Texts by and about Natives: Texts

2. Archie Phinney, "The Maiden and the Salmon"

“The Maiden and Salmon,” in Archie Phinney, Nez Percé Texts, Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, vol. 25
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1934), 205-227.

Many people were living there. A maiden, a well-behaved maiden, lived there. Salmon, down the river, planned to have her. “I shall go to bring her for my wife.” Thereupon he came up the river. He arrived. The maiden lived in the young women’s hut and Salmon knew that she was there. It happened, now, that everybody from the young women’s hut went to the main lodge to eat and the maiden was left alone. Salmon, now, came to her there. A short distance away the men were tending a fire and taking sweat baths, and from there they saw him. “Behold, who there comes to them at the young women’s hut? It is a strange man.” He, Salmon, had a very red head adornment of feathers. Here he walked to the door of the hut. Yi·k’, yi·k’, yi·k’, his footsteps resounded. She heard him from inside. Then she saw him stick his feet inside. “It is a man,” the maiden said to herself. Here he dangled his legs back and forth for a short time but not at all did he descend. “Well, it seems to be that he comes to me.” She smelled the sweet fragrance of love-perfume. He dangled his feet there for a short time and then withdrew upward to walk away again, treading along, Yi·k’, yi·k’, yi·k’.—“Who may he be? I am going to peep at him.” She laid aside things at which she had been working and stood up. She climbed up the ladder and stuck her head far out. She watched him go away, watched his going. “Who may he be?” Then she looked around. Oh, here it was that the men were looking at her from over there. Now she became very much abashed. “I must go with him now.” She, then, wrapped up her various possessions and followed him. The men, over there, had recognized him by this time. “It is Salmon. The maiden is following him.” But now the wolves became indignant because they wanted her

- page 222 –

very much for their own. Somewhere there Salmon and the maiden now stayed at one of the lodges for a few days, and from there he announced to the people, “At that time I will take her down the river.” And meanwhile the well-behaved maiden’s mother prepared her for their departure. There came the morning they had set for their departure and now the wolves ran about distractedly. “We are most indignant,” they told the people. They went to the rattlesnake. “Help us, grandfather, for Salmon is taking her away. Bite him so that he will die.”—“No! He is my nephew. Why should I do that to my nephew?” he replied to the wolves. Now they went to the spider. “Grandfather, we wish that you go to kill Salmon. He is about to take our maiden away.”—“I could not do that—Salmon is my nephew. How could I be so treacherous to a friend!” replied the spider. From there now the wolves went to the stubby, brown, rattlesnake. “We have become greatly indignant. Help us. Kill Salmon,” they said to him. “But he is a friend dear to me. He is my nephew,” replied the stubby rattlesnake. Nevertheless they persisted, “We will reward you handsomely.” And at last now they persuaded him. The wolves instructed him, “You will hide yourself; you will hide yourself just where the bow of the canoe is and where Salmon, in getting aboard, will step. And there you will bite him. Now they began to load the maiden’s things in the canoe, while Salmon just stood apart watching them. He had already begun to fear for himself because he knew that some of the men strongly disapproved of his carrying the bride away. He was somewhat afraid to approach the canoe. There he said to the maiden, “I fear for myself. If they kill me, even though they may pound me to a pulp you must, nevertheless, throw my body into the water. Though they may mix my flesh with sand you will find even a small piece of my body and throw that into the water.” Now they had finished loading and the maiden got into the canoe. Salmon, too, now started to get aboard. He stepped exactly under the bow and there was a sharp click of teeth—the stubby rattlesnake had bitten him. Oh! Over to the side Salmon writhed in mortal agony, and there he fell dead. Now the wolves pounded him to a pulp; there with stones they pounded him, and they ground him underfoot, to a pulp. But there they splashed some of his blood into the water, and by that they gave life back to Salmon. Then the wolves took the woman. But they were afraid. “We must take her all the way to the headwaters, there where Salmon can never arrive.” The stubby rattlesnake, too, became frightened and he fled to that which is the most dangerous and inaccessible of bluffs. Now the wolves took the maiden to the headwaters of the river, there

- page 223 –

where the water is very, very clear and where no spawning fish could arrive. Here at the bluff the stubby rattlesnake sang in bravado, “With this, with one single tooth I caused the salmon suddenly to step, a‘hu’; with this, with one single tooth I caused the salmon suddenly to step ‘a hu’.” Thus he, the stubby rattlesnake, sang constantly in bravado while he held his hand on the tooth. But he was afraid. He knew that without fail Salmon would come seeking revenge. And here now Salmon came up the river after a phenomenal recovery to life. “I go now to have revenge.” He came up the river. He would swim along for awhile, then he would go ashore to walk along up the valley. While he was thus walking he saw a lodge with smoke wafting from it. “Let me just go in.” He entered. There sat an old man spinning—it was a spider. Salmon said to him, “Why are you spinning, old man?”—“Oh, just to sew my clothes,” he replied. But Salmon knew well enough what he was doing—that he was making a fish-net. The old man had told him this because from the very beginning he had identified him, by smell, as Salmon. Salmon went outside and said to all the salmon, “You will swarm past here, all of you salmon. You will come to the old man; you will thus take pity on him.” He continued his way up the river. Again, as he went along, he saw a lodge. He entered now as he had done before to find a lively old man spinning, just spinning away. It was Coyote. This spirited old man just whistled as he worked. His nose must have been stopped-up not to have smelled Salmon. Then Salmon said to him, “Old man, why do you spin?” he replied. “Ho, where have you been philandering around devoting your time to women! I’m going to ravage the salmon with my net.”—“Oh, is that so,” replied Salmon. “So be it that you do this.” With this Salmon went outside and said to all the salmon people, “Do not swarm past here, for this old man will ravage you.” Salmon, from there, went along again upstream. Oh, so far he traveled. There he stepped on and broke the meadow-lark’s leg. “Limá, limá limá, and where should I, going along, find my wife!” cried the meadow-lark. “My aunt, inform me. Afterwards I will make a leg of brushwood for you,” Salmon said to her. “Yes. It is just that they live very, very, far upstream, and they are always desperately afraid. They are never off-guard. And the stubbly rattlesnake is likewise always afraid. He fears you. Though he is there where the bluffs are so inexcusably steep that nobody could come upon him he is still frightened. Always, too, he sings in bravado about you.”—“Yes aunt, you have informed me well,” Salmon said to her. Thereupon he made for her a leg of brushwood. He was about to leave her when she gave him some

- page 224 –

flint. “You will deal with him with this. He fears you greatly.” Salmon left her and continued his way upstream. Now he came near the place, for he could see the bluffs. His arrival was unknown. He observed, “Somewhere there he is hiding.” Then he invoked his powers. He talked to himself. “A cloud shall quickly extend across the sky toward the headwaters.” The cloud appeared there. He talked to himself. He invoked, he worked-up his powers. Now the wind blew, and it rained very, very hard. The wind drove the rain into the crevices, swept it among the rocks, and made it muddy inside. Oh, the poor stubby rattlesnake, whose home was in a cave, just lay in the water. The water just poured, not at all mildly. Then suddenly it stopped raining, and the sun shone warm—so pleasantly the sun shone. The stubby rattlesnake hesitantly approached the entrance of his cave and looked outside. “Oh, so good!” He was intensely cold and he thought, “How I wish that I could warm myself in the sunshine.” He became stiff from the cold. Salmon, above, looked for him carefully. “When will he come out? It was right here, meadow-lark told me, that he is in hiding.” At last the stubby rattlesnake thought, “Oh, how possibly, and from where so timely, could Salmon come! I’m going to curl-up in the sunshine outside.” He had a rock in front in the sun. He went out slowly and curled himself. He looked all about. “Whence could he come?” he kept saying to himself but still he was afraid. In a little while he went back inside only to get very cold again. “I’m going outside again,” he decided. But now Salmon had seen him from above. There the stubby rattlesnake lay again, basking so comfortably in the sun. Salmon, above, now pounded and shattered the flint and let it fall on the rattlesnake. The falling fragments of flint just cut, cut, cut into pieces the victim below. Oh, how the stubby rattlesnake writhed in agony. Then Salmon plunged down the cliff, descended dashingly. He came upon him. Now the stubby rattlesnake pleaded, “Nephew, let me live! I will give you my teeth. I will give you the teeth with which I bit you, and with which later you can bite the wolves. Let me remain a person.” Then he went on to inform him, “The wolves are very, very far upstream; at the headwaters where not even you have ever traveled. And they are very much frightened—so much afraid that they do not even go to drink. The woman carries water for them. Thus they are afraid. I do not know how you can avenge yourself.”—“Yes,” Salmon said to him. “Now I am going to spare you.” Then he fitted together all the pieces into which the stubby rattlesnake had been cut, and in turn accepted the set of teeth. Salmon left him and traveled far upstream because it was there, at the far distant

- page 225 –

headwaters, that the wolves were. He arrived. “This is where they are.” The water was very, very clear, and it was a shallow, pebbled beach where hiding oneself would be impossible. There he lay in the water; he tread water. Soon he sensed the approach of someone coming for water. Here just as the woman began to dip up the water Salmon said to her, “Oh, be careful you! You are pulling my hair, you comrade of the wolves.” Oh! She almost plunged in to him, she was so glad to see him. “No, do not plunge in. I am just seeking revenge,” Salmon told her. The woman said, “They will be very, very difficult to deal with. They fear for themselves so much and so constantly. Never, not ever, does their vigilance slacken. Nor do they ever come here to this water.”—“Yes. Then hide me,” Salmon told her. She hid him in a good place, in a place that would be almost impossible to discover. Then Salmon instructed her, “Now bandage your foot, for you must tell them, ‘I was making firewood and I struck my foot; I hit myself.’” The eldest wolf would be the first to arrive, and then one by one until all five had come from the hunt, the youngest arriving last. The woman observed, “I am afraid that we shall be thwarted by the youngest one. He is to be feared. He has a keen sense of smell and keen vision.” But now she bandaged her foot and lay down inside in the lodge. She stayed there. After awhile she heard one arrive. Here the eldest wolf came right in and went straight to the water. Lo! There was none. The wife said to him, “There is no water. Soon after you went out this morning I hit myself at wood-making. Why must you be so afraid! From where could he come? Go, yourself, to drink.” Now the wolf went out and went toward the water. He began to stare at it, to stare at the river. He would take a step forward and then stare again at the water. Thus, slowly, he approached the water. There he would almost thrust his head down to the water, then he would shy away—throw his head back in fright. He would look into the water but he could see nothing. The woman, at the lodge, unwrapped her foot and peeped at him from within. She saw the wolf, at last, thrust his head forward to the water and drink. At that moment he suddenly threw himself backwards. Salmon had bit him on the mouth with the stubby rattlesnake’s teeth. Oh, he just writhed away in mortal agony, and suddenly fell dead. The woman ran over to him quickly and hid his body. Then she hid Salmon again and obliterated all the footprints. She bandaged her foot and lay down again. Now she heard another one approaching. He came in. “Where is the water?”—“There is none. This morning I hit myself and I was not able to go after water,” the woman replied. “Where is the other one?”

- page 226 –

the wolf asked. “He is not here,” she replied. “But there are footprints of his coming!” insisted the wolf. “Nevertheless he has not arrived. Why are you so much afraid! You yourself, go to drink.” Now the wolf went along in fear, and began to stare at the water even from afar. He approached slowly. He stared strongly. At last he thrust his head to the water. Then he went backwards, writhed away in agony, and fell dead. The woman, as she had done before, dragged the body away and hid it, then hid Salmon and obliterated the tracks. In the same manner as before she bandaged her foot and lay down. Now the third wolf arrived. They killed him as they had the other two. They did the same to the fourth wolf. Then the woman said to Salmon, “He, the youngest, is to be feared. There is no way to kill him; he will escape us, inevitably he will. He is altogether too powerful.” But she confined herself again. Presently she heard him approach. The youngest wolf walked in noiselessly. “Where is the water? Where is the water?” The youngest one was very spirited. “There is none. This morning I hit myself and was unable to fetch water,” the woman replied. “Where are the others?”—“They are not here yet?”—“But their footprints are there, footprints of their coming this way,” the wolf insisted. “Nevertheless they are not here yet,” said the woman. Now the wolf went out. Right from the first he began to stare ahead. He stared intently as he advanced, he scrutinized everything as he approached. He came to the water. He stared at it, he gazed most intently at it, and then he even bent his head down. But, at once, he threw back his head. Oh, he leaped away, backwards. The woman saw him from the lodge. “He has discovered him!” The woman now ran forward and plunged into the water. And there they were, the two, suddenly treading water. (She had become a salmon.) And now the youngest wolf ran on, ran away, yelping, “hu’, hu’,” as he sped along.

- page 227 –

Reading the Region Home

Texts by and about Natives: Main

Texts by and about Natives: Commentary

Texts by and about Natives: Texts

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest