BLTC Press Titles


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Vanity Fair

William Thackery


The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison


The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Along Alaska's great river

by Frederick Schwatka

Excerpt:

CHILKAT BRACELET MADE FROM SILVER COIN.

two salmon canneries just completed, one on each side of the inlet, awaiting the "run" or coming of salmon, which occurred about two weeks later. Each cannery was manned by about a half dozen white men as directors and workmen in the trades departments, the Chilkats doing the rougher work, as well as furnishing the fish. They differed in no material respect from the salmon canneries of the great Columbia River, so often described. Just above them comes in the Chilkat river, with a broad shallow mouth, which, at low water (sixteen feet below high water) looks like a large sand flat forming part of the shores of the harbor. On these bars the Indians spear the salmon when the water is just deep enough to allow them to wade around readily.

Up this Chilkat river are the different villages of the Chilkat Indians, one of fifteen or twenty houses being in sight, on the east bank, the largest, however, which contains four or five times as many houses, called Kluk-wan, being quite a distance up the river. These Chilkats are subdivided into a number of smaller clans, named after the various animals, birds and fishes. At about the time of my arrival the chief of the Crow clan had died, and as he was a very important person, a most sumptuous funeral was expected to last about a week or ten days. These funerals are nothing but a series of feasts, protracted according to the importance of the deceased, and as they are furnished at the expense of the administrators or executors of the dead man's estate, every Indian from far and wide, full of veneration for the dead and a desire for victuals, congregates at the pleasant ceremonies, and gorges to his utmost, being worthless for work for another week afterward. As I urgently needed some three or four score of these Indians to carry my effects on their backs across the Alaskan coast range of mountains to the head waters of the Yukon river, this prolonged funeral threatened seriously to prevent my getting away in good time. Ranking me as a chief, I was invited to the obsequies and promised a very conspicuous position therein, especially on the last day when the body was to be burned on a huge funeral pyre of dry resinous woods. Cremation is the usual method of disposing of the dead among these people, the priests or medicine men being the only ones exempt. The latter claim a sort of infallibility and all of their predictions, acts, and influences capable of survival, live after them so long as their bodies exist, but should these be lost by drowning, devouring, or cremation, this infallibility ceases. Therefore these defunct doctors of savage witchcraft inhabit the greatest portion of the few graveyards that one sees scattered here and there over the shores of the channels and inlets that penetrate the country. Cre mation is not always resorted to, however, with the laity, for whenever convenience dictates otherwise, they too may be buried in boxes, and this practice, I understand, is becoming more common. Cremation is a savage honor, nevertheless, and slaves were not entitled to the rite. All the Indians were extremely anxious that I should attend the obsequies of their dear departed friend, for if I did they saw that they might also be present and yet feel sure of employment on my expedition over the mountains. I declined the invitation, however, and by being a little bit determined managed to persuade enough strong sturdy fellows away to do my proposed packing in two trips over the pass, which had the effect of inducing the others to come forward in sufficient numbers to accomplish the work in a single journey, and preparations were commenced accordingly. These preparations consisted mostly in assorting our effects with reference to every thing that we could possibly leave behind, taking as little as we could make our way through with, and putting that little into convenient bags, boxes, and bundles of about one hundred pounds each, that being the maximum load the Indians could well carry over such Alpine trails. Some boys, eight or ten, even came forward to solicit a share in the arduous labor, and one little urchin of not over fourteen, a son of the Chilkat chief, Shot-rich, manfully assumed the responsibility of a sixty-eight pound box, the distance he had to carry it being about thirty miles, •but thirty miles equal to any one hundred and thirty on the good roads of a civilized country. There were a few slaves among my numerous Indian packers, slavery having once flourished extensively among the Chilkats, but having diminished both in vigor and extent, in direct ratio to their contact with the whites. Formerly, slaves were treated in the many barbarous ways common to savage countries, sacrificed at festivals and religious ceremonies, and kept at the severest tasks. They were often tied in huge leathern sacks stretched at full length on the hard stony ground and trodden to death. The murderers, great muscular men, would jump up and down on their bodies, singing a wild death chant, with their fists clinched across their breasts, every cracking of a rib or bone being followed by loud shouts of derisive laughter. Sometimes the slave was bound to huge bowlders at the water's edge at low tide, and as the returning waves came rolling in and slowly drowned the wretch, his cries were deafened by the hideous shouts from the spectators on the land. Of course, as with all slave-holders, an eye was kept open toward mercenary views, and the sacrifices were nearly always of the aged, infirm, or decrepit; those who had ceased to be useful as interpreted by their own savage ideas of usefulness. Entering a Chilkat house nowadays, one can hardly distinguish a slave from the master, unless one is acquainted with the insignificant variations in dress which characterize them, and while the slaves are supposed to do all the work the enforcement of the rule appears to be very lax. Still it is interesting to know that the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution is not held inviolable in all parts of that vast country. As among nearly all savages, the women are brutalized, but they appear to have one prerogative of the most singular character, that is well worth relating. Nearly every thing descends on the mother's side, yet a chattel may be owned, or at least controlled, by the men, although a traveler will notice many bargains wherein the woman's consent is first obtained. The royal succession is most oddly managed with reference to women's rights. The heir-apparent to the throne is not the oldest or any other child of the king and queen, but is the queen's nearest blood relative of the male persuasion, although the relationship may be no closer, perhaps, than that of cousin. As this curiously chosen king may marry any woman of the tribe, it is easy to see that any one may in this indirect way become the sovereign of the savages, and with the help of luck alone, may acquire royal honors. One rich Indian woman of Sitka who took a fancy to a slave, purchased him for the purpose of converting him into a husband, at a cost of nearly a thousand dollars in goods and chattels, and if he was not very expensive thereafter he may have been cheaper than the usual run of such bargains. When a couple of Chilkats tie the nuptial knot, they at once, if possible, adopt a boy and a girl, although these can hardly be said to stand in the place of adopted children, when it is understood that they are really a conjugal reserve corps for the bride and bridegroom in case of death. Should the man die the boy becomes the widow's husband without further ceremony, and vice versa. Of course such conjugal mixtures present the most incongruous aspects in the matter of age, but happily these examples are infrequent.

This Chilkat country is most thoroughly Alpine in character, and in the quiet, still evenings, far up on the stesp hillsides, where the dense spruce timber is broken up by natural clearings, one could often see a brown or black bear come out and nose around to get at some of the many roots and berries that there abound, and more than once I was a spectator of a bear hunt, for as soon as Bruin put in an appearance there was always some Indian hunter ambitious enough to toil up the steep mountain sides after him. I have spoken of their extreme fear of the great brown or cinnamon bear, which they seldom attack. So great indeed is the Chilkats' respect for him that the most aristocratic clan is called the Cinnamon Bears. Another high class clan is the Crows, the plebeian divisions being the Wolves and Whales, and the division line is so strong that it leads to feuds between the clans that, in respect of slaughter, are almost entitled to the name of wars, while between the high and low caste intermarriage is almost unknown. As the Brown Bears, or Cinnamon Bears as they are generally called, are the highest clan, so copper is their most highly prized metal. With copper the Chilkats have always been familiar, gold and silver coming with the whites; and therefore a brown bear's head carved in copper is their most venerated charm. In regard to engraving and sculpture it is not too much to say that the Chilkats stand well in the front rank of savage artists. When civilization first came in contact with these people they were in the paleolithic stone age of that material, and their carvings were marvels of design and execution, although subserving the simplest wants of a simple people. Of metals they possessed only copper, and that in such small quantities as to be practically out of the account. With the whites came gold and silver, and the latter from its comparative cheapness became


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