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Legends and Stories of the Okanagan

When Indians Raided

by Katie Lacey

Tales of the Indian wars long ago often do not make pleasant conversation, but at the exclamations of horror that followed the description of a raid the Okanagan Indians made on the Shuswaps at Thompson River, the story-teller merely smiled. “Those things are no worse than the things people do nowadays in their wars,” she said. “The Indians were no more cruel than other people are.”

The raid of which she had spoken was returned the next year in salmon fishing season, when the Shuswaps came to Oroville to make their revenge on the Okanagan tribe. This time it was a ‘story raid’.

It happened that an Okanagan family, two brothers and their sister, were encamped at the point from which they saw the Shuswaps coming. Hoping to reach the main tribe in time to warn them, the little family caught up their arrows and fled.

The sister, who was the swiftest runner, was a particularly lively girl with wonderful dark hair so long that it almost touched the ground. One of the brothers was a big strapping fellow, but the other, though tall and of broad shoulder, was an almost helpless cripple. He could only crawl along upon his hands and knees.

To reach the main camp, they had to pass quite near the oncoming Shuswaps. The lame brother crawled up the hillside, crouching and dodging between the sage brush, while his brother ran along in full view of the raiders to protect him.

At the sight of the running brother, the Shuswaps blew a loud clear call on a swan’s quill whistle and started on pursuit. Then they caught sight of the sister. She was a trained runner, so swift that even their fastest braves could not easily reach her. But gradually they drew nearer and she saw that she could not outdistance them. Before they could stop her, she cut across their path, leaped into the water, and began swimming out of sight. She made her way across to the main camp.

Meanwhile, the lame brother, his bow and arrow strapped on his back, was crawling on up the hill. One of the Shuswaps saw him, and putting a queer object to his lips, let out a long, horrible howl – the howl of a timber wolf. When the echoes that answered the howl reached the lame boy, he sprang to his feet. The timber wolf had given him his power when he was but a lad, and now when his life was in danger it would give him strength. The call of the timber wolf had taken away his lameness. With a glad cry, he joined his brother, and running swiftly away they made their escape.

In the meantime, their sister, who had made her way down to where the main camp was, gave the warning and the Okanagans prepared for a skirmish. Thinking it was easier to advance to the raiders than to lie in wait, they came forward to meet them.

The leader of the Shuswaps band had once been wounded in his eye. Since that time he had been called an Indian name that meant “hurt-in-the-eye”. The Okanagan leader, because he was left handed, was called a name that meant “one-who-holds-with-the-other-hand”.

When the two tribes met, the leaders came together. The Okanagan wounded the Shuswap with a spear, so that his arm hung limp and broken by his side. Then, throwing down their spears, they wrestled. Handicapped by his broken arm, the big Shuswap was soon downed and, seeing him overcome, the tribes gave up their fighting. They buried their few dead where they lay and put rude pitch-post headstones to mark their graves.

Then, as a peace offering, the victorious Okanagans invited the Shuswaps to eat fish with them. This done, they invited them to their House-of-Rocks where, said the Okanagan chief, “We will give you gifts and we will have no more unfriendliness.” The Shuswaps approached the House-of-Rocks with caution. It was a long entrenchment, built to stand a siege, and fitted with arrow holes. They were loath to enter, but when they saw the patterned goat’s hair blankets and the trinkets of the Okanagans, they were lost. One after the other, they crowded in, too intent upon the gifts for caution.

Suddenly, one small Okanagan man far up on the rocks called down to them – a sad, weird warning cry. The Shuswaps leaped to the entrance and, like mountain sheep, sped down the mountainside to safety. The Okanagan sentry had given the wrong cry. His tribesmen had intended to imprison the Shuswaps inside the House-of-Rocks.

With the Okanagans in swift pursuit, the Shuswaps fled. When they reached the river, they dove far out into the current. Such splendid swimmers were they, and so swift in the water, that the Okanagans on the bank could make no arrows reach them when their heads finally showed above water.

Then, just in front of them, a Shuswap’s head bobbed up. The man was caught in a whirlpool. The arrows spat around him as he went down and came up and struggled wildly in the green whirl of water. Finally, with a great plunge, he was free of the current and swimming under water to the other side. At a safe distance he stopped and jerked the arrows from his body. Then he rejoined his comrades.

“One more feed of fish we will have from the river; one more fire upon its shore,” the headsman of the Shuswaps called over the water, “and then the Okanagan shall see us no more. We shall be as strangers to him from this time on.”

And so, say the old timers, it has been.