The Little Boy and Girl in the Clouds of El Capitan The Little Boy and Girl in the Clouds, The Tale of El Capitan ~ Folktales Stories for Kids 


IN A VALLEY OF CALIFORNIA NOW KNOWN AS YOSEMITE there is a natural marvel to behold.  Today we call it El Capitan, but those who lived there many years ago, the people of the Miwok tribe, had another name for it, and a story that went with it.

This was a very tall, verticle rock that towered over all other hills.  Eons ago the mountains and hills were formed, when the earth was young.  But this tall, verticle rock, as told by the Miwok people, magically appeared overnight. One day it was an ordinary flat rock, but overnight it rose and stretched until it poked through the clouds above the tallest treetops.

The story began years ago when one late summer afternoon, a boy and girl were playing in a stream that crossed through their valley. At the end of the day they climbed out of the water and shivered in the cool air.

"I'm cold," said the boy to his sister. 

"Look at that rock over there," said the sister. "The sun's shining on it.  That moss on top looks as soft as a blanket."

So they climbed on top of the rock, stretched out on the thick green moss, and fell asleep under the warm sun.

While they slept - no one knows how or why - but the rock inched upward, bit by bit. Their sleep was so deep the children didn't stir at all, and all that night the rock rose upward more and more. When the villagers awoke, they noticed a rocky hill taller than the highest tree that had somehow mysteriously appeared overnight.

Meanwhile, the parents were searching everywhere for their children, but in vain. No one had seen them playing in the stream.  No one knew they were on top of the rock that had risen overnight. The parents asked Antelope, Jack Rabbit, Raccoon, and many other animals if they had seen their children the afternoon day before, but all of them had been quite busy at that time, and none had any idea where the children might be.

It was Coyote, cleverest of all, who sniffed the ground around the stream, then followed the scent to the mysterious new high hill.

"Your children must be on top," he announced.

The villagers and animals gathered around. How did the rock rise up overnight? And more important - how to get the children down?

"Antelope," said the children's father, "you are the best jumper of all. Can you jump to the top?"

"I will try," said Antelope. She jumped as high as she could but could only reach a small distance up the side of the rock.

The mother turned. "Grizzly Bear," she said, "you are the strongest of the animals. Surely you can climb to the top!"

"I will try," said Grizzly Bear. But as strong as Grizzle Bear was, the rock was too wide for him to stretch his arms around it like a tree, and he could not lift his weight up the sides.

One animal after another tried. Mountain Lion went a long way off to get a good running start, ran toward the rock with great leaps, sprang straight up - and fell and rolled over on his back. He had made a higher jump than any of them, but it was not nearly high enough.

"Let me try," said a small voice in the back.

The villagers and animals looked around. Who had spoken?

"Don't step on me, please!" said an offended voice, who coming through the crowd turned out to be Inchworm.

"Really!" said Antelope. "You can't possibly expect us to believe you could do what we could not."

"What nerve!" whispered Raccoon with contempt to Jack Rabbit, who shook his ears scornfully in agreement.

Yet all the other villagers and animals were exhausted from trying and no one else had any new ideas, so finally the parents said, "Go ahead, Inchworm, give it a try."

With his nose in the air, Inchworm started up the side of the high rock.  Before long he had passed the point where Antelope had reached, and Bear, and Mountain Lion.  Then only Eagle was left who could see where Inchworm was. For one whole day Inchworm climbed the rock, and at last he reached the top. The children were as deep asleep as they had been the moment they had fallen to the magic of the mossy rock.  But Inchworm crawled across their arms and face till they awoke.

"Where are we?" they said sleepily. Looking around with alarm they saw clouds below them and birds surrounding them on all sides. Inchworm assured the children that they would be fine.  He urged them to follow him down a path through the ridges in the rock where their feet could grab hold. Soon the girl and boy stepped safely down and, at last, reached to the ground.

And so with great joy the children and their parents were re-united. Ever since that day, the Miwok people named the magic rock TUTOKANULA (too-tock-awn-oola), after the Inchworm, in honor of the smallest of creatures who had managed the greatest of deeds.


Discussion Questions: 

Question 1:  "The Little Engine that Could" is another story about a small character who does something the larger characters can't do.  Name another story like that.

Question 2: Why do you think stories are popular about small characters that do something the larger characters can't do?

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Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.

  • The Rock:
    Formerly called Tutokanula by the Miwok, this 3,000 granite rock formation is now known as El Capitan and is famous as the largest monolith in America.  Located in Yosemite National Park in northern California, this impressive hunk of rock is where modern big wall climbing was invented. Rock climbers from around the world seek El Capitan to test their skills.
    Trivia: (from Wikipedia)
  • El Capitan is the subject of the song "El Capitan" by the Scottish indie band Idlewood.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier opens with Captain Kirk scaling El Capitan.
  • El Capitan is also a circuit in the Playstation 2 games Gran Tarismo 4 and Tourist Trophy.The Miwok tribe & the Yosemite Valley:
    When the Euro-American first arrived in northern California, Yosemite Valley was occupied by the Southern Sierra Miwok. The Miwok peoples harvested black oak acorns, hunted and fished, and traded items with the nearby Mono Lake Paiute for obsidian, rabbit skins, pine nuts, and other items. The discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills in 1848 brought thousands of gold-seekers to the area. Soon the natural beauty of Yosemite was discovered. By the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln granted Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to the state as the country's first public preserve.