Mount Tucumcari refuge for Navajo tribe

Lynn Moncus

This week, we’re going to present “The Legend of Tucumcari Mountain” as it appeared in the 1924 edition of The Yucca, the Tucumcari High School yearbook.

“There have been many legends told concerning the naming of Tucumcari Mountain. This one, however, is undoubtedly authentic, as it is but a brief form of the exact translation of hieroglyphics found in the cave on the mountain. Long, long ago the Navajo Indians roamed the prairie and woodlands of what is now our beloved State of New Mexico. One day in beautiful Indian summer a little boy was born to this tribe. He was called Oawwensa, meaning sunflower. His father was a young brave who was the chief of the tribe. He was a good chief and was loved by all his people. He taught them how to love each other and to love and worship the Great Spirit.”

As the legend continues, the little boy grew into a handsome brave. “One dark night when the peaceful tribe had retired and the glow of the campfire embers had died out, a terrible war whoop broke the stillness, and before anything could be done, a hostile tribe of Apaches was upon them. They bound the young braves’ arms to their sides and tied their feet so they could not move. They took the maidens, squaws and old men prisoners, but the kind chief they burned at the stake.”

In summary, Oawwensa heard the voice of his father tell him to save his people. A friend had hidden during the brawl and later freed the young braves after having watched the enemy leave. They elected Oawwensa as chief and began planning for the future. “While they were holding a council they saw a black spot appear on the horizon. It grew larger and larger and came nearer and nearer. Soon they discovered that it was a tribe of friendly Indians who had met and battled with the hostile Apaches and were bringing the maidens and squaws and old men back to their tribe. Oawwensa was very glad and he had a feast prepared in honor of the returned captives.”

The young chief prayed for help against future attacks. …”Oawwensa awoke and saw the sun shining on a distant hill, but the whole encampment was in the shade. He at first thought it was a cloud, but it did not move. Upon looking toward the other side of him he saw to his great surprise a mountain. The Great Spirit had placed it there. ‘Tocum Kare!” he exclaimed, ‘Our Refuge!”‘

That annual staff had a number of creative thinkers and certainly provided later readers with another version of our legend.