Music: Colors Fall by R. Carlos Nakai & James De Mars
|The Legend of Wountie
A Squamish Legend
A long time ago, even before the time of the flood, the Cheakamus River provided food for the Squamish people. Each year, at the end of summer,
when the salmon came home to spawn, the people would cast their cedar root nets into the water and get enough fish for the winter to come.
One day, a man came to fish for food for his family for the winter. He looked into the river and found that many fish were coming home this year.
He said thanks to the spirit of the fish, for giving themselves as food for his family, and cast his net into the river and waited. In time, he drew his nets
in, and they were full of fish, enough for his family for the whole year. He packed these away into cedar bark baskets, and prepared to go home.
But he looked into the river, and saw all those fish, and decided to cast his net again. And he did so, and it again filled with fish, which he threw onto
the shore. A third time, he cast his net into the water and waited.
This time, when he pulled his net in, it was torn beyond repair by sticks, stumps and branches which filled the net. To his dismay, the fish on the shore
and the fish in the cedar bark baskets were also sticks and branches. He had no fish, his nets were ruined.
It was then he looked up at the mountain, and saw Wountie, the spirit protecting the Cheakamus, who told him that he had broken the faith with the
river and with nature, by taking more than he needed for himself and his family. And this was the consequence.
And to this day, high on the mountain overlooking the Cheakamus and the Paradise Valley, is the image of Wountie, protecting the Cheakamus.
The fisherman? Well, his family went hungry and starved, a lesson for all the people in his family.
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|The Lure in Stanley Park
A Squamish Legend
There is a well-known trail in Stanley Park that leads to what I always love to call the "Cathedral Trees" --that group of some half-dozen forest giants
that arch overhead with such superb loftiness. But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble or onyx columns can vie with those straight,
clean, brown cedar boles that teem with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace-work they have festooned
between you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles, are as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading about their
feet. They are the acme of Nature's architecture, and in building them she has out-rivaled all her erstwhile conceptions. She will never originate a
more faultless design, never erect a more perfect edifice. But the divinely molded cedars and the man-made cathedral have one exquisite characteristic
in common. It is the atmosphere of holiness. Most of us have better impulses after viewing a stately cathedral, and none of us can stand amid that
majestic group of cedars without experiencing some elevating thoughts, some refinement of our coarser nature. Perhaps those who read this little
legend will never again stand amid those cathedral trees without thinking of the glorious souls they contain, for according to the Coast Indians they
do harbor human souls, and the world is better because they once had the speech and the hearts of mighty men.
My tillicum did not use the word "lure" in telling me this legend. There is no equivalent for the word in the Chinook tongue, but the gestures of his
"voiceful" hands so expressed the quality of something between magnetism and charm that I have selected this word "lure" as best fitting that he
wished to convey. Some few yards beyond the cathedral trees, an overgrown disused trail turns into the dense wilderness to the right. Only Indian
eyes could discern that trail, and the Indians do not willingly go to that part of the park to the right of the cedar group. Nothing in this, nor yet the
next world would tempt a Coast Indian into the compact centers of the wild portions of the park, for therein, concealed cunningly, is the "lure" they all
believe in. There is not a tribe in the entire district that does not know of this strange legend. You will hear the tale from those that gather at Eagle
Harbor for the fishing, from the Fraser River tribes, from the Squamish at the Narrows, from the Mission, from up the Inlet, even from the tribes at
North Bend, but no one will volunteer to be your guide, for having once come within the "aura" of the lure it is a human impossibility to leave it. Your
willpower is dwarfed, your intelligence blighted, your feet will refuse to lead you out by a straight trail, you will circle, circle for evermore about this
magnet, for if death kindly comes to your aid your immortal spirit will go on in that endless circling that will bar it from entering the Happy Hunting
And, like the cathedral trees, the lure once lived, a human soul, but in this instance it was a soul depraved, not sanctified. The Indian belief is very
beautiful concerning the results of good and evil in the human body. The Sagalie Tyee (God) has His own way of immortalizing each. People who are
willfully evil, who have no kindness in their hearts, who are bloodthirsty, cruel, vengeful, unsympathetic, the Sagalie Tyee turns to solid stone that
will harbor no growth, even that of moss or lichen, for these stones contain no moisture, just as their wicked hearts lacked the milk if human
kindness. The one famed exception, wherein a good man was transformed into stone, was in the instance of Siwash rock, but as the Indian tells you
of it he smiles with gratification as he calls your attention to the tiny tree cresting that imperial monument. He says the tree was always there to show
the nations that the good in this man's heart kept on growing even when his body ceased to be. On the other hand the Sagalie Tyee transforms the
kindly people, the humane, sympathetic, charitable-loving people into trees, so that after death they may go on forever benefiting all mankind; they
may yield fruit, give shade and shelter, afford unending service to the living, by their usefulness as building material and as firewood. Their saps and
gums, their fibers, their leaves, their blossoms, enrich, nourish and sustain the human form; no evil is produced by trees --all, all is goodness, is
hearty, is helpfulness and growth. They give refuge to the birds, they give music to the winds, and from them are carved the bows and arrows, the
canoes and paddles, bowls, spoons and baskets. Their service to mankind is priceless; the Indian that tells you this tale will enumerate all these
attributes and virtues of these trees. No wonder the Sagalie Tyee chose them to be the abode of souls good and great.
But the lure in Stanley Park is that most dreaded of all things, an evil soul. It is embodied in a bare, white stone, which is shunned by moss and vine
and lichen, but over which are splashed innumerable jet-black spots that have eaten into the surface like acid.
This condemned soul once animated the body of a witch-woman, who went up and down the coast, over seas and far inland, casting her evil eye on
innocent people, and bringing them untold evils and disease. About her person she carried the renowned "Bad Medicine" that every Indian believes in
--medicine that weakened the arm of the warrior in battle, that caused deformities, that poisoned minds and characters, that engendered madness,
that bred plagues and epidemics; in short, that was the seed of every evil that could befall mankind. This witch-woman herself was immune from
death; generations were born and grew to old age, and died, and other generations arose in their stead, but the witch-woman went about, her heart
set against her kind; her acts were evil, her purposes wicked, she broke hearts and bodies and souls; she gloried in tears, and reveled in unhappiness,
and sent them broadcast wherever she wandered. And in his high heaven the Sagalie Tyee wept with sorrow for his afflicted human children. He
dared not let her die, for her spirit would still go on with its evil doing. In mighty anger he gave command to his Four Men (always representing the
Deity) that they should turn this witch-woman into a stone and enchain her soirit in its center, that the curse of her might be lifted from the unhappy
So the Four Men entered their giant canoe, and headed, as was their custom, up the Narrows. As they neared what is now known as Prospect Point
they heard from the heights above them a laugh, and looking up they beheld the witch-woman jeering defiantly at them. They landed and, scaling the
rocks, pursued her as she danced away, eluding them like a will-o'-the-wisp as she called out to them sneeringly:
"Care for yourselves, oh! men of the Sagalie Tyee, or I shall blight you with my evil eye. Care for yourselves and do not follow me." On and on she
danced through the thickest of the wilderness, and on and on they followed until they reached the very heart of the sea girt neck of land we know as
Stanley Park. Then the tallest, the mightiest of the Four Men, lifted his hand and cried out: "Oh ! woman of the stony heart, be stone for evermore,
and bear forever a black stain for each one of your evil deeds." And as he spoke the witch-woman was transformed into this stone that tradition says
is in the center of the park.
Such is the legend of the Lure, whether or not this stone is really in existence --who knows? One thing is positive, however, no Indian will ever help to
Three different Indians have told me that fifteen or eighteen years ago two tourists-- a man and a woman-- were lost in Stanley Park. When found a
week later the man was dead, the woman mad, and each of my informants firmly believed they had, in their wanderings, encountered "the stone" and
were compelled to circle around it, because of its powerful lure.
But this wild tale fortunately has a most beautiful conclusion. The Four Men, fearing that the evil heart imprisoned in the stone would still work
destruction, said: "At the end of the trail we must place so good and great a thing that it will be mightier, stronger, more powerful than this evil." So
they chose from the nations the kindliest, most benevolent men, men whose hearts were filled with the love of their fellow-beings, and transformed
these merciful souls into the stately group of "Cathedral Trees."
How well the purpose of the Sagalie Tyee has wrought its effect through time! The good has predominated as He planned it to, for is not the stone
hidden in some unknown part of the park where eyes do not see it and feet do not follow-- and do not the thousands who come to us from the
nethermost parts of the world seek that wondrous beauty spot, and stand awed by the majestic silence, the almost holiness of that group of giant
More than any other legend that the Indians about Vancouver have told me does this tale reveal the love of the Coast native for kindness, and his
hatred of cruelty. If these tribes have ever been a warlike race I cannot think they pride themselves much on the occupation, If you talk with any of
them and they mention some man they particularly like or admire, their first qualification of him is: "He's a kind man." They never say he is brave,
or rich, or successful, or even strong, that characteristic so loved by the red man. To these Coast tribes if a man is "kind" he is everything. And almost
without exception their legends deal with rewards for tenderness and self-abnegation, and personal and mental cleanliness.
Call them fairy tales if you wish to, they all have a reasonableness that must have originated in some mighty mind, and better than that, they all tell of
the Indian's faith in the survival of the best impulses of the human heart, and the ultimate extinction of the worst.
In talking with my many good tillicums, I find this witch-woman legend is the most universally known and thoroughly believed in of all traditions
they have honored me by revealing to me.
A Squamish Legend
Journeying toward the upper course of the Capilano River, about a mile city-wards from the dam, you will a disused logger's shack. Leave the trail at
this point and strike through the undergrowth for a few hundred yards and you will be on the rocky borders of that purest, most restless river in all
Canada. The stream is haunted with tradition, teeming with a score of romances that vie with its grandeur and loveliness, and of which its waters are
perpetually whispering. But I learned this legend from one whose voice was as dulcet as the swirling rapids; but, unlike them, that voice is hushed
today, while the river still sings on --sings on.
It was singing in very melodious tones through the long August afternoon two summers ago, while we, the chief and his happy-hearted wife and
bright, young daughter, all lounged amongst the boulders and watched the lazy clouds drift from peak to peak far above us. It was one of his inspired
days; legends crowded to his lips as a whistle teases the mouth of a happy boy, his heart was brimming with tales of the bygones, his eyes were dark
with dreams and that strange mournfulness that always haunted them when he spoke of long-ago romances. There was not a tree, a boulder, a dash
of rapid upon which his glance fell that he had not some ancient superstition to link with it. Then abruptly, in the very midst of his verbal reveries, he
turned and asked me if I were superstitious. Of course I replied that I was.
"Do you think some happenings will bring trouble later on --will foretell evil?" he asked.
I made some evasive answer, which, however, seemed to satisfy him, for he plunged into the strange tale of the recluse of the canyon with more vigor
than dreaminess; but first he asked me the question: "What do your own tribes, those east of the great mountains think of twin children?"
I shook my head.
"That is enough," he said before I could reply. "I see, your people do not like them."
"Twin children are almost unknown with us," I hastened. "They are rare, very rare, but it is true we do not welcome them."
"Why?" he asked abruptly.
I was a little uncertain about telling him. If I said the wrong thing, the coming tale might die on his lips before it was born to speech, but we
understood each other so well that I finally ventured the truth:
"We Iroquois say that twin children are as rabbits," I explained. "The nation always nicknames the parents. 'Tow-wan-da-na-ga.' That is the
Mohawk for rabbit."
"Is that all?" he asked curiously.
"That is all. Is it not enough to render twin children unwelcome?" I questioned.
He thought awhile, then with evident desire to learn how all races regarded this occurrence, he said, "You have been much among the Palefaces, what
do they say of twins?"
"Oh! The Palefaces like them. They are --they are --oh! Well, they say they are very proud of having twins," I stammered. Once again I was hardly
sure of my ground. He looked most incredulous, and I was led to inquire what his own people of the Squamish thought of this discussed problem.
"It is no pride to us," he said, decidedly; "nor yet is it disgrace of rabbits, but it is a fearsome thing --a sign of coming evil to the father, and, worse than
that, of coming disaster to the tribe."
Then I knew he held in his heart some strange incident that gave substance to the superstition. "Won't you tell it to me?" I begged.
He leaned a little backward against a giant boulder, clasping his thin brown hands about his knees; his eyes roved up the galloping river, then swept
down the singing waters to where they crowded past the sudden bend, and during the entire of the strange legend his eyes never left the spot where the
stream disappeared in its hurrying journey to the sea. Without preamble he began:
"It was a gray morning when they told him of this disaster that had befallen him. He was a great chief, and he ruled many tribes on the North Pacific
Coast; but what was his greatness now? His young wife had borne him twins, and was sobbing out her anguish in the little fir-bark lodge near the
"Beyond the doorway gathered many old men and women --old in years, old in wisdom, old in the lore and learning of their nations. Some of them
wept, some chanted solemnly the dirge of their lost hopes and happiness, which would never return because of this calamity; others discussed in
hushed voices this awesome thing, and for hours their grave council was broken only by the infant cries of the two boy-babies in the bark lodge, the
hopeless sobs of the young mother, the agonized moans of the stricken chief --their father.
"'Something dire will happen to the tribe,' said the old men in council.
"'Something dire will happen to him, my husband,' wept the young mother.
"'Something dire will happen to us all,' echoed the unhappy father.
"Then an ancient medicine man arose, lifting his arms, outstretching his palms to hush the lamenting throng. His voice shook with the weight of
many winters, but his eyes were yet keen and mirrored the clear thought and brain behind them, as the still trout pools in the Capilano mirror the
mountain tops. His words were masterful, his gestures commanding, his shoulders erect and kindly. His was a personality and an inspiration that
no one dared dispute, and his judgement was accepted as the words fell slowly, like a doom.
"'It is the olden law of the Squamish that lest evil befall the tribe the sire of twin children must go afar and alone into the mountain fastness, there by
his isolation and his loneliness to prove himself stronger than the threatened evil, and thus to beat back the shadow that would otherwise follow him
and all his people. I, therefore, name for him the length of days that he must spend alone fighting his invisible enemy. He will know by some great
sign in Nature the hour that the evil is conquered, the hour that his race is saved. He must leave before this sun sets, taking with him only his strongest
bow, his fleetest arrows, and going up into the mountain wilderness remain there ten days --alone, alone.'
"The masterful voice ceased, the tribe wailed their assent, the father arose speechless, his drawn face revealing great agony over this seemingly brief
banishment. He took leave of his sobbing wife, of the two tiny souls that were his sons, grasped his favorite bow and arrows, and faced the forest like
a warrior. But at the end of the ten days he did not return, nor yet ten weeks, nor yet ten months.
"'He is dead,' wept the mother into the baby ears of her two boys. 'He could not battle against the evil that threatened; it was stronger than he --he so
strong, so proud, so brave.'
"'He is dead,' echoed the tribesmen and the tribeswomen. 'Our strong, brave chief, he is dead.' So they mourned the long year through, but their
chants and their tears but renewed their grief; he did not return to them.
"Meanwhile, far up the Capilano the banished chief had built his solitary home; for who can tell what fatal trick of sound, what current of air, what
faltering note in the voice of the Medicine Man had deceived his alert Indian ears? But some unhappy fate had led him to understand that his solitude
must be of ten years' duration, not ten days, and he had accepted the mandate with the heroism of a stoic. For if he had refused to do so his belief was
that although the threatened disaster would be spared him, the evil would fall upon his tribe. This was one more added to the long list of
self-forgetting souls whose creed has been, 'It is fitting that one should suffer for the people.' It was the world-old heroism of vicarious sacrifice.
"with his hunting-knife the banished Squamish chief stripped the bark from the firs and cedars, building for himself a lodge beside the Capilano river,
where leaping trout and salmon could be speared by arrow-heads fastened to deftly shaped, long handles. All through the salmon run he smoked and
dried the fish with the care of a housewife. The mountain sheep and goats, and even huge black and cinnamon bears, fell before his unerring arrows;
the fleet-footed deer never returned to their haunts from their evening drinking at the edge of the stream --their wild hearts, their agile bodies were
stilled when he took aim. Smoked hams and saddles hung in rows from the cross poles of his bark lodge, and the magnificent pelts of animals
carpeted his floors, padded his couch and clothed his body. He tanned the soft doe hides, making leggings, moccasins and shirts, stitching them
together with deer sinew as he had seen his mother do in the long-ago. He gathered the juicy salmonberries, their acid flavor being a gratifying
change from meat and fish. Month by month and year by year he sat beside his lonely camp-fire, waiting for his long term of solitude to end. One
comfort alone was his --he was enduring the disaster, fighting the evil, that his tribe might go unscathed, that his people be saved from calamity.
Slowly, laboriously the tenth year dawned; day by day it dragged its long weeks across his waiting heart, for Nature had not yet given the sign that
his long probation was over.
"Then one hot summer day the Thunder Bird came crashing through the mountains about him. Up from the arms of the Pacific rolled the storm cloud,
and the Thunder Bird, with its eyes of flashing light, beat its huge vibrating wings on crag and canyon.
"Upstream, a tall shaft of granite rears its needle-like length. It is named 'Thunder Rock' and wise men of the Paleface people say it is rich in ore
--copper, silver and gold. At the base of this shaft the Squamish chief crouched when the storm cloud broke and bellowed through the ranges, and on
its summit the Thunder Bird perched, its gigantic wings threshing the air into booming sounds, into splitting terrors, like the crash of a giant cedar
hurtling down the mountain side.
"But when the beating of those black pinions ceased and the echo of their thunder waves died down the depths of the canyon, the Squamish chief arose
as a new man. The shadow on his soul had lifted, the fears of evil were cowed and conquered. In his brain, his blood, his veins, his sinews, he felt that
the poison of melancholy dwelt no more. He had redeemed his fault of fathering twin children; he had fulfilled the demands of the law of his tribe.
"As he heard the last beat of the Thunder Bird's wings dying slowly, slowly, faintly, faintly, among the crags, he knew that the bird, too, was dying,
for its soul was leaving its monster black body, and presently that soul appeared in the sky. He could see it arching overhead, before it took its long
journey to the Happy Hunting Grounds, for the soul of the Thunder Bird was a radiant half-circle of glorious color spanning from peak to peak. He
lifted his head then, for he knew it was the sign the ancient Medicine Man had told him to wait for --the sign that his long banishment was ended.
"And all these years, down in the tidewater country, the little brown-faced twins were asking child-wise, 'Where is our father? Why have we no father
like other boys?' To be met only with the oft-repeated reply, 'Your father is no more. Your father, the great chief, is dead.'
"But some strange filial intuition told the boys that their sire would some day return. Often they voiced this feeling to their mother, but she would only
weep and say that not even the witchcraft of the great Medicine Man could bring him to them. But when they were ten years old the two children
came to their mother, hand within hand. They were armed with their little hunting-knives, their salmon spears, their tiny bows and arrows.
"'We go to find our father,' they said.
"'Oh! Useless quest,' wailed the mother.
"'Oh! Useless quest,' echoed the tribes-people.
"But the great Medicine Man said, 'The heart of a child has invisible eyes, perhaps the child-eyes see him. The heart of a child has invisible ears,
perhaps the child-ears hear him call. Let them go.' So the little children went forth into the forest; their young feet flew as though shod with wings,
their young hearts pointed to the north as does the white man's compass. Day after day they journeyed up-stream, until rounding a sudden bend they
beheld a bark lodge with a thin blue curl of smoke drifting from its roof.
"'It is our father's lodge,' they told each other, for their childish hearts were unerring in response to the call of kinship. Hand in hand they approached,
and entering the lodge, said the one word, 'Come.'
"the great Squamish chief outstretched his arms towards them, then towards the laughing river, then towards the mountains.
"'Welcome, my sons!' he said. 'And goodbye, my mountains, my brothers, my crags and my canyons!' And with a child clinging to each hand he face
once more the country of the tidewater."
The legend was ended.
For a long time he sat in silence. He had removed his gaze from the bend in the river, around which the two children had come and where the eyes of
the recluse had first rested on them after ten years of solitude.
The chief spoke again, "It was here, on this spot we are sitting, that he built his lodge; here he dwelt those ten years alone, alone."
I nodded silently. The legend was too beautiful to mar with comments, and as the twilight fell, we threaded our way through the underbrush, past the
disused logger's camp and into the trail that leads city-wards.
|Why the Salmon come to the Squamish waters
A Squamish Legend
Long ago when animals and human beings were the same, there were four brothers who went about doing good.
Coming to the Squamish Indians one time, they were persuaded by the chief to stay a while in his village. Knowing the wonder-working powers of the
brothers, the chief said to them, "Won't you bring the salmon people to our shores? We are often short of food. We know that salmon is good, but
they never come to our waters."
"We will persuade the salmon People," replied the oldest brother, "if we can find out where they live. We shall have to ask Snookum, the sun."
After a good deal of struggle and using a few tricks, the brothers got the Sun to tell them where to look for the Salmon People. "The home of the
salmon is a long way off in that direction," replied Sun, pointing toward the west. "If you want to visit them, you must first prepare much medicine
and take it with you. Then all will be well."
The brothers let the Sun go and he flew off into the clouds. After gathering many herbs and making much medicine, they said to the Squamish people,
"Get out your canoes and make ready for a long journey. At sunrise tomorrow we will set out for a visit with the Salmon People."
Next morning they all started westward. For many days they paddled, and finally they came near an island. There they saw what seemed to be a
village. Smoke of all colors rose into the clouds. "This seems to be the country we are looking for," said the brothers. "Sun told us that this is the home
of the Salmon People." So the paddlers took the canoes to the beach, which was very broad and smooth. All the Squamish people went toward the
village, the four brothers carrying the medicine with them. They gave some of the medicine to Spring Salmon, the chief of the village. As a result, he
was friendly toward the whole party.
In the stream behind the village, Spring Salmon kept a fish-trap. Shortly before the visitors had landed, the chief had directed four of his young people,
two boys and two girls, to go into the water and swim up the creek into the salmon trap. Obeying his orders, they had drawn their blankets up over
their heads and walked into the sea. As soon as the water reached their faces, they became salmon. They leaped and played together, just as the
salmon do in the running season, and frolicked their way toward the trap in the creek.
So when the time came to welcome the strangers with a feast, Chief Spring Salmon ordered others of his people to go to the salmon trap, bring back
the four fish they would find there, and clean and roast them for the guests. When the salmon were cooked, the chief invited his guests to eat.
"Eat all you wish," he said, "but do not throw away any of the bones. Be sure to lay them aside carefully. Do not destroy even a small bone."
The Squamish and the brothers gladly accepted the invitation, partook freely of the roasted salmon, but wondered why they were asked to save the
When all had finished eating, some of the young men of the salmon village carefully picked up the little piles of bones the guests had made, took them
to the beach, and threw them into the sea. A few minutes later the four young people who had earlier gone into the water re-appeared and joined the
others. For four days the Chief thus entertained his guests with salmon feasts.
The care taken with the bones at each meal excited the curiosity of one of the visitors. On the fourth day he secretly kept back some of the bones and
hid them. At the close of the meal, the rest of the salmon bones were collected in the usual manner and cast into the sea. Immediately afterwards, four
young people came out of the white water. But one of them was covering his face with his hands.
Approaching the salmon chief the youth said, "Not all of the bones were collected. I do not have any for my cheeks and nose." Turning to his guests,
the salmon chief asked, "Did any of you mislay any of your salmon bones? Some are missing." and he pointed to the face of the young man.
Alarmed by the result of his act, the Squamish youth who had hidden the bones brought them out, pretending that he had just found them on the
ground. Now all the visitors were certain that their hosts were the salmon people.
"We have come to visit you, Salmon Chief, for a special purpose," explained the oldest brother. "We came to ask you to let some of your salmon people
visit Squamish waters, come up the streams of the Squamish people. My friends are poor, and they often go hungry. We shall be very grateful if your
people will sometimes visit them." "I will do as you request," replied the salmon chief, "on one condition: they must throw all the bones back into the
water as you have seen us do. If they will be careful with the bones, my people can return to us again after they visit you."
"We promise," said the four brothers.
"we promise," said all the Squamish people.
Then they made preparations to return to their home across the water, toward the rising sun. As they were leaving, the salmon chief said, "I will send
Spring Salmon to you first in the season. After them I will send the Sockeye, then the Coho, then the Dog-Salmon, and last of all the Humpback."
Ever since that time, long ago, different kinds of salmon, in that order, have come to the Squamish waters, to the sea, into the straits, and into the
streams. And in the days of old, before the coming of the white people, the Indians were always very careful to throw the bones of the salmon back
into the water.