There's something magical about the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it's the geography that inspires Pacific Northwest legends; those towering trees, mammoth mountains, and icy waters seem like the perfect place for a fantastical creature to hide.
Stories about this region have been told for centuries. American Indian mythology connects the land with powerful beings, like the thunderbird. In more recent years, people swap tales of the sasquatch, the gentle (or not so gentle) giant that supposedly roams remote areas. Some of these Pacific Northwest myths were first told to explain the way the natural world worked; others seem to simply exist for entertainment. But they all offer a thoughtful new perspective on a corner of the United States that's often seen as remote and isolated.
Straight from the tales of native peoples, here are some of the most fascinating myths and legends from the forests of the Northwest.
Coyote Steals Fire
According to a Klamath legend, in the early days of mankind, the only fire in the world was guarded by a trio of Skookums, a Chinook word that refers to someone who is incredibly strong. This trio guarded the fire endlessly and refused to share it with man, who was starving and cold without it. Coyote was determined to share fire, and began watching the Skookums closely.
When an opportunity presented itself, Coyote nabbed the fire and ran, hotly pursued by the enraged Skookums. Coyote passed the torch from creature to creature, from Wolf to Squirrel to Frog. But then Wood got the fire and swallowed it. The Skookums didn't know how to get the fire out of the wood. Coyote knew the secret, though, and he taught mankind how to draw fire from Wood, thereby securing their place on the planet.
Thunderbird And The Immortal Tinne
It was Thunderbird who created the land when the world was nothing but a great sheet of water. By simply touching his mighty wings to the still surface of that great expanse, Thunderbird drew forth the land. Another beat of his wings brought forth the animals.
When Dog created the race of man, Thunderbird also gifted the Tinne a sacred arrow that granted immortality. For a time, the Tinne were happy. Then, for unknown reasons, the Tinne used the sacred arrow. The gift of immortality was revoked, which is why the Tinne now die.
The Sasquatch Who Became A Tree
Many native tribes tell stories about wild, hairy men. They all go by different names, but in the Pacific Northwest, the title that has stuck is "Sasquatch." This creature often has special abilities, too, ranging from super strength to invisibility.
The people of the Colville Confederation once followed Sasquatch – who they called "Skanicum" – to a ravine surrounded by trees. There, the creature vanished without a trace. The pursuers knew he was hiding; his natural camouflage allowed him to blend in seamlessly with the trees.
Raven Brings Light
One Tlingit story says that, when the world was new, it was covered in darkness. Light existed, but Gull kept it to himself, locked up tight in a little box. Finally, Raven decided to do something about it.
One day, Raven and Gull were out walking. Raven wished Gull would step on a thorn – and he did. Raven offered to pull out the thorn, but told him he needed light to see. Gull opened his box a sliver. The craft Raven kept pushing the thorn deeper and deeper into Gull's foot, claiming he couldn't see it and asking for more illumination. Only when Gull had released all of the light in his box did Raven finally pull the thorn out.