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Native American

Traditional Prose Narratives

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There is no doubt that Mount Shasta has long been viewed as a sacred place by a number of Native American groups, and the special relationship has caused the mountain to play a significant role in their customs, myths, legends, and folktales. In an unpublished U.S.F.S. report titled "Native American Historic Context: Mount Shasta California," Winfield Henn provides an excellent review of the literature relating to the historical importance of Mt. Shasta to local Native Americans (1991). In another unpublished U.S.F.S report, Theodoratus and Evens clearly show that the mountain remains a sacred entity today ("Statement of Findings: Native American Interview and Data Collection Study of Mount Shasta, California" 1991). We have included the full-text versions via the links above for those wishing to further examine local Native American groups and their relationship with Mount Shasta. Also, while this page contains links to full-text tales, there are a couple general points worth considering before you read the narratives.

First, although there are a quite a few traditional prose narratives that have been collected from local Native Amerian groups, it is sometimes impossible to know whether the tale in question is a myth, legend or folktale. According to Brunvand, myths are "traditional prose narratives, which, in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past." Further, myths most often deal with "the activities of gods and demigods, the creation of the world and its inhabitants, and the origin of religious ritual."  Legends, like myths, are also regarded as true by the teller, but legends are often secular, set in the historical past, and most commonly assign humans the major narrative roles. A narrative regarded as fictional by the storyteller would be termed a "folktale" (Brunvand 1998).

Proper placing of any traditional prose narrative into the catagory to myth, legend or folktale would demand that the folklorist know whether the text was believed to be true by the teller, know its function, and perhaps be present at the actual performance. Even today, some Native American groups have rules about who can tell a tale, who can listen, and even when a tale can be told. Lastly, the long contact between Native Americans, European settlers, and African American slaves has likely caused interchange of some narrative elements. Keeping this in mind, there is still much that can be learned from looking at the rich and varied local lore.

Second, folklorists commonly view traditional prose narratives as one way that humans attempt to make sense of an enigmatic or confusing world. For example, an "explanatory myth" might explain the origin of Mount Shasta, why the bear does not walk on two legs, or why a particular taboo must be maintained.  A legend, on the other hand, might contain a believed account of human behavior that sheds light on correct human behavior. Of course, as so many traditional prose narratives intermingle the believable with the fantasic, we often do not know what parts of the narrative structure were simply ornamental, plot vehicle, or meant to be a literal expression of the truth. Perhaps most interesting, at least to the folklorist, are the recurring themes, story elements, and characters that make up myth, legend and folktale. These "narrative elements" are referred to as "motifs," and anyone wishing to compare motifs from one traditional narrative to another would consult the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature.

Coyote and the Yellow Jackets (Shasta)

Eagle and the Wind's Daughters (Shasta)

Search for Fire (Achomawi)

Coyote and the Flood (Shasta)

Creation of Mt. Shasta and the Grizzly Legend (Joaquin Miller)


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