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The Creation of the World

A tale of the Northern Ohlone Indians, who once lived around San Francisco Bay.

Once upon a time, there were no human beings, but there were two spirits, one good and one evil. The two spirits made war upon each other, and at last the good spirit overcame the evil spirit. At that time, the entire world was covered with water, except for two islands, one of which was Monte Diablo and the other of which was Reed Peak.

There was a Coyote on Reed Peak. He was the only living thing there. One day Coyote saw a feather floating on the water, and, as it reached the island, is suddenly turned into an Eagle. Spreading its broad wings, the Eagle flew up onto the mountain.

Coyote liked his new friend very much, and they lived together in great harmony. Sometimes they would from one island to the other island, Coyote swimming while Eagle flew overhead. This went on for some time.

Then, after talking with each other, they decided to make something new in the world. Together they made the first human beings.

Soon the first human beings had children, and the level of the water went down so that there was more land for the human beings.

Soon the children of the first human beings had children, and the level of the water went down some more.

Then the grandchildren of the first human beings had children, and so on, and the more human beings there were, the more the waters decreased, until at last where there was dry land in most of the places where we have dry land now. But what we call San Francisco Bay was still under water. It was not a bay, but a deep lake.

At that time, there was no opening in the mountains that ran along the coast. What we now call the Golden Gate was a chain of mountains, and you could walk from one side to the other side without getting your feet wet. The water that came down from the east had to go out through other rivers to the north and to the south.

Then a great earthquake struck, and chain of mountains was cut in two, forming what we now call the Golden Gate. Then the waters of the Great Ocean and the Bay could at last come together, and the land became as we now know it.


Source: adapted from “Tradition of the California Indians,” by H. B. D., in Hesperian Magazine, vol. 2-3, (ed. F. H. Day, San Francisco, vol. III, no. 1, Sep-tember, 1859), p. 326. H. D. B. says this tale came “from the lips of one of our most venerable pioneers, and I give it as I heard it.” This tale is cited by Hubert Howe Bancroft in his Native Races, vol. 3, (History Company: San Francisco, 1886), p. 88; and by Alfred Louis Kroeber in his “Myths of South Central California,” American archaeology and ethnology: Shoshonean Dialects of California, vol. 4, no. 3 (Berkeley: University of California, 1907), pp. 188-189. I have made a few changes based on Kroeber’s commentary.