A Brief Guide to Native American Myths and Legends

BOOK: A Brief Guide to Native American Myths and Legends
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Lewis Spence
(1874–1955) was a Scottish folklorist and mythologist. His many works included
A Dictionary of Mythology
The Myths of Mexico and Peru
, and
Myths and Legends of the North American Indians

Jon E. Lewis
is the author of bestselling
The Mammoth Book of Native Americans
The Mammoth Book of the West


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Updated material by Jon E. Lewis

Myths and Legends of the North American Indians
by Lewis Spence, with an introduction and commentary
by Jon E. Lewis

Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP

Originally published as
Myths and Legends of the North American Indians
in 1914 by George G. Harrap & Company.

This edition, with new material by Jon E. Lewis, published by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2013.

Copyright © Lewis Spence, 1914

Chapter 1
and Commentaries © J. Lewis-Stempel, 2012

The right of Lewis Spence to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library

UK ISBN 978-1-78033-787-6

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This edition published in the United States in 2013 by Running Press Book Publishers, A Member of the Perseus Books Group

All rights reserved under the Pan-American and International Copyright Conventions

Books published by Running Press are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, or call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail [email protected].

US ISBN 978-0-7624-4802-9
US Library of Congress Control Number: 2012944546

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Digit on the right indicates the number of this printing

Running Press Book Publishers
2300 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-4371

Visit us on the web!

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

Cover design:
Cover photograph: Cheyenne Warriors, 1905, after E.S. Curtis/Bridgeman



1   An Introduction to Native Americans and Mythology

2   The Mythologies of the North American Indians

3   Algonquian Myths and Legends

4   Iroquois Myths and Legends

5   Sioux Myths and Legends

6   Myths and Legends of the Pawnees

7   Myths and Legends of the North and North-western Indians

An A–Z of the Chief Gods, Spirits and Mythical Beings of North America

Tribes by Region






Chapters 2–76 of A Brief Guide to Native American Myths and Legends
were originally published in
Myths and Legends of the North American Indians
by Lewis Spence, George G. Harrap, 1914

Chapter 1
and commentaries © 2012 J. Lewis-Stempel


Jon E. Lewis

The history of America does not begin in 1492. There were already millions of people living in the Americas when Christopher Columbus and his weary, salt-splattered white men stumbled ashore in the Bahamas. Columbus thought he had encountered the East Indies, so termed the welcoming natives ‘Indios’. Indians.

Columbus was soon apprised of his mistake in geography, but his name for the aboriginals of the Americas stuck. To themselves, the inhabitants of the continent were usually ‘The People’. Aside from the error in nomenclature, the European explorers also mistook the racial origins of the ‘Red Men’. Commonly, the native people were regarded as being lost Phoenicians, migratory Hittites, or the lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Most fanciful of all were the early voyagers who found a blood link between the American Indian and the Welsh, with the former supposedly the multifarious offspring of the Welsh prince Madoc, son of Owen Gwyneth, who colonized the Gulf of Mexico in 1170.

It is easy to mock ethnographical explanations of earlier centuries, but modern Western science is surprisingly vague and divided about the first settlement of the land that would become known as America. Perhaps the first humans set foot there 30,000 years ago, but then it might have been as recent as 12,000 years ago. Or as far back in the mist of time as 60,000 years ago. What ethnologists do largely agree on, is that the first settlers walked there from Siberia via the land bridge known as Beringia, although ‘bridge’ is a misnomer for a tundra landmass five hundred miles wide. And that these pioneers – who were likely motivated by a hunger for big game, such as the mastodon and giant buffalo – were, anatomically, modern humans,
homo sapiens sapiens.
In other words, humans did not evolve in America, they migrated there. They were few in number, a scant handful of families, and from them, the DNA evidence suggests, descended 95 per cent of Native Americans – as America’s aboriginals are now usually termed.

After landing in present day Alaska, the first Americans fanned out down the Continent via river valleys as the Ice Age reluctantly thawed; the inhabiting of the New World was a long process, with passage frequently blocked by the Laurentide ice sheet, which covered 5 million square miles of Canada and the USA, sometimes reaching 700 feet thick. According to some anthropologists, it may have taken man 25,000 years to spread from Alaska to Cape Horn. By that time, glacial meltwater had caused the seas to rise, submerging Berengia, and cutting off the New World from the Old. But just before waters lapped over Berengia, there were two late waves of migration, those of the Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleuts, about 9,000 bc.

BOOK: A Brief Guide to Native American Myths and Legends
5.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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