Deer legend told by the late Nez Perce elder Clifford Allen to Jane Fritz while walking along a trail in Yellowstone National Park in August 2001.
This is one of dozens of oral interviews with Nez Perce elders the nonprofit group the Idaho Mythweaver is working to preserve digitally.
Many years ago, centuries and centuries ago; maybe as far back as ten, 15,000 years ago, our People, they spoke to the Animals — the Birds and the Bees. They held Council; they all spoke … the Elk, the Deer … they all got up to speak. The Bee even; it spoke. We all listened to each other.
Years, centuries went by after the first Council. Then they seen smoke; last night there was thunder. They could smell smoke. Our People wondered what happened. Then we realized…the Creator sent thunder to build a fire. We sent our warriors out after the fire had died down, and nothing but blackness remained in the mountain. Our warriors went out to see. One of our warriors smelled something. As he sat there getting the scent, the scent made his stomach rumble. ‘Why?’ he asked himself. ‘What is that scent that makes my stomach rumble like this?’
He followed the scent and he found it. ‘My brother, my brother!’ One of the Deer got caught in the fire and he burned to death. And the scent come from the Deer. He cut off the hide, the hair burned on it. And he sniffed at the hide: ‘No, it’s not this.’ He tasted it; it didn’t taste very good. He looked at the meat, and then he sniffed at it. This was it! He cut off a piece of the meat, and he tasted it. The craving was so strong! He cut off another piece, and he kept eating, he kept eating. His stomach stopped rumbling; and, he knew that it was a sign. He knew it was a gift from the Creator that he must eat his brother. He took off a large chunk of the meat, and brought it home to the Council members. And the Council members, after they got scent of it, their stomachs started rumbling also. The only cure that they had for it was the burned meat.
Since that time, our People —the Indian so called— ate meat. The Animals objected: ‘Why do you eat us?’ they said at Council. ‘And now you have a whole new habit!’
‘And you’re taking our feathers, too!’ said the Eagle. ‘Why do you do this to us? You never did this before.’
The Deer and the Elk objected: ‘Don’t eat us anymore! If you continue to eat us, we will no longer speak to you. We will no longer talk to any one of you. Maybe we will speak to a spirited few of you, but not to all of you.’
The Council was over. The Indians continued to eat the Deer over the objections. It has been thousands of years since all animals spoke to each other.
Today, we know the legend is true in our People. The only problem we have had is the location has never been found, where all the Animals, all the People once sat in peace. Is this (Yellowstone National Park) the place? (Jane: “It would be a good place.”) You got it. You see that’s kind of why I’m here.