The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
Now of old time there is a tale of Hespuns, the Raccoon, according to the Passamaquoddy Indians, but by another record it is Master Lox, to whom all Indian deviltry truly belongs. And this is the story. One fine morning Master Lox started off as a
[paragraph continues] Raccoon; 1 for he walked the earth in divers disguises, to take his usual roundabouts, and as he went he saw a huge bear, as the manuscript reads, "right straight ahead of him."
Now the old Bear was very glad to see the Raccoon, for he had made up his mind to kill him at once if he could: firstly, to punish him for his sins; and secondly, to eat him for breakfast. Then the Raccoon ran into a hollow tree, the Bear following, and beginning to root it up.
Now the Coon saw that in a few minutes the tree would go and he be gone. But he began to sing as if he did not care a bean, and said, "All the digging and pushing this tree will never catch me. Push your way in backwards, and then I must yield and die. But that you cannot do, since the hole is too small for you." Then Mooin, the Bruin, hearing this, believed it, but saw that he could easily enlarge the hole, which he did, and so put himself in arrear; upon which the Raccoon seized him, and held on till he was slain. 2
Then he crawled out of the tree, and, having made himself a fine pair of mittens out of the Bear's skin, started off again, and soon saw a wigwam from which rose a smoke, and, walking in, he found a family of Begemkessisek, or Black Cats. So, greeting them, he
said, "Young folks, comb me down and make me nice, and I will give you these beautiful bear-skin mittens." So the little Black Cats combed him down, and parted his hair, and brushed his tail, and while they were doing this he fell asleep; and they, being very hungry, took the fresh bear-skin mitts, and scraped them all up, and cooked and ate them. Then the Coon, waking up, looked very angry at them, and said in an awful voice, "Where are my bear-skin mitts?" And they, in great fear, replied, "Please, sir, we cooked and ate them." Then the Coon flew at them and strangled them every one, all except the youngest, who, since he could not speak as yet, the Raccoon, or Lox, thought could not tell of him. Then, for a great joke, he took all the little dead creatures and set them up by the road-side in a row; as it was a cold day they all froze stiff, and then he put a stick across their jaws, so that the little Black Cats looked as if they were laughing for joy. Then he made off at full speed.
Soon the father, the old Black Cat, came home, and, seeing his children all grinning at him, he said, "How glad the dear little things are to see me." But as none moved he saw that something was wrong, and his joy soon changed to sorrow. 1
Then the youngest Black Cat, the baby, came out
of some hole where he had hid himself. Now the baby was too young to speak, but he was very clever, and, picking up a piece of charcoal, he made a mark from the end of his mouth around his cheek. 1 Then the father cried, "Ah, now I know who it was,--the Raccoon, as sure as I live!" And he started after him in hot pursuit.
Soon the Raccoon saw the fierce Black Cat, as an Indian, coming after him with a club. And, looking at him, he, said, "No club can kill me; nothing but a bulrush or cat-tail can take my life." Then the Black Cat, who knew where to get one, galloped off to a swamp, and, having got a large cat-tail, came to the Coon and bit him hard with it. It burst and spread all over the Raccoon's head, and, being wet, the fuzz stuck to him. And the Black Cat, thinking it was the Coon's brains and all out, went his way.
The Raccoon lay quite still till his foe was gone, and then went on his travels. Now he was a great magician, though little to other folks' good. And he came to a place where there were many women nursing their babes, and said, "This is but a slow way you have of raising children." To which the good women replied, "How else should we raise them?" Then he answered, "I will show you how we do in our country. When we want them to grow fast, we dip them into cold water over night. Just lend me one, and I will show you how to raise them in a hurry." They gave
him one: he took it to the river, and, cutting a hole in the ice, put the child into it. The next morning he went to the place, and took out a full-grown man, alive and well. The women were indeed astonished at this. All hastened to put their babes that night under the ice, and then the Raccoon rushed away. So they all died.
Then he came to another camp, where many women with fine stuff and furs were making bags. "That is a very slow way you have of working," he said to the goodwives. "In our country we cook them under the ashes. Let me see the stuff and show you how!" They gave him a piece: he put it under the hot coals and ashes, and in a few minutes drew out from them a beautiful bag. Then they all hurried to put their cloth under the fire. Just then he left in haste. And when they drew the stuff out it was scorched or burned, and all spoiled.
Then he came to a great river, and did not know how to get across. He saw on the bank an old wiwillmekq', a strange worm which is like a horned alligator; but he was blind. "Grandfather," said the Raccoon, "carry me over the lake." "Yes, my grandson," said the Wiwillmekq', and away he swam; the Ravens and Crows above began to ridicule them. "What are those birds saying?" inquired the Old One. "Oh, they are crying to you to hurry, hurry, for your life, with that Raccoon!" So the Wiwillmekq', not seeing land ahead, hurried with such speed that the Raccoon made him run his head and half his
body into the bank, and then jumped off and left him. But whether the Wiwillmekq' ever got out again is more than he ever troubled himself to know.
So he went on till he came to some Black Berries, and said, "Berries, how would you agree with me if I should eat you?" "Badly indeed, Master Coon," they replied, "for we are Choke-berries." "Chokeberries, indeed! Then I will have none of you." And then further he found on some bushes, Rice-berries. "Berries," he cried, "how would you agree with me if I should eat you?" "We should make you itch, for we are Itch-berries." "Ah, that is what I like," he replied, and so ate his fill. Then as he went on he felt very uneasy: he seemed to be tormented with prickles, he scratched and scratched, but it did not help or cure. So he rubbed himself on a ragged rock; he slid up and down it till the hair came off.
Now the Raccoon is bare or has little fur where he scratched himself, to this very day. This story is at an end.
This story is from the Passamaquoddy Indian-English collection made for me by Louis Mitchell. In the original, the same incident of boiling the hero in a kettle and of his springing out of it occurs as in the tale of Mrs. Bear and the Raccoon. This I have here omitted. The Mephistophelian and mocking character of Lox is strongly shown when he says, "Nothing but a cat-tail or bulrush can kill me," this being evidently an allusion to Glooskap. This is to
an Indian much like blasphemy. Lox, or Raccoon, or Badger,--for they are all the same,--in his journeyings after mere mischief reminds us of an Indian Tyll Eulenspiegel. But the atrocious nature of his jokes is like nothing else, unless it be indeed the homicide Punch. It is the indomitable nature of both which commends them respectively to the Englishman and to the Red Indian. In this tale Lox appears as the spirit of fire by drawing a bag from it. The itching or pricking from which he suffers is also significant of that element, as appears, according to Keary, in many Norse, etc., legends.
In the Seneca tale of the Mischief Maker, the Berries are distinctly declared to have souls.
181:1 The same stories are attributed to the Wolverine, Badger, and Raccoon.
181:2 As Reynard, the Fox, won the victory in the famous tale versified by Goethe. Vide Reinecke Fuchs.
182:1 This trick is so precisely in the style of Lox that it seems a gross mistake to attribute it to the Raccoon. Those who have seen a wild cat grin will appreciate the humor of Lox on this occasion.
183:1 The reader cannot fail to recall the peculiar mustache of the Raccoon so well indicated by the infant artist.