March 7, 2016

Tsiatko and Seatco


A race of tall Indians, called “wild” or “stick” Indians, was said to wander through the forests. In general conversation they were referred to as tsiatko although another term, steta’l, from ta’l, spear, could also be applied to them.

Tsiatko, native american Big FootThe tsiatko lived by hunting and fishing. Their homes were hollowed out like the sleeping places of animals and could not be distinguished as human habitations. It was largely because of this lack of any houses or villages that they were characterized as “wild.” They wandered freely through the wooded country, their activities being mainly confined to the hours of darkness. As has been said, they were abnormally tall, always well over six feet. Their language was a sort of a whistle and even when people could not see them they often heard this whistle in the distance. They had no canoes nor did they ever travel by water.

The giants played pranks on the village Indians, stealing the fish from their nets at night, going off with their half-cured supplies under cover of darkness, etc. Sometimes pranks on the persons of individual men, such as removing their clothes and tying their legs apart, were made possible by a sort of hypnotic helplessness engendered by the sound of the giants’ whistle.

The giant were dangerous to men if the latter interfered with them or caused hurt to one of their members. Under these conditions their hatred was implacable and they always tracked the culprit down until they finally killed him with a shot from their bows. Occasionally also, they stole children or adolescents and carried them off to act as wives or as slaves. For this reason children were mortally afraid of going about alone at night and the tsiatko threat was used in child discipline.

During the summer camping trips when mat houses with loose sides were used for shelter, children always slept in the center surrounded by their elders for fear that the tsiatko would lift the mats and spirit them away. Men avoided conflicts with the giants and women retained the fear of them throughout their lives. Thus, one informant, a woman approaching seventy, broke her habit of rising before dawn and going to an outhouse at some distance from her home because she heard the whistle of a giant one morning. This happened during the winter of 1934-5.

Actual killing or capture of giants was said not to have been infrequent.

“In my grandfather’s time (around 1850) his people captured a tsiatko boy and raised it. The child slept all day, then went out nights when everyone else was asleep. In the morning they would see where he had piled up wood or caught fish or brought in a deer.

Finally, they told him he could go back to his people. He was gone many years and then came back once. He brought his tsiatko band with him and the Indians could hear them whistle all around. He said he came just for a visit to see them. Then he went away for good.

“A man from Skykomish who was a little older than I am told me that he and some friends killed a tsiatko once. There were several of them but the others got away. It was in the daytime and maybe they couldn’t see so well. The one they killed had a bow and arrow and was dressed in some kind of skin. Cougar, I guess.

Nisqually mythology describes a single creature, Seatco, calling him the most dangerous of the Indian “demonology,” as “the form of an Indian but larger, quick and stealthy.

He inhabits the dark recesses of the woods, where his campfires are often seen; he sleeps by day but sallies forth at dusk for ‘a night of it. He robs traps, breaks canoes, steals food and other portable property.

He waylays the belated traveler, and it is said to kill all those whose bodies are found dead. To his wicked and malicious cunning is credited all the unfortunate and malicious acts which cannot otherwise be explained. He steals children and brings them up as slaves in his dark retreats; he is a constant menace to the disobedient child, and is an object of fear and terror to all.”

Salish Legends
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