All the oldest cultures have a “Sky Father”; California is no exception.

Mendocino County, situated on the Pacific coast of Northern California, is a gorgeous area.  It is part of California’s “Lost Coast,” which describes the part of the California coast that has difficult, steep, mountainous terrain with dense forests that make it very difficult to develop.  Even the famous “State Route 1”, which runs tightly against the coast for most of the state’s length, suddenly veers off inland to avoid the area. The county is made up of the huge Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, and is home to the King Range National Conservation Area. 

Needless to say, with the difficult terrain, it is sparsely populated (22 ppl/sq mi… and that includes the population of 4 cities!) over a vast, 3,878 square mile area.  To illustrate, Franklin County, Virginia, where I’m from, has a population density of 79 ppl/sq mi!  Now that’s rural.  In fact, Mendocino County has always been a difficult place to live, and it shuns settlement.  In the mid-1800s, when this part of California was being populated, the county didn’t even have its own government until a decade after California became a state! 

The area was mostly occupied by indigenous tribes.  Mendocino County has more Indian Reservations than any county in the country, save three, and has a tragic history of settler mistreatment of these peoples… like most places from this time period.

The county seat, Ukiah, is named after one of these indigenous tribes.  These people, the Yuki, lived mostly in Round Valley (where Round Valley Indian Reservation is found), and had lived prior to the 1850s as far south as Hood Mountain in Sonoma County. 

A Very, Very Isolated Tribe

Yuki Tribe
Yuki men at the Nome Cult Farm, ca. 1858

In the Global Prehistory of Human Migration’s map of Major Language Families on page 88, this area of Northern California is labeled as “unrecorded, unaffiliated, or isolated language.”  In Chapter 43, the area surrounding the Round Valley, where the Yuki lived, was dominated by peoples with Athapaskan languages. These “Pacific Athapaskan” languages were themselves isolated from the main concentration of Athapaskan proper near Alaska and other language groups around them… and even more isolated still, the Yuki language stood independently among them, tucked away in the difficult terrain of Round Valley.  

Wikipedia indicates the Yuki language was in the same family as the now extinct Wappo language.  The Wappo people appear to have been influenced by other cultures, moving to the easier living area of the Napa Valley while the Yuki stayed in the secluded, rough area of Round Valley.  The Yuki language, it is believed, is a direct descendant to the Post Pattern, a Paleo-Indian archaeological culture dating from between 9,000 and 13,000 years ago. 

In addition to the linguistics, the Yuki also maintained a true hunter-gatherer lifestyle when they were “discovered” in the 1800s.  As far as we can tell, all modern Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers until around 13,000 to 10,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age was coming to a close, and agriculture started to spring up.  Hunter-gatherers, who would have held onto their cultures tightly since their very survival depended on it, encountered new and different cultures and societal structures as they moved from place to place.  Over time, they would have experienced pressures to incorporate, assimilate, or adopt new ideas from these other cultures.  Because cultures centered around agriculture were, on the whole, more technologically advanced with superior weaponry and population size, the only sure way to protect a hunter-gatherer culture… was to move. 

But… as agricultural and urban cultures spread, the only places left for hunter-gatherer societies to go were the most isolated, remote, inhospitable places on Earth. 

In other words, as evidenced by their extreme linguistic isolation from surrounding peoples, their physical surroundings, and their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, it stands to reason that the Yuki of the 1800s probably maintained one of the oldest cultures in North America, if not in the world, carried by their ancestors over 10,000 years ago from Asia or beyond. 

Hence, the remnant of the oldest Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherer culture in North America found its way to the “Lost Coast,” through which, even now, a major highway cannot be built. 

Two Yuki Creation Accounts

Before the Yuki were shoved onto the Round Valley Reservation, there were a couple explorers and those interested in indigenous tribes who recorded the Yuki beliefs from the 1850s.   A. G. Tassin, an officer in the U. S. Army, was one of these men. He spent time with the Yuki and got to know some of their ways, and recorded their stories. In Overland monthly and Out West magazine, Volume: 3, Issue: 6, on June 1884, on pages 651 to 658, he published accounts of several ancient Yuki traditions under the title “Yuka Legends.”  He wrote under the pen name A. G. “Fassin,” presumably for fear of reprisal. 

This is not a word-for-word retyping of Tassin’s work, but rather is condensed some for the sake of space.  The following narratives are reproduced faithfully to the original, and all the characters’ speech is exactly the same as recorded by Tassin.  I use quotation marks (“”) when I directly quote Tassin’s narrative and italics for the spoken sections.

The Creation – Eas and Pok-e-wip

first_garden_covelo
Scenery in Round Valley, Greg Haynes 2012

The setting opens on the summit hill between Eden Valley and Eel River near a perpendicular rock called Blue Nose (Ethel mountain), an important landmark in the Round Valley.  “In the eyes of the Yukas it possesses a peculiar interest, and they look upon it with something like veneration.”

Eas, the Creator, brought forth land out of the Okhoct, or great waters, which covered the whole earth.  Ethel was the first peak to rise up. Eas stood on it with his son, Pok-e-wip, the man-maker.  The Creator spoke to his son: Behold, Pok-e-wip! Your father, Eas, has made the earth for your own use, and for the uses of those you may place thereon: you will remain on it for a certain time, with the power of Eas to create and to people it as you wish.

Pok-e-wip looked at everything and said:

I am a man, and I behold many beautiful things around me in the light of your eyes; but Eas, my father, how am I to live? I am fast growing hungry, and I see nothing to eat or to supply my other wants; and how am I to see when you are gone and darkness falls again upon the face of the earth and the deep?

Eas smiled at his son and said “Wait.”

A huge oak tree sprouted up from a little green shrub, and Pok-e-wip ate an acorn which fell from the tree.  

Eas told Pok-e-wip that he had “many of the attributes of Eas, the father.”  He told him to use his power to create and people of the earth. 

Eas left the earth.  Pok-e-wip felt and saw the world become dark and cold.  He ordered there to be a “big fire” “as if my father were here”.  The sun came into being, and he set it into motion.

Then Pok-e-wip said, Let this fair earth, which my father made for me, be peopled full of men just like me, with their mates, and let everything else grow that may be of use to them.

Trees, animals, and people sprang up into existence. 

Pok-e-wip was very pleased, and the longer he looked, the more pleased he became. 

When the sun went down, he made the moon to provide light during the darkness.

He also made little fires (stars) to keep the dark night from being too dark.  He placed them at the feet of Eas, high up in the heavens, so the sun and the moon wouldn’t disturb them.

Then Pok-e-wip decreed for all the earth and heavens to hear:  From this time forth, until Eas, my father, comes again, in the days and the nights of the cycles to come, so will you move ever onward and ever back again [speaking of the order in the heavens].

“At his voice all those whom he had made in his image and that of his father gathered around him, until they stood as close and thick as the wild oats on the sunny mountain slopes, and he told them many good and wise words to rule and guide them when he should be gone from them; and as he spoke he stooped, and when he straightened up again, he held in his open hand a furzy buck-eye ball, and said: ‘Into the heart of each of my children I will put one of these pointed buckeye hairs, and whenever my words are forgotten or unheeded, the hair will prick and warn them that they are doing that which they must not do, which is evil, ‘ca-chim.’  And having said, he went back to his father in a smoky cloud.”

The Origin of Death and Hul-Ka-Lak

coyote trickster
Coyote, the Native American Trickster, sometimes man, sometimes animal

Sometime after, Pok-e-wip came down again to see how his children fared without him.  He found two Yuki that were arguing over the body of a third deceased man. They were arguing about whether the man should be raised to live again. 

The good man, “who had never done any ca-chim,” said to the other, Why should those whom we have loved be taken away, and never come again to cheer us with their love and their presence? Why should they always remain cold and lifeless, and the sorrow and tears of their friends be of no avail?

The bad man, named Coyote, answered him, The earth is not too large for the living, and if the dead come back to life again as you wish, they will go on increasing and multiplying as before, and soon there will not be acorns enough to feed us all, and we shall suffer from hunger.  So let the dead remain dead, and let their friends mourn and weep. 

Coyote then turned to Poke-e-wip.  If the dead were allowed to come to life again, Man-maker, the valleys and the mountains will not yield food enough for us all, and the children will suffer from hunger; so decide with me, Pok-e-wip, and let the dead remain dead and be buried out of sight. 

Poke-e-wip responded sadly: Coyote, does not your heart sorrow for him who now lies dead and cold, and who but now was full of life and joy; and have you no sympathy for the friends of the dead whom they loved so much?

Why should I? answered Coyote.  The dead man was nothing to me, and if I do not sorrow for the dead, why should I weep for his friends or with them?

Very well, replied Pok-e-wip, I decide in your favor.  The dead are doomed; neither tears, nor prayers, nor sorrow, nor anguish avail to bring them back to life, and they will be buried out of sight. 

Then Coyote, triumphant, went away, cheering that he’d bested the good man.  The good man stayed by his dead friend, clearly upset. Poke-e-wip had pity on him, comforted him, and told him that he would meet his friend again.

Weep for a while, said Pok-e-wip, for sorrow is good for the heart; it is the salt which preserves the meat of the dead game from spoiling when the sun shines too much upon it.  Bury the body of your dead friend out of sight, but keep his spirit in your heart, with the good he has done while living, but bury the ca-chim in the same grave with the dead. And the man did so.

Later on, the young son of Coyote was killed by a great serpent, or Poit-ka-yas.  Coyote, who noticed that his son was missing after a long absence, searched for him and found his body at the foot of a tree.  Coyote cried and was gripped with anguish over his loss.

Pok-e-wip heard Coyote’s cries and came to him, on his knees next to his son.  Coyote was trying to breathe life back into his son by breathing into his mouth, but his son would not revive.  Finally, he gave up, raised his son’s body in his arms, and begged Pok-e-wip to bring him back to life.

Pok-e-wip responded: Wherefore, Coyote, do you ask me to bring back your son from among the dead and restore him to you? Have you not said that the dead should remain dead forever, and that their friends should mourn and weep in vain?

Go wicked man, and reap the seed you have sown.  Bury your dead son out of sight, and mourn and weep in vain.

Coyote angrily threw the body of his son onto the ground.  He said, Why did you give life but to take it away again? Why did you make us at all, if we are to meet with only pain, sorrow, and death upon the earth? Of what avails the doing of nothing but good, when doing so does not help us in our need?

My son is dead, and my sorrow and my tears are useless, for you will not bring him back to me again when only one word from you would do so.  I will not heed your words or commands any more, and the furzy buckeye can prick my heart as it may, for I will never do aught but ca-chim again.

Pok-e-wip became angry.  Coyote trembled with fear.

When pain and sorrow touched others, Pok-e-wip said, you gave no heed nor sympathy; neither shall you have any, now or hereafter.  You wanted others to die while you hoped that you and yours only would live; and when the sin and wickedness of your desire was shown to you in the death of your own son, you rebelled against Pok-e-wip who had given you life. 

“You have now tasted the bitterness of death in him whom you loved, but you will never feel, in your own person, that there is sweetness even in death; your desire and wishes will be realized and granted, insomuch that you will never die.

“From this day forth, until the end of time, when those whom I have made will all have passed away, you will be known as Coyote, the Hul-Ka-Lak, or devil; your home will be in Ye-ma-tauk-tek, the great fire in the bowels of the earth, which is On-Nann, Hell.” 

Suddenly, there was a rent in the earth as if by an earthquake, and a thick, black smoke thrust up between the two.  Coyote disappeared and was never seen again. 

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For an analysis and comparison with orthodox Christian doctrine, see Part 2.