The River

Legends of the Passamaquoddy
by Charles G. Leland

“Ato-kah-win —– tell me a story?”

“Yes, I will tell you a story. Once upon a time there was an Indian village by a little river.

All the water they had to drink came from this river. There were no brooks or springs or ponds far or near—-nothing to drink from but this and the rain. Now, there came a long dry summer. Suddenly in one night the river ceased to flow. In a few days there was not so much as a puddle from which to quench thirst. This was hard for the Indians.

“Now, when they were almost dying for a drink, they held a meeting, and after a long debate sent an Indian up the river to find why it had ceased to flow; and far away and near its source he discovered the cause. There was another village there, whose inhabitants had built a dam and made a pond, which they kept all to themselves. The messenger complained to them that this was very selfish. They bade him speak to their chief. He did so; but what was his amazement at seeing that this chief was more of a monster than a man. He was an immense bloated creature, with a great paunch many times larger than that of the fattest live man. To him the messenger complained of the dam, but only met with abuse. “If you want water, go somewhere else.” said the monster. “What do I care if your people die of thirst. Begone!”

But at last, moved by the prayers of the messenger, he bade one of his men take an arrow and pierce a small hole in the dam, so that a little water might run down the stream.

“The Indian returned, and for a few days his fellow-villagers had a scanty allowance of water. By and by this ceased again to flow. Then the poor people became desperate. There was among them a fearless and powerful warrior. They told him to go to the bloated chief, and, unless the monster would take away the dam, to proceed to extremes and do his worst. “We may as well be killed,” said they.”as die of thirst with our families.” So the brave man, who cared for nothing so much as a fight, got ready and departed.. He came to the village of the dam, and saw the fat chief. Neither was pleased with the other’s appearance, and when the brave man said that he had come to order the dam to be destroyed, and that he expected it to be done immediately, the chief in a rage called to his followers. Whereupon the brave man, quick as lightning, split the chief’s head with a tomahawk, and then thrust his spear into the great belly. But what a wonder! In an instant, village, Indians, and all vanished; for it was all m’tuolin, and from the paunch of the monster came rushing in torrents the whole river, which he had swallowed.”

“Was this the end?”

“No-it was the beginning of a new race of beings; for the Indians of the lower village, being terribly thirsty, did as hungry men do when they sit to tell one another what they would like to have to eat if they could get it. “I said one, one as they lounged on the rocks which had once been wet, would like to wind about in nice soft mud or moss, and keep wet, and now and then drink my fill.” “I, said a long-legged young man, would dive from a rock all day and then swim ashore. Oh! How I would swallow the water!” “Ah I would do better than that.” Said a third, for I would live in the river, and only when the weather was fine bask on a log or stone, and then plump head over heels into the depths.” “Ho! you none of you know how to wish,” cried a fourth. “I am the only one who is sa’gm’o* of the wishers. I would live in the water, swimming all the time, and never come out.”

“Now, it so happened that all this was said in the hour when all men get their wishes. And so the first was turned into a water-lizard, which wiggles about in mud and moss; and the second, who wanted to take headers into the river, took them in earnest, for he became a frog, and a splendid jumper he is. Indeed, I have seen the time when I have been after a deer when I wished that I,too, had such legs as Mr. Tchk-wul-suk.”

“So that is the Indian for frog?”

“Yes; it sounds like it, doesn’t it? But the fourth u’skedzin or Indian — he that was the chief of the wishers— became a fish. And all the rest of the village, down to the very children, as they were all wishing for something of the same kind in their hearts, became tadpoles, or leeches, or water snakes, or such things. Before this happened there were no creatures in the waters; so now you know how all such animals came into the world.”

“How about the one who wished to sit on the log in sunshine and then slip down into the water?”

“Oh, that was Tchick-we-nocktch,or turtle, and a turtle he is to this day, Yes; his name is hard to pronounce, and if he is a snapper he is a hard fellow to deal with, and when he takes hold he never lets go till it thunders. But he is the best of all to eat— the harder the shell the sweeter the nut; and I hope I may find one the next time I go into a pond, so that I don’t find it out by getting hold of me first.”