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Story Pole Legends

Story Poles are often mistaken to be totem poles. Story poles have characters on both side of the pole. Characters each have a story with a moral to each story.   Each story teller may tell the story a little different, but the basic story will remain the same.  Two following two stories and a short narrative were taken from "The Story of the Totem Pole Early Indian Legends" by Chief William Shelton, second edition 1935.

The Eagle Brothers and the Mink
Sway Uock

In the early days the Indians had a method of teaching children by telling them stories.  The one that told the stories had to be careful to tell good stories to the children, for these were the only lessons they depended upon to raise good children.   In the beginning birds, fish and animals all talked one language, therefore, throughout the following stories you will find the birds, fish and hu
man beings conversing in one tongue.

The Eagle Brothers and the Mink
    The Eagle brothers were very stong and active and very skillful hunters and were well known in their country not only because of their great prowess, but because of their only sister, a young lady of great beauty. The mink on the other hand, was skilled in nothing but deceiving, and he always managed to make believe that he was a great man.
    When the Mink heard of the Eagles’ pretty sister he decided that he would visit the Eagles and try his best to obtain their goodwill and permission to marry the sister. Accordingly, he started out that very day to visit the Eagles and he no sooner got there than he began talking about his many talents and deceiving the Eagles to believe that he was great and good, a very fine fellow. He stayed with the Eagles for quiet a long time and when he felt certain that he had duly impressed them with his grandness, he humbly asked the girl if she would marry him and she replied that she would be honored to if her brothers consented. So the Mink talked to the Eagle brothers and they agreed that the Mink would be very acceptable as a brother-in-low since he seemed to be such a very capable and talented fellow. The Mink and the girl were then married and they made their home with the Eagle brothers.    
    Now, each day before starting out on their hunt, the Eagle brothers would give themselves a “try-out” and this play often became rather rough sport when one or the other was able to make use of his great claws. Mink had watched them in their play a number of times and this particular day he said to his wife: “I believe I will play with your brothers today, for I am certain that I am a great deal quicker than they are and I will be able to dodge them.” His wife entreated him not to play with the Eagles, for they were too rough and far too quick for him and would very likely kill him if they caught him in their great claws. The Mink, however, would not listen to his wife’s advice, but entered into the play, and since the Eagles believed all he had said they thought that he was as active as they wee, as well as strong. Mink had scarcely joined the play when he found himself lying flat on his back with claws as sharp as arrow points tearing his flesh; then one of the Eagles picked him up and carried him to the top of a tall tree and until then did the Eagles realize that they had really hurt Mink. They immediately took him down to his wife and she put him to bed and nursed his wounds and after considerable time he became well enough to walk again. Then the Eagles came to him and said: “Now Mink, leave this house and don’t come back again, for we have discovered, that you have been lying to us; we believed that you were a strong, active man, and we have found you to be a mere weakling, therefore, you have deceived us and you will have to give up your wife and leave us and go back to your own country.” And so the Mink, through his foolish lying, lost his beautiful wife and his new home.
    So, children, let the story of the Mink be a lesson to you, never lie, but always speak the truth, for although you seem to gain by lying, you will lose all in the end.

Sway-Uock
    This is the story of Sway-Uoch, who lived away back in the woods and only came down to the beach when she was hungry.
    Now one day Sway-Uock came down to the beach and visited the little village where a band of Indians were making their homes. She picked up all the children that she could find and filled her huge basket with them and then turned and went back into the woods. The parents of the children were grief-stricken to have their little ones carried off in that manner before their very eyes, but they were powerless to stop Sway-Uoch for she was a very tall woman, in fact, when she walked she stepped right over their houses. And the children were unable to crawl out of the basket for it was too deep. Sway-Uoch never bothered the grown-ups when she had an opportunity to get children, for she considered children very choice morsels of food and so much preferred them to the grown-ups.
    The parents of the children who had been taken away were very sad for they did not know what might happen to their boys and girls and they had very little hope of ever seeing them again, as the days passed and they did not return.        
    In a short time, Sway-Uoch made her appearance at the little village again and came over to that part of the settlement where she had not touched on her first visit. The first child she picked up and put in the bottom of her large basket was a little hunch-backed boy. The little boy began to think of a scheme to save himself and so every time Sway-Uoch added a child to the basket he climbed on top of the child so that by the time she had the basket filled, the little hunchback was on the top.
    During this second visit that Lady Sway-Uoch paid the little village, the people all took especial note of her face and they thought that she was positively the very ugliest person they had ever seen; her hair was matted to her head as though it had never been washed or brushed and her face seemed entirely out of shape, for it was so horribly distorted, and she had lost two of her large teeth while eating children and not being careful to take out the bones. If you will look at the big story pole you will see the ugly face of Sway-Uoch and you will notice that she has lost two teeth.
    After filling her basket, Sway-Uoch started back to her home in the woods and while she was following the trail that led to her home, the little hunch-backed boy was busy wondering what he could do to save himself 'ere Sway-Uoch reached her home. He knew that he was too high from the ground to be able to jump down without injuring himself and just as he was beginning to believe that he had absolutely no chance to get away, Lady Sway-Uoch passed beneath a tall tree. The little hunch-back caught hold of an extending limb and swung himself free of the basket.
    Lady Sway-Uoch walked a short distance farther to the place where she had been making her home and there deposited her basket with its precious burden while she hustled about and started a blazing fire. The little hunch-back could see all that was happening very plainly and he saw that Sway-Uoch placed the children on white-hot rocks from the fire and after they were cooked she ate them-ate every one of them.
    After the little hunch-back had witnessed all this, he came down from the tree and made his way home as quickly as possible and he told the parents of the children what had taken place and all the people of the village were very sad
and depressed, but they were absolutely helpless to defend themselves against this outrage.
    As time wore on, old Lady Sway-Uoch made her third appearance and this time she searched all the houses for the little girls and filled her large basket with them and started back to her home in the woods just as she had done on previous occasions and the parents of the little girls were very, very sad indeed, for they felt certain that their children would never return to them again.
    On their way to Sway-Uoch's home the little girls in the basket determined that they would do something to save themselves from Sway-Uoch and they talked among themselves, but could think of nothing that they might do to free themselves. When Sway-Uoch arrived at her home she set the basket down in the usual place and the little girls noticed that she immediately started a fire on a heap of rocks piled near them. When the fire had heated the rocks to a white heat, Sway-Uoch took the little girls out of the basket and placed them in a row near the fire and upon looking them over she became very joyous at the prospect of having so delicious a meal as these little girls were going to make, so she sang and danced around the fire.
    Now there was one very bright little girl among the lot and this little girl whispered to the rest of them that they would get together and push old Lady Sway-Uoch onto the hot rocks and let her burn to death. Sway-Uoch chanced to hear a part of this whispered conversation, but she was not sure that she had heard correctly. "What is this I hear-you are planning to shove me onto the hot rocks and burn me to death?" she asked. And the wise little girls hastened to assure her that she had not understood them correctly, "For," they said, "we are much too small to push a great big lady, such as you are."
    This explanation satisfied Sway-Uoch and she continued to dance and as she danced she sang: "The rocks are getting good and hot for the little children," repeating these words over and over again. Then, when she had gotten about to the center of the row of little girls, one little girl gave the signal and with a mighty effort all the little girls shoved and old Sway-Uoch toppled over and fell on the heap of hot rocks. She cried for help and the little girls told her they would get a large stick and help her up, but when they found a stick they used it to hold old Lady Sway-Uoch down so that she could not move and they held her there until she burned to death. When they found that Sway-Uoch was really dead, they started back to the little village.
    All the village was in mourning and one mother was down on the beach weeping over her great loss for she missed her little girl very much. Suddenly she heard laughter, and looking down the beach she saw, coming in twos and threes, a bevy of girls coming toward her. She wondered if these could be the girls who had been carried off and she ran to tell the rest of the people to come out and meet them. Soon the girls came near enough for them to see that they were their own daughters and the girls were shouting joyously and triumphantly: "Sway-Uoch is dead; Sway-Uoch is dead!"
    There was great happiness and rejoicing in the village then and to give vent to their gladness the people decided to have a "Potlatch" or gathering to celebrate the occasion of the death of Sway-Uoch. And that was the beginning of the Potlatch which really means a "get together party" for the Indians of this village had learned a great lesson, namely, that combined energy and effort produces results, if you work together you will benefit, for if these little girls had not gotten together and used their combined strength, old Lady Sway-Uoch would probably be ransacking homes to this very day and people would have to live in constant dread of her return. It shows us, too, that women can be useful in this world if they will work together. United we stand, divided we fall.

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