Puyallup Tribal News

The Story of Stick Indians or Tsiatko

//Compiled by Jennifer Keating-Hallberg

Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and scarceness, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. As one of the world’s older holidays, Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.

As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes, candy and stories. One story that many have grown up with is the story of the race of people known as stick Indians. Whether you believe in them or not, legends of stick Indians have been around many years. Often referred to as Tsiatko, the race of stick Indians were said to wander through the forests at night especially during the fall. The Tsiatko were tall, slender, athletic in build, and were great runners. They were ventriloquists, using a sort of whistle to communicate, and that gift made them all the more feared. Even when people could not see them they often heard this whistle in the distance. When these strange people would arrive, their calls were in high, clear pitch, and their odd whistles were blood-curdling. Even the dogs refused to chase them or bark at them; horses would rear up and strive to break away, and tremble in fear. Some believed that by the use of some unknown substance, the Tsiatko would at will cause people to become senseless and helpless, going into a deep slumber.

According to a Nisqually medicine man, the Tsiatko people had a method of reducing the flesh and bones of the dead into a fine powder that when thrown toward another, caused anesthesia. While under this spell, Tsiatko sometimes played pranks on villages like stealing the fish from nets at night. Other times, the Tsiatko were dangerous to men if interfered with. Their hatred was merciless and they always tracked down the victim of their hatred until they finally had killed him with a shot from their bows. Occasionally, they were known to steal children or adolescents and carry 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 and continues to be used in child discipline.

So this Halloween, listen closely for a whistle in the woods and do not bother running because the stick Indians will always outrun you. So hide your wife, hide your kids, because they are scaring everybody!

“In my grandfather’s time, his people captured a Tsiatko boy and raised it. The child slept all day, and 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.”

“Many years ago a Puyallup hunter, armed with bow and arrows, crossed an arm of the Sound. He moored his canoe and was hunting the adjoining shore. Three bears passed in a single file and he shot, killing the rear one. Upon going to it, he discovered that he had killed a stick Indian clothed in bearskins. He fled hurriedly to his canoe. The two surviving stick Indians soon missed their companion and turning back, came upon the dead body. They saw the man enter his canoe and rushed for him. He escaped them only by a close margin. The frightened hunter sped across the bay. He barely had time to spring ashore, rush into his house and close the door, and his pursuers were there also. They had come a distance of many miles around the arm of the Sound. They lurked about the house for many moons watching for the man, but he avoided them until they became weary and vanished…”

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