06 January 2012

A Legend of the Rock

This legend was taken from the journal of Paul Kane, as presented in Wanderings of an Artist, published in 1859. It was written after having left Vancouver Island, and while on the way to Nasqually, before ascending the Cowlitz River.

"June 14th [1847].—Whilst passing an isolated rock, standing six or seven feet high above the water, and a little more than four feet in circumference, the old chief asked me if I knew what it had originally been. On my replying in the negative, he told me the following legend:—

'It is many moons since a Nasqually family lived near this spot. It consisted of a widow with four sons,—one of them was by her first husband, the other three by the second. The three younger sons treated their elder brother with great unkindness, refusing him any share of the produce of their hunting and fishing; he, on the contrary, wishing to conciliate them, always gave them a share of his spoils. He, in fact, was a great medicine-man, although this was unknown to them, and, being tired of their harsh treatment, which no kindness on his part seemed to soften, he at length resolved to retaliate. He accordingly one day entered the lodge, where they were feasting, and told them that there was a large seal a short distance off. They instantly seized their spears and started in the direction he pointed out, and, coming up to the animal, the eldest drove his spear into it. This seal was 'a great medicine,' a familiar of the elder brother, who had himself created him for the occasion. The foremost of them had no sooner driven in his spear than he found it impossible to disengage his hand from the handle, or to draw it out; the two others drove in their spears with the like effect. The seal now took to the water, dragging them after it, and swam far out to sea. Having travelled on for many miles they saw an island in the distance, towards which the seal made. On nearing the shore they found, for the first time, they could remove their hands from their spears. They accordingly landed, and supposing themselves in some enemy's country, they hid themselves in a clump of bushes from observation. While lying concealed, they saw a diminutive canoe coming round a point in the distance, paddled by a very little man, who, when he came opposite to where they were, anchored his boat with a stone attached to a long line, without perceiving them. He now sprang over the side, and diving down, remained a long time under water. At length he rose to the surface, and brought with him a large fish, which he threw into the boat: this he repeated several times, each time looking in to count the fish he had caught. The three brothers being very hungry, one of them offered to swim out while the little man was under water, and steal one of the fish. This he safely accomplished before the return of the fisherman; but the little fellow no sooner returned with another fish than he discovered that one of those already caught was missing, and, stretching out his hand, he passed it slowly along the horizon, until it pointed directly to their place of concealment. He now drew up his anchor and paddled to the shore, and immediately discovered the three brothers, and being as miraculously strong as he was diminutive, he tied their hands and feet together and, throwing them into his canoe, jumped in and paddled back in the direction from whence he had come. Having rounded the distant point, where they had first descried him, they came to a village inhabited by a race of people as small as their captor, their houses, boats, and utensils being all in proportion to themselves.

'The three brothers were then taken out and thrown, bound as they were, into a lodge, while a council was convened to decide upon their fate. During the sitting of the council an immense flock of birds, resembling geese, but much larger, pounced down upon the inhabitants, and commenced a violent attack. These birds had the power of throwing their sharp quills like the porcupine, and although the little warriors fought with great valour, they soon became covered with the piercing darts and all sunk insensible on the ground. When all resistance had ceased the birds took to flight and disappeared.

'The brothers had witnessed the conflict from their place of confinement, and with much labour had succeeded in releasing themselves from their bonds, when they went to the battle ground, and commenced pulling the quills from the apparently lifeless bodies; but no sooner had they done this, than all instantly returned to consciousness. When all of them had become well again they wished to express their gratitude to their preservers, and offered to grant whatsoever they should desire. The brothers requested to be sent back to their own country. A council was accordingly called to decide on the easiest mode of doing so, and they eventually determined upon employing a whale for the purpose. The brothers were then seated on the back of the monster, and proceeded in the direction of Nasqually. However, when they had reached about half way, the whale began to think what a fool he was for carrying them instead of turning them into porpoises, and letting them swim home themselves. Now the whale is considered as a 'Soch-a-li-ti-yah,' or Great Spirit, although not the same as the 'Hias-Soch-a-li-tiyah,' or Great High Spirit, possessing greater powers than all other animals put together, and no sooner had he thought upon the matter than he carried it into effect. This, accordingly, is the way that the porpoises first came into existence, and accounts for their being constantly at war with the seals, one of which species was the cause of their misfortunes. After the three brothers had so strangely disappeared, their mother came down to the beach and remained there for days, watching for their return and bewailing their absence with tears. Whilst thus engaged one day the whale happened to pass by, and, taking pity on her distress, turned her into that stone.'

"I could not observe any very special peculiarity in the formation of this rock while paddling past it in a canoe; and, at least from the points of observation presented to my eye, no resemblance to the human figure, such as the conclusion of the legend might lead us to anticipate, appeared to be traceable. Standing, however, as this rock does, entirely isolated, and without any other being visible for miles around, it has naturally become an object of special note to the Indians, and is not uncalculated, from its solitary position, to be made the scene of some of the fanciful creations of their superstitious credulity."

Little Dallas, Columbia River.
Sketched — possibly September 23, 1947 — by Kane when likely twenty miles above Kettle Falls, near Fort Colville. This image reflects the character of the landscape which could result in tribal legends about rock features.