Myths & Legends



Chinookan: Thunderer's Son-in-Law

Tales of the land of the supernatural or subterranean beings - preparing the living for the world to come - are universal, with their details differing from culture to culture.

The terror of the giants that roamed the Earth, and the terror of the perils of the underworld, as told by the Chinookan. In these stories the evil or supernatural power is invariably defeated, and attempt to minimize the terrors of death: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”, have many variants.
The sons of the Thunderer are hero-gods whose wile confounds the powers of darkness, and as Lewis Spence observes “and to some extent they resemble the Hun-Apu and Xbalanque of the Central American Popol Vuh, who travel to the dark kingdom of Xibalba to rescue their father and uncle, and succeed in overthrowing its hideous denizens.

Travels in confronting terror, as told in The Myths and Legends of the North American Indians collected by Lewis Spence.
— Orly

The Thunderer's Son-in-Law

There were five brothers who lived together. Four of them were accustomed to spend their days in hunting elk, while the fifth, who was the youngest, was always compelled to remain at the camp. They lived amicably enough, save that the youngest grumbled at never being able to go to the hunting. One day as the youth sat brooding over his grievance the silence was suddenly broken by a hideous din which appeared to come from the region of the doorway. He was at a loss to understand the cause of it, and anxiously wished for the return of his brothers. Suddenly there appeared before him a man of gigantic size, strangely apparelled. He demanded food, and the frightened boy, remembering that they were well provided, hastily arose to satisfy the stranger's desires. He brought out an ample supply of meat and tallow, but was astonished to find that the strange being lustily called for more. The youth, thoroughly terrified, hastened to gratify the monster's craving, and the giant ate steadily on, hour after hour, until the brothers returned at the end of the day to discover the glutton devouring the fruits of their hunting. The monster appeared not to heed the brothers, but, anxious to satisfy his enormous appetite, he still ate. A fresh supply of meat had been secured, and this the brothers placed before him. He continued to gorge himself throughout the night and well into the next day. At last the meat was at an end, and the brothers became alarmed. What next would the insatiable creature demand? They approached him and told him that only skins remained, but he replied: "What shall I eat, grandchildren, now that there are only skins and you?" They did not appear to understand him until they had questioned him several times. On realizing that the glutton meant to devour them, they determined to escape, so, boiling the skins, which they set before him, they fled through a hole in the hut. Outside they placed a dog, and told him to send the giant in the direction opposite to that which they had taken. Night fell, and the monster slept, while the dog kept a weary vigil over the exit by which his masters had escaped. Day dawned as the giant crept through the gap. He asked the dog: "Which way went your masters?" The animal replied by setting his head in the direction opposite to the true one. The giant observed the sign, and went on the road the dog indicated. After proceeding for some distance he found that the young men could not have gone that way, so he returned to the hut, to find the dog still there. Again he questioned the animal, who merely repeated his previous movement. The monster once more set out, but, unable to discover the fugitives, he again returned. Three times he repeated these fruitless journeys. At last he succeeded in getting on to the right path, and shortly came within sight of the brothers.


The Thunderer

Immediately they saw their pursuer they endeavoured to outrun him, but without avail. The giant gained ground, and soon overtook the eldest, whom he slew. He then made for the others, and slew three more. The youngest only was left. The lad hurried on until he came to a river, on the bank of which was a man fishing, whose name was the Thunderer. This person he implored to convey him to the opposite side. After much hesitation the Thunderer agreed, and, rowing him over the stream, he commanded the fugitive to go to his hut, and returned to his nets. By this time the monster had gained the river, and on seeing the fisherman he asked to be ferried over also. The Thunderer at first refused, but was eventually persuaded by the offer of a piece of twine. Afraid that the boat might capsize, the Thunderer stretched himself across the river, and commanded the giant to walk over his body.  The monster, unaware of treachery, readily responded, but no sooner had he reached the Thunderer's legs than the latter set them apart, thus precipitating him into the water. His hat also fell in after him. The Thunderer now gained his feet, and watched the giant drifting helplessly down the stream. He did not wish to save the monster, for he believed him to be an evil spirit. "Okulam [Noise of Surge] will be your name," he said. "Only when the storm is raging will you be heard. When the weather is very bad your hat will also be heard." As he concluded this prophecy the giant disappeared from sight. The Thunderer then gathered his nets together and went to his hut. The youth whom he had saved married his daughter, and continued to remain with him. One day the youth desired to watch his father-in-law fishing for whales. His wife warned him against doing so. He paid no heed to her warning, however, but went to the sea, where he saw the Thunderer struggling with a whale. His father-in-law flew into a great rage, and a furious storm arose. The Thunderer looked toward the land, and immediately the storm increased in fury, with thunder and lightning, so he threw down his dip-net and departed for home, followed by his son-in-law.



On reaching the house the young man gathered some pieces of coal and climbed a mountain. There he blackened his face, and a high wind arose which carried everything before it. His father-in-law's house was blown away, and the Thunderer, seeing that it was hopeless to attempt to save anything from the wreck, commanded his daughter to seek for her husband. She hurried up the mountain-side, where she found him, and told him he was the cause of all the destruction, but concluded: "Father says you may look at him to-morrow when he catches whales." He followed his wife back to the valley and washed his face. Immediately he had done so the storm abated. Going up to his father-in-law, he said: "To-morrow I shall go down to the beach, and you shall see me catching whales." Then the Thunderer and he rebuilt their hut. On the following morning they went down to the sea-shore together. The young man cast his net into the sea. After a little while a whale entered the net. The youth quickly pulled the net toward him, reached for the whale, and flung it at the feet of his father-in-law. Thunderer was amazed, and called to him: "Ho, ho, my son-in-law, you are just as I was when I was a young man."


The Beast Comrades

Soon after this the Thunderer's daughter gave birth to two sons. The Thunderer sent the young man into the woods to capture two wolves with which he used to play when a boy. The son-in-law soon returned with the animals, and threw them at the feet of the Thunderer. But they severely mauled the old man, who, seeing that they had forgotten him, cried piteously to his son-in-law to carry them back to the forest. Shortly after this he again despatched his son-in-law in search of two bears with which he had also been friendly. The young man obeyed. But the bears treated the old man as the wolves had done, so he likewise returned them to their native haunts. For the third time the son-in-law went into the forest, for two grizzly bears, and when he saw them he called: "I come to carry you away." The bears instantly came toward him and suffered themselves to be carried before the Thunderer. But they also had forgotten their former playmate, and immediately set upon him, so that the young man was compelled to return with them to the forest. Thunderer had scarcely recovered from this last attack when he sent his son-in-law into the same forest after two panthers, which in his younger days had also been his companions. Without the slightest hesitation the young man arose and went into the wood, where he met the panthers. He called to them in the same gentle manner: "I come to take you away." The animals seemed to understand, and followed him. But Thunderer was dismayed when he saw how wild they had grown. They would not allow him to tame them, and after suffering their attack he sent them back to the forest. This ended the Thunderer's exciting pastime.


The Tests

The Thunderer then sent his son-in-law to split a log of wood. When this had been done he put the young man's strength to the test by placing him within the hollow trunk and closing the wood around him. But the young man succeeded in freeing himself, and set off for the hut carrying the log with him. On reaching his home he dropped the wood before the door, and caused the earth to quake. The Thunderer jumped up in alarm and ran to the door rejoicing in the might of his son-in-law. "Oh, my son-in-law," he cried, "you are just as I was when I was young!" The two continued to live together and the young man's sons grew into manhood. One day the Thunderer approached his son-in-law and said: "Go to the Supernatural Folk and bring me their hoops."


The Spirit-land

The son-in-law obeyed. He travelled for a long distance, and eventually reached the land of the spirits. They stood in a circle, and he saw that they played with a large hoop. He then remembered that he must secure the hoop. But he was afraid to approach them, as the light of the place dazzled him. He waited until darkness had set in, and, leaving his hiding-place, dashed through the circle and secured the hoop. The Supernatural People pursued him with torches. Just as this was taking place his wife remembered him. She called to her children: "Now whip your grandfather." This they did, while the old man wept. This chastisement brought rain upon the Supernatural People and extinguished their torches. They dared not pursue the young man farther, so they returned to their country. The adventurer was now left in peace to continue his homeward journey. He handed over the hoop to Thunderer, who now sent him to capture the targets of the Spirit Folk. The son-in-law gladly undertook the journey, and again entered the bright region of Spirit-land. He found the Supernaturals shooting at the targets, and when night had fallen he picked them up and ran away. The spirits lit their torches and followed him. His wife once more was reminded of her absent husband, and commanded her sons to repeat the punishment upon their grandfather. The rain recommenced and the torches of the pursuers were destroyed. The young man returned in peace to his dwelling and placed the targets before his father-in-law. He had not been long home before a restless spirit took possession of him. He longed for further adventure, and at last decided to set out in quest of it. Arraying himself in his fine necklaces of teeth and strapping around his waist two quivers of arrows, he bade farewell to his wife and sons. He journeyed until he reached a large village, which consisted of five rows of houses. These he carefully inspected. The last house was very small, but he entered it. He was met by two old women, who were known as the Mice. Immediately they saw him they muttered to each other: "Oh, now Blue Jay will make another chief unhappy." On the young man's arrival in the village Blue Jay became conscious of a stranger in the midst of the people. He straightway betook himself to the house of the Mice. He then returned to his chief, saying that a strange chief wished to hold a shooting match. Blue Jay's chief seemed quite willing to enter into the contest with the stranger, so he sent Blue Jay back to the house to inform the young chief of his willingness. Blue Jay led the stranger down to the beach where the targets stood. Soon the old chief arrived and the shooting match began. But the adventurer's skill could not compare with the old chief's, who finally defeated him. Blue Jay now saw his opportunity. He sprang upon the stranger, tore out his hair, cut off his head, and severed the limbs from his body. He carried the pieces to the house and hung up the head. At nightfall the Mice fed the head and managed to keep it alive. This process of feeding went on for many months, the old women never tiring of their task. A full year had passed, and the unfortunate adventurer's sons began to fear for his safety. They decided to search for him. Arming themselves, they made their way to the large village in which their father was imprisoned. They entered the house of the Mice, and there saw the two old women, who asked: "Oh, chiefs, where did you come from?"

"We search for our father," they replied. But the old women warned them of Blue Jay's treachery, and advised them to depart. The young men would not heed the advice, and succeeded in drawing from the women the story of their father's fate. When they heard that Blue Jay had used their father so badly they were very angry. Blue Jay, meanwhile, had become aware of the arrival of two strangers, and he went to the small house to smell them out. There he espied the youths, and immediately returned to inform his chief of their presence in the village. The chief then sent him back to invite the strangers to a shooting match, but they ignored the invitation. Three times Blue Jay made the journey, and at last the youths looked upon him, whereupon his hair immediately took fire. He ran back to his chief and said: "Oh, these strangers are more powerful than we are. They looked at me and my hair caught fire." The chief was amazed, and went down to the beach to await the arrival of the strangers. When the young men saw the targets they would not shoot, and declared that they were bad. They immediately drew them out of the ground and replaced them by their own, the brilliance of which dazzled the sight of their opponent. The chief was defeated. He lost his life and the people were subdued. The youths then cast Blue Jay into the river, saying as they did so: "Green Sturgeon shall be your name. Henceforth you shall not make chiefs miserable. You shall sing 'Watsetsetsetsetse,' and it shall be a bad omen." This performance over, they restored their father from his death-slumber, and spoke kindly to the Mice, saying: "Oh, you pitiful ones, you shall eat everything that is good. You shall eat berries." Then, after establishing order in this strange land, they returned to their home, accompanied by their father.



Related Reading



TheOrly | © 2017

Pacific Coast: The Recluse

Pacific Coast: The Recluse

Iroquois: The Creation