Myths and Tales from the San Carlos Apache
The Snake Ceremony
They say it happened long ago. Two men set out from Gotalbakawadi to make a war raid. When they arrived they were unsuccessful and turned back. When they came near Black River on their return there were no people there but close to the stream bed there were a person’s footprints.
They followed the tracks and it seemed the person had gone into a large stone which lay there. One of them, saying it was Stone Echo Girl who had made the tracks, urged that they should go on to a camping place as it was near sunset. When they wanted to build a fire one of them went for some sotol stalks which he was breaking off when he saw a porcupine running off toward its hole which it entered. He ran to his brother and told him about it. They went to the hole, pushed a sharpened stick in, twisting it so it was entangled in the quills and then pulled the animal out. They carried the animal back, built a fire, and put in some small stones to heat. When they were hot they put in the porcupine and covered it up with the ashes. While it was cooking they sat there one on either side of the fire until midnight. They then took the porcupine out and one of them ate of it but the other did not. They went to sleep, but after a little one of them woke up. Then the other one woke up, and one began to tell the other that he did not feel well and that if the other should return to their home he should tell what had happened to him. The other brother remained however until daybreak when the older brother said, “Now I am nearly dead. Go back, brother, but do not look back. When you are on Yucca ridge do not look back.” Then the younger brother started back, but when he came to Yucca ridge he said to himself “Why did he tell me not to look back?” He looked back where his brother sat and saw something weird going along. He ran and came back to Gotalbakawadi. He told them they had had bad luck at Black River. “Well, we will find out,” he (the father) replied and sent messengers east, south, west, and north to call the people together. Before long they assembled and started to go to Black River. They traveled with sheet lightning so they could see well. When they came there many of them said, “I am a medicineman.” The man who had been sitting there was not to be found and the medicinemen did not know where he was. They looked for a long time for his track but found no trace of it. They did see the mark where a snake had crawled along. They concluded that must have been made by the man and decided to follow it. This they did until it came to the edge of the water of Black River, where they were forced to stop. Those who claimed supernatural power tried to raise up the water of the river but were not able to do so. Finally distant lightning raised it a little and the company started down the bed of the river beneath the water. They went on downstream until they came to the junction of the rivers.1 When they came close they found no signs of the lost man and continued downstream until they came where the water sinks below the surface.2
They went downstream from there until they came way down and there they found him but he was not a human being.
Then a man with supernatural power who had come with them took his four rings and began to throw them at what had been a man. The first restored the man as far as his neck. The second one fell on him and made him a man as far as his waist. The third restored nearly all the remainder of his body, and the fourth made him completely a man as he had been before. They all returned without mishap to Gotalbakawadi. When they were nearly back, they stopped by a place which they said should be called Tsexadecgij, “forked rock.” There they say supernatural ones live. They went still further until they came where it is called Tuittsogixal[iogon], “yellow water spring” where also supernatural people are said to live. From there all the company went on back until they came to Gotalbakawadi where all the different kinds of supernatural ones live. They were going to make there the people who talk the different languages and from there they were to be scattered out in different directions. They danced there twelve nights during which time no one slept. When the people were feeling happy they made names for the various types. They made thirty-two different languages and then the people separated from each other.
“The supernatural ones will live here,” he said. Then he made for the people those things on which we live. He made thirty-two kinds of fruits and vegetable food on which he said the people should live. He promised them rain which would make these plants grow. He made for them their corn, bi’onagai, and agave telling them to roast the latter with fire. He also made acorns, giant cactus, and two other kinds of cactus which they should use as food. Then he made for them day and night and arranged the months. Some of these he made to be cold and some of them hot. He made twelve months altogether and divided them in the middle, one part hot and one part cold. Now everything on the earth had been made by him.
Then the chief of the supernatural ones said that the people should live on the earth happily and promised to look after them saying that they should all be his children. He told them that they should do whatever he did. He promised to pray for them. He said he would live on top of the sky. If it rained the fruits would grow for them. He made everything for the people and arranged it properly. He charged them to remember what he told them saying that he had made everything good for them and that they were to live on the earth. He told them to pray to him and reminded them that he had made all the various things for them. He warned them it would not be well for them if they did not give heed to the things he was telling them. Whatever they said or thought would be known to him. He was saying this because he thought they would live happily because of what he had said. He promised that he would go across above the world every day and see them everywhere.
He also said he had made pollen with which the people on the earth everywhere should pray and that they should pray to him only with it.
Having made many languages for them and said all this to them he directed that they go their several ways and scatter over the earth and that he would go up above where he would live.
“Now, this is all,” he said.1