The Tale of El Capitan

The Tale of El Capitan

Illustrated By: Emma Leeper

In California today in the valley of Yosemite many tourists come to marvel at a very tall and sheer rock called El Capitan. But those who lived centuries ago, the people of the Miwok tribe, had another name for this natural wonder. They told a story about how it came about.



According to the Miwok, this very tall, vertical rock 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 one late summer afternoon when 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," said the sister. "The sun's shining on it. The moss on top looks as soft as a blanket."


So they laid down on the sunny rock, stretched out on its 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. 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.


El Capitan


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

The villagers and animals gathered around. How did such a rock rise up overnight? 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 Grizzly 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. She 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 was coming through the crowd but 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."


El Capitan


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 around them and birds flying about 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. Slowly but surely, the girl and boy stepped safely down and, at last, reached the ground.


El Capitan


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.



  • "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.
  • Why do you think stories are popular about small characters that do something the larger characters can't do?
Posted in Bedtime Stories, Native American, North America, STORIES FOR KIDS, United States of America, World Tales and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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