The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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What is the significance of Rainy Mountain?

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As a geographic feature, Rainy Mountain is permanent, and its spiritual and symbolic power transcends the unfortunate rapacious propensities of mankind. It literally and metaphorically towers over the bloody battles fought by competing groups who all believe(d) that they have the right to lay claim to the land. In some ways, it has always been documented as a place of refuge, though the circumstances have varied with regard to the people who have lived under its care.

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Rainy Mountain represents many things to the Kiowa, whose tribe originated in western Montana. They were a nomadic people, and as Plains Indians, Rainy Mountain was an important location because it offered green vegetation on the southern plains year round. It sustained people, plants, and animals through tough winters. Ironically, it ultimately became the location of the forced resettlement of the Kiowa in 1867 with the signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty. It is, then, a landmark that is sacred, revered for what it once represented to a free indigenous people. What it became when the Kiowa's descendants were forced onto a reservation by the US government stands as a symbol of the end result of the widespread domestic genocide of this country that attempted to eradicate indigenous people.

As a geographic feature, Rainy Mountain is permanent, and its spiritual and symbolic power transcends the unfortunate rapacious propensities of mankind. It literally and metaphorically towers over the bloody battles fought by competing groups who all believe(d) that they have the right to lay claim to the land. In some ways, it has always been documented as a place of refuge, though the circumstances have varied with regard to the people who have lived under its care.

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The title The Way to Rainy Mountain is significant on two levels. First, it represents the final area which the Kiowa tribe settled after their many tribulations and contentions with the US government. Throughout the text, and to an extent in the real history of the Kiowa, Rainy Mountain serves as a landmark and as a symbol of permanence. Despite the ever-changing and unfortunate turns of circumstance that visit the Kiowa, Rainy Mountain is a constant. It is the last remaining bastion of their home and spirituality after having had most every way of life taken away by the US government.

Far more intimately, however, the title represents Momaday's own spiritual journey to connect with the history of his people. Momaday has explicitly stated that work on the novel was meant to be an exercise in learning all that he could about the Kiowa people. Momaday achieves this so well that not only is the book considered a comprehensive starting point in learning about the Kiowa people, but many believe that the surviving legacy of the Kiowa can be greatly attributed to it. In this sense, the the title of the book is about Momaday's own personal journey to Rainy Mountain in coming to terms with his spiritual background.

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Rainy Mountain isn't just a feature of the natural landscape. It is imbued with deep cultural and historical significance for the Kiowa tribe. It represents the close kinship that the tribe has with the ground beneath their feet—ground which they regard as being sacred. Moreover, it stands as a symbol for the ideal of a unified relationship between humans and their natural environment.

More than anything else, though, Rainy Mountain represents a sense of stability and permanence. To a tribe like the Kiowa, this is particularly important. Over the course of their history, they've endured a series of disasters which have forced them further and further away from their spiritual homeland.

Yet throughout it all, Rainy Mountain has stood there as proud and as majestic as ever, a beacon of hope shining through the darkness. Whatever trials and tribulations the Kiowa may endure, they know that as long as Rainy Mountain stands tall, towering over the surrounding landscape, they have a place in this world that they can call home.

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Rainy Mountain is important because it is an old Kiowa landmark. The story itself is important because it highlights Kiowa history and culture. In this short historical memoir, Momoday traces for his readers the nomadic characteristics of the Kiowa tribe and the soul-wrenching loss of Kiowa autonomy and determinism.

He starts by telling us about the beauty of the scenery surrounding Rainy Mountain. His words are reverent, awe-inspired.

Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.

He then introduces us to his grandmother, chronicling her life for us. Her birth and certain periods of her childhood coincided with important moments in Kiowa history. At the time of her birth, Momoday tells us that the 'Kiowas were living the last great moments of their history.' Although they were skilled horsemen, the Kiowas still succumbed to the 'unrelenting advance of the US Calvary.' The warriors surrendered at Fort Sill, and Momoday tells us that his grandmother was thankfully spared the great humiliation of witnessing this bitter defeat and the subsequent incarceration of her people.

Momoday then relates the old legend of how the Kiowas came to be and how their nomadic ways allowed them to acquire a sense of destiny, courage, and pride. With an acquired religion, horses, and Tai-me, the Sacred Sun Dance doll, the Kiowas became masters of their own greatness. He remembers that his grandmother was seven when the last Kiowa Sun Dance was held at the Washita River above Rainy Mountain Creek. The year was 1887. At ten, she was present when the Kiowas forever lost their Sun Dance culture. American troops had been ordered to disperse any Kiowa gathering for such purposes. The year was 1890.

Bereft of their cherished traditions and the comfort of their religious rituals, the Kiowa people lost their will and their direction. Momoday contends that his grandmother would always bear the vision of deicide in her mind for as long as she lived.

So, you can see that through chronicling the life of his grandmother, Momoday is able to relate to his readers the story and the suffering of the Kiowa people; through her experiences we also experience the struggles of her people to endure and to thrive.

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