Blackfeet story


Around the turn of the century, as they used to call 1900, a lot of Indigenous people were recorded as talking a mixture of pidgin English and Chinook Jargon.

Here’s an Okanagan elder who told a pulse-raising anecdote that way:

kettle river


The Narrator Is So Aged that None
Dare Guess in What Year
He Was Born.

The Boundary section of British
Columbia abounds in legendary
lore, and of all the stories still told
by the old men of the aboriginal
tribes around the campfire at night,
none is of more tragic interest than
one related by Skom-ne-lo, a sage
of the Colvilles, whose age no one
attempts to guess with any degree
of accuracy, and who, when asked
concerning this subject, points to
an immense pine tree which grows
near his lodge and says, in his mixture of broken English and Chinook
jargon, "My son, I have seen the
time when my friend there and I
were the same height, but I was
stronger than he, for I could bend
him to the ground." I have spent
many an hour with the aged Indian,
leaning against the pine while we
both smoked my tobacco, and listening to his tales of adventure.
One night, after he had silently
wooed "Lady Nicotine" for upwards
of an hour, he laid his pipe aside
and said:

"My son, I will tell you of the
Blackfeet, and of how my tribe, who
have always been a peaceable people, defeated the war patty from
beyond tho big hills -— we and our
father, Toy-e-be. (Toy-e-be is the
Indian name for Kettle river.) It
was many years ago, before the
Hudsons Bay company brought
rifles and whisky to us, before the
white men came and stole our
women, leaving us smallpox and
boils in return, before the priests
had shown us how to go to hell.
The Blackfeet had big hunting
grounds off there where the sun
rises, but many days' journey from
this land. Their men were tall and
strong, and their number was as
the sand in the bed of Tov-e-be.
Seldom did they send a war party
so far from home as to reach us, but
sometimes a band of their young
men would come into the valley,
and then we used to fight, yes, we
could fight in those days -— before
we had whisky and hell —- for had
we not our homes to preserve and
our women to protect?

Blackfeet on Warpath

"One time when the leaves had
just begun to die, 300 of the Blackfeet braves passed to the north of
us through the Kicking Horse pass
as far as the O-kan-o-gan. The
tribes in the north had no hearts,
and the Blackfeet took many scalps,
and all the food they wanted, burning the rest. They went through
the land as the goose flies, like a
wedge, with their strong men in
front and on the wings, and their
wounded and prisoners in the center. They took enough prisoners
only to carry their food, and would
torture them when they returned to
their own land; but we were merciful and gave them a quicker death.
They came down the O-kan-o-gan
lakes and across the He-he trail to
this river. Then they built canoes
and came down toward us.

"I was a young man then, and
was the fastest runner in my tribe.
On that day 1 was hunting mowitch
(deer) a long day's journey up the
river. 1 saw the Blackfeet in their
canoes, and they were singing their
war songs and telling how they had
vanquished every tribe they had
met. But victory had made them
over proud and they were careless,
I knew they would camp for lhe
night before coming to tbe lodges
of my tribe, but in the morning
what would become of my people? 
So I ran, and the sun hunted his
bed in the salt water no faster than
I hunted the lodge of my father. 
Night came and 1 ran on, for I had
eyes in the dark, and the trail sped
under my feet with a soft, singing
sound. The bushes kissed me in
the face and bade me run faster.
Ah, the woods were good to me in
those days. I stopped only for a
moment to bathe my face in the
river when I came to a ford, and to
drink a little of the cold water. So
in the middle of the night I came
into my father's lodge and told him
what I had seen. My father was
chief of the tribe. He told me to
waken the men, and while I was
gone he sat with his face in his
hands, thinking. When I returned
with all the men he came out of the
lodge, and his eyes shone, making
us all glad; for my father was very
wise, and we knew that his smile
meant death to our enemies and life
to us.

Dashed to Death.

"So in the early morning we were
all hid in the bushes by the river in
front of Ten-as-ket's lodge, about
four hours' journey up the river, and
the women had all our canoes waiting about a mile below us. Soon
we saw the Blackfeet coming, and
they were not singing now, but
bending to their paddles and making the river foam. When they
came near us we shouted our war
cry, and sent our arrows among
them like a cloud. Many fell into
the water, but the rest paddled to
the shore, formed a wedge and
charged. Nothing could stand before that terrible wedge, and we
ran till we reached our canoes.
Then we paddled down the river as
fast as we could, while they returned
to their canoes and gave chase.
You know the place about a day's
walk below here, where Toy-e-be
has cut a hole through the mountain, where nothing can pass and
live, and where even big trees are
torn into splinters on the rocks.
Well, when we came around the
bend at the top of this canyon, we
pulled our canoes out of the water
and hid them in the bushes. Then
we waited. Soon the Blackfeet
came along, their canoes leaping
from the water, so earnest were
they in their determination to come
up with US. If they had not been
blinded by anger they would have
seen the water on the rocks where
we lifted our canoes out, but they
saw nothing, neither did they hear
the roar of Toy-e-be as he tore
through the mountain. When they
had all entered the gorge we jumped
from the bushes and called them to
return. But Toy-e-be had them in
his grasp and he is stronger in his
wrath than any living thing. For
a moment they struggled against
the current, and then they disappeared.

"We went over the mountains as
fast as we could run, to where the
river comes out of the gorge, and
there, floating around in the whirlpool were bits of canoes, and on the
rocks were some of the men, but no
one could tell that they had ever
borne human shape, for they were
like jelly. We pushed them back
into the water, and let the river take
them down toward the sea. Toy-e-
be had killed them, and to Toy-e-be
they belonged. We took no scalps,
for our father, the river, might be
angry if we took from him the credit
of the victory.

"When the Blackfeet sent out a
party to look for their young men
we were ready for them, for all the
tribes in this land came together,
and few Blackfeet ever returned to
the land of their fathers. But of
this I will speak at another time."

From the Slocan (B.C.) Drill, December 28, 1900, page 3.

(I recognize “Toy-e-be” as the Salish name Skoielpi or sxʷyéłp, etc., from other documents.  Does anyone know more about Skom-ne-lo?)