(This is a story from the Yurok Indians of Northern California. It caught my attention because of its eerie, sad tone. Please leave a comment if it impacts you, too)
It was at Espeu that he lived who owned the Long One.
He hunted constantly on the cliffs north of Espeu. There he found it when it was little. When he saw it, he thought, “It’s pretty. I shall try to keep it.” He wanted to see how large it would be when grown. He brought it to the house and made a box for it and kept it. At first he did not know what it was.
He was always hunting. When he killed deer or elk, he fed a small piece of the meat to his pet. When he came again, he always saw that it had grown.
Whenever he went to hunt, he said to those in the house, “Do not go back on the terrace among the baskets.” None of them knew that he had it. As it grew, they could hear something moving, but none went up to look at it. Then, when he returned and went indoors he sometimes gave it a whole shoulder of deer. It took only a short time to eat that. Every day he saw it had grown. Then he changed its box because it had grown too long. Those in the house did not like it. They were afraid of it. But he only told them, “Do not go near it.”
One day he went to Redding Rock for sea lions. He brought home sea lions and hung them up in the house. Then toward morning there was nothing hanging there. It had eaten them all during the night. He always told his brothers, “Do not go near it.” That was all he said. He never told them what it would do. Then he would go hunting again.
Once he killed three elk. Then when they in the house had eaten once, that would be all they had of those elk because this Long One took all the rest; only the bones it left. His younger brothers did not like it. They never told their older brother, but talked among themselves They did not like it that they could not have all the meat when he killed elk; but they were afraid to tell him.
He did not keep it in a box any longer. It was too large. It had grown very long. At night it went on top of the house and lay there. It watched like a dog. It reached about with its long neck. Sometimes they saw it reach out far then draw back its head. Then when daylight came it crawled into the house and hid itself.
His two younger brothers liked women and married, but their oldest brother, the one who had this pet, did not want a woman. His brothers hated it because it ate too much, for now it ate all the elk and sea lions. At first he had thought it would be pretty because it was so small. That is why he had kept it. He did not know that it would grow so much.
One day his younger brothers asked him, “What will you do? You had better let it go.”
But their oldest brother said, “No. I want what it wants.”
“Well, we are afraid of it. When it starts to go out of the house its tail still reaches to the fireplace. Sometimes it looks as if the whole fire were swallowed. That is why we are afraid. Can you not make it go?”
“No. I cannot consent now. I will tell you what I must do. I must speak to it myself. It will do what I tell it.”
Then he went hunting again. He killed ten elk. When he came to the house he went to give it a whole piece. Then he stood and looked at it eating and spoke to it. He said, “My brothers do not like you because you eat too much.”
It said, “It is well. Do not say any more. I think tonight will be my last night here.”
“Tell me where you are going.”
“No, I shall not tell you.”
“I should like to know where you are going. I want to keep you because I have had you so long. It is only my brothers who do not like you.”
He went hunting again. When he came back he was carrying a deer. He left the deer outside. He did not hear it in the house and thought perhaps it had gone. Then he entered and asked if they had heard it moving. They said, “Yes, we heard it all night.” Then he saw it lying still. It said, “I have been waiting for you. Because all who live here do not like me, I will go now.”
“Tell me where you are going.”
“No, I shall not tell you.”
“I wish you to tell me.”
“If you do not tell me, I shall look for you everywhere.”
“No, do not do that. I should be angry at you.”
“If I see you anywhere I shall take you away.”
“No do not do that. I speak to you now because tonight I shall go away.”
He did not hunt that day because it had said that it would go that night. He went north of Espeu to gather wood for the sweathouse. Then he thought he heard something moving somewhere and said, “I think it has gone.” He came to the sweathouse and made the fire. He was inside only a short time. Then he went into the house. He looked where it had been and saw that it was gone. Everything it had had was gone. And it had not told him where it went.
Then he went back into the sweathouse. He was angry at his brothers. He stayed in the sweathouse all day. He did not eat. Those in the house came out to get him. They asked him to eat but he would not. He was sorry that it had gone, and he remained in the sweathouse.
Then he started to look for it. He looked everywhere: upstream, and uphill, but he did not find it. He searched far downstream, thinking about his brothers, angry at them. He thought, “They were the ones who did not like it. That is why it wanted to leave. Now I think I shall not stay. I will go away too.” He was crying constantly, looking for it. He thought, “It was so easy for me to kill deer and elk, for it ate them itself and wanted me to kill them.” So he thought and was sorry. Sometimes people saw him. They did not know him, for he did not look like himself. His eyes were swollen because he cried all the time.
He lay in the sweathouse with his head near the exit. He was sorrowing. Then it came. He saw it outside the sweathouse. It said, “It is is too bad that you are sorry for me constantly. You will not find me by seeking. I saw you when you were looking for me, but if you want to see me, do not go far away. I am at Prairie Creek. Come to see me in the morning. Come early. I will leave you ten elk. You will find them in the prairie, so come early.”
In the morning he started early. He came to Prairie Creek. He could hear it. There was much noise. Then he knew: “That is where it is.” He went on. He knew he had found it at last. Then he came to the prairie. He looked at the ridge on the other side and saw it lying on the tops of the trees. He went there under the trees and spoke to it. He said, “Come down because I have come to see you.” The trees there are short, flat on top, because it always lay on them.
The next morning he came again. He saw it on the trees again and called to it, “Come down.” But it did not come down. He cried constantly for he wanted to see it and talk with it. Now it was the middle of the day. He became angry that it did not descend to him. He thought, “I will kill it.” He set on fire the trees where it lay. They began to burn. When the Long One burned, flaming pitch dropped like rain from the tops of the trees. It was its oil. At last it fell down. So he had killed it himself, he who owned it.
The Long One is the Knewollek, a horned sea monster which is thought to bring magic power to hunters, but which can also be dangerous.
Adapted from a tale recounted by Tskerkr of Espeu sometime between 1902-7, in Yurok Myths by A. L. Kroeber
What does this story mean to you? Please leave a comment and share your reaction or interpretation.
3 thoughts on “The Long One”
[…] I first encountered the Yuroks in anthropologist Peter Nabokov’s excellent book, Indian Running, which describes how Native Americans ran to communicate, fight, hunt, enact myths, and interact with the unseen forces of the universe. For the Yuroks, Nabokov explained, running was both physical training and vision-questing. He quoted extensively from the work of another anthropologist, Thomas Buckley, who had spent much of his professional career studying Yurok customs. And so I ordered Buckley’s book, Standing Ground: Yurok Indian Spirituality 1850-1990, as well as the memoirs of a Yurok spiritual doctor named Lucy Thompson and a book of Yurok myths. […]
The story recounts a common and recurring theme in Yurok culture. The idea being that good fortune or luck cannot be just a meaningless or random event. Here the “long one” is the agent for good luck, but, as usual, this comes at a price.
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Thank you, that is an interesting theme