|Home -> Philips and Van Orden - > Legends of San Francisco -> The Maid of Tamalpais|
|The Maid of Tamalpais.
This she told me in the firelight
As I sat beside her campfire,
In a grove of giant redwoods,
On the slope of Tamalpais.
Old she was, and bent and wrinkled,
Lone survivor of the Tamals,
Ancient tribe of Indian people,
Who have left their name and legend
On the mountain they held sacred.
On the ground she sat and brooded,
With a blanket wrapped around her -
Sat and gazed into the campfire.
On her bronze and furrowed features,
On her hair of snowy whiteness,
Played the shadows and the firelight.
Long she gazed into the embers,
And I feared I had offended
In the question I had asked her.
Then she spoke in measured accents,
Slowly, with a mournful cadence,
And long intervals of silence.
"You have asked me why my people
Will not climb Mount Tamalpais -
Why we hold the mountain sacred.
I am old, and when the Raven
Calls my spirit to the Father,
None will know the ancient story,
Sacred legend of the Tamals.
Therefore, I will tell the story,
I will tell and you shall write it,
Else it will be lost forever;
I will tell it that the paleface
May respect our sacred mountain."
"In the morning of creation
All the world was covered over
With the flood of troubled waters.
Only Beaver and the Turtle
Swam about upon the surface.
Beaver said, 'I'm very weary.'
Turtle said, 'Dive to the bottom.'
Beaver dove and brought up gravel,
Laid it on the back of Turtle;
Dove again and brought a pebble,
Then another and another.
Pebbles grew to rocks and boulders,
As a peak above the waters -
Thus was Mount Diablo fashioned.
Beaver sat upon the mountain,
Gazing out across the waters;
Saw a single feather floating;
Feather grew into an Eagle;
Eagle flew and sat by Beaver.
Long they talked about creation,
Counseled, planned, and reconsidered,
Then they moulded clay with tules;
Beaver placed his hair upon it,
Eagle breathed into its nostrils
Thus Coyote was created.
Coyote barked and sat beside them.
Many creatures were created;
Some with hair, and some with feathers;
Some with scales, or shells, or bristles.
Other peaks and mountain ridges
Then appeared above the waters.
Walls of hills were then continued
North and south, to hold the waters
In a mammoth lake, that, filling
All the Sacramento Valley,
Found its outlet to the ocean
Through the Russian River Canyon.
Round the lake the blazing mountains
Spouted lava and hot ashes;
Casting on the troubled waters
Lurid gleams and purple shadows.
By the lake Coyote wandered -
Sat and howled, for he was lonely,
Lonely for a Man to tame him
Into Dog as a companion.
Then Coyote mixed dry tules
With wet clay and made a figure.
Sun God came and shone upon it;
Spirit came and blew upon it,
And a Man was thus created.
Sun God made the Moon to guard him,
And she stood before his tepee,
Watching while the Sun was sleeping;
But she loved the Sun and followed
Him into the starry heavens,
Always with her face turned to him.
Still she watched the lonely tepee,
And her heart was touched with pity
For the lonely man within it,
So she made a lovely woman,
Gave her constancy, and sent her
On a moonbeam to his tepee,
As his helpmate and companion.
Man then multiplied, and flourished,
Building villages and lording
Over all the other creatures.
On the sunny eastern margin
Of the Bay of San Francisco,
Grew the village of the Tamals;
Fisher folk they were, and gentle,
Seeking not for wars of conquest;
Fishing in the purple waters
From their boats of bark or rawhide;
Wading in the limpid shallows
Seeking oysters, clams and mussels.
In the course of generations
Piles of shells of many banquets,
With the ashes of their campfires,
Formed a mound upon the bay shore.
Shell Mound Park, the people call it,
And they gather in the shadows
Of the ancient oaks for pleasure,
Roasting clams as in the old days
When the Tamals lived upon it.
Gone are now the limpid shallows;
Gone the oysters and the mussels,
And no more are grassy meadows
Dappled with the spreading oak trees;
For great factories, grim and sordid,
Sprawl in squalid blocks around it,
And the smoke of forge and furnace
Rise from stacks into the heavens.
Paleface men with concave glasses,
Learned in lore of printed pages,
Dig into the mounds and gather
Spear and arrow heads and axes,
Broken weapons and utensils
Made of flint, or bone, or seashell.
To the northward, where great boulders
Lie in tumbled piles and masses,
And a Thousand Oaks are clustered,
And the crags upthrust their fingers
Through the meadows of the uplands,
Was another Indian village,
Ancient stronghold of the Tamals.
In the village on the hillside
Men were hunters, brave and fearless,
Skillful with the bow and arrow,
Artful with the snare and deadfall;
Hunting deer and elk and bison
In the open grassy meadows,
Tracking wolf and mountain lion
To their lairs among the redwoods;
Bearing on their backs the trophies
To their camp when night was falling.
In the village maids and matrons
Dressed the furs and tanned the buckskin,
Dried the venison, and traded
With the Shell Mound folks for salmon,
Mussels, clams and abalones,
Ornaments of bone or seashell,
Weapons chipped from flint or jasper.
From the oaks they gathered acorns,
And beneath the fragrant bay trees
And the heavy blooming buckeyes,
Ground the acorns into flour
To be baked upon the hot-stones.
To this day the smoke of campfires
May be traced in caves, and crannies
Where the overhanging cliffsides
Gives protection from the rainstorms.
If you search among the thickets
Of the low widespreading buckeyes
You will find their ancient mortars
In the bedrock still remaining -
Mortar holes ground deep, and polished
By the toil of many women
Pounding, grinding with a pestle
Fashioned from a stream-worn boulder.
Gone are all those ancient people,
Perished now for many ages.
Many oaks have grown and withered,
Many buckeyes bloomed and faded,
Many tribes have fought and conquered,
Lived for many generations,
Then were driven out by others.
Still the mortar holes will linger
As our monuments forever."
Fainter grew the voice, still fainter,
Sinking almost to a whisper,
With a hesitating quaver,
As the picture came before her
Of her disappearing people.
Then I rose and piled more branches
Of the redwood on the campfire,
And the flames and sparks leaped upward,
Lighting up the mournful forest,
Driving back the eerie shadows.
Long she bowed her head in silence,
Then resumed her rhythmic speaking.
In the village lived a maiden,
Fairest of all comely maidens
Ever born among the Tamals;
Fair of face and pure of spirit,
Kind in thought and quick in service
To the young and old and helpless;
Ever eager for her duty,
Ever singing at her labor.
When she sat beneath the buckeyes
Grinding acorns in the mortar,
Humming birds came sipping honey
From the heavy scented blossoms;
Wild birds came and sang their sweetest
Music as they perched above her;
And the Fairies came to greet her
Dressed as Butterflies, and fluttered
Round her head and whispered secrets -
Secrets not revealed to others.
Little wonder that the Chieftain,
Young and brave and wise in counsel,
Loved the maid and wished to take her
As his wife to rule his people.
But she answered him with sadness,
For she loved the youth, 'Beloved,
This is not the time for lovers,
But for warriors to make ready,
For a danger comes upon us.
God has sent a warning message
By the Fairies, and they whispered
To me as I ground the acorns
In the mortar 'neath the buckeyes.
Rally all your braves around you,
Sieze your strong bows, fill your quivers
With the long flintpointed arrows;
Guard the ridges to the eastward
Ere the foe shall fall upon us.'
To the eastward where Diablo
Rears its peak above the fog banks
Drifting landward from the ocean,
Lived a warlike tribe of people.
Fierce they were, and grim and cruel,
Worshiping the Fire Demon
Who is crouching in the mountain.
From their heights they saw the waters
Of the Bay of San Francisco
Lying crystal-clear and purple.
Then no Sacramento River
Poured its flood of silt into it,
For a range of hills continued,
All unbroken, from Diablo
To the distant smoking mountain
Which is now called Saint Helena.
Long they watched the bay and marveled
At its strange, alluring beauty;
Watched it in its changing colors -
In the gray of misty mornings,
In the blue of sunny mid-day,
In the glories of the sunset,
In the silver flood of moonlight -
It enticed and seemed to beckon,
Then, as ever, to the strangers.
Long their Wizards danced, and rattled
With their gourds, to rouse the Demon
Of the Mountain to assist them -
Danced until they fell in frenzy,
Prophesying wealth of plunder.
Warriors danced and chanted war songs,
Stamped and shouted, waved their war clubs,
With the war paint on their bodies,
Black and yellow and vermillion.
Hideous and terrifying
Were they when they took the warpath.
Oh, the terror of their coming!
Oh, the horror of the battle
On the meadows of the uplands!
Forward, by the strength of numbers,
Pressed the Devils of Diablo;
Slowly backward fell the Tamals
To the Stronghold of the Boulders.
When the darkness of the midnight
Fell as a protecting blanket,
Silently my tribe retreated,
Ere the ring should be completed
By the merciless invaders.
All the Tamals started northward -
Men and women, little children -
Through the open, grassy meadows,
Through the forest to the ridges
Circling round the Bay below them.
At the dawning of the morning
They were resting on a hilltop.
To the west the Bay was sleeping
Underneath its misty blanket;
To the east a lake was gleaming
In the rosy light of sunrise.
While they rested on the mountain,
Weary, footsore, and disheartened,
Came pursuing scouts to spy them.
Fierce and bloody was the combat,
All the rocks were stained with crimson.
Then the scouts, or those still living,
Fled to tell their wicked Chieftain
Where to find the fleeing Tamals.
Loud the wail of lamentation
When the Tamals saw their warriors
Who had fallen in the combat
Lying lifeless on the mountain.
Louder still, the cry of anguish
When they found their Maid of Mercy
Helpless now, and sorely wounded.
No more would her strong young shoulders
Bear the wounded braves to safety,
Nor would she withdraw the arrows,
Bind the wounds nor stanch the bleeding.
On the shoulder of the Chieftain
She was carried, for no other
Had such strength and gentle manner.
On his shoulder thus he bore her,
Fleeing northward on the ridges,
Bore her gladly, for he loved her.
All the women were exhausted,
All the children, tired and weeping;
Half the warriors, dead or wounded -
Slow and painful was the progress.
On they fled, but often turning,
Looking backward o'er their shoulders,
Fearful lest the foe o'ertake them
Ere they reached a place of safety.
Came a deadly fear upon them!
'We are lost,' they cried in terror,
For a league behind them, followed
Such a host of men or devils
That they could not hope to conquer.
'We are lost,' they moaned, 'Their number
Is the number of the needles
On the redwoods in the forest;
And they follow as the foxes
Follow rabbits in the open.'
'We shall die, oh, my beloved,'
Said the Chieftain to the maiden.
'And die gladly,' said the maiden,
'If our people may not perish.
As I sat beneath the buckeye
At my mortar, grinding acorns,
Fairy butterflies came to me,
Fluttered round my head and told me
That an enemy was coming;
And I warned you, oh, my lover.'
'Aye, you did, my best beloved.'
'And they promised, oh, my lover,
That our God would save our people
Should I offer up my spirit
As a sacrifice before Him.'
And the young Chief spoke, and answered,
'Life without you would be empty;
Let my spirit travel with you
Through the spaces of the heavens,
To the upper world of spirits.'
'It shall be as you have spoken,'
Said the maiden to her lover,
'And I know that God will answer
With a mighty sign from heaven.
Stoop, and bow your head, my lover,
That my face may turn to heaven.
Mighty Father, save my people,
Take my spirit and my lover's
To the spirit land of lovers;
Lift your hand and strike the mountain!
Cut a chasm wide, between us
And the wicked ones who follow;
Save my people, oh, my Father,
Strike the mountain! Strike the mountain!'
Came a rumble in the distance,
Nearer, louder, terrifying!
God had heard her prayer, and lifted
Up his hand to strike the mountain.
When the mighty blow descended
With the crash of many thunders,
All the mountains rocked and trembled,
Rose and fell, and swayed and shuddered;
And across the Coast Range Mountains
Yawned a chasm, hot and smoking;
Into it careened the hillsides;
Mountains swooned and fell into it.
Through it, as a giant sluiceway,
Rushed the roaring, boiling waters
Of the lake, in tumbling tumult,
Flooding all the bayside lowlands,
Racing through the Golden Gateway
In a cataract stupendous.
Saint Helena burst its crater
With a blast that leveled forests,
And the falling sand and cinders
Buried deep the fallen giants,
To be petrified to agate.
Through the steam and sulphurous vapors,
Flashed the lightning on the mountains,
And the din of quake and thunder
Beat the air until it quivered.
When God, his righteous wrath abating,
Ceased to shake and rend and deluge,
And the last reverberation
Died away into the distance,
And the trade winds from the ocean
Blew away the smoke and vapors,
Those remaining of the Tamals
Gazed with wonder at a mountain
That was standing, new, before them,
For upon it lay the maiden
With her face upturned to heaven,
As it was when she was praying
To her God to save her people.
On her youthful breast and body
Lay a forest, like a mantle,
New and green, and decked with flowers.
And her willing feet were resting
Near the bay and new-made river;
While the Chief, her faithful lover,
Bending 'neath his sacred burden,
Stretched his arms out to the valleys
Where his people would find shelter.
Here for countless generations
We have lived in peace and safety,
Roaming through the wooded valleys,
Hunting on the grassy meadows,
Fishing in the bays and rivers.
Now you know the sacred story
Of the Maid of Tamalpais -
Why no Tamal ever ventured
To the holy crest above us.
Would we tread upon the features
Of the martyred Maid who saved us?
Would we desecrate the rock-tomb
Of our Chief, her well beloved?
There she lies in all her beauty,
Sacred Maid of Tamalpais!
If her eyes should turn from heaven,
She would see across the waters
Piles of tumbled crags and boulders
In the Grove of Thousand Oak Trees,
Where the buckeye trees still blossom
Over mortar holes, half hidden.
Children play with merry laughter
Hide and seek among the boulders.
Even now perhaps, the Fairies
Dressed as butterflies may whisper
Secrets in the ears of children,
If they listen to the voices.
If her eyes should trace the steamers
As they thread the curving channel
Opened by the ancient earthquake,
She would see them pass an island
On whose red and barren summit
She was wounded in the battle.
White men call it Red Rock Island,
Knowing not the crimson color
Is from blood, shed in the battle
Fought upon the lofty summit
Of a mountain that was swallowed
When the mighty chasm opened,
Leaving but its peak projecting
Through the surface of the waters.
There she lies in queenly beauty,
Martyred Maid of Tamalpais,
With her face upturned to heaven,
As when praying, 'Take me, Father;
Save my people; Save the Tamals.'
On her head the snows of winter
Lay a crown of shining crystals.
Fog banks twine their arms about her
To embrace her and caress her.
Passing rainclouds bathe her features
With their tear drops, shed in sorrow,
And the rainbow arches over
With the glories of a halo.
She is first to have the greeting
Of the rising sun, and latest
To receive his goodnight kisses.
On her sides the purple shadows
Linger longest in the twilight.
For her robe the fairest wildflowers
Bloom throughout the changing seasons -
Violets, and pink wild roses,
Blue forget-me-nots, and lilies
Vie to give their sweetest perfumes
To the Maid of Tamalpais.
Lovers climb the sacred mountain,
Roam the hillsides, tread the wildwoods,
Finding there new inspiration,
Hope and happiness, not knowing
That the Maid of Tamalpais
Gives her spirit to all lovers
Who approach her mystic presence.
I, the last of all the Tamals,
Soon will turn my face to heaven
Where my own, my best beloved,
Waits with outstretched arms, to greet me.
Write the story for all people;
It is finished; I have spoken."
Thus she spoke, that ancient woman,
Lone survivor of the Tamals,
By the campfire in the redwoods,
On the slopes of Tamalpais.