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.
Throughout the stories of the myriad tribes of Native Americans who populated the Pacific Northwest, there is a constant: the mountain. High peaks often represented the focal point of their unique mythological foundations.
Powerful forces were often said to live at the tops of the mountains, whether they were benevolent creators or evil spirits. Mount Rainier, for instance, was supposedly crowed by a lake of fire, in which a dark force lingered. Anyone who climbed above the snow line was surely doomed.
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.
According to legend, the people who lived around Mount Hood were once as tall as trees. Then, an evil spirit took up residence at the top of the mountain and began spewing lava and molten rock, destroying the surrounding land.
The god Changer appeared to the people's chief in a dream, telling him to conquer the evil spirit in order to save everyone. The chief climbed the summit and began hurling rocks back at the spirit, and the resulting epic battle lasted for days. The chief ultimately defeated the spirit, but when he looked back, he realized their conflict had decimated the land. Heartbroken, he wept himself to death.
As for the people, they managed to survive. But the burned land caused them to starve and shrink.
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.