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The Myths And Folklore From Pacific Northwest Contain Some Truly Terrifying Legends

Updated June 14, 2019 2.4k votes 530 voters 34.6k views12 items

List RulesVote up the most fascinating tales from the forests and mountains of the PNW.

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.

  • Photo: Dr Haggis / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

    Chief Wakiash And The First Totem Pole

    Among all the chiefs, the Kwakiutl say, Wakiash had never had a dance. This fact shamed him to the point that he walked into the woods to fast for four days in search of an answer. Falling asleep in the mountains, Wakiash awoke to find himself on the back of a great bird, Raven, with Frog sitting on his chest. The two benevolent creatures took Wakiash around the world.

    One day, the chief saw a wooden house with a totem pole in front. Within the house, a group of animals danced merrily and sang incredible songs. Wakiash asked Raven to stop so he might learn the secrets of these songs and this house. Thanks to the charity of Frog and Mouse, who lived inside the wooden house, Wakiash was granted the use of the house and the totem pole for one dance.

    So, Wakiash returned home with his dance, inspiring shame and jealousy among all the other chiefs. When the dance was done, the wooden house and the totem pole disappeared. In his thanks, Wakiash crafted his own house and totem pole; the people called it Kalakuyuwish, "the pole that holds up the sky."

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  • Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / No Restrictions

    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.

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  • Photo: Bombtime / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    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.

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    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.

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