Heart of the Monster Legend

There is a creation story at the center of every culture. For the nimí·pu·, or Nez Perce, the story of their people begins at the landmark near present day Kamiah, Idaho called timʼné•pe, or Heart of the Monster, where coyote (known as Iceye'ye to the nimí·pu·) killed a monster who was eating all of the animals.

 
photo of a rock outcropping with bushes framing the foreground and a taller plateau in the background.
The heart of the monster that Iceye-ye killed can still be seen near Kamiah, Idaho today.

NPS photo

 

Iceye'ye (pronounced 'it-see-yi-yi') was building a fish ladder at Celilo [Falls,Oregon]. He was busy at this when someone shouted to him, “Why are you bothering with that? All of the people are gone” “Well,” said Iceye'ye to himself, “then I’ll stop doing this because I was doing it for the people, and now I’ll go along too.

From there he went along upstream, by way of the Salmon River country. Along the way he took a good bath saying to himself, “Lest I make myself repulsive to his taste,” and then dressed himself all up, “Lest he will vomit me up or spit me out.”

There he tied himself with rope to three mountains. From there he came along up and over the ridges. Suddenly, he saw a great head. He quickly hid himself in the grass and gazed at it. Never before in his life had he seen anything like it; never such a large thing – away off somewhere melting into the horizon was its gigantic body. Iceye'ye shouted to him, “Oh Monster we are going to inhale each other!” The big eyes of the monster roved around looking all over for Iceye'ye but did not find him, because Iceye'ye’s body was painted with clay to achieve a perfect protective coloring in the grass. Iceye'ye had on his back a pack consisting of five stone knives, some pure pitch, and a flint fire making set. Presently Iceye'ye shook the grass to and fro and shouted again, “Monster! We are going to inhale each other.” Powerfully and noisily he drew in his first breath and the great monster just swayed and quivered. Then Iceye'ye said, “Now you inhale me, for already you have swallowed all the people, so swallow me too lest I become lonely.” Now the Monster inhaled like a mighty wind. Thus he dashed right into the monster’s mouth.

From there he walked along down the throat of the monster. Presently Iceye'ye arrived at the heart and cut off slabs of fat and threw them to the people. And now Iceye'ye started a fire with his flint, and smoke drifted up through the monster’s openings. There was his fire still burning near the heart and now the monster began to writhe in pain and Iceye'ye began cutting away on the heart, whereupon very shortly he broke the stone knife. Immediately he took another and in a short time this one also broke and Iceye'ye said to all the people, “Gather up all the bones and carry them to his openings; pile them up and when he falls dead kick all the bones outside.” Then again with another knife he began cutting away at the heart. The third knife broke and the fourth, leaving only one more.

Now the heart hung by only a very small piece of muscle and Iceye'ye was cutting away on it with his last stone knife. The monster’s heart was still barely hanging when his last knife broke, whereupon Iceye'ye threw himself on the heart and hung on just barely tearing it loose with his hands. In his death convulsions the monster opened all the openings of his body and now the people kicked the bones outside and went on out.

They carved the great monster and now Iceye'ye began dealing out portions of the body to various parts of the country all over the land; toward the sunrise. Toward the sunset, toward the warmth, toward the cold, and by that act destining and forenaming the various people; Coeur d'Alene Pend, Flathead, Oreilles, Crow, Sioux, et al.

And now Fox came up to Iceye'ye, “What is the meaning of this, Iceye'ye? You have distributed all of the body to faraway lands but have given yourself nothing for this immediate locality.” And he turned to the people and said, “Bring me some water with which to wash my hands.” They brought him water and he washed his hands and now with the bloody wash water he sprinkled the local regions saying, “You may be little people but you will be powerful. Even though you will be little people because I have deprived you, nevertheless you will be very, very, manly. Only a short time away is the coming of the human race. And this is how Iceye'ye created the nimí·pu·

 
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Visit the Heart of the Monster

Plan your visit to the site where Coyote created the Nez Perce people.

Last updated: February 12, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Nez Perce National Historical Park
39063 US Hwy 95

Lapwai, ID 83540-9715

Phone:

(208) 843-7009

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