Excerpt: Chehalis Stories

In Chehalis Stories Jolynn Amrine Goertz and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Western Washington have assembled a collaborative volume of traditional stories collected by the anthropologist Franz Boas from tribal knowledge keepers in the early twentieth century. Both Boas and Amrine Goertz worked with past and present elders, including Robert Choke, Marion Davis, Peter Heck, Blanche Pete Dawson, and Jonas Secena, in collecting and contextualizing traditional knowledge of the Chehalis people.

The elders shared stories with Boas at a critical juncture in Chehalis history, when assimilation efforts during the 1920s affected almost every aspect of Chehalis life. These are stories of transformation, going away, and coming back. The interwoven adventures of tricksters and transformers in Coast Salish narratives recall the time when people and animals lived together in the Chehalis River Valley. Catastrophic floods, stolen children, and heroic rescues poignantly evoke the resiliency of the people who have carried these stories for generations.

Working with contemporary Chehalis peoples, Amrine Goertz has extensively reviewed the work of anthropologists in Western Washington. This important collection examines the methodologies, shortcomings, and limitations of anthropologists’ relationship with Chehalis people and presents complementary approaches to field work and its contextualization.

The following is an excerpt from Chehalis Stories (February 2018).

x̣ʷə́n and Bluejay

Robert Choke

Once x̣ʷə́n went along and came to a river. He wanted to kill fish. He set his trap to kill salmon. He said, “When you kill one, call me.” Indeed it killed one. He went and there were just leaves. One time he caught a stick. “Oh, it lied to me.” One time it killed moss. Four times then indeed it caught salmon. x̣ʷə́n made a fire and roasted it on a stick. Then he went to sleep. Before he slept he laid down the milt. He said, “My wife or my children.” Then he slept. When he got up, behold there were women. They ate what he had killed. It was all gone when he woke up. He looked around for what he roasted, “Oh, those women have eaten it.” He touched his mouth and he felt much fat. He thought that he himself must have eaten. “I was going along. The women went up the river in a canoe. I go up the river. I am going far. I say, ‘straighten the canoe, my wives or my children.’ I always tell them and they get mad and jump off and they run away.” x̣ʷə́n went. His canoe was turned around in the river and one of the women went inland. He went and they went going across a prairie. They saw a woman digging camas. They saw an old woman. She was rocking a little grandchild. She pushed it and it came back. The woman was blind. One said, “Let us steal this child.” She looked for rotten wood and found it. She took it, and took off the baby. She put it in and pushed it back. Then the old woman found the rotten wood. She said, “My little grandchild became rotten wood. My little grandchild became rotten wood.” Then her daughter heard and came and found indeed her child was gone. She said, “I will find the one who stole it.” The old mother said, “Do not leave me. I will go along. We will go. I will just speak to the ground. Wrinkle up ground, wrinkle up.” Indeed it wrinkled up. They were about to catch him. “I will let down my mother.” Then she took her up again. “Oh, mother, speak to the ground.” “Wrinkle up ground.” “One time I am about to catch this woman. I will let her down.” A mountain arose. Then she carried her again. “I will catch that woman. I will let her down.” There was a big lake.1 They did not catch them. She came to the horizon of this world that goes up and down. She jumped to the other side and the mother could not go through. She came back. “I will get one person. I will pay many things to go after my child.” He got in past the horizon therefore he could not follow. He came back. He came back and he never found the child. She sent another one. He started and he arrived there. He could not pass the horizon and gave up. He came back. The woman said, “Nobody can pass the horizon.” All her property was gone. She got one child. She took the diaper and wrung it out. She drank the water and then she got a child. She sent everybody. Then Bluejay came. “I will get your son.”2 The woman said, “I will pay you whatever you want.” Bluejay said, “I will go and get him.” Bluejay started. He came to the horizon. He waited. It opened and again it closed. As soon as it opened he jumped and came to the other side. He looked and saw one with many children. He was making a spear for his child. He was whittling the spear. Bluejay started. He jumped back. He jumped. He saw it. Indeed it was the one he had gone for. He jumped. The one who was whittling a spear said, “What do you come for?” He took the dust off what he was whittling and threw it on his face. It struck the eyes of Bluejay. Bluejay said, “I have come for you. Your mother has lost you, therefore I came after you.” The other one said, “All right, I will go.” He took his children and threw them into the river. He said, “You will be little fish.” Bluejay came. He came to the woman. He said, “He has come. He was paid clothing which he has on.” He set everything right. He came to one who was sharpening a knife. “I am going to cut up núkʷimaɬ3 when he comes.” He said, “What are you saying?” “Oh, I was just saying I will play with núkʷimaɬ.” He said, “Bring it here.” He brought his knife and gave it to him. “Now turn around.” He stabbed his behind with it. He said, “Your name will be Beaver. You will eat everything. You will bite around fir trees until they fall.”

Then this one, Moon, started . . .4


Field notebook X, 570–89; typescript, “Untitled,” 1–3. This is an abridged telling of the kidnapping of Moon.

  1.  Boas notes that this is poisaɬ, a lake below Chehalis known as “bent lake.”
  2. Field notebook X, 576: “son”; typescript, “Untitled,” 2: “story.”
  3. Kinkade translates núkʷimaɬ as “strange person travelling” (1991, 92).
  4. Italicized words are my suggested translation. The rest of this story was not translated, with the typist noting, “Story not finished, too muddled” (field notebook X, 570–80; typescript, “Untitled,” 3). Translated fragments reveal that this story is similar to episodes in Peter Heck’s version of “Moon” (Adamson 1934, 158). Moon is looking for a wedge and comes across a woman on a swing. In Heck’s version, this woman is k’ʷə́cx̣ʷe.

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