Indian Mythology | Stillaguamish Mythology

The Fire War


(Legend Telling How Indians Obtained Fire)

Long time ago Indian, hee's got trouble all the time; hees got no fire to cook meat and make warm. Suppose you like to hear how Indian got some fire?

This time, long time ago, animal just same way like man. He talk, everybody understand. Fur and skin he put on and take off just like coat. Same way everybody-animals, birds and fish. Well, this time everybody talk all the time bout fire. He say: This way we make cook and warm, he's no good. First we put stuff in basket and then all dance around in ring long time. Everybody make very tired. Don't feel good to eat. Now this time one day a Grizzly he make big talk and say: "We got to catch some fire. Make everybody all over come to this big meeting place and make big talk bout fire.

Then he send some fellows all over tell everybody to come to this place, and everybody come-Stikiou (Wolf) Shweet-lai (Goat) S'beau (Fox) and everybody little and big.

Now, this very big meeting. First they talk, best talker for bear, for elk, for wolf, for everybody, and say: "This way we get cook meat and keep warm now is no good." Then best talker like lawyer in white man's court say: "We know where is fire up in the sky by fire people. You can see all over little fire and big fire-chosad (Stars). We got to make way to catch this fire. Maybe make war for fire with fire people. Then all best talkers he say we got to shoot arrows up there to catch fire. Then all best shooters from bear, from wolf, from goat, from beaver, from everybody come up on high place try shoot down fire. Hees try and try, but can't make good shoot.

This time S'beau (Fox) he start to run around. (You know fox; hee's all time run round and round all over). Well bye and bye he find little fellow, Stilpakad (Wren) come drag long bow and arrow. S'beau think this very funny. He stop and say: "Hello, you; what you little fellow drag those long bow and arrow for?" Stilpakad says, "To shoot." S'beau say, "Oh you too small for that long bow." Stilpakad say, "You can run far away, I can shoot you." So S'beau he run maybe one, maybe two mile away. Bye and bye long arrow come and shoot him right through. S'beau bees surprise and run to big meeting place and say: "You hear; I find best shooter of everybody," and he tells his story. Everybody he think S'beau hees not talk straight. But he say, you see this arrow hees shoot me through, I want help to hull out, and you send policeman with me to see and bring this fellow in. So plenty policeman go along and S'beua show the way. When they come and talk to this fellow Stilpakad and tell him to come, he say: "I can't do this big thing."

This time his grandmother, Kle-atlad, walked to the shooting place. When Stilpakad get up on high place he say: "You want me, little fellow, do too much big thing." His grandmother say: "You shoot, I help you," and she climbed up by his leg and pointed her hand to place to shoot. Stilpakad raise his bow and arrow four times and then shoot. Kle-atlad she hit her hands together this way quick, quick, quick long time, and arrow go up, up, up and Stick fast up by firepeople. He hang up there. Well now hees got some place to shoot for; then he make shoot many, many times, one arrow after the other. This reach clear to ground; then Kle-atlad climb first, and make sticky place to walk on, then Te-ke-te-katch (Woodpecker) climb up and make little rough place for other fellow to climb on, then everybody begin to climb. Sta-ku (the Beaver), he want to make good work and get fire. He climb fast; bye and bye he come to top and see fire. He jump off and make big run for fire. Fire people see him and start to make fight. Beaver, he get hit hard. Fire people think hees dead, but beaver bees not dead; bees smart fellow. Some fire people begin to skin beaver. First bees skin one side then when he roll over to skin other side, beaver make skin stick on again. When he is pretty near skinned all over, fire people see Te-ke-te-katch and other fellows come up, they run to make war and leave beaver. Then beaver he jump up quick, make all his skin stick on, and catch some fire in his hands, inside fingers, and make quick run for ladder. Now this time some fellow got plenty trouble down by middle of ladder, grizzly bear first and black bear behind. Black bear he look up and see grizzly, and he say: "Gurr urugg, you look bad, you look bad behind." Grizzly he say: "What is the matter with you; spose you go before." When black bear get first, grizzly look up and say: "Grou, Orrff, you look bad, you look bad behind." Now they make bad talk and start bad trouble and fight and ladder make big brake, and everybody and everything fall down; everybody come down all over, fish in water, animals on land, bird in air. Well this fellow, Staku, hees make big jump and come down in soft place and run to cottonwood and put fire in dry root. This place Indian find fire.

The Great Medicine Meeting

After years of training from boyhood up the Indian youth at the age of 18 or 20 went out to seek his guiding spirit or tamanois. He would go into the hills and fast for three or more days, when he would be bodily clean and in the proper state of mind and body for the tamanois to enter. The youth might wish for skill in hunting, shrewdness and luck in gambling, protection against fire, death from knife wounds etc., but the greatest was to be either big man in councils or good tamanois doctor.

With some tribes the youth seeking his tamanois might dive in a lake. Closing his eyes and staying under water a long time tamanois would come and show him like a picture his fortune in life, sometimes pointing out herds of elk, deer, bear and other animals if his tamanois would make him a good

With other tribes he would stay until his tamanois would come. If this fortune was the gift of healing he would get a song that was magic. It so happened about three generations ago. A young man on the Chu-gualitch (the Skagit) became possessed with a powerful spirit of healing. People all over found out about him and his good tamanois. One day he sent out a call for a Speego-dilolh, a meeting similar to the Sque-que or Potlatch, except that its main purpose was to heal the sick, gain new recruits for the good tamanois and so strengthen the faith of the weak.

Runners carried the summons up the Skagit, the Sauk and the Suiattle, down the Skagit to he lowland around Sedro. With the returning runners came the people in the canoes carrying food, mats and poles for camps, even fire wood. For days they came until the riverbank for a quarter mile was one unbroken row of canoes. Some brought Cha-hwadi, the little magic stick, a wand about two feet long, used in the medicine dance. It was sometimes used to beat time to the singing, also during the dance held with both hands straight out in front. During the singing these sticks would quiver and shake, leading its bearer into the circle of dancers. If doubters and scoffers were present they would be given a wand, and if upon feeling its magic they believed, all was well; but if they still doubted, the wand would pull its victim out of doors to a pond or river where there was muddy bottom. Head first he would dive with the stick in his hands, later to be found stuck in the mud and drowned. Sometimes the doubter would jump right into a fire and be burned to death.

Another stick that was used in the Speego-dilolh was the Tusted, a slender pole about 10 or 12 feet long, made of split fir or cedar. On the top end slightly bigger was a tassle of finely shredded cedar bark. If the doctor, or the man possessed of strong healing tamanois had a good tamanois song, he could make these poles vibrate with it, and its bearer would dance with vigor and the spirit-power would drive all bad tamanois away and spread strength and healing to the whole assembly. At this Speego-dilolh on the Chu-gwalitch the young man who had called it together was possessed by a tamanois who knew where could be found the magic saplings from which the Sko-deelitch could be made. This was the hoop made of a sapling of vinemaple or other pliable wood, about 4 or 5 feet long. This was bent into a hoop, the ends crossed, leaving handles about 8 inches long to hold it by. Around the hoop on the outside was a fringe of fine, fuzzy cedar bark tied on with goat hair twine.

The young man selected six men to go in search of the young trees. He did not know where they grew, but his tamanois aid, and they would be known to the searchers by their unnatural twisting and swaying motion when seen. The men hunted for hours and hours without success. But there were two small boys also out hunting; one of them heard a strange noise in the brush down a hillside. He warily approached the noise and saw a clump of vine maples twisting together like a rope, and swaying violently from side to side. He yelled and called to the searchers to come, saying that he had found the magic saplings. It took them some time to come. Meanwhile he called the other little boy and they grabbed the little trees, trying to hold them, but they were flung around by the trees and nearly exhausted when the men arrived. The knives were brought out and while two men held each little sapling, the third would try to cut it down. All the knives were nearly used up before the three of them were cut down. Next they cut off the tops. Then, two men to each stick, they were carried down hill to the camp, the sticks continually exerting their magic. Upon entering the canoe the men discovered that they did not have to paddle or pole; they held up the sticks and the canoe slid swiftly through the water, straight for the encampment and went half a canoe length on shore before it stopped. The sticks were made into hoops and performed wonders under the direction of the tamanois of healing.

This was a great Speego-dilolh and is spoken of to this day by many tribes. The young man lived long and was often sought in sickness and trouble.

This was told by an old man who was one of the boys who found the magic saplings.

The Street-Athls

All over Skagit and parts of Whatcom and Snohomish counties, the Indians used at times to be greatly worried about a mysterious tribe of wild Indians, who lived way up in the mountains back of Mt. Baker. Nobody had ever seen their homes. They traveled all over the country by night and lived by thievery. They knew everything about the other tribes. Those who offered resistance to them they would pester and harass at every opportunity. Many Indians were very careful when traveling at night for fear of the Steet-athls.

Their tracks were sometimes seen in the snow. One way of finding out if they frequented a certain locality was to set up a stick in a fresh mound of dirt. If the stick was knocked down and no tracks found in the dirt, the Steet-athls had surely been there. If the sticks were undisturbed the place was safe.

The Steet-athls talked and signaled to each other like the lithe birds, whistling and chirping. One Indian said to me that he had heard them around and wishing to avoid trouble he called out: My roothouse door is open, my smokehouse door is open, you can come and help yourself. They helped themselves to a little and left. Since then he has never been bothered.

The Chugualitch (proper name for Skagit, especially the county from the junction of the Sauk and on down to Sedro ; Skagit is a place near Coupville) were on bad terms with them, and many a time some member of the tribe has suddenly disappeared never to return.

A party of hunters once saw a Steet-athl sitting on a rock in a little mountain stream way up Ruby creek. When he saw the hunters he jumped up and ran away up the mountain and disappeared in a hole. The Steet-athls are now getting weak, soon they will all be dead and gone.


Tsahlbilt, the stronghouse keeper, was a respected man-big, strong and wise. All the Indians between Kee-kee-alos (the delta of the Skagit) Chigos (the highlands of Camano), Quadsak (the lowlands around Stanwood), Splaidid (Warm Beach) and the Upper Stoluckquamislr, knew him. He had good medicine to keep raiders away. At the junction of a slough with the river, just east of the present town of Stanwood, was built the stronghouse-big logs for walls and long, thick slabs for roof. Around the house was a deep trench with a lot of sharp pointed stakes in the bottom. Over this trench was laid a network of sticks, on top of the sticks a layer of turf-a fine trap for an attacking enemy, but easy of access for one who knew the right place to step. In this house was kept blankets, fine baskets, hiaqua, etc., and Tsahlbilt was its keeper. It sometimes happened that Sklalams and King George Indians came in big raiding parties to capture slaves and take what they could of valuables. Highly priced were goat hair blankets. Once a party of fine strange men attacked the stronghouse; three fell in the pit and the two others had to retreat, and went wailing down the river in their canoe. The keeper pulled the others out of the trench and threw them into the river. They floated down stream and were never seen again. In those days there was an abundance of fish, fowl and game, and although there were great numbers of Indians it was seldom that anyone went hungry. After Tsahlbilt retired from his job, he built himself a home near a slough at the point of the hill near Spliadid, where he lived to be a very old man. He always wore his hair long; for clothes he used the skins of ducks, sewed together with the down inside, sometimes as a long coat with short sleeves, sometimes as hurt-legged trousers, using a blanket as coat.

For fish he set traps, generally a row of stakes across a slough or stream with pockets out of which the fish could not escape. For ducks he strung strong nets of cedar root twine across the slough below a row of stakes. The ducks would dive and come up under these nets and get caught in the meshes. Muskrats he shot with bow and arrow. With an abundance of berries in the nearby hills, clams in the beach and some edible roots Tsahlbilt lived well.

Then came the white man with his guns and scared the game away with its big noise, also took the land. Tsahlbilt didn't charge, he was thoroughly Indian.

Stillaguamish Mythology

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied .

ndian Stories and Legends of the Stillaguamish and Allied Tribes



Indian Myths and Legends

Indian Genealogy

Indian Gifts

Heirloom Native American seeds packaged for giving. Navajo Blue Corn, Bloody Butcher Corn, Greasy Beans, Cherokee Purple Tomato, Cheese Pumpkin, Sonoran Mild Chile, Navajo Red Seeded Watermelon, Hopi Black Pinto Beans.
Order now for Spring planting!!


Submit Data/Comments


Add/Correct a Link

Copyright Indian Mythology, 2006