Native American Legends
Relating how The Rabbit became wise by being original, and of the terrible tricks which he by magic played Loup-Cervier, The Wicked Wild Cat
An Algonquin Legend
There are men who are bad at copying, yet are good originals, and
of this kind was Master Rabbit, who, when he gave up trying to do
as others did, succeeded very well. And, having found out his foible,
he applied himself to become able in good earnest, and studied m'téoulin,
or magic, so severely that in time he grew to be an awful conjurer,
so that he could raise ghosts, crops, storms, or devils whenever
he wanted them. For he had perseverance, and out of this may come
anything, if it be only brought into the right road.
Now it came to pass that Master Rabbit got into great trouble.
The records of the Micmacs say that it was from his stealing a string
of fish from the Otter, who pursued him; but the Passamaquoddies
declare that he was innocent of this evil deed, probably because
they make great account of him as their ancestor and as the father
of the Wabanaki. Howbeit, this is the way in which they tell the
Now the Rabbit is the natural prey of the Loup-Cervier, or Lusifee,
who is a kind of wild cat, none being more obstinate. And this Wild
Cat once went hunting with a gang of wolves, and they got nothing.
Then Wild Cat, who had made them great promises and acted as chief,
became angry, and, thinking of the Rabbit, promised them that this
time they should indeed get their dinner. So he took them to Rabbit's
wigwam; but he was out, and the Wolves, being vexed and starved,
reviled Wild Cat, and then rushed off howling through the woods.
Now I think that the Rabbit is m'téoulin. Yes, he must
be, for when Wild Cat started to hunt him alone, he determined with
all his soul not to be caught, and made himself as magical as he
could. So he picked up a handful of chips, and threw one as far
as possible, then jumped to it,--for he had a charm for a long jump;
and then threw another, and so on, for a great distance. This was
to make no tracks, and when he thought he had got out of scent and
sight and sound he scampered away like the wind.
Now, as I said, when the wolves got to Master Rabbit's house and
found nothing, they smelt about and left Wild Cat, who swore by
his tail that he would catch Rabbit, if he had to hunt forever and
run himself to death. So, taking the house for a centre, he kept
going round and round it, all the time a little further, and so
more around and still further. Then at last having found the track,
he went in hot haste after Mr. Rabbit. And both ran hard, till,
night coming on, Rabbit, to protect himself, had only just time
to trample down the snow a little, and stick up a spruce twig
on end and sit on it. But when Wild Cat came up he found there
a fine wigwam, and put his head in. All that he saw was an old man
of very grave and dignified appearance, whose hair was gray, and
whose majestic (sogmoye) appearance was heightened by a pair
of long and venerable ears. And of him Wild Cat asked in a gasping
hurry if he had seen a Rabbit running that way.
"Rabbits!" replied the old man. "Why, of course I have seen many.
They abound in the woods about here. I see dozens of them every
day." With this he said kindly to Wild Cat that he had better tarry
with him for a time. "I am an old man," he remarked with solemnity,--"an
old man, living alone, and a respectable guest, like you, sir, comes
to me like a blessing." And the Cat, greatly impressed, remained.
After a good supper he lay down by the fire, and, having run all
day, was at once asleep, and made but one nap of it till morning.
But how astonished, and oh, how miserable he was, when he awoke,
to find himself on the open heath in the snow and almost starved!
The wind blew as if it had a keen will to kill him; it seemed to
go all through his body. Then he saw that he had been a fool and
cheated by magic, and in a rage swore again by his teeth, as well
as his tail, that the Rabbit should die. There was no hut now, only
the trampled snow and a spruce twig, and yet out of this little,
Rabbit had conjured up so great a delusion.
Then he ran again all day. And when night came, Master Rabbit,
having a little more time than before, again trampled down the snow,
but for a greater space, and strewed many branches all about, for
now a huge effort was to be made. And when Wild Cat got there he
found a great Indian village, with crowds of people going to and
fro. The first building he saw was a church, in which service was
being held. And he, entering, said hastily to the first person he
saw, "Ha! ho have you seen a Rabbit running by here?"
"Hush--sh, sh!" replied the man. "You must wait till meeting is
over before asking such questions." Then a young man beckoned to
him to come in, and he listened till the end to a long sermon on
the wickedness of being vindictive and rapacious; and the preacher
was a gray ancient, and his ears stood up over his little cap like
the two handles of a pitcher, yet for all that the Wild Cat's heart
was not moved one whit. And when it was all at an end he said to
the obliging young man, But have you seen a Rabbit running
"Rabbits! Rab-bits!" replied the young man. "Why, there are hundreds
racing about in the cedar swamps near this place, and you can have
as many as you want." "Ah!" replied Wild Cat, "but they are not
what I seek. Mine is an entirely different kind." The other said
that he knew of no sort save the wild wood--rabbits, but that perhaps
their Governor, or Chief, who was very wise, could tell him all
about them. Then the Governor, or Sagamore, came up. Like the preacher,
he was very remarkable and gray, with the long locks standing up
one on either side of his head. And he invited the stranger to his
house, where his two very beautiful daughters cooked him a fine
supper. And when he wished to retire they brought out blankets and
a beautiful white bear's skin, and made up a bed for him
by the fire. Truly, his eyes were closed as soon as he lay down,
but when he awoke there had been a great change. For now he was
in a wet cedar swamp, the wind blowing ten times worse than ever,
and his supper and sleep had done him little good, for they were
all a delusion. All around him were rabbits' tracks and broken twigs,
but nothing more.
Yet he sprang up, more enraged than ever, and swearing more terribly
by his tail, teeth, and claws that he would be revenged. So he ran
on all day, and at night, when he came to another large village,
he was so weary that he could just gasp, "Have-----you----seen a
Rab----bit run this way?" With much concern and kindness they all
asked him what was the matter. So he told them all this story, and
they pitied him very much; yea, one gray old man,--and this was
the Chief,--with two beautiful daughters, shed tears and comforted
him, and advised him to stay with them. So they took him to a large
ball, where there was a great fire burning in the middle thereof.
And over it hung two pots with soup and meat, and two Indians stood
by and gave food to all the people. And he had his share with the
rest, and all feasted gayly.
Now, when they had done eating, the old Governor, who was very
gray, and from either side of whose head rose two very venerable,
long white feathers, rose to welcome the stranger, and in a long
speech said it was, indeed, the custom of their village to entertain
guests, but that they expected from them a song. Then Wild Cat,
who was vain of his voice, uplifted it in vengeance against the
"Oh, how I hate them!
How I despise them!
How I laugh at them!
May I scalp them all!"
Then he said that he thought the Governor should sing. And to this
the Chief consented, but declared that all who were present should
bow their heads while seated, and shut their eyes, which they did.
Then Chief Rabbit, at one bound, cleared the heads of his guests,
and drawing his timheyen, or tomahawk, as he jumped, gave
Wild Cat a wound which cut deeply into his head, and only fell short
of killing him by entirely stunning him. When he recovered, he was
again in snow, slush, and filth, more starved than ever, his head
bleeding from a dreadful blow, and he himself almost dead. Yet,
with all that, the Indian devil was stronger in him than ever, for
every new disgrace did but bring more resolve to be revenged, and
he swore it by his tail, claws, teeth, and eyes.
So he tottered along, though he could hardly walk; nor could he,
indeed, go very far that day. And when almost broken down with pain
and weariness, he came about noon to two good wigwams. Looking into
one, he saw a gray-haired old man, and in the other a young girl,
apparently his daughter. And they received him kindly, and listened
to his story, saying it was very sad, the old man declaring that
he must really remain there, and that he would get him a doctor,
since, unless he were well cared for at once, he would die. Then
he went forth as if in great concern, leaving his daughter to nurse
the weary, wounded stranger.
Now, when the Doctor came, he, too, was an old gray man, with a
scalp-lock strangely divided like two horns. But the Wild Cat had
become a little suspicious, having been so often deceived, for much
abuse will cease to amuse even the most innocent. And, looking grimly
at the Doctor, he said: "I was asking if any Rabbits are here, and
truly you look very much like one yourself. How did you get that
split nose?" Oh, that is very simple," replied the old man. Once
I was hammering wampum beads, and the stone on which I beat them
broke in halves, and one piece flew up, and, as you see, split my
"But," persisted the Wild Cat, "why are the soles of your feet
so yellow, even like a Rabbit's?"
"Ah, that is because I have been preparing some tobacco, and I
had to hold it down with my feet, for, truly, I needed both my hands
to work with. So the tobacco stained them yellow."
Then the Wild Cat suspected no more, and the Doctor put salve on
his wound, so that he felt much better, and, ere he departed, put
by him a platter of very delicate little round biscuits, or rolls,
and a beautiful pitcher full of nice wine, and bade him refresh
himself from these during the night, and so, stealing away softly,
But oh, the wretchedness of the awaking in the morning! For then
Wild Cat found himself indeed in the extreme of misery. His head
was swollen and aching to an incredible degree, and the horrible
wound, which was gaping wide, had been stuffed with hemlock needles
and pine splinters, and this was the cool salve which the Doctor
had applied. And as a last touch to his rage and shame, thinking
in his deadly thirst of the wine, he beheld on the ground, still
left in the snow, a last summer's pitcher-plant, half full of what
might indeed pass for wine by the mere sight thereof, though hardly
to the taste. While seeking for the biscuits on a platter, he found
only certain small pellets, such as abound about a rabbit warren.
And then he swore by all his body and soul that he would slay the
next being he met, Rabbit or Indian. Verily this time he would be
Now Mahtigwess, the Rabbit, had almost come to an end of his m'téoulin,
or wizard power, for that time, yet he had still enough left for
one more great effort. And, coming to a lake, he picked up a very
large chip, and having seamed it with sorcery and magnified it by
magic threw it into the water, where it at once seemed to be a great
ship, such as white men build. And when the Wild Cat came up he
saw it, with sails spread and flags flying, and the captain stood
so stately on the deck, with folded arms, and he was a fine, gray-haired,
dignified man, with a cocked hat, the two points of which were like
grand and stately horns. But the Wild Cat had sworn, and he was
mindful of his great oath; so he cried, "You cannot escape me this
time, Rabbit! I have you now!" Saying this he plunged in, and tried
to swim to the ship. And the captain, seeing a Wild Cat in the water,
being engaged in musket drill, ordered his men to fire at it, which
they did with a bang! Now this was caused by a party of night-hawks
overhead, who swooped down with a sudden cry like a shot; at least
it seemed so to Wild Cat, who, deceived and appalled by this volley,
deeming that he had verily made a mistake this time, turned tail
and swam ashore into the dark old forest, where, if he is not dead,
he is running still.
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