Heroes: Bluejay and His Companions

This story is part of the Native American Hero Tales unit. Story source: Tales of the North American Indians by Stith Thompson (1929).

Bluejay and His Companions

Bluejay and his chief, with Land Otter, Beaver, and another man, used to go out seal-hunting together. In the same house with them, but at the other end, lived Grouse, who was a widower with a lot of children, and he spent most of his time in the woods building a canoe.

Every trip that the five men made, they caught five seals, very fat ones, but they gave nothing but the poor, lean parts to Grouse. Bluejay was at the bottom of this and kept saying that fat was too good for Grouse, and he poked fun at him and sneered at him whenever he was about. Grouse never said a word, but took what was given him without complaining.

One day Grouse made a wooden seal, carving it out of cedar and burning it until it was black. Then he talked to the seal and told it what it was to do, and it dived down into the water and went out to sea.

Next day before daylight, the five men started out, and about sunrise came upon a big seal, and speared it. The seal dived, and swam to the westward, dragging the canoe after it until they were out of sight of land. The spearman tried to get rid of it, but could not, and when night came they were still rushing westward, and when they waked in the morning they were still going, but not so fast.

Not long afterward the line slackened, and they heard something butting against the canoe. Bluejay looked over and saw a wooden seal with the harpoon sticking into it just behind the flipper. Then his chief began to scold Bluejay and said, "I know this is Grouse's work. He is angry because we gave him no fat, and because you talked to him so much." Bluejay could only hang his head and say nothing.

They cut the line and began to paddle back, but had no idea where they were going. Three days and two nights they paddled, and the third night they all fell asleep from exhaustion. When they waked in the morning, the canoe was stuck fast, and they thought they were ashore, and one of them, the fifth man, jumped out, but he sank and was drowned, and then they saw that they were not ashore, but that the seaweed was so thick that they had stuck fast in it. So now there were only four of them, and they paddled on.

On the fourth night they did not feel like sleeping, for they thought they could see the hills back of Quinault. In the morning they could discern the coast plainly, and after paddling all day they reached the shore and landed at a place quite strange to them. Next morning they went on again in what they thought was a southerly direction and suddenly, as they rounded a point, came upon a village. Several canoes came out through the surf and helped them ashore, and they were taken up to the village.

In the centre of the village was a tall smooth pole which the people said was Squirrel's pole, which he used for climbing, and they said that Squirrel would like to have a climbing-match with Bluejay. Bluejay's master said to him, "Now don't get frightened, but go in and do your best. You know you can climb well, and if you are beaten we may all be killed."

Then both Squirrel and Bluejay took sharp bones, so that if one got ahead he could hit the one behind on the head, and they started to climb. All the people crowded around to see the contest, for the pole was high and the two were well matched. At last the people saw them reach the top and saw one of them strike the other on the head so that he came tumbling down, and all the people shouted, for they thought it was Bluejay. But when he reached the ground, they found it was Squirrel who had lost. So now, since Bluejay had beaten their best climber, they let him and his companions go.

(700 words)

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