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[graphic] Strengthening the Spirit

[photo] North-facing view of the travertine pools where the Maidu once soaked for healing purposes.
Photo from National Register collection

Since at least the beginning of the 20th century, Ch'ichu'yam-bam has been formally documented as a location important to the Maidu people, which today include six Federally recognized tribes and three organizations. Also called Chuchuya, Tsu'tuyem, or Soda Rock, Ch'ichu'yam-bam features prominently in Northeastern Maidu creation myths and today is important to the Maidu as a physical manifestation of events in the myths. According to Theodoratus, the account of Maidu creation can be divided into four main periods. The first is associated with the arrival of the Creator and his nemesis, Coyote, and the second with the creation of the seeds of the first humans. The third period features the first people (animal entities with human characteristics), their conflicts, and the conflicts between Creator and Coyote. The fourth period concerns the Creator's unsuccessful attempt to rid the world of Coyote and the introduction of the Maidu people. Events pertaining to Ch'ichu'yam-bam occur in the third period.

Though there are varying versions of the Maidu creation myth, the essential story deals with how the Creator seeks to establish a good place for the people to live. Ch'ichu'yam-bam figures significantly as he travels up the Feather River. He encounters three malevolent female beings that attempt to kill all of the people traveling through their path, including the Creator. He escapes them, and with the help of two brothers, he poisons them by throwing a giant dead snake into their sweat lodge. He then tramples through the lodge, leaving behind curative salt grass and mineral waters before continuing his journey.

View of the north facing aspect of the travertine deposit. This is Whippoorwill, the Ancient Woman frozen by the Creator.
Photo from National Register collection

Ch'ichu'yam-bam features several markings, growths and formations that represent events in the myth. A protrusion resembling a dog's head is said to be one of the females, Whippoorwill, who was frozen in the face of the rock. Travertine pools and a spring that exist today were said to have been given curative powers by the Creator as he passed through on his way. The salt grass meadow, though not in use for grass collection today, was a source of food seasoning collected, braided and burned by the Maidu. Also present is the largest and southernmost north-south trending travertine sinkhole said to be the females' sweat lodge.

As a Maidu cultural landmark, Ch'ichu'yam-bam not only represents a physical manifestation of the creation myth, but also plays an important role as a place where essential resources were collected by the Maidu, and a place of physical healing.


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