This story is told by the Chelan Indians, who live
beside a long lake in the central part of the state of
Washington. The lake is called Lake Chelan (pronounced sha-
lan), meaning "Beautiful Water".
Long, long ago, the Creator, the Great Chief Above, made the
world. Then he made the animals and the birds and gave them their
names--Coyote, Grizzly Bear, Deer, Fox, Eagle, the four Wolf
Brothers, Magpie, Bluejay, Hummingbird, and all the others.
When he had finished his work, the Creator called the animal
people to him. "I am going to leave you," he said. "But I will
come back. When I come again, I will make human beings. They will
be in charge of you."
The Great Chief returned to his home in the sky, and the animal
people scattered to all parts of the world.
After twelve moons, the animal people gathered to meet the
Creator as he had directed. Some of them had complaints. Bluejay,
Meadowlark, and Coyote did not like their names. Each of them
asked to be some other creature.
"No," said the Creator. "I have given you your names. There is no
change. My word is law.
"Because you have tried to change my law, I will not make the
human being this time. Because you have disobeyed me, you have
soiled what I brought with me. I planned to change it into a
human being. Instead, I will put it in water to be washed for
many moons and many snows, until it is clean again."
Then he took something from his right side and put it in the
river. It swam, and the Creator named it Beaver.
"Now I will give you another law," said the Great Chief Above.
"The one of you who keeps strong and good will take Beaver from
the water some day and make it into a human being. I will tell
you now what to do. Divide Beaver into twelve parts. Take each
part to a different place and breathe into it your own breath.
Wake it up. It will be a human being with your breath. Give it
half of your power and tell it what to do. Today I am giving my
power to one of you. He will have it as long as he is good."
When the Creator had finished speaking, all the creatures started
for their homes--all except Coyote. The Great Chief had a special
word for Coyote.
"You are to be head of all the creatures, Coyote. You are a power
just like me now, and I will help you do your work. Soon the
creatures and all the other things I have made will become bad.
They will fight and will eat each other. It is your duty to keep
them as peaceful as you can.
"When you have finished your work, we will meet again, in this
land toward the east. If you have been good, if you tell the
truth and obey me, you can make the human being from Beaver. If
you have done wrong, someone else will make him."
Then the Creator went away.
It happened as the Creator had foretold. Everywhere the things he
had created did wrong. The mountains swallowed the creatures. The
winds blew them away. Coyote stopped the mountains, stopped the
winds, and rescued the creatures. One winter, after North Wind
had killed many people, Coyote made a law for him: "Hereafter you
can kill only those who make fun of you."
Everywhere Coyote went, he made the world better for the animal
people and better for the human beings yet to be created. When he
had finished his work, he knew that it was time to meet the
Creator again. Coyote thought that he had been good, that he
would be the one to make the first human being.
But he was mistaken. He thought that he had as much power as the
Creator. So he tried, a second time, to change the laws of the
Great Chief Above.
"Some other creature will make the human being," the Creator told
Coyote. "I shall take you out into the ocean and give you a place
to stay for all time."
So Coyote walked far out across the water to an island. There the
Creator stood waiting for him, beside the house he had made.
Inside the house on the west side stood a black suit of clothes.
On the other side hung a white suit.
"Coyote, you are to wear this black suit for six months," said
the Creator. "Then the weather will be cold and dreary. Take off
the black suit and wear the white suit. Then there will be
summer, and everything will grow.
"I will give you my power not to grow old. You will live here
forever and forever."
Coyote stayed there, out in the ocean, and the four Wolf brothers
took his place as the head of all the animal people. Youngest
Wolf Brother was strong and good and clever. Oldest Wolf Brother
was worthless. So the Creator gave Youngest Brother the power to
take Beaver from the water.
One morning Oldest Wolf Brother said to Youngest Brother, "I want
you to kill Beaver. I want his tooth for a knife."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Second and Third Brothers. "Beaver is too
strong for Youngest Brother."
But Youngest Wolf said to his brothers, "Make four spears. For
Oldest Brother, make a spear with four forks. For me, make a
spear with one fork. Make a two-forked spear and a three-forked
spear for yourselves. I will try my best to get Beaver, so that
we can kill him."
All the animal persons had seen Beaver and his home. They knew
where he lived. They knew what a big creature he was. His family
of young beavers lived with him.
The animal persons were afraid that Youngest Wolf Brother would
fail to capture Beaver and would fail to make the human being.
Second and Third Wolf Brothers also were afraid. "I fear we will
lose Youngest Brother," they said to each other.
But they made the four spears he had asked for.
At dusk, the Wolf brothers tore down the dam at the beavers'
home, and all the little beavers ran out. About midnight, the
larger beavers ran out. They were so many, and they made so much
noise, that they sounded like thunder. Then Big Beaver ran out,
the one the Creator had put into the water to become clean.
"Let's quit!" said Oldest Wolf Brother, for he was afraid. "Let's
not try to kill him."
"No!" said Youngest Brother. "I will not stop."
Oldest Wolf Brother fell down. Third Brother fell down. Second
Brother fell down. Lightning flashed. The beavers still sounded
like thunder. Youngest Brother took the four-forked spear and
tried to strike Big Beaver with it. It broke. He used the three-
forked spear. It broke. He used the two-forked spear. It broke.
Then he took his own one--forked spear. It did not break.
It pierced the skin of Big Beaver and stayed there. Out of the
lake, down the creek, and down Big River, Beaver swam, dragging
Youngest Brother after it.
Youngest Wolf called to his brothers, "You stay here. If I do not
return with Beaver in three days, you will know that I am dead."
Three days later, all the animal persons gathered on a level
place at the foot of the mountain. Soon they saw Youngest Brother
coming. He had killed Beaver and was carrying it. "You remember
that the Creator told us to cut it into twelve pieces," said
Youngest Brother to the animal people.
But he could divide it into only eleven pieces.
Then he gave directions. "Fox, you are a good runner. Hummingbird
and Horsefly, you can fly fast. Take this piece of Beaver flesh
over to that place and wake it up. Give it your breath."
Youngest Brother gave other pieces to other animal people and
told them where to go. They took the liver to Clearwater River,
and it became the Nez Perce Indians. They took the heart across
the mountains, and it became the Methow Indians. Other parts
became the Spokane people, the Lake people, the Flathead people.
Each of the eleven pieces became a different tribe.
"There have to be twelve tribes," said Youngest Brother. "Maybe
the Creator thinks that we should use the blood for the last one.
Take the blood across the Shining Mountains and wake it up over
there. It will become the Blackfeet. They will always look for
When an animal person woke the piece of Beaver flesh and breathed
into it, he told the new human being what to do and what to eat.
"Here are roots," and the animal people pointed to camas and
kouse and to bitterroot, "You will dig them, cook them, and save
them to eat in the winter.
"Here are the berries that will ripen in the summer. You will eat
them and you will dry them for use in winter."
The animal people pointed to chokecherry trees, to serviceberry
bushes, and to huckleberry bushes.
"There are salmon in all the rivers. You will cook them and eat
them when they come up the streams. And you will dry them to eat
in the winter."
When all the tribes had been created, the animal people said to
them "Some of you new people should go up Lake Chelan. Go up to
the middle of the lake and look at the cliff beside the water.
There you will see pictures on the rock. From the pictures you
will learn how to make the things you will need."
The Creator had painted the pictures there, with red paint. From
the beginning until long after the white people came, the Indians
went to Lake Chelan and looked at the paintings. They saw
pictures of bows and arrows and of salmon traps. From the
paintings of the Creator they knew how to make the things they
needed for getting their food.
Note: The paintings (or pictographs) on the lower rocks have been
covered by water since a dam was built at the foot of the lake.
Surprisingly high on the rocks that are almost perpendicular
walls at the north end of the lake, the paintings remained for a
long, long time. Then white people with guns and little respect
for the past ruined them--for fun.
Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
Copyright @ 1993-2016
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