The story, “Tribal Memories of the Flying Saucers,” written by Oge-Make, a Navaho Indian, recounts a Paiute story about flying saucers and extraterrestrial beings, and appeared in a 1948 issue of FATE magazine. Interestingly enough the same story appears in a book by Bourke Lee, called “Death Valley Men,” published in 1932.
There is very little information on Bourke other than publisher ‘Macmillian,’ acknowledges he had at least two book printed by them. Also, Richard E. Lingerfelter, in his book, “Death Valley & the Amargosa: A Land of Illusion,” describes Lee as, “a talented writer-publicist and former Navy flyer Thomas Burke Lee,” who used “the pen name Bourke Lee.”
Here’s Oge-Makes article:
Most of you who read this are probably white men of a blood only a century or two out of Europe. You speak in your papers of the Flying Saucers or Mystery Ships as something new, and strangely typical of the twentieth century. How could you but think otherwise? Yet if you had red skin, and were of a blood which had been born and bred of the land for untold thousands of years, you would know this is not true.
You would know that your ancestors living in these mountains and upon these prairies for numberless generations, had seen these ships before, and had passed down the story in the legends which are the unwritten history of your people. You do not believe? Well, after all, why should you? But knowing your scornful unbelief, the storytellers of my people have closed their lips in bitterness against the outward flow of this knowledge.
Yet, I have said to the storytellers this: now that the ships are being seen again, is it wise that we, the elder race, keep our knowledge to ourselves? Thus for me, an American Indian, some of the sages among my people have talked, and if you care to, I shall permit you to sit down with us and listen.
Let us say that it is dusk in that strange place which you, the white-man, calls ‘Death Valley.’ I have passed tobacco… to the aged chief of the Paiutes who sits across a tiny fire from me and sprinkles corn meal upon the flames…
The old chief looked like a wrinkled mummy as he sat there puffing upon his pipe. Yet his eyes were not those of the unseeing, but eyes which seemed to look back on long trails of time. His people had held the Inyo, Panamint and Death Valleys for untold centuries before the coming of the white-man. Now we sat in the valley which white-man named for Death, but which the Paiute calls Tomesha – The Flaming Land. Here before me as I faced eastward, the Funerals (mountains forming Death Valley’s eastern wall) were wrapped in purple-blue blankets about their feet while their faces were painted in scarlet. Behind me, the Panamints rose like a mile-high wall, dark against the sinking sun.
The old Paiute smoked my tobacco for a long time before he reverently blew the smoke to the four directions. Finally he spoke.
“You ask me if we heard of the great silver airships in the days before white-man brought his wagon trains into the land?”
“Yes grandfather, I come seeking knowledge.”
“We, the Paiute Nation, have known of these ships for untold generations. We also believe that we know something of the people who fly them. They are called The Hav-musuvs.”
“Who are the Hav-musuvs?’
“They are a people of the Panamints, and they are as ancient as Tomesha itself.’
He smiled a little at my confusion.
“You do not understand? Of course not. You are not a Paiute. Then listen closely and I will lead you back along the trail of the dim past.
“When the world was young, and this valley which is now dry, parched desert, was a lush, hidden harbor of a blue water- sea which stretched from half way up those mountains to the Gulf of California, it is said that the Hav-musuvs came here in huge rowing-ships. They found great caverns in the Panamints, and in them they built one of their cities. At that time California was the island which the Indians of that state told the Spanish it was, and which they marked so on their maps.
Living in their hidden city, the Hav-musuvs ruled the sea with their fast rowing-ships, trading with far-away peoples and bringing strange goods to the great quays said still to exist in the caverns.
Then as untold centuries rolled past, the climate began to change. The water in the lake went down until there was no longer a way to the sea. First the way was broken only by the southern mountains, over the tops of which goods could be carried. But as time went by, the water continued to shrink, until the day came when only a dry crust was all that remained of the great blue lake. Then the desert came, and the Fire-God began to walk across Tomesha, The Flaming-Land.
When the Hav-musuvs could no longer use their great rowing-ships, they began to think of other means to reach the world beyond. I suppose that is how it happened. We know that they began to use flying canoes. At first they were not large, these silvery ships with wings. They moved with a slight whirring sound, and a dipping movement, like an eagle.
The passing centuries brought other changes. Tribe after tribe swept across the land, fighting to possess it for awhile and passing like the storm of sand. In their mountain city still in the caverns, the Hav-musuvs dwelt in peace, far removed from the conflict. Sometimes they were seen in the distance, in their flying ships or riding on the snowy-white animals which took them from ledge to ledge up the cliffs. We have never seen these strange animals at any other place. To these people the passing centuries brought only larger and larger ships, moving always more silently.’
“Have you ever seen a Hav-musuv?”
“No, but we have many stories of them. There are reasons why one does not become too curious.’
“Yes. These strange people have weapons. One is a small tube which stuns one with a prickly feeling like a rain of cactus needles. One cannot move for hours, and during this time the mysterious ones vanish up the cliffs. The other weapon is deadly. It is a long, silvery tube. When this is pointed at you, death follows immediately.’
“But tell me about these people. What do they look like and how do they dress?’
“They are a beautiful people. Their skin is a golden tint, and a head band holds back their long dark hair. They dress always in a white fine-spun garment which wraps around them and is draped upon one shoulder. Pale sandals are worn upon their feet…”
His voice trailed away in a puff of smoke. The purple shadows rising up the walls of the Funerals splashed like the waves of the ghost lake. The old man seemed to have fallen into a sort of trance, but I had one more question.
“Has any Paiute ever spoken to a Hav-musuv, or were the Paiutes here when the great rowing-ships first appeared?”
For some moments I wondered if he had heard me. Yet as is our custom, I waited patiently for the answer. Again he went through the ritual of the smoke-breathing to the four directions, and then his soft voice continued:
“Yes. Once in the not-so-distant-past, but yet many generations before the coming of the Spanish, a Paiute chief lost his bride by sudden death. In his great and overwhelming grief, he thought of the Hav-musuvs and their long tube-of-death. He wished to join her, so he bid farewell to his sorrowing people and set off to find the Hav-musuvs. None appeared until the chief began to climb the almost unscaleable Panamints. Then one of the men in white appeared suddenly before him with the long tube, and motioned him back. The chief made signs that he wished to die, and came on. The man in white made a long singing whistle and other Hav-musuvs appeared. They spoke together in a strange tongue and then regarded the chief thought- fully. Finally they made signs to him making him understand that they would take him with them.
“Many weeks after his people had mourned him for dead, the Paiute chief came back to his camp. He had been in the giant underground valley of the Hav-musuvs, he said, where white lights which burn night and day and never go out, or need any fuel, lit an ancient city of marble beauty. There he learned the language and the history of the mysterious people, giving them in turn the language and legends of the Paiutes. He said that he would have liked to remain there forever in the peace and beauty of their life, but they bade him return and use his new knowledge for his people.”
I could not help but ask the inevitable.
“Do you believe this story of the chief?”
His eyes studied the wisps of smoke for some minutes before he answered.
“I do not know. When a man is lost in Tomesha, and the Fire-God is walking across the salt crust, strange dreams like clouds, fog through his mind. No man can breathe the hot breath of the Fire-God and long remain sane. Of course, the Paiutes have thought of this. No people knows the moods of Tomesha better than they.
“You asked me to tell you the legend of the flying ships. I have told you what the young men of the tribe do not know, for they no longer listen to the stories of the past. Now you ask me if I believe. I answer this. Turn around. Look behind you at that wall of the Panamints. How many giant caverns could open there, being hidden by the lights and shadows of the rocks? How many could open outward or inward and never be seen behind the arrow-like pinnacles before them? How many ships could swoop down like an eagle from the beyond, on summer nights when the fires of the furnace-sands have closed away the valley from the eyes of the white-man? How many Hav-musuvs could live in their eternal peace away from the noise of white-man’s guns in their unscaleable stronghold? This has always been a land of mystery. Nothing can change that. Not even white-man with his flying engines, for should they come too close to the wall of the Panamints a sharp wind like the flying arrow can sheer off a wing. Tomesha hides its secrets well even in winter, but no man can pry into them when the Fire-God draws the hot veil of his breath across the passes.”
I must still answer your question with my mind in doubt, for we speak of a weird land. White-man does not yet know it as well as the Paiutes, and we have ever held it in awe. It is still the forbidden ‘Tomesha – Land-Of-The-Flaming-Earth.”
Oge-Make is actually science fiction writer L. Taylor Hansen, who contributed a lot of material for Amazing Stories in the late 1940s and probably used the pseudonym to further give the tale an aura of mystery. She passed away in May 1976.
Stranger still is the fact that most Paiute elders in the Northern Nevada area know of this same tale. Many of them were young children when they first heard it from their elders.
As one woman, who lives on the Hungry Valley Reservation, jus’ north of Reno, Nevada said to me: “This could be a White-man’s tale that has found its way into our lore, since most of us were kids back in the 30s and 40s.”