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Legend of the WaTash
Ms. Outdoors

Sheila Ogle - Ms. Outdoors
© June 2007

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Mixed emotions will raise an eyebrow or two if I tell you that my family tree has a few branches that belong to the native American people who once walked this land. Two different ideals are bound in this genealogy. The will of some, taboo talking about that lineage. A willing attitude, finds the blessing in acknowledging the “Trail of Tears” bloodline, rich in a great knowledge of herbal medicine, history of the land and even scholarship benefits for their youth. Sadly the documents of our forgotten heritage were hidden and then destroyed so that no one could know just how much or what tribe of American Indian blood beats beneath our proud chests.

I do not embrace everything about the red-skinned peoples (some of whom are my own people). I would not worship their unknown gods. I am however intrigued by stories and legends that describe their strength, ingenuity, a will to overcome others, and their beautiful existence despite arduous, outdoor living.

I am fiercely proud of the American heritage that our forefathers wrote into history as they signed the Declaration of Independence and penned the Bill of rights. I am awash with sadness at the thought of how the Native Americans were murdered, ripped from their lands and thrown upon various less habitable reservations. A vision of the painting by David C. Behrens, depicting our Presidential and Native American “Founding Fathers” comes to mind as I think about the turned pages of history between our two great nations.

Not unlike any great legend, the story of the Indian called WaTash is full of superstition and unique points of interest. Some Indian legends live on in antagonized descriptions that paint ones ancestors into infamy. Occasionally, subsequent, generations will writhe after and pursue the imitation of skill and good moral values held by a great legend which overshadows them. Truly this is so, of the long lost Susquehannock Indians, in their legends of the great hunter WaTash.

My husband, is an heir of the race of Cherokee people. He bears dark reddish skin in the summer sun and incredible night vision and hunting skills. These are obvious giveaways to the presence of American Indian gifts in his heritage. The first time we hunted together I was blinded in the predawn darkness and had to be led by his visual acuity. Hours later he tracked droplets of crimson in the fallen red leafed foliage from a fresh harvest for over a mile to a small stream of water where the deer lay down for the last time. It was quite an accomplishment for me to learn from his tracking skill and even more amazing to find the thrill within in me as I understood that it was only the beginning of my own hunting pursuit.

In awe and with a bit of fun I began to label my husband, calling him “The Watash!” It is a nickname that has stood. We do so, in fun, with a hint of jealousy when he is the only one to harvest a deer in a given season. Enjoying the moment a bit too much I remind him that he has not lived up to the legend of the WaTash when he comes home empty handed in another hunting season. BUT... the truth is the real meaning of being a WaTash hunter shows in the core element that defines him in a moment of complete opportunity when he chooses to let the big buck pass during a doe only hunt. It is the willingness and ability to survive on the land (for a one week hunt and camp) to successfully stalk hunt big game with a bow.

The true spirit of the WaTash legend is passed from the experienced hunter to the next generation of hunters who stalk, hunt and overcome their prey without leaving any trace of their presence. Mimicking the stealth of those remarkable native Americans who rose to conquer their lands and then almost vanished from existence.

Watash is the nickname for those in our hunting party who strive to reach excellence in their hunting and outdoor pursuits. It is an honorable name that reminds us of our own personal goals of success that we strive to define in ourselves as moral and ethical hunters.

It is told that the great WaTash, hunted with a bow he made as well as a gun he traded from the early European settlers. Legends, hieroglyphs, historical portraits, statues and explorer descriptions of his race tell us that they stood above all others in height and ability. Great was he and great were his people.

Borrowing from the native ancestors I pass on a story that I have heard many times that may or may not be from my own American Indian history; the legend, however, is worth the retelling.

Eastern sky was laced with transparent clouds that rippled like a horses mane. Westerly winds quickly rearranged them as the approach of sunset began to wash across the horizon. He stood in the doorway of his well-built longhouse and waited for the soft twilight to settle upon the earth. From his vantage point, WaTash, the man who would soon be chief, could see the people and their gaze toward the unsteady youth who brought this bad omen to them. Unease and fear was painted upon their faces.

Seething from a misplaced arrow, the bear roared fiercely for two days. The boy’s arrow lacked the aim for a fatal blow and pierced a terrible wound into its shoulder. Now the bear growled and scratched beyond the great wall. The people were in danger as the wild bear stalked their village.

Tonight WaTash would hunt. Skill and a bright moon would not be enough for this task. He would need the heart of a bear. Motioning to the young man who waited, WaTash began to walk toward the warning cries of the wounded bear. His steps led him beyond the villages’ great wall. The young boy he guided, walked erect and fearless with him along the well-worn trail as they went.

As they hunted the bear, WaTash spoke to the boy. “Always take time to aim for the heart when you hunt. Watch for the bear to stand on all four paws and turn his side to you. That is the right time to put your arrow into his heart.” In silence the boy nodded and followed the great WaTash toward the sound in the woods.

Tracking the bear by sound, they crept down wind of him. Soon his deafening cries told them they were very close. When they could see the bear clearly by moonlight, WaTash motioned the boy to creep through the bushes and stand ready at a certain place. When the boy was ready WaTash stood up and walked cautiously to the bear. When the bear noticed him and walked forward on all four paws he passed the Indian boy. The brave drew his bow and sent an arrow into the heart. The bear fell silent and with a thankful heart fell asleep.

WaTash did not draw his bow. He knew he had done something even greater than killing the bear, he had taught the boy to hunt. Now the boy was a true hunter. His new name was Heart of a Bear.

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