Alaska: The Last of the Thunderbirds

This story is part of the Alaskan Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of Alaska, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1911).

The Last of the Thunderbirds 
Eskimo (Lower Yukon)


LONG, long ago there were many thunderbirds living in the mountains, but at last there were only two left. These birds made their home on the round top of a mountain overlooking the Yukon. They hollowed out a great basin on the summit for a nest, and from the rocky rims they could look down upon a village upon the river bank.

From this perch the thunderbirds, looking like a black cloud, would soar away, bringing back to their young a reindeer in their talons. Sometimes with a great noise like thunder they swooped down upon a fisherman in his kayak and carried him away. The man would be eaten by the young birds, and the kayak broken to bits in the nest.

Every fall the young birds flew away into the northland, but the old birds remained in the nest. They had carried away so many fishermen that only the most daring would go out on the great river.

One day when a fisherman went to look at his traps, he cautioned his wife not to leave the house for fear of the thunderbirds. During the morning, she needed fresh water and started for the river. A noise like thunder filled the air, a black shadow fell over her, and a thunderbird darted down upon her. When the fisherman returned to his house, people of the village told him of the thunderbird. He made no answer.

He took his bow and quiverful of war arrows and started for the mountain. When he reached the rim of the great nest, he looked in. The old birds were away. The nest was full of young eagles with fiery, shining eyes and shrill cries. The hunter fitted a war arrow, the string twanged, and the arrow killed a young thunderbird. So the hunter killed them all. The hunter hid behind a great rock near the nest.

When the old birds came home, the thunder of their wings was heard even across the great river; their cries of rage frightened the villagers on the river's bank.

The mother bird swooped down upon the hunter beside the rock. Quickly he fitted a war arrow, the string twanged, and the arrow bit deep into her throat. Then the mother bird, flapping her wings so that the hills shook, flew away to the northland.

The father bird circled overhead and then swooped down upon the hunter. He crouched below the rocks and the thunderbird's great talons caught only the rock. The hunter fitted a war arrow in his bow, the string twanged, and the heavy war arrow bit deep under his great wing. Spreading his wings like a black cloud in the sky, the thunderbird flew away to the northland.

(500 words)