Texts by and about Natives: Texts

6. Ella Clark, "Thunder and His Son-in-Law"

“Thunder and His Son-in-Law,” in Ella Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953), 165-67.

Testing a suitor or a son-in-law is a frequent motif in the myths of many peoples. The following story is told by the Quinault.

Thunder’s daughter wanted to marry a young man named Sisemo. Thunder thought Sisemo was worthless, and he did not like his family either. So he decided to give the young man some difficult tasks to do.

“Go up to the mountains,” he commanded, “and bring me snow from five mountaintops.”

Sisemo went to the mountains, came back with a handful of snow, and gave it to Thunder. Thunder was angry because there was so little snow. He scolded and scolded.

“Eat it and see,” said Sisemo. “You will find that there is plenty.”

Thunder ate and ate the snow, but still there was as much as ever. Then Thunder was angry because Sisemo had got the better of him. In a

- page 165 –

rage, he threw the remaining snow outdoors. But the handful spread and soon covered the ground and the house and trees.

“Take it back to the mountains,” begged Thunder. “Take it back where you found it.”

Sisemo picked up the snow—it became only a handful—and carried it back to the five mountains.

When he reached home again, Thunder gave him another task.

“Go to the mountains,” he commanded, “and bring me two mountain lions. I want them for pets.”

Soon the young man came back from the woods with two mountain lions tied together. He gave them to Thunder, but when Thunder began to play with them, they began to fight him. They tore at him and bit him until he was nearly dead.

“Take them away, Sisemo,” begged Thunder. “Take them back to the mountains.”

As soon as Sisemo came near them, they were quiet. Quietly they returned with him to the mountains. When the young man got home again, Thunder had recovered from the struggle with the lions and was ready with a third task.

“Go up to the mountains,” he commanded, “and bring me two bears. I want them for pets.”

Soon Sisemo came back from the mountains with two bears tied together. He gave them to Thunder, but when Thunder tried to play with them, they rose on their hind legs and fought him. Remembering his struggle with the mountain lions, he became frightened and ordered Sisemo to take the bears back.

When the young man returned home, Thunder said to him, “Come to the woods with me and help me split a cedar log.”

In the forest, Thunder picked out a long, heavy log. He split one end of it and put in his wedges. Then he said to Sisemo, “Get into the cleft in the log and hold its sides apart.”

The young man obeyed. As soon as he was in the split part of the log, Thunder took out his wedges. Sisemo was caught inside the big log.

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Thunder. “Now I have you. Get out of there if you can.”

Chuckling to himself, Thunder left the woods and went home. But hardly had he entered the house when he heard footsteps behind him. He listened. Almost as once he heard someone throw something heavy beside the house. Thunder opened the door. There was Sisemo, beside the great log. He had carried it in from the woods. Thunder was so surprised he hardly knew what the next task should be.

At last he commanded, “Go down to the Underworld. There you will find a ball of light which the Underworld people like to play with. They

- page 166 –

roll it and make lightning with it. I want you to get the ball and bring it to me.”

Sisemo went down to the Underworld and there saw the people playing with the ball of lightning. They saw him too and would not let him get near the ball. Sisemo changed himself into smoke, but the Underworld people could still see him. He changed himself into fog, but the people still could see him. They guarded the ball, though they kept on playing with it, rolling it from one group to another.

At last Sisemo changed himself into something they could not see. No one knows what it was. He put himself between the two groups rolling the ball. When it came near him, he picked it up and dashed away to the trail that leads to the upper world.

As Sisemo ran, the Underworld began to grow dark. The people made torches of pitchwood and followed Sisemo by the light of their torches. He ran, but they ran faster. They might have caught him if he had not been helped by Thunder and his friends.

As Sisemo neared the Upper World, Thunder and his friends got water and poured it down upon the people below. The water put out their torches, so they gave up and went back. Sisemo reached home safely with the ball of lightning.

“You have done well, my son,” said Thunder at last. “You may marry my daughter. I will not trouble you any more.”

Thunder held the ball of light in his hands and looked at it with pride. Then he gave parts of it to his friends. He gave some of it to Hummingbird for its throat, some to Robin for its breast, some to Woodpecker for its crest. He gave some to all the birds and all the animals that now have red on their feathers or on their furs.

But most of it he kept for himself. He put it under his own arms. Whenever Thunder is angry, he raises his wings and shows us his lightning there. His scolding is the thunder which we hear today.

- page 167 –

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