Read an Excerpt
Favorite North American Indian Legends
By Philip Smith, Thea Kliros
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
How Glooskap Conquered the Great Bull-Frog
(PASSAMAQUODDY AND MICMAC)
N'KARNAYOO, of old times, there was an Indian village far away among the mountains, little known to other men. And the dwellers therein were very comfortable: the men hunted every day, the women did the work at home, and all went well in all things save in this. The town was by a brook, and except in it there was not a drop of water in all the country round, unless in a few rain-puddles. No one there had ever found even a spring.
Now these Indians were very fond of good water. The brook was of a superior quality, and they became dainty over it.
But after a time they began to observe that the brook was beginning to run low, and that not in the summer time, but in autumn, even after the rains. And day by day it diminished, until its bed was as dry as a dead bone in the ashes of a warm fire.
Now it was said that far away up in the land where none had ever been there was on this very stream another Indian village; but what manner of men dwelt therein no one knew. And thinking that these people of the upper country might be in some way concerned in the drought, they sent one of their number to go and see into the matter.
And after he had traveled three days he came to the place; and there he found that a dam had been raised across the rivulet, so that no water could pass, for it was all kept in a pond. Then asking them why they had made this mischief, since the dam was of no use to them, they bade him go and see their chief, by whose order this had been built.
And when he came to him, there lay lazily in the mud a creature who was more of a monster than a man, though he had a human form. For he was immense to measure, like a giant, fat, bloated, and brutal to behold. His great yellow eyes stuck from his head like pine-knots, his mouth went almost from ear to ear, and he had broad, skinny feet with long toes, exceeding marvelous.
The messenger complained to this monster, who at first said nothing, and then croaked, and finally replied in a loud bellow, —
"Do as you choose,
Do as you choose,
Do as you choose.
"What do I care?
What do I care?
What do I care?
"If you want water,
If you want water,
If you want water,
Go somewhere else."
Then the messenger remonstrated, and described the suffering of the people, who were dying of thirst. And this seemed to please the monster, who grinned. At last he got up, and, making a single spring to the dam, took an arrow and bored a hole in it, so that a little water trickled out, and then he bellowed, —
"Up and begone!
Up and begone!
Up and begone!"
So the man departed, little comforted. He came to his home, and for a few days there was a little water in the stream; but this soon stopped, and there was great suffering again.
Now these Indians, who were the honestest fellows in all the world, and never did harm to any one save their enemies, were in a sorry pickle. For it is a bad thing to have nothing but water to drink, but to want that is to be mightily dry. And the great Glooskap, who knew all that was passing in the hearts of men and beasts, took note of this, and when he willed it he was among them; for he ever came as the wind comes, and no man wist how.
And just before he came all of these good fellows had resolved in council that they would send the boldest man among them to certain death, even to the village which built the dam that kept the water which filled the brook that quenched their thirst, whenever it was not empty. And when there he was either to obtain that they should cut the dam, or do something desperate, and to this intent he should go armed, and sing his death-song as he went. And they were all agog.
Then Glooskap, who was much pleased with all this, for he loved a brave man, came among them looking terribly ferocious; in all the land there was not one who seemed half so horrible. For he appeared ten feet high, with a hundred red and black feathers in his scalp-lock, his face painted like fresh blood with green rings round his eyes, a large clamshell hanging from each ear, a spread eagle, very awful to behold, flapping its wings from the back of his neck, so that as he strode into the village all hearts quaked. Being but simple people, they accounted that this must be, if not Lox the Great Wolverine, at least Mitchehant, the devil himself in person, turned Wabanaki; and they admired him greatly, and the squaws said they had never seen aught so lovely.
Then Glooskap, having heard the whole story, bade them be of good cheer, declaring that he would soon set all to rights. And he without delay departed up the bed of the brook; and coming to the town, sat down and bade a boy bring him water to drink. To which the boy replied that no water could be had in that town unless it were given out by the chief. "Go then to your chief," said the Master, "and bid him hurry, or, verily, I will know the reason why." And this being told, Glooskap received no reply for more than an hour, during which time he sat on a log and smoked his pipe. Then the boy returned with a small cup, and this not half full, of very dirty water.
So he arose, and said to the boy, "I will go and see your chief, and I think he will soon give me better water than this." And having come to the monster, he said, "Give me to drink, and that of the best, at once, thou Thing of Mud!" But the chief reviled him, and said, "Get thee hence, to find water where thou canst." Then Glooskap thrust a spear into his belly, and lo! there gushed forth a mighty river; even all the water which should have run on while in the rivulet, for he had made it into himself. And Glooskap, rising high as a giant pine, caught the chief in his hand and crumpled in his back with a mighty grip. And lo! it was the Bull-Frog. So he hurled him with contempt into the stream, to follow the current.
And ever since that time the Bull-Frog's back has crumpled wrinkles in the lower part, showing the prints of Glooskap's awful squeeze.
Then he returned to the village; but there he found no people, — no, not one. For a marvelous thing had come to pass during his absence, which shall be heard in every Indian's speech through all the ages. For the men, being, as I said, simple, honest folk, did as boys do when they are hungry, and say unto one another, "What would you like to have, and what you?" "Truly, I would be pleased with a slice of hot venison dipped in maple-sugar and bear's oil." "Nay, give me for my share succotash and honey." Even so these villagers had said, "Suppose you had all the nice cold, fresh, sparkling, delicious water there is in the world, what would you do?"
And one said that he would live in the soft mud, and always be wet and cool.
And another, that he would plunge from the rocks, and take headers, diving into the deep, cold water, drinking as he dived.
And the third, that he would be washed up and down with the rippling waves, living on the land, yet ever in the water.
Then the fourth said, "Verily, you know not how to wish, and I will teach you. I would live in the water all the time, and swim about in it forever."
Now it chanced that these things were said in the hour which, when it passes over the world, all the wishes uttered by men are granted. And so it was with these Indians. For the first became a Leech, the second a Spotted Frog, the third a Crab, which is washed up and down with the tide, and the fourth a Fish. Ere this there had been in all the world none of the creatures which dwell in the water, and now they were there, and of all kinds. And the river came rushing and roaring on, and they all went headlong down to the sea, to be washed into many lands over all the world.CHAPTER 2
How the Toad and Porcupine Lost their Noses
IN THE old time. Far before men knew themselves, in the light before the sun, Glooskap and his brother were as yet unborn; they waited for the day to appear. Then they talked together, and the youngest said, "Why should I wait? I will go into the world and begin my life at once." Then the elder said, "Not so, for this were a great evil." But the younger gave no heed to any wisdom: in his wickedness he broke through his mother's side, he rent the wall; his beginning of life was his mother's death.
Now, in after years, the younger brother would learn in what lay the secret of the elder's death. And Glooskap, being crafty, told the truth and yet lied; for his name was the Liar, yet did he never lie for evil or aught to harm. So he told his brother that the blow of a ball, or handful of the down of feathers, would take away his life; and this was true, for it would stun him, but it would not prevent his returning to life. Then Glooskap asked the younger for his own secret. And he, being determined to give the elder no time, answered truly and fearlessly, "I can only be slain by the stroke of a cat-tail or bulrush."
And then the younger, having gathered the down of bird's feathers, struck the elder, so that he fell dead, and therein he told the truth. But he soon recovered, and in that was his deceit. Howbeit it was well for the world and well for him that he then gathered bulrushes and smote his younger brother, so that he died. But the plant never grew that could harm the Master, wherefore he is alive to this day.
Who was his mother? The female Turtle was his mother.
The Master was the Lord of Men and Beasts. Beasts and Men, one as the other, he ruled them all. Great was his army, his tribe was All. In it the Great Golden Eagle was a chief; he married a female Caribou. The Turtle was Glooskap's uncle; he married a daughter of the Golden Eagle and Caribou. Of all these things there are many and long traditions. Our people tell them in the winter by the fire: the old people know them; the young forget them and the wisdom which is in them.
When the Turtle married, the Master bade him make a feast, and wished that the banquet should be a mighty one. To do this he gave him great power. He bade him go down to a point of rocks by the sea, where many whales were always to be found. He bade him bring one; he gave him power to do so, but he set a mark, or an appointed space, and bade him not go an inch beyond it. So the Turtle went down to the sea; he caught a great whale, he bore it to camp; it seemed to him easy to do this. But like all men there was in him vain curiosity; the falsehood of disobedience was in him, and to try the Master he went beyond the mark; and as he did this he lost his magic strength; he became as a man; even as a common mortal his nerves weakened, and he fell, crushed flat beneath the weight of the great fish.
Then men ran to Glooskap, saying that Turtle was dead. But the Master answered, "Cut up the Whale; he who is now dead will revive." So they cut it up; (and when the feast was ready) Turtle came in yawning, and stretching out his leg he cried, "How tired I am! Truly, I must have overslept myself." Now from this time all men greatly feared Glooskap, for they saw that he was a spirit.
It came to pass that the Turtle waxed mighty in his own conceit, and thought that he could take Glooskap's place and reign in his stead. So he held a council of all the animals to find out how he could be slain. The Lord of Men and Beasts laughed at this. Little did he care for them!
And knowing all that was in their hearts, he put on the shape of an old squaw and went into the council-house. And he sat down by two witches: one was the Porcupine, the other the Toad; as women they sat there. Of them the Master asked humbly how they expected to kill him. And the Toad answered savagely, "What is that to thee, and what hast thou to do with this thing?" "Truly," he replied, "I meant no harm," and saying this he softly touched the tips of their noses, and rising went his way. But the two witches, looking one at the other, saw presently that their noses were both gone, and they screamed aloud in terror, but their faces were none the less flat. And so it came that the Toad and the Porcupine both lost their noses and have none to this day.
Glooskap had two dogs. One was the Loon (Kwemoo), the other the Wolf (Malsum). Of old all animals were as men; the Master gave them the shapes which they now bear. But the Wolf and the Loon loved Glooskap so greatly that since he left them they howl and wail. He who hears their cries over the still sound and lonely lake, by the streams where no dwellers are, or afar at night in the forests and hollows, hears them sorrowing for the Master.CHAPTER 3
The Meeting of the Wild Animals
ALONG TIME ago, when the Tsimshian lived on the upper Skeena River, in Prairie Town, there were many people. They were the most clever and the strongest among all the people, and they were good hunters, and caught many animals, going hunting the whole year round. Therefore all the animals were in great distress on account of the hunters.
Therefore the animals held a meeting. The Grizzly Bear invited all the large animals to his house, and said to them, "We are distressed, and a calamity has befallen us on account of the hunting of these people, who pursue us into our dens. Therefore it is in my mind to ask Him Who Made Us to give us more cold in winter, so that no hunter may come and kill us in our dens. Let Him Who Made Us give to our earth severe cold!" Thus spoke the Grizzly Bear to his guests. Then all the large animals agreed to what the chief had said, and the Wolf spoke: "I have something to say. Let us invite all the small animals, — even such as Porcupine, Beaver, Raccoon, Marten, Mink, down to the small animals such as the Mouse, and the Insects that move on the earth, — for they might come forth and protest against us, and our advice might come to nought!" Thus spoke the large Wolf to the large animals in their council.
Therefore on the following day the large animals assembled on an extensive prairie, and they called all the small animals, down to the insects; and all the small animals and the insects assembled and sat down on one side of the plain, and the large animals were sitting on the other side of the plain. Panther came, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Wolf, Elk, Reindeer, Wolverene — all kinds of large animals.
Then the chief speaker, Grizzly Bear, arose, and said, "Friends, I will tell you about my experiences." Thus he spoke to the small animals and to the insects. "You know very well how we are afflicted by the people who hunt us on mountains and hills, even pursuing us into our dens. Therefore, my brothers, we have assembled (he meant the large animals). On the previous day I called them all, and I told them what I had in my mind. I said, 'Let us ask Him Who Made Us to give to our earth cold winters, colder than ever, so that the people who hunt us can not come to our dens and kill us and you!' and my brothers agreed. Therefore we have called you, and we tell you about our council." Thus spoke the Grizzly Bear. Moreover, he said, "Now I will ask you, large animals, is this so?"
Then the Panther spoke, and said, "I fully agree to this wise counsel," and all the large animals agreed. Then the Grizzly Bear turned to the small animals, who were seated on one side of the prairie, and said, "We want to know what you have to say in this matter." Then the small animals kept quiet, and did not reply to the question. After they had been silent for a while, one of their speakers, Porcupine, arose, and said, "Friends, let me say a word or two to answer your question. Your counsel is very good for yourselves, for you have plenty of warm fur, even for the most severe cold, but look down upon these little insects. They have no fur to warm themselves in winter; and how can small insects and other small animals obtain provisions if you ask for severe cold in winter? Therefore I say this, don't ask for the greatest cold." Then he stopped speaking and sat down.
Then Grizzly Bear arose, and said, "We will not pay any attention to what Porcupine says, for all the large animals agree." Therefore he turned his head toward the large animals, and said, "Did you agree when we asked for the severest cold on earth?" and all the large animals replied, "We all consented. We do not care for what Porcupine has said."
Then the same speaker arose again, and said, "Now, listen once more! I will ask you just one question." Thus spoke Porcupine: "How will you obtain plants to eat if you ask for very severe cold? And if it is so cold, the roots of all the wild berries will be withered and frozen, and all the plants of the prairie will wither away, owing to the frost of winter. How will you be able to get food? You are large animals, and you always walk about among the mountains wanting something to eat. Now, if your request is granted for severe cold every winter, you will die of starvation in spring or in summer; but we shall live, for we live on the bark of trees, and our smallest persons find their food in the gum of trees, and the smallest insects find their food in the earth."
Excerpted from Favorite North American Indian Legends by Philip Smith, Thea Kliros. Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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