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Native American Legends

Coon deceives Crawfish

A Seneca Legend

One day a coon was walking out. As he went slowly along the bank of a stream, he thought of his enemies, the crawfish, and wondered how he could kill them. At last he stood still and thought out a plan: he would go along the stream till he found a half-decayed log; he would take some of the soft, rotten wood, the punk of the log, and rub it over his face and around his eyes till he looked half-decayed himself, then he would wait for his enemies.

He hurried along and soon found a log. He rubbed his face with punk then stretched himself across the log, half of his body hanging down on one side and his head and neck on the other side. Lying in this lifeless way he looked as though he had been a long time dead.

By and by a crawfish, that was walking along and looking around, chanced to see Coon, and he thought, "There is a dead man!" He was surprised, and said in his own mind, "I'll go and see if he is really dead."

He went to the log. Coon did not stir. Flies were crawling over his face and body.

"Why, this is our enemy," said Crawfish, "and he is dead! This is good news to tell. I'll notify all of my people."

He started off immediately. When he thought he was near enough home to make some one hear, he screamed,"Go-gwa! go-gwa!" then he ran on, every little while halting to scream "Go-gwa! go-gwa!"

Some one heard the cry and notified the chief that runner was coming with important news. The people went to the edge of the village and waited. When the runner came in sight, the chief said, "Let half of the people stand on one side of the path and half on the other, that he may come to me quickly."

When the runner stood in front of the chief of the Crawfish nation the chief asked, "What news have you brought?"

"Great news! As I came along the creek I saw, not very far from here, a dead man hanging across a log, I went to the log and found that the dead man was our enemy, Coon. He has been dead a long time, flies we crawling over his face."

The chief said, "This is great news, the best we have ever heard. Our enemy is dead! We will go and look at him. The man who found him will lead us to the place."

Before starting they sang and as the song ended they gave a shout that filled the valley and went up to the top of the mountains. Some, in a hurry to see their enemy, pushed ahead, but the chief ordered them to stand back and move forward in order.

When the runner said they were half way, the chief told the people to halt and sing. They sang the same song and again the shout filled the valley and went to the top of the mountains.

When they came to the place, the chief told the men to form in a circle around the log, but not to go up to the man hanging across it till they were sure that he was dead.

After a while each man said to the chief, "He is dead and has been for a long time."

The chief said, "This is the best thing that has ever happened, but we must be perfectly sure that coon is dead. We will sing and shout and then the bravest man among us will go up to the body, reach into the mouth and, if possible, pull out the heart, then we shall know that our enemy is dead."

At the end of the song and the shout a man went up and put his hand into Coon's mouth, but he sprang back with a cry and he looked as though he were frightened and wanted to run away.

When they asked, "What is the matter?" he said,

"Coon is alive."

The men called him a liar, and said, "You want to fool us Coon is half rotten, and you say he is alive."

The chief called on another man whom he said always told the truth. The people sang and shouted, then the man stepped boldly up to the body, but he sprang back. The chief and the people were astonished when the man said, "Coon is alive!" There the body hung, head down, no one had seen it move, and the face was black.

The chief called out a third man, the best man in the Crawfish nation. The people sang and shouted, then the man went up to the body. He had just reached out to touch it when Coon sprang up, and dashing in among his enemies began to fight them. He pulled out their arms, pounded their heads, and killed them. Of all the Crawfish nation only one man escaped. That one found himself alone on a high hill and, not knowing which way to go, was terribly frightened.

"I shall die," thought Crawfish, "for how can I get back to the water. I shall die here alone." He crawled along slowly, for he was weak and thirsty. At last he saw a tree, then he said in his own mind, "I'll go and ask that tree what it is." When he came to the tree he spoke up and asked, "What kind of a tree are you?" The tree answered, "I am a black oak."

Crawfish was discouraged-black oaks grow far from water-and he said to himself, "I shall die here alone," but he crawled along slowly. After a time he saw another tree and when he came near it, he spoke up and asked, "What kind of a tree are you?" The tree answered, "I am a butternut."

Now butternut trees grow nearer the water than oaks do, so Crawfish knew he was going in the right direction, but his courage almost gave out for he was so thirsty and weak that he could scarcely move. Still he crawled on. After a long time he came to another tree, and asked as before, "What kind of tree are you?" The tree answered, "I am a cottonwood."

Crawfish was encouraged and began to think that maybe he would live till he came to some stream, for he knew that one was not far away. He crawled along and soot came to another tree. He asked, "What kind of a tree are you?" "I am a willow," answered the tree.

Now Crawfish was so glad that he screamed and laughed and called out, "I'm near water! I'm near water!" Soon he came to low bushes, then he stood up, jumped as far as be could and came down in water. He was so thirst that he didn't go to the bottom of the stream, but floated on the surface till he had taken a long drink. Then he sank to the bottom, and he still lives there.

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