"Who was this Nanahboozhoo that we are hearing so much about?"
Thus was the old story-teller addressed by Sagastao, who always was anxious to learn about those who interested him.
The old man began in this way:
"When the great mountains are wrapped in the clouds we do not see them very well. So it is with Nanahboozhoo. The long years that have passed since he lived have, like the fogs and mists, made it less easy to say exactly who he really was, but I will try to tell you. Nanahboozhoo was not from one tribe only, but from all the Indians. Hence it is that his very name is so different.
"The Ojibway call him Mishawabus—Great Rabbit; the Menomini call him Manabush. He had other names also. One tribe called him Jouskeha, another Messou, another Manabozho, and another Hiawatha. His father was Mudjekeewis, the West Wind. There was an old woman named Nokomis, the granddaughter of the moon, who had a daughter whose name was Wenonah. She was the mother of twin boys, but at their birth she died and so did one of the boys. Nokomis wrapped the living child in soft dry grass, laid it on the ground at one end of her wigwam, and placed over it a great wooden bowl to protect it from harm. Then in her grief she took up the body of Wenonah, her daughter, and buried it, with the dead child, at some distance from her wigwam. When she returned from thus laying away her dead she sat down in her wigwam, and for four days mourned her loss. At the end of that time she heard a slight noise in her wigwam, which she soon found came from that wooden bowl. Then as the bowl moved she suddenly remembered the living child, which she had forgotten in her great grief at the loss of its mother. When she removed the bowl from its place, instead of there being the baby boy she had placed there she beheld a little white rabbit, and on taking it up she said, 'O my dear little rabbit, my Manabush!' Nokomis took great care of it and it grew very rapidly.
"One day, when Manabush was quite large, it sat up on its haunches and hopped slowly across the floor of the wigwam, and caused the earth to tremble.
"When the bad Windegoos, or evil spirits who dwell underground, felt the earth to thus tremble they said, 'What is the matter? What has happened? A great Munedoo (spirit) is born somewhere.' And at once they began to devise means by which they might kill Manabush, or Nanahboozhoo, as he was now called, when they should find him.
"But Nanahboozhoo did not long continue to look like a rabbit. As he was superior to other people he could change himself to any form he liked. He was most frequently seen as a fine strong young Indian hunter. He called the people his uncles. When he grew up he said to his grandmother, the old Nokomis, that the time had come when he should prepare himself to go and help his uncles, the people, to better their condition. This he was able to do, seeing he was more than human, for his father was the West Wind and his mother a great-granddaughter of the moon. Sometimes he was the beautiful white rabbit; then he would be a wolf or a wolverine; then he would be a lovely bird. He could even change himself to look like a dry old stump or a beautiful tree. Sometimes he would be like a little half-frozen rabbit; then he would be a mighty magician, and often a little snake. He was just as changeable in his disposition as in his outward appearance. Sometimes he was doing the best things imaginable for his uncles, the Indian people, and at other times he was full of mischief and trickery. But on the whole he was a friend, and although quick-tempered and fiery yet he did lots of fine things for the people, for he was really one of the best of the Munedoos of the early times.
"When the time came for him to leave his grandmother's wigwam he built one for himself, and then he asked Nokomis to prepare for him the sacred magical musical sticks which she alone could make. His grandmother made him four sticks, and with these he used to beat time when singing his queer songs. Some of them were very queer, and ended up with 'He! he! ho! ho! ha! ha! hi! hi!' Others were in reference to some special benefits he would confer on his uncles. In one of them, referring to his going to steal the fire for them, he sings:
"'Help to my uncles I'm bringing,
Their sorrows I'll change into singing.
From their enemies the fire I'll steal,
That its warmth the children may feel.
"'Disguised will be Nanahboozhoo,
That his work may the better be done;
But his jolly deeds ever will tell who
Has been sporting around in his fun.'
"At first he was a jolly fellow, full of fun, and did lots of good things for his uncles. He showed them the plants and roots good for food, and taught them the arts of surgery and medicine, but as the years went by he did some things that caused him to be feared very much. His uncles always went to him when they got into trouble, but whether he would help them or not depended much on the humor he was in when they came.
"After he had lived for years in the first wigwam which he had built, and taught the people of the earth many things, his father, the West Wind, held a council with the North Wind and the South Wind and the East Wind, and as Nanahboozhoo was never married, and was living such a lonely life, they determined to restore to life, and give to reside with him, his twin brother who had died at his birth. The name of this brother was Nahpootee, which means the Skillful Hunter. Nanahboozhoo was very fond of him, and took great care of him. He grew very rapidly, and he and Nanahboozhoo were very great friends. Like Nanahboozhoo, Nahpootee could disguise himself in any form he chose. One favorite form he often assumed was that of a wolf, as he was often away on hunting excursions. The evil spirits, or Windegoos, who dwell under the land and sea, had never been able to do much harm to Nanahboozhoo, he was too clever for them; and although they often tried he generally worsted them. Now they were doubly angry when they heard that Nahpootee had been restored to life and was living with him. Nanahboozhoo warned his brother of their enmity, and of the necessity of being on his guard against them.
"These brothers moved far away and built their wigwam in a lonely country on the shore of a great lake which is now called Mirror Lake, because of its beautiful reflections. Here, as he was a hunter, Nahpootee was kept busy supplying the wigwam with food. Once, while he was away hunting, Nanahboozhoo discovered that some of the evil Munedoos dwelt in the bottom of the very lake on the shores of which they had built their wigwam. So he warned his brother, Nahpootee, never to cross that lake, but always to go around on the shore, and for some time he remembered this warning and was not attacked. But one cold winter day, when he had been out for a long time hunting, he found himself exactly on the opposite side of the lake from the wigwam. The ice seemed strong, and as the distance was shorter he decided that, rather than walk around on the shore, he would cross on the ice. When about half-way across the lake the ice broke, he was seized by the evil Munedoos and drowned.
"When Nahpootee failed to return to the wigwam Nanahboozhoo was filled with alarm and at once began searching everywhere for his loved, lost brother. One day when he was walking under some trees at the lake he beheld, high up among the branches, Ookiskimunisew, the kingfisher.
"'What are you doing there?' asked Nanahboozhoo.
"'The bad Munedoos have killed Nahpootee,' Ookiskimunisew replied, 'and soon they are going to throw his body up on the shore and I am going to feast on it!'
"This answer made Nanahboozhoo very angry, but he concealed his feelings.
"'Come down here, handsome bird,' he said, 'and I'll give you this collar to hang on your neck.'
"The kingfisher suspected that the speaker was Nanahboozhoo, the brother of Nahpootee, and he was afraid to descend.
"'Come down, and have no fear,' said Nanahboozhoo, in a friendly tone. 'I only want to give you this beautiful necklace to wear, with the white shell hanging from it.'
"On hearing this the kingfisher came down, but suspecting that Nanahboozhoo would be up to some of his tricks he kept a sharp watch on him. Nanahboozhoo placed the necklace about the neck of the bird so that the beautiful white shell should be over the breast. Then he pretended to tie the ends behind, but just as he had made a half knot in the cord, and was going to tighten it and strangle the bird, the latter was too quick for him and suddenly slipped away and escaped. He kept the necklace, however, and the white spot may be seen on the breast of the kingfisher to this day.
"Soon after this the shade or ghost of Nahpootee appeared to Nanahboozhoo and told him that, as his death was the result of his own carelessness, in not keeping on the land, he would not be restored to live here, but was even now on his way to the Happy Hunting Grounds, in the Land of the Setting Sun, beyond the Great Mountains.
"Nanahboozhoo was deeply moved by the loss of his brother, who had been such a pleasant companion to him. So great was his grief that at times the earth trembled and the evil spirits dwelling under the land or water were much terrified, for they knew they would be terribly punished by Nanahboozhoo if he should ever get them in his power. But it was a long time before he had an opportunity to get his revenge on them for the death of his brother. How he did it I will tell you at some future time."