Passamaquoddy Tales

Note: All of the following tales were found among the E. Tappan Adney Manuscripts in the Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. All of them were collected by Adney from Governor William Neptune of Pleasant Point Reservation, Maine, in the early 1940s. Some of the manuscripts were in hurried pencil script, clearly Adney’s own field notes; others were in typescript but appear to be no more than typed-out field notes; still others had obviously been worked over. In one case I have included both the field note version and Adney’s later version of it, since both were available and the contrast between the two was interesting. I have corrected obvious misspellings and typing errors and have made punctuation and paragraphing changes where it seemed to me that they would make for easier reading. All other additions or changes are indicated in the manner described in the Introduction. (Note: The “I” here is our founder Edward D. “Sandy” Ives).

A Little Boy Who Brought Good Luck [1]

This occurred lately; my father told it. A young boy had father and mother die and was left orphan. He had little poodle dog. He go from house to house, but nobody lets him stay. He stayed two three months all round Pleasant Point. There was a married couple, no children. This young fellow had a little bundle and this man say to his wife, “Fix him up a bed and feed him,” and the woman did.

After he stay two weeks, one early morning they [i.e. the husband and wife] wake up but didn’t get up, and as they lay in bed they hear young man and the little dog talkin. They hear little dog say to young fellow, “This man is awful nice. He uses us all right so far.”

“Yes,” replied young feller, “he is awful good to us. They feed us nice, we got good bed, you don have [to] git no food, no water.”

The little dog said to young feller, “I know why this man is satisfied. I have him satisfied. [2] I know where bear is. I can find a bear any time man wants one.”

The man hears this and get up and get breakfast and didn’t let on he hear dog and boy talkin. After breakfast the little dog play round camp waggin tail at him. Man gittin ready go huntin and told you feller, “Let me take your dog with me. Spose he foller me?”

“Oh I guess so. I don’t know.”

Dog was jumping, barking like as if [he] was glad go huntin and when [man] got ready dog kept jumpingoin little ways, comin back barkin like you see dogs when glad go huntin. When they got in woods, a little way back in woods, the little dog runnin ahead. Bimeby he jump one side, barkin; man follered and found dog diggin, and comin to big bear. Found bear. That was good luck; man well satisfied, and he was always lucky. Everybody wanted that little boy back but he didn’t go back to any of them. The man raised that boy; he got them everything they wanted. This story was told by my father.

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An Indian Boy That Almost Turned Into A Bear [3]

A Passamaquoddy boy was lost in the woods. He was hungry and scared. He goes into a hole; a bear was in there. He is scared and he comes out. The big bear was a female; she had little cubs with her, and when boy come out big bear come close to him, [and] now and then touch him but not want to hurt him, like make [i.e. like she was making] some motion [for] him [to] do something, but young fellow wouldn’t move so bear went around him and started on ahead walkin. Then at last young fellow think, “I will go with it,” and starts out with bear.

Bear take him where she have cubs. Night time come, [and to] keep little fellow from freezin she put him together with cubs, and they don’t eat nothing but berries that summer. When little fellow saw got to [i.e. that he’d have to] eat all winter he put stuff he gathered into den so [he] could eat, and so big bear know he want to eat and help him and got enough [for him] to eat all winter. So they went into den and stay all winter. Bear don’t eat nothin. Spring time they come out and the bear would leave young fellow; course, young fellow go out, but too cold for him; he go back. Big bear would not leave her friend; he played with cub.

In two years time the Indians discovered this big bear and the young feller, the young man, . . . . and he told them not to kill his mother. When they found him his breast had begun grow hair like a bear. Well, on account of this young man, bear got away; this young man tell her he seen them coming. Young man was wild, didn’t want come home, tried to get away. When came to settlement they looked after him but he wanted [to] go back into the woods. [It] was about a year before he got civilized, and when he got civilized every bit of hair come out. And old people thinks, `If he stay one year more with bear he turn into a bear.’

At last young man got married and his wife wanted some bear meat. They had deer, raccoon; he will kill any kind of meat. He kin tell [from a] den without digging it whether a female or a male bear inside how much smoke (steam) [rises from it; it is] more strong from female. He told them, “If you see that, keep away from it; that will (may) be my mother,” and he wouldn’t kill any female bear. And this young man he kill so many bear, this woman ask husband, “Why you not kill female? Might taste different.”

He didn’t pay attention. Wife don’t know his story; he keep that secret himself. And she coaxed him to kill female bear. At last wife got troubled he not kill female. “If you don’t bring she bear, I won’t live with you any longer.”

So he went out and kill female bear and brought her home and said, “Here it is. That will be last bear you eat. No more bear meat.”

And it was the last one, too. That young man didn’t live much longer. He died. It worried him till he died. He couldn’t think of nothin else but how he had killed his mother that had saved him in the woods.

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The Man Whose Life Was In A Weasel [4]

I will tell you a story I heard from my father. In a tribe of Indians was an old man who had long whiskers, and every time they had a ceremony they have a great big pot, and the people all were in the power of this old man and they couldn’t eat until the old fellow take his whiskers and put them down into the pot. He wash his whiskers in the pot and then he tells the people to eat. The pot was in the kwun du un, a kind of hall. He did that several times when there was a ceremony.

And there was an old woman lived near the village and she had a grandson, a little fellow, and this young fellow was arranging to have a ceremony. “I am going over there tonight,” he said to his grandmother.

“You had better not go,” she said to him.

“I got to go. I want to see long whiskers fellow do that again tonight.”

The old woman was frightened; she was afraid of the old fellow like all the other people. She [was] afraid what the young fellow going to do; she know he going to do something. She afraid.

Coming on night the young fellow goes over to the kwun du un. There is a big crowd getting ready to eat, but [they] had to wait for the long whiskered fellow. The old fellow come in and he walk up and next moment he put in his whiskers. The young fellow called out, “Hey! What you doingstop! You been doing that every time. You not going to [do] it now.”

The old fellow look at little fellow as little fellow steps up to the pot. He give the command, “Everybody eat!”

After all eat, the young fellow take a bit of the stuff home to his grandmother. “This is what I brought,” he said. “Long whiskered fellow didn’t do that tonight! I stop him.” The little fellow walks to the fire in center of wigwam and picks up a little piece of cloth and a little stick and he stood alongside the fire, watching it.

By and by he said to his grandmother, “He is coming, he is coming. Do you want to see him?”

“No! No! I don’t want to see him,” she said.

Just that moment he entered. The old woman didn’t see him; [she saw] just a little thing like Sogwes, Weasel. The little fellow grabs him and wraps him in handkerchief and squeeze him hard.

They report around that old fellow very sick, and hollerinawful sick. Big crowd of people went around there. Old fellow awful sick every time young fellow squeeze the weasel. “You better get that young fellow,” old fellow say.

By and by [a] young man tell little fellow, “Old man very sick, wants to see you.”

“What does he want to see me for? I don’t want to see him.”

The young man run back and told the old fellow, “He won’t come.”

The old fellow is easing up a little and young fellow squeeze weasel again, and old man begin roarin and yellin again. And he sent another fellow out to get that young fellow. [This one] he told the little fellow, “You better go see what he wants. He wants you awful bad.”

The old woman say, “You better go see what he wants. You better go.”

“All right, Gramma!” With that he walks along slow. Every little bit he squeeze the weasel. When he get in the door he squeeze him this time hard and he heard the old fellow holler, and look at him. “What do you want?” young fellow ask.

“I want to speak to you.” “Let you go?” young fellow say. “If I let you go would you do that thing again? You been washin your whiskers every time [we] have ceremony. All right, I let you go!” And with that he threw the weasel under the bed, and walked out and went home.

The second night everybody was happy. Had big supper. They called young fellow and tell him, “You going to be the leader after this.”

“No, I won’t be leader. I’m just doing this to help the people.”

Next day old fellow call him again and he say to young fellow, “You and I will work together. We will be leaders.”

“No,” young fellow said, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want hurt people.” Everybody been free after that.

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The Story Of A Wicked Medeulin [5]

[Adney’s Introduction]: This story of the Beaver-Girl is listed by Charles G. Leland in Pilling’s Bibliography as one of a number of manuscripts by the late Louis Mitchell of Passamaquoddy, that are now, so far as known to us, lost. In his title, the Indian has translated kwabit-it-skwessis “Beaver’s daughter,” instead of “Beaver-girl,” while in the present version, which we obtained in 1941 from Governor William Neptune, the narrator uses the expression pil-skwassis, a virgin-girl, one as yet a “stranger,” a maiden. The spoken words, when reduced to written form, lacked so much of indicating the real purport of the story that we had it carefully gone over by Peter Paul of the St. John River Indians, Woodstock, with such an introduction as Louis Mitchell was accustomed to give in other manuscripts of his, both some in our possession and [others] as recorded in Leland’s Algonquin Legends. It was obvious that Neptune, after telling the story in his English, gave in the Indian rather the bald substance than the thought-out form, and so little even of the substance that Peter Paul, who was not familiar with the story, found it most difficult, in places, to understand.

The story of a wicked Medeulin who had his Power from Ki-won-ik, the Otter, and how he was punished for his evil doings.

Maybe two, three hundred years ago, in a certain village, when a young couple married, a meduelin who lived in the same village had his power to work magic from Ki-won-ik, the Otter, who was his tiamul or tutelary animal. As soon as a young couple were married, this wicked medeulin caused the girl to follow him away to his camp in the woods and kept her sometimes as long as a month before restoring her to her husband. There was great trouble, naturally, among the young people, who feared to marry because of this wicked man.

Now the old medeulins or sorcerers made it a dead secret what animal was their tiamul or tutelary spirit, which might be Owl or some other animal, for ordinary people are not possessed of the medeulin or occult power by which they can read what is in other people’s minds. But it happened that there came to this village a young man who was medeulin who knew at once that it was Ki-won-ik who was helping the wicked Indian in his evil doings. But he did not let on to anyone that he knew and he laid his plan.

He said, “I’m not afraid to get married.” And so he married a young girl, and he told her when the old man came to take her away to go with him. “As you go up the river,” he said, “you will see Wab-i-ki-won-ik, a White Otter. You must tell the old man he must kill that otter. He will not want to do it. But you must make him do it.”

(The Indian of old knew that a white animal was the appearance of the younger brother of the great Gluskap, and also the elder brother of his kind on earth today. And Indians today will tell you that it is a sign of good luck to see a white deer or other white animal, and very bad luck to kill one in any circumstances. It would be especially so if that animal was the the tutelary of that Indian and nothing but direst necessity would cause him to bring it harm).

The wicked medeulin protested and at first refused, but he very much desired the young woman and she kept pleading for the skin of a white otter. So when they saw the very white otter that her medeulin husband had told her she would see, she kept telling the old medeulin he must kill it, until he finally killed it.

“Now you must take out its liver,” she told him. “I want that liver.” At supper time she cooked that liver. She said to the old medeulin, “You must eat that piece of liver.”

He did not want to do it, but finally, unable to resist the pleadings of the young woman, who was very beautiful, he said, “I suppose I’ve got to,” and he ate it for supper.

A little while after, he was sitting on the ground. He began to go “Umph! Umph!” just like that, every once in a while. Then he was taken with a violent pain in his belly every now and then, and then to relieve the pain he stretched himself back, and he lay there and died.

All this was [duly] related by the young woman when she returned to the village. When they heard how she had killed the old medeulin, ten couples immediately got married, and they were all glad and happy. This is the story that the old people have told.

[Note: It may be interesting to compare Peter Paul’s re-working of this story with the following version in Adney’s pencil-script, presumably taken down directly from William Neptune’s narration. What follows is given just as it appears in the manuscript.]

Marriage story of magic

Old time when young people in a certain village marry the Medeulin take the girl away, keep her maybe month and bring her back, and not till then the young man live with her This was a cause of great sorrow & many young couples differed [?deferred] their marriage for this reason. But, one time young man says I’ll get marriedhe was Medeulin himself. When he get married, old [Medeulin] take her away & at same time he told his wife, as they go up the river, you’ll see white otter. Be sure kill that white otter. Be sure tell that man, & he not want to kill him told him, Got to kill him. He killed him at last “Take the liver out; I want that liver.” She cooked that liver. At supper time. Other [medeulin] don’t like eat it. “You’ve got to eat it anyway.”

He said, I suppose “I got to eat it,” and he eat it for his supper.

A little while after he eat it, he setting down [on ground]. & by & by he say Umph! like that every once in a while. He had a pain in his guts & little while, he stretch himself back & he lay down & died, liver killed him. The woman came back & told story how she killed the Medeoulin. & when she told it, all the young people happy. 10 couples get married right away, & they were all glad, happy

That was maybe about 2.300 years ago

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How Bear Got His Short Tail [6]

Old time. Indian fish [in] winter. Make hole. Left bunch fish [behind him]. When he come back, fish gone. Saw track of fox.

Fox met Bear, [and Bear said he] didn’t know what to do [to catch fish. Fox] told Bear, “[I’ll show you] how [to] ketch fish. Over there [is] a hole. Sit down on that hole. Set there. By and by [you’ll] feel fish bite. When [you] get good bunch [on your tail, pull it up].”

[Bear] stay half a day. [Tail] frozen [in ice]. Try [to] pull out; can’t pull out. Tells where [and] when Bear got short tail. Heard when a boy. Old Indian story.

How Rabbit Came by His Split Lip [7]

One Sunday Rabbit start cruisin’ around. By and by see wigwam. It was Kingfisher, and he said, “Come in.” They talk and talk; by and by dinner time. Kingfisher went up brook and dive down [and] ketch big fish. Rabbit say, “Nice dinner.” [That] afternoon, Rabbit say to Kingfisher, “Come see me.”

One Sunday Kingfisher come up and find [Rabbit’s] wigwam. Rabbit say, “Come in.” They talked a while. By and by, [Rabbit get] all rigged. [8] A spruce tree lean out over stream. It pretty near dinner time and he walk up tree and, lookin down, he said he’d do same as Kingfisher. By and By Rabbit dove down [and] struck [a] rock and split his lip. Kingfisher heard him call for help. He nearly drown. That’s how Rabbit got split lip. This old Indian story.

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Four Legends of Mohawk Encounters [9]

1. Single Combat [10]

[Adney’s note:] William Neptune tells of a form that personal encounter (the duel) took in the wars with the Mohawks. We have heard of battles on the western plains in which the issue was settled by two selected champions. The Malecites went much further than that. Between the Mohawks and Malecites it was war to the death, to the destruction of one party or the other:

In the last battle, they put up a stake between the lines. A man from each side went out with his hatchet and stayed at the stake. There they fight, the stake between them, and when one man gets killed another man jumps out and takes his place. This [was] in the wars between the Malecites and Mohawks. The Malecite kills two Mohawks and this man hollers for another man to come out, and the Mohawk leader forces another man to come out. And the Malecite killed that Mohawk, too, and he hollered again. He hollered three times for a Mohawk to come out, and at the third call, when no Mohawk came out, the Malecites rushed the Mohawks.

When they had finished the Mohawks, they saw on a point of ground a partridge, and the partridge was walking along, and the partridge spoke to the men: “You people very lucky. If I wasn’t a woman you people [would] all be killed. If I was a man you would have been swept away.” That was what she said.

2. The Last Mohawk Scout

[Adney’s note]: That Mohawk woman was medeulin, and the narrator of the story of the last battle with the Mohawks told of another instance of the power of a medeulin to turn himself into an animal or bird.

The last scout of the Mohawks that came here was medeulin. Some boys see him and tell the warriors and they surround the field where the scout was seen. They got all around him so he couldn’t get away, and just then a bull runs out and the scout got away. [11] That was the scout; he was madeulin and turn himself into the bull. If they hit that bull, he [would] turn into a man but they didn’t hit him. They got out of his way. I hear my father tell about that last ausks-o, scout. Ausk-o means “he keeps out of sight.” [12] That was last scout seen [at] Passamaquoddy. My father showed me the place. It was right alongside the cemetery. [13]

3. Preparation For War

The me-o-wit, the leader of the war party, calls the young men together and tells them what they must do: “Keep away from women, and don’t eat meat that sticks on the bone, only the outside meat.” One time, in [his] first battle, a young man got shot in the knee. This young man didn’t believe what the me-o-wit told him, and he got shot in the knee. The me-o-wit took his hatchet and he kill him himself with the hatchet.

4. The Last Battle With The Mohawks

The last battle between the Mohawks and French against the Passamaquoddies was at St. Andrews. They didn’t fight, but I will tell how they done. The old men were out huntin. Just [a] few men [were] left, and children and old people, and they found the enemy near. The chief gave orders [for] all women [to] dress as men [and] play ball all day till men get back home. [14]

The chief that was with the French every once and a while come and look down and see these men playin ball. Mohawks see so many men they say, “We better go make peace,” but French say, “No, we won’t make peace. We want to take that place [and] kill all the men and women.”

The [Passamaquoddy] chief he sent two men [to] notify hunters, and [he] tell women, “Maybe enemy come. Keep on playin.” One afternoon men get home and still women keep on playin ball, while men preparin for war that night. The chief sends two men that evening to meet that [Mohawk] chief who was watchin. They found his hiding place. One was a fellow named Lox (“Wolverine” or “Indian Devil”). . . . They stood there waiting for the Mohawk chief to come to that place. The [rest of the] men are behind the [two] fellows who watch, but the women are still dancin before the big fire.

By and by, [Lox and his companion] see [Mohawk] chief comin. There was a great big snag and chief got on top that snag to look down. These two men sat facing [with] guns pointed that way. Chief all shiny valuable silver buckles; all covered up, rattling as he walked. This Lox point gun, Just [at that] moment he raised [himself] up and [Lox] he fired. All Lox do [is] pull the trigger guessin and struck him just half inch below neskum (headband covered with brooches of silver). But when he fell his friends drag him down in holler and buried him somewhere. Then [Lox and his companion] they creep up and listen [to] what going on. [The Mohawks] they talk about [how there had] pretty near been fight among themselves on account Mohawks want to go to village [and] make peace but French unwilling. At last [it was] decided [the] Mohawks [would] go back and French [would] follow Indians. Only four out of Mohawk bunch come through; rest all starve. Not one French left.

Afterwards these Passamaquoddy Indians see those Mohawks [and] talked [about] what happened. Mohawks told where chief [was] buried but Passamaquoddy Indians never could find him. That is last battle the Mohawks came down [to] try to fight with Indians. [15]

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[1] Adney Mss. Adney collected this tale in 1942. For a different but analogous tale of a man who understood dog’s talk, treated his dog well, and as a result found much game, see Mechling II, 104-105 (Malecite); Speck VIII, 93 (Penobscot). The following motifs may be helpful for further study: B121.1.1 Infallible Hunting Dog; B211.1.7 Speaking Dog; B421 Helpful Dog; B391 Animal grateful for food.

[2] The sense is obscure here. Has the dog already brought the man luck? If so, Neptune forgot to mention it. Or does he mean the dog to say, in effect, “I will now reward the man?” Probably the first of these is more nearly correct.

[3] Adney Mss. Adney’s note: “Neptune 1942.” This tale appears to be very well known amongst Wabanaki groups and it is also found north of the St. Lawrence, though it seems to be of less importance there. It does not always involve a tabu or its violation, the core of the story obviously being the bear foster-parent and the child’s acquiring the bear’s characteristics. Among the Penobscot, according to Speck (IX, 218-220), it became an origin legend for the Bear (Mitchell) family. For the Malecite version, see Mechling II, 199-201. Penobscot: Leland and Prince, 239-241; Speck VIII, 85-86. Micmac; Rand, 259-262; Parsons, 96-97; Wallis I, 431. Montagnais-Naskapi: Speck V, 27 (see also Speck VII, 108-109). Compare Michelson, 33-35 (Micmac). Motifs B535 Animals nourish abandoned child; C841.7 Tabu: killing totem animal; C933.1 Luck in hunting lost for breaking tabu; D113.2 Transformation; man to bear; F521.1 Man covered with hair like animal.

[4] Andey Mss. Adney’s note: “A variant of this theme is one in which the sorcerer turned himself into the form of his tutelary animal, and when the animal was killed, the medeulin was killed.” Collected from William Neptune in 1942. Motif D2063.1.1 Tormenting by sympathetic magic. See also motif G275.12 Witch in the form of an animal is injured or killed as a result of the injury to the animal.

[5] Adney Mss. The following motifs may be of some help: B192 Magic animal killed; C221.2 Tabu: eating totem animal; K1371 Bride stealing.

[6] Adney Mss. Taken from Adney’s pencil script. Of this and the following tale Adney said, “These two stories told by Wm. Neptune, Passamaquoddy, 1941. Claims Indian but first doubtful; second also doubtful.” The present tale is The Bear Fisher (Type 2; Motif K1021), a European tale that has wide distribution among North American Indians. Thompson cites versions among the Iroquois, Menominee, Ponka, and Thompson River Indians. (I, 437-444), to which list Fisher (242) adds Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Blackfoot. So far as I know, this is the first record of the tale among any of the Wabanaki groups. Wherever the tale is found, it is usually part of a trickster cycle; here, however, it is entirely independent.

[7] Adney Mss. See note to foregoing tale. Unlike the preceding tale, this one has no European antecedents and in that sense of the term we can speak of it as real Indian. It belongs to a cycle of trickster episodes known (to folklorists, not to Indians) as “The Bungling Host” (motif J2425). The trickster visits different animals, sees how each catches his food, tries the method himself, and barely escapes with his life. While “bungling host” cycles are found all over North America, the present episode seems to be found only in the northern half, from the Rockies to the Maritimes. Among the Wabanaki, this cycle is usually told about Hare (Rabbit). For Penobscot versions, see Speck I, 52-54; Speck VIII, 101-102. For some Micmac versions of the bungling host cycle (none containing the present tale), see Rand, 300-303; Leland (208-213: suspiciously close to Rand’s versions); Speck II, 64-65; Wallis I, 414-416. For other Penobscot versions, see Alger, 108-110.

[8] “All rigged.” Neptune here seems to be alluding to the sort of perparation Hare makes in a Penobscot version (Speck VIII, 101), where he ties a sharp bone on his forehead to act as a bill.

[9] If we could believe all the stories we hear, Micmac, Malecite, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot wrought havoc on Mohawk war parties. In point of fact, however, many Wabanaki victories were of the “I hit him a good one on the fist with my nose” variety, because these Indians suffered repeatedly from all too successful Iroquois (which is to say Mohawk) raids. While there may be occasional truth in the multitude of tales of Wabanaki victories, they really represent a vast chorus of whistles in the dark. Not only were the Iroquois better organized for war, they had the good fortune to be sided with the English more often than not, while the Algonkian groups usually found themselves allied with the French. Small wonder the Wabanaki talked a good war!

For a good account of Malecite-Iroquois relations, see Mechling III, 114-119; Wallis II, 12-14. For the Micmac-Iroquois picture, see Wallis I, 208-211. For customs of war, see Mechling III, 119-140 (Malecite); Wallis I, 211-225 (Micmac); Nicolar, 108-140 (Penobscot). For other tales of Mohawk encounters see the following sources. Malecite: Mechling II, 106-126; Wallis II, 42; Smith, 27-29. Micmac: Rand, 137-141, 200-224, 238-245, 341-346; Mechling II, 126-133; Wallis I, 382, 448-469, 490-492. Abenaki: Masta, 17-18, 33-34.

[10] For a possible Micmac parallel from Nova Scotia, see Wallis I, 453.

[11] For a possible analogue, see Wallis II, 32-33, where medeulin appears as a bull (not a Mohawk).

[12] Speck (VIII,17) gives the Penobscot word as awuskhowa: “spy.”

[13] Adney’s note: “The burial ground at Sebyik (Sebayik, Pleasant Point) is on higher ground overlooking the village, yet by “here” the narrator may have meant the ancient village at present St. Andrews.”

[14] For a possible parallel to the woman dancing and the ball-game (though this time using heads), see Jack, 203-204.

[15] Adney’s note: “Where the Mohawk allies French or were they English?” After that, in pencil, “Probably wars between French and English in Acadia, perhaps 1745, perhaps 1759.”