There are stories, a few may call them legends or even fables, about creation, trickery and even transformation. For some, this folklore is a belief system. For others, these stories are … intriguing. With a little bit of shock, wonder and maybe, horror, the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest know how to spin a good yarn.
Gather your friends, build a campfire and if you must, grab a flashlight; get lost in another world—one your imagination can thrive in. Five of the Pacific Northwest's Native American Tribes have a story to tell.
Roughly translated to "those dwelling along the river," this Oregon tribe has many myths about the pranks of Coyote. Legend has it, he even banished the dead from dwelling with the living.
Coyote roamed the land by himself, plagued by what he kept hearing: "Ghosts are taking people away." He continued to wander, and a long time passed. He heard of the ghosts everywhere he went, until he decided he would go where the ghosts were.
Off he went, following the trails of the ghosts who took away the dead. In the distance, he heard a chirping noise, but he couldn't place it. Perhaps, he thought, it was coming from the ghosts. But he continued in their path until he reached the land of ghosts.
The ghosts were dancing, spinning round and round in the clothing they were buried in, so very long ago.
"Give red-eared Coyote a canoe!" the ghosts shouted.
A girl danced toward Coyote and presented him with a canoe. Coyote urged her into it, telling her to be swift and escape back to his land. But the girl refused, until Coyote grew angry and set her dress on fire. She ran to the water, toward the canoe. But before the flames could be extinguished, her skirt set fire to the other ghosts' garments. The ghosts screamed, and Coyote sat on the other side of the river, watching.
The ghosts perished, and Coyote declared that when you die, you would no longer take others with you; you will be dead, and no longer dance a haunted dance with other spirits.
Coyote returned, back up the river, and left the land of the dead.
This small tribe resides in Washington on the La Push reservation, best known for its appearance in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series. Although the tribe can't actually shift into wolves, legend has it, they're descended from the animals.
Many moons ago, Q'wati traveled the world. He taught people how to act and affected their futures with specific instructions. He influenced the lives he came across, and it was during one of these journeys that he met a beaver.
This beaver took its sharp teeth and gnawed on a piece of stone, enraptured with making a killing device. Q'wati asked the beaver for its plan, and when the beaver responded, saying it planned to kill Q'wati with the weapon, Q'wati took the stone and stabbed the beaver in the tail. From then on, the beaver would live in the water, and slap the liquid with its tail.
As Q'wati continued along the river, he found it deserted, and so he decided to create people. He rubbed his hands together, dropping skin cells into the water, until people appeared; they became the Queets.
He continued on until he came across a pair of wolves. Q'wati believed that animals were less intelligent than the humans he desired to create. So he soon transformed these wolves into men, naming them the Quileute people. Because they were descended from wolves, he knew they'd be brave and strong, and with his help, their people grew and prospered as he continued to watch over them—the guardian of the pack.
The raven is a popular creature used in many Northwestern tribes' stories. For the Haisla tribe, the raven is both a cultural hero and a trickster spirit. He is known for his irresponsible and impulsive behavior, and legend has it, when mallard ducks quack, they're actually laughing about a particularly funny story involving the black-feathered bird.
Late afternoon, the fall air began to chill quickly all around the forest. Weegit, being young and full of curiosity, traveled many distances, enjoying various foods and changing scenery. But as the weather continued to cool, he found himself hungry. It had been days since his last meal.
As he descended onto a lake, searching the water for a tasty trout, Weegit dipped into the water to quench his thirst before he would sit and wait for his meal to swim by. While his beak was deep in the water, a curious sight caught his eye.
It was a truly beautiful creature—with sharp, silvery eyes and glorious black feathers. He sat completely enamored, unmoving. It was a stunning vision, and he couldn't take his eyes from it. While he continued to stare down at this beauty, he didn't notice that the top of his beak was still dipped in the water, and that the temperature continued to drop.
Quickly, ice formed on the lake's surface. Weegit continued to stare into the creature's eyes, and noticed he had difficulty seeing. He thought the striking creature must be blinding him, and he started to panic. He decided he must get away. But, he found he could not lift his head, and that nightfall had settled around the forest. With it, came a thick blanket of ice across the lake, entrapping Weegit.
When the sun took the moon's place, he heard a loud, scattering of sound. The mallard ducks were now on the lake's shore. The ducks watched Weegit, laughing loudly at his predicament. Burning waves of embarrassment washed through Weegit's body, traveling up his feathers. Their laughter grew, and Weegit tugged: nothing. Finally, filled with shame, the heat flowed all the way to his beak until ice melted around it and freed him.
He tumbled backward, squawking and flapping his wings. He leaped high into the air, eager to escape, but the flock of mallards only laughed louder. To this day, along the shores of lakes and ponds, the mallards still laugh over the silly raven that got stuck in the lake, admiring his own reflection.
This tribe of about 600 resides in British Columbia, and describes the existence of the boq. It resembles a man, much like Sasquatch, and legend has it, the boq roams the British Columbia area with its supernatural powers.
Fearlessly, a Bella Coola man, his wife and child went camping in the Bay of the Thousand Islands—an area said to be filled with boqs. Sounds of the night haunted the man, and though the man called out to the creatures to retreat, the noise of crashing trunks and roars grew nearer.
As the sounds became fiercer, the man grabbed his family and retreated toward the canoe, shouting, "Go away or you shall feel my power!" But the boqs continued their approach, running up and down the shoreline, although the man only saw the vague outline of their form. Though the air was calm, the canoe began to roll and thrash, as if in violent sea waters. The family tried to escape, but the oar struck bottom. They were in the middle of the channel, where water was supposed to be at its deepest.
He looked to the skies and the cascading mountains, which seemed to be growing higher and higher. The boqs, with their supernatural powers, raised the mountain ranges and nearly drained the river of its water. The man jumped out of his canoe, the water only reaching to his knees, and took his family to Restoration Bay. It is said that Restoration Bay may be home to the boqs, and anyone who challenges their strength may have to contend with their supernatural powers, much like the man and his family did.
This tribe was the first Oregon group to sign a federal treaty, back in 1853. Their ties to the state run deep because legend has it, they were involved with the creation of Crater Lake back when man and animal were united.
At one point, in the farthest reaches of history, man and animal spoke the same language. They lived in the land of the Umpquas, along the bank of a river. At that time, the mountain was high and powerful, covered in snow with meadows and strong trees below. Here lived the bear, the deer, the panther and the elk. All animal-people were friends with man-people.
But an evil chief grew amongst the creatures, claiming to have more power than Old Man God, who was Chief of the World. He put bad thoughts in man's mind, telling man to kill animal, and the animal-people grew scared.
The animals sought help from their Great Spirit, Tamanous. Tamanous counseled the animal-people, and instructed them to leave the dangerous land. They didn't want to leave, but were afraid to disobey.
Old Man Chief didn't want the animal-people to leave either, but each animal started to disappear: the bear, the eagle, the wolf, the fish and the bird. Old Man Chief raised his arms to the sky, demanding Tamanous to come down. The two fought, and a great wind came from the top of the mountain. Trees fell and man-people couldn't breathe with the hot wind. They called for rain, but the top of the mountain spit fire. The mountaintop flew into the air, and sat down on the earth: the mountain became flat.
A long time passed, and the hole filled with water. The man-people all perished. Tamanous swore to put their spirits in the bottom of the hole because he deemed them all to be evil. With the man-people gone, the animal-people returned, but they were lonely. They begged their God for the return of the man-people. Tamanous obliged, but set a punishment: man and animal would never speak the same language again.
The man-people came back; they were Indians.