Far over your left shoulder as your
boat leaves the Narrows to thread the beautiful waterways
that lead to Vancouver Island, you will see the summit
of Mount Baker robed in its everlasting whiteness and
always reflecting some wonderful glory from the rising
sun, the golden noontide, or the violet and amber
sunset. This is the Mount Ararat of the Pacific
Coast peoples; for those readers who are familiar with
the ways and beliefs and faiths of primitive races
will agree that it is difficult to discover anywhere
in the world a race that has not some story of the
Deluge, which they have chronicled and localized to
fit the understanding and the conditions of the nation
that composes their own immediate world.
Amongst the red nations of America
I doubt if any two tribes have the same ideas regarding
the Flood. Some of the traditions concerning
this vast whim of Nature are grotesque in the extreme;
some are impressive; some even profound; but of all
the stories of the Deluge that I have been able to
collect I know of not a single one that can even begin
to equal in beauty of conception, let alone rival
in possible reality and truth, the Squamish legend
of “The Deep Waters.”
I here quote the legend of “mine
own people,” the Iroquois tribes of Ontario,
regarding the Deluge. I do this to paint the
color of contrast in richer shades, for I am bound
to admit that we who pride ourselves on ancient intellectuality
have but a childish tale of the Flood when compared
with the jealously preserved annals of the Squamish,
which savour more of history than tradition.
With “mine own people,” animals always
play a much more important part and are endowed with
a finer intelligence than humans. I do not find
amid my notes a single tradition of the Iroquois wherein
animals do not figure, and our story of the Deluge
rests entirely with the intelligence of sea-going
and river-going creatures. With us, animals in
olden times were greater than man; but it is not so
with the Coast Indians, except in rare instances.
When a Coast Indian consents to tell
you a legend he will, without variation, begin it
with, “It was before the white people came.”
The natural thing for you then to
ask is, “But who were here then?”
He will reply, “Indians, and
just the trees, and animals, and fishes, and a few
So you are prepared to accept the
animal world as intelligent co-habitants of the Pacific
slope, but he will not lead you to think he regards
them as equals, much less superiors. But to revert
to “mine own people”: they hold the
intelligence of wild animals far above that of man,
for perhaps the one reason that when an animal is sick
it effects its own cure; it knows what grasses and
herbs to eat, what to avoid, while the sick human
calls the medicine man, whose wisdom is not only the
result of years of study, but also heredity; consequently
any great natural event, such as the Deluge, has much
to do with the wisdom of the creatures of the forests
and the rivers.
Iroquois tradition tells us that once
this earth was entirely submerged in water, and during
this period for many days a busy little muskrat swam
about vainly looking for a foothold of earth wherein
to build his house. In his search he encountered
a turtle also leisurely swimming, so they had speech
together, and the muskrat complained of weariness;
he could find no foothold; he was tired of incessant
swimming, and longed for land such as his ancestors
enjoyed. The turtle suggested that the muskrat
should dive and endeavor to find earth at the bottom
of the sea. Acting on this advice the muskrat
plunged down, then arose with his two little forepaws
grasping some earth he had found beneath the waters.
“Place it on my shell and dive
again for more,” directed the turtle. The
muskrat did so, but when he returned with his paws
filled with earth he discovered the small quantity
he had first deposited on the turtle’s shell
had doubled in size. The return from the third
trip found the turtle’s load again doubled.
So the building went on at double compound increase,
and the world grew its continents and its islands
with great rapidity, and now rests on the shell of
If you ask an Iroquois, “And
did no men survive this flood?” he will reply,
“Why should men survive? The animals are
wiser then men; let the wisest live.”
How, then, was the earth re-peopled?
The Iroquois will tell you that the
otter was a medicine man; that in swimming and diving
about he found corpses of men and women; he sang his
medicine songs and they came to life, and the otter
brought them fish for food until they were strong
enough to provide for themselves. Then the Iroquois
will conclude his tale with, “You know well that
the otter has greater wisdom than a man.”
So much for “mine own people”
and our profound respect for the superior intelligence
of our little brothers of the animal world.
But the Squamish tribe hold other
ideas. It was on a February day that I first
listened to this beautiful, humane story of the Deluge.
My royal old tillicum had come to see me through
the rains and mists of late winter days. The
gateways of my wigwam always stood open very
widely open for his feet to enter, and this
especial day he came with the worst downpour of the
Womanlike, I protested with a thousand
contradictions in my voice that he should venture
out to see me on such a day. It was “Oh!
Chief, I am so glad to see you!” and it was
“Oh! Chief, why didn’t you stay at
home on such a wet day your poor throat
will suffer.” But I soon had quantities
of hot tea for him, and the huge cup my own father
always used was his as long as the Sagalie
Tyee allowed his dear feet to wander my way.
The immense cup stands idle and empty now for the
Helping him off with his great-coat,
I chatted on about the deluge of rain, and he remarked
it was not so very bad, as one could yet walk.
“Fortunately, yes, for I cannot swim,”
I told him.
He laughed, replying, “Well,
it is not so bad as when the Great Deep Waters covered
Immediately I foresaw the coming legend,
so crept into the shell of monosyllables.
“No?” I questioned.
“No,” he replied.
“For one time there was no land here at all;
everywhere there was just water.”
“I can quite believe it,” I remarked caustically.
He laughed that irresistible,
though silent, David Warfield laugh of his that always
brought a responsive smile from his listeners.
Then he plunged directly into the tradition, with
no preface save a comprehensive sweep of his wonderful
hands towards my wide window, against which the rains
“It was after a long, long time
of this this rain. The mountain streams
were swollen, the rivers choked, the sea began to rise and
yet it rained; for weeks and weeks it rained.”
He ceased speaking, while the shadows of centuries
gone crept into his eyes. Tales of the misty
past always inspired him.
“Yes,” he continued.
“It rained for weeks and weeks, while the mountain
torrents roared thunderingly down, and the sea crept
silently up. The level lands were first to float
in sea water, then to disappear. The slopes
were next to slip into the sea. The world was
slowly being flooded. Hurriedly the Indian tribes
gathered in one spot, a place of safety far above
the reach of the on-creeping sea. The spot was
the circling shore of Lake Beautiful, up the North
Arm. They held a Great Council and decided at
once upon a plan of action. A giant canoe should
be built, and some means contrived to anchor it in
case the waters mounted to the heights. The men
undertook the canoe, the women the anchorage.
“A giant tree was felled, and
day and night the men toiled over its construction
into the most stupendous canoe the world has ever known.
Not an hour, not a moment, but many worked, while the
toil-wearied ones slept, only to awake to renewed
toil. Meanwhile the women also worked at a cable the
largest, the longest, the strongest that Indian hands
and teeth had ever made. Scores of them gathered
and prepared the cedar fibre; scores of them plaited,
rolled and seasoned it; scores of them chewed upon
it inch by inch to make it pliable; scores of them
oiled and worked, oiled and worked, oiled and worked
it into a sea-resisting fabric. And still the
sea crept up, and up, and up. It was the last
day; hope of life for the tribe, of land for the world,
was doomed. Strong hands, self-sacrificing hands
fastened the cable the women had made one
end to the giant canoe, the other about an enormous
boulder, a vast immovable rock as firm as the foundations
of the world for might not the canoe with
its priceless freight drift out, far out, to sea,
and when the water subsided might not this ship of
safety be leagues and leagues beyond the sight of land
on the storm-driven Pacific?
“Then with the bravest hearts
that ever beat, noble hands lifted every child of
the tribe into this vast canoe; not one single baby
was overlooked. The canoe was stocked with food
and fresh water, and lastly, the ancient men and women
of the race selected as guardians to these children
the bravest, most stalwart, handsomest young man of
the tribe, and the mother of the youngest baby in
the camp she was but a girl of sixteen,
her child but two weeks old; but she, too, was brave
and very beautiful. These two were placed, she
at the bow of the canoe to watch, he at the stern
to guide, and all the little children crowded between.
“And still the sea crept up,
and up, and up. At the crest of the bluffs about
Lake Beautiful the doomed tribes crowded. Not
a single person attempted to enter the canoe.
There was no wailing, no crying out for safety.
’Let the little children, the young mother,
and the bravest and best of our young men live,’
was all the farewell those in the canoe heard as the
waters reached the summit, and the canoe
floated. Last of all to be seen was the top of
the tallest tree, then all was a world
“For days and days there was
no land just the rush of swirling, snarling
sea; but the canoe rode safely at anchor, the cable
those scores of dead, faithful women had made held
true as the hearts that beat behind the toil and labor
of it all.
“But one morning at sunrise,
far to the south a speck floated on the breast of
the waters; at midday it was larger; at evening it
was yet larger. The moon arose, and in its magic
light the man at the stern saw it was a patch of land.
All night he watched it grow, and at daybreak looked
with glad eyes upon the summit of Mount Baker.
He cut the cable, grasped his paddle in his strong,
young hands, and steered for the south. When
they landed, the waters were sunken half down the
mountain side. The children were lifted out;
the beautiful young mother, the stalwart young brave,
turned to each other, clasped hands, looked into each
others eyes and smiled.
“And down in the vast country
that lies between Mount Baker and the Fraser River
they made a new camp, built new lodges, where the little
children grew and thrived, and lived and loved, and
the earth was re-peopled by them.
“The Squamish say that in a
gigantic crevice half way to the crest of Mount Baker
may yet be seen the outlines of an enormous canoe,
but I have never seen it myself.”
He ceased speaking with that far-off
cadence in his voice with which he always ended a
legend, and for a long time we both sat in silence
listening to the rains that were still beating against