Virginia Beavert: The Legend of the Baby Board

In this video, Dr. Virginia Beavert relates the legend of the baby board and discusses the respect that should be given to sacred places.

Bio: Virginia Beavert received her Doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Oregon and teaches her native language, Ichishkin. Virginia Beavert, a member of the Yakama Nation, is a highly respected teacher and fluent speaker of her language, Yakama Sahaptin (Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit)c. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages. ( She grew up learning Nez Perce, and also Klickitat, Umatilla and Yakama dialects of Sahaptin. A respected Yakama elder, she has made invaluable contributions to Confluence at the Sacajawea Park Story Circles project, and the Vancouver Land Bridge.


Colin: Do you mind if I ask you to tell that story? What is the legend of the baby board?

VB: Well it’s about this woman that was from the river, she was a water person. Evidently there was a monster that was killing people, that was animal days you know. And she took her child, the baby, out of the board. I guess she must’ve made another board for it, because the board is still in the river. And then she ran away over the hill towards Goldendale. And some other creatures were helping her. It seems like the Thistle Sisters, all the thistles that you know have those sharp points, were always helping people. So they were, I guess, putting themselves where this monster would step on them you know and prick his foot and that slowed him down. So she ran away and went over. She got just over the Goldendale hump there where the city of Goldendale is, she went down. And he caught up with her and he punctured–see this was a giant, what they call…no it’s a poison. I can’t think of the name in English.

Colin: What’s the Ichishkin name?

VB: I can’t even remember that now. It’s what happens when I’m trying to think of an English name then my Indian word goes away. [Ichishkin word] Black widow spider. That’s what it was. So it pierced her. And my father said that she took her baby and she hid it and she set it up, out of sight on the way. And she fell down. She laid there for a while and something else came along and delayed the —native word same as 17:12. And she got up again and she ran away. She left a big place there in the canyon where there was red water bubbling out. And my father took me there and she showed me the bubbling red water when he was telling me this legend. And I don’t think I could get down there now, and I doubt if it’s there anymore. So she kept on going and then finally Coyote got into the act and so they managed to kill the black widow spider. But this woman went just as far as she could and she fell down and died. So she’s lying there on the right side of the road, just before you go down into the Yakima valley. She’s a wishing rock. People, they used to go there and give her beads and coins and things. But now they see their hanging dirty t-shirts and things up there, it isn’t right you know. I don’t know what kind of good luck they get from that. It’s not showing very much respect for her. They used to say that when you paid her respect the gift that you gave her would disappear. The next day it wouldn’t be there. So she’d take it in. I don’t know how she did that. And then they claimed that whatever you asked for would happen. I never made a wish there. I just never seemed to have a need I guess [laughs]. Well anyway, most of it were some women you know, asking for a man or something. A man asking for a wife. Or things like that. I understand that one widow went up there and asked for a wife, and the next day a woman–one of his in-laws–brought a woman to him the next day. [Laughter]
And that’s one of our cultures that you can bring a substitute for the widow and she just takes the place of the wife’s duties around the home. But she’s never referred to as wife, she’s called ‘my wife’s sister’ when he introduces her somewhere he’ll say ‘this is my wife’s sister’. And there’s a word for that somewhere–[Ichishkíin word]–that means ‘my wife’s sister’. And it’s the same thing when a man introduces his wife. I mean, if she introduces her husband that somebody brought to her. He’s still a [Ichishkíin word]– but she’ll say this is my husband’s brother or cousin, whatever.

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