Pacific NW: How Beaver Stole Fire

This story is part of the Pacific Northwest unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Pacific Northwest, especially of Washington and Oregon, by Katharine Berry Judson (1910).

How Beaver Stole Fire
Nez Perce

LONG ago there were no people in the world. Animals and trees talked just as men do now. They also walked about.

Now in those days, Pine Trees had the secret of fire. They would tell no one else. No one could have a fire, no matter how cold it was, unless he were a Pine. One winter it was so cold the animals almost froze to death.

Then they called a council. They wanted to steal fire from Pine Trees.

Now on Grande Ronde River, Pine Trees were holding also a great council. They had built a large fire to warm themselves. Guards were put around the fire to keep off all animals.

But Beaver hid under the bank, near the fire, before the guards took their places, so they did not see him. After a while a live coal rolled down the bank near Beaver. He hid it in his breast and ran away.

Pine Trees started after him. When Pine Trees caught up near him, Beaver dodged from side to side. Other times he ran straight ahead. That is why Grande Ronde River winds from side to side in some places. In other places it is straight.

When they had run a long way, Pine Trees grew tired. They stopped on the river banks. So many stopped there, and so close together, that even today hunters can hardly get through the trees.

A few kept on after Beaver and stopped here and there. These also remain here and there on the river bank. A few Pine Trees kept close after Beaver. So did Cedar.

Cedar said, "I will run to the top of that hill. I will see how far ahead he is." So Cedar ran to the top of the hill. Beaver was far ahead. He was just diving into Big Snake River where Grande Ronde joins it.

Beaver swam across Big Snake River and gave fire to Willows on the opposite bank. Farther on he gave fire to Birches and to other trees. So these woods have fire in them. Ever since then, animals and Indians can get fire from these woods by rubbing two pieces together.

Cedar still stands all alone on the very top of the hill. He is very old. His top is dead. The chase was a long one. You can see that because there are no other cedars within a hundred miles of him. Old men of the tribes point him out to the children. They say, "There is Old Cedar. He stands just where he stopped when he chased Beaver."

(400 words)

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