Doquebuth's Children:
the myth and the history

Whidbey Island

Early Island History

Tschakolecy - Whidbey as the Indians knew it

Doquebuth's Children - the truth in the myth

The Skagit Creation and Flood Myth

Whidbey History  

Doquebuth’s Children - from a Puget Sound Salish Myth*

At one time, all the animals were people with fierce spirits who stalked a dark earth. And all people were animals. The people who were animals suffered because they were cold and hungry and afraid.

One day, Doquebuth, The Changer, came and took pity on them. He changed the fierce people into animals. They became less fierce, except for Bear, Cougar and a few others.

He changed those who were once animals into people and taught them many things. The people were glad and made a big feast for Doquebuth and his companion, Raven.

On Whidbey Island, a green gem nestled in Puget Sound, Washington, Native Americans lived in a land of plenty.

Doquebuth taught the women how to scrape the inner bark from the cedar tree to make woven clothing.

Both men and women wore little, but the women made a fiber skirt from the bark of the cedar, and men wore a loincloth. They wore blankets over the shoulder fastened at the neck with a wooden pin, and buckskins and other animal skins when the weather became cold.

The women used cattails, nettles, and roots along with the bark of the cedar to weave mats and baskets. There were many uses for the mats. They were not only used in the longhouses and potlatch houses, but also covered the top of temporary houses at the camps.

Doquebuth taught them how to weave goat wool, dog hair and fluff from the fireweed into blankets.

When Joseph Whidbey landed on the island that would bear his name in 1792 he saw curious white shorn wooly dogs. The women of the tribe tended to the dogs, the only domesticated animal they had. They wove their hair, mixed it with mountain goat wool, duck down, and fireweed cotton, into blankets. The women cared for the dogs, which were an important sign of her status. Later the natives preferred the white men’s blankets, and sadly the fluffy white dog gradually disappeared.

They cultivated the fireweed by burning berry fields, which caused the plant to grow in greater numbers.

The natives cultivated the land. By burning the fields they provided ideal conditions for the fireweed, nettles and camas, important to their survival, to thrive.

The Camas was a staple of their diet. It was a whitish bulb from the lily family and resembled a potato. This was so important to the diet that they burned the prairie periodically to encourage its growth. To harvest, they used a curved digging stick, their only agricultural tool. Pioneer Flora Engle wrote of an “Indian potato” that was delicious, snow white and mealy when boiled, more flavorful than other potatoes. They dried the camas and ate it throughout the winter. Later it was replaced by the more productive white man’s potato, and the camas, like the small white dogs, disappeared from the prairies.

Doquebuth gave the men bows and arrows to hunt deer and elk for food.

Deer and small game were an important source of food, and the skins could be fashioned into clothing. Whidbey natives did not hunt elk, but the mainland Skagits came and hunted here.

Doquebuth showed them how to make nets and cast them into their waters to catch the Salmon People. He told them to put the bones of the Salmon People back into the water so they could be reborn and come back again and again to feed the people.

Whidbey natives made nets with a string fashioned from nettles. The Salmon was very important but even when the salmon didn't run, there was no scarcity or famine. There were so many sources of food. In addition to shellfish and meat from hunting, there were other foods they took from the land.

The many varieties of berries, which still grow on the island today, helped to round out the diet: strawberries, blueberries, salmon berries, salal berries, thimble berries, blackcaps and blackberries. They dried the berries for the winter. When they wanted to use them they added water, making a kind of soup or juice. The Snohomish made a cake from dried blueberries. They mashed the berries together with a little water and dried it again to make a cake. Natives also ate hazelnuts, a kind of wild carrot, tiger lilies, crabapples, rose hips, and made a tea from kinnikinnik. Another important food, which they encouraged by prairie burning, was the bracken fern. They ground the starchy root into flour for making bread. There was fish oil and seal oil for cooking. The women prepared the meals.

Doquebuth gave them knowledge to turn cedar trees into canoes so they could go wherever they wanted, how to fell trees by burning, then cut planks to make houses.

They used all of the trees, but the canoe, critical to an island people, was made of cedar, dug out of a tree and carefully worked. They made planks from the trees and used them to build their longhouses and potlatch houses. Snohomish Indian Harriette Dover described her grandparent’s long-house to author Dorothy Neil: “It was 400 feet long, made from dressed cedar logs. The poles supporting the roof were all carved like totems, and inside the big building it was just one big room where everyone lived.”

Raven stole the sun from Gray Eagle's bag and put it into the sky to give light to all the creatures on earth. And so the people were no longer cold and hungry and afraid.

The myth tells us a lot about the life of Whidbey Island natives. They learned how to perfectly adapt to their environment and how to use to best effect the native plants and animals. This must have seemed like a gift from God. They had everything they needed to live a comfortable life and teach their children, confident that their home would always be a land of plenty.

*There is another myth the Skagits told about Doquebuth - the Myth of the Creator and the Flood.