The Legend of Eut-Le-Ten

The Haida, sometimes spelled Hydah, are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Their main territory is the archipelago of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) in northern British Columbia, Canada but a group known as the Kaigani Haida live across the Dixon Entrance on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.

The cultural hero Eut-le-ten is presented as the equivalent for Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack and the Bean stalk, and other stories.
— Orly

THE WITCH E-ISH-SO-OOLTH

Long, long ago, in the gloom of deep and silent woods there lived a witch or evil chehah. The Indians called her E-ish-so-oolth. So tall was she that, stalking through the forest, her head would brush the lower branches of the giant fir.

She dwelt in a huge lodge, the walls of which were built of cedar logs as thick as men are high. This evil chehah was the dread of young and old alike, for all believed that boys and girls and even men and women, who left their homes, not to return again, were taken to her lodge, there to be devoured at leisure. Therefore mothers often said, when children misbehaved, "Be good or I will call E-ish-so-oolth."

One day some Keeh-hin village children paddled from their home and landed on a nearby shore. Then something happened causing one to cry, and all the others scolding, threatened to call E-ish-so-oolth. The threat had no effect and the child cried on, till one in teasing spirit called loudly, "E-ish-so-oolth! E-ish-so-oolth! Oh come E-ish-so-oolth!"

Then forth from the woods a figure stalked, a tall gaunt form of terrible aspect. She leaned upon a gnarled and knotty stick and scanning the beach with cruel eyes she cried, "Who called me by my name E-ish-so-oolth?"

The children screamed and tried to run away; the chehah laughed one awful fiendish laugh, then caught them one by one with her lean hands. With the sticky gum of Douglas fir, she sealed their little jet black eyes so that they could not see which way led left or right, and threw them in the basket on her back, starting for home along the lonely forest trail.

As I have said, E-ish-so-oolth was tall, and many times bent her head to pass beneath low and spreading branches, and so it happened when stooping under a tree which brushed the basket top, four little hands gripped tightly hold of a kindly branch and held on fast.

When E-ish-so-oolth had gone on further not missing the two children, they clambered down, and partly freed their eyes from the vile pitch, running for home as fast as they could go. To their mothers they told the story, and how their playmates of that very morning, were now perchance within the witch's lodge, and no help to save them from a bloody fate. Then all the mothers of the kidnapped girls chanted the weird and doleful death lament. Four days and nights the dismal song was heard, beyond the blue wood smoke of Indian fires. Weeks of mourning passed, and all but one were comforted, but she sat all alone, and every morning she squatted on the sea grass at the shore, chanting that drear and mournful song.

 

THE BIRTH OF EUT-LE-TEN

Early one morning as she sat and cried, her tears flowed down and formed a little pool, a very little pool among the grass, the lank sea grass stems on which she crouched. Surprised, she saw a movement in the sand, the pool of tears was being changed into a child, a very little child, so small that when the mother picked up a mussel shell, she could cradle the small form within its pearly curve. Gently she carried it to her dark lodge, and set it in a safe and quiet place. Next day within the shell, there lay a wonder-child, in face and form most beautiful.

The little creature grew so fast that every day his mother went out to find new shells and larger shells in which to cradle him. She called him by the name of Eut-le-ten, and in all the village there was none so fair; in wisdom and in beauty none excelled. The child was observing beyond his years, and felt deepest sorrow at his mother's constant weeping. One day he inquired in tender tones, full of love and sympathy. "My Mother, tell me why you cry so much; why unconsoled you chant the death lament?"

Then the mother drawing him to her side told him of the tragedy which had befallen his sister. "The chehah came and carried off my girl, carried away your little sister to the woods, the dark and gloomy woods, and since that day her shadow has not crossed my mournful path," she said.

Then up spake Eut-le-ten and bravely said, "My Mother, I will seek your daughter, my little sister. I will save her from that awful fate you fear. Direct me now upon the lonesome road the dread witch took and I will seek her out."

And the mother knowing him to be a spirit-child, rejoiced and blessed his errand. They next sought out the little ones who saved themselves by clinging to the low branched tree, and from them they learned the trail the old witch took. Then sallied forth brave Eut-le-ten alone, off to give battle to E-ish-so-oolth.

 

THE QUEST

Eut-le-ten started with no arms but his courage, to face the dread witch who had spirited away the children. The trail lay long, unknown and untrodden, save by the timber wolf, panther and black bear. It was feared by the Indians for dangers most dreadful--the greatest of all the chehah E-ish-so-oolth. He broke through dense shalal, fringing the green woods, making the shore line all but impenetrable. Into the thick woods, under the silvery spruce, brushing the hemlock boughs he walked stealthily. Salmon berry thickets impeded his progress, scratched his round limbs with the thorns on their canes. He passed white helebore, so tall and so handsome. He saw how the black bear had fed on swamp lily, tramping the glossy leaves into the black mud. He spurned the devil's club with berries so red and with poisonous thorns on stem and on leaf. Such was the trail as it led him far inland, inland away from his home by the sea. At last by a cool stream, the path lay before him. Hard by the stream a lodge was erected, a house of such size the boy stood dumbfounded, and he knew that this must be the dwelling of the children's dread captor.

Night time had come, the shadows had fallen and Eut-le-ten was tired with the long weary trail. Should he proceed or wait until morning? He climbed a tree which grew by the water, and hid in the branches to keep vigil, there to crave strength from the Saghalie spirit, the Hyas Tyee who dwells in the heavens, to grant him the strength, the wisdom, the courage to kill the dread witch. The night was long and the vigil lone, soundless except for the night hawk on wing, or the howl of the wolf in the quest of the red deer, or the splash of the salmon in the stream underneath.

Early next morning, before he descended, he plainly saw the form of the witch, coming to wash in the stream just below him. The water was clear reflecting her visage, fearsome in its hideous detail. Up in the tree brave Eut-le-ten saw her, he thought himself safe from her fierce prying eyes; he forgot that he too was mirrored below in the still water which lay at her feet. When she had finished her morning ablutions, she filled her vessel with water and turned to depart, when she saw just below her, the features of Eut-le-ten in the still water. Upturning her eyes to the branches above her, she saw there the boy half concealed in the foliage, and she smiled with a smile triumphant and cruel, thinking once more her fortune had found her, and brought to her lodge the boy she was wanting.

She greeted him, "Come, why tarriest up there? Come to my lodge, perchance thou art hungry; the fire has been kindled, the water is boiling, a welcome awaits thee, why tarriest longer? Descend from the tree and let me behold thee".

Down climbed Eut-le-ten nothing affrighted, but filled with the knowledge no harm could befall him.

"Why hast thou come, and whence dost thou go? Why didst thou leave thy home by the sea?" Such were the questions E-ish-so-oolth asked him. Then struck by his fairness and beauty of limb, she questioned him thus, "Why is thy skin so fair, and why are thy limbs so beautiful?"

Then Eut-le-ten answered her, "When I was a boy my Mother laid me upon the bare ground with my head on a stone, my Father placed a large rock on my forehead. Thus I was given the gift of the fair."

E-ish-so-oolth was envious of Eut-le-ten and much desired to look as young as he, so that with face so comely and so fair, she could entice the children to her lodge, wherefore she asked with evil ill concealed, "Can I by any means obtain this gift?"

Then Eut-le-ten divining her base thought and much desiring to make an end of her, declared that if she would lie down, and on the stone which lay beside the creek recline her head, he would place upon her forehead the stone which would both mould her features like to his, and make her skin as fair. The witch determined to try the charm at once, stretching her great length upon the ground, placed her head upon the stone.

Then Eut-le-ten lifted a great rock and hurled it down upon the witches head. "Die dread E-ish-so-oolth," he cried. "No more with evil charms wilt thou entice the children to thy lonely forest home."

So died the witch, and nevermore do mothers say when children misbehave. "Be good or I will call E-ish-so-oolth."

FINIS

He who became a Snake

Ioi: from Marriage to the Shadow Lands