Pacific NW: How the Ermine Got Its Necklace

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 the Ermine Got Its Necklace

IN the valley between Koyukuk and Yukon lived an old man, his wife, and two sons. The old man was too feeble to go out alone any longer, so he told the boys they must travel alone. Therefore they decided to go alone.

In the morning they found a porcupine trail. Following this downstream, they came to a large river running full of ice. At the edge of the water the track disappeared. The brothers leaped on a cake of ice and floated downstream.

Again they landed and looked for food, when they found a fish had been left on the ice and saw many sled tracks. They followed these. They then heard a faint crying. Going on cautiously, they saw a porcupine carrying a load. They asked it why it cried. When it did not answer, they clubbed it dead, cooked it, and ate it.

Going on, they saw a village. An old woman came out, saw them, and called to the people of the village to prepare food for them. The brothers entered a large house, where an old man was seated on a caribou skin. They sat down on either side of him on caribou skins and began to eat.

Seeing only young women, besides the old man and woman, the brothers asked where the young men were. The young women said there were none, but that they could do many difficult things which even men could hardly do. The elder brother boasted that he could do more than they. But the young women laughed. They said they were simply answering his question.

In the morning the young women went hunting. The brothers went with them. Then the women outran the elder brother and teased him. He became angry and said: "You cannot do one thing. Stand at a distance and shoot at me. If I am not hit, I will shoot at you."

The younger man warned his brother, but the elder one was still angry and insisted. Finally the women consented to shoot at him. As they shot he leaped, but four arrows struck him together and he fell dead. The younger brother mourned for him.

When he wished to return and asked the way, he was told it was dangerous and they described to him the monsters he would meet. Nevertheless he started.

After travelling for some time, he saw a cliff with a nest of enormous birds. The old ones were away, but he found a young eaglet.

"What do your parents do when they come?" he asked.

"When they come," the eaglet answered, "it becomes dark, it blows, and there is thunder. When it is my mother coming, it rains. When it is my father who comes, it hails."

The young man killed the bird. Then he waited. Soon it became dark, and thundered, and rained, while the air was blown against him by the beating of the wings of the Thunder Bird. The young man shot it and, springing forward, killed it with his moose-horn club. When the other bird came, he killed it too.

He went on until he came to a porcupine as high as a hill, which lived in a cave. Through this cave the young man had to pass for he could find no way around it. Hiding outside the cave, he made a noise to attract the porcupine's attention. It at once started to back out, lashing its tail against the mountainside until the enormous quills were stuck all over the mountain and the tail itself was quite bare. Then, as it left the cave, the young man shot it and clubbed it to death.

Travelling on farther, he found the tracks of an enormous lynx. This the women had told him was the strongest of the monsters. Here, too, he tried to go around it but could not. Then he tried to shoot it, but the lynx caught the arrows in his claws. Seeing no way of escape, the young man gave up hope.

Then the lynx ordered him to clear away the snow so that he could eat him more at ease and to heap up the wood for the fire by which the young man was to be cooked. The young man did this, but the lynx told him to get still more firewood. The young man did this, going farther each time to get the wood.

Soon he heard someone say: "Brother, stand quickly on my back and I will carry you away."

"Where are you?" he asked.


Looking down, he saw an ermine at his feet. He said, "I am afraid I will kill you if I step on your back."

"No, jump on me. I will carry you."

Then he jumped hard, but the ermine did not even move.

"Your back is too small. I cannot sit on it."

"Lay a stick across my back, and put another across my neck for your feet."

He laid the sticks across the ermine and sat down. Immediately it carried him to his house. The young man's parents were glad for his safe return. They gave the ermine a shell necklace.

(900 words)

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