Editor’s note: This nugget of Carpinteria history was originally published in the Summer 2016 edition of Carpinteria Magazine.
In 1930, Carpinteria High School published a yearbook called the Chismahoo. The thin collection of black and white images showcasing the little school’s staff and student body contained a romantic tale entitled “The Legend of the Chismahoo.” Beneath the legend is the author’s name, Marjorie Lewis, class of 1930.
Seemingly concocted in Lewis’ imagination to elicit drama and excitement around the school’s Warrior mascot, the “legend” inserts characters the likes of a dime store Western into a Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy. But teepees, warring tribes, braves, and maidens are the stuff of the Plains Indians, not the Chumash people native to Carpinteria.
The inspiration for Lewis’ romantic tale, in which a fallen warrior leaps from Chismahoo mountain to be reunited with his love, is now long lost, but the tale has been reprinted in several CHS yearbooks and retold on the athletic fields. Its roots in local lore stretch 85 years deep.
According to Julie Tumamait, who is dedicated to preserving the history of the Chumash, the Chumash do have a legend of Chismahoo, better known as the Legend of the Rainbow Bridge. It is their creation story, a richly colorful explanation for how the people came to be. A focal point of the legend is Chismahoo Mountain, or Tzchimoos in the Chumash language. Tumamait retold the story to Carpinteria Magazine.
The Legend of Tzchimoos
Hutash, the mother earth, planted seeds in the soil of a large island that later became the individual Channel Islands. She waited and soon enough people began to sprout from the earth. The earth mother provided the people with all the resources they needed to thrive—plants, animals, and water. Hutash’s husband, Sky Snake, who was the Milky Way, shot down a lightning bolt in order to give the people fire for warmth and cooking.
Having all their needs met, the people multiplied and eventually the island became too crowded. Hutash decided she would build a bridge so that the island people could cross to the mainland, which was empty of people, and spread out comfortably. She created a rainbow that stretched from the island to a high mountaintop, called Tzchimoos (Chismahoo), near Mishopshno (now known as Carpinteria).
Before inviting the people to cross, Hutash warned them not to look down. Many did, however, and became so dizzy that they fell into the water. To save them, Hutash transformed them into dolphins. Those that did not fall crossed the sea successfully and arrived at Tzchimoos. They climbed down the mountain and populated the area.
The Legend of Chismahoo
Imagined by Marjorie Lewis, Carpinteria High School 1930
Long ago, an Indian lived alone in his teepee on a high mountain. His was a lonely existence, and he often sat in front of his doorway smoking his long pipe, thinking sadly of his past life. Once he had been a great chief, head of a powerful tribe, but no longer was he looked up to by his people. In fact, few of them even knew he was alive and only a few of these ever paused in their work or pleasure to think about the old chief.
He was the last of a long line of illustrious chiefs, known for their honesty and fairness. His father and his father’s father, back as far as he or even the oldest members of the tribe could remember, had always brought their warriors home from victories until that terrible day when everything and everyone had gone against him.
On that momentous day, on which his tribe was to go out to meet an equally strong and powerful tribe, if he returned victorious (and it was understood that he would return victorious or not at all), he was to marry the maiden whom he loved and who loved him. She was the most beautiful maiden in any of the tribes and every brave there longed to do wonderful feats so that he could claim her for his own. This certain chief, whose name was Chismahoo, started out confidently, promising his maiden that he would return before long, thinking little of the calamities in front of him.
Right in the thick of the fight, the leader of the other tribe pretended he was escaping. Chismahoo started in pursuit, leaving the two tribes fighting. Soon he was out of sight of the battle and, just as he was passing through a dense thicket, four braves rose up, braves of his own tribe, who had long resented his power and whose leader coveted Chismahoo’s bride-to-be for himself. They had purposely laid this trap for Chismahoo so that they could go back to the tribe and boast that he had deserted his braves. For they had bound him securely. Also they were very influential members of the tribe and no one would dare to doubt their word.
Later on, Chismahoo, having been found and freed by a young lad of a neighboring tribe to whom he had been kind once, returned to his people. No one would believe him. In vain he asked them to remember his past bravery and to disbelieve the other braves. They would not believe him and threatened to kill him if he did not depart. He was not even allowed to see the maiden he was to have married.
So he made his way to a high mountain and there he lived many, many years, until he was an old, old man.
One day he chanced upon the lad who had freed him before and he asked this lad, who was now a brave, about the maiden of his youth. The brave said that she had sorrowed for him until she had fallen ill and in spite of the frantic efforts of all the medicine men, she died within a short time. This had happened several years ago, but the old chief had not heard it until then. He thought there was no use in his living a solitary life when he could join his beloved in the happy hunting grounds. So one evening just when the sun was going down, he threw himself over a steep cliff. Thus the mountain came to be called Chismahoo.