Pacific NW: The Memaloose Islands

You can learn more about the Memaloose Island, which Lewis and Clark called "Sepulcher Island" because of the burial vaults, in this online article: The Columbia River - Memaloose Island.

[Notes by LKG]

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).

The Memaloose Islands

LONG ago, before the white man came, a young chief and a maiden loved one another. Suddenly the chief went over the spirit trail. But he could find no rest in the land of the spirits. The maiden also grieved for him.

Then a vision came to the maiden. It told her to go to the land of the spirits. The maiden told her father of the vision and they both obeyed. The father made ready a canoe, placed her in it and they paddled up Great River to the spirit island.

Through the darkness, as they neared the death island, they heard singing and the tom-tom of the dance drum. Four spirit people met them on the shore. The maiden landed but the father returned. At the great dance house the maiden met her lover, more beautiful than on earth. All night long they danced. Then when morning came and the robins chirped, the dancers fell asleep. The maiden slept, but not soundly.

When the sun was high, she awoke. All around her were skeletons and skulls. Her lover, with grinning teeth, was gazing upon her. The maiden was in the island of the dead. Struck with horror, she ran to the shore. At last she found an old boat and paddled herself across Great River to the Indian village.

But her father was frightened. She had been to the spirit land. Therefore, if she returned, evil would fall upon the tribe.

That night again the father made ready a canoe and paddled across the river to the Memaloose island. Through the darkness, they heard singing and the tom-tom of the dance drum.

In course of time a baby, half human, half spirit, was born. The spirit lover wished his mother to see it. He sent a messenger to her, telling her to come to the island by night. He told her, when she arrived, not to look at the baby until it was ten days old.

After the old woman reached the Memaloose island, she became impatient. She lifted the cloth from the baby's face. She lifted just one little corner and looked at the baby's face. Therefore the baby died. Thus the spirit people became displeased. They said that never again should living people visit the land of those who had gone by the spirit trail.

(400 words)

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