The Maiden of Deception Pass
Reprinted from Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest page 199 by Ella E. Clark 1953
Deception Pass is a narrow, high-walled gorge between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands in the Puget Sound. It was named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 when he learned that it did not lead to a closed harbor. The tidewater rushing through the channel makes navigation difficult even for motor boats today.
The story of the maiden of Deception Pass is represented on the Samish side of the base of the totem pole on the Swinomish Reservation. Alexis Edge, one of the carvers of the pole, said (in 1952) that the Indians who once lived on the islands had no trouble bucking the swift current if they would think about the maiden; if they did not keep their minds on her, their canoes would get caught in the whirlpool and they would sink. Sometimes they saw the girl come up from the water; with her hands on her hips she would wade around in the current behind the canoes.
In the days that are gone, the Samish Indians lived near the narrow channel now called Deception Pass. Most of their food came from the sea, where they usually found plenty of clams, crabs, mussels, and salmon.
One day, a group of maidens was on the beach gathering some-of the
shellfish. In the group was a very pretty girl. Once, a clam she had in her hand slipped from her grasp, and she followed it into the water. Again and again it slipped from her, and she went out farther and farther until she was in water up to her waist.
Then she realized that a hand was grasping her hand. When she screamed with fright, a voice coming from the water said softly, "Do not be afraid. I will not harm you. I only want to look at your beauty."
Soon the speaker let go her hand, and she went back to her home. Again and again she had the same experience. She would be drawn into the water, a hand she could not see would hold her hand, and a voice would say loving things to her. The voice told her about the beautiful world at the bottom of the sea, about the beautiful plants and the colored fishes which she could never see from the earth. Each time, the hand held hers a little longer, and the voice spoke to her a little longer.
One day a young man rose from the water. He went with her and asked her father if he might marry her.
"Oh, no," said the father. "My daughter cannot live in the sea."
The young man told the girl's father about the beautiful world at the bottom of the ocean, but the father would not say yes.
"You will be sorry," warned the young man. "If your daughter cannot be my wife, I will see to it that you and your people cannot get sea food. Then you will be very hungry."
Still the father would not let his daughter marry the young man.
In a short time, shellfish became scarce. Then salmon became scarce. Then the streams flowing into the salt sea dried up, and the people could get no fresh-water fish. Soon the springs dried up, and the people had no water to drink.
Then the maiden went to the beach and out into the water. There she called to the young man. "Let my people have some food," she begged. "And let them have water to drink."
"Not until your father will let you marry me," replied the young man of the sea. "Not until you are my wife will there be plenty of food in the waters again."
So to keep his people from dying of hunger and thirst, her father at last gave in. He asked one thing of the young man from the sea: "Let my daughter return to us once each year. Let us see that she is happy with you."
The young man was willing to do as the father asked, and so the maiden walked out into the bay. The people on the beach watched until she disappeared from sight. The last they saw of her was her long hair floating on the surface of the water.
Soon water returned to the streams. The shellfish and the salmon returned to the sea. The Samish people were well fed. True to his promise the man of the sea let his wife go back each year to visit her people. Four years she came. And before each visit, the fish were more plentiful than ever before.
Each time, the people saw a change in her. First they noticed that barnacles were growing on her hands, then on her arms. On her fourth visit, they saw that barnacles had begun to grow on one side of her beautiful face, and that she seemed unhappy when she was out of the water. A chill wind came from her whenever she walked among them.
The people talked among themselves and then gently said to her, "We release your husband from his promise. If it makes you unhappy to leave the sea, you need not visit us each year. Do not come unless you wish to come."
And so the woman did not come again from the water. But always she was the guardian of her people. Because of her they always had plenty of seafood and plenty of pure water in the springs and streams. Her people could see that she was watching over them. As the tide passed back and forth through Deception Pass, they could see her long hair drifting on the surface of the water. They knew that the maiden of the sea was watching over her people.
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