The Way to Rainy Mountain

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Occasioned by the death of Momaday’s grandmother, Aho, who witnessed the last Kiowa Sun Dance in 1887, The Way to Rainy Mountain traces the history of the Kiowas from their emergence through a hollow log onto the arid North American plains. Momaday poetically recounts Kiowa devotion to the sacred Sun Dance doll, Tai-me. His apparent motive for writing was to draw the reader into his “journey” of recovery of the past as he partially creates his own “Indian” identity from the “fragmentary . . . mythology, legend, lore, and hearsay” found in books and family and tribal sources. The graphic arrangement of the work lets the reader piece together compelling fragments, much as Momaday did. Most left-hand pages contain short, traditional Kiowa tales, including stories of how the Kiowas acquired dogs, of Grandmother Spider and Arrowmaker, and of human-animal transformations. Right-hand pages feature brief selections from mainstream history texts and anthropological sources, presenting non-Indian views of the Kiowa; at the bottom of these pages, in italics, are personal, usually autobiographical statements that reveal the author’s perspective. These personal passages frequently pay tribute to Momaday’s grandmother, whose death and burial, for the author, mark a profound intersection of the unchangeable past, stretching from time immemorial, with the present, replete with creative possibilities. The bold, pen-and-ink drawings of Al Momaday, the author’s father, share pages filled with his son’s words and serve as a reminder of how Kiowa traditional art thrives. The Way to Rainy Mountain explores the mutually interdependent roles of memory, spirituality, and aesthetic imagination in a people’s invention of themselves in dialogue with their sun-scorched homeland and in the author’s own self-creation “as a man” and “as an Indian” in dialogue with the past.


Although The Way to Rainy Mountain was not published until 1969, its introduction had appeared in the January 26, 1967, issue of The Reporter, where it apparently enjoyed an enthusiastic reception. The excerpt was almost immediately reprinted in numerous college rhetoric texts and literature anthologies as a model for writers. Many of the personal opinions Momaday expressed in The Way to Rainy Mountain were originally transformed into the dialogue of the Priest-of-the-Sun character, Tosamah, in the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, House Made of Dawn (1968). Momaday’s early works undoubtedly influenced the development of post-1960’s Native American literature, including major works by Leslie Marmon Silko and others.


Berner, Robert L. “N. Scott Momaday: Beyond Rainy Mountain,” in American Indian Culture and Research Journal. III (1979), pp. 57-67.

Lincoln, Kenneth. “Tai-me to Rainy Mountain: The Makings of American Indian Literature,” in American Indian Quarterly. X (1986), pp. 101-117.

McAlister, Mick. “The Topology of Remembrance in The Way to Rainy Mountain,” in Denver Quarterly. XII (Winter, 1978), pp. 19-31.

Milton, J.R. Review in Saturday Review. LII (June 21, 1969), p. 51.

The New Yorker. Review. XLV (May 17, 1969), p. 150.

Papovich, J. Frank. “Landscape, Tradition and Identity in The Way to Rainy Mountain,” in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature. XII (1986), pp. 13-19.

Schubnell, Matthias. N. Scott Momaday: The Cultural and Literary Background, 1985.

Trimble, Martha Scott. N. Scott Momaday, 1973.

Velie, Alan. Four American Indian Literary Masters: N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gerald Vizenor, 1982.

Form and Content

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The Kiowa tribe emerged from the mountains of Montana soon after horses became available to the people of the northern plains. Early in the nineteenth century they migrated south to Oklahoma, where they fought their final...

(The entire section contains 1608 words.)

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Critical Essays