The Rush Lake Legend | How The Terrapin Got His Shell

How The Terrapin Got His Shell

(Legend recorded by William R. Palmer)

Timpe-nalo was a brave man. He was a great fighter in that time when war was among the living things. When all the other warriors shot arrows, Timpe-nalo used only his stout, strong club. As a reward for his bravery and skill in battle Shinob put upon him a shirt of stone that arrows could not pierce.

This sign of favor from the god to Timpe-nalo made all the other warriors jealous. They were afraid to fight him so they called him in derision, "Old Stone Shirt". They made fun of him. They played tricks on him and the maidens laughed when he came around them.

Timpe-nalo was not happy about this. In anger he left the others and went off into the hot desert to live by himself. Out there alone he nursed his anger into a great passion. He said, "I will return and fight them. I will beat them down with my club. I will kill them."

Smeared with war paint, dancing the war dance, singing the war chants with all his voice, he visited clan after clan of his people, the Pahutes. Everywhere he beat them down and went on to other battles. Neither arrows nor spears could stop him. Their points struck fire on his shirt, but fell harmless at his feet. Sorrow and lamentation followed throughout the land and the tribes fled when they saw the bad one coming.

A great wail was sent up to Shinob, the god, to stop Timpe-nalo. Shinob heard their cries and said, "Call all the living things to Council. Let all the living things fight him. Someone will find a way to reach the bad man."

So the birds were sent out to call all the living things to a council of war. They told the bear, the buffalo, the wolf and all the strong ferocious animals.

When the birds returned, Shinob came and looked at the assembled animals. He said, "Where is Tenacat, the snake? Where are the bees, the wasps, the flies and the mosquitoes? Where are the lizards, the toads and the frogs? Where are all the little ones?" The birds answered, "They are too small to fight Stone Shirt. We did not tell them." Shinob said, "Go now. Go quick. Bring all the little ones in."

The birds hastened out to tell all the living things. Quanants the eagle found Tenacat the snake under a bush in the hot desert. He said to the snake, "Come quick to the war council." Tenacat answered, "I cannot go to the council. I have no legs to travel on." Quanants said, "Climb upon my back and I will carry you. I will be legs for you."

The snake climbed upon the eagle's back and wound himself around the neck and wings of Quanants. Tied in this way the eagle could not fly. He could only walk. As he traveled along his head moved backward and forward with every step he took.

Tenacat rode with his head lifted high for he wanted to see where they were going. His beady little eyes were shining and his forked tongue kept darting in and out. When Quanants' head came back it struck the snakes head and every time the forked tongue clipped off a feather. When they reached the council, the eagles head was shaved clean. He was bald headed without a feather left. When they grew back they were small and white, and Quanants has appeared to be bald ever since.

But Quanants' sacrifice was not in vain. It was Tenacat, the little poison snake that found the way to kill the mighty stone shirt. Hiding in the grass near the bad man's camp he saw that when stone shirt sat down, a little part of his thigh was uncovered. Crawling up close to that exposure, Tenacat struck twice and buried his fangs deep in the flesh. Timpe-nalo soon died from the poisoned wounds.

Now Timpe-nalo left children behind and they grew stone shirts like their father. When the living things learned that, they prayed to Shinob to kill the young ones. There was fear that they, like their father, would turn bad.

"No," said Shinob, "We will not kill them. We will make them harmless. All of their limbs shall be turned into short legs, and they must use all of them to walk. They can never stand up on two legs like a man to swing a club as their father did. On their bellies they must always be. Their stone shirts shall be both their handicap and their protection. Back to the hot desert they shall go, and when you see one you shall call him "Pik-eye", the desert terrapin."

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