Children of the Middle Waters (Osage)
According to the Osages, in the beginning the ancestors lived in the sky. When they asked Sun and Moon who their parents were, Sun said he was their father, and Moon said she was their mother. Then Moon said it was time for them to go down to the earth. As they descended, the people came upon water but no land. They floated in the air, calling for help, but no one came. Finally Elk, one of the animals floating down to earth with the people, came to everyone’s assistance by falling into the water. As he sank he called on the four winds to blow away the waters. A muddy surface appeared as the mist flew off. Then Elk rolled in the mud and the loose hairs that remained in the soil grew into grass and trees. Now the people, called the Little Ones, could continue their descent to the Middle World. The Little Ones alighted like birds on a great oak tree, causing its acorns to rattle to the ground. Taking human form, the Little Ones climbed to the ground and began to explore the Earth’s surface. They divided into groups called the Water People, the Land People, and the Sky People. The Water People led as they wandered the Earth’s surface, learning about the seasons, and the plants and animals, and how to provide themselves with tools, weapons, clothing, and food. They came upon a river, and the spirit of the river told them how to be clean and pure. Then they came to the village of the Isolated Earth People. They were afraid to enter because the village was a place of death, decay, disease, and waste—what one might expect of Earth without the influence of the Sky. But the leader of the Isolated Earth People met with the leader of the Water People. They smoked the pipe and the Isolated Earth People leader said “I am of the Earth people and the red boulder is our symbol. It is red like the dawn and life everlasting. It is so strong that all things move aside for the red boulder.” The Water People leader said “Our bodies are of the red clay pipe we are smoking. We are Water People, and all things come to us for purification.” As they smoked, the two groups found kinship. The Water People gained strength, and the Isolated Earth People gained purification to know other things besides death and chaos. Two great divisions were formed out of all the people: The Sky People and the Earth People, the latter being further sub-divided into the Land and Water People. These became the two great divisions of the Children of the Middle Waters, symbolizing the universe of sky and earth and land and water.
Adapted from The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters by John Joseph Mathews (1961, University of Oklahoma Press).