What's new on our site today!
How Old Age Came into the World
This version of the legend comes from Mary Alma Curtin's 1912 collection Myths of the Modocs.
Five brothers and their sister lived alone on a mountain; the brothers had killed a great many people in the country around.
The sister gathered the wood and cooked the meat. When it was time for her maturity dance, she asked: "How can I dance when there is nobody to sing for me?"
"Walk around all the time," said her eldest brother, "pile stones, and don't sleep for five nights."
The girl kept awake four nights, then she was so tired that she fell asleep. She dreamed that her brothers were covered with sores and were starving. When she woke up, she cried and said: "I wish I had died long ago, then I shouldn't have brought trouble on my brothers. I have done this by not dancing and by going to sleep."
When she got home, she found that Sickness had been in the house. Sickness came 'every day for five days. Then each one of the five brothers had great sores on his body. There was nobody to hunt for deer, or rabbits, and soon the brothers were starving. The sister brought wood and kept the fire, but she couldn't find anything to eat. Everybody was glad that the brothers were sick and hoped they would die.
One of the brothers saw two swans on a pond near the house, and when the sister came with a load of wood on her back, he said: "I wish we could kill one of those swans."
"Maybe I can kill one," said the sister. She got her brothers' bows and tried the strings to see which string was the strongest. She put down one bow after another, saying: "That isn't strong.". The strings had been strong enough for her brothers, but for her they were weak. She took the bow that belonged to her youngest brother, pulled the string, and said: "This will do."
When she started for the pond, one of the brothers watched her, he said: "Now she is near the pond; now she is sitting down on the bank!" She drew the bow, and when he thought she had missed the swan, he nearly fell, he was so sorry. He didn't look out again. The arrow went through both swans.
The sister brought the swans home and left them outside; she took the bow and arrow in and put them away. Her brothers felt bad; they were disappointed. When she asked: "Shall I cook them in the house?" they were glad. They tried to get up, but they couldn't stand on their feet, they were so weak.
The girl cooked the swans and gave her brothers some of the meat. She said: "Eat a little at a time, so it will last longer." She saved the fat and rubbed her brothers with it, to heal their sores.
"Now I am stronger," said the eldest brother. "Give me my bow; I feel as if I could shoot something." Each brother said the same.
When the people at the foot of the mountain heard that the five brothers were sick, they were glad and sent a young man to find if it were true. He came back, and said: "They are sick and are going to die."
When the sister had gone for wood, the eldest brother said: "I know that somebody is coming; I want to be strong." They all had the same feeling, and each one tried his bowstring. When the sister came back, the eldest brother said: "You must roll us up in our blankets, and tie them around us as though we were dead. Put our bows and arrows and beads near us."
When she had done that, she went off to the mountains, for she felt bad and didn't want to stay with her brothers; she didn't want to live any longer.
The brothers waited for her. and when it was dark and she didn't come, one said: "Our sister is always talking about dying; maybe she is dead."
Now the people at the foot of the mountain sent a little boy to see if the five brothers were alive. He crossed the pond in a canoe; he rowed the canoe by saying: "Peldack! Peldack!" [Go fast]. When the boy saw the men tied up in their blankets he went back, and said: "They are dead. In their house there are bows and arrows and nice beads. You must go and get them."
The chief said: "Get ready; we will go and scalp those men, and take their things."
When the brothers saw the men coming, they said: "We will lie here as if we were dead, and when they pack up our things and start away, we will spring up and fight them with knives."
The men came into the house. They unrolled the brothers and kicked them around; they took their blankets, bows, arrows and beads, took everything they could find, and started off.
Then the five brothers jumped up and ran at them with knives. They killed every man, threw the bodies into the pond, and started off to hunt for their sister. They hunted a long time. At last they found her body and burned it; then the eldest brother said: "Let us leave this country and kill every man we can find."
They started and traveled toward the west. They killed every man or woman they met. When people saw them coming they ran and hid, they were so afraid of them. The brothers traveled a long rime, and killed a great many people. At last they came to a big lake. They made a canoe and started to cross it, but before they got to land, the canoe sank. It went under the water and under a mountain and out into another lake. There they met Storm.
He was a man then and could kill anybody he could catch and draw into the water. He tried to kill the five brothers, but the youngest brother fought with him, cut him to pieces with his knife, and said: "You will be a person no longer, you will only be something to scare people," and he drove him away. All the people under the water hid, for they were afraid of the brothers.
When the brothers couldn't find anyone to kill, they turned toward the east and traveled till they came to a country where they found a very old man and a.very old woman. They said: "We have come to fight you."
"I don't want to fight," said the old man. "We have always lived here, this is our place; nobody ever came here before to trouble us. We don't bother anyone, Go away and leave us."
"You must fight," said the brothers. "If you don't, we will kill you; we kill every one we meet."
"You can't kill us or harm us, no matter what you do," said the old man. "We are Komuchass [Old Age]. We shall live always."
The five brothers were mad; they didn't listen to the old man, but shot at him with arrows, and pounded him with clubs; then they built a fire and tried to bum him. When they couldn't kill him in any way, they got scared and ran off.
The old man called to them to stop, but they didn't listen; then he said: "We shall follow you; you cannot get away; wherever you go we shall go. You will never get home."
The old man and old woman followed the brothers for a long time, and at last they caught up with the eldest brother. Right away he was old and weak. He stumbled along for a little way, then fell to the ground and died.
They overtook the second brother; he also grew old and weak, fell to the ground and died. The third brother reached the lake; he was running on the ice when Komuchass overtook him; he grew weak and fell; the ice broke and he was drowned. The fourth brother died in the same manner. The youngest brother thought he was going to get away from the old man; he was only a few steps from home when Komuchass overtook him. Right off he was an old man; he stumbled along a step or two, then fell to the ground and died.
This is how old age came into our world. If the five brothers had let the old man and his wife alone, they would have stayed in their own country, and there would have been no such thing as old age.
Komuchass turned the bodies of the five brothers into five rocks, and those rocks are still to be seen in the Klamath country.
More stories to read:
Native American war legends
Myths about death
Myths about rocks
Learn more about:
Back to the Native American legends for kids
Read some Native American poems
Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?
Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2020 Contacts and FAQ page