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Free Study Guide for House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday-Summary
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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES

CHAPTER 2: January 27

Summary

Tosamah tells of the land of Oklahoma north and west of the Wichita range. There is a single knoll which the Kiowa call Rainy Mountain. That land sees the hardest weather on earth, blizzards in winter and hot tornadic winds in spring and dry, brittle vegetation in summer. Loneliness is part of the land as well. It seems like the place where Creation began.

Tosamah says he returned to Rainy Mountain in July because his grandmother had died in the spring and he wanted to be at her grave. He always thinks of his grandmother as a child. At her birth, the Kiowas were living the last great moment of their history. They had controlled the whole of the Southern Plains in alliance with the Comanches. They treated war as sacred and they loved their horses. The Kiowas never understood the "grim, unrelenting advance of the U.S. Cavalry." They were driven to the Staked Plain in the cold of autumn. They panicked and in Palo Duro Canyon they abandoned their stores for winter and began to pillage. They surrendered at Fort Sill later and were imprisoned in a corral.

Tosamahís grandmotherís name was Aho. Her culture was the "last to evolve in North America." Her forebears had come three centuries before from the north country. Evidence places them close to the source of the Yellowstone River in western Montana. They were a mountain people. Their language had never been classified as belonging to any language group. In the seventeenth century they began migrating south and east. The Kiowas befriended the Crows, who gave them the culture and religion of the plains. They acquired horses. They acquired Tai-me, the sacred sun dance doll, and the chief object and symbol of their worship. Tai-me gave them a sense of destiny. By the time they entered the Southern Plains, they had been transformed. They were a lordly society. Their origin myth says they entered the world through a hollow log. Coming to the south from the sunless north was like coming out of that log into the light.


When he got to Oklahoma, Tosamah followed their ancient way to his grandmotherís grave. She had always lived near Rainy Mountain, but she had always told stories of the continental interior, the stories of the Crows and the Black Hills, neither of which she had ever seen. Tosamah began his pilgrimage along the Yellowstone River. He came down eastwards through the highland meadows. Here the Kiowas had pauses on their way south. He continues through the Black Hills where the land is like iron. He sees Devilís Tower. It is such a phenomenal sight that the Kiowas had an origin story about it. Eight children played at that spot, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb and began to turn into a bear. The sisters ran and he chased them. They came to a stump of a big tree and the tree told them to climb onto it. As they did so, it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they remained beyond his reach. He scored the bark of the tree with his claws. The seven sisters were carried to the sky and they became the stars of the Big Dipper. The Kiowas, hence, have kinswomen in the sky.

There was a major shift in thinking when the Kiowas made it out of the trees and onto the plain. When they first saw the plain, the Kiowas saw further than they had ever seen before. Tosamah remembers his grandmotherís reverence for the sun. Even though she was a Christian in her later years, she never forgot her birthright. She was only seven years old when the Kiowas held their last sun dance. It was in 1887 on the Washita River. The buffalo were gone. To consummate the ritual, they needed to impale the head of a buffalo bull on the Tai-me tree. A delegation of old men went to Texas to the Goodnight ranch to beg for a bull, but they were unsuccessful. They had to hang an old hide from the sacred tree. The summer became known as the Sun Dance When the Forked Poles Were Left Standing. Before they could begin the dance, soldiers came from Fort Sill and forbade them from practicing their ritual. That was the last attempt at a Sun Dance. Aho was there. She always remembered that deicide.

Tosamah remembers his grandmother in several of her characteristic postures. She is standing above the stove, she is sitting at the window working on beadwork, she is looking down into the fold of her hands, she is praying. He remembers her praying the most. The last time he saw her, she prayed standing beside her bed naked to the waist, her long hair over her breasts like a shawl. Tosamah didnít understand her prayers, and often thought they were said in an older language. They always seemed very sad.

Tosamahís grandmother lived in a house near the place where Rainy Mountain Creek runs into the Washita River. He remembers the early days when there was a great deal of sound and activity in and around the house. In summer, the Kiowa gathered and told stories, held feasts, told stories, and played. Now his grandmotherís house is silent. He slept in the house and enjoyed a full moon. The next morning he awoke at dawn and watched the sun rise. He walked out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain and saw his grandmotherís grave on the holy ground.

Notes

There are only two sections in Book 2, both of which include Tosamahís words. Here, Tosamah tells the stories of his grandmother who saw the last days of the Kiowa before their god Tai-me was killed by the European American authorities who refused to let them perform their sun dance. Despite the sadness of this deicide, as Tosamah calls it, he retains a strong sense of hope for Native people as he remembers his grandmotherís generationís culture.

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