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Legends and Stories of the Okanagan

Ooyh-Hyot Trail

as told to Hester White by Chief Edward's daughter

Kelowna’s “on to Naramata” road campaign, recalls another very different set of circumstances and a very different picture of long ago, which led to the cutting through of the first trail from Naramata over Mission Mountain to where the “paintings” are found on the rocks today.

The Okanagans, then a tribe that numbered about two thousand, occupied land from north of Okanagan Lake to south of the mouth of the Okanagan River, now in the state of Washington. One day they were camped on the flat south of Osoyoos Lake and west of the Okanagan River, where “Old Oroville” was built. Fires smoldered in front of the numerous tepees, covered with tule matting and pitched in the form of a large circle surrounding the first Chief’s tepee. It was June, “see-ah-tan”, or the service berry moon, during which berries were ripe and the beautiful blue-green Ste-ween, small salmon, were running. It was a time when activity reigned. Traps were set in the river, drying racks set out in the sun; the men were busy fishing, the women occupied with cleaning and drying the catch for winter use. Berries were picked and placed in the sun to dry, and afterwards were packed in small grass sacks and deposited into a larger receptacle made of cotton woodbark. There was Sus-pe-kan, Ten-as-ket, Yak-um-tic-kum, Shir-im-pt, Nor-ma-cheen, Ta-rm-to-sa-list, Sin-sin-nat-kin, and many others of note – handsome and warrior like in their Indian garb, their painted faces and long hair adding to their natural grace and nobility.

In spite of the appearance of peace, plenty, and happiness, there was apprehension among those in authority, and the wise and experienced ones solemnly shook their heads. Early in the day a fleet, lithe Indian runner had come into camp, and communicated to the head Chief the news that a party of thirty men with seventy horses and mules was coming up the valley from the south. They were miners who would take the Indians’ land, and if need be, kill for it. Runners relayed messages to and from the different Indian camps, so one had immediately been dispatched to Inkameep and one would be sent on from there to Penticton. Though the Hudson’s Bay Traders had gone to and fro throughout the valley from 1811 to 1848, the Indians had offered no resistance; however, the traders had had something to offer them for their furs, making it an even swap. This now was an intrusion on their rights and lifestyle, and something must be done about it. After a solemn conference, four scouts were detailed to the east side of the river, along the abandoned old Fur Brigade Trail, to give warning of the approach.

Evening shadows lengthened, and the sun would soon fall behind the hill when slowly out of a cloud of dust appeared the two leaders of the miners, riding in advance of the main party. They were recognized by their red coats as the two ‘mean bullies’ the Indians had been warned about. With all the self-assurance and courage imaginable, they rode forward, little suspecting that they were being spied upon by four pairs of eager eyes. Then, from somewhere, an arrow flew past, cutting the air with bird-like swiftness. It was followed by another. The two men drew rein, turned their horses and galloped back to the pack-train coming on slowly behind. After a short discussion, it was decided to proceed to the lake, throw the camp, find out what Indians were in the vicinity, and parley with them if necessary.

The scouts returned to the Indian camp, reported what had taken place, and shortly afterward, the miners appeared on the far side of the river. The Indians called to them, warning them not to touch their traps, though they might have a few fish. Darkness settled over the two camps, but not quietness, for the Indians prepared to move all the women, children, and old men on to the hills, hidden away from any danger.

A fire was lit in the nearly deserted main camp, and those remaining kept up a continual din with dancing, war whoops, and tom-toms. In the early dawn, the Indians crept down to the water’s edge, and soon learned that though some horses and mules were still in the camp, the miners had fled. After a close survey it was evident that the party had gone up the east side of the lake. A number of the Indians sprang onto the horses and followed in hot pursuit to Sooyoos, where they found that the pursued had crossed at the ‘Narrows’ and gone over the divide to the Similkameen. Four Okanagans followed their trail over the mountain, and then up the river to the Ashnola, where they learned that an old Indian riding on a pinto horse had crossed the river to speak with the miners. The miners had killed the old man and taken his horse. Fury and a desire for revenge now took possession of the Indians, and they hurried on until nightfall when they sighted the miners camped near the river. Circling around, they could see the men in the light of the camp fire; with arrows swift and sure, two men were killed, then all was quiet for the night. At dawn the miners had gone, and the Indians crept into the deserted camp. They found the pinto horse tied to a tree, and a newly dug grave between two logs. Removing the earth, they found the two bodies, each rolled in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, which they removed and kept along with the scalps and one man’s nice red beard. They rode back along the trail, quite satisfied with what they had done. The pinto was returned to the Ashnolas, and after a friendly wa-wa, the trail to Sooyoos was covered, where they found the Okanagans in camp at the point. Evening fell and round the fire the four braves, sitting on the ill-gotten blankets, related their escapade while playing a game of tossing wooden discs into a circle marked on the ground. Old Shir-im-pt had the red beard tied at the back of his head and as he played, it swung like a tail.

From the deserted packs, one Indian had boiled green coffee beans for hours, but they were still hard; another had found brown sugar, which an old woman had broken into small lumps and divided. A small boy of four, who was later to become Chief Edward of Penticton, received a lump, which he kept inside his shirt for a long time, occasionally taking a small lick.

Meanwhile, a runner had arrived in Penticton and old Eu-la-sinkalip feared for himself and his family, and for those others who remained in the camp. After much persuasion, thirty Penticton Indians packed their belongings and journeyed up on the east side of the Okanagan, off the beaten track and away from danger. They cut a trail up over Mission Mountain as best they could, then as far as where the paintings are found on the rock; there they remained for a long time, safe from invasion from the outsiders.

The miners, after the loss of some of their horses and provisions and the death of their two companions, made their way as far as where Princeton is today, and there hid in a large cave (see legend of Stenwyken), which can be seen from the train. This cave belonged to Mr. A. E. Howse of Princeton, and was used for many years as a storage place for his merchandise. It is large enough for a small army to disappear into, so the men of this story were safe from the Indians, little knowing that they weren’t even being pursued. These men were likely on their way to the Fraser River mines or the Cariboo gold fields.