American Indian cultures
What's new on our site today!
A Haida Eagle Story
This version of the legend comes from J.R. Swanton's 1905 collection Haida Texts and Myths.
The storyteller was identified as Charlie Edenshaw, chief of the StA'stas, a prominent Masset family of the Eagle Clan.
At Laltg'iwas, near Skida'ns, lived a chief and his sister, who had a son. This young man loved the chief's wife. When the chief discovered this he became jealous and thought of killing his nephew. He sent his slaves to fetch gum. The slaves went and bought a canoe load of gum, which the chief boiled. Then he covered the board which covers the bow of the canoe with the gum. After this was done he sent his slaves to shoot eagles, and he spread the down over the gum so as to make it invisible. After he had thus prepared his canoe he called his nephew. His slaves went into his house to call him. He obeyed their summons, and went to his uncle's house, who requested him to go out to sea, hunting. The young man took his quiver, which contained two bows and many arrows. The young man asked his uncle: " What kind of a blanket shall I wear when I go hunting?" Then the chief gave him two marten blankets. He continued: "What kind of ear ornament shall I wear when I go hunting?" His uncle gave him ear ornaments made of caribou skin.
When the weather was clear and calm he started hunting seals. Before they started the chief said to his slaves: "When he harpoons a seal push him so that he will fall on the board in the bow of the canoe. He will stick to it, and then throw him overboard." They went out to sea, and, when the young man was about to harpoon a seal, the slave pushed him so that he fell down on the board. He was unable to free himself because the gum was holding him. Then the slaves took the board, threw it overboard, and returned home. They said that the young man had fallen overboard and that they had been unable to save him. Then all the people were sad.
The young man drifted about on the sea, and the wind drifted the board ashore near a town. He crawled up toward the houses, but, when the sun was shining warmly, the gum softened, and he was able to free himself. He dried his blankets in the warm sunshine.
Now he heard two women singing. Their voices were very beautiful. After a while they approached him. They were very beautiful. They addressed him, saying: "We know that your uncle is jealous of you, and therefore he ordered his slaves to throw you into the sea. Accompany us to our father's country. It is not far from here. We will look after you." Then he accompanied them, and soon they arrived at a large town. One of the girls was the chief's daughter, while the other one was her slave. She was the daughter of the Eagle.
Now they entered the chief's house. He was offered a seat and was given to eat. The chief was glad to see him. The girl's mother, whose name was G.otso'na, was very old. She was quite bald. Early every morning the Eagles went out hunting whales. When they returned they gave the whales to the old woman. One day the youth desired to accompany the hunters. He said to his wife: "Tell your father that I wish to see how he hunts whales." The young woman told her father, who replied: " Here is an eagle skin. Give it to your husband." He put it on and flew out with the Eagles. Before he started, the old woman warned him, saying: "Don't try to catch a clam. Its head looks just like that of a sea otter. A long time ago one of our hunters tried to catch it, and it drowned him. For this reason we are afraid of it."
They went out to sea and saw many whales. The young man caught one. He did not And it difficult to lift it. The eagle skin which he had on was one the chief had used when he was a young man. For that reason it made him very strong. In the evening they returned, and he gave his whale to the old woman. He was so eager to go out again whaling that he was unable to sleep. Early next morning he started and continued to catch whales. Thus he continued to do for many years. The old woman warned him frequently, saying: "Don't try to catch that small black animal whose head looks like that of a sea otter."
One morning, when he started, he thought: "To-day I shall try to catch two whales, one in each hand." When he saw two whales he swooped down and took one in each talon. He did not find them too heavy and carried them home. He gave them to the old woman. When he found that he was strong enough to lift two whales, he thought he would be able to conquer the animal of which the old woman had warned him. He started early in the morning, and, as soon as he saw the clam, he swooped down on it and succeeded in lifting it. But soon he felt his strength leaving him, and he began to sink down lower and lower. Now the clam had dragged him down to the surface of the water. Then one of the Eagles came to his assistance. He took hold of his wings and tried to pull him up, but in vain. The clam pulled him down. Another Eagle came to their help, but they were unable to overcome the clam. All the whale hunters came to their assistance, but all of them we're dragged down under the water.
Now only one of the Eagles was left. He returned home and told the old woman what had happened. Then she said: " Ngai, ngai, ngai!" She sharpened her nails and put on her skin, which looked very old and ragged. Now she was an old Eagle, who had lost many feathers. She flew out to sea, and sang: " Why did my son-in-law disobey me? Ngai, ngai, ngai!" When she came to the place where the clam had drowned the Eagles, she saw the wings of one Eagle only, above the surface of the water. She took hold of them and tried to lift them. She was almost dragged under water; but gradually she began to rise. She tried three times. The fourth time she succeeded in raising the Eagle. Again she sang: "Why did my son-in-law disobey me? Ngai, ngai, ngai!" Then she heard a noise underwater, "Ox!" Then she lifted all the Eagles, and took them back home.
Now the young man resolved to take revenge on the people who had killed him. He put on his eagle skin and flew to his uncle's village. There he alighted on the top of a tree. When the people saw him they attempted to shoot him, because they were desirous of obtaining the Eagle's feathers for winging their arrows; but they were unable to hit him. Now his uncle's son attempted to shoot him. At once he swooped down, grasped him, and carried him upward. One of the men of the village tried to hold the boy, but he also was lifted upward; and thus he raised all the men of the village. He carried them out to sea and dropped them into the water, where they were drowned.
The young man continued to live there for many years, but finally he became homesick. He did not laugh and stayed at home all the time. Then the old woman asked her daughter: "Why is your husband sad?" His wife replied: " He wishes to return to his uncle's village." Then the old woman gave him the skin of the bird t'En. [It has a red throat, and is eaten by the whites]. He put it on and flew back. The village was entirely deserted, because he had killed all the people. Only his two younger sisters remained, who had been hidden at the time of his former visit. They were crying all the time. When they saw the bird they made a noose of their own hair, and he allowed himself to be caught.
More stories to read:
Native American eagle legends
Stories about jealousy
Stories about family
Learn more about:
The Haida language
The Haida people
Back to the American Indian legend page
Buy some Native American Indian books
Apache Indians in Texas
Red Indian pictures
Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?
Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2020 Contacts and FAQ page