The Way to Rainy Mountain Summary

Momaday pieces together fragments of history, mythology, and his grandmother Aho's stories to tell the story of the Kiowa people.

  • A long time ago, the Kiowa people emerged into this world through 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, and Momaday wrote the book in part to preserve the tribe's history.
  • Momaday's grandmother Aho witnessed the last Kiowa Sun Dance in 1887. Her stories are woven into the book.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 482 words.)