The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends

thunder bird tootooch

The Thunder Bird ‘Tootooch’ Legends” (Seattle, WA: Ace Printing Co.): what is the story on this quirky 1936 book that I’ve been reading online?

The Thunder Bird Tootooch cover


In some ways it reminds me of Alfred Carmichael’s book, “Indian Legends of Vancouver Island“.  I don’t know if there’s a connection.  You tell me.

At any rate, it’s full of Chinook Jargon words (and others in tribal languages like Kwak’wala and Xaaydaa Kil) for myth characters.  Perhaps the author was told some of these in CJ.  Examples are Eena ‘beaver’, Ol-hiyo ‘seal’, Pi[l]-Chikamin ‘the copper’, Shwah Kuk ‘frog’.  I haven’t found that any of Webber’s spellings of these are particularly unique, so I suppose he could have copied them from one of the popular published Jargon dictionaries.

Symbols of the Thunder Bird

Webber published other items.  From a pamphlet of his: “Hyiu Tillicum!” — I would have told you it means “many friends” or “many people”, but lots of locals would agree with the claim that it means “good friend”…

Hyiu Tillicum

William Lester Webber was the owner of the…

scenery shop

…touristy Scenery Shop at 856 Granville Street

Skookum Wa-Wa Good Talk

W.L. Webber was also the author of the 1945 book “Skookum Wa-Wa: Good Talk” (Lumberman Printing Company).  This title, like “Hyiu Tillicums”, is very much a local anglophone use of, and translation of, Jargon as a loan or tourist curio in English.  In a CJ matrix, for example the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, skukum wawa means typically ‘to shout’ or ‘to “chew out”, to chastise’.

(Another of Webber’s publications has the amusing handle “I Wish You Many Good Games of Crib from the Bottom of My Sole and That You Won’t Get Stuck in the Last Hole“!)

Here is what the entertaining Vancouver Trueborns blog tells about our man:

Who was William L. Webber? He owned a souvenir store on Granville Street from 1923 to 1952. His first location was near Cordova and then he moved south to the Commodore. According to this tiny brochure, entitled The Thunderbird, The Scenery Shop sold all kinds of First Nations-inspired trinkets that would probably be offensive to today’s aboriginals. (ie, “Two-inch Thunderbird brooch drives away evil spirits. 50 cents.”)

Despite overseeing racks and racks of knick knacks, Webber does appear to have been genuinely interested in the indigenous people of the West Coast. He wrote at least two books on the subject: The Thunder Bird “Tootooch” Legends: Folk Tales of the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast Indians and Skookum Wa-wa, Good Talk.

Webber also donated important First Nations artifacts to the Museum of Vancouver.

I would add that he took enough trouble to find a whole lot of Chinook Jargon to put into his books, and that to judge from the evidence, he probably talked in the pidgin with Indigenous people.