There is one vice that is absolutely
unknown to the red man; he was born without it, and
amongst all the deplorable things he has learned from
the white races, this, at least, he has never acquired.
That is the vice of avarice. That the Indian
looks upon greed of gain, miserliness, avariciousness
and wealth accumulated above the head of his poorer
neighbor as one of the lowest degradations he can fall
to, is perhaps more aptly illustrated in this legend
than anything I could quote to demonstrate his horror
of what he calls “the white man’s unkindness.”
In a very wide and varied experience with many tribes,
I have yet to find even one instance of avarice, and
I have encountered but one single case of a “stingy
Indian,” and this man was so marked amongst
his fellows that at mention of his name his tribes-people
jeered and would remark contemptuously that he was
like a white man hated to share his money
and his possessions. All red races are born
Socialists, and most tribes carry out their communistic
ideas to the letter. Amongst the Iroquois it
is considered disgraceful to have food if your neighbor
has none. To be a creditable member of the nation
you must divide your possessions with your less fortunate
fellows. I find it much the same amongst the
Coast Indians, though they are less bitter in their
hatred of the extremes of wealth and poverty than
are the Eastern tribes. Still, the very fact
that they have preserved this legend, in which they
liken avarice to a slimy sea-serpent, shows the trend
of their ideas; shows, too, that an Indian is an Indian,
no matter what his tribe; shows that he cannot or will
not hoard money; shows that his native morals demand
that the spirit of greed must be strangled at all
The Chief and I had sat long over
our luncheon. He had been talking of his trip
to England and of the many curious things he had seen.
At last, in an outburst of enthusiasm, he said:
“I saw everything in the world everything
but a sea-serpent!”
“But there is no such thing
as a sea-serpent,” I laughed, “so you must
have really seen everything in the world.”
His face clouded; for a moment he
sat in silence; then looking directly at me said,
“Maybe none now, but long ago there was one here in
“How long ago?” I asked.
“When first the white gold-hunters
came,” he replied. “Came with greedy,
clutching fingers, greedy eyes, greedy hearts.
The white men fought, murdered, starved, went mad
with love of that gold far up the Fraser River.
Tillicums were tillicums no more, brothers were foes,
fathers and sons were enemies. Their love of
the gold was a curse.”
“Was it then the sea-serpent
was seen?” I asked, perplexed with the problem
of trying to connect the gold-seekers with such a monster.
“Yes, it was then, but “ he
hesitated, then plunged into the assertion, “but
you will not believe the story if you think there is
no such thing as a sea-serpent.”
“I shall believe whatever you
tell me, Chief,” I answered; “I am only
too ready to believe. You know I come of a superstitious
race, and all my association with the Palefaces has
never yet robbed me of my birthright to believe strange
“You always understand,” he said after
“It’s my heart that understands,”
I remarked quietly.
He glanced up quickly, and with one
of his all too few radiant smiles, he laughed.
“Yes, skookum tum-tum.”
Then without further hesitation he told the tradition,
which, although not of ancient happening, is held in
great reverence by his tribe. During its recital
he sat with folded arms, leaning on the table, his
head and shoulders bending eagerly towards me as I
sat at the opposite side. It was the only time
he ever talked to me when he did not use emphasising
gesticulations, but his hands never once lifted:
his wonderful eyes alone gave expression to what he
called “The Legend of the ‘Salt-chuck
“Yes, it was during the first
gold craze, and many of our young men went as guides
to the whites far up the Fraser. When they returned
they brought these tales of greed and murder back with
them, and our old people and our women shook their
heads and said evil would come of it. But all
our young men, except one, returned as they went kind
to the poor, kind to those who were foodless, sharing
whatever they had with their tillicums. But
one, by name Shak-shak (The Hawk), came back with
hoards of gold nuggets, chickimin, everything; he
was rich like the white men, and, like them, he kept
it. He would count his chickimin, count his
nuggets, gloat over them, toss them in his palms.
He rested his head on them as he slept, he packed them
about with him through the day. He loved them
better than food, better than his tillicums, better
than his life. The entire tribe arose.
They said Shak-shak had the disease of greed; that
to cure it he must give a great potlatch, divide his
riches with the poorer ones, share them with the old,
the sick, the foodless. But he jeered and laughed
and told them No, and went on loving and gloating
over his gold.
“Then the Sagalie Tyee spoke
out of the sky and said, ’Shak-shak, you have
made of yourself a loathsome thing; you will not listen
to the cry of the hungry, to the call of the old and
sick; you will not share your possessions; you have
made of yourself an outcast from your tribe and disobeyed
the ancient laws of your people. Now I will make
of you a thing loathed and hated by all men, both
white and red. You will have two heads, for
your greed has two mouths to bite. One bites
the poor, and one bites your own evil heart and
the fangs in these mouths are poison, poison that
kills the hungry, and poison that kills your own manhood.
Your evil heart will beat in the very centre of your
foul body, and he that pierces it will kill the disease
of greed forever from amongst his people.’
And when the sun arose above the North Arm the next
morning the tribes-people saw a gigantic sea-serpent
stretched across the surface of the waters.
One hideous head rested on the bluffs at Brockton
Point, the other rested on a group of rocks just below
Mission, at the western edge of North Vancouver.
If you care to go there some day I will show you
the hollow in one great stone where that head lay.
The tribes-people were stunned with horror.
They loathed the creature, they hated it, they feared
it. Day after day it lay there, its monstrous
heads lifted out of the waters, its mile-long body
blocking all entrance from the Narrows, all outlet
from the North Arm. The chiefs made council,
the medicine men danced and chanted, but the salt-chuck
oluk never moved. It could not move, for it was
the hated totem of what now rules the white man’s
world greed and love of chickimin.
No one can ever move the love of chickimin from the
white man’s heart, no one can ever make him
divide all with the poor. But after the chiefs
and medicine men had done all in their power, and
still the salt-chuck oluk lay across the waters, a
handsome boy of sixteen approached them and reminded
them of the words of the Sagalie Tyee, ’that
he that pierced the monster’s heart would kill
the disease of greed forever amongst his people.’
“‘Let me try to find this
evil heart, oh! great men of my tribe,’ he cried.
’Let me war upon this creature; let me try to
rid my people of this pestilence.’
“The boy was brave and very
beautiful. His tribes-people called him the
Tenas Tyee (Little Chief) and they loved him.
Of all his wealth of fish and furs, of game and hykwa
(large shell money) he gave to the boys who had none;
he hunted food for the old people; he tanned skins
and furs for those whose feet were feeble, whose eyes
were fading, whose blood ran thin with age.
“‘Let him go!’ cried
the tribes-people. ’This unclean monster
can only be overcome by cleanliness, this creature
of greed can only be overthrown by generosity.
Let him go!’ The chiefs and the medicine men
listened, then consented. ‘Go,’ they
commanded, ’and fight this thing with your strongest
weapons cleanliness and generosity.’
“The Tenas Tyee turned to his
mother. ‘I shall be gone four days,’
he told her, ’and I shall swim all that time.
I have tried all my life to be generous, but the
people say I must be clean also to fight this unclean
thing. While I am gone put fresh furs on my bed
every day, even if I am not here to lie on them; if
I know my bed, my body and my heart are all clean
I can overcome this serpent.’
“‘Your bed shall have
fresh furs every morning,’ his mother said simply.
“The Tenas Tyee then stripped
himself and, with no clothing save a buckskin belt
into which he thrust his hunting-knife, he flung his
lithe young body into the sea. But at the end
of four days he did not return. Sometimes his
people could see him swimming far out in mid-channel,
endeavoring to find the exact centre of the serpent,
where lay its evil, selfish heart; but on the fifth
morning they saw him rise out of the sea, climb to
the summit of Brockton Point and greet the rising
sun with outstretched arms. Weeks and months
went by, still the Tenas Tyee would swim daily searching
for that heart of greed; and each morning the sunrise
glinted on his slender young copper-colored body as
he stood with outstretched arms at the tip of Brockton
Point, greeting the coming day and then plunging from
the summit into the sea.
“And at his home on the north
shore his mother dressed his bed with fresh furs each
morning. The seasons drifted by, winter followed
summer, summer followed winter. But it was four
years before the Tenas Tyee found the centre of the
great salt-chuck oluk and plunged his hunting-knife
into its evil heart. In its death-agony it writhed
through the Narrows, leaving a trail of blackness on
the waters. Its huge body began to shrink, to
shrivel; it became dwarfed and withered, until nothing
but the bones of its back remained, and they, sea-bleached
and lifeless, soon sank to the bed of the ocean leagues
off from the rim of land. But as the Tenas Tyee
swam homeward and his clean, young body crossed through
the black stain left by the serpent, the waters became
clear and blue and sparkling. He had overcome
even the trail of the salt-chuck oluk.
“When at last he stood in the
doorway of his home he said, ’My mother, I could
not have killed the monster of greed amongst my people
had you not helped me by keeping one place for me
at home fresh and clean for my return.’
“She looked at him as only mothers
look. ’Each day these four years, fresh
furs have I laid for your bed. Sleep now, and
rest, oh! my Tenas Tyee,’ she said.”
The Chief unfolded his arms, and his
voice took another tone as he said, “What do
you call that story a legend?”
“The white people would call
it an allegory,” I answered. He shook his
“No savvy,” he smiled.
I explained as simply as possible,
and with his customary alertness he immediately understood.
“That’s right,” he said. “That’s
what we say it means, we Squamish, that greed is evil
and not clean, like the salt-chuck oluk. That
it must be stamped out amongst our people, killed
by cleanliness and generosity. The boy that overcame
the serpent was both these things.”
“What became of this splendid boy?” I
“The Tenas Tyee? Oh! some
of our old, old people say they sometimes see him
now, standing on Brockton Point, his bare young arms
outstretched to the rising sun,” he replied.
“Have you ever seen him, Chief?” I questioned.
“No,” he answered simply.
But I have never heard such poignant regret as his
wonderful voice crowded into that single word.