The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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The Way to Rainy Mountain Summary

The Way to Rainy Mountain is a novel in which N. Scott Momaday pieces together fragments of history, mythology, and his grandmother Aho's stories to tell the story of the Kiowa people.

  • Long ago, the Kiowa people emerged from a hollow log. They settled in Oklahoma, near Rainy Mountain.
  • The Kiowa were once a warrior people who relied on hunting rather than agriculture. Their tribe was decimated by a series of disasters. Momaday wrote The Way to Rainy Mountain to preserve the tribe's history.
  • Momaday's grandmother Aho witnessed the last Kiowa Sun Dance in 1887. Her stories are interspersed throughout the book.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

The Way to Rainy Mountain, illustrated by Al Momaday, is both a eulogy for the demise of an active tribal identity and a celebration of the potential for its perpetuity in individual tribal consciousness. Divided into three major parts, “The Setting Out,” “The Going On,” and the “Closing In,” the text has twenty-four numbered sections.

Each section is also separated into three passages, clearly delineated by three unique typescripts. Until section 20, the first passage is a translation of Kiowa myth, the second concerns Kiowa history, and the third is written from the author’s own experience. (Momaday’s sources for the first two excerpts originate in both familial and tribal heritage.) A gradual composite begins to form as the author claims the elements for his own mythic heritage.

The book both begins and ends with a poem. The introductory poem, “Headwater,” is a lyric description of the Kiowa emergence into the world. The Kiowa became what they dreamed. They were what they saw. Coming down from the mountains, never an agrarian people, the tribe adapted to its new environment as nomadic warriors and horsemen. Although they learned quickly from the Crow and were befriended by Tai-me, who became the focal point of their Sun Dance culture, the Kiowa did not long flourish. Tribal division and a series of disasters in the 1800’s decimated the tribe. A meteor shower was taken to symbolize the destruction of the old ways. Epidemics raged. The buffalo and the Kiowa horses were massacred. Their slow surrender to the soldiers at Fort Sill was spiritually devastating to tribal consciousness.

The myth of the arrowmaker in section 13 is a recurrent theme in Momaday’s writing. Artistry and precision are aesthetically essential to an appropriate balance with nature. They are also essential to survival. Because the arrowmaker is a craftsman, he knows that his arrow will fly true. His stalking awareness (as much a part of the Native American tradition as is dreaming) alerts him to an alien presence. Taking “right action” and moving cautiously, the arrowmaker allows the stranger the opportunity to declare his intentions. When the stranger does not, he becomes the enemy. Momaday uses ambiguity to heighten curiosity, and the anonymity of this fallen presence is intriguing.

The warrior society of section 3 illustrates Momaday’s emphasis upon mastery and right action. If an individual is attuned to both self and surroundings, self-aware but not self-preoccupied, then his or her behaviors will be effortless and true. The dog that leads the warriors is not as attuned to his own nature as is the dreamer who counsels him simply to be a dog.

The concluding poem, “Rainy Mountain Cemetery,” eulogizes the ancient ones who have traveled to dimensions beyond this earthly existence. That they had survived is not the issue; those left behind blend the ancestral memories with their personal identities in order to preserve the collective tribal consciousness.

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