Native American Legends
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
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
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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