LEGEND OF THE CHIPMUNK

Mission Church on Umatilla Indian Reservation

This story was published in an undated ‘The Indian Sentinel’ by the Society for Preservation of the Faith among Indian Children, Bureau of Catholic Missions.  Sounds like Tatathlíiya, the basket woman, who captured children to feed her own brood. 

‘Long years ago, runs one of the old legends of the Umatilla Indians, there dwelt at the mouth of the Umatilla River an Indian woman who had but one child, a boy of the age of seven.  The boy was bright and full of fun and the spirit of adventure but he was much inclined to disobey his mother in matters which seemed to him of no special importance.  The foolish boy thought he knew better than his mother what he should do and should not do.

One day the mother heard there was a sorceress in the woods back of the tepee, a witch doctor who could do anything she wished with people in her power.  Therefore, she told her son to remain within the tepee until the witch had gone away.

The boy, who was called Cherr-l-l-e-e, said, “All right, Mother,” and then slipped out the back door, thinking he would go to the woods, see the witch and return in safety.  There is where he made a mistake.  He had scarcely reached the woods before he saw a dreadful figure with disheveled hair, long sharp claws and malign aspect peering through the brush as if in search of someone.

The boy was badly frightened and at once took to his heels.  The witch gave chase.  In a moment her hot breath was on the boy’s neck and he felt that all was lost.  Still he strove with all his might to get beyond her clutches and at last managed to get beyond her reach by climbing a pine tree.

Once in the treetop he felt secure and glanced down at the witch.  She was standing at the foot of the tree gnashing her teeth and vainly trying to ascend.  Then the boy thought he would have some fun, so he plucked a huge pine cone and threw it at the old hag, striking her on the head.  Again and again he hit her, laughing with glee at his success, but the witch still remained at the foot of the tree.

Then the lad threw a cone far out into the brush, the witch gave chase and while she was gone, he slid down the tree and within a few minutes was safe in his mother’s tepee.  He thought he was safe but circumstances proved otherwise.  Scarcely had he arrived in the tepee when the witch reached it also, wild with anger.  His mother, in alarm, hid him in a corner and covered his head with a buffalo horn spoon. 

The witch came in and demanded the boy.  She was told that he had not come home.  Then the witch searched the tepee and eventually finding the boy, seized him.  As the boy tried to squirm out of her grasp, she caught him with all her claws by the forehead and left the marks of her talons on his face and body.  Then she changed him from a boy to an animal which she called the chipmunk.  And that is why that cheerful little animal frequents the pine trees and wears stripes.’

Way down at the ‘mouth of the Umatilla River’, there were once chipmunks and pine trees?  There were plenty of boys like that at the St. Andrew’s Mission back in the 20th century when it was still a school.  They were quite a spirited bunch who could withstand talons and malign aspects.

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