English Literature

In Indian Tents by Abby Langdon Alger

In Indian Tents by Abby Langdon Alger.jpg


In the beginning God made Adam out of the earth, but he did not make Glūs-kābé (the Indian God). Glūs-kābé made himself out of the dirt that was kicked up in the creation of Adam. He rose and walked about, but he could not speak until the Lord opened his lips.

God made the earth and the sea, and then he took counsel with Glūs-kābé concerning them. He asked him if it would be better to have the rivers run up on one side of the earth and down on the other, but Glūs-kābé said, “No, they must all run down one way.”

Then the Lord asked him about the ocean, whether it would do to have it always lie still. Glūs-kābé told him, “No!” It must rise and fall, or else it would grow thick and stagnant.{12}

“How about fire?” asked the Lord; “can it burn all the time and nobody put it out?”

Glūs-kābé said: “That would not do, for if anybody got burned and fire could not be put out, they would die; but if it could be put out, then the burn would get well.”

So he answered all the Lord’s questions.

After this, Glūs-kābé was out on the ocean one day, and the wind blew so hard he could not manage his canoe. He had to go back to land, and he asked his old grandmother (among Indians this title is often only a mark of respect, and does not always indicate any blood relationship), “Māli Moninkwess” (the Woodchuck), what he could do. She told him to follow a certain road up a mountain. There he found an old man sitting on a rock flapping his wings (arms) violently. This was “Wūchowsen,” the great Wind-blower. He begged Glūs-kābé to take him up higher, where he would have space to flap his wings still harder. So Glūs-kābé lifted him up and carried him a long way. When they were over a great lake, he let Wūchowsen drop into the water. In falling he broke his wings, and lay there helpless.{13}

Glūs-kābé went back to sea and found the ocean as smooth as glass. He enjoyed himself greatly for many days, paddling about; but finally the water grew stagnant and thick, and a great smell arose. The fish died, and Glūs-kābé could bear it no longer.

Again he consulted his grandmother, and she told him that he must set Wūchowsen free. So he once more bore Wūchowsen back to his mountain, first making him promise not to flap his wings so constantly, but only now and then, so that the Indians might go out in their canoes. Upon his consent to do this, Glūs-kābé mended his broken wings; but they were never quite so strong as at first, and thus we do not now have such terrible winds as in the olden days.

This story was told to me by an old man whom I had always thought dull and almost in his dotage; but one day, after I had told him some Indian legends, his whole face changed, he threw back his head, closed his eyes, and without the slightest warning or preliminary began to relate, almost to chant, this myth in a most extraordinary way, which so startled me that I could not at the time take any notes of{14} it, and was obliged to have it repeated later. The account of Wūchowsen was added to show the wisdom of Glūs-kābé’s advice in the earlier part of the tale, and is found among many tribes.{15}


During the summer of 1892, at York Harbor, Maine, I was in daily communication with a party of Penobscot Indians from Oldtown, among whom were an old man and woman, from whom I got many curious legends. The day after a terrible thunderstorm I asked the old woman how they had weathered it in their tents. She looked searchingly at me and said, “It was good.” After a moment she added, “You know the thunder is our grandfather?” I answered that I did not know it, and was startled when she continued: “Yes, when we hear the first roll of the thunder, especially the first thunder in the spring, we always go out into the open air, build a fire, put a little tobacco on it, and give grandfather a smoke. Ever since I can remember, my father and my grandfather did this, and I shall always do it as long as I live. I’ll tell you the story of it and why we do so.{16}

“Long time ago there were two Indian families living in a very lonely place. This was before there were any white people in the land. They lived far apart. Each family had a daughter, and these girls were great friends. One sultry afternoon in the late spring, one of them told her mother she wanted to go to see her friend. The mother said: ‘No, it is not right for you to go alone, such a handsome girl as you; you must wait till your father or your brother are here to go with you.’ But the girl insisted, and at last her mother yielded and let her go. She had not gone far when she met a tall, handsome young man, who spoke to her. He joined her, and his words were so sweet that she noticed nothing and knew not which way she went until at last she looked up and found herself in a strange place where she had never been before. In front of her was a great hole in the face of a rock. The young man told her that this was his home, and invited her to enter. She refused, but he urged until she said that if he would go first, she would follow after. He entered, but when she looked after him she saw that he was changed to a fearful, ‘Wī-will-mecq’—a loathly worm. She shrieked, and turned to{17} run away; but at that instant a loud clap of thunder was heard, and she knew no more until she opened her eyes in a vast room, where sat an old man watching her. When he saw that she had awaked, he said, ‘I am your grandfather Thunder, and I have saved you.’ Leading her to the door, he showed her the Wī-will-mecq, dead as a log, and chopped into small bits like kindling wood. The old man had three sons, one named ‘M’dessun.’ He is the baby, and is very fierce and cruel. It is he who slays men and beasts and destroys property. The other two are kind and gentle; they cool the hot air, revive the parched fields and the crops, and destroy only that which is harmful to the earth. When you hear low, distant mutterings, that is the old man. He told the girl that as often as spring returned she must think of him, and show that she was grateful by giving him a little smoke. He then took leave of her and sent her home, where her family had mourned her as one dead. Since then no Indian has ever feared thunder.” I said, “But how about the lightning?” “Oh,” said the old woman, “lightning is grandfather’s wife.”

Later in the summer, at Jackson, in the White{18} Mountains, I met Louis Mitchell, for many years the Indian member of the Maine Legislature, a Passamaquoddy, and asked him about this story. He said it was perfectly true, although the custom was now falling into disuse; only the old people kept it up. The tobacco is cast upon the fire in a ring, and draws the electricity, which plays above it in a beautiful blue circle of flickering flames. He added that it is a well-known fact that no Indian and no Indian property were ever injured by lightning.{19}


Many, many long years ago, there lived in a vast cave in the interior of a great mountain, an old man who was a “Kiāwākq’ m’teoulin,” or Giant Witch.

Near the mountain was a big Indian village, whose chief was named “Hassagwākq’,” or the Striped Squirrel. Every few days some of his best warriors disappeared mysteriously from the tribe, until Hassagwākq at last became convinced that they were killed by the Giant Witch. He therefore called a council of all the most mighty magicians among his followers, who gathered together in a new strong wigwam made for the occasion. There were ten of them in all, and their names were as follows: “Quābīt,” the Beaver; “Moskwe,” the Wood Worm; “Quāgsis,” the Fox; “K’tchī Atōsis,” the Big Snake; “Āgwem,” the Loon; “Kosq,” the Heron; “Mūin,” the Bear; “Lox,” the{20} Indian Devil; “K’tchīplāgan,” the Eagle; and “Wābe-kèloch,” the Wild Goose.

The great chief Hassagwākq’ addressed the sorcerers, and told them that he hoped they might be able to conquer the Giant Witch, and that they must do so at once if possible, or else their tribe would be exterminated. The sorcerers resolved to begin the battle the very next night, and promised to put forth their utmost power to destroy the enemy.

But the Giant Witch could foretell all his troubles by his dreams, and that selfsame night he dreamed of all the plans which the followers of Striped Squirrel had formed for his ruin.

Now all Indian witches have one or more “poohegans,” or guardian spirits, and the Giant Witch at once despatched one of his poohegans, little “Alūmūset,” the Humming-bird, to the chief Hassagwākq’ to say that it was not fair to send ten men to fight one; but if he would send one magician at a time, he would be pleased to meet them.

The chief replied that the witches should meet him in battle one by one; and the next night they gathered together at an appointed{21} place as soon as the sun slept, and agreed that Beaver should be the first to fight.

The Beaver had “Sogalūn,” or Rain, for his guardian spirit, and he caused a great flood to fall and fill up the cave of the Giant Witch, hoping thus to drown him. But Giant Witch had the power to change himself into a “Seguap Squ Hm,” or Lamprey Eel, and in this shape he clung to the side of his cave and so escaped. Beaver, thinking that the foe was drowned, swam into the cave, and was caught in a “K’pagūtīhīgan,” or beaver trap, which Giant Witch had purposely set for him. Thus perished Beaver, the first magician.

Next to try his strength was Moskwe, the Wood Worm, whose poohegan is “Fire.” Wood Worm told Fire that he would bore a hole into the cave that night, and bade him enter next day and burn up the foe. He set to work, and with his sharp head, by wriggling and winding himself like a screw, he soon made a deep hole in the mountain side. But Giant Witch knew very well what was going on, and he sent Humming-bird with a piece of “chū-gāga-sīq’,” or punk, to plug up the hole, which he did so well that Wood Worm could not make{22} his way back to the open air, and when Fire came to execute his orders, the punk blazed up and destroyed Moskwe, the Wood Worm. Thus perished the second sorcerer.

Next to fight was K’tchi Atōsis, the Big Snake, who had “Amwess,” the Bee, for a protector. The Bee summoned all his winged followers, and they flew into the cave in a body, swarming all over Giant Witch and stinging him till he roared with pain; but he sent Humming-bird to gather a quantity of birch bark, which he set on fire, making a dense smoke which stifled all the bees.

After waiting some time, Big Snake entered the cave to see if the bees had slain the enemy; but he was speedily caught in a dead fall which the Witch had prepared for him, and thus perished the third warrior.

The great chief, Hassagwākq’, was sore distressed at losing three of his mightiest men without accomplishing anything, but still, seven yet remained.

Next came Quāgsis, the Fox, whose poohegan was “K’sī-nochka,” or “Disease,” and he commanded to afflict the foe with all manner of evils. The Witch was soon covered with boils{23} and sores, and every part of his body was filled with aches and pains. But he despatched his guardian spirit, the Humming-bird, to “Quiliphirt,” the God of medicine, who gave him the plant “Kī Kay īn-bīsun,”[1] and as soon as it was administered, every ill departed.

The next to enter the lists was Āgwem, the Loon, whose poohegan was “K’taiūk,” or Cold. Soon the mountain was covered with snow and ice, the cave was filled with cold blasts of wind, frosts split the trees and cracked asunder the huge rocks. The Giant Witch suffered horribly, but did not yield. He produced his magic stone and heated it red-hot, still, so intense was the cold that it had no power to help him.

Alŭmūset’s wings were frozen, and he could{24} not fly on any more errands; but another of the master’s attendant spirits, “Litŭswāgan,” or Thought, went like a flash to “Sūwessen,” the South Wind, and begged his aid.

The warm South Wind began to blow about the mountain, and Cold was driven from the scene.

Next to try his fate was Kosq, the Heron, whose guardian spirit was “Chenoo,” the giant with the heart of ice, who quickly went to work with his big stone hatchet, chopped down trees, tore up rocks, and began to hew a vast hole in the side of the mountain; but the Giant Witch now for the first time let loose his terrible dog “M’dāssmūss,” who barked so loudly and attacked Chenoo so savagely that he was driven thence in alarm.

The next warrior was Mūin, the Bear, whose poohegans were “Petāgŭn,” or Thunder, and “Pessāquessŭk,” or Lightning. Soon a tremendous thunderstorm arose which shook the whole mountain, and a thunder-bolt split the mouth of the cave in twain; the lightning flashed into the cavern and nearly blinded the Giant Witch, who now for the first time knew what it was to fear. He yelled aloud with pain,{25} for he was fearfully burned by the lightning. Thunder and Lightning redoubled their fury, and filled the place with fire, much alarming the foe, who hurriedly bade Humming-bird summon “Haplebembo,” the big bull-frog, to his aid. Bull-frog appeared, and spat out his huge mouth full of water, which nearly filled the cave, quenching the fire, and driving away Thunder and Lightning.

Next to fight was Lox, the Indian Devil. Now Lox was always a coward, and having heard of the misfortunes of his friends, he cut off one of his big toes, and when Striped Squirrel called him to begin the battle, he excused himself, saying that he was lame and could not move.

Next in order came K’tchīplāgan, the Eagle, whose poohegan was “Aplāsŭmbressit,” the Whirlwind. When he entered the enemy’s abode in all his fury and frenzy of noise, the Giant Witch awoke from sleep, and instantly “K’plāmūsūke” lost his breath and was unable to speak; he signed to Humming-bird to go for “Culloo,” the lord of all great birds; but the Whirlwind was so strong that the Humming-bird could not get out of the cave, being{26} beaten back again and again. Therefore the Giant Witch bade Thought summon Culloo. In an instant the great bird was at his side, and made such a strong wind with his wings at the mouth of the cave that the power of the Whirlwind was destroyed.

Hassagwākq’ now began to despair, for but one witch remained to him, and that was Wābe-kèloch, the Wild Goose, who was very quiet, though a clever fellow, never quarrelling with any one, and not regarded as a powerful warrior. But the great chief had a dream in which he saw a monstrous giant standing at the mouth of the enemy’s cave. He was so tall that he reached from the earth to the sky, and he said that all that was needful in order to destroy the foe was to let some young woman entice him out of his lair, when he would at once lose his magic power and might readily be slain.

The chief repeated this dream to Wābe-kèloch, ordering him to obey these wise words. Wild Goose’s poohegan was “Mikŭmwess,” the Indian Puck, a fairy elf, who speedily took the shape of a beautiful girl and went to the mouth of the cave, where he climbed into a tall hemlock-tree, singing this song as he mounted:{27}

“Come hither, young man,
Come list to my song,
Come forth this lovely night,
Come forth, for the moon shines bright,
Come, see the leaves so red,
Come, breathe the air so pure.”

Giant Witch heard the voice, and coming to the mouth of the cave, he was so charmed by the music that he stepped out and saw a most lovely girl sitting among the branches of a tree. She called to him: “W’litt hoddm’n, natchī pen eqūlin w’liketnqu’ hēmus,”—“Please, kind old man, help me down from this tree.” As soon as he approached her, Glūs-kābé, the great king of men, sprang from behind the tree, threw his “timhēgan,” his stone hatchet, at him and split his head open. Then addressing him, Glūs-kābé said: “You have been a wicked witch, and have destroyed many of Chief Hassagwākq’s best warriors. Now speak yet once again and tell where you have laid the bones of your victims.” Giant Witch replied that in the hollow of the mountain rested a vast heap of human bones, all that remained of what were once the mightiest men of Striped Squirrel’s tribe.

He then being dead, Glūs-kābé commanded all the birds of the air and the beasts of the{28} forest to assemble and devour the body of Giant Witch.

This being done, Glūs-kābé ordered the beasts to go into the cave and bring forth the bones of the dead warriors, which they did. He next bade the birds take each a bone in his beak and pile them together at the village of Hassagwākq’.

He then directed that chief to build a high wall of great stones around the heap of bones, to cover them with wood, and make ready “eqūnāk’n,” or a hot bath.

Then Glūs-kābé set the wood on fire and began to sing his magic song; soon he bade the people heap more wood upon the fire, and pour water on the steaming stones. He sang louder and louder, faster and faster, until his voice shook the whole village; and he ordered the people to stop their ears lest the strength of his voice should kill them. Then he redoubled his singing, and the bones began to move with the heat, and to sizzle and smoke and give forth a strange sound. Then Glūs-kābé sang his resurrection song in a low tone; at last the bones began to chant with him; he threw on more water, and the bones came together in their natural order and became living human beings once more.{29}

The people were amazed with astonishment at Glūs-kābé’s might; and the great Chief Hassagwākq’ gathered together all the neighboring tribes and celebrated the marvellous event with the resurrection feast, which lasted many days, and the tribe of Striped Squirrel was never troubled by evil witches forever afterward.{30}


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