Native American Legends
Adventures of Great Rabbit
An Algonquin Legend
Among the Micmac and Passamaquoddy of the Northeast coast it is
Mahtigwess the Rabbit who is a powerful trickster. Rabbit has m'te'olin,
great magical powers.
Wildcat is mean and ferocious. He has a short tail and big, long,
sharp fangs, and his favorite food is rabbit.
One day when Wildcat was hungry, he said to himself:
"I'm going to catch and eat Mahtigwess, Great Rabbit, himself.
He's plump and smart, and nothing less will do for my dinner."
So he went hunting for Great Rabbit.
Now, Great Rabbit can sense what others are thinking from a long
way off, so he already knew that Wildcat was after him. He made
up his mind that he would use his magical power against Wildcat's
He picked up a handful of wood-chips, threw them ahead of himself,
and jumped after them, and because Great Rabbit is m'te'oulin, every
jump was a mile. Jumping that far, of course, he left very few tracks
Wildcat swore a mighty oath that he would catch Great Rabbit, that
he would find him even if Mahtigwess had fled to the end of the
At that time Wildcat had a beautiful long tail, and he swore by
"Let my tail fall off - may I have just a little stump for
a tail - if I fail to catch Great Rabbit!"
After a mile he found Rabbit's tracks. After another mile he found
some more tracks. Wildcat was not altogether without magic either,
and he was persevering. So mile by mile, he kept on Rabbit's trail.
In fact, Wildcat was drawing closer and closer. It grew dark and
Great Rabbit grew tired. He was on a wide, empty plain of snow,
and there was nothing to hide behind except a little spruce tree.
He stomped on the snow and made himself a seat and bed of spruce
When Wildcat came to that spot, he found a fine, big wigwam and
stuck his head through the door. Sitting inside was an old, gray-haired
chief, solemn and mighty. The only strange thing about him was that
he had two long ears standing up at each side of his head.
"Great Chief," said Wildcat, "have you by any chance
seen a biggish rabbit running like mad?"
"Rabbits? Why of course, there are hundreds, thousands of
rabbits hereabouts, but what's the hurry? It's late and you must
be tired. If you want to hunt rabbits, start in the morning after
a good night's sleep. I'm a lonely man and enjoy the company of
a respected personage like you. Stay overnight; I have a fine rabbit
stew cooking here."
Wildcat was flattered.
"Big Chief, I am honored," he said.
He ate a whole kettle full of tasty rabbit stew and then fell asleep
before the roaring fire. Wildcat awoke early because he was freezing.
He found himself alone in the midst of a huge snowfield. Nothing
was there, no wigwam, no fire, no old chief; all he could see were
a few little spruce boughs. It had been a dream, an illusion created
by Great Rabbit's magic. Even the stew had been an illusion, and
Wildcat was ravenous.
Shivering in the icy wind, Wildcat howled:
"Rabbit has tricked me again, but I'll get even with him.
By my tail, I swear I'll catch, kill, and eat him!"
Again Great Rabbit traveled with his mile-wide jumps, and again
Wildcat followed closely.
At nightfall Rabbit said to himself:
"Time to rest and conjure something up."
This time he trampled down a large area and spread many pine boughs
around. When Wildcat arrived, he found a large village full of busy
people, though of what tribe he couldn't tell. He also saw a big
wooden church painted white, the kind the French Jesuits were putting
up among some tribes.
Wildcat went up to a young man who was about to enter the church.
"Friend, have you seen a biggish rabbit hereabouts, running
"Quiet," said the young man, "we're having a prayer
meeting. Wait until the sermon is over."
The young man went into the church, and Wildcat followed him. There
were lots of people sitting and listening to a gray-haired preacher.
The only strange thing was the two long ears sticking up at each
side of the priest's cap. He was preaching a very, very long sermon
about the wickedness of ferocious wild beasts who tear up victims
with their big, sharp fangs and then devour them.
"Such savage fiends will be punished for their sins,"
said this preacher over and over.
Wildcat didn't like the long sermon, but he had to wait all the
same. When the preaching was over at last, he went up to the priest
with the long ears and asked:
"Sir, have you seen a very sacred, biggish rabbit hereabouts?"
"Rabbits!" exclaimed the preacher. "We have a wet,
foggy cedar swamp nearby with thousands of rabbits."
"I don't mean just any rabbit; I'm speaking of Great Rabbit."
"Of him I know nothing, friend. But over there in that big
wigwam lives the wise old chief, the Sagamore. Go and ask him; he
Wildcat went to the wigwam and found the Sagamore, an imposing
figure, gray-haired like the preacher, with long white locks sticking
up on each side of his head.
"Young man," said the Sagamore gravely, "what can
I do for you?"
"I'm looking for the biggish Great Rabbit."
"Ah! Him! He's hard to find and hard to catch. Tonight it's
too late, but tomorrow I'll help you. Sit down, dear man. My daughters
will give you a fine supper."
The Sagamore's daughters were beautiful. They brought Wildcat many
large wooden bowls of the choicest food, and he ate it all up, because
by now he was very hungry. The warmth of the fire and his full stomach
made him drowsy, and the Sagamore's daughters brought him a thick
white bearskin to sleep on.
"You people really know how to treat a guest." said Wildcat
as he fell asleep.
When he awoke, he found himself in a dismal, wet, foggy cedar swamp.
Nothing was there except mud and icy slush and a lot of rabbit tracks.
There was no village, no church, no wigwam, no Sagamore, no beautiful
daughters. They had all been a mirage conjured up by Great Rabbit.
The fine food had been a mirage too, and Wildcat's stomach was growling.
He was ankle-deep in the freezing swamp. The fog was so thick he
could hardly see anything.
Enraged, he vowed to find and kill Great Rabbit even if he should
die in the attempt. He swore by his tail, his teeth, his claws -
by everything dear to him. Then he hastened on.
That night Wildcat came to a big long-house. Inside, it was like
a great hall, and it was full of people. On a high seat sat the
chief, who wore two long white feathers at each side of his head.
This venerable leader also had beautiful daughters who fed all comers,
for Wildcat had stumbled into the midst of a great feast. Exhausted
and panting, he gasped:
"Has any one seen the bi-big- biggish G-G-Great Ra-Rab-Rabbit?"
"Later, friend," said the chief with the two white feathers.
"We are feasting, dancing, singing. You seem exhausted, poor
man! Sit down; catch your breath. Rest. Eat."
Wildcat sat down. The people were having a singing contest, and
chief on his high seat pointed at Wildcat and said, "Our guest
here looks like a fine singer. Perhaps he will honor us with a song."
Wild cat was flattered. He arose and sang:
Rabbits! How I hate them!
How I despise them!
How I laugh at them!
How I kill them!
How I scalp them!
How I eat them!
"A truly wonderful song," said the chief. "I must
reward you for it. Here's what I give you."
And with that the chief jumped up from his high seat, jumped over
Wildcat's head, struck him a blow from his tomahawk,
kept on jumping with mile-long leaps - and all was gone.
The long-house, the hall, the people, the daughters: none remained.
Once more Wildcat found himself alone in the middle of nowhere,
worse off than ever, for he had a gash in his scalp where Great
Rabbit had hit him with the tomahawk. His feet were sore, his stomach
empty. He could hardly crawl. But he was more infuriated than ever.
"I'll kill him!" he growled, "I'll give my life!
And the tricks are over; he won't fool me again!"
That night Wildcat came to two beautiful wigwams. In the first
was a young woman, obviously a chief's daughter. In the other was
someone whom Wildcat took for her father, an elderly, gray-haired,
gentle- looking man with two scalp locks sticking up at the sides
of his head.
"Come in, come in, poor man," said the gray-haired host.
"You're wounded! My daughter will wash and cure that cut. And
we must build up your strength. I have a fine broth here and a pitcher
full of wine, the drink the Frenchmen make. It has great restorative
But Wildcat was suspicious.
"If this is Great Rabbit in disguise again, he won't fool
me," he promised himself.
"Dear sir," said Wildcat, "I hesitate to mention
it, but the two scalp locks sticking up at the sides of your head
look very much like rabbit's ears."
"Rabbit's ears? How funny!" said the old man. "Know,
friend, that in our tribe we all wear our scalp locks this way."
"Ah," said Wildcat, "but your nose is split exactly
like a rabbit's nose."
"Don't remind me, friend. Some weeks ago I was hammering wampum
beads, and the stone I was using to pound them on broke in half.
A sharp flew up and split my nose - a great misfortune, because
it does disfigure me."
"It does indeed. A pity. But why are your soles so yellow,
like a rabbit's soles?"
"Oh, that's nothing. I prepared some tobacco yesterday, and
the juice stained my palms yellow."
Then Wildcat said to himself: "This man is no rabbit."
The old man called to his daughter, who washed Wildcat's wound,
put a healing salve into it, and bathed his face. Then the old man
gave him a wonderfully strengthening broth and a large pitcher of
"This wine is really good," said Wildcat, "the first
I ever tasted."
"Yes, these white people, these Frenchmen, are very clever
at making good things to drink."
When Wildcat awoke, he found, of course, that he had been tricked
again. The food he had eaten was rabbit pellets, the wine was stale
water in a half- wilted pitcher plant. Now it was only his great
hatred that kept Wildcat going, but go he did, like a streak, on
Mahtigwess, Great Rabbit, had only enough m'te'oulin, enough magic
power, left for one more trick. So he said to himself:
"This time I'd better make it good!"
Great Rabbit came to a big lake and threw a chip of wood into the
water. Immediately it turned into a towering ship, the kind white
men build, with tall sides, three masts, white sails, and colored
flags. That ship was pierced on each side with three rows of heavy
When Wildcat arrived at this lake, he saw the ship with its crew.
On deck was the captain, a gray-haired man with a large, gold- trimmed,
cocked hat that had fluffy white plumes right and left.
"Rabbit!" cried Wildcat, "I know you! You're no
French captain; you're Great Rabbit. I know you, Mahtigwess! I am
the mighty Wildcat, and I'm coming to scalp and kill you now!"
And with that, Wildcat jumped into the lake and swam toward the
Then the captain, who indeed was Mahtigwess, the Great Rabbit,
ordered his men to fire their muskets and the three rows of heavy
cannon. Bullets went whistling by Wildcat; cannonballs flew toward
him; the whole world was spitting thunder and fire.
Wildcat had never before faced white men's firearms; they were
entirely new to him. It didn't matter that the ship, cannon, muskets,
cannon-balls, bullets, fire, noise, and smoke were merely illusions
conjured up by Rabbit. To Wildcat they were real, and he was scared
He swam back to shore and ran away. And if he hasn't died, he is
And yes, as Wildcat had sworn by his tail to catch and kill Rabbit,
his tail fell off, and ever since then this kind of big wildcat
has a short, stumpy tail and is called a bobcat.
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