Native American Legends
The adventures of the great hero Pulowech, or the Partridge
A Micmac Legend
Wee-yig-yik-keseyook. A tale of old times. Two men once
lived together in one wigwam in the woods, on the border of a beautiful
lake. Many hard-wood trees made their pictures in it. One of these
Indians was Pulowech, the Partridge in the Micmac tongue, but who
is called by the Passamaquoddy Mitchihess; but the other was Wejek,
the Tree Partridge.
Now it befell that one day Pulowech was walking along the shore,
when it was winter, and he beheld three girls, fair and fine, with
flowing hair, sitting on the ice braiding their locks. Then he knew
that they were of the fairy kind, who dwell in the water; and, verily,
these were plentier of old than they are now,--to our sorrow be
it said, for they were good company for the one who could get them.
And Pulowech, knowing this, said, "I will essay this thing, and
perchance I may catch one or two of them; which will be a great
comfort, for. a pretty girl is a nice thing to have about the wigwam."
So he sought to secure them by stealing softly along; but one cried,
"Ne miha skedap!" "I see a man!", and they all went head
over heels, first best time, into the water; and verily that was
a cold duck for December in the Bay of Fundy.
But though Pulowech had never hunted for sea-girls, yet he had
fished for seals, who are greatly akin unto them, being almost as
slippery; and wotting well that no man hath the mitten till he is
refused thirty times and many more, he went about it in another
wise. For this time he gat many fir boughs, strewing them about
as if blown by the wind, and hiding himself behind them, again came
up and made a sudden dart. Then the maids, crying as before, "Ne
miha skedap!" "I see a man!" went with a dive into the deep.
But this time he caught, if not the hair, at least the hair-string,
of the fairest, which remained in his hand. And, gazing on this,
it came into his mind that he had got that which was her charm,
or life, and that she could not live without it, or her cherished
sakultobee. And taking it home, he tied it to the place in
the wigwam above that wherein he slept. Nor had he waited long before
she came, and, with little ado, remained with him as his wife.
Now Pulowech, being himself addicted to sorcery, knew that there
were divers knaves of the same stamp prowling about the woods, who
would make short work of a wife if they could find a plump young
one in the way,--they being robbers, ravishers, and cannibals withal.
Therefore he warned his bride to keep well within doors when he
was away, and to open to none, which she, poor soul, meant to obey
with all her might. But being alone at midnight, and hearing a call
outside, even "Pantahdooe!", "Open the door to me!" she wondered
greatly who it might be. And it was a very wicked wizard, a boo-öin,
or pow-wow; and he, being subtle and crafty, and knowing of her
family, so imitated the voices of her brothers and sisters, beseeching
her to let them in, that her very heart ached. "O sister, we have
come from afar!" they cried. "We missed you, and have followed you.
Let us in! And yet again she heard a sad and very earnest voice,
and it was that of her old mother, crying, "N'toos', n'toos',
pantahdooe!", "My daughter! my daughter! open unto me!" and
she verily wist that it must be so. But when she heard the voice
of her dear old father, shaking and saying, "Pantahdooe loke
cyowchee!" "Open the door, for I am very cold!" she could resist
no more, and, springing up, opened it to those who were without.
And then the evil sorcerers, springing on her like mad wolves, dragged
her away and devoured her. They did not leave two of her little
bones one with another.
Now when Wejek, the Tree Partridge, came in and found his
friend's wife gone, he was so angry that, without waiting, he set
forth to seek her. And this was not wisely done, since, falling
among them, he was himself slain. Then Pulowech, returning last
of all, and finding no one, sought by means of magic to know where
friend and wife might be. For taking a woltes, or a wooden
dish, he filled it with water, and charmed it with a spell, and
placed it in the back part of his wigwam, just opposite the door.
So he laid him down to sleep, and in the morning when he arose he
looked upon the dish,--even the dish of divination,--and lo! it
was half full of blood. Then he knew that the twain had been murdered.
Then gathering all his arms, he went forth for revenge, and passed
many days on the path, tracking the boo-öin; and having
the eyesight of sorcery, he one day beheld very far away, upon an
exceeding high cliff, the knee of a man sticking out of the stone,
and knew that a sorcerer had hidden himself in the solid rock, even
as a child might hide itself in a pile of feathers. Then throwing
his tomahawk he cut away the knee, and the boo-öin,
his spell broken, remained hard and fast forever in the ledge. And
yet, anon, a little further on, he saw a foot projecting from a
wall, and this he likewise cut off, and with that he had slain two.
And as he went further he found by the way a poor little squirrel,
even Meeko, who was crawling along, half dead, in sorry plight.
And taking her up he made her well, and placing her in his bosom,
said, "Rest there yet a while, Meeko, for thou must fight
today, and that fiercely. Yet fear not, for I will stand by thee,
and when I tap thy back, then shalt thou bring forth thy young!"
Then going ever on, he saw from the mountains far in a lake below
a flock of wild geese sporting merrily, even the Senum-kwak'.
But he wist right well that these also were of the boo-öin,
whom he sought, and placing a spell on his bow, and singing a charm
over his arrows that they should not miss, he slew the wild fowl
one by one, and tying their heads together, he carried them in a
bunch upon his back. And truly he deemed it a good bag of game for
And yet further on he came to a wigwam, and entering it saw a man
there seated, whom he knew at once was of the enemy. For he who
sat there glared at him grimly; he did not say to him, "'Kutakumoogwal!"
"Come higher up!" as they do who are hospitable. But having cooked
some meat, and given it in a dish to Pulowech's hand, he snatched
it back again, and said he would sooner give it to his dog. And
this he did more than once, saying the same thing. But Pulowech
kept quiet. Then the rude man said, "Hast thou met with aught to-day,
thou knave?" And the guest replied, "Truly I saw a fellow's knee
sticking out of a stone, and I cut it off. And yet, anon, I saw
a foot coming from a rock, and this I also chopped. And further
on there was a flock of wild geese, and them I slew; there was not
one left,--no, not one. And if you will look without there you may
see them all dead, and much good may it do you!"
Then the savage sorcerer burst forth in all his rage--"Come on,
then, our dogs must fight this out!" "Thou sayest well," replied
Pulowech; "truly I am fond of a good dog-fight, so bring out thy
pup!" And that which the man brought forth was terrible; for it
was no dog, but a hideous savage beast, known to Micmacs as the
But that which Pulowech produced was quite as different from a
dog as was the Weisum; for it was only Meeko, a poor
little squirrel, and half dead at that, which he laid carefully
before the fire that it might revive. But anon it began to revive,
and grew until it was well-nigh as great as the Weisum. And then
there was indeed a battle as of devils and witches; he who had been
a hundred miles away might have heard it.
But anon it seemed that the Weisum was getting the better
of Meeko. Then Pulowech did but tap the squirrel on the back,
when lo! she brought forth two other squirrels, and these grew in
all instant to be as large as their mother, and the three were soon
too many for the beast. "Ho! call off your dogs!" cried the boo-öin;
"you have beaten. But spare mine, since, indeed, he does not belong
to me, but to my grandmother, who is very fond of him." But this
Pulowech, who held to his own in all things like a wolverine, was
the last man alive to think of, and he encouraged the squirrels
until they had torn the Weisum to rags.
Then he who had staked it, bitterly lamented, saying, "Alack, my
poor grandmother! Alas, how she will wail when she bears that her
Weisum is dead! Woe the day that ever I did put him up! Alas,
my grandmother!" For all which the cruel Pulowech, the hard-hearted,
impenitent Partridge, did not care the hair of a dead musk-rat.
Now the host, who had thus suddenly grown so tender-hearted, said,
"Let us sail forth upon the river in a canoe." Then they were soon
on the stream, and rushing down a rapid like a dart. And anon they
came to a terribly high cliff, in which there was a narrow cavern
into which the river ran. And on it, thundering through this door
of death, borne on a boiling surge, the bark was forced furiously
into darkness. And Pulowech sat firmly in his seat, and steered
the boat with steady, certain hand; but just as he entered the horrible
bole, glancing around, he saw the sorcerer leap ashore. For the
evil man, believing that no one had ever come alive out of the cavern,
had betrayed him into it.
Yet ever cool and calm the mighty man went on, for danger now was
bringing out all the force of his magic; and soon the stream grew
smoother, the rocks disappeared from its bed, and then from afar
there was a brightness, and he was soon in the daylight and sunshine
on a beautiful stream, and by the banks thereof there grew the wabeyu-beskwan,
or water-lilies, and very pleasant it was to him to feel the wind
again. So using his paddle he saw a smoke rising from a cave in
the rocks, and landing and softly stepping up heard talking within.
Nor had he listened long ere he knew the voice of the man who had
lured him into the canoe, and he was telling his grandmother how,
one after the other, all the best boo-öin of their band
had been slain by a mighty sorcerer. But when she heard from him
how her beloved, or the one who had inspired the Weisum, had been
beaten, her wrath burst forth in a storm, like the raving of devils,
like a mad wind on the waves. And she said, "If Pulowech were but
before me, were he but alive, I would roast him." The man, hearing
this, cried, "Aye; but he is not alive, for I sent him afloat
down into the dark cavern!"
And then Pulowech, stepping in before them, said, "And yet I am
alive. And do thou, woman, bak sok bok sooc!" (roast me to
death). Then she scowled horribly at him, but said naught; and he,
sitting down, looked at them.
This woman was of the Porcupines, who are never long without raising
their quills, and they are fond of heat. Now there was in the cave
much hemlock bark, and this she began to heap on the fire. Then
it blazed, it crackled and roared; but Pulowech sat still, and said
naught, neither did his eyes change. And he called unto himself
all his might, the might of his magic did he awaken, and the spirit
came unto him very terribly, so that all the boo-öin,
with their vile black witchcraft, were but as worms before him,
the Great and Terrible One. And when the fire had burned low he
brought in by his will great store of bark, so that the whole cave
was filled, and closing the door he lighted the fuel. Then the Porcupines,
who were those who had slain his wife and friend, howled for mercy,
but he was deaf as a stone to their cries. Then the roof and sides
of the cavern cracked with the heat, the red-hot stones fell in
heavy blocks, the red flames rose in the thickest smoke, but Pulowech
sat and sang his song until the witch and wizard were burned to
cinders; yea, till their white bones crumbled to ashes beneath his
feet. And then he arose and went unto his home.
In this legend the hero passes the mysterious river which separates
in several Indian tales the ordinary world from that where the evil
giants, Jötuns, sorcerers, or witches live. It appears to correspond
exactly to "the stream called Ifing, which divides the earth between
the Jötuns and the Gods." (Edda, Vafthrudnismal, 16.) The attempt
by the Porcupine host to roast the guest alive and its failure bears
a marked likeness to the scene in the Grimnismâl, in which
King Geirrod vainly strives to roast his guest, Odin, and is himself
"Fire, thou art hot,
and much too great flame,
let us separate."
The grandeur of Odin and the behavior of the Indian are set forth
in a strikingly similar manner in both narratives. If any modern
poet had depicted this incident in so like a style, every critic
would have cried out plagiarism!
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