The Great Flood – Fact or Fiction? Myth, Science or Religious in origin

I did a quick link to a post of the Cheyenne telling a story of a great flood that covered the earth over on Facebook.  This has led to nice little discussion that I thought would do well as a continued discussion in the blog. Feel free to jump in.

Yellowstone Valley and the Great Flood

“I have heard it told on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the Seminole camps in the Florida Everglades, I have heard it from the Eskimos north of the Arctic Circle and the Indians south of the equator. The legend of the flood is the most universal of all legends. It is told in Asia, Africa, and Europe, in North America and the South Pacific.” Professor Hap Gilliland of Eastern Montana College was the first to record this legend of the great flood.

This is one of the fifteen legends of the flood that he himself recorded in various parts of the world:

He was an old Indian. his face was weather beaten, but his eyes were still bright. I never knew what tribe he was from, though I could guess. Yet others from the tribe whom I talked to later had never heard his story.

We had been talking of the visions of the young men. He sat for a long time, looking out across the Yellowstone Valley through the pouring rain, before he spoke. “They are beginning to come back,” he said.

“Who is coming back?” I asked.

“The animals,” he said. “It has happened before.”

“Tell me about it.’

He thought for a long while before he lifted his hands and his eyes. “The Great Spirit smiled on this land when he made it. There were mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were animals of many kinds–and men.”

The old man’s hands moved smoothly, telling the story more clearly than his voice.

The Great Spirit told the people, “These animals are your brothers. Share the land with them. They will give you food and clothing. Live with them and protect them.

“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”

For many winters the people lived at peace with the animals and with the land. When they killed a buffalo, they thanked the Great Spirit, and they used every part of the buffalo. It took care of every need.

Then other people came. They did not think of the animals as brothers. They killed, even when they did not need food. They burned and cut the forests, and the animals died. They shot the buffalo and called it sport. They killed the fish in the streams.

When the Great Spirit looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The people coughed and choked. But still they burned and they killed.

So the Great Spirit sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people.

The rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land.

Spotted Bear, the medicine man, gathered together his people. He said to them, “The Great Spirit has told us that as long as we have the buffalo we will be safe from heat and cold and rain. But there are no longer any buffalo. Unless we can find buffalo and live at peace with nature, we will all die.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded plains to the hills.

The young men went out and hunted for the buffalo. As they went they put out the fires. They made friends with the animals once more. They cleaned out the streams.

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded hills to the mountains.

Two young men came to Spotted Bear. “We have found the buffalo,” they said. “There was a cow, a calf, and a great white bull. The cow and the calf climbed up to the safety of the mountains. They should be back when the rain stops. But the bank gave way, and the bull was swept away by the floodwaters. We followed and got him to shore, but he had drowned. We have brought you his hide.”

They unfolded a huge white buffalo skin.

Spotted Bear took the white buffalo hide. “Many people have been drowned,” he said. “Our food has been carried away. But our young people are no longer destroying the world that was created for them. They have found the white buffalo. It will save those who are left.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded mountains to the highest peaks.

Spotted Bear spread the white buffalo skin on the ground. He and the other medicine men scraped it and stretched it, and scraped it and stretched it.

Still the rains fell. Like all rawhide, the buffalo skin stretched when it was wet. Spotted Bear stretched it out over the village. All the people who were left crowded under it.

As the rains fell, the medicine men stretched the buffalo skin across the mountains. Each day they stretched it farther.

Then Spotted Bear tied one corner to the top of the Big Horn Mountains. That side, he fastened to the Pryors. The next corner he tied to the Bear Tooth Mountains. Crossing the Yellowstone Valley, he tied one corner to the Crazy Mountains, and the other to Signal Butte in the Bull Mountains.

The whole Yellowstone Valley was covered by the white buffalo skin. Though the rains still fell above, it did not fall in the Yellowstone Valley.

The waters sank away. Animals from the outside moved into the valley, under the white buffalo skin. The people shared the valley with them.

Still the rains fell above the buffalo skin. The skin stretched and began to sag.

Spotted Bear stood on the Bridger Mountains and raised the west end of the buffalo skin to catch the West Wind. The West Wind rushed in and was caught under the buffalo skin. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a great dome over the valley.

The Great Spirit saw that the people were living at peace with the earth. The rains stopped, and the sun shone. As the sun shone on the white buffalo skin, it gleamed with colours of red and yellow and blue.

As the sun shone on the rawhide, it began to shrink. The ends of the dome shrank away until all that was left was one great arch across the valley.

The old man’s voice faded away; but his hands said “Look,” and his arms moved toward the valley.

The rain had stopped and a rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. A buffalo calf and its mother grazed beneath it.


Ira T. Weiss
That can be construed as confirming that the peoples that crossed the Bering Strait are one of the lost tribes of Israel. 🙂

But, as we’ve recently seen in Arkansas, floods can happen anywhere in a moments notice. When your whole world is only a hundred miles circumference, a local flood can seem like it has affected the whole world.

Ira, I tend to think you are correct about catastrophic local floods and myth. A culture’s read into such an event is telling of their faith and outlook too. By that I mean does your story emphasize only a negative, vengeful motive; or do you see the force of life winning out over death and destruction.

Ira T. Weiss
My story? 🙂 Are we talking the biblical or the Cheyenne story? I’m only aware of the Cheyenne story, and that was previous to Todd’s post, never read it or heard it. I think a reference was made in a fantasy novel I read years ago.

Also, keep in mind that both cultures that begat (sorry, couldn’t resist) each story were oral communicators when … See Morethese stories began. This means the stories more than likely changed shape and meaning based on who was telling the story, their life-experiences, what was going on in their culture, etc. As history goes, it is written down by the victors. By the time the stories were written down it may have changed drastically not to mention the fact the translation of the Old Testament may have been changed as it went from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to Arabic or Farsi and back.

And it happens in the modern age to. Look at what is taking place in Texas. They are systematically changing textbooks to fit their expectations, the way they see the “cosmos.” If this movement were to take hold and spread history would change.

Ira T. Weiss
Oh, my story is a combination of Old Testament and any myths from the People of the Longhouse. Iroqois.

Todd Ricker
Personally I think these stories can come in a myriad of ways.

1) By carrying them over from other stories. We see this in many forms. For example, Mithraism, Hinduism and the Ancient Egyptian religion we see a lot of commonality in their faiths. A messiah who is crucified. A virgin birth. His birth at the Winter Solstice Dec 25. The story … See Moreof the flood could be one of these things as well. It was not uncommon for Christians to come and preach to the Indians. So much like the pagan celts they easily could have adopted these stories into their own stories as well.

2) The theory that there was some form of great flood. This could either be localized as you two are mentioning, or a larger scale. Part of our history in North America speaks of the glaciers creating much of the terrain of North America. Long Island moraines believed to be evidence of that. But did the glaciers just pull back, or did they melt. If they melted, this could be easily taken into the context of a great flood, and could explain some of the evidence of ancient marine fossils and sedimentary deposits found in high altitudes. For example, here in Denver there are evidence of marine fossils along the Eastern slope, this does NOT form into a bowl area like a lake, but instead opens up into the Great Plains. In order for water to collect that high all the way to the Appalachias it would have to be an enormous amount of water.

3) The idea that fits in with Ira’s original context that these stories were carried here by indigenous tribes that transplanted here, like in his example the lost tribe of Israel, or other cultures that may have come across the Bearing Strait.

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