The Way to Rainy Mountain

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Horses Symbol Icon

Before the Kiowas had horses, their lives were hard. Their nomadic nature could not be honored because travel was too difficult, and hunting was arduous, which meant that food could sometimes be scarce. When the Kiowas discovered horses it set them free from their most persistent hardships and made it possible to fulfill their destiny of being nomadic warriors and skilled hunters. Horses, then, represent for the Kiowas the defining characteristics of the tribe and the best of the Kiowa people. Horses are brave and honorable, like the warhorse that died of shame after his rider turned away from a charge. Horses connect people to nature, which is evident in Momaday’s loving description of riding his horse through the New Mexico landscape and knowing nature more intimately than ever before. The equivalence of horses and humans is shown in the story of the man sacrificing a beloved spotted horse during a smallpox epidemic so that he and his family might be spared. Horses are an uncomplicated good. They elevate the Kiowas as people and are commensurately beloved.

Horses Quotes in The Way to Rainy Mountain

The The Way to Rainy Mountain quotes below all refer to the symbol of Horses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the University of New Mexico Press edition of The Way to Rainy Mountain published in 1976.
The Setting Out Quotes

A hundred years ago the Comanche Ten Bears remarked upon the great number of horses which the Kiowas owned. “When we first knew you,” he said, “you had nothing but dogs and sleds.” It was so; the dog is primordial. Perhaps it was dreamed into being.

Related Characters: The Kiowas , Comanches
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote gets at several important themes of the book. First, it underscores the idea of the horse as being an essential component of Kiowa identity—before the introduction of the horse, the Kiowas lived a demeaning and hard life, but the horse allowed them to become who they were meant to be. Since horses signify the golden age of Kiowa history and dogs are symbolic of the hard life the Kiowas lived beforehand, this again emphasizes that Kiowas understood themselves in relation to the natural world. The Kiowas suggest that horses and dogs changed them, rather than implying that they controlled the horses and dogs. This quote is also interesting because the passage about dogs being “dreamed into being” resonates with many of the ideas of origins in the book (the landscape as the catalyst for creation, and language as having the literal power to bring something into being). This is another example of traditional notions of cause and effect not being broadly applicable in the book. A last observation is that throughout the book Momaday is comfortable using observations from people of other cultures as evidence of certain aspects of Kiowa history or identity. Here, he quotes a Comanche, and in other sections he quotes James Mooney, a white anthropologist. This shows, again, that the mixing of cultures was a central part of Kiowa history, and because of that, Momaday believes that other cultures have some meaningful and true knowledge of Kiowas.

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The Going On Quotes

The Kiowa language is hard to understand, but, you know, the storm spirit understands it. This is how it was: Long ago the Kiowas decided to make a horse; they decided to make it out of clay, and so they began to shape the clay with their hands. Well, the horse began to be. But it was a terrible, terrible thing.

Related Characters: The Kiowas
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage begins the Kiowa story of the storm spirit, which explains the phenomenon of storms; the storm spirit emerged from a botched attempt to make a horse out of clay, and the terrible creature that resulted creates frightening storms. Nevertheless, these storms are not truly a threat to the Kiowas, because the storm spirit understands their language and will therefore pass them by when asked. This story is a fascinating tribute to the power of language—like Aho’s word that she wields against frightening things, the Kiowas can use language to diminish the threat of storms. This is also the only example in the book of creation going awry. While Momaday often emphasizes that words give origin to all things and words have the power to create, this is an example of something created from clay rather than words. There is no example in the book of words creating something terrible, but this act of creation through clay results in something unnatural. There are several ways to read this—perhaps it was arrogant to attempt to create something as sacred as a horse?—but it’s certainly true that this underscores the importance of words to Kiowa culture and spirituality.

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Horses Symbol Timeline in The Way to Rainy Mountain

The timeline below shows where the symbol Horses appears in The Way to Rainy Mountain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
...journey with Tai-me was one of constant improvement; they moved to a warmer landscape, discovered horses, fulfilled their nomadic spirit, and built an alliance with the Comanches that allowed them to... (full context)
Introduction
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
...and Tai-me, the Sun Dance doll at the center of their worship). The Kiowas acquired horses on their journey, which transformed them into nomads and ruthless hunters. Through this journey they... (full context)
The Setting Out
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
Before the Kiowas had horses they had dogs, the voice of tribal lore recalls. Back then, a man who had... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
...she cared for both of them nonetheless. The voice of history says that Mammedaty owned horses, that there was a day when Mammedaty rode a horse for the last time, and... (full context)
The Going On
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
...to understand, but the storm spirit understands it. Once the Kiowas tried to make a horse from clay, but it became a terrible force that terrified the tribe. When storms come,... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
...for fifteen years, and when they returned Many Bears welcomed them back, giving them six horses and declaring himself and Quoetotai brothers. The voice of history reflects that the artist George... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
...The voice of history quotes James Mooney again, who describes the vital importance of the horse to Kiowa life. Before the horse, travel was impossible and hunting arduous. Horses transformed Kiowas... (full context)
The Closing In
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
...tells that when the Kiowas surrendered to the U.S. government, they were imprisoned and their horses and weapons were confiscated. The government then slaughtered and sold their horses. Momaday quotes James... (full context)
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Mixing of Cultures Theme Icon
The tribal voice tells of a man whose hunting horse died from shame after the man turned it away from a charge. The historical voice... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Memory and History Theme Icon
Origins, Linearity, and Circularity Theme Icon
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Theme Icon
Once, the tribal voice recalls, Mammedaty wanted to get several horses out of a pasture, and he lost his temper because each time he nearly had... (full context)