Short Sketches from Oldest America
by John Driggs
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After awhile he had the satisfaction of knowing that his visitor was growing warmer. Then she spoke and told him she had died and been buried, but that he had warmed and made her comfortable again. After talking together for quite awhile, the visitor proposed that they should return to the village together, Tungnāluke taking her for his wife.

At last the truth began to dawn through his mind, and he found himself in a perplexity. Here he had been making a ghost comfortable, and it was now insisting on being his wife. He already had one in the village, whom he had a great amount of respect for, and knew she would be highly indignant if he brought a second wife home, especially so if the new one was the recently deceased neighbor. So he refused, but the ghost insisted. He was in a great perplexity, not knowing how to escape from his dilemma. The ghost was growing more and more imperative in its demands.

At last the idea arose in his mind that he would try the hammer. So going around the room he struck the four magic blows, at which the ghost disappeared, and he returned alone to his home to relate his adventure.


A raven that lived along the cliffs near Cape Lisburne became tired of the humdrum life he was leading. He had noticed that his friends, the gannets and murres, with many other acquaintances, were in the habit of going on long trips each fall and not returning again until the warmer weather of spring had arrived. His own family was content to stay at home the year round, not showing the least ambition to travel or visit any of those other countries about which their neighbors were continually talking. He was particularly interested to learn that in the south the sun was never lost in winter and the days were warm and balmy, just the same as in summer. He was growing tired of his bachelorship, and therefore he decided to seek a bride outside of his own people, one that would be willing to travel with him. Meeting one of the young ladies of the Barnacle Goose family, he proposed that she should become his wife, lauding himself by saying what a sweet voice he had, and what a good husband he would make. Miss Goose hung her head and demurred a little, nevertheless she accepted the offer, and they began their wedding tour together.

The goose, knowing the route, took the lead straight out over the ocean, while the raven followed, trying to keep pace with his bride. As the day waned, the raven began to feel the effects of the long flight, while hunger was admonishing him that he had partaken of only a light breakfast that morning. So addressing his wife, he said, "My dear, don't you think it is about time for us to take a rest while we try to find something to eat?"

"All right, husband," was her reply, as she settled lightly down on the waves. But there was no place for the raven to alight, unless upon his wife's back. All was water, so with a slight apology, he lit on the bride's back. After a short time she began to feel her husband's weight to be somewhat of a burden. Seeing a small fish, she remarked, "Look out, dear," as she dove and captured it. The raven just had time to open his weary wings, to avoid a ducking; then he had the mortification of seeing how selfish his bride was, as she swallowed the whole fish without offering him even a small piece, although he was famishing with hunger.

The goose then started to continue the journey, while the raven implored her to rest just a little longer; but no, she would not. There was nothing else for him to do but to continue his flight, trying to keep up with his wife, while beseeching her to take another short rest. So the night wore away.

As the dawn came, the bride, who had gradually gained in her flight, was far ahead, while the bridegroom could scarcely flap his wings any longer. The situation began to look serious. If he should alight on the water his feathers would become wet and that would be his end. What to do he did not know. Just then a whale came along, and thinking it would be a good place to alight, he managed to reach its head just as his wings gave out.

The whale had just started to take a fresh breath, and the raven entered the blow hole along with the rush of air. Looking around he said to himself, "What a nice long room this is," and commenced walking about picking at the walls here and there. The whale remarked to some of its companions, "What a cold I have taken in my nose," and began sneezing. The raven thought he was in a very draughty apartment, but he had been born on the cliffs at Cape Lisburne, where the gales are frequent and severe, so he did not mind the present wollies[4] to any extent.

[4] Wollie, a sudden high gust of wind rushing through a gulch.

He took a walk in the long passageway until the road divided up into the many small by-paths of the lungs. At last, finding a crevice where the drafts did not seem quite so strong, he settled down for a good sleep. On awakening, he began examining the comfortable crevice and found that the walls were not quite so thick as at the other places. So setting to work with bill and claws on a thin portion, he soon had a hole made through the membrane; at the same time the whale was grumbling at having the tickling sensation in its nose and throat that made it sneeze so often.

The raven walked through the opening and found himself in a much larger apartment, where there was a great deal to excite his interest, but what seemed the most curious thing of all was a great red object that was thumping in regular order. After standing and watching it for quite a while, his curiosity became much aroused. He thought he would feel it, just to see if it was hard or soft. He commenced feeling with his bill and found it was quite firm, but on trial discovered that it was easy to nip off a small piece. The fragment tasted very good, and as he had not breakfasted yet he made up his mind to keep nipping off small pieces until his hunger was appeased. The whale told its friends that these colds in the nose were awful things, for sometimes they struck through to the heart. The raven declared he had never before had such a good thing in all his life. Here was a nice large room with plenty to excite his curiosity, while there was no end of good things to eat.

At the end of a week he found himself growing quite fleshy, but the big red object was not beating with the same regularity as at first. At last it ceased, and the whale lay floating on the water, dead. The whale's friends declared that their late comrade had died suddenly from heart failure, induced by a cold in the nose and aggravated by too much sneezing.

The raven soon began to suspect that all was not quite right. The big red object did not work any longer, while everything remained so still. After a while, the breaking of the surf on the beach greeted his ears. Then people's voices were heard shouting, "Here comes some new meat and black skin floating on the ocean."

The whale drifted on shore and the inhabitants were soon cutting off the meat and blubber. One man, working on the ribs, quickly had a hole made and light began streaming through. The raven said to himself, "Here I have grown quite corpulent during the lazy life I have been leading; I must not let the men see me." So, crouching down and hiding, he waited until the hole was made large enough, then suddenly opening his wings flew out. Everybody was much surprised to see the raven come out of the whale. But they heard him say before he disappeared toward his home on the cliffs, that in the future he would stick by his own people and avoid those frivolous young ladies of the Barnacle Goose family.



As viewed by the outsider, the average Inupash courtship is devoid of romance. The first mating of young people is usually suggested and arranged by the mothers, yet there are slight indications noticeable to the initiated that will often point to the intentions of the persons interested. If one sees a young man beating out a piece of metal and fashioning a finger ring, it is apt to be for some young woman; or should a young woman be making a fancy tobacco bag, of course it is for some young man, and the whispering of love is probably back of the inspiration. It only remains for the meeting of the two mothers to arrange matters.

The two families may be living close together, yet the mother of one will call on her neighbor and tell her how she has intended to be more neighborly, but she has been so busy. Then the neighbor will declare how delighted she is to see her, after which the conversation is carried on in the usual strain, or until mother number one commences to tell what a great hunter her son is and how good he is. Then mother number two remarks that her daughter is such a good sewer and knows how to chew a beautiful boot sole. Mother number one declares that they are never hungry in their iglo, as son is always so successful and brings lots of seals home. Mother number two now remarks that daughter is such a lovely cook, having taken lessons and knows how to cook everything. (At the same time, she may consider herself fortunate if she has half a sack of China flour in the house.) The conversation continues for a while, each mother trying to present her side in its most favorable light.

The father now arriving, and being suspicious of what is taking place, will naturally try to be as agreeable as possible. He will relate some old story that has been doing duty in the tribe for a number of generations. Of course the women gather around and listen with a great deal of interest, as if it was entirely new to them. Returning to business, it is decided that the young man shall enter the family on a sort of trial. If the girl turns up her nose and makes faces, he might as well leave, as the match will never amount to anything; but should she greet him with an occasional smile and allow him to sit by her side in the evening, with his arm around her, it will be all clear sailing and they will unite as husband and wife.

With older people courtship is different. They plead and arrange their own affairs, usually without the assistance of a third party. As I have watched these marriages, I could not help but think that they turn out as happily as in any other section. Divorces, formerly so common, are now far less frequent, and when the people marry it is usually for life, most couples living together happily until parted by death.



There was a bond of sympathy between Billy and myself, for I had looked upon him as a permanent bachelor, and he was always such a reliable fellow. If I set him to whittling a bit of wood or to sawing a board, he was sure soon to apply for a bandage to stop the flow of blood from a wound. On trying to bore a hole through a board with a sharpened knitting-needle, only the bone of his second finger prevented the instrument from passing through that also. Even with the axe he was an expert; lifting it high to take a vigorous blow he would bring the back down on his own head, and rush for aid.

He was very faithful, however, and nothing seemed to make him so happy as to be doing what he thought would give me pleasure. Some one had informed Billy that far away in the States, the singing on Sundays was accompanied by an organ, so on the following Sunday Billy brought his small accordion to church and tried to accompany the singers. He had not practiced the tunes, and there seemed to be a difference between the drums of his ears, for one would catch a tune one way while the other gave a different interpretation. The accordion could not please both ears, so it squeaked and wheezed out an air of its own.

At last a time came when it was evident that a change was coming over Billy. He was growing more particular in his personal appearance, and was even trying to learn how to whistle.

Just about the same time, rumor said that the widow Okpoktoah had been seen running around the village trying to procure the loan of a cake of soap. It looked very suspicious, but Billy would not admit anything. He would simply hang his head and grin. Then the cook came one morning with the information that Billy had been seen very late the previous evening talking earnestly with the widow at her iglo.

Time has now rolled along and Billy is very happy for he owns the widow, yet those gossiping neighbors will persist in saying that Billy is not finding his nights quite as restful as formerly, for his little daughter has a very imperative way of ordering him to take a walk during those hours of the night when sleep seems the most refreshing.



To the uninitiated children of nature, the art of reading and writing seemed at first as great a mystery as the electric current. How those scrawls of black lines were words, that could be spoken just the same as in conversation, was beyond their comprehension. At first, they gathered around every time a letter was received and listened eagerly. Then arose the desire for them to be able to make out those intelligible scrawls that had a meaning.

One elderly woman seemed to feel slighted that she had not received a letter; so going on board the whalers at anchor, she inquired if there was not one for her. At last her heart was made glad by receiving a mukparā (letter) which read as follows:—"Give this woman a dose of poison." Carefully wrapping the precious missive in a piece of sealskin and attaching a string, she wore it around her neck as an ornament, and guarded it zealously.

With the young people, it was a proud day when they had advanced far enough in their studies to be supplied with a pen for the first time. Eagerly taking the pen and copy, the scholar would lie flat on the floor, in the most secluded part of the room, then call loudly to all the others to stand out of the light. If a blot accidentally occurred, an attempt would be made to erase it with the finger-nail. So the young Inupash gradually advanced until he became proficient enough to begin writing compositions.

The young tribal prince, for his first composition, chose to write upon the seal, and supposed he had exhausted the subject when he wrote, "Man he go on ice, shoot him seal. By and by woman she come dog sled, take him seal home. By and by man he go home tell woman, You cook him seal very big quick, me big plenty hungry."

Those earlier days have passed by and the mystery of the scrawls has been solved. The young Inupash are learning to read quite nicely and can now write their own letters. They still have the English grammar to master; it is very different from their own, but at length they will accomplish that task, and at no very distant time. The days when they used to borrow each other's fingers to do their counting with have gone by. They are steadily advancing and will, in the course of time, be numbered among our good and intelligent citizens. They are the only ones that are naturally fitted to inhabit this, the most northern part of our country.


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