The Wooden Wife
Category: TSIMSHIAN TALES
Source: Indian Legends Retold
Once there was a young man newly married who was very fond of his
wife. She was not only a pretty woman, but she wove the most beautiful
dancing-blankets of any one in the tribe.
One day this young man went into the mountains to hunt wild goats,
from whose hair his wife might weave more of her much-prized blankets,
and she went with him to keep his hut and to cook for him. While they
were yet far from the village, the girl fell sick, and although he did
all that he could for her, the young husband soon saw that she was
"Tell me, my dear, what can I do for you?" he begged, as he hung over
"Only do not leave me soon, my husband! Do not soon forget our love,"
sighed the wife, and she died.
The goat-hunter mourned her truly, and he did as she had asked him to
do. He remained on the spot where he had lost her and seemed to have
no thought of going back to the village. He kept her body with him in
the hut as long as he could, and when at last he was forced to lay it
away, he carved an image out of cedar wood and set it up in front of
her loom, so that as one entered the hut it seemed that a woman sat
there, weaving a dancing-blanket. Every morning he went out hunting
goats, and when he returned in the evening he would call out as he
came near the hut, saying:
"Come out, my wife, and see what I have brought you!"
Then he would answer himself in a woman's voice, "I cannot come just
now, my husband. I am weaving, and the wool may become snarled if I
leave my loom."
Presently he would enter the wigwam, come up behind his wooden wife,
and kiss her lovingly.
After a time, the story of these strange doings spread to the village,
and two young girls, sisters, being filled with curiosity, decided to
come and find out for themselves what truth there might be in the
rumors that were about. When they reached his lonely hut, the hunter
was away as usual, so they raised the door-flap and peeped in. There
sat the wooden wife in front of the loom, with her back to them,
exactly like a woman weaving.
"Elder sister," said they, "we are hungry." But when she did not move
nor speak, they knew that she was not a real woman, and they hid in a
corner behind some blankets until the husband should return.
By and by they heard his voice outside the hut, telling his wife to
come out and see the game he had brought, and then her usual answer
that she was busy weaving and could not come just then. Next he came
in, put his arms about the wooden wife, and kissed her fondly.
Upon this the elder girl could not help laughing so that he heard it
and discovered them both. But the young man was a courteous host. He
begged them to be seated and offered them food, and the elder sister
ate heartily; she even over-ate, while the younger was very quiet and
took but a taste of each dish. The hunter took note of their conduct,
and when supper was over, he asked the younger girl to be his wife.
"I will marry you," said she, "if you will put away your wooden
wife." Accordingly he destroyed the image that he had made, and
married the girl, and they lived happily together for many years.
Previous: Grizzly Bear And The Four Chiefs