- The Third Poem in my Native American Series -
“In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the
animals, for The One Above did not speak directly to man. He sent
certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beast,
and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon should man learn.”
Eagle Chief, Pawnee
A long, long time ago
In the land of the people called the Quileute
Pounding rain and hail and sleet and snow came
And the cruel frigid Arctic winds blew and blew
Gigantic hailstones were so powerful
That many Quileute people were killed
The survivors were now starving and weak
To go on living many had now lost their will
These new fierce never ending coastal storms
Had beaten down and destroyed all of their crops
None of the Quileute men could fish the coastal rivers
Thick impenetrable ice the waters had now clogged
Fishing in the ocean was also now impossible
The waves were now pounding and relentless
The young children began dying of starvation
The Quileute’s new hell seemed to be endless
At last the Chief of the Quileute people
Cried out to the Great Spirit one day
“Please help my people to survive,
Please send us a sign, I now fervently pray.”
“And if it is not Your will that we live,
All of our people will perish this day,
Our future is now up to You, Great Spirit,
Please let us know what you have to say.”
Suddenly there came a very frightening booming noise
And gigantic flashes of white lightning filled the night sky
The Quileute people fearfully looked to the heavens
And saw a gigantic feathered creature soaring high
This bird was enormous with red burning eyes
Its wings looked like some sort of feathered sail
And in its two massive razor sharp claws
It held the body of a gigantic black whale
Suddenly this Thunderbird sent from the Great Spirit
Deposited this huge whale on the sand near the raging sea
Then it quickly and silently lifted off again and took flight
The people had been saved – their hearts now filled with glee
Thunderbird and Whale had truly saved the Quileute from death
And they have never forgotten this great gift sent from the Creator
Today they still reverently construct gigantic wooden Thunderbird Totems
To remind future generations of their native children who will be born later
©2005, Ed Kostro
The Quileute tribe's ancestry reaches all the way back to the Ice Age, which would make them the most ancient inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. Their dialect is part of the Chimakuan language family tree.
These ancient native coast dwellers raised crops, hunted, and fished; and they skillfully built cedar canoes that ranged in capacity from two-man crafts to vessels capable of carrying 6,000 pounds of weight.
Extended families of Quileutes resided in long winter houses at the mouths of streams. During the summer, they often disbanded into smaller units, some heading upriver to summer hunting camps.
Quileutes relied upon, and were answerable to, many supernatural powers. Their youngsters searched for personal spiritual guardians on individual ‘spirit quests.’ The First-Salmon ceremony of each new fishing season was diligently held to ensure the salmon spirit's good will, and other similar rituals addressed many other supernatural powers.
The Quileute people remained isolated from outside contact until American ship captain Robert Gray arrived on the northwest Pacific coast in May 1792 and soon took up trading with them. There also are numerous accounts of shipwrecked Spanish explorers who lived with them.
Every time that I’ve visited our scenic northwest coast, I’ve always thorough enjoyed searching for these truly fascinating Thunderbird Totems – you never know where you might spot one.
And many believe that this ancient benevolent Thunderbird sent by the Great Spirit so long ago still lives on today – in a deep dark cave in Washington State’s Olympic Mountains, patiently biding his time – until he is needed once again.