Zuni Folktales by Frank Hamilton Cushing
Previous Index Next
THE WARRIOR SUITOR OF MOKI
We take up a story. Of the times of the ancients, a story. Listen, ye young ones and youths, and from what I say draw inference. For behold! the youth of our nation in these recent generations have become less sturdy than of old; else what I relate had not happened.
To our shame be it told that not many generations ago there lived in Moki a poor, ill-favored outcast of a young man, a not-to-be-thought-of-as-hero youth, yet nevertheless the hero of my story; for this youth, the last-mentioned in the numbering of the men of Moki in those days, alone brought great grief on the nation of Zuñi.
And it happened that in Walpi, on the first mesa of the Mokis, there lived an amiable, charming, and surpassingly beautiful girl, whose face was shining, eyes bright, cheeks red like the frost-bite on the datila; whose hair was abundant and soft, black and waving, and done up in large whorls above her ears,—larger than those of the other maidens of her town or nation,—and whose beautiful possessions were as many as were the charms of her person.
What wonder, then, that the youths of the Moki towns should be enamored of her, and seek constantly, with much urgent bespeaking, for the favor
[1. Fruit of the yucca, or soap-weed plant.]
of her affections? Yet she would none of them. She would shake her head with a saucy smile, and reply to every one, as well as to every recommendation of one from her elders: "A hero for me or no one! Any one of these young men may win my affections if he will, for who knows until the time comes whether a man be a hero or not?"
So she made a proposition. She said to all the youths who came suing for her hand Behold! our nation is at enmity with the Zuñis, far off to the eastward, over the mountains. If any of you be so stout of limb and strong of heart and brave of will, let him go to Zuñi, slay the men of that nation, our enemies, and bring home, not only as proofs of his valor, but as presentations to the warrior societies of our people, scalps in goodly number. Him will I admire to the tips of my eyelashes; him will I cherish to the extent of my powers; him will I make my husband, and in such a husband will I glory!"
But most of the young and handsome suitors who worried her with their importunities would depart forthwith, crestfallen, loving the girl as they did, forsooth, much less than they feared the warriors of Zuñi,—so degenerate they had become, for shame! Months passed by. Not one of those who went to the maiden's house full of love came away from it with as much love as want of valor.
At last this outcast youth I have mentioned—who was spoken to by none, who lived not even in the houses of his people, but, all filth and rags, made himself comfortable as best he could with the
dogs and eagles and other creatures captive of the people, eating like them the castaway and unwholesome scraps of ordinary meals—heard these jilted lovers conversing from time to time, exclaiming one to another: "A valuable maiden, indeed, for whom one would risk one's life single handed against a nation whose ancients ever prevailed over all men! No! though she be the loveliest of women, I care not for her on those conditions." "Nor I Nor I!" others would exclaim.
Overhearing this talk, the youth formed a most presumptuous resolution—no other, in fact, than this: that he himself would woo the maiden.
All dirty and ragged as he was, with hair unkempt, finger-nails long, and person calloused by much exposure, lean and wiry like an abused but hardened cur, he took himself one night to the home of the maiden's father.
"She-e!" he exclaimed at the entrance of the house, on the top.
And the people within called out: "Kwátchi!"
"Are ye in?" inquired the youth, in such an affable and finished tone and manner of speaking that the people expected to see some magnificent youth enter, and to listen to his proposal of marriage with their maiden.
When they called out "Come in!" and he came stepping down the ladder into the lighted room, they were, therefore, greatly surprised to see this vagabond in the place of what they expected; nevertheless, the old father greeted him pleasantly and politely and showed him a seat before the
fireplace, and bade the women set food before him. And the youth, although he had not for many a day tasted good food or consumed a full meal even, ate quite sparingly; and, having finished, joined, by the old man's invitation, in the smoking and conversation of the evening.
At last the old man asked him what he came thinking of; and the youth stated that, although it might seem presumptuous, he had heard of the conditions which the maiden of this house had made for those who would win her, and it had occurred to him that he would be glad to try,—so little were his merits, yet so great his love.
The old man listened, with an inward smile; and the maiden, though she conceived no dislike for the youth (there was something about him, strange to say, now that his voice had been heard, which changed her opinion of him), nevertheless was quite merry, all to herself, over this unheard-of proposal. So, when she was asked what she thought of the matter, merely to test the seriousness of the young vagabond's motives, she made the conditions for him even harder than she had for the others, saying: "Look you, stranger! If you will slay single-handed some of the warriors of the valiant Zuñis and bring back to our town, to the joy of our warriors and people, a goodly number of their scalps, I will indeed wed you, as I have said I would the others."
This satisfied the youth, and, bidding them all pass a happy night, he went forth into the dark.
Not quite so poor and helpless as he seemed, was
this youth; but one of those wonderful beings of this earth in reality, for, behold! as he had lived all his days since childhood with the dogs and eagles and other captive animals of the towns of Moki-land, so, from long association with them, he had learned their ways and language and had gained their friendship and allegiance as no other mortal ever did. No family had he; no one to advise him, save this great family of dogs and other animals with which he lived.
What do you suppose he did? He went to each hole, sheltered nook, and oven in the town and called on the Dogs to join him in council, not long before morning of that same night. Every Dog in the town answered the summons; and, below the mesa on which Walpi stands, on one of those sloping banks lighted by the moon, they gathered and made a tremendous clamor with their yelpings and barkings and other noises such as you are accustomed to hear from Dogs at night-time. The proposition which the youth made to this council of Dogs was as follows:
"My friends and brothers, I am about to go .forth on the path of war to the cities of the Zuñis toward the sunrise. If I succeed, my reward will be great. Now, as I well know from having lived amongst you and been one of you so long, there are two things which are more prized in a Dog's life than anything else. An occasional good feast is one of them; being let alone is another. I think I can bring about both of these rewards for you all if you will, four days hence, after I have prepared
a sufficiency of food for the party, join me in my warlike expedition against the Zuñis."
The Dogs greeted this proposition with vociferous acclamation, and the council dispersed.
On the following day, toward evening, the youth again presented himself at the home of the maiden. "My friends," said he to the family; "I am, as you know, or can easily perceive, extremely poor. I have no home nor source of food; yet, as I anticipate that I shall be long on this journey, and as I neither possess nor know how to use a bow and arrow, I come to humbly beseech your assistance. I will undertake this thing which has been proposed to me; but, in order that I may be enabled the more easily to do so, I desire that you will present to me a sufficiency of food for my journey; or, if you will lend it to me, I shall be satisfied."
Now, the maiden's people were among the first in the nation, and well-to-do in all ways. They most willingly consented to give the young man not only a sufficiency of food for days, but for months; and when he went away that night he had all that he could carry of meal, coarse and fine, piki or Moki wafer-rolls, tortillas, and abundant grease-cakes, which he well knew would be most tempting to Dogs.
On the fourth day thereafter,—for he had been making his weapons: some flint knives and a good hard war-club,—at evening, he again called at each of the holes and places the Dogs of the town inhabited, and he said to all of them: "I shall leave forthwith on my journey, having provided myself
with a sufficiency of food for much feasting on the way. Like yourselves, I have become inured to hardship and am swift of foot, and by midnight I shall be half-way to Zuñi. As soon as the people are asleep, that they may not pelt you with stones and drive you back, follow on the trail to Zuñi as fast as you can. I will await you by the side of the Black Mountains, near the Spring of the Nighthawks, and there I will cook the provisions, that we may have a jolly feast and the more strongly proceed on our journey the day following."
The Dogs gave him repeated assurances of their willingness to follow; and, heavily laden with his provisions, the youth, just at dusk, climbed unobserved down the nether side of the mesa and set out through the plains of sagebrush, over the hills far east of Moki, and so on along the plateaus and valleys leading to this our town of Zuñi. At the place he had appointed as a rendezvous he arrived not long before midnight, lighted a fire, unstrapped his provisions, and began to cook mush in great quantities.
Now, after the lights in the windows of Moki began to go out—shutting up their red eyes, as it were, as the maidens of Moki shut up their bright eyes—there was tremendous activity observed among the Dogs. But they made not much noise about it until every last Dog in town—as motley a crowd of curs and mongrels as ever were seen, unless one might see all the Dogs of Moki today—descended the mesa, and one by one gathered in a great pack, and started, baying, barking, and
howling louder and louder as they went along over the eastern hills on the trail which the youth had taken.
By-and-by he heard them coming; te-ne-e-e-e they sounded as they ran; wo-wo-o-o-o they came, baying and barking in all sorts of voices, nearer and nearer. So the youth prepared his provisions, and as the nearest of them came into the light of the fire, cried out: "Ho, my friends, ye come! I am glad to see ye come! Sit ye round my camp-fire. Let us feast and be merry and lighten the load of my provisions. Methinks we will all carry some of them when we start out tomorrow."
Thereupon he liberally distributed mush, tortillas, and paper bread,—inviting the hot, tired Dogs to drink their fill from the spring and eat their fill from the feast. The Dogs, being very hungry, as Dogs always are—and the more so from the memory of many a long fast—fell to with avidity (and you know what that means with Dogs); and the Short-legs and Beagles would not have fared very well had the youth not considered them and held back a good supply of provisions against their tardy appearance.
Finally, when all were assembled and had eaten, if not to their satisfaction—that was impossible—yet to their temporary gratification, a merry, noisy, much-wriggling crowd they became. Some lay down and rested, others were impatient for the journey; so that even before daylight the youth, making up his bundle of provisions, again set forth at a swift trot, followed by this pack of Dogs which
ran along either side of him and strung out on the trail the length of a race-course behind him.
Before night, see this valiant youth quietly hiding himself away in one of the deep arroyos around the western end of Grand Mountain, and the foot-hills of Twin Mountain, near which, as you know, the trail from Moki leads to our town. He is giving directions to the Dogs in a quiet manner, and feeding them again, rather more sparingly than at first that they may be anxious for their work.
He says to them: "My friends and brothers, lay yourselves about here, each one according to his color in places most suited for concealment,—some near the gray sage-bushes; and you fellows with fine marks on your backs keep out of sight, pray, in these deep holes, and come in as our reserve force when we want you. Now, lie here patiently, for you will have enough work to do, and can afford to rest. Tomorrow morning, not long after sunrise, I shall doubtless come, with more precipitation than willingness, toward your ambuscade, with a pack of Dogs less worthy the name than yourselves at my heels. Be ready to help me; they are well-nurtured Dogs, and doubtless, if you like, you will be wise enough to make much of this fact."
The Dogs were well pleased with his proposition, and, in louder voices than was prudent, attested their readiness to follow his suggestion, going so far as to assure him that he need have no fear whatsoever, that they alone would vanquish the Zuñi
nation—which, they had heard from other Dogs, was becoming rather lazy and indifferent in manly matters, Dogs and all.
The night wore on; the youth had refreshed himself with sleep, and somewhat after the herald-stars of the morning-star had appeared, he stealthily picked his way across our broad plain, toward the hill of Zuñi; and out west there, only a short space from the sunset front of our town, he crouched down on a little terrace to wait.
Not long after the morning-star had risen, a fine old Zuñi came out of his house, shook his blanket, wrapped it round him, and came stealing down in the daylight to the river side. After he had presented his morning sacrifice toward the rising sun, he returned and sat down a moment. He had no sooner seated himself than the wily, sinewy youth with a quick motion sprang up, pulled the poor man over, and with his war-club knocked his brains out, after which he leisurely took off the scalp of the one he had slain. He had barely finished this operation when he heard a ladder creak in one of the tipper terraces of the town. He quickly tucked the scalp in his belt, pulled himself together, and thrusting the body of the dead man into the bottom of a hole, which was very near, crouched over it and waited. The footsteps of the man who was coming sounded nearer and nearer. Presently he also came to this place; but no sooner had he reached the terrace than the Moki youth leaped up and dealt him such a blow on the head that, without uttering a sound, he instantly expired. This one he likewise
scalped, and then another and another he served in the same way, until, there being four slain men in the pit, he had to drag some out of the way and throw them behind the dust-heap. Just as he returned another man sauntered down to the place. The youth murdered him like the rest, and was busy skinning his scalp, when another who had followed him somewhat closely appeared at the hole, and discovering what was going on, ran toward the town for his weapons, shouting the war-cry of alarm as he went. Picking up the scalps and snatching from the bodies of the slain their ornaments of greatest value, the Moki youth sped off over the plain.
In less time than it takes to tell it, the people of Zuñi were in arms; dogs barked, children cried, women screamed,—for no one knew how many the enemy might be,—and the Priests of the Bow, in half-secured armor of buckskin, and with weapons in hand, came thundering down the hill and across the plains in pursuit of the fleeing youth and in readiness to oppose his band. Long before this crowd of warriors, now fully awake and wild with rage, had reached the spot, the youth plunged into the arroyo and called out to his Dogs: "Now for it, my friends! They will be here in a minute! Do you hear them coming?"
"Oh, ho!" softly barked the Dogs; and they stiffened their claws and crouched themselves to spring when the time should come.
Presently on came the crowd of warriors, now feeling that they had but a small force, if indeed
more than one man to oppose. And they came with such precipitation that they took the gray and dun and yellow-shaded Dogs for so many rocks and heaps of sand, and were fairly in the midst of those brutes before they became aware of them at all. Death and ashes! what a time there was of it! The youth fell in with his war-club, the Dogs around, behind, and in front of them howling, snarling, biting, tearing, and shaking the Zuñis on every hand, until every one of the band was torn to pieces or so mangled that a few taps of the club of the youth dispatched them. Those who had followed behind, not knowing what to think of it all, frantically ran back to their people,—the shame-begrimed cowards!—while the youth, with abundant leisure, went on skinning scalps, until, perceiving much activity in the distant town, concluded it would be wise to abandon some few he had not finished. So, catching up his pack of provisions and his bloody string of scalps (which was so long and thick he could hardly carry it, and which dragged on the ground behind him), he trotted over the hills, followed by some of the Dogs—the others remaining behind, feeling more secure of swiftness—to take advantage of the ample feast spread before them.
When the youth and the Dogs who followed him, or afterward joined him, had again reached the great spring by the Black Mountains, leaving those who pursued far behind, they stopped; and, building a fire of brush and pine-knots, the youth cooked all the provisions he had. "Thanks this day, my friends and brothers!" he cried to the
Dogs. "Ye have nobly served me. I will feast ye of the best." Whereupon he produced the grease-cakes and the more delicate articles of food which he had reserved as a reward for the Dogs. They ate and ate, and loud were their demonstrations of satisfaction. Then the youth, taking up the string of scalps again, attached them to a long pole, which, to keep the lower ones from dragging on the ground, he elevated over his shoulder, and, striking up a song of victory, he wound his way along the trail toward Moki.
The Dogs, crazy with victory and much glutted, could not contain themselves, but they bow-wowed with delight and yelped and scurried about, cutting circles dusty and wide around their father, the conquering youth. They hurried on so fast that by-and-by it was noticeable that the Beagle Dogs fell in the rear. "By the music of marrowbones!" exclaimed some of the swifter of foot; "we will have to slacken our pace, father." Said they, addressing the youth: "Our poor brothers, the Short-legs, are evidently getting tired; they are falling far in the rear, and it is not valorous, however great your victory and however strong your desire to proclaim it at home, to leave a worn-out brother lagging behind. The enemy might come unawares and cut off his return and his daylight." Most reluctantly, therefore, they slackened their pace, and with shouts and yelps encouraged as much as possible the stump-legged Dogs following behind.
Now, on that day in Moki there had been much surprise expressed at the absence of the Dogs,
except those which were so young or so old that they could not travel; and the people began to think that some devil or all the wizards in Mokidom had been conjuring their Dogs away from them, when toward evening they heard a distant sound, which was the approaching victors' demonstration of rejoicing, and clear above all was the song of victory shouted by the lusty youth as he came bringing his scalps along. "Woo, woo, woo!" the Dogs sounded as they came across the valley and approached the foot of the mesa; and when the people looked down and saw the blood and dirt with which every Dog was covered, they knew not what to make of it,—whether their Dogs had been enticed away and foully beaten, or whether they had taken after a herd of antelope, perhaps, and vanquished them. But presently they espied in the midst of the motley crowd of Curs the tall lank form of the vagabond youth and heard his lusty song. The youths who had been jilted by the maiden at once had their own ideas. Some of them sneaked away; others ground their teeth and covered their eyes, filled with rage and shame; while the elder-men of the nation, seeing what feats of valor this neglected youth had accomplished, glorified him with answering songs of victory and gathered in solemn council, as if for a most honored and precious guest, to receive him.
So, victorious and successful in all ways, the outcast dog of a youth who went to Zuñi and returned the hero of the Moki nation right willingly was accepted by this beauteous maiden as her husband
after the ceremonies of initiation and purification had been performed over him.
Ah, well! that was very fine; but all this praise of one who had been despised and abused by themselves, and, more than all, the possession of such a beautiful wife, wrought fierce jealousy in the breasts of the many jilted lovers; making those who had looked askance at one another before, true friends and firm brothers in a single cause—the undoing of this lucky vagabond youth. Nor were they alone in this desire, for behold! copying their lucky sister, all the pretty maidens in Moki declared that they would marry no one who did not show himself at least in some degree heroic, like the youth of the dog-holes who had married their pretty sister. It therefore came about that the whole tribe of Moki, so far as the young men were concerned became a company of jilted lovers, and all the maidens became confirmed in their resolutions of virgin maidenhood.
The jilted lovers got together one night in a cautious sort of way (for they were all afraid of this hero) and held a council. But the fools didn't think of the Dogs lying around outside, who heard what they said. They concluded the best way to get even with this youth was to kill him; but how to kill him was the problem, for they were cowards. "We will get up a hunt," said one; "and make friends with him and ask him to go, paying him all sorts of attention, and ask him to instruct us in the arts of war, the wretch! He will readily join us in our hunting excursion, and some of us will sling a
throwing-stick at him and finish the conceited fellow's days!"
Now, the Dogs scrambled off immediately and informed their friend and brother what was going on.
He said: "All right! I will accept their advances and go with them on the hunt."
He went off that night to a cave, where he had often sought shelter from the wind when driven out of the town of Walpi, and thus ha-d made acquaintance with those most unerring travellers in crooked places—the Cave-swallows. He went to one of them, an elderly, wise bird, and, addressing him as "Grandfather," told him what was going on.
"Very well," said the old bird; "I will help you." And he made a boomerang for the youth which had the power to fly around bushes and down into gullies; and if well thrown, of course, it could not be dodged by any rabbit, however swift of foot or sly in hiding. Having finished this boomerang, he told the youth to take it and use it freely in hunting. The youth thanked him, and returning to his town passed a peaceful night.
When he appeared the next morning, the others greeted him pleasantly—those who happened to see him—to which greetings he replied with equal cordiality. They were so importunate with the priest-chiefs to be allowed to undertake a grand rabbit-hunt that these fathers of the people, always desirous of contributing to the happiness of their children, ordered a grand hunt for the very next day. So everybody was busy forthwith in making throwing-sticks and boomerangs.
The next day all the able-bodied youth of the town, selecting the hero of whom we have told as their leader, took their way to the great plain south of Moki, and there, spreading out into an enormous circle, they drove hundreds of rabbits closer and closer together among the sagebrush in the center of the valley. Some of them succeeded in striking down one—some of them three or four—but ere long every one observed that each time the youth threw his stick he struck a rabbit and secured it, until he had so many that he was forced to call some boys who had followed along to carry them for him.
Already inflamed by their jealousies to great anger, what was the chagrin of this crowd of dandies, now that this youth whom they so heartily despised actually surpassed them even in hunting rabbits! They gnashed their teeth with rage, and one of them in a moment of excitement, when two or three rabbits were trying to escape, took deliberate aim at the youth and threw his boomerang at him. The youth, who was wily, sprang into the air so high, pretending meanwhile to throw his boomerang, that the missile missed his vital parts, but struck his leg and apparently broke it, so that he fell down senseless in the midst of the crowd; and the people set up a great shout—some of lamentation, some of exultation.
"Let him lie there and rot!" said the angry suitors, catching up their own rabbits and making off for the pueblo. But some of the old men, who deplored this seeming accident of the youth, ran as
fast as they could toward the town—fearing to raise him lest they should make his hurt worse—for medicine.
When the youth had been left alone, he opened his eyes and smiled. Then, taking from his pouch a medicine unfailing in its effects, applied it to the bruised spot and quickly became relieved of pain, if not even of injury. Rising, he looked about and found the rabbits where, panic-stricken, the boys had dropped them and fled away. He made up a huge bundle, and not long before sunset, behold! singing merrily, he came marching, though limping somewhat, through the plain before the foot-hills of Moki, bearing an enormous burden of rabbits. He climbed the mesa, greeted every one pleasantly as though nothing had occurred, took his way to his home, and became admired of all the women of Moki, young and old, as a paragon of valor and manhood.
It became absolutely necessary after that, of course,—for these faint-hearted dandies tried no more tricks with the youth,—for anyone who would marry a Moki maiden to show himself a man in some way or other; and, as the ugliest and most neglected of children generally turn out sharpest because they have to look out for themselves, so it happens that to this day the husbands of Moki are generally very ugly; but one thing is certain—they are men.
Reflect on these things, ye young ones and youths.
Thus shortens my story.