Tremor Tales - The Turtle Story

This is a story the Gabrielino Indians used to tell. These Indians once lived in San Gabriel Valley in Southern California where earthquakes are common. They told this story to explain the cause of earthquakes and how California was made:

Long, long ago, before there were people, there was hardly anything in the world but water. One day, Great Spirit looked down from heaven. He decided to make a beautiful land. But where could he begin? All he saw was water. Then he spotted a giant turtle. The turtle was as big as an island. Great Spirit decided to make the beautiful land on the turtle's back.

One turtle was not big enough. The land Great Spirit wanted to make was very large. So he called out, "Turtle, hurry and find your six brothers."Turtle swam to find them. It took him a whole day to find the first. It took another day to find the next. After six days, turtle had found his six brothers. "Come", he said. "Great Spirit wants us."

Great Spirit called down. "Turtles! Form a line, head to tail, north to south. Umm, you three to the south, please move a little to the east. Hmmm. There, that's just right. What a beautiful land you will make! Then Great Spirit reminded them, "It is a great honor to carry this land on your backs. So YOU MUST NOT MOVE!"

The turtles stayed very still. Great Spirit took some straw from his supply in the sky. He put it on the turtle's backs. Then he took some soil and patted it down on top of the straw.

Great Spirit cleaned his hands on a fluffy white cloud. "I'll use these clouds to make mountains", he said.

Then Great Spirit made trees and lakes and rivers. When he was finished, he looked at the beautiful land he had made. Great Spirit was very pleased. But soon trouble came. The giant turtles grew restless. They wanted to leave.

"I want to swim east," said one. "This beast goes EAST."

"West is best. I"ll swim toward the setting sun," said another.

The turtles began to argue. They could not agree. One day, four of the turtles began to swim east. Three turtles began to swim west. THE EARTH SHOOK! It CRACKED with a loud noise! But after a minute, the shaking stopped. The turtles had to stop because the land on their backs was so heavy. They had only been able to swim a little way from each other. When they saw that they could not swim away, they stopped arguing and made up.

But every once in a while the turtles that hold up California argue again. Each time they do, the earth shakes.


CREDIT: Environmental Volunteers, 1983

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