Salish Legends

Salish legends include the Kalispel, Spokane, Flathead, and Coeur D’Alene Indians.
Coyote – The trickster figure of the Kalispel, Spokane, and Flathead Salish legends. Coyote is foolish and boastful. Sories about him are often humorous in nature; however, he is a well-meaning creature who usually acts for the good of humankind. Coyote frequently dies in the course of his adventures, often in humorous ways, but each time his patient friend Fox (by some accounts his brother) restores him to life.
Giants – There are many giants in the Salish legends.
Wild Men or Stick Indians -A race of tall Indians, called “wild” or “stick” Indians, was said to wander through the forests. In general conversation they were referred to as tsiatko although another term, steta’l, from ta’l, spear, could also be applied to them. Also called Seatco. Similar to the modern day Big Foot. Occasionally, they stole children or adolescents and carried them off to act as wives or as slaves. Seatco tales were used to scare disobedient children.


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Giants and Tree Men

Giants were formerly common in Coeur d’Alene country. They had a very strong odor, like the odor of burning horn. Their faces were black–some say they were painted black, and the giants were taller than the highest tipis. When they saw a single tipi or lodge in a place, they would crawl up to it, rise, and look down the smoke hole. If several lodges were together, the giants were not so bold.

Native american giantsMost of them dressed in bearskins, but some wore other kinds of skins with the hair left on. They lived in caves in the rocks. They had a great liking for fish, and often stole fish out of people’s traps. Otherwise, they did not bother people much. They are said to have stolen women occasionally in other tribes, but there is no tradition of their having stolen women in the Coeur d’Alene country.

Other supernatural beings that used to be seen in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane countries were called the Tree men. They, too had a strong odor.  They dressed in buffalo skins and had the power to transform themselves into trees and bushes. Once, when a number of people were dancing in the Spokane country near a small lake close to the present day Cheney, they suddenly smelled a bad odor. One of them exclaimed, “That is the Tree Men!”

The people looked around and saw four men standing a little apart from one another and wearing around their shoulders buffalo skins, with the hair side out. As soon as they saw people looking at them, they dissapeared. Four bushes stood where the four Tree Men stood. Those fourkm bushes could be seen until lately. Possibly the power of the people’s glances killed them or prevented them from changing themselves back into men.

There are trees which have been in one spot a very long time. They really are Tree Men, although they seem merely trees to people looking at them. In other spots, trees and bushes change places or are sometimes absent and sometimes present. Often when these beings were seen and people approached them, they disappeared, and only trees or bushes could be found.

Tah-tah-kle’-ah (Owl-Woman Monster)

Yakama Indian William Charley told this story to McWhorter about the Tah-tah kle’ -ah (Owl-Woman-Monster) in 1918. Among the Okanogans she is called Sne-nah, “Owl Women”. 

“Before the tribes lived peaceably in this country, before the last creation, there were certain people who ate Indians whenever they could get them. They preferred and hunted children, as better eating.


These people, the Tah-tah kle’ -ah, were taller and larger than the common human. They ate every bad thing known such as frogs, lizards, snakes, and other things that Indians do not eat. They talked the Indian language, and in that way might fool the Indians. There were five of them, all sisters. But at the last creation they came up only in California. Two were seen there. They were women, tall big, women, who lived in a cave.”

“One time the Shastas (Shasta Indians) were digging roots and camped. They knew that the two Tah-tah kle’ -ah were about, were in that place. The Indians were careful, but the Tah-tah kle’-ah caught one little boy, not to eat, but to raise up and live with them. The boy thought he would be killed, but he was not.

The Tah-tah kle’-ah had him several days. One day, when they were out of sight, the boy hurried away. He ran fast, traveled over rough, wild places, and at last reached his own people.

After many years the two Tah-tah-kle’-ah were destroyed. None knew how, but perhaps by a higher power. Their cave home became red hot and blew out. The monster-women were never seen again, never more heard ofn but they have always been talked about as the most dangerous beings on earth.

One other of the five sisters was drowned. From her eye, all owls were created. The person or power that killed her said to her, ‘From now on, your eye will be the only part of you to act. At night it will go to certain birds, the owls.”

A Yakama Indian named Tam-a-wash told L. V. McWhorter this Tah-tah-kle’-ah story in 1919.

“Owl [Sho-pow’-tan] was the man. He was a big chief who lived at Po-ye-koosen.  He went up the Naches [river?] to hunt deer. Many men went with him. They hunted all one sun, and when evening came, Owl did not return to camp. The hunters called to each other, “Owl is not here! Owl is away! Owl is lost!”

“Tah-tah-kle’-ah, the evil old woman with her basket, heard that call in the twilight, “Owl is lost!” And she said to her four sisters, “We must go hunt Owl who is lost from his people. We will get him for ourselves”.

“Owl knew that Tah-tah-kle’-ah was coming for him; so he went up to a hollow place in the Tic-te’ ah. You can see the trail that he traveled up the face of the rock to the cave high up in the wall of Tic-te’ ah. Grass is growing along the narrow trail. You can see it when you are out from the rock where it winds up the cliff.”

“Owl had killed a deer. He filled the tripe with the blood of the deer. He heard Tah-tah-kle’-ah coming, and he knew she would kill him. He knew, and he placed the blood filled tripe in front of him. Tah-tah-kle’-ah entered the mouth of the cave. She looked. It was dark, but she saw it, the strange thing lying there. She did not know. She was afraid. She called to Owl, “Take it away! I do not like it!”

“Owl said, “No! That is something powerful, step over it.” Tah-tah-kle’-ah did as told, stepped her foot over the tripe. Owl was ready. He did not get up. He sat there; and when the Tah-tah-kle’-ah stepped, he punched the tripe with his stick. He punched it often and it went, “Kloup! kloup! kloup!”

“Tah-tah-kle’-ah was scared! she screamed, threw up her hands, and fell from the cliff. The wana [river] ran by the base of the cliff, deep and swift. Tah-tah-kle’-ah fell into the water and was killed.”

Tsiatko and Seatco

A race of tall Indians, called “wild” or “stick” Indians, was said to wander through the forests. In general conversation they were referred to as tsiatko although another term, steta’l, from ta’l, spear, could also be applied to them.

Tsiatko, native american Big FootThe tsiatko lived by hunting and fishing. Their homes were hollowed out like the sleeping places of animals and could not be distinguished as human habitations. It was largely because of this lack of any houses or villages that they were characterized as “wild.” They wandered freely through the wooded country, their activities being mainly confined to the hours of darkness. As has been said, they were abnormally tall, always well over six feet. Their language was a sort of a whistle and even when people could not see them they often heard this whistle in the distance. They had no canoes nor did they ever travel by water.

The giants played pranks on the village Indians, stealing the fish from their nets at night, going off with their half-cured supplies under cover of darkness, etc. Sometimes pranks on the persons of individual men, such as removing their clothes and tying their legs apart, were made possible by a sort of hypnotic helplessness engendered by the sound of the giants’ whistle.

The giant were dangerous to men if the latter interfered with them or caused hurt to one of their members. Under these conditions their hatred was implacable and they always tracked the culprit down until they finally killed him with a shot from their bows. Occasionally also, they stole children or adolescents and carried them off to act as wives or as slaves. For this reason children were mortally afraid of going about alone at night and the tsiatko threat was used in child discipline.

During the summer camping trips when mat houses with loose sides were used for shelter, children always slept in the center surrounded by their elders for fear that the tsiatko would lift the mats and spirit them away. Men avoided conflicts with the giants and women retained the fear of them throughout their lives. Thus, one informant, a woman approaching seventy, broke her habit of rising before dawn and going to an outhouse at some distance from her home because she heard the whistle of a giant one morning. This happened during the winter of 1934-5.

Actual killing or capture of giants was said not to have been infrequent.

“In my grandfather’s time (around 1850) his people captured a tsiatko boy and raised it. The child slept all day, then went out nights when everyone else was asleep. In the morning they would see where he had piled up wood or caught fish or brought in a deer.

Finally, they told him he could go back to his people. He was gone many years and then came back once. He brought his tsiatko band with him and the Indians could hear them whistle all around. He said he came just for a visit to see them. Then he went away for good.

“A man from Skykomish who was a little older than I am told me that he and some friends killed a tsiatko once. There were several of them but the others got away. It was in the daytime and maybe they couldn’t see so well. The one they killed had a bow and arrow and was dressed in some kind of skin. Cougar, I guess.

Nisqually mythology describes a single creature, Seatco, calling him the most dangerous of the Indian “demonology,” as “the form of an Indian but larger, quick and stealthy.

He inhabits the dark recesses of the woods, where his campfires are often seen; he sleeps by day but sallies forth at dusk for ‘a night of it. He robs traps, breaks canoes, steals food and other portable property.

He waylays the belated traveler, and it is said to kill all those whose bodies are found dead. To his wicked and malicious cunning is credited all the unfortunate and malicious acts which cannot otherwise be explained. He steals children and brings them up as slaves in his dark retreats; he is a constant menace to the disobedient child, and is an object of fear and terror to all.”

Wild Man