A Pen Picture of Barkley Sound

The Ancient Home of the Seshahts

The Lone Indian

To the lone Indian, who slowly paddles his canoe upon the waters of this western sound, each tree of different kind by shade of green and shape of crown is known; the Toh-a-mupt or Sitca spruce with scaley bark and prickly spine; the feathery foliage of the Quilth-kla-mupt, the western hemlock, relieved in spring by the light green of tender shoots. The frond-like branches and aromatic scent betray to him the much-prized Hohm-ess, the giant cedar tree, from which he carves his staunch canoe. These form the woods which sweep from rocky shore to topmost hill.

Small bays with sandy beaches white with broken clam shells mark the shore, and if across the beach a stream of crystal water rippled to the sea, one Indian lodge or more was sure to be erected on the rising land behind; for Indians always choose to build their homes on sheltered sandy bays where pure fresh water runs, and so in years which are among those past and gone one could not fail to see the blue wood smoke of Indian fires hanging like gauze above the little bays; but most are now deserted and corner posts of old time houses alone are seen, and beds of stinging nettle cover ancient kitchen middens, and spirea and elderberry strive for space where once red strips of salmon hung in the smoke of punk-wood fires, and stillness reigns where once the Indians' mournful song was heard.

On jutting rocks the black Klap-poose, the shag, in silence sits.
Between the bays are rugged rocky points, where, by the constant wash of winter waves the rocks are carved in shapes uncouth and weird--giants in stone, whose heads are crowned with scrubby conifers, upon whose feet the wild seas break, or in the summer time the gentle wavelets lap. On jutting rocks the black Klap-poose, the shag, in silence sits, while circling overhead the keen eyed gulls watch for the shoals of fry on which they feed.

Come now with me and I will guide you to some beauty spots, unknown, unguessed except to those who have explored the sea creeks and sheltered passage ways abounding on that western coast. Perhaps between two rugged rocks we may find an opening where it cuts its way deep into the land. In many parts, the lichen-covered canyon walls approach so close together that our canoe can scarcely pass, and more than likely we shall find the passage bridged by some old fallen tree, its ancient trunk enveloped in soft moss and seedling forest trees. Reflected in the water's surface are flowering berry shrubs, which adorn the banks on either side. We see the glossy-leaved shalal, the fruit of which the Indians gather to dry for winter use, and clumps of maiden hair and other ferns rooted in old tree trunks and rocky crevices. Such is the picture of many a salt sea creek found in the regions round fair Barkley Sound.

Perhaps our fancy leads among the islands of the sound. It may be that a storm has lately spent itself, and long deep swells are rolling in from the wide ocean lying to the west. Our staunch canoe is lost in the deep green waters of the heaving main. It climbs only to descend and climb once more, and thus we slowly cross the Middle Channel and reach calm water.

A west coast Indian wearing the kut-sack.
Soon what at first appeared to be unbroken shore breaks up into many passage ways. By one of these we enter, to find ourselves among a hundred isles. Each one is wooded to the water's edge, which often the trees overspread with outstretched boughs. Entranced, we paddle on until we leave behind all trace of ocean swell, and if the tide be low so that old sea-soaked snags are seen upon the shore, and boulders thick with barnacles and varied coloured sea-weeds in shades of brown and red, and here and there great clusters of blue mussel shells, these all, if the water be calm and undisturbed by wind, are mirrored on the surface of the stream, forming pictures most rare and beautiful. Thus for hours with ever fresh delight we thread the calm passage-ways between those isles. Beachlets of white sand and powdered shells are found where ocean swells at times may reach. On these we stroll and gather abalone shells and empty sea eggs and other relics up-thrown by winter storms. At evening we may reach a sheltered nook where years ago Indians built a little shelter in which to sit and watch the sun descend into the western sea. Perhaps we may conjure up the Indian's thought, who built that little shelter, and night on night in glorious summer time, squatted and watched the sun go down.

Such is the setting for the following tales. Amid such scenes as these, the Indians lived and died.

The Summer Home of the Seshahts

Hand Adze made and used by Indians of Barkley Sound.
There is an island larger than the rest, called Ho-moh-ah, where once the tribe of Seshahts made their summer home. It lies well out to sea, and on the sheltered side the Seshahts lived. The chief of the tribe was Shewish. His house was large, so large that when he called his people to a great potlatch, they all could find within its walls an ample space to feast and dance. His house like all the old time dwellings was built on simple lines, the three great roof-logs each of single trees, upheld by posts of ample girth. The sides and roof of wide-split cedar boards were adzed to lie close, and fastened into place by twisted cedar rope. Within, on either side was raised a wooden platform two feet high. This platform and a portion of the floor adjoining it in sections was partitioned off by screens of cedar mats. Each section was the home of such as claimed close kinship with the chief. The centre of the lodge for its whole length was common to all who lived therein. The people cooked their food upon the common fire, the smoke of which curled up and found an exit through the smoke hole in the roof. The section tenanted by the family of Shewish lay furthest from the door. No feature except one marked it as different from the homes of lesser men. A pictographic painting--the Coat of Arms of the great family of Shewish hung upon the wall. The picture told in graphic form how came the name of Shewish to be famed among the hunters of the whale. It also told the legend of the THUNDER BIRDS.

Next: The Legend of the Thunder Birds

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