Pacific NW: An Indian's Vow to the Thunder Gods

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).

An Indian's Vow to the Thunder Gods

[As related by Alice C. Fletcher. Used by permission. This incident is not a myth; it is actual fact.]

TO an Indian woman the Thunder had spoken in a vision. To this god she promised to give her first-born child.

When she became a mother, she forgot in her joy that the life of her little child did not belong to her, nor did she recall her fateful vow until one bright spring day when the clouds gathered, and she heard the roll of the Thunder — a sound which summoned all persons consecrated to these gods to bring their offerings and to pay their vows.

She remembered what she had promised, but her heart forbade her to lay the infant, which was smiling in her arms, upon the cloud-swept hilltop. She pressed the baby to her breast and waited in silence the passing of the gods in the storm.

The following spring when the first thunder pealed, she did not forget her vow, but she could not gather strength to fulfil it.

Another year passed and again the Thunder sounded. Taking the toddling child by the hand, the mother climbed the hill, and when the top was reached she placed it on the ground and fled. But the boy scrambled up and ran after her, and his frightened cry stayed her feet. He caught her garments and clung to them, and although the Thunder called, she could not obey; her vow had been made before she knew the strength of a mother's love.

Gathering the boy within her arms, she hid herself and him from the presence of the gods. The storm passed, and the mother and child returned to the lodge, but fear had taken possession of her; she watched her son with eyes in which terror and love struggled for the mastery.

One day as the little one played beside a rippling brook, laughing and singing in his glee, suddenly the clouds gathered, the flashing lightning sent beast and bird to cover, and drove the mother out to find her child. She heard his voice above the fury of the storm calling to her. As she neared the brook, a vivid flash blinded her eyes; for a moment she was stunned, but recovering, she pushed on, only to be appalled by the sight that met her gaze. Her boy lay dead, struck by the Thunder gods who had claimed their own.

No other children came to lighten the sorrow of the lonely woman, but every spring when the first Thunder sounded, and whenever the storm swept the land, this stricken mother climbed the hills, and there, standing alone, with hands uplifted to the black rolling clouds, she sang her song of sorrow and fealty.

Many years ago the writer met her and heard her song; she was an old, old woman; she is now at rest and let us hope that her lifelong sorrow has turned to joy. The words of her song express her fidelity, and the music betrays her love and sorrow:

Flying, flying, sweeping, swirling,
They return, the Thunder gods.
To me they come, to me their own,
Me they behold, who am their own!
On wings they come —
Flying, flying, sweeping, swirling,
They return, the Thunder gods.

(600 words)

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