How Ats-ha Followed the Hide of His Comrade to Yek Land

By: Louis Shotridge

Originally Published in 1930

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YEK is a Tlingit term for the in-dwelling spirits of the elements—the earth, the air, the water, the frost and heat. Originally the yek were the servants of the gods that controlled the majestic forces of nature. In time a belief was born that spirits pervaded all creation and that every creature possessed a soul in some degree, the animals of the forest and sea, the birds of the air, and the trees, but for a time these were only secondary in character. The yek of elements communicated with our world through a medium called ehet, a mediator whom some writers called “shaman.”

There were evil spirits as well as good spirits, and all yek contested for the favor of man. The importance of the spirits, as they appeared in his vision, were in accordance with the quality of the ehet, that is to say, if he proved to be true and infallible while on an important mission, he became a medium for more important spirits, and through him their wishes were made known to man. The power of his vision into the future was in proportion to the number of the spirits. It was considered a fortunate division when each moiety had its own ehet, because such a division was thus in time of war strengthened in its spiritual guidance by the combined powers.

The life of an ehet was not a safe and comfortable one. He was destined to suffering and sacrifice; he must always be on guard not only against an attack from an evil spirit, but there was much danger from a successful rival as well. A desire to weaken a rival party in war and to prevent the development of its spiritual power incited mediums of various geographical divisions to be constantly at spiritual war, and it was only by the protection of the experienced and friendly ones that a young ehet survived and was allowed to live in the presence of such a malicious attitude. The safety of the ehet depended much on his virtue, and chastity was most important in his private life. All good spirits were pure and free from all worldly emotions, therefore their medium must also be pure and true. So, with a true ehet it was not just the law of man which prohibited worldly intercourse when preparing for an important mission. There was nothing in all that young ehet’s life which created a more powerful temptation than the immediate presence of a young woman, hence all efforts were exercised to prevent a chance meeting.

For all his sufferings the ehet had never received pay, and the only compensation was in the nature of honorable functions, but when the idea of barter and profit was introduced among the people, and the valuable fees for treating the sick began to be demanded, the ensuing greed for profit led to many demoralizing practices. There came a time when the idea of inheriting the healing powers of the ehet was born, an idea advocated by ostentatious men who were wont to change their faith. Thus, to this day such ambitious persons follow whatever faith they think most adapted to win admiration and praise. Although some made it their profession to predict, and show the art of healing in a convincing manner, it was thought, by the better class of the people, unsafe to take such a practitioner as infallible, and a novice was never known to be successful, because a position such as that of a true ehet was not hereditary— a true prophet was destined to be born only for such a purpose.

From what has been told about the part which he had to play, it may be seen that the life of a true ehet must have been a hard one, hence in earlier times the position was not generally coveted. In a number of instances a modest family had been known to conceal the condition of a new-born infant who had shown the familiar signs of a born ehet, and often it was in despair that a youth was given up to the seemingly inhuman existence.

It is not my purpose to offer a study of the spiritual concepts of the Tlingit nation. I am writing a very brief outline of the part which the ehet played in the life of the people merely as an introduction to Yeti Sha-da, the name of an old ceremonial head-piece which is now part of the Museum collection of Tlingit art, an object which for many years has borne witness to the account of its creation.

Yetl Sha-da, which means “Raven Head-cover,” represents not only the tradition of the early life of the Tlingit people in Alaska, but in a modest manner it shows us the earliest type of the art in quill embroidery as well. Sha-da, or “Head-cover,” is a term for the ceremonial head-dress of the ehet. It is a head-piece shaped something like the bottom half of an empty meal sack. This type of head-dress was popular among the ehet throughout the region. The older ones were formed of hide, or skins of animals, and there were a few of basketry and woven wool. The old piece which the Museum now has assumes no claim to the honor of being the original “Sha-da,” but from the account of its creation it is clear that it is not a copy.

The foundation of the specimen is formed of maple bark, and pasted over this is a layer of finely tanned skin, covered with the colored quills of the porcupine. The colors are natural white, now become yellow with age, dark brown, and anisol red. The embroidery is the work of a Tlingit woman, but the work as a whole can be classified as Athapascan. Although there were Tlingit women who have executed the quill-work in excellent style, it was always to the women of the Guna-na or “Alien-nation” that full credit was given for the creation of the art.

There is no one now living who can tell with accuracy the meaning of the design shown on the old head-dress, and the last owner offered no more information than that the sha-da represented, by its feminine nature, more virtue. One informant, however, conjectured that the birds shown, two on either side of the head-dress, may have been that Heron who was the father of the great Raven, while another thought them to be mating loons, but Chief Silver-Eye, whose version of the story about the head-dress is given in the following pages, stated that the birds were those which appeared in the vision of Ats-ha when the ehet journeyed in yek world. This appears to be a more likely conjecture.

Like other important objects of the aboriginal life of the north land, the Yetl Sha-da has its own story to tell to one who wishes to hear. It seems that throughout its existence the thing has never had a chance to show its quality, and in the presence of the majestic attitude of objects of more eminent origin the old piece lay in silence and was retained only because of the sentiment of its owners.

I was a boy of about twelve years of age when I first listened to the story of Ats-ha. Since then I have heard different elders tell it, but the stories by parties not directly concerned usually were in the nature of entertainment, void of detail, starting with the part which the narrator felt to be most interesting, and told with a “believe it or not” attitude. In truth, to the ordinary listener, aside from the amusing part of it, the story is not altogether convincing, but the Tlukah-adi, the clan whose early history is involved with the Yetl Sha-da, have a different feeling about the part which the old piece plays, and the tale as told by the elders of that clan is a more dramatic one. Of the different versions the following, as given by Chief Silver-Eye, offers a rendition which is perhaps more general.

Ats-ha was the first ehet of the Kuek-adi clan, and at the same time Duckde-yadugakt also grew to be an ehet among the Newushaka-ayi. Since they had everything in common, it was a natural thing for these two men, who were members of the two sub-clans of the Tlukah-adi, to become intimate friends. Both men were young and both were said to have been handsome. The youthful spirit in them often led them to do mischief, displaying a carelessness which worried the party of old disciples who had them in charge a great deal. At that time no young man entertained a desire to be an ehet. It was a hard and restless kind of life, and the two young men did not cherish the idea of being restricted by wearisome taboos. Imbued with this indifferent attitude, they became more careless and sought the very pleasure which was forbidden them. Finally it was carelessness on his own part, and excessive jesting on the part of his friend that caused Duckde-yadugakt to lose his life, thus depriving his clan, early in its history, of spiritual guidance.

The early settlement of the Kuek-adi party, which eventually became a part of the Tlukah-adi clan, was Chilkoot, which is located at the head of Lynn Canal. It was the habit of this community to resort to Ton-ani, a spring camp located only a half day’s easy paddling south of the winter home. There is no salmon stream nor other source of any important product of the season at this beautiful and sunny resort, and it seemed that the families came here for no other purpose than to get away from their winter quarters in Chilkoot, where the sun shines only for a part of the day, and to sun themselves while gazing upon the horizon and looking out for the first leap of the spring salmon. Those Kuek-adi men, from the very beginning, got the reputation for indolence. They were an easy-going sort always looking for un-deserved comfort and ease. It is no wonder that their young had too much time on their hands in which to do mischief. It was from Ton-ani that Ats-ha went forth and followed the hide of his comrade into yek land.

Some unseen power was at work when Duckde-yadugakt came to visit his friend at Ton-ani. It may have been advice and protection that brought the youthful ehet to Ton-ani, but none the less certain it is that his friend Ats-ha was young and reckless. It is clear that the young visitor felt the presence of some danger and felt very much unsettled by it. Their meeting was that of two young friends who bad much in common, but who did not know the proper thing to say.

“It is good to see you my Mend,” said Ats-ha, greeting his visitor. “And how does the Dweller-of-Mount-Keka-hon treat you these peaceful days; is not he a yek of piquant nature, though? He would be steadfast with one only when one maintains one’s true faith. I think it was because of some treachery that this potent yek deserted Aide, during the earlier days of the great ehet, and since then the good yek has been suspicious of us beginners.”

“Ha, true faith . . . No, my friend, I feel that I have not been true, and that my fate now lies heavy upon my head. The gods only know how I longed to be anything but an ehet, and I guess that I have done all that I thought would displease them. Look at my chest and see— I even have gone so far as to smear my body with paint mixed with ashes— but the yek will be steadfast until the gods mete out their punishment. I know I am courting death, but that I would willingly undergo rather than to do things halfway and so disappoint my party. And now some old watchful yek is about to slay my tutelary, and thence, I suppose, back to the land of souls I go. But, good comrade, I am here with you now to escape, if only for a brief moment, the thought of being a damned novice,”

For a moment a puzzled look appeared on Ats-ha’s face. Then he spoke and said: “But, my lad, truly you have not yielded to the temptation of a virile emotion . . . No? Why then this peevish notion? Come now, shake off the gloom. If old Ke-yid has any cause for malice let him eat his own fire.”

Ha, this young ehet underestimated the power of a rival yek, and it was a dangerous thing to do because such reckless attitude would only add more to a feeling of rivalry.

At that time a yek whose name was Ke-yid, a yek of the foulest antecedents, lurked with his associates from the southern terminus of the world about the north land with evil design. It had been generally felt that the master of this evil yek was never on friendly terms with the northern people, and was determined to prevent, at all risk, the development of spiritual power among them. So while Ke-yid was at work, a young careless ehet in Chilkoot had no better chance to survive and live than a fool young rabbit would have had in the presence of a hungry hawk.

In an attempt to entertain him, Ats-ha led his visitor about among some friends. There were young women who were not trained to avoid becoming the cause of the downfall of a good man, and when the two handsome youths came along they did not know enough to discourage the development of a passionate feeling. At first Duckde-yadugakt hesitated and showed some signs of fear in their association with the women. The new moon was then visible in the heaven and he knew that the spirits were about to enforce the laws of nature. This was the period when a true ehet took his qualmish drink to rid his system of all foul matter. He must refrain from everything in the nature of virility. But it is a bad habit of women of a coquettish nature to force themselves upon the way of one who tries to avoid them.

When Ats-ha noticed that his guest was not enjoying that which he regarded as a harmless amusement, he said one day to his friend: “What sort of an imp has now taken possession of your mind, my friend, to make you appear, in presence of the fair maidens, like one who is guilty of a crime? Come, rouse your spirit of mirth and let us laugh and offer our hearts to the good goddess of Joy, for ere long these old hearts shall be weary of passions.”

The youthful ehet, still hesitatant, answered and said: “But, good comrade, are you not aware that the period of our abstinence is now at hand, and do you not think that bysuch folly we might rouse the wrath of the gods?”

“Ha, such fret. Perhaps I might have known better, but only last night I was bold enough to take the thrill in satisfying my virile desire and naught has happened to my skin.”

Now Ats-ha said all this only as a jest because he trusted his friend. Being older and having bad more experience in life he felt he bad the privilege of saying what he pleased, but little did he suspect that such a jest was to play havoc with their young lives.

During the days that followed Ats-ha noticed a profound change in the attitude of his friend, and this worried him. He was still trying to think of some means of correcting something that could not be unsaid, when what he had feared happened. One night he was awakened by his friend crawling in to bed. With a start he asked, ” Ah, my friend, I thought ere long you were slumbering, but where have you wandered at this time of the night?”

“Dya, good comrade, do not say more, for my old heart is now pounding at my throat. But if you must know, I have just now pulled my person free from the arms of the fairest one in all Chilkoot.”

Maybe Ats-ha thought that the youth was returning him his own manner of jesting; therefore he was not alarmed. Then, “Take care, lad,” he said, “for the gods might be moved to transform you to an owl,” and made a turn to doze off again into dream land. He thought he had taken only a “porpoise sleep” (or short nap) when again he was awakened by the moaning of his friend . . . “Now, what has happened?” He sensed instantly that the cause of this was serious. The youth did not talk, but with great effort was trying to conceal his condition. From the manner of his breathing the older man knew also that the youth was stricken by shanusti, a type of pneumonia. He then understood—the youth had not been virtuous. Ats-ha did everything that was within his power to save his friend; he invoked his most potent yek, but no good yek could be induced to come to the rescue of one who had betrayed their trust. Within two day-lights the young ehet died. Ke-yid had accomplished his purpose.

There was no doubt about Duckde-yadugaht being sent to our world to act as a medium of the gods, but that did not mean he was born with the ghost of a powerful yek to protect him. No, like all others he was supposed to have acquired his spiritual power by means of his private virtue. And the few primary spirits that possessed him did not have a sufficient amount of power to defend the young ehet when a treacherous rival yek menaced him with instant death. Thus, it was covetousness that at last caused Duckde-yadugakt to pay the penalty with his life, even before he ever acquired the ability of an average ehet. Ats-ha knew the guilty party, but he had to admit that the death of his beloved friend was morally justified.

The death-house was put up on a promotory, and therein the remains of the youthful ehet were laid away. It was the custom of an ehet to go to the death-house of a departed comrade in an effort to take over the yek that had been deprived of their master. Ats-ha came then not only for this purpose, but to keep vigil over the body of his friend while it was still warm. Giving himself up wholly to grief, the ehet took his post. He did not lay himself next to the corpse as an ehet usually does, but took his position as one on guard. His reason for this may have been in expectation of what was to follow.

The third day of Ats-ha’s fast was ended, and the night was silent. He was sitting up with his back against the corner-post of the death-house, thinking about his departed comrade. They had been inseparable; they had connived in everything; theirs was a type of true friendship founded in early youth, which bad been the essence of comradeship; but now, there lay his comrade, and never was he to see him again in this world. He was now sad, now enraged — sad in feeling the loss of his friend, and enraged by the thought that it had been a rival power which brought about this source of grief. He had been faithful in all that was required of him as an ehet, yet he did not know how vengeance could be realized. While he was in this diffident mood there lurked in him a feeling, a sense of the presence of some danger. It had been a long and melancholy vigil, but now this new feeling brought with it something of the thrill which a hunter feels at the approach of a beast of prey. And of this Ats-ha told:

“The Great Bear was then making a turn toward dawn, and I was already awake when there came to me the sound of the swishing of water. It was a sound heard when a monster bear rises from a pool of water, and I could even hear the water dripping from its great fur coat. I wondered what monster this might be. Peering into the gloom, I saw on the water a shadow moving shore-ward. It was the shadow of a canoe, but the canoe itself was nowhere to be seen. I thought that my eyesight was deceiving me, and I closed them by putting my face in the fold of my arms, and after thus resting my eyes I looked again. By this time the shadow was at the landing, as if it were afloat. At last there came a voice:

“‘Ha, behold my dead-fall, it has been shaken down. Go thither and see what is in it.’

“There before me was a vague outline of a huge man, a shade darker than the color of the night. For a moment the gigantic figure stood still; another appeared beside this, and then the two came forward. It was too late for me to make a shift and change my position, and I had to remain in full view. When they came near one of these sinister figures was within two arms-length of me, and I had braced myself to meet his spring before I realized that they had no idea of my presence. They then stole on to the top of the structure and almost noiselessly started to move aside the plank roofing. Presently one of them cried out and said: `He lies under your dead-fall, master, dead.’ Then still another figure appeared. This third figure evidently was the master. I knew by then that these beings were not of our world, but denizens of the unseen world. When the master-shadow came upon the scene be mumbled as if to himself:

“‘Ha, a lean young one. It is a grief to Keyid to be forced to do away with such a helpless thing, but who knows but that such a harmless stripling might have grown to annoy one’s peace of mind; no, I should never allow a spark to glow where there is too much dry grass. Mind you comrades, the Salvation-of-man (a rival yek), chaffed me when the sources of contentment seemed to have been secured in his pouch, so he should not grudge me a little pomp and ceremony now. Gook (proceed), men, make haste and remove the hide, for ere long the dawn shall be upon us.’

“‘So,’ I said to myself, this is Keyid, the antagonist of all the benevolent yek.’ There followed the sounds of rolling and pulling directly over my head. I could still feel the foul presence of this evil Keyid, but mind you, if I had knocked his brain out, as it had always been in my heart to do, this evil one would have had no more than his due from my hands. But at that moment such a good deed never occurred to me. I seemed to have wandered away from my reasoning power, and it seemed too that my own yek of war was no match for the great Keyid at that moment.

“From all that I could hear I knew that progress was being made in the skinning of the corpse, the intention of these night visitors. At last the skinning must have come to the head part. This was indicated by their huing, ‘Hu, hu, hu, hu,’ and upon the fourth pull it was evident that the sinister operation had been accomplished.

“They then carried the hide down to the landing, and the burden, in a mysterious manner, gravitated. It began to settle earthward, and the stout pole over which it hung snapped as if it were a twig. The yek of benevolence made their presence known for the moment. It was obvious then that Keyid was uneasy. He did not know what to grasp, but this was only for a brief moment. Another stout pole was brought, and the gigantic figures made a lift, and the pole which was the size of a large man’s arm bent and sagged like an infant’s hammock. But this pressure also was only for a brief moment, for the heft was no longer in evidence. I rose and went forward to follow the hide of my comrade. Following, I went ashore and, to my surprise, at the moment I lifted foot on land, the yek that had at first appeared like shadows became visible. I took my position immediately behind the master-yek who was seated in mid-canoe. I thought it was stupid of them not to see me.

“The men appeared stern and silent. I knew not what monster I was about to encounter in this strange world, but with the thrill of adventure in my heart, fear never occurred to me. Before the raven cawed, the canoe of the yek slipped forward into the unknown, and only foam trailed in our wake. From the beginning I had buried my face in the fold of my arms, and I only felt the great sheets of dawn (seaweed) sweeping over my back as we passed on into the deep. We had been going for some time, when I ventured to take a peek at our position. It was like a blank, but it was certainly clear that dawn was upon us. The yek-men were still unaware of my presence. To make certain that they did not see me, even in daylight, I shifted from my cramped position and moved close to the master-yek. My knees were touching his back only slightly when he uttered an expression of pain:

“‘Hu, anatl-seen (a sneaker) pressed on my back,’ said he. (Hu is an expression of sharp pain which is used to this day.) Again I moved up still closer and pressed my knees harder. To my surprise, the evil yek began to cry out from the pain, and I experienced a feeling of delight in being in a position to hurt the yek who was so heartless in taking away even the hide of his victim. I made up my mind to hurt him more. Bracing myself against the thwart, I pressed him with all my strength, and the merciless old yek emitted an expression of great pain and began to call for help:

“‘Agana (an expression of ceaseless pain which also has become general), ‘paddle on comrades, paddle with all your might,’ pleaded he. Only when I became tired out did I allow Keyid some rest; then I renewed my pressing with even more vigor. By now Keyid was yelling to all the yek known to him for help, but my own potent yek were then within my call ready to ward off any interference. ‘Make haste, good comrades, and have faith in the yek of the cloud-screen of my domain to drive off the cause of this pain.’

“Presently black clouds appeared. They rolled together into a great mass, and at last formed themselves into a monster bending down upon our course. As the canoe passed beneath it, the claws of the monster began to open in readiness to seize, and the great beak was so close that the foul breath tore up the surrounding water in great agitation. Before fear entered me I uttered a silent prayer: ‘Of thee have I dreamed, great power, be thou my potent yek.’ Thus, the first antagonist calmed down its wrath and hovered into space. Once the danger was over, I continued to press my victim.

“After passing the first obstacle, we were forestalled by other forms of powers of the deep. And Keyid urged on his men: Make baste good comrades, make haste, the Falls-into-abyss should flow forth to drive off the cause of this pain.’ After awhile there came to my ears a booming sound issuing forth from somewhere ahead. I listened . . . It was like a sound of a great drum sometimes sinking by the beating of the sea into a dull sound of a distant land-slide, and sometimes rising again to vibrate in our surroundings. At last it came to view, the great Falls to the Abyss. It seemed as though the great ocean itself was being poured forth from the summit of a high cliff and, falling away down into a darkened space, drew in with it all the surrounding water. Over this violent current we started to drift. I closed my eyes, and at that moment I began to feel the whirl. Once more, I uttered a silent prayer: Great Power, be thou my yek.’ Another yek submitted and the great current stopped its flow.

“Now Keyid directed his men to make for Sey-eat, a part of the deep ocean where the great body of water was forced through a canyon-like formation in a terrific manner; the kind of water-way which exists only in the yek world. Wben we approached it, this great body of water was shot away into the far horizon in a rolling fashion. I thought then that no living creature could pass through this and survive to tell about it. Directly into the roll of water we were shot forth, and at the moment we were about to be engulfed by the angry water, I once again uttered my silent prayer: ‘Be thou my potent yek, great power.’ And through it the canoe passed unharmed.

“‘Paddle on, comrades, and make haste. Maybe the yek in the Falling Promontory of my domain will come to my aid.’ There came a crashing sound. At first it was a sound like the falling of a great tree, but as we came near the sound gradually increased to one like the clashings of wings of the great Hetl (Thunder). And there was the Moving Promontory. It appeared as if the whole peninsula was rising out of the ocean and was being lifted high enough to see the thither side through the opening in the under-side. As this was being lifted, all the surrounding water rushed in to flood the vacated space and then, falling, pushed this aside into mountainlike rolls. Indeed, it looked like the end of me this time, for there was no other way but to go under. Over the rush of the sucking-in of the water our canoe was carried forth. I mustered courage and repeated my silent prayer, and the great body of land hesitated in making its fall until we passed through in safety.

“‘Paddle on, good comrades, and make haste. Maybe the yek that guard the landing of my domain will come to my aid.’ When we arrived at the approach to the domain of Keyid, the water of the bay made a move to receive us. We were about to be spilled into the whirling sea when I uttered my last silent prayer: ‘Be thou my yek.’ And then with violent speed our canoe was carried partly through the air and thrust land-ward from breaker to breaker until finally we were left dry upon the sandy landing.

“Keyid was very much exhausted from his imaginary illness and had to be lifted from the canoe. I followed him into his house and there, in order to have him always lie on his side, I stuck a small arrow-head, which I carried in my pouch, into his back. He did not make a loud outcry this time. I guess he was really sick then. I continued to apply my knees to the spine of the wicked yek. From the day of our arrival various powers were summoned to the bedside of Keyid, but they all failed to detect my presence, hence could not effect a relief for the stricken yek. I could not help having a feeling of disappointment, myself, for I was fatigued and weary of the experience.

“At last Keyid had to call to the great Shesoni-see (Daughter of She-soni), the female yek of moral virtue. Now Shesoni-see was a benevolent yek and was known only for disciplining the moral virtue of all good women, and Keyid was a malevolent yek, one destined to destroy that which is good. These two yek were never known to be on friendly terms, but the female yek must have felt an opportunity in which to show the jinni of evil thought the power of good will. Hence the immediate response of the merciful yek.

“Three day-lights passed, and on the morning of the fourth day Shesoni-see appeared. When her arrival was announced I wondered what monster I was about to encounter. I was assured from the bearings of those yek about me that the adventure promised to be a most grave one. Rousing myself out of this diffident feeling, I decided to pull out the arrow-head from the back of my victim, and it is likely this act might have revealed to me some other source of evil thought, but at that instant the door was thrown open:

“‘Shesoni-see cometh thither,’ announced the gigantic door-tender.
There within the entrance appeared the female yek. At first I could not see her clear enough to know more than that she was tall and graceful, with loose long hair hung down her back like a mantle, but at the moment she detected my person the fog-like atmosphere which had enveiled her instantly disappeared, and I beheld a very beautiful face and form. In my excitement I must have twisted the arrow-head in the wound, and a loud outcry from Keyid interrupted. For a moment the beautiful yek hesitated and frowned when she looked at me. I was embarrassed and did not know what to do nor where to look. Once more that cowering feeling seized me and I could not avoid feeling the presence of a superior power. But gradually that frown on the handsome face faded away into a smile and I straightway recognized a mute expression of partiality. As if to herself that beautiful being spoke:

“‘Wasa ayu ka saku haek?'”

Thus spake Shesoni-see, in words that were not clearly understood, words that formed an expression which has long since become obsolete, and as near as we can surmise, from the nature of the meeting of the yek and the ehet, the interpretation of this must be: “Indeed, a very bold novice, but how come thou beyond thy knowledge of life?” As an answer Ats-ha made a final twist of the arrow-head in the wound, and in a violent manner jerked it out, and as he moved away “Hu-we” (an expression of relief) issued from Keyid, and instantly he fell into a deep slumber. Together Shesoni-see and Ats-ha hovered into space.

One winter elapsed since Ats-ha had mysteriously disappeared from Ton-ani. No one knew what became of the young ehet. It was then springtime when a party, which was making its return from Dyea, sighted a great flock of birds flying in formation like a pole of smoke trailing skyward from the face of a high mountain. This multitude of birds was indeed a strange sight to the wayfarers. They had heard of such a scene being caused only by a supernatural power. Hence the travelers made a landing and investigated. They found that on the face of the mountain there was a cave, and at the entrance of this lay the prostrate form of Ats-ha, apparently lifeless, and this was what had attracted the attention of the birds. Two days later the long lost ehet was brought back to his home and people, and, after he revived, Ats-ha told them about his adventure in yek land. To this day the cave, on the face of the mountain towering across the bay from a place now known as Skagway, bore his name: Ats-ha Ta-tugu (the cave of Ats-ha).

As long as Ats-ha lived and was true to his faith, Shesoni-see remained with him as his potent yek. For some years after his return from the yek world, Ats-ha maintained a desire to possess some object to remind him of the benevolent yek, but nothing which would be appropriate to represent its feminine nature was thought of until Huakon-dusahu, “Stringling,” a Kuek-adi maid, was married to an alien from the interior of our land. It was this young woman who embroidered with the quill of the porcupine a design representing moral virtue on this headdress of the ehet. To the misfortune of the Kuek-adi, it was with the life of Ats-ha that its spiritual guidance terminated, and no other ehet was born among them to assume the responsibility. Thence for a number of generations the emblem of Moral Virtue lay undisturbed, and no one touched it until chief “Chopping-tail” gave it a new name, and called it the “Yetl-shada,” adding a carved piece of wood to represent the national emblem. This wooden piece soon fell to decay, and it was only in recent years that the present one was put on. Thus it has been long since the emblem of spiritual guidance and from that was changed to that of a tribal one. It is doubtful if the good spirit of Virtue would recognize this old piece if it were to view it once more.

Cite This Article

Shotridge, Louis. "How Ats-ha Followed the Hide of His Comrade to Yek Land." The Museum Journal XXI, no. 3-4 (September, 1930): 215-226. Accessed February 22, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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