kâ-têpwêt The Legend of qu'appelle valley

The beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley holds many legends and stories from Indigenous Peoples who have inhabited this amazing land located in Treaty 4 Territory. Of all the legends, the most enduring is the Legend of Qu’Appelle. The earliest record of the story exists from journal entries of explorers that came through the Qu’Appelle Valley in the early 1800’s, which were later published in 1857. The story goes…

Long ago, a young man and a young woman were so deeply in love that they could feel each others’ pains and joys. It is said that they never spent more than a day apart and longed for each other when ever they were not in each others’ company.

Soon, the day came the young man would need to prove his worthiness to the tribe and enter into manhood. He and several others would venture off in a warparty and vanquish their enemies. After this, he will be able to marry his beloved if she so chose. However, the young woman did not want him to go and the two shared an embrace before he ventured off with the others.

Soon after the warparty left, the young woman grew sick.

The warparty of young men ventured far away and deep into enemy territory. As each week passed, another would turn back and head home. Further and further the warparty drove.

Back in camp, the young woman grew sicker and sicker. Medicine people from every corner of the valley were called to her aid. Alas, nothing could be done. One medicine man spoke and said she was suffering from a lonely heart, no medicine can cure her other than the one she longs for.

On the warpath, days turned to weeks. Eventually, only the young man was left. He decided to turn back and head home. He raced as quick as he could.

Eventually the young man reached the edge of the far side of the lake where his village was located, and wishing to surprise his tribe, he decided to spend the night and arrive in the morning.

As his fire burned down, the air grew silent. The water slowed it’s paces, the birds of the night silenced, and the trees stopped shaking their leaves. Curious, the young man became alert. The wind picked up and on it carried a faint voice, the young man could not make out what was being said “kâ-têpwêt (who calls)?” he shouted. There was no response, and the wind picked up again, this time he could hear his name being called “kâ-têpwêt?” he shouted again. Again, there was no response, only silence. The wind picked up again, this time the young man could make out who the voice belonged to; it was his love, calling his name. The young man immediately mounted his horse and rode for the village.

As the young man came closer, he could hear ominous songs being sung amidst crying, they were coming from his love’s tipi. As he rode up, the young woman’s mother approached him, “you were gone for so long, we thought you dead. She could not bare to live without you, and so her earthwalk has ended. But before she passed, she woke and called your name three times.”

The young man entered her tipi, kissed his beloved one last time and rode off into the night. It is said that he searches to hear her voice again, listening to the winds.

E. Pauline Johnson

This story has been the feature of many art forms, from paintings to poems to films. It was immortalized in the poem “Legend of Qu’Appelle” by renowned Mohawk Poet E. Pauline Johnson, whom upon her visit to the valley, was so touched by the story included it in her 1908 Publication “When George was King and Other Poems”. The poem is below…

The Legend of Qu'Appelle

By E. Pauline Johnson

I am the one who loved her as my life,

Had watched her grow to sweet young womanhood;

Won the dear privilege to call her wife,

And found the world, because of her, was good.

I am the one who heard the spirit voice,

Of which the paleface settlers love to tell;

From whose strange story they have made their choice

Of naming this fair valley the “Qu’Appelle.”

She had said fondly in my eager ear–

“When Indian summer smiles with dusky lip,

Come to the lakes, I will be first to hear

The welcome music of thy paddle dip.

I will be first to lay in thine my hand,

To whisper words of greeting on the shore;

And when thou would’st return to thine own land,

I’ll go with thee, thy wife for evermore.”

Not yet a leaf had fallen, not a tone

Of frost upon the plain ere I set forth,

Impatient to possess her as my own–

This queen of all the women of the North.

I rested not at even or at dawn,

But journeyed all the dark and daylight through–

Until I reached the Lakes, and, hurrying on,

I launched upon their bosom my canoe.

Of sleep or hunger then I took no heed,

But hastened o’er their leagues of waterways;

But my hot heart outstripped my paddle’s speed

And waited not for distance or for days,

But flew before me swifter than the blade

Of magic paddle ever cleaved the Lake,

Eager to lay its love before the maid,

And watch the lovelight in her eyes awake.

So the long days went slowly drifting past;

It seemed that half my life must intervene

Before the morrow, when I said at last–

“One more day’s journey and I win my queen!”

I rested then, and, drifting, dreamed the more

Of all the happiness I was to claim,–

When suddenly from out the shadowed shore,

I heard a voice speak tenderly my name.

“Who calls?” I answered; no reply; and long

I stilled my paddle blade and listened. Then

Above the night wind’s melancholy song

I heard distinctly that strange voice again–

A woman’s voice, that through the twilight came

Like to a soul unborn–a song unsung.

I leaned and listened–yes, she spoke my name,

And then I answered in the quaint French tongue,

“Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?” No answer, and the night

Seemed stiller for the sound, till round me fell

The far-off echoes from the far-off height–

“Qu’Appelle?” my voice came back, “Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?”

This–and no more; I called aloud until

I shuddered as the gloom of night increased,

And, like a pallid spectre wan and chill,

The moon arose in silence in the east.

I dare not linger on the moment when

My boat I beached beside her tepee door;

I heard the wail of women and of men,–

I saw the death-fires lighted on the shore.

No language tells the torture or the pain,

The bitterness that flooded all my life,–

When I was led to look on her again,

That queen of women pledged to be my wife.

To look upon the beauty of her face,

The still closed eyes, the lips that knew no breath;

To look, to learn,–to realize my place

Had been usurped by my one rival–Death.

A storm of wrecking sorrow beat and broke

About my heart, and life shut out its light

Till through my anguish some one gently spoke,

And said, “Twice did she call for thee last night.”

I started up–and bending o’er my dead,

Asked when did her sweet lips in silence close.

“She called thy name–then passed away,” they said,

“Just on the hour whereat the moon arose.”

Among the lonely Lakes I go no more,

For she who made their beauty is not there;

The paleface rears his tepee on the shore

And says the vale is fairest of the fair.

Full many years have vanished since, but still

The voyageurs beside the campfire tell

How, when the moonrise tips the distant hill,

They hear strange voices through the silence swell.

The paleface loves the haunted lakes they say,

And journeys far to watch their beauty spread

Before his vision; but to me the day,

The night, the hour, the seasons are all dead.

I listen heartsick, while the hunters tell

Why white men named the valley The Qu’Appelle.

The legend was also immortalized in a book by David Bouchard that features the exquisite artwork by renowned Cree artist Michael Lonechild. The book is called – Qu’Appelle. Below is an image of Michael Lonechild’s artwork from the book:

The Legend has been turned into a short film utilizing the shadow puppetry of Jessica Generoux. The film was made by Janine Windolph. See the video below:

The Qu'Appelle Valley holds many stories, legends, myths, and beauty. The legend presented here shows the endurance of how the valley got it's name, in nehiyawewin (Cree) the valley is pronounced kâ-têpwêt - "who calls?". Stories like the legend of Qu'Appelle are important in keeping Indigenous place names alive, please, keep sharing the stories! kininaskomitinawaw - Thank you all very much.

Venus, Mars, and the Winter Milky Way over Pasqua Lake.
Created By
Cory Generoux
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