Hi everybody, this week I thought that I would give you a behind the scenes look at what I'm working on for 2019. Initially, I had planned to complete book two of my series on The Age of Myths and Legends by the winter of 2018, but life sure has a funny way of derailing your plans. However, things have finally improved and I'm able to focus once more on my art and writing. But first, there are several steps that I have to take before I can start hammering away at the keyboard or putting in work on the canvas.
Step 1. Preserve and Transcribe Recordings
I suspect that a lot of my younger readers will have no idea what this image is. So for all the millennials and Gen Y readers, back in the day we didn't have digital recorders that automatically converted our recordings into mp3 format. We had these clunky cassettes tapes that were surprisingly, super fragile. If you left a cassette in the sun for too long, the sound would warp. If you dropped your cassette and it cracked, there was a 50/50 chance that it wouldn't ever play again. And Heaven help you if the actual magnetic tape strip came out of the cassette shell and became entangled into the cassette player. So I'm extremely lucky to still have several tape recordings of tribal elders and tribal members sharing their stories with me. However, some of the cassettes that I have are at least 10-20 years old and the magnetic tape strips are starting to degrade. So right now, I am in the process of converting them into mp3 format with an app called EZ Vinyl Tape Converter. Once I've finished, I will place them into cloud storage so that they will last forever.
Step 2. Categorize and Create Chapters
Once I've preserved my recordings, it will be time to categorize the stories and create my tentative chapters. This is both a difficult and exciting process. Some stories go really well together thematically while other have very little in common. For my upcoming book on the heroes of Native American folklore and Mythology, I've decided to categorize the stories based on what the protagonist were. Some of the old champions were cultural heroes who saved their people or civilizations from certain doom. Other heroes were demi-gods and super heroes, easily on par with Hercules or Gilgamesh. These men (and women) were the monster-slayers. Others still, were powerful deities like Hinon the Thunderer or Tricksters like Grandfather Coyote. These beings helped shape the foundations of the world by destroying or containing the wicked agents of chaos. But my favorite heroes were the common men and women who rose above their stations in order to protect those they loved. So, as of right now, my chapters/categories are:
1. The Gods of War
3. The Lords of Thunder
4. Heroes of Old
This could change over the next few months but I like the chapter sequences and I can't wait to share some of these stories with you.
Step 3. Find an Editor (Upwork and Thumbtack)
Easily the most costly element of writing is hiring a proofreader and an editor. Because an editor's fees can be astronomical, some writers will attempt to bypass this step altogether. But let me tell you, even if you are a great writer, you will become blind to your own syntax mistakes, misspellings, punctuation errors and citation problems. You have to have an editor, there is no way around it. I've found that the most economical way to go about the editing process is to use websites that list freelancer's services. The two that I will be using this year are Upwork and Thumbtack. I like these particular websites because you list your project and freelancers will then bid on the chance to work with you. I've found the price point to be reasonable with most editors and I like that these freelancers are vetted by the sites themselves. Another way that I will attempt to offset the price point is by having an editor work on one chapter at a time as opposed to the entire book. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not take a $500-$800 hit for every full book edit. This time, I intend to treat each chapter as a completely self contained story. I'm okay with spending $70 here and there throughout the writing process.
Step 4. Artwork
Creating the artwork for the book is the most exciting and time consuming part of the entire process for me. Whenever I listen to or read the old stories, I can see images. I can see formations of Thunderbirds, wreathed in lightning, soaring through the ethereal clouds above. I can see mighty Glooscap in his titanic struggle against the World Toad; and therein lies my problem. I have artistic talent but I don't always have the artistic ability to bring the images in my head into reality. Here is a little secret, for every successful illustration that I've created, I have ten more illustrations that I can't stand to look at so I've thrown them away. This year will be different though. I will still be creating most of the artwork for this book, but I am also working with several other talented Native American and First Nations artist who will be helping me bring the old stories to life. I won't list all the artist yet but you will get a chance to see them soon as I will be including an "Artist Spotlight" page to this website in the next couple of weeks.
That's it for now. Be sure to check back next month as I will be posting some preliminary sketches and a few excerpts from my work in progress.
Hi everybody, it's hard to believe that it's already that time of year. Just like last year, I thought that I would share a scary excerpt with you from my book The Age of Myths and Legends: Book One: Monsters.
Typically, it was considered taboo to speak of ghost, monsters, or witches during the summer months. It was thought that doing so would "call" these bad things to you. However, during the winter months, it was okay to tell scary stories because it was believed that the "bad things" went away. Some went deep, down into the Earth to sleep until the coming Spring. Others returned to the mountains from which they came. Shapeshifting witches ceased in their nefarious deeds because it would be far too easy to follow their tracks in the snow and discover who they really were.
Chapter 5: Servants of Evil-Witches
“Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art
Wherein all nature’s treasury is contain’d.
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
-Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlow
Whispered tales from the past speak of the Wise; men and women who were said to have understood and even controlled the unseen powers that were once abroad in that almost forgotten age. Those of the Wise who used their unique gifts for the betterment of mankind were known by many names. Some were called Wind Doctors and Listening Women. Others were known as Hataalii, Didanawisgi, or Midewinini. These wise healers, advisors, doctors, and seers were the receptacles of tribal history and forgotten lore. They were also the steadfast guardians of their people against the malevolent forces of the night.
Yet there were always those who misused their vast knowledge and power to attain selfish ends or even worse: there were those who dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit of evil. These wicked beings were known as witches.
In many ways, the practitioners of the dark arts were very similar to their benevolent counterparts, for they, too, had a deeper understanding of the natural order of the world. They also were able to manipulate the mighty elements and to commune with the ethereal spirits of the Earth. However, witches lacked the compassion and natural understanding of the Wise. For all their formidable might and knowledge, witches possessed no constructive purpose.
Instead, witches spent their days spreading sickness, misery, and death in their turbulent wake. Jealous, materialistic, and possessive beings, these witches often begrudged anyone who enjoyed success, whether it was of a personal or financial nature. So, it was not unheard of for wealthy individuals or families to become suddenly afflicted by disease, mental illness, droughts, floods, sterility, or even fires. Truly, witches were formidable enemies, but perhaps the single, most disturbing feature concerning them was the fact that they often kept their true natures hidden. Anyone, even a well-respected member of the community, could, in truth, be a witch of the worst kind. Not even the wise and benevolent medicine men and medicine women were above suspicion, because often it was hard to distinguish the good practitioners of medicine from the bad.
Perhaps the most revolting of all of the witches of the old world were those who had once plagued the Creek nation. These creatures were considered most unholy and unclean, not only because of their evil deeds, but also for their disgusting habits and hygiene. These witches, known as Stegeny, were adept shapeshifters and were able to assume the form and likeness of almost any animal. Most often, they took on the dreaded shape and semblance of a great owl, an omen of ill portents for many tribes. To transform into the likeness of an animal, the Stegeny had to remove its viscera. The enchanter accomplished this by vomiting up its organs. These witches were extremely careful with their organs, and they took great pains to hide them well.
If a Creek hunter chanced upon the Stegeny’s foul cache of organs, the hunter would often destroy them with fire. The witch would then be trapped in the shape and likeness of an owl for the rest of its unnatural days. Creek witches, however, were willing to risk such damnation for the sake of spreading evil and misery.
Stegeny often targeted the very young or the elderly, since they were considered easier prey. With the aid of special maledictions and an enchanted reed blow gun, the Stegeny could shoot blood clots into the legs of children. These blood clots had a crippling effect on young ones and often caused deformities. These witches were also believed to be the cause of any bad luck or illness that might happen to plague a Creek family.
Like many other witches of Native American lore, Stegeny kept their real identities hidden. Most lived quiet, normal lives and took part in the daily responsibilities and activities of the community. Some held positions of high honor and prestige. Even their outward appearance could be deceptive. It was believed that most Stegeny were elderly and decrepit men and women, seemingly incapable of harming anyone, but this was just a clever ruse. When the curtain of night fell upon the land, the seemingly enfeebled Stegeny would steal out into the darkness to spread pain and misery amongst the Creek community.
There were ways to recognize or even stymie the evil activities of these malicious witches. While Stegeny were masters in the art of shape-shifting, their illusions and transformations were not altogether flawless; they could be distinguished from real animals by their paw prints, which were irregular. Their movements, at times, could seem awkward or labored. There were even some members of the Wise who could see through their evil illusions and recognize these creatures for what they truly were. Even the observant listener would be able to distinguish between the forlorn cries of an actual owl and the crude imitations of Stegeny in owl form. It was said that the witch’s cries would sound hollow and other worldly.
Despite the Stegeny’s formidable and unholy powers, Creek lore says that these witches were easily frightened. Loud noises, such as the banging of pots and pans, or even yelling obscenities at them, could drive them away. Legend also says that tying the corner of a bed sheet into a knot while citing a prayer could “choke off” the Stegeny’s voice, forcing the creature to flee into the night.
A truly brave soul could even destroy the witch altogether or, if the individual desired, steal the witch’s power for their own ends. To accomplish this daunting task, a person had to put on their clothing backwards and wear their shoes on the opposite feet. In the black of the night, an individual would then have to walk outdoors backwards, directly to the place where the Stegeny lurked in owl form.
With a flint lighter or torch, the individual would then have to flash the fire into the face of the witch. The stunned witch would then be compelled to transform back into a human. Identity revealed, bereft of magical power, and completely helpless, the wily Stegeny would seek to bribe its captor with promises of riches or with dark knowledge. In other words, the witch offered to teach his or her captor the wicked ways of the Stegeny.
If the captor were just, he or she would either kill the witch outright or broadcast the witch’s true identity to the public. Once the witch’s identity was known, the General Council would then take measures to ensure that the witch never harmed another soul again. However, if the witch’s captor lusted for unnatural power, then that individual would become an apprentice to the Stegeny. Very soon, there would be another foul witch gliding silently in the growing darkness.
Cherokee myths and legend are rife with harrowing tales of ghoulish witches and other horrifying workers of evil. While these creatures were rightly feared by mortals, there was one amongst this unholy gathering that inspired more fear and dread than any other. Even other practitioners of the dark arts feared this powerful being that had once preyed upon the weak and weary. This creature, known as the Ka'lanu Ahkyeli'ski, or Raven Mocker, was considered the worst kind of witch imaginable.
Like other witches, Raven Mockers hid within the tribal communities. For the most part, they appeared to be incredibly ancient men and women. This was only a clever facade. In truth, these witches were invisible but wore a costume of skin and flesh to avoid detection. With outstretched arms, these foul creatures would take to the night skies, flying high above in search of homes that housed the sick or dying. When these beings flew, sparks trailed behind them.
Once a home was identified, the witch would then descend with great speed toward the unfortunate dwelling. The witch’s triumphant cry, which sounded like a raven’s call, would then be heard echoing into the night. Such a cry was always an ill omen for the Cherokee, for it meant that someone would soon pass away. The Raven Mocker would then enter the home, unclad and invisible to the human eye, so that it may torment and terrorize the sick or dying.
After the Ka'lanu Ahkyeli'ski had tortured the ailing victim, the evil witch would seek to steal the life years of the terminally ill to increase its own long and foul life span. These beings accomplished this dastardly deed by magically taking and consuming a mortal victim’s still-beating heart. However, certain Indian doctors and medicine-men could see and recognize these beings for what they were. If this came about, and the Raven Mocker’s true form was perceived, then the creature would be stricken and die within a span of seven days. For this reason, medicine-men were often asked to sit with the dying, not only to provide comfort in their final hours, but also to protect them from the wicked doings of the Raven Mocker.
It's been a while since I've posted a story but I thought that I would do better by posting a few videos of the 43rd Annual Wichita and Affiliated Tribes Pow Wow. Enjoy the sights and sound of this awesome Pow Wow.
For my Non-Native friends, a pow wow is not a meeting. It is a social gathering, a dance, a spiritual ceremony, and a family-get-together, all rolled into one incredible experience. This part of the pow wow is called The Grand Entry. It's like an introduction of the dancers and it is an honor song for the arena. Prior to this was the flag song, which is like the pledge of allegiance and a song that honors all those who have served in the military. The Flag Song also honors those who have lost their lives in military service. (It's not polite to record flag songs so no video here.) Near the center of the arena are the United States flag, the Oklahoma State flag, and the Southwest Vietnam Veterans Society's flag.
There are several different types of dances (and drum styles) which is why you see so many people wearing different types of tribal regalia. For the women the dances are jingle dress, fancy shawl, southern cloth, and a couple that I'm not too familiar with. For the men there are the gourd dance, traditional straight dance, Northern grass dance, and the Fancy dance. Near the center holding the flags and dancing behind the flag bearers are military veterans, and yes they are all women. It might surprise some people to learn that Native Americans have the highest military enlistment rate of any other group per capita in the U.S.
The music is provided by drum groups. There are actually three drum groups (singers) at this pow wow. In the center are the O-Ha-Ma Lodge, to the right out of the video is the host drum the Grass Lodge Singers, and near the east entrance of the arena is the drum group Roanhorse. The singers are pretty amazing. They know hundreds of songs in many different tribal languages. It would be the equivalent of your favorite band singing songs in Spanish, English, French, Mandarin, and Japanese. And yes even here, kids are on their phones lol.
This is an Intertribal Song, which means that anyone can dance regardless of dance style. Here, in the foreground, you can see the Fancy Dancers. They are always a crowd favorite and their dance style is very dynamic. In the background you can see a few Southern Straight War Dancers. It is probably the oldest of the dances and, at times, it looks like the dancers are emulating hunting.
I apologize as it has been a really long time since I've written a story. I had to take a six month break, but life has finally returned back to normal and I can continue sharing a few new stories with you. I heard this particular tale several years ago from a friend who comes from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He in turn heard this story from his grandfather. It is a pretty short story and I believe that there are similar variations of this story told by several different tribes across most of Oklahoma. This particular version is one that is told by the Cherokee.
Why The Turtle's Shell Is Cracked
In ages past, Turtle and Possum were once steadfast friends and the two shared in many adventures together. One day, the two friends decided to hunt for wild grapes. After a short walk into the forest, they found a tree that was covered in grapevines. Possum climbed the tree branches and found that the thick leaves had hidden a treasure trove of grapes. After eating his fill, Possum threw down several large and juicy grapes for his friend the Turtle to eat. But a wolf spied the two friends eating the grapes and he decided that he would take the grapes for himself. Whenever Possum threw a grape down for Turtle, the wolf would leap up and snatch the grape before it had even hit the ground. Poor Turtle could do nothing but watch in silence. But Possum decided that he'd had enough. Taking a small bone out of his pouch, he hurled the bone towards the wolf. The wolf, thinking it was a grape, greedily leapt up and snatched the bone mid-flight. Too late did the wolf realize his mistake, and before long, the wolf choked to death on the bone.
Possum and Turtle sung a victory song and both took great pride in Possum's victory. Turtle eyed the wolf and said, "I think that I will take the wolf's ears and use them as spoons for my hominy mush." Possum did not think this was a good idea but he could not talk Turtle out of it. So Turtle took the wolf's ears and used them as spoons for his hominy mush. When other woodland creatures saw Turtle using his wolf-ear spoons, they began to whisper that he must be a great warrior to have slain such a powerful wolf; perhaps he even had great medicine. Turtle did nothing to dispel these rumors, and he might have even help spread a few himself. However, this did not please Possum and, shortly after, their friendship came to an end. Eventually, word of the Turtle's prowess reached the ears of a mighty wolf clan. When they learned that Turtle had "killed" one of their own and had made a trophy out of the wolf's ears, they grew very angry. They decided that they would punish the Turtle for his disrespect.
The wolves gathered a large hunting party and they quickly tracked down the little Turtle as he was nearing his watery home. The wolves, cautiously circled the Turtle. They did not know what the Turtle could do. After all, hadn't he had killed one of their own? Turtle quickly realized that the wolves, while angry, showed him more than a modicum of respect. In fact, the wolves didn't quite know what to do with Turtle. One wolf brought out a large pot. He suggested that they should put the Turtle in this pot and smother him to death. The Turtle heard this plan and was terribly afraid. But he wisely puffed out his chest and laughed, "Go ahead and try. With my medicine, I will shatter that pot into a hundred pieces." Another wolf suggested that they should build a fire and roast the Turtle to death. Again the Turtle laughed, "With my medicine, no fire can hurt me. You would just be wasting your time." The Turtle slyly added, "As long as you don't throw me into the river to drown, there is nothing you can do to hurt me." Now it must be said that for all the wolves' gifts, intelligence was not one of them. The wolves gleefully grabbed the Turtle and held him high into the air in order to cast him into a river so that he might drown. Turtle only feigned fright, when in actuality, he was quite happy with this outcome. However, too late did he notice that this river was full of rocks and boulders. Before he could think of another clever plan, the wolves hurled the Turtle into the river.
As he plummeted towards the river, the Turtle went into his shell and braced himself. The impact of the fall was terrible. With a loud crack, he landed right on top of a large rock and his beautiful shell was shattered into a dozen pieces. Only with the help of Rabbit, a master healer, was Turtle able to mend his shell. But his shell was forever scarred and scuffed and you can still see the scars to this day.
Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to speak to a 2nd grade class all the way in South Carolina via Google Duo. (What an amazing age we live in.) It was a lot of fun and the kids were awesome. They asked some really intelligent questions and they actually stumped me a couple of times. I do think that in this day and age, we as adults, tend to underestimate the critical thinking abilities of the young.
However, the Native American storytellers of old understood that even the very young could process important life lessons via parables and short stories. As a sort of experiment, I shared the short story, "Why the Skunk Has No Friends". At the end of the tale, I asked the class what the lesson of the story was and every student in the class raised their hands to answer. Today I thought that I would share this story with you. Hope you guys enjoy.
Why The Skunk Has No Friends
In the beginning of time, the Creator gifted his new creations with endowments that would best suit their needs. To some of his creations he gave hard scales so that they could not be easily harmed. To others he gave the gift of flight so that they could escape from harm’s way. To others still he gave warm fur so that they would be safe from winter’s deathly chill.
When the Creator first created Skunk, he gave Skunk fur as black as midnight. With this camouflage, Skunk could not be seen in the dark and he would be safe from other dangerous animals. Yet the Skunk was not satisfied. He said to the Creator, “Great Spirit, I am thankful for all that you have given me, but I fear that it is not enough to keep me safe. Please give me sharp teeth like Brother Wolf so that I may better protect myself.”
The Creator merely smiled and granted the little Skunk’s wish. The Skunk now had razor sharp teeth! With his fur of midnight and sharp teeth, the Skunk soon became a fearsome creature of the night that other animals were afraid of. For a while, the Skunk was happy.
But it wasn’t long before he approached the Creator again and said, “Great Spirit, I am thankful for all that you have given me, but I fear that it is not enough to keep me safe. Please give me sharp claws like Brother Bear so that I may better protect myself.”
This time the Creator had a stern look upon his face but, nevertheless, he granted the little Skunk’s wish. The Skunk now had razor sharp claws! The Skunk truly became a terror of the night and even Brother Bear and Brother Wolf avoided the Skunk’s terrible temper. For a short space of time, the Skunk was happy.
Eventually he grew discontent with his gifts and he sought out the Creator. As before, the Skunk approached the Creator and said, “Great Spirit, I am thankful for all that you have given me, but I fear that it is not enough to keep me safe. Please give me something so grand, so terrible, that all will run away from me in fear.”
The Creator looked down upon the ungrateful Skunk in anger. He decided that he would grant the Skunk’s request but he would also teach the Skunk a lesson in humility. The Creator gave the Skunk a frightful and terrible smell. The smell was so terrible that all animals ran away from Skunk, even his friends. For good measure, the Creator also placed two white stripes down the Skunk’s back so that he could not sneak upon his fellow animals at night. To this day, Skunk still walks the green forests all alone.
As this is the month of ghouls and ghost, I thought that I would share a scary story with you. This particular story is one of many in my book, The Age of Myths and Legends: Book One Monsters. I hope you guys enjoy.
The Ghost Witch
Once, in days long since passed, an old sorcerer of some note died of old age. In his long, unnatural life, he had been a vindictive and petty man. Any slight, real or imagined, was repaid ten-fold. In his day, he became feared by all throughout the Dawn Lands. When he passed away, there were no friends or colleagues to attend to his body. What few relatives he had finally wrapped him in blankets and placed his body in an old, gnarled, tree deep in the heart of a black forest. In time, the forest became a place of dread. People saw strange things flitting in and out of the trees on moonlit nights. Hunters heard terrible sounds echoing from the burial grove. Eventually, men and women came to shun the unwholesome place altogether.
Several years later, a Mi’kmaq man and his wife were traveling through Abenaki lands on their way to the east. They did not know many people in those parts, so, instead of asking for a night’s lodging, they decided to sleep under the stars. Looking for a good place to spend the night, they saw the old forest and set foot into that dark grove. When they entered, a chill took hold of the wife, and she questioned her husband about their night’s stay. He merely laughed away his wife’s fears and attributed them to superstition. The husband selected a large tree and built a small lean-to. He then prepared a fire and cooked their supper.
When their supper was over, the wife carefully studied their surroundings. It was winter, and most of the trees were bare. Dark and twisted branches seemed to stretch out and claw at the moon. Looking up, the wife saw dark shapes hanging amongst the trees. When she questioned her husband, he sleepily replied, "They’re only the bodies of the deceased, but you shouldn’t fear the dead. It’s the living out there in the real world that we have to be mindful of. Come; it is time to sleep."
"We shouldn’t be here. I think we had better leave now," replied the wife.
The husband merely laughed at his wife. He then rolled over onto his side and was soon fast asleep. The wife sat staring at the crackling fire and wished with all her might that she and her husband were anywhere but here. The night air had grown heavy, and it seemed to the wife that the eyes of the dark forest were upon her. At last, she, too, lay down beside the fire, but she could not sleep. As the night stretched on, the fire burned down to glowing embers. She gently prodded her husband, but he did not respond. She did not dare get up to gather more firewood in this dark place, so she wrapped herself in her blankets and shut her eyes.
It was not long after that she began to hear a gnawing sound. At first, she convinced herself that it was merely the old tree branches rubbing against each other in the wind- or maybe it was a small animal gnawing on the bones of one of the dead. The wife stayed awake the entire time and quietly listened to the strange grating sound that seemed to last for hours. Just when it seemed that she could take no more of the gnawing, it stopped. The wife breathed a sigh of relief and noted the brightening eastern sky as dawn slowly approached. The wife reached out to wake her husband, but he did not stir, so she let him be.
When the sun’s golden rays had finally banished the shadows of the old forest, the wife roughly shook her husband by his shoulder. To her horror, he rolled onto his back with a face frozen in terror. He was dead, and the left side of his chest was a ruined mass of blood and viscera. The wife screamed and screamed and screamed. Half mad with terror, she then ran with all of her might to a lodge of the Abenaki. She tried to tell her story, but her words were incoherent and jumbled.
The Abenaki at first thought her mad, but they were gentle and tried their best to calm her nerves. Eventually, the wife was able to tell the gathering her harrowing tale, yet many would not believe her. The story was just too fantastic for them to find credible. However, a few of the old hunters remembered strange stories about the dark forest. They also recalled a name that was almost lost to legend, Skudakumooch, which means "ghost witch." With weapons in hand, a number of men went with the Mi’kmaq wife to the haunted grove. There, the troop found her husband lying under a burial tree. All could see that his heart was gone. The shaken men then looked up and saw the body of the dead witch high above. The bravest men in their number climbed the burial tree and took the accursed body down. They then carefully removed the tattered blankets and robes that covered the body. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the mouth of the desiccated corpse was covered with fresh blood.
The men burned the witch’s body in a large bonfire and, for good measure, they burned down the burial tree as well. From that day forth, the old forest was a little bit brighter and cleaner. Shadows no longer held unseen menace, and wholesome animals once again returned to the grove. As for the poor wife, none really knew what became of her. Some said that she returned home to the lands of the Mi’kmaq and remarried. It was even said that she lived out the rest of her days in relative peace. However, most of the old people knew that this story was a fairy tale. The elders believed that any dealings with a witch, living or dead, would always result in a lifetime of nightmares.
I rarely post about my family as we are a relatively private people. But, as I've started to gain a bit of notoriety from my book, I felt that it was important for me to give credit where credit is due; as it pertains to the Kiowa stories that I've written about. Many of the old Kiowa stories that I know came to me from one person, my grandmother Mary (Akoneto*) Miller.
My grandmother was born on September 11th, 1927 to Sadie and Charles Akoneto of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. Her parents were full-blooded members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and they were both fluent speakers of the Kiowa language. My grandmother was also very close to her own maternal grandmother Thot-Sau-Nah, whose name means "Getting Close to Home."
From her parents and grandmother, my grandmother learned all of the old stories of the Kiowa as well as Christian hymns and prayers in the Kiowa language. It always amazed me when my grandmother was able to recite a story or a song that was told to her when she was only 10 years old. She could remember little details with so much clarity. I can't even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.
My grandmother was a natural storyteller and she was always happy to share what she knew with other people. As a kid, I remember a prominent Kiowa artist stopping by to visit with my grandmother so that he could accurately portray the Kiowa people in a painting that he was working on. Another time, a noted Wichita tribal singer visited with her to learn certain Kiowa words and to discuss the meanings behind some of the songs of the O-ha-ma Lodge singers. That might have been the first time that I realized that my grandmother was something of an authority when it came to the Kiowa language and history. But she was always humble, and she lamented that she didn't know as much as she should have.
There is a special kind of magic in a storytellers voice and my grandmother certainly had some of that magic. When she told a tale, she could transport you to another time and place. Now, that particular time and place could be both cruel and savage, it was a raw age. But it was also a time and place of mystery, miracle and magic.
Today, I'd like to share one of my favorite stories that my grandmother learned from her own grandmother. But first I'd like to give you a little preface. My grandmother never started her stories with "Once upon a time." Rather she started her stories with "You know, way back there...". She sometimes used Kiowa words when quoting someone in the story. I will do the same in this writing, but I will place the English translations next to the Kiowa words or phrases.
The Big Fish
You know, way back there, the Kiowas lived out west near the Wichita mountains. Thot-Sau-Nah was a little girl when this happened. At that time, the Kiowas fought with everyone. When they were at war with the Osage, the Kiowas were split up into a bunch of different camps. This one camp saw a bunch of Osage warriors coming their way so the Kiowa warriors jumped on their horses and went out to fight. Even though the Kiowa warriors were brave and fought hard, there were too many Osage and the Kiowas lost. Almost all of the Kiowa warriors were dead or scattered.
At the Kiowa camp, there were only old people, women, and children. These Kiowa people saw dust plumes in the distance and they knew that it was the Osage coming to finish them off. All the Kiowa people started to run away. The old people helped each other and the mothers carried their children on their shoulders.
They ran for a long time but, when they looked back, they could see the dust plumes of the Osage getting closer. At last, the Kiowas came to a big river. It was Aw-say (spring time) so the river was swollen with flood water. The people got really scared because they knew they couldn't cross. The old Kiowa chief walked to the forefront of the group and said that he would try to cross the river.
The people watched as the old chief stepped in to the swollen river. He fought the currents and struggled to stay on his feet. But, the river was too strong, and the old chief went under the water. All the people started to wail and they fell to their knees because they loved their chief and the Kiowas could see the Osage on their horses coming towards them. But when they looked back at the river, they saw the old chief rising up out of the water. He motioned them to come forward and he said, AIM POHN! (get up!) AIM AH! (come here!)
The old chief was standing on something but the Kiowa people couldn't see what it was. The Kiowas stepped out on to the water and, under their feet, they could feel that they were standing on something solid. Whatever it was, it carried all the Kiowa people across the river. When all of the people were safely on the other bank, a big fish tail came up out of the river and splashed the water. Thot-Sau-Nah was one of those little children being carried on her mother's shoulders. She said that they were standing on something soft.
1. Her maiden name, Akoneto, was actually a corruption of our true family name, Akohn-doe; which means "He's Aiming."
Hey everybody. I thought that you guys might like to read another small excerpt from The Age of Myths and Legends. Chapter Two of my book deals with the monsters that lurked just below the surface of the water; waiting to drag the unwary into the darkness below. Hope you guys enjoy.
Terrors of the Deep
Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee, Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Man has always felt a certain affinity for the seas, lakes, rivers, and streams that cover most of the Earth. According to some tales from the elder days, the longing and loneliness that man feels for the waters are due to the fact that Man came from the primordial depths himself. The early people of North America acknowledged water as the bringer of life, and most tribes felt a certain sense of awe and wonderment for this powerful driving force of nature.
Like the great forest-cloaked hills and towering mountains, the waters of the old world held many mysteries to be both respected and, in some cases, feared. In those days, mysterious powers were ever-present in the wide seas and meandering rivers. Sinister spirits dwelt near roaring waterfalls and turbulent whirlpools. Even the quiet lakes and dark, stilled pools held nameless terrors lying in wait for the foolish or unwary.
One such fearsome terror of the deep waters was the dreaded horned serpent, the Uktena. These creatures haunted the lakes and streams of the Southeast and preyed upon all living things that wandered too close to their watery lairs. The Uktena were old, perhaps as old as the making of the world itself, and their strength was colossal. It was said that these mighty beasts were able to smash boulders and splinter trees with their powerful tails. It was also said that the Uktena could scar and rend the very mountains themselves with the great horns or antlers that grew from their scaly heads.
However, it was a flashing jewel embedded deep within these creatures' skulls that caught the attention of any mortal unlucky enough to encounter these monsters. This gem, called the Ulun’suti, was an item of great power and magic. In the hands of the Wise, the jewel was capable of wondrous miracles, such as the healing of the sick, the summoning of rain, the gift of fertility, and the power of prophecy. Acquiring the magical jewel from the wicked Uktena was another matter altogether. The malevolent eyes of the Uktena could paralyze its victims, and the creature possessed the ability to spit a corrosive poison over a great distance.
So infected with evil was this creature that even the environment in which it lived became barren. The vegetation near its lair turned brown and brittle, and the waterways turned black and deadly even to the touch. However, these monsters of the old world did have a weakness. Along these creatures’ sinuous bodies lay numerous bands of color. Behind the seventh band of color beat these creatures’ black hearts. If these organs could be pierced, the Uktena would die.
The Creek, Seminole, Yuchi and Choctaw of Southeastern Oklahoma once avoided certain springs and lakes, because they believed that the ever watchful Tie Snake lay in wait. Descriptions of these serpents varied. Some tales held that Tie Snakes were gigantic serpents of green hue. Other tales said that Tie Snakes were pitch black and not much larger than a normal snake. However, their strength was such that they could pull a horsed rider from his mount at full gallop.
Some tales even said that Tie Snakes were sentient and could speak with Man when it suited the serpents’ needs. To converse with a Tie Snake was a very dangerous thing, though. These ancient serpents were exceedingly clever, and they could trick the unwary into bad endings. Only once have the intelligent Tie Snakes been outwitted. That particular feat was accomplished by Master Rabbit, the eternal trickster.
With that said, there are some tales that speak of the Tie Snakes' kindness to lost children. In those tales, the Lord of the Tie Snakes always sent such children home laden with many gifts. In other tales, Tie Snakes were said to spirit children away to their underwater lairs, where these children would remain captive forever.
Most tales agreed that these underwater serpents bore one or two multicolored horns upon their heads. Like the Uktena’s flashing jewel, the horn of the Tie Snake was an item of great power coveted by holy men. With a piece of the Tie Snake’s horn, a medicine-man might heal the sick, drive away evil spirits, or become well-nigh impervious to knife, spear, axe or arrow. A mortal who possessed a Tie Snake’s horn could even exercise his will over the other creatures of the lakes and streams. Fish could be made to fill the fisherman’s nets. Otters and beavers could be compelled to surrender their lives for their valuable furs. Even water fowl could be made to stand still so that the hunter’s arrow would find its mark. These miracles were so enticing that some holy men hatched elaborate plans to subdue the Tie Snakes for their powerful horns. However, only the most powerful or foolish of hierophants would even dare to kill or capture these powerful serpents.
In a recent interview, I was asked about the artwork for my book, The Age of Myths and Legends. The interviewer asked why I thought that the art was so important to this particular work. Laughing, I explained that the art was integral to the book because I am a mediocre writer at best. The artwork also allowed me to display my love for the fantasy genre as well. But, more importantly, the artwork allowed me to express these old tales in a medium that is just as powerful as the spoken word. Even though I had placed captions beneath the illustrations in the book, my hope was that readers would immediately understand what was happening in each of the images. That is probably the aim of every artist, because in truth, artist are storytellers as well. We don't often think of visual artist as such because most visual artist aren't necessarily masters of the oratory arts. However, if we take a sincere look at the storytelling traditions of most Native American tribes, we will see that artwork was, and still is, an important aspect to the storytelling art itself.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been raised in Southwestern Oklahoma as this area has always been a hotbed for Native American talent. From an early age I was exposed to so many talented artist who had created works that captured the essence of what it is to be Native American. But even before Oklahoma was a state, the tribes of this area had already been telling their stories for a very long time.
The earliest Native American artists painted with natural color pigments mixed with fat, usually buffalo or bear fat. These Native Artists then applied their paints to animal hides such as shirts, robes, leggings and teepees. Usually, the images they created held personal meaning to the artists or the artists' family. Some images commemorated great battles or successful hunts. Other paintings were used in ceremonies and made use of sacred images.
The term ledger art comes from the accounting ledger books that were a source of paper for the tribes of the plains during the late 1800's. Most of these ledgers came from traders, government agents, missionaries, and military officers. The plains artists were also exposed to new tools such as ink fountain pens, crayons, and watercolor paints. Typically, male artist tended to create images of valor while women tended to create geometric patterns.
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art is a style of painting that portrayed ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life and stories from the old oral traditions. The style is noted for its use of solid color fields, minimal backgrounds, a flat perspective, and emphasis on details of dance regalia. This style of painting was created, in part, by the Kiowa Six; Native American artists who had received formal artist training at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1920's. All six went on to enjoy international acclaim.
The 1940's through the 1970's saw an explosion of artistic styles blossom in Southwestern Oklahoma. While many artists of this era continued to create images taken from the old oral traditions, they also began experimenting with a variety of mediums and techniques. Notable artists of this era included...
Bobby Hill (White Buffalo)
The Kiowa artist Bobby Hill (White Buffalo) was noted for his dramatic use of light and texture. Undoubtedly, his work as a technical illustrator, commercial artist, promotional director, scenic artist & set designer for Lawrence Welk provided Bobby with the ability to create kinetic energy in his paintings. His early work borrowed from the clean lines of the Kiowa Six, but in time, he developed his own unique style. Bobby exhibited his artwork at the American Indian Exposition (Anadarko, OK), where he won awards for his artwork three years in a row including the Grand Award in 1969. Bobby also exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, OK) & the Peabody Museum of Salem, MA. Bobby was given a solo exhibition at the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center (Anadarko, OK) & participated in its Contemporary Southern Plains Indian Painting touring exhibit in 1972.
Bobby received commissions from the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center for exhibit projects, including a Ghost Dance shirt in 1967. In 1974, Bobby received a commission from the Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative (Anadarko) for two Southern Plains Indian tipis.
Bobby's artwork is also featured in several private & public art collections, including the Carnegie (OK) High School, the Museum of Northern Arizona (Flagstaff), the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts & Crafts Board (Washington, D.C.) and in various collections throughout Western Europe.
The Kiowa artist Robert Redbird was a grandson of Monroe Tsatoke, a member of the famed Kiowa Six.
With the encouragement of his grandfather, Robert went on to master oil, acrylics, watercolor, pencil, pastel, pen & ink, & prints. However, it was his use of an airbrush that cemented Robert into the pantheon of artistic greats. In 1967, Redbird designed the poster for the US International Open Polo Game tournament, which allowed him the opportunity to meet Prince Charles of Wales. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared June 7, 2003 as "Robert Redbird Day" to celebrate the artist's many creative and humanitarian achievements. The Daily Oklahoman once wrote of his work, "Perhaps the best tribute to Redbird's unusual style is that his Indian figures seem massive and monolithic, yet at the same time somehow free-floating, dreamlike and surrealistic. Blankets unite pairs of figures creating one organic, earth-rooted whole, like a kind of human boulder, in such Redbird paintings as 'Ceremonial Time' and 'Kiowa Courtship.' " Robert's artwork can be found all over the world.
Doc Tate Nevaquayah
The Comanche artist, Doc Tate Nevaquayah, has been called the Leonardo Da Vinci of the Indian art world. A self-taught artist, flutist, composer, dancer, lecturer, and Methodist lay minister, Nevaquaya gave numerous flute and art workshops throughout the United States, including classes at Brigham Young University (1972) and Georgetown University (1974). He made more than twenty-five television appearances, on shows televised nationally and by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Among numerous recognitions that came to him were six Grand Awards and the Outstanding Indian Artists Award from Southwestern State College in Weatherford (1969); Indian of the Year award from Oscar Rose Junior College, Midwest City (1975); Outstanding Citizen of Diamond Jubilee Heritage Week from the Apache Chamber of Commerce (1982); the LaDonna Harris Award from Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (1986); and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986); and the Artist of the West Award at the American Indian and Cowboy Artists National Western Art Exhibition in San Dimas, California (1994). The Governor's Arts Award named him an Oklahoma Treasure in 1995. His artwork was noted for clear, crisp colors and almost all of his paintings possessed a dream-like quality to them.
Each and everyone of these artists deserves their own page and, in the future, I may do a spotlight on the amazing works of Mirac Creepingbear, Parker Boyiddle Jr., Cruz McDaniels, Sherman Chaddlesone, Quanah Parker Burgess, The Nevaquaya Brothers, Huzo Paddlety, Thomas Poolaw, Lee Tsatoke Jr., R.G. Geionty. I could go on and on about the many artists from the area who have accomplished extraordinary things in the artistic world while staying true to their culture. Each and everyone of these artists are superb storytellers and I am thankful that I have had the chance to experience their stories. The next time you see a work by a Native American artist don't just appreciate the art for its aesthetic appeal, try to see the story that the artist is telling. I promise that it will make your art experience that much more enjoyable.
Hi everybody. My apologies for the late post. I've been incredibly busy with a move, work, and with editing the final print version of The Age of Myths and Legends: Book One.
Still, I feel obliged to make it up to you guys with something special this month. Typically, I write a short excerpt from a story that I've either heard or have come across in my readings. But this month I thought that I would "tell" you a favorite story of mine from my childhood. My grandmother used to share Sainday stories with us when we were young. These stories are among my most cherished memories.
Sainday was the Kiowa Trickster and there are so many wonderful stories about him such as Sainday and The Coyote, Sainday and The Prairie Dogs, Sainday and The Soldier, Sainday and The Bobcat, Sainday and The Giant Meatball, etc. Most Sainday tales are humorous and I think that these stories serve as perfect examples of old school Native American humor.
I wish that I could capture the magic of my grandmother's voice when she told these tales but I can't. Still, I hope you enjoy this short Sainday story.
Sainday and The Horse That Didn't Look So Good
What Reviewers are saying...
"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
"Hill takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the tales of monsters and evil beings in Native American folklore. The similarities among the tales across peoples fascinated me and gave me goose bumps, especially when great distances separated the peoples! Hill's art masterfully adds a visual chill to the image his words paint, eliciting an extra shiver of delighted terror."
"Perfect for those who love mythology, and especially mythology of the First Americans. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series."