Native American Legends of Arizona

By Charles M. Skinner in 1896

Yuma musician, Isaiah West Taber, around the turn of the century

Yuma musician, Isaiah West Taber, around the turn of the 20th century. Click for prints, downloads and products.

Horned Toad and Giants

The Spider Tower

The Weird Sentinel at Squaw Peak

Native American Dreamcatcher

Horned Toad and Giants

The Moquis have a legend that, long ago, when the principal mesa that they occupy was higher than it is now, and when they owned all the country from the mountains to the great river, giants came out of the west and troubled them, going so far as to dine on Moquis. It was hard to get away, for the monsters could see all over the country from the tops of the mesas. The king of the tribe offered the most handsome woman in his country and a thousand horses to any man who would deliver his people from these giants. This king was eaten like the rest, and the citizens declined to elect another because they were beginning to lose faith in kings. Still, there was one young brave whose single thought was how to defeat the giants and save his people.

As he was walking down the mesa he saw a lizard, of the kind commonly known as a horned toad, lying under a rock in pain. He rolled the stone away and was passing on, when a voice, that seemed to come out of the earth, but that really came from the toad, asked him if he wished to destroy the giants. He desired nothing so much. “Then take my horned crest for a helmet.”

Lolomi — that was the name of him — did as he was bid, and found that in a moment the crest had swelled and covered his head so thickly that no club could break through it.

“Now take my breastplate,” continued the toad. And though it would not have covered the Indian’s thumb-nail, when he put it on it so increased in bulk that it corseleted his body and no arrow could pierce it.

“Now take the scales from my eyes,” commanded the toad, and when he had done so Lolomi, felt as light as a feather.

“Go up and wait. When you see a giant, go toward him, looking in his eyes, and he will walk backward. Walk around him until he has his back to a precipice, then advance. He will back away until he reaches the edge of the mesa when he will fall off and be killed.”

Lolomi obeyed these instructions, for presently a giant loomed in the distance and came striding across the plains half a mile at a step. As he drew near he flung a spear, but it glanced from the Indian’s armor-like hail from a rock. Then an arrow followed and was turned. At this, the giant lost courage, for he fancied that Lolomi was a spirit. Fearing a blow if he turned, he kept his face toward Lolomi, who maneuvered so skillfully that when he had the giant’s back to the edge of a cliff he sprang at him, and the giant, with a yell of alarm, fell and broke his bones on the rocks below. So Lolomi killed many giants because they all walked back before him, and after they had fallen the people heaped rocks on their bodies. To this day, the place is known as “the Giants’ Fall.” Then the tribe made Lolomi king and gave him the most beautiful damsel for a wife. As he was the best king they ever had, they treasured his memory after he was dead, and used his name as a term of greeting, so that “Lolomi” is a word of welcome, and will be until the giants come again.

The Spider Tower

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona by Mark Kuhanek

White House, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona by Mark Kuhaneck

In Dead Man’s Canyon — a deep gorge that is lateral to the once populated valley of the Rio de Chelly, Arizona — stands a stark spire of weathered sandstone, its top rising eight hundred feet above its base in a sheer uplift. Centuries ago an inhabitant of one of the cave villages was surprised by hostiles while hunting in this region, and was chased by them into this canyon. As he ran he looked vainly from side to side in the hope of securing a hiding-place, but succor came from a source that was least expected, for on approaching this enormous obelisk, with strength well-nigh exhausted, he saw a silken cord hanging from a notch at its top.

Hastily knotting the end about his waist, that it might not fall within reach of his pursuers, he climbed up, setting his feet into the roughness of the stone, and advancing, hand over hand, until he had reached the summit, where he stayed, drinking dew and feeding on eagles’ eggs, until his enemies went away, for they could not reach him with their arrows, defended as he was by points of rock.

The foemen having gone, he safely descended by the cord and reached his home. This help had come from a friendly spider who saw his plight from her perch at the top of the spire, and, weaving a web of extra thickness, she made one end fast to a jag of rock while the other fell within his grasp — for she, like all other of the brute tribe, liked the gentle cave-dwellers better than the remorseless hunters. Hence the name of the Spider Tower.

The Weird Sentinel at Squaw Peak

Squaw Peak, Arizona

There is a cave under the highest butte of the Squaw Peak range, Arizona, where a party of Tonto Indians was found by white men in 1868. The white men were on the war-path, and when the Tonto fell into their hands they shot them unhesitatingly, firing into the dark recesses of the cavern, the fitful but fast-recurring flashes of their rifles illuminating the interior and exposing to view the objects of their hatred.

The massacre over, the cries and groans were hushed, the hunters strode away, and over the mountains fell the calm that for thousands of years had not been so rudely broken. That night, when the moon shone into this pit of death, a corpse arose, walked to a rock just within the entrance, and took there, its everlasting seat.

Long afterward a man who did not know its story entered this place, when he was confronted by a thing, as he called it, that glared so fearfully upon him that he fled in an ecstasy of terror. Two prospectors subsequently attempted to explore the cave, but the entrance was barred by “the thing.” They gave one glance at the torn face, the bulging eyes turned sidewise at them, the yellow fangs, the long hair, the spreading claws, the livid, moldy flesh, and rushed away. A Western newspaper, recounting their adventure, said that one of the men declared that there was not money enough in Maricopa County to pay him to go there again, while the other had never stopped running — at least, he had not returned to his usual haunts since “the thing” looked at him. Still, it is a haunted country all about here. The souls of the Mojave roam upon Ghost Mountain, and the “bad men’s hunting-grounds” of the Yuma and Navajo are over in the volcanic country of Sonora. It is, therefore, no unusual thing to find signs and wonders in broad daylight.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2020.

About the Author:  Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the complete nine-volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in 1896.  This tale is excerpted from these excellent works, but is not verbatim, as some editing has occurred.

Also See: 

Legends, Ghosts, Myths, & Mysteries

Myths & Legends of the Apache

Native Americans – First Owners of America

Native American Mythology & Legends