December 4, 2023

Old Stories recount the Mountainsides that Shivered with Movement

Caribou Mountain - just one of the mountainsides that shivered with their movement. Click to enlarge all images

‘Old Stories recount the Mountainsides that Shivered with Movement’ is a post about a time that lives on now only in the memories of those fortunate enough to have been told these stories by their family Elders over the passing of generations.

They are stories that relate to the movements of the gigantic herds of woodland caribou which used to populate the southern Yukon and extreme northern part of British Columbia (known today as the Southern Lakes Caribou herd) – and to the effects upon those herds when ‘civilization’ decided to move north into those lands during the infamous Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

It was this first influx of tens of thousands of people that drove through the heart of their range and forever altered the stories about them which would be told in its aftermath.

The village I live in today sits smack dab in the geographic middle of these stories.

In fact the name carried by the community we know today as Carcross is  a foreshortened form of its original name, Caribou Crossing, given to it first in the local Tlingit Native tongue and later in English, because of the narrowing and natural crossing point over the waterways that exists here which this herd used as a vital part of its migration route from one mountain range to another.

It is said in these old stories that the herds were so massive in their tens of thousands of numbers that they would cover an entire mountainside as they passed over it – and that these whole individual mountainsides would then appear to be shivering with movement of their own because the mass of caribou was so dense upon it.

There’s little question it must have been a sight to see, such as to leave lasting impressions which have survived even the hundred and more years since its last occurrence.

When you take a moment to look at the images I’ve provided of just two of those mountains whose sides these stories refer to, even clothed in their winter finery as they’re depicted you can more easily begin to grasp the scope and sheer size of the herds which once inhabited this area in their legion.

Montana Mountain - another place of shivering movement.

Since 1992 this herd has been under a voluntary hunting ban and recovery program sponsored by six First Nations of the region, as well as the governments of both Yukon and British Columbia.

One member of the Southern Lakes Caribou herd today.

From a former decline so steep they were considered in danger of extinction, the combined numbers of the three herds comprising this family of caribou have increased today to just over 1,640 animals. The single caribou you see in this last picture is just one of those numbers.

Though happily increased in size today, their numbers are still a far cry from the days when old stories recount the mountainsides that shivered with movement from their tens of thousands upon it.

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