The Legend of the Sleeping Lady

sleeping lady
Mount Susitna, Alaska. Also known as Sleeping Lady. She is in her winter blanket.

The Legend of the sleeping Lady

Growing up in Alaska, I have heard many of the legends, myths, and rumors in and around this state. The legend of the Sleeping Lady has been one of the most shared legends that I know of. The legend states that I heard while growing is stated to have been an old native legend; however I have heard recently that their legend is much different than the one I grew up with and that one was most likely created by old miners or homesteaders.

The basics of what I heard were that long ago there were a race of giant people and that there was a princess named Susitna who was waiting for fiancé warrior who never returned. She fell asleep while waiting and became Mount Susitna, also known as the sleeping lady. This mountain across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage has this legend and then another from the original people in the area, the Dena’ina.

Here is the legend I knew as a child:

Long ago, there lived a Gentle Giant people. The Giant people loved their land in lived in peace and harmony. The children played and danced and the adults talked of their land that stretched into the inlet by the sea.

Within the Giant People’s tribe, there lived a young couple: Susitna and Nekatla. These two young people loved each other like no others. Their love lit up the sky with great dancing lights and their people loved and respected them for their devotion to one another.

One terrible day, a stranger visited the Giant People. He told them stories of a fierce and warlike tribe that lived far to the North. The stranger warned that the Giant People would one day be attacked by the warlike tribe.

After hearing the news, the Great Chief of the Giant People gathered the tribe together in council. The Giant People decided that all of the men, young and old, would travel North to convince the warlike tribe to live in peace and harmony.

Susitna and Nekatla knew they would be separated for a long time. They walked hand in hand to their favorite plateau, overlooking the slender inlet. Nekatla gazed into Susitna’s tearful eyes and promised her that he would return. He asked that she wait at this spot, as he wanted to find her as soon as he returned.

Many days and nights passed with no sign of the Giant Men or Nekatla. Susitna wove baskets and picked berries, but she grew weary and lay down on the plateau and was soon fast asleep. Meanwhile, the Giant People’s Men arrived at the Northern Warlike Village.

Their plea for peace and harmony was met with a swift and terrible answer. Suddenly the Warlike Tribe attacked the Giant People. The battle was fierce, but short. Many of the Giant People were killed and others were taken prisoner.

The news of the disaster quickly swept across the Great Land. The name of Nekatla was on everyone’s lips, for he too had fallen. With his last breathe he spoke the name of his precious Susitna. The women of the Giant People could not bear to awaken Susitna and tell her the fateful news. To shield her from heart break they wove a blanket of grass and wildflowers and gently placed it over her sleeping form.

That night the women prayed to their Gods to place Susitna in a deep, unwakening sleep. The Gods answered the women’s prayers, but the price was high, as the Great land would be changed forever. The air tuned cold and a light snow began to cover Susitna and the long stretch of land that ran into the inlet. That snow was the first that had fallen in the Great Land.

Days turned into years and Susitna continued to sleep and dream of Nekatla’s return. The Giant People disappeared from the Great Land, and a different smaller people came in their place to watch over the Sleeping Susitna. Each summer her sleeping body is still covered by the blanket of grass and wildflowers and each winter the God’s gently place a soft blanket of snow upon her.

There are some who say that when all the warring people of the world disappear and peace and harmony return, Nekatla will awaken his sleeping Susitna. But today few remember the Giant People. Many call the great mountain Susitna but the wise, who believe the legend, gaze at her from a distance and respectfully address her as the “Lady”.

As you can see, this story has a lot of beautiful drama with a fairly sad ending. It is the story I knew as a child but, even then, there are a few different versions of this legend. There is another legend told by the Dena’ina people but it is quite different from this one.

The basics of this legend are as follows:

Cook Inlet Region Inc. Historian A.J. McLanahan cited evidence that Mount Susitna was sacred to the Dena’ina people in the area, and linked the mountain, which they called “Dghelishla,” or “little mountain,” with Denali, which they called “Dghelay Ka’a,” or “big mountain.”

In “A Dena’ina Legacy,” Peter Kalifornsky told the story of the Mountain People who gathered at Susitna, and a giant lady who said she would lie down by the river she loved to become Susitna Mountain. Her relatives followed, Kalifornsky said, to become Mount Redoubt, Mount Iliamna and the Chigmit Mountain Range. Another wandered inland to become Denali.

And yet another version of the Dena’ina legend:

The Dena’ina name for Mount Susitna is Dghelishla, “little mountain.” It is a sacred place. Here, Dena’ina elders said, the ancestors of the Nulchina clan descended from the sky on a frozen cloud. Here, the renowned Dena’ina qeshqa, Diqelas Tukda, obtained spiritual power. Here, centuries before, a young Dena’ina man from Tuqen Kaq’ (Alexander Creek) discovered a deposit of copper and through trade became rich.

The ridge sloping to the south of Dghelishla is Ch’chihi Ken, “Ridge Where We Cry.” Shem Pete explained this name:

That big ridge going downriver from Dghelishla all the way to Beluga,

They call Ch’chihi Ken.

They would sit down there.

Everything is in view.

They can see their whole country.

Everything is just right under them.

They think about their brothers and their fathers and mothers.

They remember that,

And they just sit down there and cry.

That’s the place we cry all the time,

‘Cause everything just show up plain.

That’s why they call it Ch’chihi Ken.


I find it very interesting that this simple beautiful mountain has so many stories and legends connected to it. I love all of them and I am just so very glad that this beautiful Mt. Susitna, forever known as The Sleeping Lady, is in my view on a daily basis.

If you enjoyed this story, then please follow me for some more Alaskan information and stories in the future.


My Sources: (last accessed 6/19/2014)

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