Modoc - Kumush and his Daughter
Kumush . . . The Creator, according to Indian myths
Skoks . . . . A Spirit
Kumush left Tula Lake and wandered over the earth. He went to the edge of the world and was gone a great many years; then he came back to Nihiaksi, where his sweat-house had been; where Latkakawas brought the disk; where the body of the beautiful blue man was burned, and where Isis was saved.
Kumush brought his daughter with him from the edge of the world. Where he got her, no one knows. When he came back, Isis and all the people he had made were dead; he and his daughter were alone. The first thing he did was to give the young girl ten dresses which he made by his word. The finest dress of all was the burial dress; it was made of buckskin, and so covered with bright shells that not a point of the buckskin could be seen. The first of the ten dresses was for a young girl; the second was the maturity dress, to be worn while dancing the maturity dance; the third was the dress to be put on after coming from the sweat-house, the day the maturity dance ended; the fourth was to be worn on the fifth day after the dance; the fifth dress was the common, everyday dress; the sixth was to wear when getting wood; the seventh when digging roots; the eighth was to be used when on a journey; the ninth was to wear at a ball game; the tenth was the burial dress. When they came to Nihiaksi, Kumush's daughter was within a few days of maturity.
In the old time, when he was making rules for his people, Kumush had said that at maturity a girl should dance five days and five nights, and while she was dancing an old woman, a good singer, should sing for her. When the five days and nights were over she should bathe in the sweat-house, and then carry wood for five days. If the girl grew sleepy while she was dancing, stopped for a moment, nodded and dreamed, or if she fell asleep while in the sweat-house and dreamed of some one's death, she would die herself.
Kumush was the only one to help his daughter; he sang while she danced. When the dance was over and the girl was in the sweat-house, she fell asleep and dreamed of some one's death. She came out of the sweat-house with her face and hands and body painted with the color of a red root. As she stood by the fire to dry the paint, she said to her father: "While I was in the sweat-house I fell asleep and I dreamed that as soon as I came out some one would die."
"That means your own death," said Kumush. "You dreamed of yourself." Kumush was frightened; he felt lonesome. When his daughter asked for her burial dress he gave her the dress to be worn after coming from the sweat-house, but she wouldn't take it. Then he gave her the dress to be worn five days later, and she refused it. One after another he offered her eight dresses-he could not give her the one she had worn when she was a little girl, for it was too small. He held the tenth dress tight under his arm; he did not want to give it to her, for as soon as she put it on the spirit would leave her body.
"Why don't you give me my dress?" asked she. "You made it before you made the other dresses, and told me what it was for; why don't you give it to me now? You made everything in the world as you wanted it to be."
He gave her the dress, but he clung to it and cried. When she began to put it on he tried to pull it away. She said: "Father, you must not cry. What has happened to me is your will; you made it to be this way. My spirit will leave the body and go west."
At last Kumush let go of the dress, though he knew her spirit would depart as soon as she had it on. He was crying as he said: "I will go with you; I will leave my body here, and go."
"No," said the daughter, "my spirit will go west without touching the ground as it goes. How could you go with me?"
"I know what to do," said Kumush. "I know all things above, below, and in the world of ghosts; whatever is, I know."
She put on the dress, Kumush took her hand, and they started, leaving their bodies behind. Kumush was not dead but his spirit left the body.
As soon as the daughter died, she knew all about the spirit world. When they started she said to her father: "Keep your eyes closed; if you open them you will not be able to follow me, you will have to go back and leave me alone."
The road they were traveling led west to where the sun sets. Along that road were three nice things to eat: goose eggs,, wild cherries and crawfish. If a spirit ate of the wild cherries it would be sent back to this world, a spirit without a body, to wander about homeless, eating wild cherries and other kinds of wild fruit. If it ate of the goose eggs, it would wander around the world, digging goose eggs out of the ground, like roots. It would have to carry the eggs in a basket without a bottom, and would always be trying to mend the basket with plaited grass. If it ate of the crawfish it would have to dig crawfish in the same way.
A Skoks offered Kumush's daughter these three harmful things, but she did not look at them; she went straight on toward the west, very fast.
After a time Kumush asked: "How far have we gone now?"
"We are almost there," said the girl. "Far away I see beautiful roses. Spirits that have been good in life take one of those roses with the leaves, those that have been bad do not see the roses."
Again Kumush asked: "How far are we now?"
"We are passing the place of roses."
Kumush thought: "She should take one of those roses."
The girl always knew her father's thoughts. As soon as that thought came into his mind, she put back her hand and, without turning, pulled a rose and two leaves. Kumush did not take one. He could not even see them, for he was not dead.
After a time they came to a road so steep that they could slide down it. At the beginning of the descent there was a willow rope. The girl pulled the rope and that minute music and voices were heard. Kumush and his daughter slipped down and came out on a beautiful plain with high walls all around it. It was a great house, and the plain was its floor. That house is the whole underground world, but only spirits know the way to it. Kumush's daughter was greeted by spirits that were glad to see her, but to Kumush they said "Sonk!" (raw, not ripe), and they felt sorry for him that he was not dead. Kumush and his daughter went around together, and Kumush asked: "How far is it to any side?"
"It is very far, twice as far as I can see. There is one road down,-the road we came,-and another up. No one can come in by the way leading up, and no one can go up by the way leading down."
The place was beautiful and full of spirits; there were so many that if every star of the sky, and all the hairs on the head of every man and all the hairs on all the animals were counted they would not equal in number the spirits in that great house.
When Kumush and his daughter first got there they couldn't see the spirits though they could hear voices, but after sunset, when darkness was in the world above, it was light in that house below.
"Keep your eyes closed," said Kumush's daughter. "If you open them, you will have to leave me and go back."
At sunset Kumush made himself small, smaller than any thing living in the world. His daughter put him in a crack, high up in a comer of the broad house, and made a mist before his eyes.
When it was dark, Wus-Kumush, the keeper of the house, said: "I want a fire!"
Right away a big, round, bright fire sprang up in the center, and there was light everywhere in the house. Then spirits came from all sides, and there were so many that no one could have counted them. They made a great circle around Kumush's daughter, who stood by the fire, and then they danced a dance not of this world, and sang a song not of this world. Kumush watched them from the comer of the house. They danced each night, for five nights. All the spirits sang, but only those in the circle danced. As daylight came they disappeared. They went away to their own places, lay down and became dry, disjointed bones. Wus-Kumush gave Kumush's daughter goose eggs and crawfish. She ate them and became bones. All newcomers became bones, but those who had been tried for five years, and hadn't eaten anything the Skoks gave them, lived in shining settlements outside, in circles around the big house. Kumush's daughter became bones, but her spirit went to her father in the corner.
On the sixth night she moved him to the eastern side of the house. That night he grew tired of staying with the spirits; he wanted to leave the underground world, but he wanted to take some of the spirits with him to people the upper world. "Afterward," said he, "I am going to the place where the sun rises. I shall travel on the sun's road till I come to where he stops at midday. There I will build a house."
"Some of the spirits are angry with you," said Wus-Kumush. "Because you are not dead they want to kill you; you must be careful."
"They may try as hard as they like," said Kumush; "they can't kill me. They haven't the power. They are my children; they are all from me. If they should kill me it would only be for a little while. I should come to life again."
The spirits, though they were bones then, heard this, and said: "We will crush the old man's heart out, with our elbows."
Kumush left Wus-Kumush and went back to the eastern side of the house. In his comer was a pile of bones. Every bone in the pile rose up and tried to kill him, but they couldn't hit him, for he dodged them. Each day his daughter moved him, but the bones knew where he was, because they could see him. Every night the spirits in the form of living people danced and sang; at daylight they lay down and became disconnected bones.
"I am going away from this place," said Kumush, "I am tired of being here." At daybreak he took his daughter's bones, and went around selecting bones according to their quality, thinking which would do for one tribe and which for another. He filled a basket with them, taking only shin-bones and wrist-bones. He put the basket on his back and started to go up the eastern road, the road out. The path was steep and slippery, and his load was heavy. He slipped and stumbled but kept climbing. When he was half-way up, the bones began to elbow him in the back and neck, struggling to kill him. When near the top the strap slipped from his forehead and the basket fell. The bones became spirits, and, whooping and shouting, fell down into the big house and became bones again.
"I'll not give up," said Kumush; "I'll try again." He went back, filled the basket with bones and started a second time. When he was half-way up he said: "You'll see that I will get to the upper world with you bones!" That minute he slipped, his cane broke and he fell. Again the bones became spirits and went whooping and shouting back to the big house.
Kumush went down a second time, and filled the basket. He was angry and he chucked the bones in hard. "You want to stay here," said he, "but when you know my place up there, where the sun is, you'll want to stay there always and never come back to this place. I feel lonesome when I see no people up there; that is why I want to take you there.
If I can't get you up now, you will never come where I am."
When he put the basket on his back the third tune, he had no cane, so he thought: "I wish I had a good, strong cane." Right away he had it. Then he said: "I wish I could get up with this basketful of bones."
When half-way up the bones again tried to kill him. He struggled and tugged hard. At last he got near the edge of the slope, and with one big lift he threw the basket up on to level ground. "Maklaksum kako!" (Indian bones) said he.
He opened the basket and threw the bones in different directions. As he threw them, he named the tribe and kind of Indians they would be. When he named the Shastas he said: "You will be good fighters." To the Pitt River and the Warm Spring Indians he said: "You will be brave warriors, too." But to the Klamath Indians he said: "You will be like women, easy to frighten." The bones for the Modoc Indians he threw last, and he said to them: "You will eat what I eat, you will keep my place when I am gone, you will be bravest of all. Though you may be few, even if many and many people come against you, you will kill them." And he said to each handful of bones as he threw it: "You must find power to save yourselves, find men to go and ask the mountains for help. Those who go to the mountains must ask to be made wise, or brave, or a doctor. They must swim in the gauwams and dream. When you are sure that a doctor has tried to kill some one, or that he won't put his medicine in the path of a spirit and turn it back, you will kill him. If an innocent doctor is killed, you must kill the man who killed him, or he must pay for the dead man."
Then Kumush named the different kinds of food those people should eat,-catfish, salmon, deer and rabbit. He named more than two hundred different things, and as he named them they appeared in the rivers and the forests and the flats. He thought, and they were there. He said: "Women shall dig roots, get wood and water, and cook. Men shall hunt and fish and fight. It shall be this way in later times. This is all I will tell you."
When he had finished everything Kumush took his daughter, and went to the edge of the world, to the place where the sun rises. He traveled on the sun's road till he came to the middle of the sky; there he stopped and built his house, and there he lives now.
Taken from Myths of the Modocs by Jeremiah Curtin. Boston, Little, Brown and Co., 1912, pages 39-45.