Creation Story
of the San Joaquin Valley Yokuts

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Long ago a great flood covered the earth so that there was no land, only water, with the stump of an oak tree that stuck out of the water. Most Yokuts believe that this stump was in the middle of where Tulare Lake (Pah-ah-see) once stood in the central part of the San Joaquin Valley. But a few think that it may have been located further south, closer to the middle of ancient Buena Vista Lake. No one knows for sure, but what is important is that it existed.

One day, Tro-khud (Tro-qhill) the Bald Eagle and Ahl-wut the Crow, both of whom had survived the great flood, flew out of the sky and roosted on the stump. Small fish swam in the water below the stump, and Eagle and Crow would swoop down from time to time to catch themselves a meal. But because they were not water birds, they never dove into the lake, and only fished the surface. Soon a game developed between the two to see who could catch the most fish, and sometimes they would knock each other off the stump. But it was all in fun, and they always shared their meals, and enjoyed each others company.

Often they flew far and wide looking for land, with Eagle flying higher and farther because he was bigger and stronger. Usually, Eagle flew east and Crow flew west, but they never found any land, and they always returned to their home on the stump.

One morning, much to their surprise, a small Teal Duck appeared and began swimming around their stump. The Yokuts call this duck, which is the smallest of the ducks, Choo-koo-ko, but we will continue to call him Duck. Occasionally, Duck dove beneath the surface of the water to hunt, and came up with a fish and some mud in his beak. Once Duck emerged with more mud than fish, and Eagle and Crow wondered if they could teach Duck to bring up enough mud to build some land.

One day, Eagle had a clever idea that he shared with Crow. They began catching fish, which they would place on the edge of the stump only when Duck rose to the surface with mud in his beak. Gradually, Duck learned that the fish were for him in exchange for mud. Thus, each time Duck came up from a dive, he got fed, and Eagle and Crow brushed the mud from his bill and body with their wings. They shared the mud equally, with Eagle dumping his share on the one side of the stump, and Crow dumping his on the other.

Little by little Eagle and Crow watched the water on either side of their stump grow shallower and shallower, as their piles of mud grew higher and higher. They took turns delivering the mud to its resting places, and sometimes they soared above to view the progress of their work. Eventually, the piles of mud were tall enough to break the surface of the water and become islands. Slowly, these islands grew as high as mountains. All the while, faithful Duck kept up his work as Eagle and Crow caught fish for him and scraped the mud from Duck to create a new world, which Eagle and Crow agreed to share equally.

Eagle and Crow had begun dumping their mud on the south side of stump, at the place called Tehachapi, but eventually Eagle concentrated his efforts on the east side of the stump where the sun rose each day, and Crow concentrated on the west side where the sun sets. Eventually their islands streched around both sides of their stump all the way north to the mountain of fire called Shasta.

Eagle often soared far and wide checking the progress of his side of the world, and he would not return until late after the sun had set. One morning, he compared the mountains of mud on Crow's islands to his, and he was surprized and angered to observe how much wider and taller Crow's islands and mountains were than his, and he realized that when he had been away soaring Crow had been cheating and giving himself more than his rightful share of mud.

Of course, Eagle and Crow quarrelled about this all that day and into the next, but the following day, they went back to work, Eagle now putting his fish only on his side of the stump and Crow putting his fish only on the other. To catch up, Eagle now caught two fish for every fish that Crow caught, and Duck responded by bringing up twice as much mud for Eagle. All three worked very hard for many, many moons.

Gradually, Eagle's half of the new world became taller than Crow's, even though Crow seemed to work just as hard. Sometimes earthquakes destroyed what Eagle, Crow and Duck created, and they had to start over. But the land always rose up again. All along, Duck remained faithful to his task, never tiring in his efforts. Of course, Duck continued to give Eagle twice as much mud for his two fish, and Crow never seemed to notice why Eagle's mountains became higher than his.

Now some say that these mountains of mud became the new world, but others believe that a great storm came first to send lightning flashing across the waters, and thunder rolling across the horizons, with a heavy, drenching downpour. All night, the rain fell, and created a great flood that washed away much of the new world. But, the rain finally stopped, the sun rose, and Eagle, Crow and Duck created their new world once again.

There may have been several floods, but eventually the waters receded for good, and as it became shallow around the stump, a new land rose up in place of the old one. As before, Eagle's half rose taller, and it eventually became the mighty Sierra Nevadas, Crow's half never rose as tall and became the Coast Ranges. As the last of the waters dried up, the land between the mountains became the Great Valley, with Tulare and Buena Vista Lakes remaining as remants of the great flood that once covered the earth.

In the days when the Yokuts were masters of the valley, Tulare and Buena Vista Lakes were still great and covered many tens of square miles. Buena Vista Lake was so large that it surrounded Elk Hills on two both sides to create a penninsula. Tulare Lake was even bigger, almost like an inland sea. However, today the waters that once flowed into these lakes are used for irrigation and drinking, and Tulare Lake is all but gone, with but a small part of Buena Vista Lake remaining at the tip of Elk Hills.

Duck stayed to swim in the lakes, Eagle chose to soar high above the lofty peaks of the Sierras, and Crow flew to the Coast Ranges. And even though Crow's share of the new world was still great, it never became as great as Eagle's share. Today people everywhere honour the brave and strong Eagle for his wisdom and honesty, while Crow is accorded a lesser place because of his unfairness during the creation of the new world.

* * * * * *

After the world had been created, it needed to be populated with people. The Chumash Indians of the Coast believe that their ancestors came from magic seeds that the Earth Goddess planted in some soil on one of the Channel Islands. The Kawaiisu of the Tehachapi Valley believe that they emerged from a stone mortar hole near a rock shelter in Sand Canyon, the location of which is still known today and revered. Others believe that their ancestors crawled out of a crack that opened up in Mother Earth, perhaps springing from seeds that had been planted there. But the Yokuts of the San Joaquin Valley have a different story.

The Yokuts believe that after the earth was created, it was barren of trees, grass or shrubs. There were no people, but there were animals, such as Eagle, Crow, Duck, and other birds, as well as fish and turtles. Later the Bird People, as Eagle, Crow and the others were called, were joined by the Animal People, among them Ki-yoo the Coyote and others, with Eagle being the chief of them all. No one knows for sure where the Bird and Animal People came from, but there is no question that Eagle was there in the very beginning.

One day to amuse himself, Eagle took some clay from Mother Earth and fashioned it into men and women, whom he gave life and sent out in pairs to populate the earth. How Eagle gave them life is not known for certain. Some say that he ground up magic seeds and mixed them with the clay, but others make no mention of these seeds. No matter, somehow Eagle created people and the ones that he sent to the eastern mountains spoke their own language and later became the ancestors of the Kawaiisu and the Tubatulabal, those that he sent to the western mountains and the Channel Islands spoke a different language and later became the ancestors of the Chumash, and those that stayed in the Valley spoke yet a third language and later became the ancestors of the Yokuts.

After many days, Eagle sent Ki-yoo the Coyote, who was his assistant, out to check on his people and see how they were doing. When Coyote located them, he found that they were hungry, but because there were no plants for them to eat, and because they had not been taught to hunt and fish, they were eating the dirt of Mother Earth. Now dirt may be good for worms and grubs, but people need more, and they were not healthy, nor increasing in number.

When Coyote reported back to Eagle that he had found the people eating dirt, Eagle knew that this was not good. Fortuntely, one of the bird people was Oo-pe-a-e the Dove, and Dove had found some seeds on one her flights. So Eagle took these seeds and planted them in the Earth.

When the seeds sprouted, the Earth become covered in vegetation, thus providing the people with roots, fruit, and even more seeds to eat. Coyote and others taught the people how to prepare these foods so that they could eat them, and as forests and grasslands sprang up and became populated with game, Coyote and others taught the people to hunt and fish as well. With good food to eat, the people became healthy and multiplyed, soon spreading far and wide across to the Earth. But the people never forgot how Eagle gave them life, nor how Coyote taught them to survive, and for this the people have always owed Eagle and Coyote a debt of gratitude.


Click here to learn the Chumash Creation Story


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