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Legends and Stories of the Okanagan

The Chief and His Four Sons

by Christine McGinnis (at the age of 14)

“What is it about our culture that keeps us strong? Here’s my story.”

A long time ago, in our ancient history, there was a chief of an Indian tribe who had four sons. One day he felt that all his sons should go different ways and learn different things and then come back and teach their people.

First, he sent out his eldest son to the North. He sent his second eldest to the East, his third eldest to the South, and his youngest he sent to the West. Before his four sons set out on their long journey, he told them to travel for one year and learn as much as they could. He also said that all four sons were to meet at the camp in one year. They set the day and time for them to meet.

So they set off, and the eldest son who went to the North came across cattle country. There in cattle country he learned all about cattle. Raising them, branding them, raising them for beef, and a lot of other things about cattle. The second eldest, who went east, traveled for a long time and finally came across a large wheat farm. He studied about making flour and bread out of this flour and other things about wheat. The third eldest went far south and eventually learned all about vegetables. He learned to grow and care for every kind of vegetable there is. He and the other two were very proud of themselves. Proud because they knew their father, the Chief, would be so happy and proud for what they’d learned.

But there was still the youngest son who traveled to the West. He traveled west toward the sun until he met up with these outlaws. Well, they weren’t really outlaws; they were thieves, sneaky thieves. These thieves didn’t hurt anyone or anything, they just stole things. When this young Indian met up with these thieves, they asked him what he was doing so far west. He told them what his father told him to do: to go out and find something new and learn what he could for one year. So he stuck with these thieves and learned how to steal. Before the year ended he knew how to steal anything, anywhere, anytime. This little Indian didn’t know it was bad, he was proud of himself because he knew he was really good at something and thought his father would be proud, too.

Finally the time came when the four sons were to meet back home. The youngest son was having so much fun, he almost forgot to head home. He started home and got there a bit late, but his other three brothers and father were there waiting up for him. The father sat them down and said, “My sons, I am anxious to hear what you have learned, but you would all be tired and hungry so now we will eat and sleep and you all shall tell me about your journeys in the morning.” So they ate and then slept until morning.

In the morning when all the sons were up, and after they ate breakfast, the father spoke. “So my sons, tell me about your journeys,” he said, looking to the oldest. So the oldest told his father that he’d learned all about cattle, and horses too. He learned to raise them and lots of other things. Then the Chief looked to his second eldest. This son spoke up and told his father how he’d learned about wheat and what to do with it. And the third son was patiently waiting to tell his father of how he learned to grow and tend vegetables, and all about planting a garden. Finally the fourth son got to tell of his journey. He really was anxious to tell his father what he’d learned.

He stalled a bit and finally came out with it and told his father he was a thief and how good he was. When the boy said this, it just about broke his father’s heart. The chief thought about it and told the boy, “Okay, I’ll test you. My race horse – if you can steal my race horse from the barn tonight, fine; if not, you should be hung tomorrow at noon.” The boy agreed without hesitation. It was about six in the evening after supper and the boy went to bed. The Chief was startled. He thought, “Why would he be going to bed so early when I’m going to hang him tomorrow if he doesn’t steal my horse tonight?”

Later on that evening the Chief gathered many of his men together to watch his horse all night. Then the Chief thought, “My poor son will never get past all these men, he just couldn’t steal my horse tonight.” The Chief went on to bed unworried.

Late that night about midnight, the son jumped out the window and went quickly to his father’s wine cellar. He took out a big barrel of wine and four other jugs of wine. He dressed up in a huge old coat and a large hat to hide his identity and put the bottles inside his coat. He rolled the barrel to the barn and left it outside. Then he walked in the barn and some of the men jumped up and asked him what he was doing there. He just said that he’d heard the Chief’s horse was going to get stolen and he wanted to see how it would be done.

So they let him sit down and wait. He sat between two of the Indians and would once in a while pretend to sneak a drink of some wine. Finally one man got curious and asked what he had. The boy gave him some and said that it would keep him awake all night. It slowly got around and after they finished that bottle, they wanted more and more. The boy gave them enough wine to make them pass out.

He removed the man who was on the horse’s back and placed him on the empty barrel. Then he took the horse and tied him in a field not far from the village. He went back to bed and the next morning he got up just as if nothing had happened and waited for his father to arrive from the barn.

When his father came back to eat breakfast, his son greeted him and told him where his horse was if he wanted it. He put him to another test and the Indian boy passed it. But after that test, the boy learned to be kind to others and respect their property.

This is a true Indian legend.