Once there was a famine among the people of Alsek (A
lsê'x) river. There were two shamans there, one of whom began singing to bring up eulachon, while the other sang for strength in order to obtain bears and other forest animals.
The first shaman's spirit told him that if he would go down the little rapids he would see great numbers of eulachon. So he dressed up next morning and went straight down under the water in a little canoe.
That night the other shaman's spirits came to him, saying that the first shaman would remain under water for four nights; that he had gone into a house where were eulachon, salmon, and other fish and had thrown the door open.
At the end of four days they hunted all around and found him lying dead on the beach amid piles of eulachon. As soon as they brought him up, all the eulachon that were in the ocean started to run up river, and everyone tried to preserve as many of them as he could.
In the same town were two menstruant women, and the other shaman told these that there would be a great many land otters about the town that evening. Just as he had said, at the time when his spirits came to him that evening, numbers of land-otter-men came through the village. They could be heard whistling about the town. Finally some one said, "Why is it that it sounds as if they were all where the two women are?" Sure enough, they found that the land otters were talking inside of the two women. The ones that were inside of them were really land-otter-men, that is, men who had been taken away by the land otters and made like themselves.
A person would often creep close up to these women to find out what they were, but every time something spoke out inside, "Do not
sneak around here for I can see you." They could not get at them. These land-otter-men had come to the women to turn them into land-otter-people also.
A menstruant woman is the only thing that will enfeeble the power of a shaman's spirit, therefore, although the shaman endeavored to get these land-otter-men out of the women, his spirits kept turning back. When the shaman's spirit came to him next evening, it said that there were more land-otter-men coming to take away the ones in these women and the women with them. He told the people to be watchful, because there was going to be a great disturbance that night. When night came on the people were all very much frightened at the noises the land-otter-men made under the houses, and they had great trouble keeping the two women in their rooms so that they should not be carried off. All the people helped them, but the land otters were invisible. After that nobody went out to camp for a long time. Then they said to the two women, "Take your bloody clothes to different beaches, leave them there, and tell the land otters that they are too great animals to fight with weak beings." In those times whenever a menstruant woman said anything of that kind it had to be obeyed. So the land otters went off.
The shamans in those times were very strict and strong, and whatever they saw was true. By and by these shamans said, "Something is going to happen to that great town thereby the lake." When the things that had happened in their neighbors' town regarding the land otters were reported to the people there, they said, "Are you afraid of those things that stutter and can not talk like you and I?" By and by two men started hunting from this place. When they had reached the top of a neighboring mountain, they looked back and saw a great flood come down between the mountains and overwhelm their town. This flood was caused by an avalanche which poured into the lake and filled it up, forcing the water out. Some human bodies were hanging to the branches of trees. The men knew this had happened on account of the way they had spoken of the land otters, and, starting on aimlessly, they came to the town where the shamans lived.
One of these two shamans had a quantity of oil which he was going to carry to another town. He wanted to buy skins of kinds different from those his own people had. When they reached a camping place outside of the town the man's spirit told him to go down to the beach at low tide and carry a hook with him. A shaman's spirits never liked salt things. There he saw a very big devilfish under a rock, and his spirit said to him, "Look out, master, that is a big live devilfish." As soon as he had hooked it, he saw what appeared to be two ducks flying toward him from either side, but they were really the devilfish's arms. Then his spirit told him to run up quickly on the bank, and
he squatted down there under a rock, while the devilfish's tentacles swept over him, carrying all the forest trees along with them. Two days after this his spirit told him to set out again.
When this shaman arrived at K!AkAnuwû', where many people lived, everybody wanted to see him and try his strength, because they had heard that he was a great shaman. One evening they began trying him. They threw his mask on his face and it stayed there, covering up his eyes so that he could not see where he was going. Then, when he ran around the fire, the people stuck out their feet to trip him, but he jumped over them every time. This showed how strong his spirits were. Another time his spirits came to him they built a big fire and he started around it. Then he threw the fire round upon everyone who was there and as high up as the ceiling, but the fire hurt nobody. By and by his clothes man said, "Another spirit is coming to him soon, named Guts!caxo'tqâ." This spirit had a big knife in his hand with which he would hit people on the breast. When it came to him, the shaman told the older people to stand up straight and motionless and not to fear, for if one got seared he would die. He hit one, and they laid him in a certain place. Then everyone said, "You better kill that shaman, for he has slain the best man in the company." After his spirits had gone away, however, the shaman went to the body out of which blood was still flowing and said, "It will be all right," while his spirits made a noise. Then the man got up and jumped about. The people looked at the wounded place, but there was not so much as a scar upon it.
After a while the shaman began trading off his grease to all who wanted it. One day he said, "Something is about to come up that will be very dangerous to you people." It was the moon. When the moon came up it shone brightly, and the stars were bright, but after a time the moon began to hide its face from them. That was what he had predicted. The people, however, thought this was caused by the shaman himself.
Then the leading men and women of the Kâ'gwAntân dressed themselves up, put grease on the fire, and began dancing to dance the moon out. After awhile it came out just a little, so they felt very happy and danced still harder. They continued doing so until the whole moon was out. At the same time people took whatever property they had, held it up and called the moon for it. They say the moon acts in this way because it feels poor and lonely, so, when the moon or sun does thus, they act in this manner. After that the shaman went home and told his fellow shaman how everyone had tried him in this place. "When I went around the fire, people put out their feet to make me stumble. They tried me in every way."
The shaman left at home was also trying to exert his power. His spirits were singing inside of him in order to bring salmon into the
creeks, and he told someone to make him a one-barbed hook (dina'). Whenever the salmon he was after came he was going to use this in order to get it. When it came up it filled the whole of Alsek river and broke all the hooks of those who tried to catch it. Then the shaman selected a small boy and said, "This little boy is going to hook it." So he gave him the hook he had had made, and the little boy pulled it up easily. The shaman's spirits had killed it. This salmon was so large that all in that town had a share, and even then it was more than they could cook for one meal. It was the biggest salmon ever killed. There are two creeks in that region, and to this day a young boy can easily pull in a large spring salmon there such as is hard for an adult to manage.
There is a hole near by called Hole-Raven-bored (Yêl-djuwAtu'
lia), because Raven made it long ago. In early times, whenever there was to be a large run of eulachon or other fish, quantities of rocks came out of that hole. So people used to go there to look at it.
In one place Alsek river runs under a glacier. People can pass beneath in their canoes, but, if anyone speaks, while they are under it, the glacier comes down on them. They say that in those times this glacier was like an animal, and could hear what was said to it. So, when they camped just below it, people would say, "Give us some food. We have need of food." Then the glacier always came down with a rush and raised a wave which threw numbers of salmon ashore.
The people were also in the habit of going up some distance above the glacier to a place called CânyukA' after soapberries which grow there in abundance. The first time they went up they discovered people who were all naked. except about the loins, and there was a shaman among them who was reputed to have a great deal of strength. For that reason they tried him. They took mussel shells, clam shells, and sharp stones and tried to cut his hair, but a single hair on his head was 3 inches across, so everything broke. This shaman had many spirits. Some were glacier spirits, called Sît! tu koha'nî, Fair-girls-of-the-glacier; others were of the sky tribe called Gûs! tu koha'nî, Fair-girls-of-the-sky.
The shaman said that, on their way down, one canoe load of the down-river people would be drowned as they passed under the glacier; but the spirits of the shaman below told him about this, and he went up to see the Athapascan shaman. In those days shamans hated one another exceedingly. So the Athapascan shaman placed kAq!Anaq!Aq!, something to destroy all of one's opponent's people, before his guest. The latter, however, all at once saw what it was and went home. Soon after he got there, the Athapascan shaman died, killed his rival's spirits, and his spirits passed to one of his friends.
The shamans living on Alsek river had a great deal of strength. All things in the sea and in the forest obeyed them. A rock just
south of Alsek river, named TA'nAku, has within it the spirits of a shaman called Qâtsat!î'. When a person wanted to kill some animal he placed things there, and now the T!A'q!dentân make a door like it and use it as an emblem. Near by is a place where many wild onions grow. They were planted there by Raven.
There is a small river beyond Alsek to which the Alsek River people once went for slaves. On their second expedition they killed a rich man, and those people, who were called L!uq!oedî, built a fort. Among them was a very brave man, named
Lucwâ'k, who conceived the idea of making the gate very strong, and of having it fastened on the inside so that it could be opened only wide enough to admit a single person at a time. Now, when the Alsek River people came up again and tried to enter the fort through this door, they were clubbed to death one at a time. By morning there were piles of dead bodies around the door.
Then the survivors begged
Lucwâ'k to let them have the bodies of those who had been wealthy, but he climbed up on the fort and said, "I will name my fort again. Know that it is Eagle fort. The eagle's claws are fastened in the dead bodies, and he can not let go of them. Poor as we are you always bring war against us, but now it is our turn. We have done this work, and I can not let one go." Toward evening, however, he had all of the bodies thrown outside, and climbed on the top beam of the fort where he walked about whistling with happiness. Meanwhile his opponents loaded their canoes with the dead and took them home. When they burned these, they took all the women they had enslaved in previous expeditions and threw them also into the flames. Then all the Eagle people assembled, returned to Eagle fort, burned it, and destroyed nearly everybody inside. Lucwâ'k's body was not burned, because he was a brave man, and brave men do not want to sit close to the fire in the Ghosts' home like weaklings.
Another time some Alsek people went visiting at a certain place and were invited to take sweat baths. But their hosts remained outside, and, when the Alsek people came out, they killed them. One of their victims was a man named Sîtâ'n, related to the Athapascans. He protected himself at first by holding a board in front of his face. Then they said, "Take down the board, Sîtâ'n. What we are doing now is especially, for you." In those times a person used to make some kind of noise when he went out expecting to be killed. So Sîtâ'n uttered this cry, ran out, and was killed.
After they had collected all of the dead bodies on a board a woman came crying out of the town. Then they said to her, "Are you really crying? If you are really crying for the dead bodies, lend us your husband's stone ax so that we can cut firewood with which to burn them." In those times stone axes were valuable and, when one was
broken, people beat a drum as though somebody had died. It means that this woman was very sorry indeed for the dead people when she lent her stone ax for this purpose.
When the Alsek River people heard of this slaughter they were very sad, but first they started their respective shamans fighting. It was really the shamans' spirits that fought. The shaman would stand in one place and say, "Now we are going to fight." He would also perform with knives just as if he were fighting something, though at that time the shamans were very far apart. Their spirits, however, could see each other plainly. They would also give the names of those warriors who were to be killed.
On the next expedition from Alsek against the people who had killed so many of their friends, they killed the same number on the other side. That was the way people did in olden times. They kept on fighting until both sides were even. Therefore they stopped at this point.