Native American Legends
The Elk Spirit of Lost Lake
A Wasco Legend
In the days of our grandfathers, a young warrior named Plain Feather
lived near Mount Hood. His guardian spirit was a great elk. The
great elk taught Plain Feather so well that he knew the best places
to look for every kind of game and became the most skillful hunter
in his tribe.
Again and again his guardian spirit said to him, "Never kill
more than you can use. Kill only for your present need. Then there
will be enough for all."
Plain Feather obeyed him. He killed only for food, only what he
needed. Other hunters in his tribe teased him for not shooting for
fun, for not using all his arrows when he was out on a hunt. But
Plain Feather obeyed the great elk.
Smart Crow, one of the old men of the tribe, planned in his bad
heart to make the young hunter disobey his guardian spirit. Smart
Crow pretended that he was one of the wise men and that he had had
In the vision, he said, the Great Spirit had told him that the
coming winter would be long and cold. There would be much snow.
"Kill as many animals as you can," said Smart Crow to
the hunters of the tribe. "We must store meat for the winter."
The hunters, believing him, went to the forest and meadows and
killed all the animals they could. Each man tried to be the best
hunter in the tribe. At first Plain Feather would not go with them,
but Smart Crow kept saying, "The Great Spirit told me that
we will have a hard winter. The Great Spirit told me that we must
get our meat now."
Plain Feather thought that Smart Crow was telling the truth. So
at last he gave in and went hunting along the stream now called
Hood River. First he killed deer and bears. Soon he came upon five
bands of elk and killed all but one, which he wounded.
Plain Feather did not know that this was his guardian elk, and
when the wounded animal hurried away into the forest, Plain Feather
followed. Deeper and deeper into the forest and into the mountains
he followed the elk tracks.
At last he came to a beautiful little lake. There, lying in the
water not far from the shore, was the wounded elk. He heard a voice
say clearly, "Draw him in." And something drew Plain Feather
closer to the wounded elk.
"Draw him in," the voice said again. And again Plain
Feather was drawn closer to the great elk. At last he lay beside
it. "Why did you disobey me?" asked the elk. "All
around you are the spirits of the animals you have killed. I will
no longer be your guardian. You have disobeyed me and slain my friends."
Then the voice which had said, "Draw him in," said, "Cast
him out." And the spirits cast the hunter out of the water,
onto the shore of the lake.
Weary in body and sick at heart, Plain Feather dragged himself
to the village where his tribe lived. Slowly he entered his teepee
and sank upon the ground. "I am sick," he said. "I
have been in the dwelling place of the lost spirits. And I have
lost my guardian spirit, the great elk. He is in the lake of the
Then he lay back and died. Ever after, the Indians called that
lake the Lake of the Lost Spirits. Beneath its calm blue waters
are the spirits of thousands of the dead. On its surface is the
face of Mount Hood, which stands as a monument to the lost spirits.
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