Music: Penobscot Trail by Tim Janis
When Kloskurbeh, the All Maker lived on earth, there were no people yet. But one day when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called him,
"Uncle, brother of my mother."
This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the motion of the wind, the
moistness of the water, and the sun's warmth which gave him life -- warmth above all, because warmth is life.
The young man lived with Kloskurbeh and became his chief helper.
Now, after these two powerful beings had created all manner of things, there came to them, as the sun was shining at high noon, a beautiful girl. She
was born of the wonderful earth plant, and of the dew, and of warmth. Because a drop of dew fell on a leaf and was warmed by the sun, and the
warming sun is life, this girl came into being -- from the green living plant, from moisture, and from warmth.
"I am love," said the maiden. "I am a strength giver, I am the nourisher, I am the provider of men and animals. They all love me."
Then Kloskurbeh thanked the Great Mystery Above for having sent them the maiden.
The youth, the Great Nephew, married her, and the girl conceived and thus became the first mother. And Kloskurbeh, the Great Uncle, who teaches
humans all they need to know, taught their children how to live.
Then he went away to dwell in the north, from which he will return sometime when he is needed.
Now the people increased and became numerous. They lived by hunting, and the more people there were, the less game they found. They were
hunting it out, and as the animals decreased, starvation came upon the people.
First Mother pitied them.
The little children came to First Mother and said, "We are hungry. Feed us."
But she had nothing to give them, and she wept. She told them: "Be patient. I will make some food. Then your little bellies will be full." But she kept
Her husband asked: "How can I make you smile? How can I make you happy?"
"There is only one thing that can stop my tears."
"What is it?" asked her husband.
"It is this: you must kill me," she said.
"I could never do that," he said.
She said, "You must, or I will go on weeping and grieving forever."
Then the husband traveled far, to the end of the earth, to the north he went, to ask the Great Instructor, his uncle Kloskurbeh, what he should do.
"You must do what she wants. You must kill her," said Kloskurbeh.
Then the young man went back to his home, and it was his turn to weep.
But First Mother said: "Tomorrow at high noon you must do it. After you have killed me, let two of our sons take hold of my hair and drag my body
over that empty patch of earth. Let them drag me back and forth, back and forth, over every part of the patch, until all my flesh has been torn from
"Afterwards, take my bones, gather them up, and bury them in the middle of this clearing. Then leave that place." She smiled and said, "Wait seven
moons and then come back, and you will find my flesh there, flesh given out of love, and it will nourish and strengthen you forever and ever."
So it was done. The husband slew his wife and her sons, praying, dragged her body to and fro as she had commanded, until her flesh covered all the
earth. Then they took up her bones and buried them in the middle of it. Weeping loudly, they went away.
When the husband and his children and his children's children came back to that place after seven moons had passed, they found the earth covered
with tall, green, tasseled plants. The plants' fruit, corn, was First Mother's flesh, given so that the people might live and flourish.
And they partook of First Mother's flesh and found it sweet beyond words. Following her instructions, they did not eat all, but put many kernels back
into the earth. In this way, her flesh and spirit renewed themselves every seven months, generation after generation.
And at the spot where they buried First Mother's bones, there grew another plant, broad leafed and fragrant. It was First Mother's breath, and they
heard her spirit talking: "Burn this up and smoke it. It is sacred. It will clear your minds, help your prayers, and gladden your hearts."
And First Mother's husband called the first plant Skarmunal, corn, and the second plant utarmur-wayeh, tobacco.
"Remember," he told the people, "and take care of First Mother's flesh, because it is her goodness become substance. Take good care of her breath,
because it is her breath turned into smoke. Remember her and think of her whenever you eat, whenever you smoke this sacred plant, because she has
given her life so that you might live. Yet she is not dead, she lives in undying love she renews herself again and again."
A Penobscot Legend
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|How the Great Glooskap Fought the Giant Sorcerers at Saco,
and Turned Then Into Fish
A Penobscot Legend
N'karnayoo, of old times: Woodenit atok hagen Glusgahbe. This is the story of Glooskap. There was a father who had three sons and a daughter:
they were m'teoulin, or mighty magicians; they were giants; they ate men, women, and children; they did everything that was wicked and horrible;
and the world grew tired of them and of all their abominations. Yet when this family was young, Glooskap had been their friend; he had made the
father his adopted father, the brothers his brothers, the sister his sister. Yet as they grew older, and he began to hear on every side of their wickedness,
he said: "I will go among them and find if this be true. And if it be so, they shall die. I will not spare one of those who oppress and devour men, I do
not care who he may be."
This family was at Samgadihawk, or Saco, on the sandy field which is in the Intervale or the summer bed of the Saco River, in the El-now-e-bit, the
White Mountains, between Geh-sit-wah-zuch and K'tchee penahbesk, and near Oonahgemessuk weegeet, the Home of the Water Fairies.
Now the old man, the father of the evil magicians and his adopted father, had only one eye, and was half gray. And Glooskap made himself like him,
--there was not between them the difference of a hair; and having this form, he entered the wigwam and sat down by the old man. And the brothers,
who killed everybody, not sparing one living soul, bearing a talking, looked in slyly, and seeing the new-comer, so like their father that they knew not
which was which, said, "This is a great magician. But he shall be tried ere he goes, and that bitterly."
Then the sister took the tail of a whale, and cooked it for the stranger to eat. But as it lay before him, on the platter and on his knees, the elder brother
entered, and saying rudely, "This is too good for a beggar like you," took it away to his own wigwam. Then Glooskap spoke: "That which was given
to me was mine; therefore, I take it again." And sitting still he simply wished for it, and it came flying into the platter where it was before. So he ate it.
Then the brothers said, "Indeed, he is a great magician. But he shall be tried ere he goes, and that bitterly."
When he had eaten, they brought in a mighty bone, the jaw of a whale, and the eldest brother, with great ado, and using both his arms and all his
strength, bent it a little. Then he handed it to Glooskap, who with his thumb and fingers snapped it like a pipe-stem. And the brothers said again,
"Truly, this is a great magician. But he shall for all that be tried ere he goes, and that bitterly."
Then they brought a great pipe full of the strongest tobacco; no man not a magician could have smoked it. And it was passed round; every one
smoked; the brothers blew the smoke through their nostrils. But Glooskap filled it full, and lighting it, burnt all the tobacco to ashes at one pull, and
blew all the smoke through his nostrils at one puff. Then the brothers said again in anger, "This is indeed a great magician. Yet he shall be tried again
ere he goes, and that bitterly." But they never said it again.
And they still tried to smoke with him, and the wigwam was closed; they hope to smother him in smoke, but he sat and puffed away as if he had been
on a mountain-top, till they could bear it no longer. And one said, "This is idle; let us go and play ball." The place where they were to play was on the
sandy plain of Samgadihawk, or Saco, on the bend of the river. And the game begun; but Glooskap found that the ball with which they played was a
hideous skull; it was alive and snapped at his heels, and had he been as other men and it had bitten him, it would have taken his foot off. Then
Glooskap laughed, and said, "So this is the game you play. Good, but let us all play with our own balls."
So he stepped up to a tree on the edge of the river-bed and broke off the end of a bough, and it turned into a skull ten times more terrible than the other.
And the magicians ran before it as it chased them as a lynx chases rabbits; they were entirely beaten.
Then Glooskap stamped on the sand, and the waters rose and came rushing fearfully from the mountains adown the river-bed; the whole land rang
with their roar. Now Glooskap sang a magic song, which changes all beings, and the three brothers and their father became the chinahmess, a fish
which is as long and as large as a man, and they went headlong down on the flood, to the deep sea, to dwell there forever. And the magicians had on,
each of them, a wampum collar; wherefore the chinahmess has beneath its head, as one may say, round its neck, the wampum collar, as may be seen
to this day. And they were mighty m'teoulin in their time; but they were tried before they went, and that bitterly.
Yes, seewass, my brother, this is a true story. For Glus-gah-be was a great man in his day, and the day will come when I shall go to him and see him.
|How the Lord of Men and Beasts Strove With the
Mighty Wasis, and Was Shamefully Defeated
A Penobscot Legend
Now it came to pass when Glooskap had conquered all his enemies, even the Kewahqu', who were giants and sorcerers, and the m'teoulin, who were
magicians, and the Pamola, who is the evil spirit of the night air, and all manner of ghosts, witches, devils, cannibals, and goblins, that he thought
upon what he had done, and wondered if his work was at an end.
And he said this to a certain woman. But she replied, "Not so fast, Master, for there yet remains One whom no one has ever conquered or got the
better of in any way, and who will remain unconquered to the end of time."
"And who is he?" inquired the Master.
"It is the mighty Wasis," she replied, "and there he sits; and I warn you that if you meddle with him you will be in sore trouble."
Now Wasis was the Baby. And he sat on the floor sucking on a piece of maple-sugar, greatly contented, troubling no one.
As the Lord of Men and Beasts had never married or had a child, he knew naught of the way of managing children. Therefore he was quite certain,
as is the wont of such people, that he knew all about it. So he turned to Baby with a bewitching smile and bade him come to him.
Then Baby smiled again, but did not budge. And the Master spoke sweetly and made his voice like that of a summer bird, but it was of no avail, for
Wasis sat still and sucked his maple-sugar.
Then the Master frowned and spoke terribly, and ordered Wasis to come crawling to him immediately. And Baby burst out into crying and yelling,
but did not move for all that.
Then, since he could do but one thing more, the Master had recourse to magic. He used his most awful spells, and sang the songs which raise the dead
and scare the devils. And Wasis sat and looked on admiringly, and seemed to find it very interesting, but all the same he never moved an inch.
So Glooskap gave it up in despair, and Wasis, sitting on the floor in the sunshine, went goo! goo! and crowed.
And to this day when you see a babe well contented, going goo! goo! and crowing, and no one can tell why, know that it is because he remembers the
time when he overcame the Master who had conquered all the world. For of all the beings that have ever been since the beginning, Baby is alone the
only invincible one.
|Of the girl who married Mount Katahdin
How all the Indians brought about their own rain
A Penobscot Legend
Of the old time. There was once an Indian girl gathering blueberries on Mount Katahdin. And, being lonely, she said, "I would that I has a husband!"
And seeing the great mountain in all its glory rising on high, with the red sunlight on the top, she added, "I wish Katahdin were a man, and would
All this she was heard to say ere she went onward and up the mountain, but for three years she was never seen again. Then she reappeared, bearing a
babe, a beautiful child, but his little eyebrows were of stone. For the Spirit of the Mountain had taken her to himself, and when she greatly desired to
return to her own people, he told her to go in peace, but forbade her to tell any man who had married her.
Now the boy had strange gifts, and the wise men said that he was born to become a mighty magician. For when he did but point his finger at a
moose, or anything which ran, it would drop dead; and when in a canoe, if he pointed at the flocks of wild ducks or swans, then the water was at once
covered with the floating game, and they gathered them in as they listed, and through that boy his mother and every one had food and to spare.
Now this was the truth, and it was a great wonder, that Katahdin had wedded this girl, thinking with himself and his wife to bring up a child who
should build up his nation, make of the Wabanaki a mighty race. And he said, "Declare unto these people that they are not to inquire of thee who is the
father of thy child; truly they will all know it by seeing him, for they shall not grieve thee with impertinence." Now the woman had made it known
that she would not be questioned, and she gave them all what they needed; yet, for all this, they could not refrain nor restrain themselves from talking
to her on what they well knew she would fain be silent. And one day when they had angered her, she thought, "Truly Katahdin was right; these people
are in nowise worthy of my son, neither shall he serve them; he shall not lead them to victory; they are not of those who make a great nation." And
being still further teased and tormented, she spoke and said, "Ye fools, who by your own folly will kill yourselves; ye mud-wasps, who sting the
fingers which would pick ye out of the water, why will ye ever trouble me to tell you what you well know? Can you not see who was the father of my
boy? Behold his eyebrows; do ye not know Katahdin by them? But it shall be to your exceeding great sorrow that ever ye inquired. From this day ye
may feed yourselves and find your own venison, for this child shall do no more for you."
And she arose and went her way into the woods and up the mountain, and was seen on earth no more. And since that day the Indians, who should
have been great, have become a little people. Truly it would have been wise and well for those of early times if they could have held their tongues.
This remarkable legend was related to me by Mrs. Marie Sakis, a Penobscot, a very clever story-teller. It gives the Fall of Man from a purely Indian
standpoint. Nothing is so contemptible in Indian eyes as a want of dignity and idle, loquacious teasing; therefore it is made in the myth the sin which
destroyed their race. The tendency of the lower class of Americans, especially in New England, to raise and emphasize the voice, to speak continually
in italics and small and large capitals, with a wide display, and the constant disposition to chaff and tease, have contributed more than any other
cause to destroy confidence and respect for them among the Indians.
Since writing the foregoing paragraph, I have read The Abnakis, by Rev. Eugene Vetromile. In his chapter on the Religion and Superstition of these
Indians he gives this story, but, as I think, in a corrupted form. Firstly, he states that Pamola (that is, Bumole), who is the evil spirit of the night air,
was the Spirit of Mount Katahdin. Now these are certainly at present two very distinct beings, which are described as being personally quite unlike.
Secondly, in Vetromile's story the mother and child disappear in consequence of the child having inadvertently killed an Indian by pointing at him. It
will be seen that this feeble, impotent conclusion utterly spoils the manifest meaning of the whole legend.
Of this story Vetromile remarks that "it is, of course, a superstitious tale, made up by the prolific imagination of some Indians, yet we can perceive in it
some vestiges of the fall of the first man in having transgressed the command of God, and how it could be repaired only by God. We can also trace
some ideas of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mixed with fables, superstitions, and pagan
errors. The appearance of God to Moses in the Burning Bush may be glimpsed in Pamole appearing to the Indian on Mount Katahdin, and so forth."
The pilgrims in Rabelais did not point out scriptural coincidences with greater ingenuity than this. It is deeply to be regretted that the reverend
father's entire knowledge of the mythology of the Abenakis was limited to this single story. (Vide Bumole, in chapter on Supernatural Beings.) It may
be, however, observed, that if the name Bumole or Pamola really means "he curses on the mountain," or curse on mountain, it was natural that the
evil spirit should be supposed to be on the mountain. Pamola was perhaps at an early period the spirit of lightning, and thus be very easily confused
|The Giant and the Four Wind Brothers
A Penobscot Legend
There were four brothers in a family that lived in a huge cave on the top of a high mountain in the present state of Maine. One brother was
North-wind, one South-wind, another West-wind, and the other one East-wind. They were the ones who made all of the winds blow.
West-wind was the youngest, North-wind the oldest, South-wind second oldest, and East-wind second youngest. To cause the winds, they stood up
with their heads above the cave hole and blew. The forthcoming wind occurred according to whichever brother performed --North, South, East, or
West-wind was very wild when he blew. North-wind chided him, "No, No! Don't do that! You will raise such high winds that you will destroy our
good people, the Penobscots."
When West-wind jumped again to blow, North-wind again told him, "No! No! Stop or you will kill our mother." So lived the Four Wind Brothers,
causing and regulating the winds of the world.
North-wind was always the softest wind, East-wind a little stronger and harsher, South-wind with strong gusts, but not as much as West-wind the
youngest. Whenever the Four Wind Brothers blew the winds, they were not satisfied until each performed in his particular style to perfection.
Often they would say to each other as a warning, "We must try to care for our friends, the Penobscots, so we do not destroy any thing or any one of
About this time, a "Giant Beaver had this home on the top of a great rock by the shore of Big Lake. This Giant Beaver, about one hundred feet long,
had a very large lodge. Near him lived a Giant Penobscot who liked to hunt for the Giant Beaver. But Giant Penobscot lived in fear of a Monster
Eagle, who kept watching all the time for the right moment to snatch and carry Giant Penobscot to its nest.
Monster Eagle was so large that he could pick up a giant man like an ordinary eagle would carry a rabbit, even though the giant was as tall as the
tallest tree. At last Giant Penobscot's family was out of food, and he was compelled to go out and hunt. He took his long-handled ice chisel and went
in search of the Giant Beaver.
Giant Penobscot succeeded in driving the Beaver from his Lodge, and he cornered him and killed him. After packing the Giant Beaver on his back,
Giant Penobscot joyfully started homeward with his prize.
Monster Eagle had seen Giant Penobscot from a great height. Down swooped the Eagle, picking up both Giant Beaver and Giant Penobscot, as easily
as carrying two rabbits.
Far up on a rocky mountainside, Monster Eagle flew with its prey to its nest, which was thousands of feet above the valley. Monster Eagle's nest was
enormous, with many young eagles in it. When Monster Eagle deposited his victims in the nest, he began feeding the dead beaver to his eaglets.
Monster Eagle kept Giant Penobscot safely to one side, until all of the beaver had been eaten.
Then Monster Eagle prepared to kill the Giant Penobscot. He quickly flew high into the air and turned sharply, diving straight down to strike Giant
Penobscot with his beak, wings, and claws. But Giant Penobscot held upright his sharp ice chisel with the butt end braced against a rocky ledge beside
him. Monster Eagle descended violently upon the point of the ice chisel and he died instantly.
Now that Giant Penobscot was free, he wondered how he could get down to earth again before being eaten by the eaglets as they grew larger. He
thought and thought, finally deciding to cut out the body of Monster Eagle and crawl inside the feathered skin, using Eagle's wings to glide down from
Coincidentally, on this same mountain lived the Four Wind Brothers. North-wind saw Monster Eagle destroy himself. He also observed Giant
Penobscot preparing to fly down to earth. North-wind called his three brothers to come and see.
"Let us all blow gently beneath Eagle's wings and help the good Penobscot to land softly upon the earth," said North-wind to his Brother Winds.
Inside Monster Eagle's wings, the Giant Penobscot soared off the mountain. Gently the Four Wind Brothers blew beneath his wings, guiding him
while he easily floated to the Penobscot village below.
Meanwhile, when Giant Penobscot's family found that he had disappeared, they knew he must have been carried away by some flying giant, because
his tracks led to nowhere.
One of the ancient men of the Penobscot tribe said, "We must all help our brother escape with our good thoughts. We must wish for his safe return by
Chief of the Sky Spirits."
When Giant Penobscot floated safely back to his tribe and told his people of his adventure, the Ancient One said, "It was the strength of our wishes to
Chief Sky Spirit that brought you back to your people. Now let us have a thanksgiving feast and rejoice."
Gently the Four Wind Brothers passed over the Penobscot Indian village on their happy return to their mountaintop cave.
|The Legend of the Bear Family
A Penobscot Legend
Many, many generations ago, a Penobscot, his wife, and their little son started out from their village to go to Canada. They were from Penobscot
Bay, bound for a great council and dance to be held at the Iroquois village of Caughnawaga. They went upriver to the point where they had to make a
20 mile portage to reach another river that would take them to the St. Lawrence.
The man started ahead with the canoe on his back, leaving his wife to pack part of the luggage to their first overnight campsite. The little boy ran
alongside of her. While she was busy arranging her pack, her son ran on ahead to catch up with his father.
The man had gone so far ahead, the boy became lost. The mother assumed the boy was with his father. When she arrived at the campground, they
discovered that their son was with neither of them. They began a search immediately, but they could not find him.
The parents returned home to tell their story to their tribe. All of the men turned out for a wide search party, which lasted for several months without
success. In March of the next year, the Penobscots found some sharpened sticks near the river. They concluded that the boy must be alive and had
been spearing fish. Footprints of bears were seen, and they thought perhaps the boy had been adopted by a bear family.
In the village, there was a lazy man who did not enter into the search, but lay around idly. Everyone asked him, "Why don't you help hunt for the boy?
You seem to be good for nothing."
"Very well, I will," he replied. He went right to the bear's den and knocked with his bow on the rocks at the entrance. Inside, a great noise arose where
the father, mother, baby bear, and adopted boy lived. The father-bear went to the entrance, holding out a birch-bark vessel. The lazy man shot at it
and killed the bear.
The mother-bear says, "Now I will go." She took another vessel, held it out at the entrance, and also was killed. The baby bear did the same and was
killed. All of the bears were laid out dead in the cave. Then the lazy man entered and saw the little boy terribly afraid and huddled in a dark corner,
crying for his relatives and trying to hide.
The lazy hunter gently carried him home to the village and gave him to his parents. Everyone gave the lazy man presents: two blankets, a canoe,
ammunition, and other good things. He became rich overnight.
The boy's parents, however, noticed that their son seemed to be turning into a bear. Bristles were showing on his upper back and shoulders, and his
manners had changed. Finally they helped him to become a real person again, and he grew up to be a Penobscot Indian like his father. He married
and had children. Forever after he and all of his descendants were called Bears.
They drew pictures of bears on pieces of birch-bark with charcoal and left them at camps wherever they went. All of their descendants seemed to do
this and declare, "I am one of the Bear Family."
|The Story of Glooskap
As Told In a Few Words
By a Woman of the
A Penobscot Legend
Glus-gahbe gave names to everything. He made men and gave them life, and made the winds to make the waters move. The Turtle was his uncle; the
Mink, Uk-see-meezel, his adopted son; and Monin-kwessos, the Woodchuck, his grandmother.
The Beaver built a great dam, and Glus-gahbe turned it away and killed the Beaver. At; Moose-tchick he killed a moose; the bones may be seen at Bar
Harbor turned to stone. He threw the entrails of the Moose across the bay to his dogs, and they, too, may be seen there to this day, as I myself have
seen them; and there, too, in the rock are the prints of his bow and arrow.