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Northern Paiute Stone Soup

Updated on June 30, 2016
Cooking Basket
Cooking Basket | Source

1548 Folk Tale

There is a folk tale from 1548, which has been found in many cultures, has many different versions and varying meanings. Now, there is a Northern Paiute versions, which is found below.

WWI Stone Soup

One version of this old folk story is when some hungry soldiers, are traveling through the countryside that has been plunder by war. The people have barely enough to feed their own. The soldiers, are told repeated told by the villagers’ they all have many mouths to fill. The soldiers decide to make stone soup aka as axe soup, button soup, butter soup, nail soup, wood soup and many other names. The soldiers ask the villager’s if they can borrow a large iron pot in which they boiled water and place three smooth, round stones. They then begin asking for things from different villagers’ salt, pepper, cabbage, carrots, potatoes etc. When the soup is complete the soldiers and the villagers’ all eat the wonderful soup until they are all full.

Smooth, Round Rocks
Smooth, Round Rocks | Source

Northern Paiute Stone Soup

In the Northern Paiute version two white men who have not eaten for many days are brought into a Northern Paiute camp. They were headed west to find gold, but they lost their wagon and supplies in a mud slide. They had carried on their backs all the supplies that they could, but soon they were gone too. The men were found by a group of warriors and brought to the camp. They begin making signs trying to tell the Indians that they were hungry. The Chief told them that the Indians were hungry too. It had been a long, hard winter and there was little food in the camp.

One of the white men remembered a story from his home country where “stone soup” was made. He asks the Chief for a pot to boil water. The Chief had a woman bring the man a basket. He pours water into the basket and the water leaks out, kills the fire and the basket begins to burn. A woman from the clan steps up and shows them that they must allow the water to soak into the fibers of the basket, the fibers swell and the basket become leak proof. Then she shows them they must first heat the rocks, then place them in the basket with the water, then the water will heat. That they must keep stirring or the basket will burn. After the water was heated the woman went to her karnee and brought a mud hen’s egg that she had discovered that morning. She broke this into the basket of water and stones. The other women were curious what she was doing with the white men and went to check it out. Upon seeing a white man cooking in a native basket. Another woman when to her karnee and brought back some roots she had pulled the previous day and added them to the basket. Not to be outdone, another Mother headed to her karnee and returned with some dried crickets, another Mother returned with flour she had ground from ants, soon they had some meal from pine nuts and one ear of dried corn. Then came a young boy into camp with a couple of rabbits he had caught in his snare. He gave them to the Mothers who in turn gave them to the white men, who added them to the basket. Soon there was a great smell wafting from the basket. The men decided to share the soup with all. They tried to share the soup with the Chief, he refused, they tried to share soup with the women, they too refused, then they tried to share with the children, they too refused. They finally they gave a soaked basket full of soup to an elderly warrior and he ate. After the men had eaten the elderly women ate also. The white men went away from their camp full, but with the idea that only the elderly would eat with white men and that the woman ate only after the men were fed.

Paiute woman with baskets
Paiute woman with baskets | Source

Wrong Conclusion

One of the assumptions is correct and the other is incorrect. In this culture women do feed the men first. The incorrect assumption was that only the elderly could eat with white man. They believed that the Indian was prejudice against the white man. The truth is that there is a taboo on the food eaten when it is from a brave before he has reaches the age of Naavey’ts (puberty). He cannot eat his kill, his mother, his father, and any girl or young woman who has reach puberty are forbidden to eat any of his game. If they do he will grow up weak and lazy and the game will not allow themselves to be hunted by him.


This story makes many different points such as: by working together, everyone contributing then a greater good is achieved or if brotherly love, industry and enterprise is the habit, wealth and good moral will follow and more.

The moral of this version is “things are not always the way they seem.”

A conception of a culture was drawn from one encounter which was not true. Many times we only have part of the picture, may only know one side of the story, may only see one view of an accident, but in fact is not the whole story or even the truth.


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