Algonquin Indian Tales | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Glossary |


Shooting Loons—Why the Loon has a Flat Back, Red Eyes, and Such Queer Feet—Nanahboozhoo Loses His Dinner—Origin of Lichens—Why Some Willows are Red—The Partridge.

Nothing gave the children greater pleasure than to have the Indians take them in their canoes for a couple of hours' trip on the bright waters of the beautiful lake that spread out before their home.

These pleasant outings were sometimes rendered exciting and doubly interesting by the sight of a black bear or a deer wandering on the shore or swimming from some point on the island. At other times there would be numbers of loons, or great Northern divers, as they are generally called. Their wonderful quickness in diving, then the length of time that they could remain under the water and the great distance they would swim before coming to the surface were watched with great interest by both Sagastao and Minnehaha.

The Indians did not often hunt loons. In fact they found it so difficult to shoot one that more than its value in ammunition was generally expended in the attempt. The Indians always declared that these clever birds could see the flash of their guns and dive down out of danger before the shot reached them.

However, as some of them were desired for their beautiful feather-covered skins, which make most valuable and beautiful caps and muffs, it was decided that Souwanas and Kennedy should take the missionary's breech-loading rifle, in addition to their own guns, and try to secure a few.

The children begged to be allowed to accompany them, and as the day was unusually fine and the lake almost without a ripple they were given a holiday and allowed the privilege of an all-day outing with these two trusty and experienced men.

A generous lunch, with the indispensable tea kettle, was placed in the canoe by careful Mary, who, as usual, was angry that the children were to be so long under the witchery of old Souwanas.

With the merry shouts of laughter from the children as their accompaniment the two Indians skillfully plied their paddles, and it was not long before they were some miles distant and on the lookout for loons. It often happens that the things desired are the last to come. So it was this day. Wild ducks in goodly numbers, and even geese and some swans and pelicans were frequently seen. At length, however, strange, mournful sounds far ahead were heard, and the experienced Indians knew that the birds for which they were looking were not far away. Still it was some time before the first long white neck and black head were seen in the distance, for the cry of the loon not only differs from that of any other bird, but is very far-reaching.

The excited children were now told to be very still and keep quiet, using their eyes alone, and witness the contest between man's skill and the birds' cleverness.

So accustomed have some old loons become to being fired at and missed by Indians using the old-fashioned flintlock shotgun, which makes such a flash when fired, that they just barely keep out of range. The instant they see the fire flash—down they go, and then as the shot or bullet strikes the place where they were they bob up again serenely in the same spot, or in one not very far distant. This risky sport some of them will keep up for hours, or until the disheartened hunters have wasted nearly all their ammunition.

To-day, however, there was to be a new weapon tried against them, and, alas for them, they were sadly worsted. Kennedy first loaded his old flintlock shotgun and blazed away, but, as usual, they were out of sight under the water before the shot struck the place where the loons had been.

For a time the loons were shy, and swam quite a distance away. But after a while, as they found that Kennedy's gunshots could be dodged, they did not bother to swim very far away. This was just what Souwanas was waiting for. He now took up the rifle, and as soon as a loon came to the surface he fired from this new weapon, that gave no flash to warn the poor bird of the deadly bullet that was so rapidly speeding on its way. Thus it happened that loon after loon was struck and several beautiful birds were secured—greatly to the sorrow of the children, who delighted in watching their clever diving and sudden reappearance after Kennedy discharged his old gun. Out of deference to their feelings the Indians soon ceased shooting, although with this new rifle they could easily have secured many more.

"Let us now go ashore, on one of these islands," said Sagastao, "and have our lunch."

"And a Nanahboozhoo story after," put in Minnehaha.

This plan was just what the Indians were thinking about, and so in a short time they were all on the shore. Dry wood was abundant and a bright fire was soon burning, and then, when the water was boiled and the tea made, the lunch basket was opened and the meal was much enjoyed by all.

"Now, Souwanas," said Minnehaha, "we are all ready for the story at the same time, and if your pipe goes out I'll hand you a burning stick with which you can light it again."

"Maybe I will keep you very busy," remarked the old man, much amused at the offer—and so it proved, for his pipe to-day persisted in going out.

"One day," began Souwanas, "as Nanahboozhoo was walking along the shore of a lake he became hungry. He considered what it would be best for him to do in order to procure something to eat. He decided to deceive the waterfowls. He saw a duck swimming along near the shore and spoke to the bird in this fashion:

"'Come here, my brother.'

"'What is it?' said the duck, as it approached Nanahboozhoo.

"'Kesha Munedoo (Gracious Spirit) has revealed words to me to tell to all the waterfowl some very important things. Go and tell all sorts of waterfowl to come, and when they are all together I will inform you what has been revealed to me.'

"The duck obeyed Nanahboozhoo, who in the meantime made a very bare wigwam of green boughs, or rather caused it to appear that he did, for he did not exert much labor upon it. All sorts of waterfowl came to Nanahboozhoo and they seemed anxious to hear what had been revealed. Nanahboozhoo received them with great apparent friendliness and invited them to come into the wigwam. When they had all entered, he said:

"'You must all dance, first, before I tell you what has been revealed to me. All of you must stand close together around inside of the wigwam and put your necks close together while dancing, and all of you must flap your wings at the same time.'

"Then Nanahboozhoo commenced singing:


    ("'Shut your eyes,
    And I'll make you wise.')

"These words Nanahboozhoo repeated three times.

"All the fowl kept time to the music and words of the song, and danced, shutting their eyes. Nanahboozhoo continued singing, changing to the following words:


"All the time such was Nanahboozhoo's power over the birds that they kept singing and dancing and at the same time holding their heads close together. Nanahboozhoo's voice was singing in the center of the tent, his drum beating at the same time, while he in person went around in the wigwam or lodge wringing the necks of the waterfowl and throwing them on the side of the lodge. The loon, the great diver bird, was dancing on the open door side of the lodge. He suspected that Nanahboozhoo was up to some of his tricks, doing something bad, so he opened his eyes and saw. At once he gave the alarm, and shouted:

"'Nanahboozhoo is killing us!'

"All the fowl that were still alive when they heard these words at once flew out at the top opening of the lodge, except the loon, or diver, and he being at the door turned and ran out of the lodge as fast as he could toward the shore of the lake.

"Nanahboozhoo was so angry at him for daring to open his eyes, and then for warning the others, enabling many of them to get away, that he ran after him and stamped upon him as he had just reached the shore. Hence it is, because of Nanahboozhoo's cruelty, that the loon has had a flat back and red eyes, and its feet are so unlike those of any other waterfowl.

"When Nanahboozhoo had made a large fire he took the waterfowls he had killed before the diver gave the alarm, and covered them under the ashes, leaving only their feet sticking out. While he was waiting for them to cook he felt very sleepy, so he lay down to rest.

"But before he went to sleep he said, 'My face side has always done all the watching. This is not fair. I will make my back do its share of the watching.'

"So, as he cuddled down to have a sleep before the fire, he said to his back:

"'Now, you do the watching, you lazy, broad back, while I am sleeping.' Then, being very tired, he fell into a heavy sleep.

"After a time the watcher called out:

"'Nanahboozhoo! Indians are coming!'

"Nanahboozhoo slightly raised himself, but he saw no Indians, so he lay down to sleep again.

"But again and yet again, for three times, did his faithful watcher call and warn him against his approaching enemies. Nanahboozhoo was now so stupid with sleep that he only aroused himself a little, not enough to enable him to detect the lurking enemy. So he became very angry with his watcher, his broad back, and gave it a great thrashing, saying:

"'There! take that, you great stupid watcher, for so disturbing me with your false reports!'

"Then Nanahboozhoo fell asleep again. The broad back was very much offended at the treatment he had received, for he knew he was right, and now, though the Indians were close at hand, he did not again warn Nanahboozhoo, so the enemies came and stole all of his cooked fowls. The Indians carefully lifted out the fowls by their legs, which Nanahboozhoo left sticking up. When they had eaten the bodies of the fowls they stuck back the legs in the ashes, as Nanahboozhoo had left them.

"When at last his sleep was ended Nanahboozhoo arose ready for his meal of nicely cooked fowl. Great, indeed, were his surprise and indignation when he pulled out the feet from the ashes and found that the bodies of the fowls were not there.

"He flew into a passion and resolved to punish his back. So he made a fire of big trees and stood with his back very close to it. When his flesh began to be badly burned it blistered, and made a noise like the roasting of meat. Nanahboozhoo did not at first seem to mind the pain, and only said:

"'You may well say 'Zeeng, Zeeng,' in your burning. I will teach you a lesson you will remember for not telling me that the Indians were stealing my roasted waterfowl.'

"Nanahboozhoo then went on his way, but in spite of his magic powers he felt a sort of a soreness in his back. He twisted his head around and saw the blisters that had been made by the fierce fire. So he thought how he must get rid of them, for they bothered him, although nothing could injure him for very long. While walking on the edge of a precipice he slipped—and away he slid, far down the rocky side. When he reached the bottom, he looked back, and there, on the rock, on which he had slid down, he saw things which he had never seen before.

"'My nephews,' said Nanahboozhoo, 'when they see these things on the rocks, will call them Wau-konug (lichen), and although they are poor food they will keep them from starving when they have nothing better.'

"This is the Indian tradition of the origin of the patches of lichen attached to the bare rocks. The Indians still call them 'no-scabs,' and when boiled they make a kind of jelly food which is a little better than starvation.

"Then Nanahboozhoo, although his back was bleeding from his sliding down the rough rocks, continued walking, sometimes along the shore and sometimes in the thick bush. In one place where the thicket was very dense such was his magic power that he pulled a lot of the thickets together and walked over on their tops. When he looked back he saw that the blood from the wounds in his back had given a red color to the bushes over which he had walked. Then said Nanahboozhoo:

"'My nephews will call these bushes "Me-squah-be-me-sheen" (red willows). They will use them to stop bleeding when they meet with any severe accidents;' and such the Indians still do when they live among them.

"This is the tradition as to the origin of the red willow, once so common in many of the Indian haunts.

"The reason why the partridge is called Kosh-ko-e-wa-soo (one that startles) is because one made even Nanahboozhoo give a big jump. It happened in this way:

"As Nanahboozhoo was walking along one day in the woods he saw a small creature. This little thing thought it would be best for him to be brave in the presence of Nanahboozhoo, and so when he was asked who he was he answered:

"'I am one who startles.'

"'You cannot startle me,' said Nanahboozhoo.

"The little creature suddenly flew away and Nanahboozhoo resumed his journey. By and by he reached a dangerous rocky point on the shore. Just as he was at the worst point the partridge suddenly flew almost from under his feet with a rumbling noise, and so startled him that he jumped up, sprang quickly aside, fell into the water, and got a great wetting. So even Nanahboozhoo had to confirm the name of the little partridge."

The return trip was not much enjoyed by the children. The dead loons in the canoe did not look as attractive as they had appeared when swimming and diving so gracefully in the lake. Souwanas was quick to notice their depression of spirits, and he there and then resolved that he would never again shoot any living thing in their presence, and he faithfully kept his resolve.

Mary met them as they landed and her quick eyes detected the change in their spirits, and as they wore their hearts on their sleeves for her she quickly found out the cause of their sorrow. She was not slow in availing herself of the opportunity afforded of giving Souwanas and Kennedy a vigorous scolding for nearly breaking the hearts of her precious darlings, by killing in their presence some of the birds whose play they had often watched for hours together.

The two men took her scolding in their usual silent way, and then had a quiet laugh together when her wrath had exhausted itself and she had indignantly walked off with the children.

contact us - copyright & disclaimer - search - privacy statement