6 Other Native American & Ethnographic Texts

Shannon Griffiths, Kendal LaRiviere, David MacNeill, Timothy Mooneyhan

“The Peyote Cult”

The Peyote Cult, or Native American Church, involved the use of peyote which is a small, spineless cactus that contains mescaline and can be used for the hallucinogenic effects it provides. The use of peyote as a medicine and a way to reach divine clarity took place before Columbus came to America, but the religion became fully realized and started spreading in 1885.  Peyote practices around and after this time had cultural characteristics from both Mexican and Native American practices.

The Native American Church uses several instruments in their rituals. The peyote gourd rattle is used when singing peyote songs during rituals. There is also a water drummer that uses a modified iron kettle as a drum while the singer sings and uses his rattle. The water drummer uses a hard wooden stick made from thick wood that produces a strong sound when used on the drum. The last ritual tool they use is the peyote staff, which is passed around the group and is held upwards during ceremonies as it is a representation of a holy god.

There are various different ceremonies and ways of conducting them, but there are/were two main styles used. The first one is known as a “half-moon” fireplace. This ceremony involves the use of tobacco and very little connection to the Bible. The second ceremonial meeting, the “cross fire” fireplace, is the opposite because tobacco is not used and the Bible is used almost exclusively.  This is one example of how indigenous religion blended together with the Christian doctrine and belief system.

Source:

“Native American Church.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

 

The Peyote Cult, by Paul Radin, [1925]

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Owing to the great importance of one of the modem cults found among the Winnebago, the so-called Mescal or Peyote, it will be discussed here in some detail. Not only is this cult of great prominence in the life of the modem Winnebago, but as its inception and progress can be followed out in considerable detail it is of great significance for the study of their religion.

The ceremony is generally held in a building called by the Peyote worshipers a church, although it frequently takes place in the open also. In the early days of its organization as many meetings as possible were held. In 1910 there was a tendency to restrict the number and to have them generally take place on Saturday night. In 1913, after the first enthusiasm of the new converts had died out, the author was informed that the meetings were rarely held more than once a week. Around Christmas and beginning with July a series of meetings was held, lasting from a week to 10 days, as a rule. The Christmas meetings were not prominent in 1910, but the July ones seem to have been held from the beginning. They represent, of course, merely a substitution for the older pagan ceremonies and games that were held about that time.

In the early days the ceremony was opened by a prayer from the founder, and this was followed by an introductory speech. Thereupon the leader sang a Peyote song, to the accompaniment of a drum. Then another speech was delivered, and when it was finished the drum and other regalia were passed to the man to the right. This man, in turn, delivered a speech and sang a song, and when he was finished, passed the regalia to the third man, who subsequently passed it to the fourth one. The fourth man, when he was finished, returned it to the leader. In this way the regalia passed from one person to another throughout the night. It not infrequently happens that one of these four gets tired and gives up his place temporarily to some other member of the cult. At intervals they stopped to eat or drink peyote. At about midnight the peyote, as a rule, begins to affect some people. These generally arise and deliver self-accusatory speeches, and make more or less formal confessions, after which they go around shaking hands with everyone and asking forgiveness.

In 1910 the cult already had a rather definite organization. There was, at every performance, one leader and four principal participants. John Rave the Winnebago who introduced the peyote, was always the leader whenever he was present. On other occasions leadership devolved upon some older member. The four other principal participants changed from meeting to meeting, although there was a tendency to ask certain individuals whenever it was possible. The ritualistic unit, in short, is a very definite one, consisting of a number of speeches and songs and in the passing of the regalia from one to the other of the four participants.

During the early hours of the evening, before the peyote has begun to have any appreciable effect, a number of apparently intrusive features are found. These, for the most part, consist of speeches by people in the audience and the reading and explanation of parts of the Bible. After the peyote has begun to have an appreciable effect, however, the ceremony consists exclusively of a repetition of the ritualistic unit and confessions.

There is an initiation consisting of a baptism, always performed by John Rave. It is of a very simple nature. Rave dips his fingers in a peyote infusion and then passes them over the forehead of the new member, muttering at the same time the following prayer:

“God, his holiness.”This is what the Winnebago words mean, although some of the younger members who have been strongly permeated with Christian teachings translate the prayer into, “God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Whenever the ceremony is performed in the open a fireplace in the shape of a horseshoe is made. At one end of this fireplace is placed a very small mound of earth, called by Rave “Mount Sinai,” and in front of this a cross is traced in the earth. Upon the small earth mound are placed the two “chief” peyote, the Bible and the staff. The latter, called by Rave the shepherd’s crook, is always covered with beadwork, and generally has a number of evenly cut tufts of deer hair on the end and at intervals along its length. The sacred peyote, known as huŋka (i.e., “chief”) are exceptionally large and beautiful specimens. They are regarded by a number of people, certainly by Rave, with undisguised veneration.

In addition to the above, there is found a large eagle feather fan, a small drum, arid a peculiar small type of rattle. To my knowledge, this type was unknown among the Winnebago before its introduction by the peyote eaters.

JOHN RAVE’S ACCOUNT OF THE PEYOTE CULT AND OF HIS CONVERSION

During 1893-94 I was in Oklahoma with peyote eaters.

In the middle of the night we were to eat peyote. We ate it and I also did. It was the middle of the night when I got frightened, for a live thing seemed to have entered me. “Why did I do it?” I thought to myself. I should not have done it, for right at the beginning I have harmed myself. Indeed, I should not have done it. I am sure it will injure me. The best thing will be for me to vomit it up. Well, now, I will try it. After a few attempts I gave up. I thought to myself, “Well, now you have done it. You have been going around trying everything and now you have done something that has harmed you. What is it? It seems to be alive and moving around in my stomach. If only some of my own people were here! That would have been better. Now no one will know what has happened to me. I have killed myself.”

Just then the object was about to come out. It seemed almost out and I put out my hand to feel it, but then it went back again. “O, my, I should never have done it from the beginning. Never again will I do it. I am surely going to die.”

As we continued it became day and we laughed. Before that I had been unable to laugh.

The following night we were to eat peyote again. I thought to myself, “Last night it almost harmed me.” “Well, let us do it again,” they said. “All right, I’ll do it.” So there we ate seven peyote apiece.

Suddenly I saw a big snake. I was very much frightened. Then another one came crawling over me. “My God! where are these coming from?” There at my back there seemed to be something. So I looked around and I saw a snake about to swallow me entirely. It had legs and arms and a long tail. The end of this tail was like a spear. “O, my God! I am surely going to die now,” I thought. Then I looked again in another direction and I saw a man with horns and long claws and with a spear in his hand. He jumped for me and I threw myself on the ground. He missed me. Then I looked hack and this time he started back, but it seemed to me that he was directing his spear at me. Again I threw myself on the ground and he missed me. There seemed to be no possible escape for me. Then suddenly it occurred to me, “Perhaps it is this peyote that is doing this thing to me?” “Help me, O medicine, help me! It is you who are doing this and you are holy! It is not these frightful visions that are causing this. I should have known that you were doing it. Help me!” Then my suffering stopped. “As long as the earth shall last, that long will I make use of you, O medicine!”

This had lasted a night and a day. For a whole night I had not slept at all.

Then we breakfasted. Then I said, when we were through, “Let us eat peyote again to-night.” That evening I ate eight peyote.

In the middle of the night I saw God. To God living up above, our Father, I prayed. “Have mercy upon me! Give me knowledge that I may not say and do evil things. To you, O God, I am trying to pray. Do thou, O Son of God, help me, too. This religion, let me know. Help me, O medicine, grandfather, help me! Let me know this religion!” Thus I spoke and sat very quiet. And then I beheld the morning star and it was good to look upon. The light was good to look upon. I had been frightened during the night but now I was happy. Now as the light appeared, it seemed to me that nothing would be invisible to me. I seemed to see everything clearly. Then I thought of my home and as I looked around, there I saw the house in which I lived far away among the Winnebago, quite close to me. There at the window I saw my children playing. Then I saw a man going to my house carrying a. jug of whisky. Then he gave them something to drink and the one that had brought the whisky got drunk and bothered my people. Finally he ran away. “So, that is what they are doing,” I thought to myself. Then I beheld my wife come and stand outside of the door, wearing a red blanket. She was thinking of going to the flagpole and was wondering which road she should take. “If I take this road I am likely to meet some people, but if I take the other road, I am not likely to meet anyone.”

Indeed, it is good. They are all well—my brother, my sister, my father, my mother. I felt very good indeed. O medicine, grandfather, most assuredly you are holy! All that is connected with you, that I would like to know and that I would like to understand. Help me! I give myself up to you entirely!

For three days and three nights I had been eating medicine, and for three days and three nights I had not slept. Throughout all the years that I had lived on earth, I now realized that I had never known anything holy. Now, for the first time, I knew it. Would that some of the Winnebagoes might also know it!

Many years ago I had been sick and it looked as if this illness were going to kill me. I tried all the Indian doctors and then I tried all of the white man’s medicines, but they were of no avail. “I am doomed. I wonder whether I will be alive next year.” Such were the thoughts that came to me. As soon as I ate the peyote, however, I got over my sickness. After that I was not sick again. My wife had suffered from the same disease, and I told her that if she ate this medicine it would surely cure her. But she was afraid, although she had never seen it before. She knew that I used it, but nevertheless she was afraid of it. Her sickness was getting worse and worse and one day I said to her, “You are sick. It is going to be very difficult, but try this medicine anyhow. It will ease you.” Finally she ate it. I had told her to eat it and then to wash herself and comb her hair and she would get well, and now she is well. Then I painted her face and took my gourd and began singing very much. Then I stopped. “Indeed, you are right,”she said, “for now I am well.” From that day on to the present time she has been well. Now she is very happy.

Black Water-spirit at about that time was having a hemorrhage and I wanted him to eat the peyote. “Well, I am not going to live anyhow,” he said. “Well, eat this medicine soon then and you will get cured.” Consumptives never were cured before this and now for the first time one was cured. Black Water-spirit is living to-day and is very well.

There was a man named Walking-Priest and he was very fond of whisky; he chewed and he smoked and he gambled. He was very fond of women. He did everything that was bad. Then I gave him some of the peyote and he ate it and he gave up all the had things he was doing. He had had a very dangerous disease and had even had murder in his heart. But to-day he is living a good life. That is his desire.

Whoever has any bad thoughts, if he will eat this peyote he will abandon all his bad habits. It is a cure for everything bad.

To-day the Indians say that only God is holy. One of the Winnebagoes has told me, “Really, the life that I led was a very bad one. Never again will I do it. This medicine is good and I will always use it.” John Harrison and Squeaking-Wings were prominent members of the medicine dance; they thought much of themselves as did all the members of the medicine dance. They knew everything connected with this medicine dance. Both of them were gamblers and were rich because they had won very much in gambling. Their parents had acquired great possessions by giving medicines to the people. They were rich and they believed that they had a right to be selfish with their possessions. Then they ate peyote and ever since that time they have been followers of this medicine. They were really very ill and now they have been cured of it. Now if there are any men that might be taken as examples of the peyote, it is these three. Even if a man were blind and only heard about them he would realize that if any medicine were good, it is this medicine. It is a cure for all evil. Before, I had thought that I knew something but I really knew nothing. It is only now that I have real knowledge. In my former life I was like one blind and deaf. My heart ached when I thought of what I had been doing. Never again will I do it. This medicine alone is holy and has made me good and has rid me of all evil. The one whom they call God has given me this. That I know positively. Let them all come here; men and women; let them bring with them all that they desire; let them bring with them their diseases. If they come here they will get well. This is all true; it is all true. Bring whatever desires you possess along with you and then come and eat or drink this medicine. This is life, the only life. Then you will learn something about yourself, so come. Even if you are not told anything about yourself, nevertheless you will learn something of yourself. Come with your disease, for this medicine will cure it. Whatever you have, come and eat this medicine and you will have true knowledge once and for all. Learn of this medicine yourself through actual experience.

If you just hear about it you are not likely to try it. If you desire real knowledge about it try it yourself, for then you will learn of things that you had never known before. In no other way will you ever be happy. I know that all sorts of excuses will run through your mind for not partaking of it, but if you wish to learn of something good, try this. Perhaps you will think to yourself that it will be too difficult and this will seem an excuse to you for not trying it. But why should you act thus a If you partake of it, even if you feel some uncertainty about its accomplishing all the good that has been said of it, I know that you will say to yourself, “Well, this life is good enough.” After you have taken it for the first time, it will seem as if they are digging a grave for you, that you are about to die; and you will not want to take it again. “It is bad,” you will think to yourself. You will believe that you are going to die and you will want to know what is going to happen to you. The coffin will be set before you and then you will see your body. If you wish to inquire further about where you are going then you will learn something you have not known. Two roads there are, one leading to a hole in the earth and the other extending up above. You will learn something that you had not known before. Of the two roads, one is dark and the other is light. You must choose one of these while you are alive and so must you decide whether you wish to continue in your evil ways or whether you will abandon them. These are the two roads. The Peyote people see them. They claim that only if you weep and repent will you be able to obtain knowledge. Do not, as I said before, listen to others talking about it, but try the medicine yourself. That is the only way to find out. No other medicine can accomplish what this has done. If, therefore, you make use of it, you will live. After they have eaten peyote people throw aside all the (evil) ceremonies that they were accustomed to perform before. Only by eating the peyote will you learn what is truly holy. That is what I am trying to learn myself.

It is now 23 years since I first ate peyote, and I am still doing it (1912). Before that my heart was filled with murderous thoughts. I wanted to kill my brother and my sister. It seemed to me that my heart would not feel good until I killed one of them. All my thoughts were fixed on the warpath. This is all I thought of. Now I know that it was because the evil spirit possessed me that I felt that way. I was suffering from a disease. I even desired to kill myself;

I did not care to live. That feeling, too, was caused by this evil spirit living within me. Then I ate this medicine and everything changed. The brother and sister I wanted to kill before I became attached to and I wanted them to live. The medicine had accomplished this.

 

“Of The Girl Who Married Mount Katahdin”

The story you are about to read, Of The Girl Who Married Mount Katahdin, is one of many early Penobscot Indian stories. These stories, however, were not originally written down. This story, as well as countless others within the Penobscot tribe, were oral stories. These were traditionally kept alive by the act of passing the story down from elder members of the tribe to younger members. The Penobscots were natives of Maine, therefore crafting stories about their landscape. Mount Katahdin, which means “The Greatest Mountain” in Penobscot culture, is the highest point in Maine, and was originally named by the Penobscot natives. It wasn’t until white ethnographers began recording these cross cultural encounters that these stories became solidified in literature.

Charles Leland, the self-claimed “author” of the story as well as one of the first ethnographers to collaborate with the Penobscot natives, was a man of many interests. Originally born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 15th, 1824, Charles Godfrey Leland was educated at Princeton University, where he became interested in both European and American folklore. After spending time in France and Germany, Leland came to America, where he made contact with the Algonquian tribes. These tribes were situated all throughout northeastern New England, as well as large parts of Canada. He studied as well as lived with the Penobscot natives, recording their culture.

The term Ethnography is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the study and systematic recording of human cultures.” The ethnographic researcher views the society from the subjects view. The use of ethnography is to study, understand, and ultimately preserve a culture. The use of ethnography within the Penobscot culture was to help the “American” people that lived in New England at the time to better understand the life and culture of the natives. Since it is a holistic study, meaning all encompassing, ethnographers were encouraged to include everything they possibly could about their experience with the culture. Of the Girl who married Mount Katahdin is an example of Realistic Ethnography, which is described as a simple, objective account of their experience, story. In Leland’s case, he simply wrote down the story that he heard from Mrs. Marie Sakis, an older Penobscot story-teller.

Of the Girl who married Mount Katahdin is the story of a young woman who was outside gathering berries. This girl is romantically enticed, and ultimately seduced by the spirit of Mount Katahdin. Together, they conceive a child, and she returns to her village three years later with the young boy, whose eyebrows are made of stone. The child, who has the ability to kill animals with the pointing of a finger, is used by the tribe to collect an abundance of food. Eventually, the natives of the tribe began to ostracize and make fun of the young boy, to which his mother replies by retreating back to the mountain with the child. The natives lose the powers of the child, and ultimately, their source of food. Finally, Leland states at the end of his passage that it was the American’s own fault for similarly abusing the trust and dignity of the native people, destroying “confidence and respect for them among the Indians.”

The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884]

Of the Girl who married Mount Katahdin, and how all the Indians brought about their own Rain.

Of the old time. There was once an Indian girl gathering blueberries on Mount Katahdin. And, being lonely, she said, “I would that I had a husband!” And seeing the great mountain in all its glory rising on high, with the red sunlight on the top, she added, “I wish Katahdin were a man, and would marry me!”

All this she was heard to say ere she went onward and up the mountain, but for three years she was never seen again. Then she reappeared, bearing a babe, a beautiful child, but his little eyebrows were of stone. For the Spirit of the Mountain had taken her to himself; and when she greatly desired to return to her own people, he told her to go in peace, but forbade her to tell any man who had married her.

Now the boy had strange gifts, and the wise men said that he was born to become a mighty magician. For when he did but point his finger at a moose, or anything which ran, it would drop dead; and when in a canoe, if he pointed at the flocks of wild ducks or swans, then the water was at once covered with the floating game, and they gathered them in as they listed, and through that boy his mother and every one had food and to spare.

Now this was the truth, and it was a great wonder, that Katahdin had wedded this girl, thinking with himself and his wife to bring up a child who should build up his nation, and make of the Wabanaki a mighty race. And he said, “Declare unto these people that they are not to inquire of thee who is the father of thy child; truly they will all know it by seeing him, for they shall not grieve thee with impertinence.” Now the woman had made it known that she would not be questioned, and she gave them all what they needed; yet, for all this, they could not refrain nor restrain themselves from talking to her on what they well knew she would fain be silent. And one day when they had angered her, she thought, “Truly Katahdin was right; these people are in nowise worthy of my son, neither shall he serve them; he shall not lead them to victory; they are not of those who make a great nation.” And being still further teased and tormented, she spake and said, “Ye fools, who by your own folly will kill yourselves; ye mud-wasps, who sting the fingers which would pick ye out of the water, why will ye ever trouble me to tell you what you well know? Can you not see who was the father of my boy? Behold his eyebrows; do ye not know Katahdin by them? But it shall be to your exceeding great sorrow that ever ye inquired. From this day ye may feed yourselves and find your own venison, for this child shall do so no more for you.”

And she arose and went her way into the woods and up the mountain, and was seen on earth no more. And since that day the Indians, who should have been great, have become a little people. Truly it would have been wise and well for those of early times if they could have held their tongues.

This remarkable legend was related to me by Mrs. Marie Sakis, a Penobscot, a very clever story-teller. It gives the Fall of Man from a purely Indian standpoint. Nothing is so contemptible in Indian eyes as a want of dignity and idle, loquacious teasing; therefore it is made in the myth the sin which destroyed their race. The tendency of the lower class of Americans, especially in New England, to raise and emphasize the voice, to speak continually in italics and small and large capitals, with a wide display, and the constant disposition to chaff and tease, have contributed more than any other cause to destroy confidence and respect for them among the Indians.

 

The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884]

Of the Girl who married Mount Katahdin, and how all the Indians brought about their own Rain.

Of the old time. There was once an Indian girl gathering blueberries on Mount Katahdin. And, being lonely, she said, “I would that I had a husband!” And seeing the great mountain in all its glory rising on high, with the red sunlight on the top, she added, “I wish Katahdin were a man, and would marry me!”

All this she was heard to say ere she went onward and up the mountain, but for three years she was never seen again. Then she reappeared, bearing a babe, a beautiful child, but his little eyebrows were of stone. For the Spirit of the Mountain had taken her to himself; and when she greatly desired to return to her own people, he told her to go in peace, but forbade her to tell any man who had married her.

Now the boy had strange gifts, and the wise men said that he was born to become a mighty magician. For when he did but point his finger at a moose, or anything which ran, it would drop dead; and when in a canoe, if he pointed at the flocks of wild ducks or swans, then the water was at once covered with the floating game, and they gathered them in as they listed, and through that boy his mother and every one had food and to spare.

Now this was the truth, and it was a great wonder, that Katahdin had wedded this girl, thinking with himself and his wife to bring up a child who should build up his nation, and make of the Wabanaki a mighty race. And he said, “Declare unto these people that they are not to inquire of thee who is the father of thy child; truly they will all know it by seeing him, for they shall not grieve thee with impertinence.” Now the woman had made it known that she would not be questioned, and she gave them all what they needed; yet, for all this, they could not refrain nor restrain themselves from talking to her on what they well knew she would fain be silent. And one day when they had angered her, she thought, “Truly Katahdin was right; these people are in nowise worthy of my son, neither shall he serve them; he shall not lead them to victory; they are not of those who make a great nation.” And being still further teased and tormented, she spake and said, “Ye fools, who by your own folly will kill yourselves; ye mud-wasps, who sting the fingers which would pick ye out of the water, why will ye ever trouble me to tell you what you well know? Can you not see who was the father of my boy? Behold his eyebrows; do ye not know Katahdin by them? But it shall be to your exceeding great sorrow that ever ye inquired. From this day ye may feed yourselves and find your own venison, for this child shall do so no more for you.”

And she arose and went her way into the woods and up the mountain, and was seen on earth no more. And since that day the Indians, who should have been great, have become a little people. Truly it would have been wise and well for those of early times if they could have held their tongues.

This remarkable legend was related to me by Mrs. Marie Sakis, a Penobscot, a very clever story-teller. It gives the Fall of Man from a purely Indian standpoint. Nothing is so contemptible in Indian eyes as a want of dignity and idle, loquacious teasing; therefore it is made in the myth the sin which destroyed their race. The tendency of the lower class of Americans, especially in New England, to raise and emphasize the voice, to speak continually in italics and small and large capitals, with a wide display, and the constant disposition to chaff and tease, have contributed more than any other cause to destroy confidence and respect for them among the Indians.

Discussion Questions:

1) What might be the significance of the child’s eyebrows being stone? Why not any other part of his body?

2.) How might this story tell the “fall of man” through a native standpoint? What are some surefire signs that it is or isn’t?

Sources Cited:

Wikipedia Contributors. “Charles Godfrey Leland.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

“Native Languages of the Americas: Penobscot (Eastern Abnaki, Penawahpskewi, Penobscott).” Native Americans: Penobscot Indian Tribe (Penobscot Nation, Penobscott, Penobscots). N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

“Ethnography Definition.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

 

“The Origin and Disease of Medicine”

On The Cherokee Tribe

The Cherokee tribe originates in the southeastern region of the United States, more specifically present-day Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Cherokee refer to themselves as Ani-Yuwiya, which translates to “principal people”. In the 19th century, the Cherokees were viewed as one of, if not the most socially and culturally advanced native tribe in the United States. They were referred to as one of the “five civilized tribes”. Once gold was discovered on Cherokee land, prospectors and settlers alike scrambled to the area in an attempt to acquire the bounty of earthly riches. Despite their impressive reputation, the Cherokee were forcibly removed by then president Andrew Jackson under the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This mass exodus, also known as the Trail of Tears, disrupted the lives of the Cherokee people and ended in the death of 4,000 Cherokee whether by hunger, disease, or exhaustion.

On The Origin of Disease and Medicine

The following story, entitled The Origin of Disease and Medicine, weaves a tale of how disease came to be and the way in which the cures for these diseases were discovered. This text, told orally before it was translated by James Mooney, portrays the natural conflict between animals and plants. The animals are irked by humanity’s careless attitude towards them and wish to eradicate them, while the plants are sympathetic towards humanity and seek to save them from certain death. The Cherokee tribe has a strong connection not only to the natural world itself, but more specifically to botany. As a culture entrenched in herbal healing and plant identification, it is only appropriate that their literature would too be steeped in naturalistic themes and information.

THE SACRED FORMULAS OF THE CHEROKEES. BY JAMES MOONEY [1891]

THE ORIGIN OF DISEASE AND MEDICINE.

In the old days quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and insects could all talk, and they and the human race lived together in peace and friendship. But as time went on the people increased so rapidly that their settlements spread over the whole earth and the poor animals found themselves beginning to be cramped for room. This was bad enough, but to add to their misfortunes man invented bows, knives, blowguns, spears, and hooks, and began to slaughter the larger animals, birds and fishes for the sake of their flesh or their skins, while the smaller creatures, such as the frogs and worms, were crushed and trodden upon without mercy, out of pure carelessness or contempt. In. this state of affairs the animals resolved to consult upon measures for their common safety.

The bears were the first to meet in council in their townhouse in Kuwa’hï, the “Mulberry Place,”[1] and the old White Bear chief presided.

After each in turn had made complaint against the way in which man killed their friends, devoured their flesh and used their skins for his own adornment, it was unanimously decided to begin war at once against the human race. Some one asked what weapons man used to accomplish their destruction. “Bows and arrows, of course,” cried all the bears in chorus. “And what are they made of?” was the next question. “The bow of wood and the string of our own entrails,” replied one of the bears. It was then proposed that they make a bow and some arrows and see if they could not turn man’s weapons against himself. So one bear got a nice piece of locust wood and another sacrificed himself for the good of the rest in order to furnish a piece of his entrails for the string. But when everything was ready and the first bear stepped up to make the trial it was found that in letting the arrow fly after drawing back the bow, his long claws caught the string and spoiled the shot. This was annoying, but another suggested that he could overcome the difficulty by cutting his claws, which was accordingly done, and on a second trial it was found that the arrow went straight to the mark. But here the chief, the old White Bear, interposed and said that it was necessary that they should have long claws in order to be able to climb trees. “One of us has already died to furnish the bowstring, and if we now cut off our claws we shall all have to starve together. It is better to trust to the teeth and claws which nature has given us, for it is evident that man’s weapons were not intended for us.”

No one could suggest any better plan, so the old chief dismissed the council and the bears dispersed to their forest haunts without having concerted any means for preventing the increase of the human race. Had the result of the council been otherwise, we should now be at war with the bears, but as it is the hunter does not even ask the bear’s pardon when he kills one.

The deer next held a council under their chief, the Little Deer, and after some deliberation resolved to inflict rheumatism upon every hunter who should kill one of their number, unless he took care to ask their pardon for the offense. They sent notice of their decision to the nearest settlement of Indians and told them at the same time how to make propitiation when necessity forced them to kill one of the deer tribe. Now, whenever the hunter brings down a deer, the Little Deer, who is swift as the wind and can not be wounded, runs quickly up to the spot and bending over the blood stains asks the spirit of the deer if it has heard the prayer of the hunter for pardon. If the reply be “Yes” all is well and the Little Deer goes on his way, but if the reply be in the negative he follows on the trail of the hunter, guided by the drops of blood on the ground, until he arrives at the cabin in the settlement, when the Little Deer enters invisibly and strikes the neglectful hunter with rheumatism, so that he, is rendered on the instant a helpless cripple. No hunter who has regard for his health ever fails to ask pardon of the deer for killing it, although some who have not learned the proper formula may attempt to turn aside the Little Deer from his pursuit by building a fire behind them in the trail.

Next came the fishes and reptiles, who had their own grievances against humanity. They held a joint council and determined to make their victims dream of snakes twining about them in slimy folds and blowing their fetid breath in their faces, or to make them dream of eating raw or decaying fish, so that they would lose appetite, sicken, and die. Thus it is that snake and fish dreams are accounted for.

Finally the birds, insects, and smaller animals came together for a like purpose, and the Grubworm presided over the deliberations. It was decided that each in turn should express an opinion and then vote on the question as to whether or not man should be deemed guilty. Seven votes were to be sufficient to condemn him. One after another denounced man’s cruelty and injustice toward the other animals and voted in favor of his death. The Frog (walâ’sï) spoke first and said: “We must do something to check the increase of the race or people will become so numerous that we shall be crowded from off the earth. See how man has kicked me about because I’m ugly, as he says, until my back is covered with sores;” and here he showed the spots on his skin. Next came the Bird (tsi’skwa; no particular species is indicated), who condemned man because “he burns my feet off,” alluding to the way in which the hunter barbecues birds by impaling them on a stick set over the fire, so that their feathers and tender feet are singed and burned. Others followed in the same strain. The Ground Squirrel alone ventured to say a word in behalf of man, who seldom hurt him because he was so small; but this so enraged the others that they fell upon the Ground Squirrel and tore him with their teeth and claws, and the stripes remain on his back to this day.

The assembly then began to devise and name various diseases, one after another, and had not their invention finally failed them not one of the human race would have been able to survive. The Grubworm in his place of honor hailed each new malady with delight, until at last they had reached the end of the list, when some one suggested that it be arranged so that menstruation should sometimes prove fatal to woman. On this he rose up in his place and cried: “Wata’n! Thanks! I’m glad some of them will die, for they are getting so thick that they tread on me.” He fairly shook with joy at the thought, so that he fell over backward and could not get on his feet again, but had to wriggle off on his back, as the Grubworm has done ever since.

When the plants, who were friendly to man, heard what had been done by the animals, they determined to defeat their evil designs. Each tree, shrub, and herb, down even to the grasses and mosses, agreed to furnish a remedy for some one of the diseases named, and each said: “I shall appear to help man when he calls upon me in his need.” Thus did medicine originate, and the plants, every one of which has its use if we only knew it, furnish the antidote to counteract the evil wrought by the revengeful animals. When the doctor is in doubt what treatment to apply for the relief of a patient, the spirit of the plant suggests to him the proper remedy.

“How Glooskap Went to England and France”

Glooskap
CC By: Benjamin J. DeLong. Size altered. https://flic.kr/p/biVVe6

This next Native American text was written down by Charles Lelands in 1884 in a collection of stories called The Algonquin Legends of New England, but because it is likely that the story was originally told orally before it was transcribed into written words, its unclear when exactly it was created. This story focuses on the Algonquin mythical figure of Glooskap (also spelled Glooscap), as many Algonquin legends do. According to Wikipedia, the Algonquian people “are one of the most populous and widespread North American native language groups, with tribes originally numbering in the hundreds of thousands” (Wikipedia).

In “How Glooskap went to England and France,” the mythical being, Glooskap, builds a stone canoe and sails to England with his mother. When he lands in London, he tells the Europeans about America. From there, he continues on to France to have his mother baptized as a Catholic before returning to America. The legend states that Glooskap and his mother’s return sparked the influx of Europeans to America. This is an example of a “first contact” or “discovery” story because it tells of an initial interaction between Natives and Europeans. Legends like these are important because they help to give us a sense of how the initial interactions between Native Americans and Europeans were experienced.

 

The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884]

How Glooskap went to England and France, and was the first to make America known to the Europeans.

There was an Indian woman: she was a Woodchuck (Mon-in-kwess, R). She had lost a boy; she always thought of him. Once there came to her a strange boy; he called her mother.

He had a pipe with which he could call all the animals. He said, “Mother, if you let any one have this pipe we shall starve.”

“Where did you get it?”

“A stranger gave it to me.””

One day the boy was making a canoe. The woman took the pipe and blew it. There came a deer and a qwah-beet,–a beaver. They came running; the deer came first, the beaver next. The beaver had a stick in his mouth; he gave it to her, and said, “Whenever you wish to kill anything, though it were half a mile off, point this stick at it.” She pointed it at the deer; it fell dead.

The boy was Glooskap. He was building a stone canoe. Every morning he went forth, and was gone all day. He worked a year at it. The mother had killed many animals. When the great canoe was finished he took his (adopted) mother to see it. He said that he would make sails for it. She asked him, “Of what will you make them?” He answered, “Of leaves.” She replied, “Let the leaves alone. I have something better.” She had many buffalo skins alreadytanned, and said, “Take as many as you need.”

He took his pipe. He piped for moose; he piped for elk and for bear: they came. He pointed his stick at them: they were slain. He dried their meat, and so provisioned his great canoe. To carry water he killed many seals; he filled their bladders with water.

So they sailed across the sea. This was before the white people had ever heard of America. The white men did not discover this country first at all. Glooskap discovered England, and told them about it. He got to London. The people had never seen a canoe before. They came flocking down to look at it.

The Woodchuck had lost her boy. This boy it was who first discovered America (England?). This boy could walk on the water and fly up to the sky. 1 He took his mother to England. They offered him a large ship for his stone canoe. He refused it. He feared lest the ship should burn. They offered him servants. He refused them. They gave him presents which almost overloaded the canoe. They gave him an anchor and an English flag.

He and his mother went to France. The French people fired cannon at him till the afternoon. They could not hurt the stone canoe. In the night Glooskap drew all their men-of-war ashore. Next morning the French saw this. They said, “Who did this?

He answered, “I did it.”

They took him prisoner. They put him into a great cannon and fired it off. They looked into the cannon, and there he sat smoking his stone pipe, knocking the ashes out.

The king heard how they had treated him. He said. it was wrong. He who could do such deeds must be a great man. He sent for Glooskap, who replied, “I do not want to see your king. I came to this country to have my mother baptized as a Catholic.” They sent boats, they sent a coach; he was taken to the king, who put many questions to him.

He wished to have his mother christened. It was done. They called her Molly. 1 Therefore to this day all woodchucks are called Molly. They went down to the shore; to please the king Glooskap drew all the ships into the sea again. So the king gave him what he wanted, and he returned home. Since that time white men have come to America.

This is an old Eskimo tale, greatly modernized and altered. The Eskimo believe in a kind of sorcerers or spirits, who have instruments which they merely point at people or animals, to kill them. I think that the Indian who told me this story (P.) was aware of its feebleness, and was ashamed to attribute such nonsense to Glooskap, and therefore made the hero an Indian named Woodchuck. But among Mr. Rand’s Micmac tales it figures as a later tribute to the memory of the great hero.

One version of this story was given to me by Tomah Josephs, another by Mrs. W. Wallace Brown. In the latter Glooskap’s canoe is a great ship, with all kinds of birds for sailors. In the Shawnee legend of the Celestial Sisters (Hiawatha Legends), a youth who goes to the sky must take with him one of every kind of bird. This indicates that the Glooskap voyage meant a trip to heaven.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Other Native American & Ethnographic Texts by Shannon Griffiths, Kendal LaRiviere, David MacNeill, Timothy Mooneyhan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book