Long ago, the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers were far warmer than they are today, and the winters shorter, with the snow melting and the birds returning as early as February. This allowed for large stretches of creeks, lakes, and marshland, and the Păl-raí-yûk haunted the waterways between the two rivers. They were most common around the temperate Kuskokwim, and they fed on humans and animals alike.
Păl-raí-yûk was one of Raven’s many creations, one that would lie in wait, submerged, to attack anyone coming to the water’s edge. It would also attack boats that entered its territory. For this reason Raven warned First Man to be cautious about approaching lakes and rivers.
The păl-raí-yûk has been compared to the crocodile or alligator, which it resembles in both form and habit, but it is also very similar to the muskox. It is typically represented on umiaks, masks, and dishes as an elongated, stylized reptilian creature with a long, narrow head and six legs. “Cutaway views” above the legs show human remains, indicating the grisly nature of its meals. One păl-raí-yûk that was killed by the Sky People had six legs, the hind ones long, the fore ones short, and the small middle ones hanging from the abdomen. It had small eyes and fine, dense, very dark fur on its body, like that of a shrew, that was longest on its feet. A pair of horns, extending forward, out, and curving back, are present on the head.
Păl-raí-yûk are large and bulky, but can lie on grass without bending the stems. On the other hand, a dead păl-raí-yûk would become so heavy that its body would sink into the ground if not supported. Many hunters were usually required to kill one, usually by holding it down with logs while smashing its head with clubs.
The last known păl-raí-yûk was slain by a hunter after it killed and ate his wife who was fetching water from a lake.
Nelson, E. W. (1900) The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Extract from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington.