When this girl had grown to some size her mother told her to seek a connection with someone. She directed her to go to the bluff where water was dripping. The girl went there and took a position on her knees. The water fell between her legs, but did not enter her. She went there and did the same way three times in vain. Then her mother put her in position and the water entered her.

She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. She was called Nalidilxiln, the boy was to be Naiyenezgani, and her mother was Estsánnatlehi. There were these three.

He who was to be Naiyenezgani had a smooth head. He had no hair, ears, nose, teeth, or lips. He was also devoid of the ridge above his eyes as well as of eyebrows and eyelashes. His arms had no joints and he had no fingers, just a flat hand. His legs were similarly without joints and his feet were undivided into toes.8 He had no nails on his hands or feet. He was just smooth and unformed.9 The woman was considering what should be.

"Where does my father live?" the boy asked his grandmother. She told him not to speak about it, since he lived in a dangerous place and one was not allowed to talk about him. He repeated his question three times and the fourth time, his grandmother still refused to tell him. "You must mean that one of your organs is dangerous," the boy finally said.

He started away just by himself having only his own devices. She couldn't discover by what means he knew the way, but she thought he must have something to guide him. He came where his father's house could be seen. He sat down there and began to cry. While he was sitting there crying and wondering by what means he could get to his father's house, a head was stuck out of a hole right beneath him. "Well, why are you crying?" a voice asked. The boy replied that he was on the way to his father's house and was crying because he was trying to find a means of going there. Then the one who put his head out said that in the morning he would go from right where the boy was sitting to the house of the Sun. Promising to return and telling the boy to wait, Spider started away.10 He went to the house of the Black Sun and tied his thread to the door post. Then he came back and told the boy everything was ready and that his thread was fastened. He directed the boy to go on, the string which he had stretched for him.

The boy went on this thread and came in front of his father's house. When he got there he stood below the house. He could hear someone sitting inside of the house. He heard him get up and go up to the top of the house. From there he looked down on the earth. While he was gone Naiyenezgani went right inside. A woman was sitting in an inner room. When she saw him she asked why he had come, at the same time telling him no one was allowed to come there. The boy replied that he had come to see his father. The woman warned him against saying that, telling him that his father was a dangerous man who had killed those who had claimed to be his children. She said this to him four times in vain. Finally she said, "Well, have it that you came to see your father;" and going into a corner she took up a white cloud and spread it down.' Telling him to lie down on this blanket, she rolled him up in it and hid him. She told him that at sunset the Sun would come home on the sky and that the boy would hear a sound like "dil" when he landed on the top of his house. He would know by that that the Sun had returned.

He heard the Sun coming down and heard him land. The Sun asked his wife who had come there. She replied that no one had come; that she had seen no one. She told him this four times as the Sun repeated the question. Finally she said, "You are always saying you never do anything amiss where you go." The woman went then where she had hidden the boy and brought him nearby and put him down. She opened out each way the blanket in which he was rolled. The boy then got up. "This boy called you his father; he said he came to see his father. It may be so," the woman told her husband.

The Sun took his child by the hand and led him to the east where there was tobacco with which he killed people. The pipe was lying with the tobacco. He filled the pipe and held it up to the east where it became ignited without any visible means of lighting it. The boy drew smoke once and there was nothing but ashes to be seen. He went to the south where there was white tobacco with a white pipe lying in it. He filled the pipe and held it up to the south. It became lighted without visible means. He gave it to the boy who drew on it once and nothing but ashes appeared. Next he went to the west where there was another pipe and tobacco. This he lighted by lifting it up. The boy drew on the pipe and nothing but ashes remained. He now went to the north, where another pipe lay in tobacco. He filled the pipe and held it up. It became lighted without apparent means. He gave it to the boy who drew once on the pipe which was immediately white with ashes. This made four times that he had tried in vain with the tobacco that kills people. " It is true that you are my son," he said.

He then went with him to the east to a place called sek'Q' which was blazing with "sky fire." The Sun caught the boy by his foot and swung him around, his head hanging down, and threw him into the "sky fire." He pushed him down with a poker of bec diłxił. The black sek'Q' glowing red went through the sky with him. He went through the sky as a downy feather and turned back to a man, landing back by his shadow before the Sun moved. The same thing was done at the south where white sky fire was blazing out. He pushed him down with a poker of white bec. Again he escaped. Next they went to the west where there was a yellow fire and he was poked down with yellow bec. Again he turned into a downy feather and came down on his shadow. Last they went to the north where the sky fire was blue and the poker was blue bec. He blazed through the sky with blue flames and returned to his shadow by becoming a feather. He did this without killing his son. "You are surely my child," he said. Some of the first people to come into existence were there.11 They acknowledged the boy as their grandson. "It is Naiyenezgani, our grandson,"12 they all said.

"Form my child for me," the Sun asked of them.13 They prepared a sweat lodge with four stones and a pile of wood. The sun directed that the four stones be put on the fire. Those who had come went in with their grandson. Two of the stones were brought into the lodge. They went into the bath four times. When the skin all over his body became soft they pushed the skin of his flat hands back and formed his fingers. They made the lacking joints and made hair for him. They also made supra-orbital ridges and ears and a nose with nostrils. They made also lips and teeth and a chin. They provided a joint in his neck where before one was lacking and the boy had not been able to turn his head. They also made joints in his arms so his arms could be bent. They fashioned his toes in the same manner as they made his fingers, making them as people's feet are now.

"Now train him for me so he may fight against those who are dangerous," the Sun asked. They made for him moccasins and leggings of obsidian and an obsidian shirt and hat. They provided him with an obsidian war club. Thus he was equipped to fight the dangerous ones. They made something which should sit by his ear and tell him what to do and direct his travels.14 When he was thoroughly equipped they told his father that he was ready.

The boy was then told he might return where his grandmother was living.15 He went to his grandmother who greeted him. He lived there with her.

He had no bow and arrows. He began hunting about for something and found some reeds. He looked again and found a mulberry tree. He carried the material secured from their home. He made an arrow and straightened it. He provided it with a foreshaft and feathered the arrow with eagle's plumes. He at first put on a single feather and shot at a cactus which was standing close by. He missed the cactus and concluded a single feather was not sufficient. He put on two feathers and tried again. He missed again. "Not good," he said, "three will be used." When he had put on three, he shot again. " Dhu," he heard as the arrow went through the center.

"Where is there some flint to put on the end of the foreshaft?" he asked his grandmother. His grandmother told him not to say that. The boy replied that it was one of his grandmother's organs that was dangerous. He went far in his search until he came to some flint. He picked it up and struck it with a stone. As he gathered up the pieces something called Bec yilgai ran at him. He stopped and waited for it. Just as it came up to him he thrust at it with a, dagger.16 It ran on him and was broken to pieces. He gathered up the pieces, tied them up, and carried them home. When he came home he flaked a piece of flint and put it on the end of his arrow in that way making it sharp.

When he had finished the flint he asked his grandmother where on earth were those who killed people. He asked this because of what the one which sat by his ear had told him. "Grandmother, where does the one live who kicks people over the cliff?" he asked.17 His grandmother told him not to speak that way, that the person was dangerous and one was not allowed to mention him.

He started off under his own leadership. He had a blue fox as his pet. He put a yellow snake in the fold of his shirt. He hunted about and found a canyon where there was a wall of rock on either side. He went in between these walls and came to a trail which was used by people. He followed along the trail and soon came where a man was lying against the cliff. He had one leg over the knee of the other with his foot in the air. Naiyenezgani stopped close by and told the man to get up and let him pass. The man refused and remained in the same position. Naiyenezgani sent his pet, the blue fox, along the trail. As the fox was passing the man kicked with his foot but the fox jumped and the kick passed behind. Naiyenezgani jumped past and asked why he did that. He went around and did the same thing four times. The man kicked each time missing high. Naiyenezgani, reaching into the bosom of his shirt, pulled out the yellow snake and threw it on the man as he lay against the rock. When the snake fell near his head and rattled, the man cried out that he was afraid of that sort. As he jerked his head about Naiyenezgani pulled out his obsidian club. "Bau," he heard, as he knocked the man down from the top of the cliff where he lay. He killed him. The monster was called Tsidakelisi. Naiyenezgani went back and told his grandmother he had killed Tsidakelisi.

He asked his grandmother where Nagegani, he who kills people by looking at them, lived. "He lives in a dangerous place," she replied. He started away hunting for him. That which sat by his ear told him where he lived. He came near to the place where the monster was sitting with his children.18

Naiyenezgani produced a mirage so they could not see him. While they were watching here where he was not, he went around and came down on them. The young ones saw him standing close by and told their father some man had come to them. The father told them to look at the visitor. Sitting there in a line they looked at him. He began to feel disturbed in his mind. His eyes in which they were looking did not move. His mind was affected. When he was about to die he took out his life medicine and put it in his mouth and recovered. He had something in the fold of his blanket which would explode. He took this out and put four pieces in the fire which encircled the place. He heard a noise like " tcil" and the pieces flew in their faces. The fragments went into the eyes of all of them. They rubbed their eyes but not one of them could see anything. Naiyenezgani went up to them with his club and hit them, killing them. He went back where his grandmother lived.

"Where does black-tailed deer live? How does one do when he has killed one?" he asked his grandmother. "Do not butcher it under a piñon tree," she told him. He went away again and hunted for a deer. He came to a mountain far away where he hunted about. He came up to a deer at which he shot with an arrow, killing it. He killed it in an open place. Wondering why his grandmother had warned him not to do so, he seized the deer by a hind foot and dragged it to a piñon which stood a little way down the hill. Then he dragged it up the slope to the shade of the piñon. He drew out his knife, turned the deer on its back and held it by one foreleg while he cut it down the breast and belly. When he had cut it open in that manner he removed the skin. He spread out the skin at one side and cut off both the front legs. He laid those down over there. He then cut off the hind legs and put them down. When he was cutting out the stomach and intestines some cold water was dripping on him. Wondering what was doing it to him he looked up above the piñon. He thought there might be a cloud but there was only blue sky. He thought something up there in the sky might be rotting and falling on him. He bent down and was pulling the intestines out when water fell on him again. When he looked up again he saw a beautiful girl sitting on the top of the piñon. When she saw him she called "my husband" and lifted her skirt. She began to descend the tree. When she was nearly down he discovered her privates were provided with teeth. He grabbed up the second stomach and ran away dragging it along. The girl ran after him calling him husband. She nearly overtook him at the foot of the mountain. She kept trying to grab him. As she was about to' overtake him he threw down between them the tripe which formed rows of radiating ridges like one's spread out fingers. He was running ahead of these ridges but she was behind and had to cross them. He ran back where his grandmother was sitting. "You certainly told me the truth for Vagina-that-kills is running after me.19 She will soon be here." Considering what she could do with him she moved over the vessel in which food was boiling, put the fire to one side, and dug a hole underneath where the fire had been. She told Naiyenezgani to go into the hole she had dug and covered him with a thin stone and replaced the fire and the boiling pot. She made a big fire and sat down by one side of it.

Just then the girl came running up, asking which way her husband had run. The grandmother denied that any man had been there. The girl insisted that her husband had run there. She said she could determine by her urine for it would run and stop where her husband was located.

She went up on the slope and drew radiating lines. Her urine flowed down and came right to the fire. Saying her husband should be there, she threw the pot to one side, pushed the fire over, pulled up the stone, and grabbed him by the arm. She pulled him out and calling him husband asked him to hurry, at the same time raising her skirt. He looked and was afraid of her teeth which were grinding against each other. The girl urged him to hurry, but he excused himself by saying that he did not do that in an exposed place but required that a 'good bed be spread with grass. This bed he said must be in a house made of four poles of Douglas spruce which grows upon large mountains standing at the four cardinal points.

She ran off toward the east. While she was gone Naiyenezgani fashioned an implement so large (six inches in diameter) of white, stone. He sewed a cover of buckskin on this. The girl soon came running back with a Douglas spruce pole. She ran off again to the south. While she was gone he made another implement of sand. The girl soon returned again bringing back another Douglas spruce pole. She went again toward the west. While she was gone he made an implement of pitch. She returned and went again to the north. While she was gone he made a fourth implement of the wax from the sumac.

The girl soon came back with a fourth pole of Douglas spruce. She prepared a bed of grass and built a house over it with the four poles. She placed herself on her back and asked her husband to hurry. He replied that it was not his custom to do such things in the daytime. The girl then besought the sun to hasten its descent and expressed a wish that night might come speedily. When it was night she placed herself again and called too her husband to hurry. He wrapped the four implements and a round stone in a blanket and carried them to the bed. He sat down by the woman placing the stone by her head. When she asked him to hurry he said he would, and took up the white stone implement he had made and holding the girl's legs, inserted it. He heard a sound "guz, guz, guz" as the teeth worked upon it. The white stone implement was entirely consumed and came out in pieces. He immediately inserted the implement of sand. When that had been consumed in a similar manner, he inserted the implement of pitch. He heard a sound like " łuk, łuk, łuk." Finally he used the implement made of the wax of the sumac. When he' heard the sound "łuk" again he took up the stone he had put at the head of the bed, and pounding at the teeth, broke them all off. " This is the way woman shall be, she shall not have teeth," he said. When it was daylight she sat a little way from camp crying.

Naiyenezgani sat with his grandmother. He asked her where Delgit. lived. She cautioned him not to ask that, saying the place was a dangerous one. Naiyenezgani made the usual remark about his grandmother and walked out on the plain without special preparation for his task. He saw the animal he sought. It was lying in an open plain where there was no cover. While Naiyenezgani was sitting despondently wondering how he was to approach the animal that was lying there, the grass a little way from him moved. A "man" put up his head and said "sho" and asked why he was sitting there. Naiyenezgani said he was wondering how he could approach the animal lying yonder. His inquisitor said that he was the only one who frequently approached the animal. Naiyenezgani then asked that he go to the animal and prepare a way of approach. The other one replied that when he got there the animal would get up and look down. That would be evidence of his success. He then withdrew into his hole and started away.

After a time Naiyenezgani who had remained sitting there saw the animal get up and look down where it had been lying. Then the one who was.

assisting Naiyenezgani said, "Sho, it is I. I did it. I cut off some of your hair, because my children are cold. Lie down again."

The animal lay down again and the one who was assisting gnawed off the hair in a round patch behind the shoulder. He went back into his hole and made four tunnels one below the other. When he had finished these he returned where Naiyenezgani was sitting. He told him that he had denuded a place where the animal's heart was beating and that he had prepared four tunnels one above the other. Naiyenezgani, in case of attack, was to run into these tunnels in succession. Naiyenezgani then went to the animal by means of the uppermost tunnel. When he came there he saw the smooth skin throbbing from the action of the heart above it. Taking his obsidian war club in his hand he came to the place. He drove the weapon into the animal's heart and jabbed it about.  The animal jumped up and stuck his horn into the ground ripping out the top tunnel. Naiyenezgani ran quickly to the next tunnel. When the animal ripped that one open he ran to the third and fourth. As he was ripping out this fourth one in which Naiyenezgani lay he fell over dead. Naiyenezgani succeeded in killing the animal just as he himself was likely to be killed. He killed it because it had been killing the people who lived on the earth. He went to the animal and began to skin it. The birds, who were then people, came there and asked for the hair saying their children were freezing. Each grabbed a handful of hair and went away with it. Naiyenezgani prepared the skin and then knocked the animal's brain out. He took also the blood and manure. He sewed up the yellowish dressed skin to contain the blood. He also put the manure and brains in the container made of dressed skin. He took out the bones also. He carried all these to the place where his grandmother sat.20

The hide was spread on the ground and pegged down where it was scraped with a. rough stone. It was then softened by rubbing with the hands.21 From this he made a war coat with scalloped opening in front.

While he was living with his grandmother he asked her where Ts'innagole lived. She cautioned him not to mention it saying it was a dangerous place to which Naiyenezgani replied with the usual reference to his grandmother's organs. Naiyenezgani put on his war coat and put the brains of Delgit in the, front of the coat. The blood of Delgit he put in the front of his shirt. He put the manure also in the same place and the white bones of Delgit. Thus equipped he started away and came out on a plain. He had not gone far when he heard a noise "ye." He looked about to see what had made the noise but found nothing although he looked over the ground on all sides of himself.


1 Told by Antonio, a man who was born about 1850 in the region known as Wheat fields, north of Globe, Arizona. He is considered the chief of his band, a position of some honor but without formal duties. Possessed of considerable priestly lore he was a very capable and willing narrator.
2 These four primordial beings seem to be selected because they are deemed capable of remaining in space unsupported by earth or sky. This is logical enough for Whirlwind and Mirage. For Spider, one's eyesight must be too poor to see the supporting threads, to conceive of the web being self-supporting. Black Metal Old Man is difficult. Thunderbolts are believed to be flaked stone points, flint or black obsidian. The word bec originally meant that and is so translated by Matthews in Navaho Legends and elsewhere. The Apache only know metal as its significance. I am inclined to think that lightning flashes are meant but not directly named through fear. It is possible the Sun's disk is referred to for the general importance of the Sun in Apache belief would give him first place. The adjective diłxił is simply the most sacred color and could be used even of snow. The use of xastin implies respect as well as age and is often used much as mister in English.
3 This method is employed to produce people by Estsánnatlehi in the Navajo story. Matthews, 148.
4 The Apache circuit is sunwise, beginning with the east. The colors are as here given: black, east; white, south; yellow, west; blue, north. The Navajo have the sky supported on five pillars. Franciscan Fathers, 354.
5 The Navajo have an account of her origin. Matthews, 104. The Jicarilla Apache consider Yolgaiisdzan, the grandmother of Naiyenesgani, to be the earth. Goddard, (a), 206.
6 The Navajo account of a deluge is connected with the emergence in this world through a reed of those who were fleeing from the rising waters. This story may have been influenced by the Biblical account. Boats were not known to the Apache. The Pima have an earthen vessel employed during the flood. Russell, (b), 209, 211.
7 See Matthews, 105 for the Navajo account. Cf. Stevenson, (b), 35, for union of sun and foam. The Zuni also use four as a ceremonial number in myths. Stevenson, (b), 28, 30.
8 See reference to webbed hands and feet in Stevenson, (b), 28, 29, 34.
9 This lack of complete human form is in preparation of initiation later when the boy is to be fashioned. The two incidents are the origins of the ceremony for boys.
10 Matthews, 109.
11 The major gods, seldom named, may be referred to. They would strictly speaking be the father of the Sun or his uncles. Cf. Matthews, 106.
12 Son's son. The term is reciprocal.
13 In the Navajo account done by the daughters of the Sun. Matthews, 112. The adolescence ceremony in the Navajo version is the racing on page 106 of Matthews.
14 This monitor frequently mentioned in this and following myths is usually explained as a fly or insect. In some degree the concept is that of a guardian spirit. The wind serves Naiyenezgani in this manner in the Navajo myths.
15 This trip to the sun according to this version is for the general adolescence ceremony and the special equipment as a warrior. Among the Hopi and Zuni and to a considerable extent the Navajo, the two brothers who visit the Sun are war gods and the entire myth belongs to the warrior cult.
16 Cf. Matthews, 125. Goddard (a), 204.
17 Cf. Matthews, 122-123. Goddard, (a), 202; (b), 235-236.
18 Cf. Matthews, 123-124
19. This widespread story was not included by Matthews, and hardly seems in place in the Apache account. The Jicarilla Apache know it. Goddard, (a) 203
20 The Navajo account is in Matthews, 117-118. Cf. Goddard, (a), 197-198; Goddard, (b), 236.
21 This skindressing was probably done by the grandmother. The Apache does not distinguish sex grammatically. Such division of labor is too obvious to be specially mentioned in the narrative.

San Carlos Apache Mythology

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Myths And Tales From The San Carlos Apache, 1918



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