The following stories are Havasupai legends that were collected by Carma Lee Smithson in the summer of 1958. She collected twenty-six stories total, but for the purpose of this blog and project, I will be sharing three stories with you. These are called the Origin Story, Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up, and Frog Rock. You can find these stories and more in Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon.
The Havasupai origin legend goes like this. People once lived under the earth somewhere, but nobody knows where. They lived underground where it was dark with no sun. There was a pool of water near their living space and just a few families. Two brothers, who were leaders, told their people what to do all the time. One day, one of the men that lived underground planted a grape seed by the pool. The seed grew into a grapevine and grew very fast. It grew in a spiral way then shot up straight above ground. The people climbed the first part of the grapevine and stayed there for the night. Then they climbed the next part and stayed there for another night. It is not known how many times they spent the night like this, sleeping on the parts of the grapevine, until they reached the surface of the Earth.
Back at the camp, underground, there was a young woman whom none of the men wanted to marry. She was jealous of other women. One day she was sitting beside the pool looking into the water when some women came with jars to collect the liquid for drink. One of the women said, “Why do you run off like this? We want you to come home.” The woman grabbed the young one’s hair sitting by the pool and began inspecting her hair for lice. She saw many scars and asked what they were.
The young woman was mad that the men did not like her, so she came up with something that the men would like. She turned herself into a tobacco plant that grew beside the pool. The men gathered the leaves and took them back to camp. The men put the tobacco in the middle of their circle and started smoking it. Then the tobacco changed back into the young woman and she said, “I thought you men didn’t like me!” and she laughed and went off alone. A few days later the young woman was missing, so a woman went to the spring searching for her. She found her, and inspected her head again for lice. The woman tried to grab her, to inquire about her scars again, but the young woman leapt into the pool and avoided her questions. Instead, she turned into a frog and the water began to rise.
In the meantime, the men were sitting and talking. They were talking about this world. Small game was plentiful, but they could not get close enough to see it in the dark. They asked their leader to make a light so they could see to shoot their game. Older Brother said, “Yes I can make a sun. But first you must go to bed and this will be night. Then someone must call, ‘It is daybreak, there will be a dawn in the east. The sun will come up and move across the sky to the west.’” The people did as they were told, but at dawn the moon came up instead of the sun. Older Brother said, “We’ll call this Sun and we can see small game to kill it.” However, Younger Brother disagreed, and said, “No, that isn’t bright enough. It looks shady and we can’t see good enough.” He described the moon as looking like an old man.
Younger Brother took a pipe wrapped around with sinew. He told his people to go to bed like they did before and he would make a sun and call this one another name. At daybreak, the sun came up and it was bright enough so they called the other one a moon. According to Havasupai legend, in those times, the sky was about half as high as it is now. The clouds passed by low and the sun went across the sky too fast. Younger Brother took a cane and pushed the sky higher so that the sun and sky would be together. Then the people began to go where they could see grass, springs, and other things in the world. They found plenty of game and thought this would be a good way to live.
It was at this time that the frog-woman made the spring rise up through a hole to the first coil of the vine, then to the second, and then up to the top until the water was covering the earth. The people put a small girl in a log. They gave her food, water, birds, and animals. Two men told her she would be going up and down in the water and that everyone would drown. They told the little girl to remember the San Francisco Peaks so she could find it if she came back to earth in another place. Her mission was to get water from a spring on top of the peaks.
The water covered the earth and drowned all of the people except the little girl. It rose to the top of the sky. A lone woodpecker hung to the top of the sky. He called, “Gi-u Gi-yu.” Water touched his tail feathers but he managed to escape. The water receded, because it knew that all of the people had drowned. In this origin story, the water thought like a person and had human-like characteristics. The little girl in her log came to rest near Grand Falls, a waterfall on the Little Colorado River. This was the first place that the girl made camp. The mud was soft and she made horses, grinding rocks, pots; anything she could think of. After a while, she got tired of staying in the same place so she set out to find the mountain and the spring the two men had told her about. She found the spring, dripping from overhanging rocks. She used the water to cook.
The girl had grown up and was lonely. She decided to make another person. One morning when it was early, she laid down and spread her legs. The sun’s rays hit her womb. After this, she took a dip in the waterfall and became pregnant. She had a baby girl 1 and together they lived happily until her daughter was grown.
Then the mother told her daughter to do as she had done. The daughter did so, and became pregnant with a baby boy. This boy grew big enough to hunt and he hunted many animals. He was the first to come to Supai, 2 the modern day home of the Havasupai tribe. Here, the Havasupai believe that the rock walls closed to kill people and to prevent them from entering. The boy was a fast runner and one day he jumped in and retrieved some reeds before the walls could close in on him.
Then, the boy took an animal hide and smeared it with blood. An eagle descended and carried the boy off to its nest. He killed eight big eagles and four little ones and took all of their feathers. He prayed and blew his breath, and the rock turned into sand so he could walk down and return to camp. When he returned to camp, he made arrows with the eagle feathers. He lived there for a while at camp. One day he met a man. His father was the dripping spring who impregnated his mother. He could assume both forms. The man had some horses and asked the boy which he would like for himself. The boy picked his best horse, a roan, and although reluctant, the father gave it to the boy.
The man then said, “Son, you must be like me.” He laid the boy down on the ground and split him open. He placed a lightning bolt inside of his body. The man said, “I am the sun and the water and now you will be like me forever. Come on and I’ll show you the world.” They visited a tree in the sky and many other places. The boy then returned home and lived with his mother for many years. He then decided it was not good to stay in one place all the time. So his grandmother said, “I’ll go west and take the big horses. You go east and take the little horses. If you want to see me anytime, in the spring or the fall, if the days are windy or cloudy, I’ll know you are coming to see me. I’ll give you seeds. You can scatter them along with the rain. You can say this will be grass, food, pinyons 3, and other plants. There are many people in the world but they fight one another and we will do this to keep them going.” So the boy went east and his grandmother went west. When the weather is windy or stormy, the Havasupai know the boy is visiting his grandmother. This concludes the origin story of the Havasupai.
Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up
The legend surrounding Havasu Canyon 4 and its walls closing up has three versions. In the first version, Coyote said that long ago the walls of Havasu Canyon used to close and open so no one would come down into the canyon. Many people were crushed between the walls. Then two boys came down with arrows and tried to stop the walls from closing. They shot arrows at the walls and this stopped them from closing. After this, people could pass through the canyon. The second version states as well that the canyon walls long ago would move back and forth and kill anyone who tried to pass through. This happened repeatedly until many people were unfortunately killed. Then a man came and wondered how he could stop this. He carried a big log on his head to the walls. The walls closed in around the log, which left an opening clear for people to pass through safely.
The third version of this story is the longest. An old lady lived somewhere on the plateau and she had two boys. While they were on the plains they saw many game animals such as wild deer and rabbits. They wondered how they would get them and kill them for food. Finally, they asked their old mother how to shoot them. She told them they have to use an arrow, but it had to be made with feathers and points. They asked where to get reeds for the arrows and she told them it was a dangerous place and she did not want them to go. The reeds grew in the canyon in a place that was full of bones. They did not tell their mother they were going. They cut two long juniper trees and started down to the canyon carrying the logs on their heads. When they made it to Havasu Creek 5, the walls closed up. The boys were smart, however, and placed the logs in between so the walls could not completely close. They got the reeds they needed for their arrows and when their mother asked how they did it, they told her nothing.
Frog Rock is a Havasupai story that concerns a rock formation on top of Redwall limestone near Supai Village. The legend goes that a frog came from the ocean in the west looking for a good place to stay. He crossed the Colorado River and then spent four more nights jumping around and playing close to the river. He took about a month more to arrive in Havasupai Canyon. 6 He was ready to jump when he saw the river below. He was on the very edge of the rim when he turned to stone and could not jump anymore. A local culture hero named Bagiova, turned the frog to stone and made him stay right there for the Havasupai.
Other Havasupai legends
Like most Native American mythology, Havasupai legends revolve around animals, family, and journeys or quests. There is great wisdom in these stories for the tribe. These stories are meaningful and full of symbolism, especially symbols from nature and animals. Their animal legends focus on creatures familiar to them, which include the coyote, eagle, bear, bat, gila monster, turkey, fox, and hawk. Other legends that do not focus mainly on animals are about menstruation, being unable to have children, marriage, grandparents, and the sun and his daughters. Since the Havasupai had no knowledge of science, naturally they believed that the world around them was related to their origins and thus they found religious significance as well in their canyon environment.
- Another version says she was impregnated by the sun’s rays.
- Capital of the modern-day Havasupai Reservation, their main home for centuries.
- A type of pine tree that grows in the Southwest.
- Where Supai is located.
- Located on the Havasupai Reservation and features many notable blue-green waterfalls that the tribe holds dear to their hearts.
- Another name for Havasu Canyon.
Smithson, Carma Lee, and Robert C. Euler. Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, 1994.