Yokut Nation



California Creation Story


A Great Flood had occurred upon Earth long, long ago. While Earth was still covered with water, there were no living creatures upon the land.

Then out of the sky one day glided an enormous Eagle with a black Crow riding upon its back, searching for a place to light.

Around and around Eagle flew until he discovered a projecting tree stump, or what appeared to be a stump, upon which he landed to rest. There was a home at last upon the flat surface, which was amply large enough for Eagle and Crow to roost upon.

From here, they surveyed the greenish gray water as far as they could see. The sky was a gorgeous bright blue with a few white drifting clouds, occasionally swirled by a passing breeze. All seemed serene to Eagle and Crow.

Small fish were visible below the water, sometimes leaping out of the sea playfully. Hunger caused Eagle and Crow to swoop down, catching a meal for themselves from time to time. Soon a game developed between the two birds to see which one would be the winner in the fish-catching contest. Upon their return to the stump, however, they always shared the reward.

Because of Eagle’s great size and wingspan, he soared to great heights and surveyed widely, as the two birds often flew in opposite directions exploring for land. But no land did they find. No other flying creatures did they see. But they always returned to their home base on the tree stump.

Between them, they wondered “How can we possibly think of a way to make land?”

“We know we cannot dive deep enough to find dirt, and the fish are of no help except to provide food.”

Day after day these scenes were repeated, exploring in search of land or wondering how to create land, only to return to their stump and catch more fish.

One morning soon thereafter and much to their surprise, a Duck was swimming around and around their stump. Occasionally, it dived deep in the water, rose to the surface chewing small fish, twisting its head from side to side trying to swallow its meal. One time, Duck emerged with more mud than fish in its mouth.

Eagle and Crow bird talked excitedly about this! “Can Duck possibly bring up enough mud for us to build land?” they wondered.

How could they let Duck know that mud was what they needed most?

An idea occurred to Eagle, which he bird talked to Crow, “If we supply fish for Duck, maybe he will bring up more mud than fish.”

By trial and error, the two birds caught fish for Duck, placing them at the edge of the stump, until Duck learned that the fish were for him in exchange for mud!

When Duck appeared on the surface after a deep dive, Eagle and Crow brushed off the mud from Duck’s bill and his body with their wings. Progress was slow but steady.

Gradually, Eagle had a pile of mud on his side of the stump and Crow had a similar pile on his side. Each placed fish on his own side for Duck, who now responded by carrying more and more mud to Eagle and Crow. This became a great game of fish-and-mud exchange.

Duck worked very hard, consequently he was always hungry. The birds were surprised at how large each one’s mud pile grew every day. In bird talk they said, “Duck is helping us to make a new world. This we will share equally.”

Occasionally, Eagle and Crow flew toward the horizon, exploring for any new signs of land. But they returned with nothing new to report; however, they noticed a slight lowering of water around the tree stump.

“Surely, the flood must be coming to an end,” Crow and Eagle bird talked.

Each day they watched for a change in the waterline. Each day their piles of mud seemed higher and higher. Faithful Duck kept up his good work as Eagle and Crow caught fish for him and scraped off mud from him for each side of the new world.

Another time, Eagle flew high and far in search of dry land, not returning until late. The sun set and darkness enveloped his world on the stump. Next morning, to Eagle’s surprise, he saw how much more mud he had acquired, and he was pleased. But after looking across at Crow’s mud pile, Eagle was astounded to see that Crow had given himself twice as much mud while Eagle was away.

“Was this Crow’s idea of sharing the new world equally?” accused Eagle.

Of course, they quarrelled all that day and the next over Crow’s unfairness. But the following day, they went back to work making their new land. Eagle decided that he must catch up. He caught two fish for Duck and put them in his usual place. Duck responded by bringing up mud twice to Eagle in exchange for his two fish. All three worked very hard for many, many moons.

Gradually, Eagle’s half of the new world became taller and taller than Crow’s half, even though Crow seemed to work just as hard as Eagle. Duck was faithful to his task, never tiring in his effort to supply mud. Of course, Duck continued to give Eagle twice as much mud for his two fish. Crow never seemed to notice why Eagle’s half became higher and higher than his half.

One morning, as the sun rose brightly, the two birds looked down through the water and saw what appeared to be land!

“So that is where Duck finds the mud,” they bird talked. They were pleased to see that the water was subsiding. How they hoped that soon they would be high and dry on their new world.

But all was not so easy, for that very night lightning flashed across the waters and thunder rolled and rolled from one horizon to the other followed by a heavy, drenching rain. Eagle and Crow sought shelter in holes they dug into the sides of their mud piles. All night long the rain continued to fall, washing away much of the new world into the sea.

As the rain stopped and the sun rose, Eagle and Duck looked out upon the waters and saw an arc of many colours reaching from one edge of the horizon across the sky to the other horizon. This brilliant display held their eyes in wonderment. What did it mean? They marvelled at how long the colours lingered in the sky. Eagle flew toward the scene for a closer look, returning when the arc disappeared.

In bird talk, Eagle and Crow decided that the storm of the night before must have been a clearing shower. They began their land- building project again, hoping that Duck would resume his work as mud-carrier. Soon the sun’s rays burned strong and hot, packing the mud until it was hard. Duck appeared and the team of three continued to build the two halves of the new world.

Day by day, the waters subsided and new land began to show above the waterline but far, far below the new creation by Eagle and Crow. Eagle’s half became taller and taller and hard packed by the hot sun. Crow’s share of the new world was still great, but never could become as large as Eagle’s half of the new world.

In retelling this creation story, Yokut tribal historians always claim that Eagle’s half became the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains. They also tell how Crow’s half became known as the Coast Mountain Range.

Yokut historians end their tale by saying that people everywhere honour the brave and strong Eagle, while Crow is accorded a lesser place because of his unfair disposition displayed during he creation of the new world by Eagle and Crow.

A Tachi Yokut Myth

A Tachi had a fine wife who died and was buried. Her husband went to her grave and dug a hole near it. There he stayed watching, not eating, using only tobacco. After two nights he saw that she came up, brushed the earth off herself, and started to go to the island of the dead. The man tried to seize her but could not hold her. She went southeast and he followed her. Whenever he tried to hold her she escaped. He kept trying to seize her, however, and delayed her. At daybreak she stopped. He stayed there, but could not see her. When it began to be dark the woman got up again and went on. She turned westward and crossed Tulare Lake (or its inlet). At daybreak the man again tried to seize her but could not hold her. She stayed in the place during the day. The man remained in the same place, but again he could not see her. There was a good trail there, and he could see the footprints of his dead friend and relatives. In the evening his wife got up again and went on. They came to a river which flows westward towards San Luis Obispo, the river of the Tulamni (the description fits the Santa Maria, but the Tulamni are in the Tulare drainage, on and about Buena Vista lake). There the man caught up with his wife and there they stayed all day. He still had nothing to eat. In the evening she went on again, now northward. Then somewhere to the west of the Tachi country he caught up with her once more and they spent the day there. In the evening the woman got up and they went on northward, across the San Joaquin river, to the north or east of it. Again he overtook his wife. Then she said: ‘What are you going to do? I am nothing now. How can you get my body back? Do you think you shall be able to do it?’ He said: ‘I think so.’ She said: ‘I think not. I am going to a different kind of a place now.’ From daybreak on that man stayed there. In the evening the woman started once more and went down along the river; but he overtook her again. She did not talk to him. Then they stayed all day, and at night went on again.

Now they were close to the island of the dead. It was joined to the land by a rising and falling bridge called ch’eleli. Under this bridge a river ran swiftly. The dead passed over this. When they were on the bridge, a bird suddenly fluttered up beside them and frightened them. Many fell off into the river, where they turned into fish. Now the chief of the dead said: ‘Somebody has come.’ They told him: ‘There are two. One of them is alive; he stinks.’ The chief said: ‘Do not let him cross.’ When the woman came on the island, he asked her: ‘You have a companion?’ and she told him: ‘Yes, my husband.’ He asked her: ‘Is he coming here?’ She said, ‘I do not know. He is alive.’ They asked the man: ‘Do you want to come to this country?’ He said: ‘Yes,’ Then they told him: ‘Wait, I will see the chief.’ They told the chief: ‘He says that he wants to come to this country. We think he does not tell the truth.’ ‘Well, let him come across.’ Now they intended to frighten him off the bridge. They said: ‘Come on. The chief says you can cross.’ Then the bird (kacha) flew up and tried to scare him’, but did not make him fall off the bridge into the water. So they brought him before the chief. The chief said: ‘This is a bad country. You should not have come. We have only your wife’s soul (itit). She has left her bones with her body. I do not think we can give her back to you.’ In the evening they danced. It was a round dance and they shouted. The chief said to the man: ‘Look at your wife in the middle of the crowd. Tomorrow you will see no one.’

Now the man stayed there three days. Then the chief said to some of the people: ‘Bring that woman. Her husband wants to talk to her.’ They brought the woman to him. He asked her: ‘Is this your husband?’ She said.- ‘Yes.’ He asked her: ‘Do you think you will go back to him?’ She said: ‘I do not think so. What do you wish?’ The chief said: ‘I think not. You must stay here. You cannot go back. You are worthless now.’ Then he said to the man: ‘Do you want to sleep with your wife?’ He said: ‘Yes, for a while. I want to sleep with her and talk to her.’ Then he was allowed to sleep with her that night and they talked together. At daybreak the woman was vanished and he was sleeping next to a fallen oak. The chief said to him: ‘Get up. It is late.’ He opened his eyes and saw an oak instead of his wife. The chief said: ‘You see that we cannot make your wife as she was. She is no good now. It is best that you go back. You have a good country there.’ But the man said: ‘No, I will stay.’ The chief told him: ‘No, do not. Come back here whenever you like, but go back now.’

Nevertheless he man stayed there six days. Then he said: ‘I am going back.’ Then in the morning he started to go home. The chief told him: ‘When you arrive, hide yourself. Then after six days emerge and make a dance.’ Now the man returned. He told his parents: ‘Make me a small house. In six days I will come out and dance.’ Now he stayed there five days. Then his friends began to know that he had come back. ‘Our relative has come back,’ they all said. Now the man was in too much of a hurry. After five days he went out. In the evening he began to dance and danced all night, telling what he saw. In the morning when he had stopped dancing, he went to bathe. Then a rattlesnake bit him. He died. So be went back to island. He is there now. It is through him that the people know it is there. Every two days the island becomes fall. Then the chief gathers the people. ‘You must swim,’ he says. The people stop dancing and bathe. Then the bird frightens them, and some turn to fish, and some to ducks; only a few come out of the water again as people. In this way room is made when the island is too full. The name of the chief there is Kandjidji.

A.L. Kroeber, Indian Myths of South Central California,
University of California Publications,
American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. IV, no. 4 (1906-7), PP. 216-18
Yokut Legends collected by A. L. Kroeber [1907]

Yokuts were originally thought to be a distinct linguistic family but are now considered a part of the large Penutian family. They occupy the entire floor of San Joaquin Valley of central California from the mouth of the San Joaquin River to the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains and adjacent to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, up to an altitude of a few thousand feet. Their environment lends itself to agriculture and forestry. In 1770 the estimated population of the Yokuts was 18,000 and in 1910 only 600. Today dozens of small bands and villages are spread over a wide area.

Timpoochee Barnard, Yuchi
Timpoochee Barnard


Origin of the Sierra Nevadas and Coast Range

Once there was a time when there was nothing in the world but water. About the place where Tulare Lake is now, there was a pole standing far up out of the water, and on this pole perched Hawk and Crow.

First Hawk would sit on the pole a while, then Crow would knock him off and sit on it himself. Thus they sat on the top of the pole above the water for many ages. At last they created the birds which prey on fish. They created Kingfisher, Eagle, Pelican, and others. They created also Duck. Duck was very small but she dived to the bottom of the water, took a beakful of mud, and then died in coming to the top of the water. Duck lay dead floating on the water. Then Hawk and Crow took the mud from Duck’s beak, and began making the mountains.

They began at the place now known as Ta-hi-cha-pa Pass, and Hawk made the east range. Crow made the west one. They pushed the mud down hard into the water and then piled it high. They worked toward the north. At last Hawk and Crow met at Mount Shasta. Then their work was done. But when they looked at their mountains, Crow’s range was much larger than Hawk’s.

Hawk said to Crow, “How did this happen, you rascal? You have been stealing earth from my bill. That is why your mountains are the biggest.” Crow laughed.

Then Hawk chewed some Indian tobacco. That made him wise. At once he took hold of the mountains and turned them around almost in a circle. He put his range where Crow’s had been. That is why the Sierra Nevada Range is larger than the Coast Range.

From: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest
Compiled and Edited by Katharine Berry Judson, 1912The Lizard-Hand

It was Coyote who brought it about that people die.

He made it thus because our hands are not closed like his.

He wanted our hands to be like his, but a lizard said to him:
“No, they must have my hand.”

He had five fingers and Coyote had only a fist.

So now we have an open hand with five fingers.

But then Coyote said: “Well, then they will have to die.”

From: Kroeber, University of California Publications in
American Archaeology and Ethnology, iv, 231, No. 38

Map: California Tribal Groups

Notes from “The North American Indian” by ES Curtis
The Piercing of the Yokut Shield
The Tachi Yokut Tribe
Yokut Indians-Dumna (Cassons) and Kachayi Band
Yokut Information to year 2000 / Links
The Yokuts (California Historical Society)

1903, A Tachi Yokut family stands in front of their Tule mat house near the Village  of Wiu ... now the Santa Rosa Rancheria

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