The Stealing of Fire & Water

So I’ve been poking in a partial copy I have of one of Leo Frachtenberg’s notebooks, looking at English only versions of stories he got from Jim Buchanan.  They are a little different than the native language versions with translations that can be found in his published Coos Texts.

Below is this alternate version of “The Stealing of Fire and Water”.  You can find his Coos Texts (and Lower Umpqua) texts several places online, to compare this version to the one translated from Hanis Coos.  One place you can find it is at


There lived some kind of a people. All kind of mixed of people. Those were the first people. They were the first people. They had no fire. They had a fish and when they catch fish, and then the people would put them under their arms in the pit and dancing up & down with it. Old folks, when they got a fish they would sit down on them and when the fish would get a little warmer, they would eat them raw. When they had no way to catch them, but they had a canoe; they followed the fish where it jumped. When the salmon would jump from the water, they would skim the foam, they used this foam of the salmon. They had no way to catch fish. There was a rich (man) who could gather a crows, and somehow he knew that fire, was in the heaven. There was no rain. They had no way to use water. Everything was dry. One day the rich man said: “Suppose we go to the heaven and try to gamble with them.”

So the second chief said ‘allright but how are we going to get up there.’

Head chief said: “I’ll show you where we will go.”

So they started with a crowd. They then gamble to gamble, as soon as they would get up there. Surely they got up there on a trail. The crows from below said to the people in heaven: “Suppose we play tonight.” The sky-chief had also many people around him. They began to play. They played a whole night. The head chief saw the fire there. He liked to get that fire very badly. It was so that the water in one corner in a tank. They also liked to get the water very bad too.

The head-chief said to one of his second-chiefs: “You watch me when I am sitting, sleeping. Pick up your two best men, two boys. When I am sitting.” He was thinking about something himself. He said: “it’s better if I put some (cherries?) inside of my eye, inside my eye I can sleep.” He was thinking that way. The two boys watched him when he was sitting. So he won the first game. The other rich man who he played pointed his finger to one side, the lead man could feel something was biting him on his skin. Those were young flies. Pretty soon the little flies ate up all his flesh. He couldn’t look at them because if he had done so, he would have lost the game.

Now he was sleeping. And the two boys watched him, when he was sleeping. His eyes, mouth, ears, nose all was eaten up. I don’t know how long he was sitting there, quite a long time. Still the fire kept going, and also the water was in one side of the corner. They watched them very close, so that the earth people shouldn’t get away with it. Only the bones were left of the head man and yet he was sitting. The head man said to the sky chief: “Now it’s your turn to play.” He set there and began to play. The headman was thinking: I guess I have to point my finger to him. He thought: I don’t know, what’s the best to pick up. He picked up a very big snake. He pointed at him with that. The snake climbed up on the side of the sky-chief. Snake came up in the pit of his arm. The sky-chief began to twist himself. Snake stick out its tongue, and wanted to try to get into his mouth, right in his nose. He looked at her. He was scared. He got up and ran and the two boys hollered and beat him. One of the boys says: I am going to grab their fire, another man said: “I am going to take this water.”

The head-man asked: “You got the fire?

“No”, say the man. He asked the other man “You got the water.”

“No” – he answered.

He said: “You’ll be (?) boys if you don’t try to get it. So one of the poorest ones grabbed the fire, and put it inside his ear. Another man kicked the little tank. This fellow got fire. His ear burned up. He took the fire from his ear, while he was running. He dropped the fire in a willow brush. When he dropped it, a big fire started there. The water from the tank had began to rain heavily. Since that time they used their fire, and the water. That’s the way they (?) water, and you can get a good water from the dry willow. That’s the way they began to use fire, water. That’s the end.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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