Great had been the “run,”
and the sockeye season was almost over. For
that reason I wondered many times why my old friend,
the klootchman, had failed to make one of the fishing
fleet. She was an indefatigable workwoman, rivalling
her husband as an expert catcher, and all the year
through she talked of little else but the coming run.
But this especial season she had not appeared amongst
her fellow-kind. The fleet and the canneries
knew nothing of her, and when I enquired of her tribes-people
they would reply without explanation, “She not
here this year.”
But one russet September afternoon
I found her. I had idled down the trail from
the swans’ basin in Stanley Park to the rim that
skirts the Narrows, and I saw her graceful, high-bowed
canoe heading for the beach that is the favorite landing
place of the “tillicums” from the Mission.
Her canoe looked like a dream-craft, for the water
was very still, and everywhere a blue film hung like
a fragrant veil, for the peat on Lulu Island had been
smoldering for days and its pungent odors and blue-grey
haze made a dream-world of sea and shore and sky.
I hurried upshore, hailing her in
the Chinook, and as she caught my voice she lifted
her paddle directly above her head in the Indian signal
As she beached, I greeted her with
extended eager hands to assist her ashore, for the
klootchman is getting to be an old woman; albeit she
paddles against tidewater like a boy in his teens.
“No,” she said, as I begged
her to come ashore. “I not wait me.
I just come to fetch Maarda; she been city; she come
soon now.” But she left her
“working” attitude and curled like a schoolgirl
in the bow of the canoe, her elbows resting on her
paddle which she had flung across the gunwales.
“I have missed you, klootchman;
you have not been to see me for three moons, and you
have not fished or been at the canneries,” I
“No,” she said.
“I stay home this year.” Then leaning
towards me with grave import in her manner, her eyes,
her voice, she added, “I have a grandchild,
born first week July, so I stay.”
So this explained her absence.
I, of course, offered congratulations and enquired
all about the great event, for this was her first
grandchild, and the little person was of importance.
“And are you going to make a
fisherman of him?” I asked.
“No, no, not boy-child, it is
girl-child,” she answered with some indescribable
trick of expression that led me to know she preferred
“You are pleased it is a girl?”
I questioned in surprise.
“Very pleased,” she replied
emphatically. “Very good luck to have girl
for first grandchild. Our tribe not like yours;
we want girl children first; we not always wish boy-child
born just for fight. Your people, they care
only for war-path; our tribe more peaceful. Very
good sign first grandchild to be girl. I tell
you why: girl-child maybe some time mother herself;
very grand thing to be mother.”
I felt I had caught the secret of
her meaning. She was rejoicing that this little
one should some time become one of the mothers of her
race. We chatted over it a little longer and
she gave me several playful “digs” about
my own tribe thinking so much less of motherhood than
hers, and so much more of battle and bloodshed.
Then we drifted into talk of the sockeye run and
of the hyiu chickimin the Indians would get.
“Yes, hyiu chickimin,”
she repeated with a sigh of satisfaction. “Always;
and hyiu muck-a-muck when big salmon run. No
more ever come that bad year when not any fish.”
“When was that?” I asked.
“Before you born, or I, or” pointing
across the park to the distant city of Vancouver,
that breathed its wealth and beauty across the September
afternoon “before that place born,
before white man came here oh! long before.”
Dear old klootchman! I knew
by the dusk in her eyes that she was back in her Land
of Legends, and that soon I would be the richer in
my hoard of Indian lore. She sat, still leaning
on her paddle; her eyes, half-closed, rested on the
distant outline of the blurred heights across the
Inlet. I shall not further attempt her broken
English, for this is but the shadow of her story,
and without her unique personality the legend is as
a flower that lacks both color and fragrance.
She called it “The Lost Salmon Run.”
“The wife of the Great Tyee
was but a wisp of a girl, but all the world was young
in those days; even the Fraser River was young and
small, not the mighty water it is today; but the pink
salmon crowded its throat just as they do now, and
the tillicums caught and salted and smoked the fish
just as they have done this year, just as they will
always do. But it was yet winter, and the rains
were slanting and the fogs drifting, when the wife
of the Great Tyee stood before him and said:
“’Before the salmon run
I shall give to you a great gift. Will you honor
me most if it is the gift of a boy-child or a girl-child?’
The Great Tyee loved the woman. He was stern
with his people, hard with his tribe; he ruled his
council fires with a will of stone. His medicine
men said he had no human heart in his body; his warriors
said he had no human blood in his veins. But
he clasped this woman’s hands, and his eyes,
his lips, his voice, were gentle as her own, as he
“’Give to me a girl-child a
little girl-child that she may grow to be
like you, and, in her turn, give to her husband children.’
“But when the tribes-people
heard of his choice they arose in great anger.
They surrounded him in a deep, indignant circle.
’You are a slave to the woman,’ they
declared, ’and now you desire to make yourself
a slave to a woman-baby. We want an heir a
man-child to be our Great Tyee in years to come.
When you are old and weary of tribal affairs, when
you sit wrapped in your blanket in the hot summer
sunshine, because your blood is old and thin, what
can a girl-child do to help either you or us?
Who, then, will be our Great Tyee?’
“He stood in the centre of the
menacing circle, his arms folded, his chin raised,
his eyes hard as flint. His voice, cold as stone,
“’Perhaps she will give
you such a man-child, and, if so, the child is yours;
he will belong to you, not to me; he will become the
possession of the people. But if the child is
a girl she will belong to me she will be
mine. You cannot take her from me as you took
me from my mother’s side and forced me to forget
my aged father in my service to my tribe; she will
belong to me, will be the mother of my grandchildren,
and her husband will be my son.’
“’You do not care for
the good of your tribe. You care only for your
own wishes and desires,’ they rebelled.
’Suppose the salmon run is small, we will have
no food; suppose there is no man-child, we will have
no Great Tyee to show us how to get food from other
tribes, and we shall starve.’
“‘Your hearts are black
and bloodless,’ thundered the Great Tyee, turning
upon them fiercely, ’and your eyes are blinded.
Do you wish the tribe to forget how great is the
importance of a child that will some day be a mother
herself, and give to your children and grandchildren
a Great Tyee? Are the people to live, to thrive,
to increase, to become more powerful with no mother-women
to bear future sons and daughters? Your minds
are dead, your brains are chilled. Still, even
in your ignorance, you are my people: you and
your wishes must be considered. I call together
the great medicine men, the men of witchcraft, the
men of magic. They shall decide the laws which
will follow the bearing of either boy or girl-child.
What say you, oh! mighty men?’
“Messengers were then sent up
and down the coast, sent far up the Fraser River,
and to the valley lands inland for many leagues, gathering
as they journeyed all the men of magic that could be
found. Never were so many medicine men in council
before. They built fires and danced and chanted
for many days. They spoke with the gods of the
mountains, with the gods of the sea, then ‘the
power’ of decision came to them. They
were inspired with a choice to lay before the tribes-people,
and the most ancient medicine man in all the coast
region arose and spoke their resolution:
“’The people of the tribe
cannot be allowed to have all things. They want
a boy-child and they want a great salmon run also.
They cannot have both. The Sagalie Tyee has
revealed to us, the great men of magic, that both
these things will make the people arrogant and selfish.
They must choose between the two.’
“‘Choose, oh! you ignorant
tribes-people,’ commanded the Great Tyee.
’The wise men of our coast have said that the
girl-child who will some day bear children of her
own, will also bring abundance of salmon at her birth;
but the boy-child brings to you but himself.’
“’Let the salmon go,”
shouted the people, ’but give us a future Great
Tyee. Give us the boy-child.’
“And when the child was born it was a boy.
“‘Evil will fall upon
you,’ wailed the Great Tyee. ’You
have despised a mother-woman. You will suffer
evil and starvation and hunger and poverty, oh! foolish
tribes-people. Did you not know how great a
“That spring, people from a
score of tribes came up to the Fraser for the salmon
run. They came great distances from
the mountains, the lakes, the far-off dry lands, but
not one fish entered the vast rivers of the Pacific
Coast. The people had made their choice.
They had forgotten the honor that a mother-child
would have brought them. They were bereft of
their food. They were stricken with poverty.
Through the long winter that followed they endured
hunger and starvation. Since then our tribe has
always welcomed girl-children we want no
more lost runs.”
The klootchman lifted her arms from
her paddle as she concluded; her eyes left the irregular
outline of the violet mountains. She had come
back to this year of grace her Legend Land
“So,” she added, “you
see now, maybe, why I glad my grandchild is girl;
it means big salmon run next year.”
“It is a beautiful story, klootchman,”
I said, “and I feel a cruel delight that your
men of magic punished the people for their ill-choice.”
“That because you girl-child yourself,”
There was the slightest whisper of
a step behind me. I turned to find Maarda almost
at my elbow. The rising tide was unbeaching the
canoe, and as Maarda stepped in and the klootchman
slipped astern, it drifted afloat.
the klootchman as she dipped her paddle-blade in exquisite
“Kla-how-ya,” smiled Maarda.
I replied, and watched for many moments as they slipped
away into the blurred distance, until the canoe merged
into the violet and grey of the farther shore.