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Native American Legends

Raccoon And The Crayfish

An Iroquois Legend

One day Joehgah, the raccoon, was walking along. As he walked he began to feel hungry. So, when he saw a small stream, he decided to do some fishing.

"Maybe there is a fish under here," he said, feeling under a large stone with his long fingers. A crayfish was hiding there. It nipped Raccoon's finger hard with its claws.

"Eh!" Raccoon yelped, pulling his paw out from under the stone. He reached under again. This time the crayfish nipped two of his fingers! "Eh-heh!" Raccoon yipped, pulling his paw out again. He was very angry. For a moment he almost forgot how hungry he was. Then he began to think.

"You crayfish are too smart for me," he said in a loud voice. "I am about to die of hunger and I cannot catch anything to eat." He walked away from the stream into the woods. There he found some sticky pine pitch and dead leaves on the ground. He rolled in the leaves and the pitch until his fur looked very messy. He found a rotting elm log and he bit off a piece of the rotten wood and wedged it in his mouth, then he walked quietly back to the stream, rolled over on his back, closed his eyes and opened his mouth.

Some time passed and a small crayfish came out of the stream. As soon as it saw Joehgah, the raccoon, it became frightened. "It is Ongwe Ias, the man-eater!" squeaked the crayfish. It scooted back into the stream and darted back under a rock. But later, when no raccoon paws came searching for it, the crayfish became curious. Once again it crawled to the edge of the stream bank and peeked out. There lay Raccoon. His fur was dirty, his mouth was open and his eyes were closed.

"Can it be that Raccoon has died?" said the little crayfish. He crawled slowly out of the stream. Joehgah did not move. "He is dead," said the crayfish. He jumped back into the stream and swam as fast as he could to the place where all the other crayfish lived. "Raccoon is dead!" he shouted. "The man-eater is dead. Our enemy will hunt us no more!"

Hearing all the noise, the chief of the crayfish asked his warriors to find out what was happening. Soon they came back, bringing the little crayfish with them.

"Raccoon is dead," said the small crayfish. "His body now lies on the bank of the stream."

"How did he die?" said the chief. He found it hard to believe Raccoon was truly gone.

The small crayfish looked around. Many had gathered to listen. "I killed him," he said. "It was a terrible fight. Many times he almost had me. Finally I picked him up and threw him on the ground. Then he died."

"Hmm," said the Chief of the crayfish. "Can you take us to the place where you fought this great battle?"

"Yes," said the small crayfish, "and you will see that Raccoon is dead indeed."

So the chief of the crayfish and many others went to the place where Joehgah still lay. His eyes were closed. His feet were up in the air. His mouth was open.

"See if he is dead," said the Chief to one of his warriors. The warrior crayfish scuttled a few inches out of the water and then hurried back to safety. But Raccoon had not moved.

"Yes," said the warrior crayfish, "he is dead."

"Go and pinch him," said the chief to another warrior. The second warrior crayfish scuttled up to Raccoon. Raccoon did not move. The crayfish reached out and grabbed Raccoon's tail hard with his claw and twisted it. But Raccoon did not move "He is dead," said the crayfish. But the Chief did not come out of the water.

"Look into his mouth," said the Chief. Another crayfish warrior came out of the water. He crawled up to Raccoon's mouth. He crawled right inside and found the rotting wood there.

"Eh-hey!" shouted the third crayfish. "He is very dead. He has begun to rot!"

Now the Chief was convinced. He led the others out of the water. There were many of them and they formed a circle around Raccoon's body. They began to dance, singing this victory song:

Jo-eh-gah, Jo-eh-gah No more will he trouble us. Jo-eh-gah, Joe-eh-gah, No more will he trouble us.

As they sang they danced closer and closer to Raccoon. When they were close enough, Raccoon jumped up. He grabbed to the left, he grabbed to the right. He caught all of the crayfish and he ate them.

Then he went down to the stream and washed his paws to clean off the pine pitch. Ever since then raccoons always wash their food when they eat. And when Raccoon was done he smiled. "Perhaps you crayfish are not too smart for me after all," and he went on his way.

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