The following is a paraphrase of the story as it is recorded by Ella E. Clark in Indian Legends of the Northern Rockies.
(A west side glacial story)
In the very earliest times, Amotken, The Creative High Mystery, gave part of the North Crow Creek Canyon of the Mission Range to Thunderbird. Coyote was forbidden to enter the area and so Thunderbird was free to raise her young in peace. It was in the canyon that she gave birth to her three daughters: Bluejay, Crow, and Magpie.
Thunderbird was happy to let her friends from the Bitterroot Valley hunt and gather in the canyon. If bad weather was approaching from the East Pass, Thunderbird would make deep growling noises to warn her friends away. After many, many years of this friendly arrangement, a careless hunter neglected to put out his campfire and a huge fire destroyed all life in Thunderbird’s beautiful canyon. With no trees and vegetation to hold the water, even the little creek dried up.
Thunderbird was understandably extremely upset about this careless act, and she was determined to punish the Salish people. She invited the cold Northeast Wind to drive the people back to the Bitterroot. The Northeast Wind set up permanent camp in the East Pass. He blew his frosty breath into the Salish country for many endless winters. The great lake of the Salish people froze to the bottom and all the animals were driven with the people to the Bitterroot Valley where they shivered with the cold. Even Thunderbird’s daughters: Bluejay, Crow and Magpie followed the people to the south. Alas, the plants were unable to move on their own and they withered away and died.
Finally, after many, many winters the heart of Thunderbird was softened. She grew lonely; she missed her daughters, the other animals, and even the people. Thunderbird went to the Northeast Wind and asked him to leave. Thunderbird said, “The People have suffered enough now. Perhaps if you leave my daughters will come back to visit me”.
Reluctantly, the Northeast Wind left the East Pass and returned to his home. A wandering scout was startled by the sudden stillness to the north and rushed to tell the chief of the Salish who was huddled with his people around the Sleeping Child Hot Springs. “Northeast Wind no longer blows and from the north one can hear a gentle rumbling as if Thunderbird were weeping."
The chief was very pleased and told his people to prepare to move to the north again. He asked Coyote if he knew of a way to please Thunderbird so that she might hasten the warming of the old country. Coyote, was still upset that Amotken had forbidden him to enter North Crow Creek Canyon, and refused to help.
Bluejay had always loved the Salish people, and longing to see her mother, offered to help. She flew to the west and asked her friend Chinook Wind to help her friends return to their old hunting grounds. Chinook Wind, always warm and kind, readily agreed to go and warm the valley. “Show me the way my little friend”, he whispered and away they flew.
When they finally reached the little canyon beneath the Mission Range, Chinook Wind settled in for a long steady blow. His warm moist breath melted the thick ice and, as it receded, beautiful flowers and long grasses sprouted up along its margin. Soon there were trees once again in the Mission Valley.
Thunderbird was pleased and asked Bluejay what she could give to her to show her gratitude.
“In the future, Dear Mother”, Bluejay said, “Do not get so angry. It is not right that the considerate people should suffer for the offenses of the careless."
Though the Northeast Wind returns to the East Pass each winter to remind us to live a thoughtful life, he always returns to his home when the Chinook Wind comes back to stay in the spring. For that we can thank Bluejay and a mother’s love.
This story gives a fascinating mythical account that closely parallels the physical events as they occurred during the Ice Age. Humans in North America did not see fluctuations as dramatic as the above story indicates but some of the traditions assume that humans had been part of the landscape almost forever.
Last updated: February 24, 2015