Welcome to Northwest Notes. On this side we’ll list some legends and myths. On the right side are historical facts and anecdotes from the past.
That ol’ devil full moon is blamed for turning people into werewolves, but real werewolves can change shape at any time, though they have always favored night. In many myths they are witches who take animal form to travel unnoticed by using either a potion made from magic ingredients – the fat of dead children, herbs, human blood – or an animal-skin. Most European cultures have stories of werewolves, including Greece (lycanthropos), Spain (hombre lobo), England (werwolf), Ireland (faoladh or conriocht), and so on. In Norse mythology, the legends of berserkers describe vicious fighters dressed in wolf or bear hides who were immune to pain. In Latvian mythology, the Vilkacis was a person changed into a wolf-like monster–though the Vilkacis could also be beneficial.
In Greek mythology the legend of brutal King Lycaon is one of the earliest werewolf legends: One day a group of travelers visited King Lycaon and claimed to be gods. The king did not believe these men were gods and invited them to a feast. To test their awareness he served human flesh among the dishes. But one of the visitors was Zeus himself who instantly recognized the deception and flew into a rage. He transformed the doubting king into a wolf and told him if he did not partake human flesh for nine years he could again be human.
France seems to have been infested with werewolves during the hard times of the 16th century, and many suspected werewolves were put on trial and after a swift verdict were killed in some grizzly manner.
But werewolves of the Christian dispensation were not all considered to be heretics or viciously disposed towards mankind. According to Baronius, in the year 617, a number of wolves appeared at a monastery and tore to pieces several friars who entertained heretical opinions. The wolves sent by God killed the sacrilegious thieves of the army of Francesco Maria, duke of Urbino, who had come to sack the treasure of the holy house of Loreto. A wolf guarded and defended from wild beasts the head of St. Edmund the Martyr, king of England.
The most widely known werewolf story is perhaps “Little Red Riding Hood,” which features a wolf who talks to Red Riding Hood and then dresses in grandma’s clothing to fool the innocent little girl. Not something any ‘old wolf could do, and unlikely a werewolf. This story could be the result of parents wishing to discourage their children from venturing into the woods alone, in the same way a modern parent might read aloud a grim story in a newspaper so their child would not stay out late.
Native Americans have profound beliefs involving wolves. To many tribes, including those of the Northwest U.S., the wolf is known as a protective spirit or totem. They view the wolf as a wise fellow hunter to be respected and admired. Many Native American tribes also hold ritualistic beliefs of a human transforming into a beast. The Mohawks called those that could shift limmikin (sometimes yenaloosi) but it is the Navajo tribe that is best known for its shifter beliefs. These shifters are called skinwalkers–the Navajo word yeenadlooshi, which means “he goes on all fours.” According to Navajo tradition, skinwalkers will even look physically different from normal people–such as their eyes, which are large and glowing, even in daylight, and should never be looked at directly for fear the looker will be absorbed and lose their skin. Another telltale sign of a skinwalker is black inside their mouth, a mark of evilness. They were also *believed to have no genitals and rock hard skin impervious to axes and arrows.
Also, a skinwalker didn’t take just one form, they could be owls, *crows, coyotes, but wolf was the most common form. As *animals they lost all trace of humanity, beast instincts took over, making them vicious and unpredictable. Yet another version is that while in animal form they were actually much more intelligent. They were also able to read minds and could lure people out of their homes and into the woods by imitating the voices and cries of loved ones.
Lilith was not only the first woman (created for Adam) but to many she was also the first vampire and feminist. When Adam would not relent in his domination of her, she became very angry, uttered the Holy name of God–and vanished! Lilith went out to the Red Sea, where she made a bargain with the Angels and was allowed to stay out on her own, as a witch and Mother of all Demons.
Cain was marked and banished from the land of his parents because he killed his brother Abel in a jealous rage. He was cursed by God, forcing him to stalk the fringes of civilization, ever fearful of the sun and ravenous for blood.
According to vampire legend, Cain wandered until he found Lilith by the Red sea. She took him in and showed him the power of blood. Even today The Tree of Life represents blood in many religions, and drinking blood (like a vampire) is part of religious ceremonies. From Cain and Lilith came a host of demons and vampires in vague myths. Lilith taught Cain many things, including how to use his blood to evoke mystic powers and how to create others of his kind. At first Cain refused to beget, believing it was wrong to curse the world with others like him. But he grew lonely and brought three others into the Vampiric fold. These three begat thirteen more.
Cain became outraged and forbade the creation of any more progeny. *Gathering his children and grandchildren to him, Cain built the world’s first city where vampires and mortals coexisted in peace. Finally, the city was overthrown–some legends say a natural disaster was the cause, others that a spurned child’s vengeful sorcery precipitated the cataclysm. Cain vanished into the wastes, never to be heard from again.
Count Dracula is perhaps the most famous vampire, created by Bram Stoker who based his immortal monster on a Hungarian ruler know as Vlad Tepes, also know as Vlad Dracul-a, which means “son of the dragon,” for the count was a bloodthirsty and ruthless ruler. He was also called Vlad the Impaler for his glee in impaling people on sharp stakes and letting them suffer until they died a horribly painful death.
From very early times there have been reports and tales of vampires, or vampyr, meaning “blood drinker.” In nature there are all kinds of vampires: mosquitoes, ticks, and, of course, the vampire bat. But what about the vampires of legend? Do they exist? There are some well-documented accounts that indicate they do, but not among Northwest Natives, such as the Quileute and Makah. The closest creature to a vampire in their legends is perhaps Cannibal Basket Woman, who captured, cooked and ate children. But one day a group of children killed her by forcing her down on hot cooking rocks until she was “cooked.”
The story of Orca as told by the Haida of British Columbia, Canada
Once a man found two wolf pups on the beach. He took them home and raised them. When the pups had grown, they would swim out into the ocean, kill a whale, and bring it to shore for the people to eat. Each day they did this until there was too much meat to eat and it began to spoil. When the Great Above Person saw this waste he made a fog and the wolves could not find whales to kill nor find their way back to shore. They had to remain at sea. Those wolves became seawolves (Orca).
The last of the Spanish:
By 1801, the Spanish were all but gone from the Northwest Coast. After nearly starting a war with England over the fur trade centered at Nootka (Vancouver Island), an accord was reached in 1792 and the Spanish were required to return some seized ships and they lost control of Nootka area trading. They still occupied a part of Nootka until 1795 and they had their fort, which they had erected after leveling with cannon some Native houses that were in the way. But they knew their stranglehold on Nootka was finished, and in 1792 they sent a ship across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Cape Flattery, sailed into what is now Neah Bay and built a fort less than two miles from the Makah village of Neeah. Although trading prospects with these cloud ship people were enticing, the Makah, like many coastal tribes, didn’t trust the Spanish (perhaps because years before they’d had experience with Russian traders). True to form, the Spanish soon committed bad acts, and, fearing retaliation, compounded their crimes by directing cannon fire at two native canoes peacefully headed to one of their clam beaches near the Spanish fort. Reports vary, but several teenagers and, at least, one elderly person in the canoes were killed. This unprovoked act caused the Makah to prepare for real retaliation, but they didn’t get the chance.
In 1793 the Spanish hastily left, taking what they could load on their ship, never to return. It is believed they left someone on Waddah Island, supposedly the man responsible for raping a Makah woman. They also left some pigs that had been put there to forage for themselves. The Makah did not believe the man the Spanish left was the guilty party, and they were probably right, but he was all they had and was soon killed. It would be another 50 years before the Makah trusted anyone on a cloud ship.
How the Strait of Juan de Fuca got its name:
To understand this, you should know something about the Greeks. The most recent immigrant in my haphazard family tree to arrive in America was my grandfather, Anthony John Pappadikis, age sixteen, sailing from Greece to the city of New York and right past Elias Island and straight through immigration and into the waiting arms of his sponsor and uncle, a successful New York fur dealer. But many years later he would mesmerize his grandchildren with tales of how he managed to stow away on the ship bound for America, and for three days had only a little bread and goat cheese he’d brought along to eat, until he was discovered and taken to the captain. Of course the captain, discovering immediately he was a clever boy and could read and write a little English, hired him on the spot as some sort of liaison between the various Greek and Italian passengers bound for America, and he became a hero to everyone and took his meals with the captain. My grandfather loved children and through the telling of such stories he had their rapt attention. There are many stories about him, but now on to another Greek, Apostolos Valerianus, also known as Juan de Fuca.
In 1596 in Venice, Apostolos, then 61 years old, told Michael Lok, a British merchant-diplomat and promoter of exploration, that four years before he had discovered the Strait of Anian, a mythical passage connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Apostolos said he’d sailed on Spanish ships for 40 years. They called him Juan de Fuca, as his Greek name was too hard for them to pronounce. The viceroy of Mexico had assigned him as pilot of three small vessels that were sent north to seek the mythical passage through the continent. But the crew had mutinied and the expedition was forced to turn back. A new, smaller expedition was launched with Juan de Fuca in charge. The two ships sailed north through stormy seas and fog until they came to a broad inlet; de Fuca sailed up this channel for 20 days, he told Lok, until they entered a broad sea (probably Puget Sound). Along the way, he passed numerous islands and saw people clad in animal skins. This country was rich in gold, silver and pearls, he said. Not being well armed, de Fuca decided to retreat and made haste back to Mexico, where he expected to be rewarded. His efforts were praised by the viceroy but bereft of extra compensation, so he quit the Spanish and returned home to be with his family. He told Lok he would like to lead an exploration to the great channel if the Queen of England would finance such an adventure and give him his due reward. Lok tried to arrange this, but all his efforts to do so failed.
Though there has always been some doubt whether the displaced Greek, Juan de Fuca, ever actually sailed into the strait named for him, the story of his voyage remains in the minds of mariners past and present. And striking Fuca Pillar still stands like a monument on the south flank of Cape Flattery, a rock column pointing at the sky. Some of us look up at Fuca Pillar and see the two desperate Makah boys from legend, who’s ghosts still fly around the rock pinnacle. But that is another story . . .
Captain Robert Gray:
Gray claimed discovery of Big River (what the natives called it) and named it after his ship, the Columbia, in the spring of 1792. Vancouver was there a few weeks ahead of Gray but failed to cross the bar at the river’s mouth, which is always violent and dangerous. It is possible other ships were there before Gray, such as Russian, but no record of this has been presented. There is a record of the Spanish being at the river’s mouth earlier, but they did not land. However, the Natives had stories of strange white men, and also people that had to be Japanese or Chinese, who had landed along their coast before Gray. Some of these people were killed, others made slaves, and at least two lived among the Clatsop for a time and took wives, though this may have been a temporary arrangement at the whim of their hosts. On his first visit into Big River, Gray did well trading with the Chinook, but when he ventured into a bay a little north of the river he committed multiple murders under hazy circumstances. Further north, at famous Nootka Sound, Gray used his cannon to level nearly an entire village.
On that trip, Gray acquired many sea otters and other skins that he took to sell in Canton. From there he proceeded westward around the Cape of Good Hope and became the first American to take his ship all the way round the world. During the 1790’s Captain Gray was perhaps the most famous and successful American trader plying Northwest waters. An interesting aspect of that 1792 voyage, when he was first to take his ship into the Columbia river, and the bay just north named for him, Gray’s Harbor, and found many Natives new to the business of trading with the “cloud ship” or “floats ashore” people that gave him an advantage later traders would not enjoy, and causing no small amount of bloodshed, then becoming the first American to sail clear around the world, for all of that, Gray’s actual profit for the trip was not great. Robert Gray is mentioned several times in When Wolf Comes, from a perspective you won’t see in school history books.