The Finding of the Tsomass

Near thirty miles from where Alberni pours her crystal stream out to the mighty fjord that cleaves Vancouver's Island nigh in twain, a tribe of Indians lived. Their village nestled at the foot of wooded hills, which everywhere on this indented coastline, rise straight up from out the North Pacific. They were a powerful tribe, E-coulth-aht by name; seven hundred strong, with many fighting men, and many children who played upon that shore. I think even now I hear the echo of their voices round the bay, and how marvelously clear an echo may be, among the inlets of that rockbound coast! I have heard my call flung back from side to side alternately, till it was lost among the rocky heights and ceased to be.

Across the bay from where the Indians lived, ran a stream, called Po-po-moh-ah. Here every autumn, when the salmon came, they stayed and caught the fish for winter use. Yet strange to say these ancient E-coulth-ahts seemed unaware that at their very doors, a nature hewn canal had its entrance. One fine September morning Ha-houlth-thuk-amik and Han-ah-kut-ish, the sons of Wick-in-in-ish or, as some say Ka-kay-un, accompanied by their father's slave See-na-ulth were paddling slowly to Po-po-moh-ah, when half across and near to Tsa-a-toos they saw dead salmon floating on the tide.

The salmon had spawned, and is it not strange to think that this, the king of fish should struggle up the rapid tumbling streams for many miles, against strong currents, over falls where the water breaks the least, perchance to fall within the wicker purse of Indian traps placed there so cunningly to catch them if they should fall back; and even if they escape the Indian traps and find the gravel bar where they four years before, began their life, and having spent themselves in giving life, sicken and die, their bodies even in death give sustenance to gulls and eagles circling round those haunts.

"These fish have come from where fresh water flows, so let us follow up from whence they come. Let Quawteaht direct our course, and we shall find new streams where salmon are in plenty and win great glory in our tribe." Thus spake the sons of Wick-in-in-ish, and they turned the prow of their canoe upstream, and followed where the trail of salmon led, to the broad entrance of that splendid fjord.

Soon they paddled by the harbour U-chuck-le-sit, long famed for its safe anchorage and quiet retreat, when winter storms lash the waters of the sound. Leaving this quiet harbour on the left, they followed where the wider channel led to Klu-quilth-soh, that dark and stormy gate, where Indians say the dreaded Chehahs dwell among the rocky heights – "The Gates of Hell," and when men seek to pass those gates the Chehahs blow upon them winds of evil fates from north and south and east and west. The water boils in that great witches pot, while Indians seek a sheltered beach in vain – no beach is there, no shelter from the storm. The mighty cliffs frown down relentlessly; the whale She-she-took-a-muck opens his great jaws and swallows voyagers, at which the chehahs laugh, and their wild laughter, Klu-quilth-soh's heights re-echo far away.

On this eventful day the evil chehahs were absent from their home and the Yuk-stees wind blew not too strong to cause the waves to dash along in wild commotion, and after paddling uneventfully through Klu-quilth-soh, the three E-coulth-ahts stopped beside Toosh-ko. Looking back they could not see Nob Point which hid their home from view, – it was as if the mountains which formed those stormy gates, had closed and barred them in.

"What chehah" they cried, "has lured us within this inland sea and shut those gates? A-ha A-ha!" they called with anxious cry, and prayed Kah-oots to save them from all dangers. To the Saghalie Tyee, the chief above, they also prayed to potlach kloshe to them, and guard them from the evil chehahs hovering round. After the relief of prayer, their spirits rose, and once again the splashing of their paddles marked their onward progress.

Soon they glided by Hy-wach-es Creek and rounding Wak-ah-nit they came in view of the great valley where the Tsomass flows. At once they ceased from paddling to gaze with pleasure on that favoured land, and as they looked they heard the sound of song from up the river valley.

The evening fell, the pleasant Yuk-stees wind blew more faintly, and as it passed away, over those calm inland waters swelled again the sound of many voices chanting Indian songs.

"There are people dwelling there," they said. "It would be well if we delayed until morning." Agreeing to this plan they crossed the channel and camped at Klu-quilth-coose.

Next morning while the grass was damp with dew, and long before the U-ah-tee wind had ceased, the sons of Wick-in-in-ish, hearing again the quaint alluring song, took their canoe and paddled on, to where between two grassy slopes, the Tsomass ends. When they approached the river mouth, they saw extending from the bank a salmon trap, and even to-day, the Indians will show at Lup-se-kup-se some old rotten sticks, which they affirm formed part of that same trap. The land was green, the wild duck's quack was heard among the reeds which edged the river bank, while flocks of geese were feeding on the grass which grows thickly upon the tidal flats, the flats the Indians call Kwi-chuc-a-nit.

Upon the eastern bank the young men saw a wondrous house, which far surpassed their father's lodge at home beyond the hills in Rainy Bay, in size of beams and boards. The sons of Wick-in-in-ish were afraid and would have turned the bow of their canoe home-bound, but that from the house they heard a woman call. "Oh come and stay with us, go not away. Our land is full of all the riches nature gives; our woods are bright with o-lil-lie most luscious to the taste; on yonder hill the nimble ah-tooch feed; in every stream the silver salmon swim so come within our lodge with us and stay awhile." Ha-houlth-thuk-amik was mesmerized by the sweet welcoming and entered in, whereat the klootsmah said to him, "We welcome thee strange one unto our lodge, for we have never seen a man before. Come and join us in our song and dance, for when above great Kuth-kah-chulth the morning sun in glory rises, we chant this song."

The Indian maiden's song.

and when he sets over Kleetsa's snow white crown, we dance around our fires, and sing again, and our hearts are happy in this our land."

Singing and dancing
"We dance round our fires and sing again."

Now Han-ah-kut-ish was alarmed and much afraid that if his brother listened to the klootsmah and was attentive to her blandishments, he would forget the mission in which they were engaged, therefore he called to him to come, and after much persuasion the elder brother left the lodge and joined the younger and the slave See-na-ulth, and together they paddled up the stream to Ok-sock-tis opposite the present village of O-pit-ches-aht. Across the river there were houses in which more klootsmuk lived, but at this time they were employed in gathering Kwanis in the land behind, and when the young men sought them out they were afraid and all but one took flight escaping to the woods. This one had no fear but coming near to Ha-houlth-thuk-amik besought him with favour to look on her, but Han-ah-kut-ish again reminded him that they had not as yet attained the object of their quest.

Still further up the stream they went, until they came to where they found the Ty-ee salmon spawning on the gravel bars. Believing they had found the object of their search they camped the night at Sah-ah-hie. All through the darkness they listened to the rushing of the fish, when the gaunt and savage males with flattened heads and upper jaws curved like a hook about the lower, and armed with dog-like teeth, fought for the females of their choice. With great satisfaction they heard the wallowing of the fish, as, with their heads and tails, they formed the elongated cavities in the gravel in which to lay their eggs. Then Ha-houlth-thuk-amik declared that this the Tsomass River was the source from which the dead fish came which they had seen when paddling to Po-po-moh-ah.

To Lup-se-kup-se they returned next day, and there they saw, among the women in the lodge, the girl who spoke to them, when they had landed on the river bank opposite Ok-sock-tis. Then Ha-houlth-thuk-amik, desiring to convey her home with him, took her aside and said, "If thou wilt come with me, say not a word, but unbeknown make haste and leave the house, and run across the point which forms the eastern bank where this the Tsomass river joins the inland sea, then hide thyself until we take thee in, as we are paddling home."

The klootsmah did as she was told and as the young men passed she jumped within the canoe, and was away with them. That night they stayed at Chis-toh-nit not far from Coleman creek, so named because in later days a white man of that name took up some land and dwelt there some little while.

Next morning the klootsmah said to Ha-houlth-thuk-amik, "I am Kla-kla-as-suks and I am now thy rightful wife and therefore I desire to make of thee a famous hunter of the whale, so come with me and climb the mountain called Kuk-a-ma-com-ulth where high above the timber line the green grass grows, and I will get for thee an Ow-yie medicine."

They climbed the mountain and she secured for him the medicine so desired by all who hunt the whale, and early next morning, blown by a strong U-ah-tee wind they started for Po-mo-moh-ah and when they came to Klu-quilth-soh they found the gates wide open and passed safely through between the frowning cliffs, arriving home before the break of day.

Then Ha-houlth-thuk-amik aroused his father who was still asleep, and bade him light a fire, and when the fire was lit he told him how they ventured up the unknown way, between high cliffs, where they had lost all sight and sound of Rainy Bay. He told of the Tsomass land, and the salmon stream which far eclipsed their own Po-po-moh-ah, and then described the great and wondrous house, where the klootsmuk dwelt, and how they sang to him "Yah-hin-in-ay." He told him also of Kla-kla-as-suks, the klootsmah who had left her home to be his rightful wife.

Singing and dancing
Next day e're midday came they had set sail.

Then Wick-in-in-ish sent for all the tribe, and when they were assembled in his lodge, he told to them the story of the Tsomass land. Among the braves was much talking; and after speeches from the lesser chiefs, it was decided that next day before the sun had cast his shadow north and south, with Yuk-stees wind, they would set sail for Tsomass land.

That day in every house, in varied occupation, each family was busied. The cedar boards, which form the sides and roof of all their homes, were piled upon canoes. Atop of these were set their household goods, the mats of cedar bark, the wooden tubs in which they boiled their fish, the spears of flint, their hooks of bone, their fishing lines of kelp, and mattresses of water reeds. Large quantities of clams and mussels, also salmon cured by smoke they took with them, for Wick-in-in-ish planned to give a great potlatch to the strange tribe of Indian girls, from which his eldest son had chosen one to be his wife.

Next morning long before the sun had reached the zenith they had set sail for Tsomass land. It truly must have been a sight to see that fleet of dark canoes, piled high with all the wealth of that great tribe, as with the sails of cedar bark filled with the Yuk-stees wind, they glided by the green or rocky shores which led them inland to the pleasant Tsomass land. Before the shadows of the night had spread among the gloomy conifers, the dark canoes had rounded Wak-a-nit, when, taking down their sails of cedar bark, they paddled silently close to the shore.

When near Tin-nim-ah, where the Indians say they find good stone for sharpening arrow points, they rested on their paddles, and first heard the women singing in their cedar lodge. Then Wick-in-in-ish addressed his tribe. "My children we have sailed for many miles, and our little ones are hungry and weary. Let us sojourn near this old spruce."

Thus they encamped near the conifer, and called the place Toha-a-muk-is after the spruce they were afraid to touch. Water they carried from near Kak-a-mak-kook, named from the alders growing round the stream. All through the night they heard the salmon splash to free themselves, so many Indians say, from sea lice clinging to their silver sides, and their hearts were happy with that refrain, which spoke to them of great supplies of food.

Early next day, before the forest trees were gilded by the glorious rising sun, the people heard the call of many birds, and looking northward where the Tsomass flows, forth from the mist, which in the early morning hangs like a veil of gauze among the trees, they saw a flock of Sand Hill cranes appear. They flew far above their heads and gradually ascending to the sky, vanished from their sight. These were the maidens, so the Indians say, who left behind them all this lovely land for regions unexplored, taking with them both clams and mussels. This is the reason Indians give for the lack of these shell-fish now, upon the shores of the great inland sea. The maidens also took the Kwa-nis bulbs, but as they flew they dropt a few upon the ground, hence the Kwa-nis bulb is still found in Tsomass land.

Wick-in-in-ish, with his sons, now made haste to paddle to the river mouth, but lo, the house was gone, no sign of it was left, and with it all the klootsmah tribe had fled. Then he turned to Ha-houlth-thuk-amik and said, "This is thy land, and this thy future home shall be; thou and thy chosen one Kla-kla-as-suks shall dwell therein, and may thy children be many."

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