Short Stories, South County

THE LEGEND OF THE PRINCESS IN THE MOUNTAIN

Dunsmuir’s Historian Ron McCloud recalls a local story he heard 50 years ago. He says that he is amazed how well he remembers the details of the ‘Legend of the Princess in the Mountain.’   Through the years, Ron McCloud has co-authored two books with Deb Harton and he is now considering writing another book about this story. 

Here is the preview: 

I will tell this story as best as I can remember hearing it from an elderly man who was a descendent from the Tauhindauli band of native people who settled in the Upper Soda Springs area before Dunsmuir was founded.

Many years ago, before the pale skinned people appeared and brought their strange ways, there was a small band of the original people who lived in the shadow of the mountain called Shasta and near the free flowing river the pale skinned people later called Sacramento.  These people were fortunate to have bountiful food from the river and the animals who lived in the forests, and they had a peaceful life, sheltered from the winter weather in the canyons that radiated out from the mountain, even though the elders cautioned that the ancestors told of a time when the mountain was angry and thundered fire from deep within it.  Now the mountain slept and the people felt protected by it. 

The oldest and most wise of the elders was respected by the people and while he was not called “chief” or anything other than his name, the people listened to his counsel and respected his leadership.  The name of this wise leader of the people has been forgotten with time, but his memory lives on with the name of his daughter.  Her name was Shasta, named for the beautiful mountain that the people loved.  She was deserving of the name, as she was beloved by all of the people.  She was not only as beautiful as the mountain she was named for, but she was known to be kind to the elders and loved by the children.  Her smile was as radiant as the sunshine and all who knew her felt the warmth of her friendship.  Many of the young men were attracted to Shasta and would have offered her love and the security of marriage, but Shasta gave them her friendship and stayed by her father’s warm fire.  

But one particularly cold day that was accompanied by heavy snowfall that the elders said was perhaps the heaviest in memory, a strange young man wandered into the canyon that gave winter shelter to the small band.  He had been lost in the heavy snow for seven days and he was cold and hungry and weakened by his efforts to find his way.  This was an unusual thing for Shasta’s village as there was very little contact with others.  Shasta and others in their village cautiously approached the stranger and realized that he needed help.  They took him into Shasta’s father’s shelter where there was a warm fire and women of the clan brought food.  The strange young man was interesting to his rescuers as he spoke a language that included some words that were familiar to them but others that they did not understand.  His wet clothing seemed different to them, made from skins that were not familiar, and the weapons he carried, his bow and flint tipped arrows, and a stone tipped lance, were different from any that Shasta and the others had ever seen.  

For several days the young man rested and regained his strength with the warmth and food that were provided for him. Shasta was fascinated with his differences, and gradually grew to understand more of his language as he told her of his village, far away downriver, and how he became lost in the heavy snow when he went out to hunt, and how he believed that a great spirit must have guided him to this little village and the pretty young woman who smiled to him and listened to his tale.  Shasta too, felt that it must have been the work of a great spirit to guide such a different young man to her father’s fire.  Her father, however, took note of the weapons the young man carried and pointed out that they were weapons for fighting, not for hunting, and this was something that his followers were not familiar with.  

In spite of the words of caution her father expressed, Shasta and the strange young man grew increasingly drawn to each other.  As they spent more time together and as he grew stronger, they felt a growing attraction to each other.  Shasta’s father repeatedly pointed out to her that this strange young man was from a different clan that had warlike ways rather than those peaceful ones that she knew.  But a strange attraction had taken hold of both Shasta and the young man and she did not hear her father’s warnings.  Her father became more and more concerned about the path he feared his daughter was taking.  And finally his fears came to pass.  As the young man regained his strength and was preparing to leave and find his way home, Shasta told her father that she would be leaving with him.  Her father, in a voice he had never before used with his beloved daughter, told her he would not permit her to leave. 

The days of increasing tension reached the boiling point when Shasta, her father, and the young man she now knew she loved, raised their voices in anger.  The sudden blast of a winter storm added to the confusion.  As Shasta moved to leave her father, he grasped her shoulders and held her firmly to prevent her leaving.  The strange young man had started down the path leading downriver but turned and looked back to see Shasta’s father holding her back and his anger overtook him.  He pulled a flint tipped arrow from the bundle worn on his back.  He fixed the arrow in his bow and pulled it back, aiming at the broad back of Shasta’s father as they struggled.  A sudden flurry of snow partially blinded the young man just as Shasta and her father made a sudden move and the arrow flew straight to its point of aim – Shasta’s heart.  

The horror of what had happened caused the village to recoil in shock.  Some ran to Shasta and her father, but Shasta was gone and her father was paralyzed with grief.  Others ran after the young man who realized what had happened and had disappeared in the blowing snow as he ran to escape the angry pursuers.  Women of the clan carried Shasta’s body to her father’s fire as elders of the clan held him and gave all of their strength in consoling him as much as possible.  As night fell and the winter wind cried, songs of sorrow were heard, tears were shed, and Shasta’s father, in his pain, sat with his beloved daughter.  

The storm broke in the night and morning brought bright sunshine sparkling off the new snow.  Without speaking a word, but followed by all the clan who had loved Shasta, he rose, took his daughter in his arms and carried her out into the quiet winter day.  He spoke to nobody as he followed a path that, although covered with snow, was known to the people as a path leading to the mountain.  In spite of the snow that had fallen during the night, he climbed the mountain and laid his beloved daughter in the soft snow at the very top.  And she is there to this day.

Shasta, the princess in the mountain can’t be seen when warm summer weather takes away the snow.  She can only be seen when the mountain is snow-covered.   She is difficult to see at first but those who have seen her say that once seen, she is always there and you cannot look at the mountain without seeing her again.  She can only be seen from the South in the town of Dunsmuir and from a certain angle that defines her shape.  Very few photographs or paintings reveal her.  She lays on her back with her head on the very mountain-top.  Her face is in profile against the sky looking up.  Her left arm stretches toward the south down the side of the mountain and her body extends down the slope to the west.  She is at peace as she rests there. 

Ron McCloud – June 27, 2023

Note: OK so I took some liberties in the telling of the legend.  It is essentially as I remember first hearing it but the “Princess” had no name.  To the best of my knowledge, American native people did not have royalty and “Princess” would not have been used.  I gave her the name “Shasta” as it seemed to fit the story: a pretty young woman named for the beautiful mountain and now a part of the mountain.  

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