Deep down in cañons of the Southwest, especially where they are joined by other cañons, the traveller may see standing forth from or hugging the angles of the cliffs, great towering needles of stone--weird, rugged, fantastic, oftentimes single, as often--like gigantic wind-stripped trees with lesser trees standing beside them--double or treble. Seen suddenly at a turn in the cañon these giant stones startle the gazer with their monstrous and human proportions, like giants, indeed, at bay against the sheer rock walls, protecting their young, who appear anon to crouch at the knees of their fathers or cling to their sides.
Few white men behold these statuesque stones in the moonlight, or in the gray light and white mists of the morning. At midday they seem dead or asleep while standing; but when the moon is shining above them and the wanderer below looks up to them, lo! the moon stands still and these mighty crags start forth, advancing noiselessly. His back is frozen, and even in the yielding sand his feet are held fast by terror--a delicious, ghostly terror, withal! Still he gazes fascinated, and as the shadow of the moonlight falls toward him over the topmost crest, lo, again! its crown is illumined and circled as if by a halo of snow-light, and back and forth from this luminous fillet over that high stony brow, black hair seems to tumble and gather.
Again, beheld in the dawn-light, when the mists are rising slowly and are waving to and fro around the giddy
columns, hiding the cliffs behind them, these vast pinnacles seem to nod and to waver or to sway themselves backward and forward, all as silently as before. Soon, when the sun is risen and the mists from below fade away, the wind blows more mist from the mesa; you see clouds of it pour from the cliff edge, just behind and above these great towers, and shimmer against the bright sky; but as soon as these clouds pass the crag-nests they are lost in the sunlight around them-lost so fast, as yet others come on, that the stone giants seem to drink them.
Of such rocks, according to their variety and local surroundings, the Zuñis relate many tales which are so ingenious and befitting that if we believed, as the Zuñis do, that in the time of creation when all things were young and soft and were therefore easily fashioned by whatever chanced to befall them--into this thing or that thing, into this plant or that plant, this animal or that, and so on endlessly through a dramatic story longer than Shakespeare or the Bible--we would fain believe also as he does in the quaint incidents of these stories of the time when all things were new and the world was becoming as we see it now.
One of these tales, a variant of others pertaining to particular standing rocks in the west, south, or east, is told of that wonder to all beholders, "El Capitan," of the Canon de Chelly in the north. No one who has seen this stupendous rock column can fail to be interested in the following legend, or will fail to realize how, as this introduction endeavors to make plainer, the Zuñi poet and philosopher of olden times built up a story which he verily believed quite sufficient to account for the great shaft of sandstone and its many details and surroundings.--F. H. C.
Häki Suto, or Foretop Knot, he whose hair was done up over his forehead like a quail's crest, lived among the great cliffs of the north long ago, when the world was new. He was a giant, so tall that
men called him Lo Ikwithltchunona, or the Cloud-swallower. A devourer of men was he,--men were his meat--yea, and a drinker of their very substance was he, for the cloud-breaths of the beloved gods, and souls of the dead, whence descend rains, even these were his drink. Wherefore the People of the Cliffs sought to slay him, and hero after hero perished thuswise. Wherefore, too, snow ceased in the north and the west; rain ceased in the south and the east; the mists of the mountains above were drunk up; the waters of the valleys below were dried up; corn withered in the fields; men hungered and died in the cliffs.
Then came the Twin Gods of War, Áhaiyúta and Mátsailéma, who in play staked the lives of foes and fierce creatures. "Lo! it is not well with our children, men," said they. "Let us destroy this Häki Suto, the swallower of clouds," said they.
They were walking along the trail which leads southward to the Smooth-rocks-descending.
"O, grandchildren, where be ye wending?" said a little, little quavering voice. They looked,--the younger, then the elder. There on the tip of a grass-stalk, waving her banner of down-stuff, stood their grandmother, Spinner of Meshes.
"The Spider! Our Grandmother Spider!" cried one of the gods to the other. "Ho! grandmother, was that you calling?" shouted they to her.
"Yea, children; where wend ye this noon-day?
"A-warring we are going," said they. "Look now!"
"No beads for to broider your awning
Have fallen this many a morning."
"Aha, wait ye! Whom ye seek, verily I know him well," said the Spider-woman.
"Like a tree fallen down from the mountain
He lies by the side of the cliff-trail
And feigns to sleep there, yet is wary.
I will sew up his eyes with my down-cords.
Then come ye and smite him, grandchildren."
She ran ahead. There lay Häki Suto, his legs over the trail where men journeyed. Great, like the trunks and branches of pine trees cast down by a wind-storm, were his legs arching over the pathway, and when some one chanced to come by, the giant would call out: "Good morning!" and bid him "pass right along under." "I am old and rheumatic," he would continue, oh, so politely! "Do not mind my rudeness, therefore; run right along under; never fear, run right along under!" But when the hunter tried to pass, kúutsu! Häki Suto would snatch him up and cast him over the cliff to be eaten by the young Forehead-cresters.
The Spider stepped never so lightly, and climbed up behind his great ear, and then busily wove at her web, to and fro, up and down, and in and out of his eyelashes she busily plied at her web.
"Pesk the birds and buzz creatures!" growled the giant, twitching this way and that his eyebrows. which tickled; but he would not stir,--for he heard the War-gods coming, and thought them fat hunters and needs must feign sleepy.
"And these? Ha! ha! They begin to sing, as was their fearless wont sometimes. Häki Suto
never looked, but yawned and drawled as they came near, and nearer. "Never mind, my children, pass right along under, pass right along under; I am lame and tired this morning," said he.
Áhaiyúta ran to the left. Mátsailéma ran to the right. Häki Suto sprang up to catch them, but his eyes were so blinded with cobwebs that he missed them and feigned to fall, crying: "Ouch! my poor back! my poor back! Pass right along under, my children, it was only a crick in my back. Ouch! Oh, my poor back!" But they whacked him over the head and stomach till he stiffened and died. Then shouting "So ho!" they shoved him over the Cliff.
The Navahos say that the grandmother tied him there by the hair--by his topknot--where you see the white streaks on the pillar, so they say; but it 's the birds that streak the pillar, and this is the way. When Häki Suto fell, his feet drave far into the sands, and the Storm-gods rushed in to the aid of their children, the War-gods, and drifted his blood-bedrenched carcass all over with sand, whence he dried and hardened to stone. When the young ones saw him falling, they forthwith flocked up to devour him, making loud clamor. But the Twain, seeing this, made after them too and twisted the necks of all save only the tallest (who was caught in the sands with his father) and flung them aloft to the winds, whereby one became instantly the Owl, who twists her head wholly around whensoever she pleases, and stares as though frightened and strangled; and another the Falcon became, who
perches and nests to this day on the crest of his sand-covered father, the Giant Cloud-drinker. And the Falcons cry ever and ever "'Tis father; O father!" ("Tí-tätchu ya-tätchu.")
But, fearing that never again would the waters refreshen their cañons, our ancients who dwelt in the cliffs fled away to the southward and eastward--all save those who had perished aforetime; they are dead in their homes in the cliff-towns, dried, like their cornstalks that died when the rain stopped long, long ago, when all things were new.
Thus shortens my story.