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Omaha Origin Story

This version of the legend comes from Fletcher and LaFlesche's 1911 collection The Omaha Tribe.

In the beginning the people were in water. They opened their eyes but they could see the people came out of the water they beheld the day. As they came forth from the water they were naked and without shame. But after many days passed they desired covering. They took the fiber of weeds and grass and wove it about their loins for covering.

The people dwelt near a large body of water, in a wooded country where there was game. The men hunted the deer with clubs; they did not know the use of the bow. And the people thought, "What shall we do to help ourselves?" They began chipping stones; they found a bluish stone that was easily flaked and chipped and they made knives and arrowheads out of it. They now had knives and arrows, but they suffered from the cold and the people thought, "What shall we do?" A man found an elm root that was very dry and dug a hole in it and put a stick in and rubbed it. Then smoke came. He smelled it. Then the people smelled it and came near; others helped him to rub. At last a spark came; they blew this into flame and so fire came to warm the people and to cook their food. After this the people built grass houses, they cut the grass with the shoulder blade of a deer. Now the people had fire and ate their meat roasted; but they tired of roast meat and the people thought, "How should we have our meat cooked differently?" A man found a bunch of clay that stuck well together, then he brought sand to mix with it, then he molded it as a vessel. Then he gathered grass and set it on fire, and made the clay vessel hard. Then, after a time, he put water into the vessel and it held water. This was good. So he put water into the vessel and then meat into it and put the vessel over the fire and the people had boiled meat to eat.

Their grass coverings would fuzz and drop off. It was difficult to gather and keep these coverings. The people were dissatisfied and again the people thought, "What can we do to have something different to wear?" Heretofore they had been throwing away the hides they had taken from the game. So they took their stone knives to scrape down the hides and made them thin; they rubbed the hides with grass and with their hands to make them soft and then used the hides for clothing. Now they had clothing and were comfortable.

The women had to break the dry wood to keep up the fires; the men had some consideration for the women and sought plans for their relief. So they made the stone ax with a groove, and put a handle on the ax and fastened it with rawhide. This was used. But they wanted something better for breaking wood. So they made wedges of stone.

The grass shelter became unsatisfactory and the people thought, "How shall we better ourselves?" So they substituted bark for grass as a covering for their dwellings.

The people were determined to put skins on the poles of their dwellings. They tried the deerskin, but they were too small. They tried the elk, but both deer and elk skins became hard and unmanageable under the influence of the sun and rain. So they abandoned the use of the skins and returned to bark as a covering for their houses.

Until they had the buffalo the people could not have good tents. They took one of the leg bones of the deer, splintered it, and made it sharp for an awl and with sinew sewed the buffalo skin and made comfortable tent covers.

Then a man, in wandering about, found some kernels, blue, red, and white. He thought he had secured something of great value, so he concealed them in a mound. One day he thought he would go to see if they were safe. When he came to the mound he found it covered with stalks having ears bearing kernels of these colors. He took an ear of each kind and gave the rest to the people to experiment with. They tried it for food, and found it good, and have ever since called it their life. As soon as the people found the corn good, they thought to make mounds like that in which the kernels had been found. So they took the shoulder blade of the elk and built mounds like the first and buried the corn in them. So the corn grew and the people had abundant food.

In their wanderings, the people reached the forests where the birch trees grow and where there were great lakes. Here they made birch-bark canoes and traveled in them about the shores of the lakes. A man in his wanderings discovered two young animals and carried them home. He fed them and they grew large and were docile. He discovered that these animals would carry burdens, so a harness was fixed on them to which poles were fastened and they became the burden bearers. Before this every burden had to be carried on the back. The people bred the dogs and they were a help to the people.

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More stories to read:

 Native American legends about the first people
 Myths about fire
 Myths about corn

Learn more about:

 Omaha legends
 The Omaha language
 The Omaha tribe

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