How Half Dome Was Formed

Tu-tok, Yosemite Spirit Chief, lived in his castle atop this highest mountain. He was the giver of all creature comforts to his people. He was giver of future enjoyment in the happy hunting grounds of Indian heaven. Tu-tok lived for all the Indians surrounded by the granite range of mountains. He kept vigilant watch that no foreign enemy should invade their homeland.

Long, long ago, when the children of the Sun lived in Yosemite Valley, all was happiness. Tu-tok sat high on his rocky throne overlooking the peaceful people and animals below.

He herded the wild deer and roused the sleeping bear so that the brave Yosemites might have a good hunt. He prayed to the Sky Chief for soft rain and warm sunshine to make the corn grow. He prayed that the harvest be rich for their womenfolk to gather.

When Tu-tok laughed, the winding river rippled with smiles. When he sighed, the wind swept sadly through the pines. When he spoke, the sound was like the deep voice of a roaring waterfall. When he smote the bear, his triumphant whoop rang out and echoed from mountaintop to mountaintop. His feet were swift. His eyes were strong and bright like the rising sun.

One morning a shining vision of the maiden Tis-sa appeared before the eyes of Tu-tok. She was the guardian angel of Yosemite Valley. He saw her sitting on the southern granite Dome, among the highest mountains. She was beautiful. On her shoulders rested two filmy, cloudlike wings.

"Tu-tok," she whispered. Then she vanished over the rounded granite Dome. With his eyes alert, his ears quick, his feet swift, he ran in pursuit. She had left a soft, down-like mist behind. His vision was blurred by it. He could not find her.

"Tis-sa! Tis-sa!" he called every morning as he leaped the stony crests in search of her. Every day he placed acorns and wild flowers upon her granite Dome. Sometimes he seemed to have a vision of her and saw her beautiful eyes. But never did he hear her voice. Never did he speak to her.

Tu-tok's love for Tis-sa grew so strong that he forgot the crops of the Yosemites. The rain did not fall. The corn drooped their heads. The wind whistled mournfully through the wild crops. The flowers lost their blooms. The bees stored no honey in the hollow trees. Green leaves turned brown.

Tu-tok saw none of these changes in the valley, because he was blinded by his love for Tis-sa. But she looked down with sad eyes upon the neglected valley below. Kneeling upon the gray granite Dome, she prayed to the Chief of the Sky spirits. She prayed that the flowers might be bright again; that the grasses and trees might be green again; that the corn might be ripe again.

Then a thundering sound like a giant earthquake split the Dome beneath her. Half the Dome disappeared. Melting snow from the High Sierra Mountains gushed through an opening made by the split. Rushing water, tumbling over rocks, formed a waterfall into Mirror Lake below. The lake overflowed into the beautiful Merced River winding through Yosemite Valley. All was changed!

Birds dipped their bodies into small pools. Fluttering from the water, they burst into songs of delight again. Moisture seeped silently into the parched earth. Flowers lifted their heads with fragrant gratitude. Corn gracefully stood upright. Sap ran upward into all the trees. But the maid, Tis-sa, vanished as strangely as she had first appeared. In memory of her, she left in the hearts of the Yosemites the beautiful falls, the quiet lake, the winding river, the Half Dome. The Yosemite tribe called it Tis- sa-ack.

When Tis-sa flew away, small downy feathers drifted from her shiny wings. Where they fell on the edge of the lake and in the meadows, you can see thousands of little white violets growing today. Some people say they hear whispers that he who sees a white violet and lovingly picks it with a kiss will have happy thoughts and pleasant dreams.

When Tu-tok was certain that Tis-sa was gone, he left his rocky mountain castle. He wandered everywhere in search of the one he loved. Before he left, however, he carved a bold outline of his head upon the rock, EL Capitan, which bears his nobel tribal name, Tu-tok-ah-nu-lah.

There in stone, Tu-tok still guards the entrance to Yosemite Valley, which once he cared for tenderly. There the Yosemites remember him, though he wandered for many years. His search for Tis-sa ended without success. He returned alone to his mountaintop home, always looking expectantly toward Half Dome for Tis-sa.

Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker

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