Alaska Herpetological Society
Kiks.adi and L'uknax.adi Frog Crests & Conflict
Borrow from Plate # 209 (de Laguna 1972). Original plate description reads “Frog Crest of the Lʼuknax̱.ádi, Sitka, 1902. This is the frog carving which the Kiks.adi destroyed when the Lʼuknax̱.ádi attempted to dedicate a Frog House at Sitka in 1902. The frog was carved by Daniel Bensen (Daqusetc), Teqwedi of Yakutat, and Tel nawu, ‘Dead Raven,’ Lʼuknax̱.ádi artist of Sitka, chief of the Koskedi Cow House, and painter of the Golden Eagle Screen for the Drum House of the Teqwedi. The frog was chopped up by the Xuxwatc, “Tanned Skin Blanket,” a Kiks.adi man. The Lʼuknax̱.ádi men posing with the Frog are, from left to right, Ned James or Stagwan; Duksa at, husband of Jim Kardeetoo’s sister; Dexudu’u, “Buys Two at a Time,” brother of T. Max italio; Quxtsina, another brother; and Lkettitc. (Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Harry K. Brember.)”
Among the most powerful and high-caste of the Raven clans were the Kiks.adi in both Wrangell and Sitka, a clan that bears the frog as its major crest and is widely known as the Frog Clan. The Kiks.adi claims to the Frog are based on at least two different stories, one regarding the marriage of a woman to the frog and the other about a frog being found in the water (de Laguna 1972). Other clans claim the frog as a crest too including the G̱aanax̱teidí of the Chilkat, the Ḵaach.ádi at Wrangell, the Lʼuknax̱.ádi at Sitka and Yakutat, and among the G̱unaax̱oo Ḵwáan, and the Kaasx̱ʼagweidí at Wrangell. Each clan has its own story on how they obtained the crest but the members are viewed as intelligent and visionary leaders because of their relationship with this animal, which was said to be the bearer of knowledge and wisdom (Post 2010).
The Ḵaach.ádi and the Lʼuknax̱.ádi are said to have acquired the frog crest relatively recently, and this precipitated a riot when the latter group attempted to erect a frog carving at Sitka in the late 19th century (United States 1908). Clans are prohibited from using the crests of another but migrations have led to their use on the houses of the same and descendent clans in other areas (Post 2010). This situation has caused conflicts in the past and almost led to war in the late 1800s when the Lʼuknax̱.ádi erected a totem containing the frog. Swanton (1908) explained:
The frog was a special possession of the Kiks.adi who claimed it from the fact that persons of their clan had held special dealings with frogs, although the stories told abot them at Sitka and Wrangell differ. The G̱aanax̱teidí of Tongas tell the same story as the Wrangell Kiks.adi about the marriage of a woman of their clan to a frog, and probably claim the frog also. In recent years the Ḵaach.ádi of Wrangell and the Lʼuknax̱.ádi at Sitka have tried to adopt the frog, but in the latter case their attempt to put up the frog carving precipitated a riot.
The Lʼuknax̱.ádi originated in Yakutat but some eventually migrated to Sitka. While still in Yakutat, this clan acquired the frog as a crest when they found a giant frozen white frog while digging the foundations of a house at Gusex (de Laguna 1972). They named the building Frog House and decorated it with frog house posts and a frog screen (de Laguna, 1972). This clan began to give frog personal names such as Old Frog, Cold Skin, and Drowning or Sinking (de Laguna 1972). Houses were later built at Dry Bay near Sitka in 1909 and 1915 which were named “Frog House” and subsequently decorated with figures and screens (de Laguna 1972). In Yakutat no one disputed the Lʼuknax̱.ádi claim to the frog but at Sitka they were quickly opposed by the Kiks.adi (also of the Raven moiety) who were more powerful and claimed the frog as theirs alone (de Laguna 1972). When the Lʼuknax̱.ádi attempted to dedicate a frog house in Sitka in 1902-1903, the Kiks.adi, particularly those from Wrangell, were enraged (de Laguna 1971).
The Frog house decorations (carving and screen) involved in the event were carved by skilled Tlingit artists, Daniel Benson and Yel nawu, and were said to cost the clan a lot of money (de Laguna 1972). Benson was a Teqwedi artist from Yakutat and born around 1868 and Yel nawu (Dead Raven) was from Sitka. The carving was eventually secured to an inner wall in the middle of the house and appeared as though it stuck halfway out both sides (de Laguna 1972).
According to de Laguna’s Yakutat informant, the Chief of the Frog House in Gusex named Stagwan, uncle of Jack Ellis - a Lʼuknax̱.ádi sponsor of the event, was present in Sitka for the dedication ceremonies (de Laguna 1972). At one point, Jack Ellis, his mother (Elizabeth or Duqwetc), and Stagwan were the only ones in the house. This is when the Kiks.adi Chief named Xuxwatc (Blanket of Tanned Skin) broke in and began chopping the frog off of the wall (de Laguna 1972). de Laguna’s informant describes what happened and the sentiment afterward:
And everybody get down on Stagwan. ‘Why didn’t he kill that man?’ And Elizabeth grab the gun; she was going to shoot it. But he grab that gun away from her and throw it down. She was going to shoot the people cutting up the Frog…
Her name would have been high amongst our people if she had killed that [Kiks.adi] man. But that Stagwan grab the gun away. ‘You go to jail if you kill anybody.’ She just bite her nails. But what can a woman do?
Her name would have been printed in a book. Get her name high… She would have died in prison, just the same, but her name would have been up amongst us. Oh, it’s a big trouble.
Oh, that was a upset! Everybody was nervous – even up here. They just shove that man around here when he come back. ‘You coward!' Why didn’t you get a gun?’ He is ‘uncle’ to Jack Ellis. Oh his brothers got mad at him. His sisters, too. Who’s going to die for you?
In Stagwan’s defense, de Laguna suggests that he was doing his best to prevent bloodshed and succeeded.
Before war broke out this situation was brought to federal court under Judge Johnson who was on the case for two years before announcing that the court had no legal right to intervene in the dispute (Harring 1994). This effectively denied the protection of US law over this form of Tlingit property. Not long after nine Wrangell Kiks.adi cut down the totem at night using a special ladder. They were charged with “rioting” and held in jail on $1000 bond in order to dissuade future aggression (Harring 1994).
de Laguna suggests that the story and sentiments were biased depending on which moiety her informants were members of. Ravens in Yakutat were quite upset years after the event and defended the Lʼuknax̱.ádi claim to the frog, one indicating that:
They [Lʼuknax̱.ádi] had that Frog for a totem pole [i.e. crest]. They had it for generations. That totem proves honestly that Frog our business. It’s ours. It’s not the Kiks.adi’s.
Yet another informant defended the claim:
That’s ours from inside, from Gusex. They wern't going to call it Xixch hit, but when they dig up the frog, they call it that [i.e. Frog House]. That’s a long time ago. Its before the Kiks.adi found that frog in the ocean that they claim.
The G̱aanax̱teidí also claim the Frog. They told me that in Juneau. But they don’t fight with us. They just keep making it and keep quiet.
A neutral opinion was suggested by de Laguna’s Yakutat informants of the Eagle moiety indicating that “The Kiks.adi frog was an old, old one, and they didn’t like the Lʼuknax̱.ádi to get a new one” or the admission that “the Kiks.adi were probably right, because the Frog is more on their side.” Given that the Kiks.adi claim is based in legend rather than an event of recent history, the claim is likely older since these crests are considered to be ancient (de Laguna 1972).
Xuxwatc had apparently warned that he would split up the frog if it was displayed (de Laguna 1972). After doing so, he went to Ketchikan where someone had made him a totem pole with Lʼuknax̱.ádi crests, which he called Ta gas (Sleep Pole) to get back at them (de Laguna 1972). His own paternal grandfather was Lʼuknax̱.ádi and before Xuxwatc died, he gave the pole back to that clan as a peace offering (de Laguna 1972.) it now resides at Charley Kitka’s house in Sitka who paid $700 for it because he did not want to get it for free (de Laguna 1972).
The event apparently did not dissuade the Lʼuknax̱.ádi from representing the Frog crest at Sitka thereafter. Another Frog House was dedicated by Jack Ellis in 1950 and a carving of a frog was placed on his tombstone (de Laguna 1972). A Lʼuknax̱.ádi informant of de Laguna at Yakutat said that they contemplated saying the following to a Kiks.adi visitor in 1952: “You are our enemy. We don’t forget the Frog House.”
Other historical conflicts between the Stikine and Sitka tribes have been documented but most relationships have been repaired in the modern age. According to Mage Byrd, matriarch of the Kiks.adi, all feelings of distrust and animosity toward Sitka clans have ceased in recent years. She has actively sought a lasting peace and friendship with Sitka clans.