According to Theodore Winthrop who visited the northwest in 1853 and published a book entitled “The Canoe and the Saddle,” which had wide vogue at the time and is consulted today, Mount Rainier had its Indian Rip Van Winkle. The story was told him in great detail by Hamitchou, “a frowsy ancient of the Squallyamish.” The hero was a wise and wily fisher-man and hunter. Also, as his passion was gain, he became an excellent business man. He always had salmon and berries when food became scarce and prices high. Gradually he amassed large savings in hiaqua, the little perforated shell which was the most valued form of wampum, the Indian’s money. The richer he got the stronger his passion grew for hiaqua, and, when a spirit told him in a dream of vast hoards at the summit of Rainier, he determined to climb the mountain. The spirit was Tamanous, which, Winthrop ex-plains, is the vague Indian personification of the super-natural.
So he threaded the forests and climbed the mountain’s glistening side. At the summit he looked over the rim into a large basin in the bottom of which was a black lake surrounded by purple rock. At the lake’s eastern end stood three monuments. The first was as tall as a man and had a head carved like a salmon; the second was the image of a camas-bulb; the two represented the great necessities of Indian life. The third was a stone elk’s head with the antlers in velvet. At the foot of this monument he dug a hole.
Suddenly a noise behind him caused him to turn. An otter clambered over the edge of the lake and struck the snow with its tail. Eleven others followed. Each was twice as big as any otter he had ever seen; their chief was four times as big. The eleven sat themselves in a circle around him; the leader climbed upon the stone elk-head.
At first the treasure-seeker was abashed, but he had come to find hiaqua and he went on digging. At every thirteenth stroke the leader of the otters tapped the stone elk with his tail, and the eleven followers tapped the snow with their tails. Once they all gathered closer and whacked the digger good and hard with their tails, but, though astonished and badly bruised, he went on working. Presently he broke his elkhorn pick, but the biggest otter seized another in his teeth and handed it to him.
Finally his pick struck a flat rock with a hollow sound, and the otters all drew near and gazed into the hole, breathing excitedly. He lifted the rock and under it found a cavity filled to the brim with pure-white hiaqua, every shell large, unbroken and beautiful. All were hung neatly on strings.
Never was treasure-quest so successful ! The otters, recognizing him as the favorite of Tamanous, retired to a distance and gazed upon him respectfully.
“But the miser,” writes the narrator, “never dreamed of gratitude, never thought to hang a string from the buried treasure about the salmon and camas tamanous stones, and two strings around the elk’s head; no, all must be his own, all he could carry now, and the rest for the future.”
Greedily he loaded himself with the booty and laboriously climbed to the rim of the bowl prepared for the descent of the mountain. The otters, puffing in concert, plunged again into the lake, which at once disappeared under a black cloud.
Straightway a terrible storm arose through which the voice of Tamanous screamed tauntingly. Blackness closed around him. The din was horrible. Terrified, he threw back into the bowl behind him five strings of hiaqua to propitiate Tamanous, and there followed a momentary lull, during which he started homeward, But immediately the storm burst again with roarings like ten thousand bears.
Nothing could be done but to throw back more hiaqua. Following each sacrifice came another lull, followed in turn by more terrible outbreaks. And so, string by string, he parted with all his gains. Then he sank to the ground insensible.
When he awoke he lay under an arbutus-tree in a meadow of camas. He was shockingly stiff and every movement pained him. But he managed to gather ” and smoke some dry arbutus-leaves and eat a few camas-bulbs. He was astonished to find his hair very long and matted, and himself bent and feeble. “Tamanous,” he muttered. Nevertheless, he was calm and happy. Strangely, he did not regret his lost strings of hiaqua. Fear was gone and his heart was filled with love.
Slowly and painfully he made his way home. Everything was strangely altered. Ancient trees grew where shrubs had grown four days before. Cedars under whose shade he used to sleep lay rotting on the ground. Where his lodge had stood now he saw a new and handsome lodge, and presently out of it came a very old decrepit squaw who, nevertheless, through her wrinkles, had a look that seemed strangely familiar to him. Her shoulders were hung thick with hiaqua strings. She bent over a pot of boiling salmon and crooned:
“My old man has gone, gone, gone. My old man to Tacoma has gone. To hunt the elk he went long ago. When will he come down, down, down To salmon pot and me?”
“He has come down,” quavered the returned traveller, at last recognizing his wife.
He asked no questions. Charging it all to the wrath of Tamanotis, he accepted fate as he found it. After all, it was a happy fate enough in the end, for the old man became the Great Medicine-Man of his tribe, by whom he was greatly revered.
The name of this Rip Van Winkle of Mount Rainier is not mentioned in Mr. Winthrop’s narrative.