Oral history

“[This is] another short story of Timber Creek. People used to move up ahead of Timber Creek in the fall time, September, and this is a story about how, in the legend days, the olden days, how people used to work to get food at the head of Timber Creek. People that moved there about the middle of September waited for caribou, big caribou, to move up from the north. They started building corrals. Right ahead of Timber Creek was a big high mountain down towards the north, and they called it Curtain Mountain. Caribou travelled through the edge right on top [of] the mountain and right through the middle of that mountain, it travelled down towards Timber Creek flat. The Timber Creek flat foothill crossed down right into Bear Creek, so the people knew caribou came through there. All the time caribou travelled that trail. So the people built corrals right around the caribou trail. Both sides, they built [a] corral with trees and birch — a wide corral, right against the mountain. The trail came down the flat, and they made it narrow, and they set snares alongside of that corral for caribou. And they made rope, real strong rope, out of caribou skin, and they braided it with the caribou-skin rope. They set [a] whole bunch of snares right around that corral, and in the end of that corral was kind of an open place for caribou to run through.

The trail was not very wide, and it was kind of downhill there, and they got a whole bunch of little trees, and they cleaned it good, and they made the end really sharp, and they put them in the ground, just like for pegs. They sharpened them and they put them towards the corral, and they made a whole bunch sticking out of the ground, and they left it like that, and then, after they finished all that hard work, they fixed all the corral. Then they got ready making arrows (bone arrows), and then every day someone watched for caribou. And, all at once, about September the 10th to the 20th, they spotted caribou on top [of] that mountain, Curtain Mountain.

Everybody told one another, so everybody got ready to go up to that corral. A whole bunch of men and their arrows both sides of where that mountain came down to that flat, down towards the corral, both sides of people had hiding places right in a line on both sides, way apart from each other. Towards afternoon and evening, the caribou started down the mountain. They got out on the flat. A big herd of caribou came down and across Timber Creek into Bear Creek Mountain.

So this big herd of caribou passed all these hunters that were hiding on both side[s] of that corral. Above the corral, they all chased the caribou into the corral. They chased the caribou behind, and they shot at them with their arrows (even with bone arrow[s] they killed lots of caribou). All the caribou ran into that big corral, and they got caught in that snare (caribou snare). The people set them, and they caught a whole bunch of these caribou. And then, right at the end of the corral, where it opened, caribou just jammed right into there, trying to get through, and then, whatever caribou got through, they just took off downhill, and they ran into these sharp sticks. After all the caribou passed, they killed lots of caribou, must have been two to three hundred caribou at one time. And then everybody got enough, same amount of caribou and families, and all started packing meat back to camp, and everybody started working with the meat, everyone got a share, the same share of meat. Everybody started drying meat, working with caribou skin, and everything they made was food for the winter, to last them all winter until next spring. Then, after they finished all that hard work — they finished all that hard work during the end of September and also October — then they moved further up towards wherever there was a camp where they expected caribou. They travelled around, moving here and there through the mountains, and that’s how they got through the whole cold winter until the next spring came, and that’s how they pulled through another hard winter. That showed that people used to work for their food during the old days and, till today, it still shows.

Sometimes, in the summer, some hunters go around there, and they still find some of that old corral, those trees, rotten tree pieces of it laying around wherever they build it (that corral where it was built). It must be two to three hundred years ago, this happened.

This is how people used to make their living in the olden days. This is [a] short story I know from the older people — the old ladies and old men.”

Roddy Peters, Teetł’it Gwich’in Elder, 1970s

The Timber Creek region