"Stories from Alaska and the Northwest Coast"

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"Last of the Thunderbirds"
........ a story from Norton Sound, Alaska ........

In ancient times there were eagles of tremendous size frequenting the tops of the highest mountains in the interior and preying upon whales and full grown reindeer, and even upon men. A volcanic crater of very regular outline, situated upon the summit of a mountain near the lower Yukon, was the nest of the ancient Mutughowik (thunderbird).

Around the rim of the crater are differently colored stones which, the natives claim, were gathered by these birds to ornament their nest. When the birds sat here, overlooking the Yukon on the one side and the sea far away to the horizon on the other, their screams could be heard for miles. Many luckless creatures were caught in their talons and carried swiftly to their eyrie where they were torn into fragments and devoured.

Year after year these birds remained, until men were afraid to go out on the broad bosom of the Yukon for fear of being caught by these terrible guardians of the mountains overlooking the village. Each year the young were raised and flew away, none knew whither, so that never more than two old birds inhabited the mountains.

One spring after the birds had hatched their young, a famous hunter of the village went out alone to attend to his fish nets. While he was out one of the eagles soared high over the village and seeing the hunter's wife outside of the house, swooped with a mighty rush of wings and carried her off to feed the nestlings. Ere long the hunter returned and with wailing cries his friends told him of his loss. For a time he was inconsolable but at length seized his bow and examined it carefully. He then selected a quiver of his best arrows and heedless of remonstrance began climbing toward the nest of the eagles.

When he had nearly reached his goal he heard the whistling of great wings and crouching behind a huge boulder with an arrow drawn to its head, he waited. In an instant the female bird was seen descending, her terrible eyes fired with rage; but just as she was about to grasp the hunter in her talons he buried an arrow under her wing and she fell far down the mountain.

He then advanced and in a short time reached the summit of the mountain, finding the young so large that they entirely filled the enormous nest. All about were strewn fragments of men and animals, among which were seen the frames of many kayaks. With vengeful heart he shot arrow after arrow until the last of the brood lay dead. He had scarcely finished when a wild cry was heard close by and he saw the male bird approaching

At the same instant the bird caught sight of its slain young and the hunter. A still louder and more terrifying cry was heard which made the villagers below shudder for their friend. The eagle darted at its enemy. With unshaken courage the hunter met each assault with a well-directed arrow until the bird, pierced with many wounds,turned and on outspread wings slowly glided away; vanishing far off to the north.

Since then none of its kind has ever been seen and men have been able to hunt without fear. The villagers afterwards visited the nest with their deliverer and found many relics of friends who had perished and it was only a few years ago that the remains of the kayaks were still to be seen about the nest. This story is implicitly believed by the natives of the Lower Yukon and adjacent seacoast and the bald eagle is known by the name which they apply to the bird of their legend-Mutughowik.

I have always enjoyed a good story, especially when it is well told, but these are much more than that. They are often the legacy and cultural property of particular clans and individuals and I have tried to give credit to them whenever possible. I want these retellings to show respect and proper dignity. If you should have further information to aid me in this effort, I would appreciate it and will make every effort to present it.

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