News and Stories from the Idaho State Historical Society
Collected by Franz Boas
Idaho Yesterdays Vol. 39, #2 Summer 1995
Posted: 4/1/20 | Copyright Idaho State Historical Society
In the summer of 1914, Franz Boas-a distinguished anthropologist on the faculty of Columbia University-recorded a number of myths and tales told by members of the Kutenai tribe. The stories were written down in their speakers’ native language and were later translated with the assistance of native speakers. When Kutenai Tales was published in 1918, as the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology’s Bulletin 59, it included both the Kutenai and English versions. Boas’ linguistic expertise and his opportunity to first transcribe and then translate provide a far smoother and more grammatical narrative than readers will in the Nez Perce stories published in this issue and recorded under very different circumstances.
FROG AND ANTELOPE
Well, I’ll tell you how, long ago, Frog won over Antelope.
There was a town. It was named Fish Hawk Nest. Antelope was chief. Antelope runs fast. Even the best runners were beaten by Antelope. He was a manitou and won over everybody. There was a town of Frogs. Then Chief Frog thought: “I’ll cheat Antelope.” He said to his tribe: “Let us play with Antelope!” They said to him: ”What shall we do with Antelope? He runs fast.” He said to them: “We shall go, all of us. We shall play with him.” Then he told his people what to do. All the Frogs said: “Well, your thoughts are good. ” That chief said: “I’ll go alone. Later on, if he agrees, to-morrow we shall go.” The Frog said: “It is well. ” Then he started. When he arrived at Antelope’s (tent), Antelope said to Frog: “Why do you come to my tent?” Frog said: “I come here to see if you are not afraid to run a race with me.” Antelope laughed. He thought: “Even if he runs fast, I can easily do (leave behind) what Frog says.” Frog was told: “If you agree, my property shall be your property. You may give it to me.” Frog said: “Go; I am glad. I’ll take your property. ” Then they laughed at him because he could not do (leave) what Antelope said. Frog said: “To-morrow just at noon I’ll come, accompanied by my tribe.” Then Frog started. When he came home, he said to his tribe: “Now we will cheat Antelope and his children.” On the following morning the Frogs started, all of them. There were many. The women went along with the men Frogs. When they almost came to the town, the chief Frog said: “Before anyone comes out, go and lie down on the trail they go. Just at that distance jump! You shall be that far apart.” Then the Frogs went to the starting place, and all of them lay down on the way they were to run. They lay down up to the point where the track turned. When this was all done, others went to the town. They said: “The Frogs have come to play with us.” Then all of them went out. They went to the starting place. Then the Frogs bet their property. All their clothing was blue. Then they bet with them. They staked much. because they thought the Frogs would be beaten. They thought they themselves would win. Thus they spoke among themselves. Then Antelope stood up. He laughed at his enemy. Frog was lying there. Then he looked at Antelope. They said: “Now start!” Then Frog jumped up. Antelope laughed. His enemy looked funny to him. (Antelope) did not run fast when Frog gave his first jump. Then another Frog lay there and jumped up, and all the Frogs did so. Then antelope did not go very fast. He had not gone far when he was left behind. Then Antelope ran more quickly. He was left far behind. He ran fast; but even when he ran fa’>t. the Frogs were ahead of him. Then he arrived at the turning place; and when he got there, the Frogs lay down in the opposite direction. Then Antelope turned back, but the Frogs were always ahead of him. Then Antelope tried hard. He knew that he would be beaten Antelope was not yet near the starting point when Frog arrived. Then all laughed; but the people were sick at heart, because Frog had won. Frog was looked at. He was not out of breath, because he had just given one jump and then had not moved any more. He just jumped back from there. Therefore he was not out of breath, but Antelope was puffing. He lay on his back, and said: “You beat me, Frog.” Then Frog took what he had won. He went back and those who lay down did not move. In the evening they went back, and it was heard by all that Frog had beaten Antelope.
Now I have told how Frog beat Antelope in olden times.
RABBIT, COYOTE, WOLF AND GRIZZLY BEAR
There was Coyote. All at once he saw Rabbit coming. He said to him: “Why are you running? ” Rabbit said: “I am running away.” He went past and went on. Coyote was sitting there. He thought: “Oh, something must have happened, and I might almost have been in trouble myself!” Coyote started to run. He went along and went along. There was a little prairie. There was Wolf. Wolf was there, and saw Coyote coming. Coyote arrived, and Wolf said to him: “Why are you running?”- “I am running away.” Coyote went past. Wolf was sitting there. He thought: ··oh , something must have happened, and I might almost have been in trouble myself!” Wolf started to run. He went along and went along. There was a little prairie. There was Grizzly Bear. He saw Wolf coming. When he was coming along and when he arrived, he said to him: “Now, why are you running?” He was told: “I am running away.” Wolf went past. Grizzly Bear staid there, and thought: “Oh, something must have happened, and I might almost have been in trouble myself!” Grizzly Bear started to run. Grizzly Bear \H.nt along and went along. There was a prairie. There he saw the three friends. He went on and arrived there. He saw Wolf sitting there, a little farther along Coyote, a little farther along Rabbit. Grizzly Bear said to Wolf: “Now why did you run away? There is hardly anything to run away from.” Wolf said: “I was staying there, and saw Coyote coming. When he arrived, I said to him, ‘Now, why are you running?’ He said to me, ‘I am running away.’ ” Coyote was told: ”And why did you run away?” He said: “I was staying there, and Rabbit came. When he arrived, I said to him, ‘Now why? ‘ He said, ‘I am running away.’ I thought, ‘Oh, something must have happened, and I myself might almost have been in trouble!’ Then I ran away.” Then Rabbit was told: “Now, why did you run away?” “I was eating branches, the wind was blowing, the snow fell from the trees, and a branch broke off the tree; it almost fell on me. Then it made me run away. That is what I meant when I said, ‘I am running away. ” Then they laughed and separated. Now it is ended.
THE STAR HUSBAND
Well, I’ll tell a story of how a girl was married to a star.
The people of olden times lived in a tent. Two girls went out. When they were about to go to sleep, one of them looked up. She saw many stars. She saw a small one and said: ”That is a nice little star [hanging] there. I’ll marry him.” Then the two girls laughed when she said so. They went in again. After they had slept, early in the morning she woke up. There was talking, and she knew that those were not the voices of her parents. She arose, and she saw that she did not know the people. She was sitting down next to an old man. She knew that she was married to him. She saw many other young men. She thought: “When there are many youths, why don’t they marry me? My husband is old.” He said to her: “Here I am! The other night you said to me, ‘You little nice one! Marry me. ‘ Now I have taken you. “She looked at the large stars. Now, these were the young men. The little stars were the old ones. Then the girl cried when she saw that she had [left] been taken away from her country. She stayed there. She was told: “Don’t break the ground where there is a tree. ” The girl thought: ”What do the stars mean?” There was a tree, and she dug up the ground. The ground was just thin. She thought she would look, and down below she saw this world. She recognized her relatives walking about. Then she cried. She made something, and tied herself to it, and let herself down. Then she met her relatives. They said to her: “Where did you go? We lost you.” She said: “When I said I would marry the little star, then after I had slept, when I woke up, I saw a star coming down for me. I married the star. That little one was an old man. The large stars were young people.” Then she told what she had done and how she had come down. The Star noticed that the girl was not coming back. He looked for her. She had gone down again. At night they slept. The next morning when they got up, it was noticed that the girl would not rise. They looked at her for a long time. Then it became known that she was dead. She was killed by the Star whom she had left. He struck her down.
Now I have told you what a girl did.