Lifting the Sky

Robert Bruce Inverarity Self Portrait

Robert Bruce Inverarity Self Portrait, 1938, Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Robert Bruce Inverarity's illustration
of Chief William Shelton's story Doh-Kwi-Buhch
from Ella E. Clark's Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest

Chief William Shelton

William Shelton, 1913
Photo by J.A. Juleen, Courtesy Everett Public Library

William Shelton's Story Pole

William Shelton's Story Pole, Capitol Grounds, Olympia, WA
Courtesy State of Washington

Story of the Totem Pole

Courtesy Washington State Library
Olympia, WA


Doh-Kwi-Buhch was the name of the great and mighty man who created the world. He started his wonderful task away over in the East and gradually worked towards the West, creating everything as he went along. He carried with him a great variety of languages and as he created each group of people, he gave them a language, being careful to select the best languages he had.

While working his way West, he reached Puget Sound country and decided that he would go no farther West or North. In his hand he still had a great number of languages left and at a loss to know what to do with them he scattered them all around him and to the North, and that is the very reason why there are so many different languages among the Indians of the Sound country and the North.

After Doh-Kwi-Buhch had scattered the languages about in this wasteful fashion, the different tribes of Indians found that they could not understand one another; they were not satisfied with the way in which Doh-Kwi-Buhch had created the world — they found that the sky was much too low to suit their convenience, for the taller people would very often bump their heads on the sky. Also, people got into the habit of climbing trees and making their way into the next world, which was not as it should be.

The wiser Indians of the different tribes held a meeting and it was agreed that the people should try to shove the sky up higher and it would be possible to do this if all the people would shove at the same time. How could they make them all understand just when they were to shove? Doh-Kwi-Buhch had given animals, birds, insects, people all a different language and it would be difficult to make them all understand just when they were to shove. Finally, one of the wiser men thought of the word "Ya-hoh," which means to lift together and so these wise men who were attending the meeting scattered the news among the different tribes and the date of the lifting of the sky was set.

In the meantime everybody was busy making poles with which to lift the sky. You will see a bundle of these sticks or poles carved on the big story pole — they are carefully wrapped in matting and tied with Indian packing straps so that they may be preserved for a long time. You can only see the ends of the sticks protruding from the matting.

On the day set for the lifting of the sky, all the people braced their poles against the sky and the command "Ya-hoh" was given and everybody lifted as hard as they could and they succeeded in raising the sky a little bit; after the second "Ya-hoh" the sky was raised a little higher and after the third attempt they raised the sky up to its present position.

Now it happened that just as the people had been ready to shove the sky up, three hunters who had been chasing four elk for several hours came to where heaven and earth nearly met and the elk jumped into the next world, and, of course, the hunters followed them, so that when the sky was raised the hunters and the elk were raised with it. To this very day, you can see them in the sky at night; the three hunters form the handle of the dipper — the one in the center is leading his dog, the tiny star so close to him — and the four elk form the rest of the dipper. Then, too, you have noticed the skatefish formation of stars in the sky; two canoes with three Indians in each canoe and a little fish happened to be making their way into the sky when the people shoved the sky up and so they have had to remain there ever since. All the Indians know that the hunters and the little dog, the elk, the little fish, the fishermen in the canoes were on earth once upon a time and all tribes have the same names for these stars.

From the time the people moved the sky, there was no more jumping into the next world, and the people were content and happy. Although they could not yet understand the language of all the different tribes, they were happy because they had been able to use the wonderful word "Ya-hoh" and in that way they had been able to accomplish what they had set out to do.