Of dogs, children and economy

The Indians of the Lower Columbia had little use for horses, as the forests were far too dense to traverse with the cumbersome horse, and besides their highways were the rivers and streams of the coastal range where narrow footpaths shared by man and beast alike were the only solution. But instead of horses they did accumulate a craven race of husky-like dogs whose only purpose it appeared was to alert the village of unknown intruders. According to some, these dogs were not eaten, but we do know that Lewis and Clark has acquired, by the time they reached the Columbia, quite a preference for “filet fido” and purchased many dogs from the villages that they passed – a fact did did not go unnoticed among the Indians who did not themselves consume the dogs.

Somewhere down in the same lower reaches of Indian society were the pot-bellied little children that scampered around the camps and buried themselves in the ragged hides inside the lodges. These little urchins had the run of the camps and were left mostly unattended with a resultingly high mortality rate. They grew up with the dogs, were fed and clothed with whatever came to hand. As soon as they could run, they commenced to hunt and fish. With the enthusiasm for mayhem that only untempered children are apt to display, they would be known to frequent the spawning streams and slaughter the migrating salmon until they were weary, and then abandon their spoils on the rocks to rot. By thirteen or fourteen the boys would begin to seriously hunt. In the early 1800′s when the old Queen Anne muskets were becoming more common among the Indians, these youths would carefully load a charge alongside a single shot (these both being expensive) and then go out to hunt. But the cost of the powder and the ball were such that it was only economical if you could shoot more than one animal per shot! So these enterprising Indian kids would float in covering their canoe with ” green boughs so that it would appear to be a mere floating heap of brushwood, and lying in ambush under this the hunter would patiently wait for hours for the birds to come near or for a favoring winds to float him into their midst.” This really appealed to the these young Indian kids – “the stealthiness, and the ease of it, and because it meant many birds with one shot”.

One young fourteen-year old is said to have observed a big cougar preparing to cross a creek on a log. Rather than shoot the cat as it passed broadside to him, the Indian snuck up the side of the ravine and positioned himself so that the cougar would walk right up to the end of his muzzle. “Blowed a hole in that cougar that a bull bat could a’flew through without ‘tetching’ his wings on either side.” Reminding the boy of the unreliability of the old Queen Anne rifle, he asked him why he would take on such a huge danger. The boy is reported to have replied that his own life was the cheapest of his possessions – he had paid nothing for it, but the cougar of immeasurable value in honor, in reward and status.

About Jim

Love to spend time getting lost in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest with Zoe, my Siberian Husky.
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