: The Strange Story Book
That was the name of a little Indian boy living on the North-West coast
of America, and a very odd name it is, as well as a very long one. To be
sure, in his own language it could all be put into seventeen letters,
while in English it takes thirty-four, as you will find if you count
them, and that does make a difference.
However, though we should have preferred a name that was shorter and
s something satisfactory about this one, for a little
boy who has a grandmother is likely to be well fed and petted, and made
to feel himself a person of importance, and that is pleasant to
everybody. But it also means in general that he has lost his father and
mother, which had happened to this particular little boy. They had died
a long while before, and now there only remained his grandmother and his
mother's brother, who was chief of the village.
* * * * *
One evening the chief was sitting on the beach gazing up at the sky. And
while he gazed, fire came right down like a shooting star, and struck
the point of a branch which grew on a tree behind his house. As it
touched the branch it became solid and hung there, shining like copper.
When the chief saw this he arose and walked to the house and said to the
'There is a great piece of copper hanging from that tree. Bid the young
men go and knock it down and whichever hits it shall marry my daughter.'
Quite a crowd of youths gathered at the back of the chief's house early
next morning, and many of the old men came likewise to watch the sport.
All day the young Indians threw stones till their hands became sore and
their arms ached, but never once did the lump of copper move. At last
for very weariness they had to rest, and eat some food. After that they
felt better and went on throwing stones till darkness fell, but still no
one had hit the copper.
As soon as the stars peeped out the poor little boy who had been looking
on also ran down to the beach, as his uncle had done, and laid himself
upon a rock. By and bye a man approached him and said:
'What are the village people talking about? They make a great noise!'
'A lump of copper is hanging on the tree and they were trying to knock
it down, but nobody succeeded,' answered the boy; and as he spoke, the
man stooped and picked up four pebbles.
'It is you who shall knock it down,' said he. 'First you must throw the
white stone, then the black stone, then the blue stone, and last of all
the red stone. But be careful not to show them to anybody.'
'I will be careful,' replied the boy.
On the following morning all the people returned to the place behind the
house, and the poor little boy went with them.
'I am going to throw, too,' said he, and the young men tried to push him
aside, asking scornfully how one so small could hope to succeed when
they had failed. But the old men would not allow them to have their way,
'Let him throw, too; the chief has given leave to everybody, and he can
but fail as you have done. He shall throw first.' So the poor little boy
stepped forward, and taking out the white stone swung it round his head
so that it whistled four times before he let it go. It flew very near
the copper, nearer than any of the young men's stones had flown, and the
black and the blue almost grazed it. The young men looking on grew
uncomfortable and ceased mocking, and as the poor little boy drew out
the red stone, they held their breath. Swiftly it shot through the air
and struck the copper with a great clang, so that it fell down to the
earth. The old men nodded their heads wisely, but the young men quickly
picked up the copper and carried it into the chief's house, each man
crying out that it was he who had hit the copper and had gained the
chief's daughter. But as they could not all have hit it, the chief
knew that they were a pack of liars and only bade them wait a while, and
he would see. As for the poor little boy, he did not want to marry the
girl or anyone else, so he did not mind what the young men said.
* * * * *
Nothing more was heard that day of the winner of the prize, but at night
a white bear came to the back of the house, and growled loudly.
'Whoever kills that white bear shall marry my daughter,' said the chief,
and not a youth slept all through the village, wondering how best to
kill the white bear, and between them they made so many plans that it
seemed as if the white bear could never escape. In the evening, the poor
little boy went down to the beach again, and sat upon a rock looking out
to sea, till at last he beheld a man approaching him, but it was not the
same man whom he had seen before.
'What are the people talking about in the village?' asked the man, just
as the other had done, and the poor little boy answered:
'Last night a white bear appeared behind the house. Whoever kills it
shall marry the chief's daughter.'
The man nodded his head and thought for a moment; then he said:
'Ask the chief for a bow and arrow: you shall shoot it.' So the poor
little boy got up and left the beach, and returned to the village.
When it grew dark, all the young men met in the house of the chief, and
the poor little boy stole in after them. The chief took from a shelf a
tall quiver containing a quantity of bows and arrows, and he held them
to the fire in order to make them supple. Then he gave a bow and two
arrows to each man, but to the poor little boy, his own nephew, he gave
'Give me a bow and arrows also,' said the poor little boy, when he saw
that the chief did not notice him, and the young men broke out into
scoffs and jeers as they had done before; and as before, the old men
'Give a bow and arrows to the poor little boy.' And the chief listened
and gave them to him.
All that night the young men sat up, listening, listening; but it was
only before daybreak that they heard the white bear's growl. At the
first sound they ran out, and the poor little boy ran out with them, and
he ran more swiftly than they and shot his arrow. And the arrow passed
right through the neck of the bear, so that when the poor little boy
pulled it out it was covered with blood.
By this time the young men had come up and found the bear dead, so they
dipped their arrows in the blood, and picking up the bear, carried it
into the house of the chief, the poor little boy coming behind them.
'It was I who shot the bear; we are bringing him to you,' shouted one
quicker to speak than the rest; but the chief was a wise man, and only
'Let every man give me his bow and arrows, that I may examine them, and
see who has killed the white bear.'
Now the young men did not like that saying, but they were forced to
'Give me your bow and arrows also,' he said to the poor little boy, and
the poor little boy handed them to him, and the chief knew by the marks
that it was he who shot the white bear. And the young men saw by his
eyes that he knew it, but they all kept silence: the chief because he
was ashamed that a boy had done these two things where grown men had
failed; the young men, because they were ashamed that they had lied and
had been found to be lying.
* * * * *
So ashamed was the chief that he did not wish his people to look upon
his face, therefore he bade his slave go down to the village and tell
them to depart to some other place before morning. The people heard what
the slave said and obeyed, and by sunrise they were all in their
canoes--all, that is, except the chief's daughter, and the poor little
boy and his grandmother. Now the grandmother had some pieces of dried
salmon which she ate; but the chief's daughter would not eat, and the
poor little boy would not eat either. The princess slept in a room at
the back of the house and the poor little boy lay in the front, near the
fire. All night long he lay there and thought of their poverty, and
wondered if he could do anything to help them to grow richer. 'At any
rate,' he said to himself, 'I shall never become a chief by lying in
bed,' and as soon as some streaks of light were to be seen under the
door, he dressed himself and left the house, running down to the bank of
the great river which flowed by the town. There was a trail by the side
of the river, and the poor little boy walked along the trail till he
came to the shore of a lake; then he stopped and shouted. And as he
shouted a wave seemed to rise on the top of the water, and out of it
came the great frog who had charge of the lake, and drew near to the
place where the poor little boy was standing. Terrible it was to look
upon, with its long copper claws which moved always, its copper mouth
and its shiny copper eyes. He was so frightened that his legs felt
turned to stone; but when the frog put out its claws to fasten them in
his shoulders, fear gave him wings, and he ran so fast that the frog
could not reach him, and returned to the lake. On and on ran the poor
little boy, till at last he found himself outside the woods where his
grandmother and the chief's daughter were waiting for him. Then he sat
still and rested; but he was very hungry, for all this time he had had
nothing to eat, and the grandmother and the chief's daughter had had
nothing to eat either.
* * * * *
'We shall die if I cannot find some food,' said the poor little boy to
himself, and he went out again to search the empty houses in the
village, lest by chance the people might have left some dried salmon or
a halibut behind them. He found neither salmon nor halibut, but he
picked up in one place a stone axe, and in another a handle, and in a
third a hammer. The axe and the handle he fastened together, and after
sharpening the blade of the axe he began to cut down a tree. The tree
was large, and the poor little boy was small, and had not much
strength, so that dusk was approaching before the tree fell. The next
thing he did was to split the tree and make a wide crack, which he kept
open by wedging two short sticks across it. When this was done he placed
the tree on the trail which led to the lake, and ran home again.
Early in the morning he crept safely out, and went to the shore of the
lake and shouted four times, looking up as he shouted at the sky. Again
there arose a wave on the water, and out of it came the frog, with the
copper eyes and mouth and claws. It hopped swiftly towards him, but now
the poor little boy did not mind, and waited till it could almost touch
him. Then he turned and fled along the trail where the tree lay. Easily
he slipped between the two sticks, and was safe on the other side, but
the great frog stuck fast, and the more it struggled to be free the
tighter it was held.
As soon as the poor little boy saw that the frog was firmly pinned
between the bars, he took up his stone hammer which he had left beside
the tree and dealt two sharp blows to the sticks that wedged open the
crack. The sticks flew out and the crack closed with a snap, killing the
frog as it did so. For awhile the poor little boy sat beside the tree
quietly, but when he was sure the great frog must be quite dead, he put
back the sticks to wedge open the crack and drew out the frog.
'I must turn it on its back to skin it,' said he, and after a long time
he managed to do this: But he did not take off the claws on the skin,
which he spread on the ground to dry. After the skin was dried he put
his arms and legs into it, and laced it firmly across his chest.
'Now I must practise,' he said, and he jumped into the lake just as a
frog would do, right down to the bottom. Then he walked along, till a
trout in passing swished him with its tail, and quickly he turned and
caught it in his hands. Holding the trout carefully, he swam up to the
surface, and when he was on shore again he unlaced the skin and hung it
on the branch of a tree, where no one was likely to see it.
After that he went home and found his grandmother and the princess still
sleeping, so he laid the trout on the beach in front of the house and
curled himself up on his mat.
By and bye the princess awoke, and the first thing she heard was the
sound of a raven crying on the beach. So she quickly got out of bed and
went to the place where the poor little boy was lying, and said to him:
'Go down to the beach, and see why the raven is crying.'
The poor little boy said nothing, but did her bidding, and in a few
minutes he came back holding out the trout to the princess.
'The raven brought this,' he said to her. But it was the trout which he
himself had caught in the bottom of the lake; and he and his grandmother
ate of it, but the princess would not eat. And every morning this same
thing happened, but the princess would eat nothing, not even when the
raven--for it was he, she thought--brought them a salmon.
At last a night came when the princess could not sleep, and hearing a
movement she rose softly and peeped through her curtain of skins. The
poor little boy was getting ready to go out, and as she watched him she
saw that he was a poor little boy no longer, but a tall youth. After a
long, long time he crept in again and lay down, but the princess did not
sleep; and when daylight broke and the raven called, she went to the
beach herself, and beheld a large salmon on the sand. She took up the
salmon, and carried it into the house, and stood before the poor little
'I know the truth now,' she said. 'It was you and not the raven who
found the trout,' and the poor little boy answered:
'Yes; it was I. My uncle deserted us all, and I had to get food. The
frog lived in the lake, and when I called it, it came, and I set a trap
for it and killed it; and by the help of its skin I dived into the lake
likewise, and now I am great, for you have taken notice of me.'
'You shall marry me,' said the princess, and he married her, for he had
ceased to be a poor little boy, and was grown to be a man. And whenever
he went out to hunt or to fish, luck was with him, and he killed all
that he sent his spear after, even whales and porpoises.
Time passed and they had two children, and still his hunting prospered
and he grew rich. But one day he suddenly felt very tired and he told
his wife, who feared greatly that some evil should befall him.
'Oh, cease hunting, I pray you!' said she. 'Surely you are rich enough';
but he would not listen, and hunted as much as ever.
Now most of the people who had left the town at the chief's bidding were
dead, and the chief never doubted but that his daughter and the poor
little boy and the old grandmother were dead also. But at length some of
those who survived, wished to behold their homes once more, and they set
out in four canoes to the old place. As they drew near, they saw many
storehouses all full of spoils from the sea, and four whales laid up
outside. Greatly were they amazed, but they got out of their canoes and
went up to speak to the young man who stood there, and he spread food
before them, and gave them gifts when in the evening they said farewell.
They hastened to tell their chief all that they had seen and heard, and
he was glad, and bade his people move back to the town and live in their
old houses. So the next day the canoes put to sea again, and the poor
little boy opened his storehouses and feasted the people, and they chose
him for their chief.
'It grows harder every day to take off the frog blanket,' he said to his
wife, and at his words she cried and would not take comfort. For now her
husband could not rest contented at home, but hunted elks and bought
slaves and was richer than any other chief had ever been before him. At
length he told his uncle he wished to give a pot-latch or a great
banquet, and he invited to it the Indians who dwelt many miles away.
When they were all gathered together he called the people into the
house, for in the centre of it he had placed his slaves and elk-skins
and the other goods that he possessed.
'You shall distribute them,' he said to his uncle, and his uncle bade
him put on his head the great copper he had knocked down from the tree,
and the skin of the white bear which he had killed when he was still a
poor little boy. Thus with the copper on his head and the bear-skin on
his shoulders he walked to the pile of elk-skins in the middle of the
house and sang, for this was part of the ceremony of giving him a name
to show that he was grown up. And after the song was ended the chief
'Now I will call you by your name,' and the name that he gave him was
Growing-up-like-one-who-has-a-grandmother, because his grandmother had
always been so kind to him. After that the poor little boy took off the
great copper and the bear-skin, and gave gifts to his guests, and they
* * * * *
The chief and his wife were left alone and he put on his frog blanket,
for he was going to catch seals for the people to eat. But his face was
sad and he said to his wife:
'I shall return safely this time, but when next I put on that blanket I
may not be able to take it off, and if I can't, perhaps I may never come
home again. But I shall not forget you, and you will always find the
seals and halibut and the salmon, which I shall catch for you, in front
of the house.'
He did not leave them quite as soon as he expected. For several days his
wife who was always watching for him, saw him walk up the beach; then
one day she watched in vain, for though salmon and whales were there,
the poor little boy was not. Each morning she took her two children down
to the shore and they stood looking over the waves crying bitterly as
the tide went out, because they knew he could not come till it was high
Food in plenty they had, and enough for the people of the town also, but
the poor little boy never came home any more, for he had grown to be a
frog, and was obliged to live in the sea.
[From the Bureau of American Ethnology: Tsimshian Texts
by Franz Boas.]