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How the Beaver stole fire from the Pines

A Nez Perce Legend

Once, before there were any people in the world, the different animals and trees lived and moved about and talked together just like human beings.

The pine trees had the secret of fire and guarded it jealously, so that no matter how cold it was, they alone could warm themselves.

At length an unusually cold winter came, and all the animals were in danger of freezing to death. But all their attempts to discover the pines' secret were in vain, until Beaver at last hit upon a plan.

At a certain place on the Grande Ronde River in Idaho, the pines were about to hold a great council. They had built a large fire to warm themselves after bathing in the icy water, and sentinels were posted to prevent intruders from stealing their fire secret.

But Beaver had hidden under the bank near the fire before the sentries had taken their places, and when a live coal rolled down the bank, he seized it, hid it in his breast, and ran away as fast as he could.

The pines immediately raised a hue and cry and started after him. Whenever he was hard pressed, Beaver darted from side to side to dodge his pursuers, and when he had a good start, he kept a straight course.

The Grande Ronde River preserves the direction Beaver took in his flight, and this is why it is tortuous in some parts of its course and straight in others.

After running for a long time, the pines grew tired. So most of them halted in a body on the river banks, where they remain in great numbers to this day, forming a growth so dense that hunters can hardly get through.

A few pines kept chasing Beaver, but they finally gave out one after another, and they remain scattered at intervals along the banks of the river in the places where they stopped.

There was one cedar running in the forefront of the pines, and although he despaired of capturing Beaver, he said to the few trees who were still in the chase, "We can't catch him,but I'll go to the top of the hill yonder and see how far ahead he is."

So he ran to the top of the hill and saw Beaver just diving into Big Snake River where the Grande Ronde enters it. Further pursuit was out of the question.

The cedar stood and watched Beaver dart across Big Snake River and give fire to some willows on the opposite bank, and re-cross farther on and give fire to the birches, and so on to several other kinds of trees.

Since then, all who have wanted fire have got it from these particular trees, because they have fire in them and give it up readily when their wood is rubbed together in the ancient way.

Cedar still stands alone on the top of the hill where he stopped, near the junction of the Grande Ronde and Big Snake rivers. He is very old, so old that his top is dead, but he still stands as a testament to the story's truth.

That the chase was a very long one is shown by the fact that there are no cedars within a hundred miles up stream from him. The old people point him out to the children as they pass by.

"See," they say, "here is old Cedar standing in the very spot where he stopped chasing Beaver."

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