03 February 2008

The Flood - A Tale of the Beaver Indians

In former times, when people were very numerous upon the earth, it happened that the sun ceased to give heat or light. An unremitting fall of snow threatened to annihilate every living creature upon the earth; the tops of the loftiest trees were already almost buried in snow, and it was with great difficulty fire wood could be obtained.

In order to discover the cause of this dreadful phenomenon, a party of Indians agreed to go upon discoveries, and after having marched many days without observing any difference in the climate, discovered a squirrel's nest. Squirrels in those days were eminently endowed with sense and reason, besides the gift of speech. Here the adventurers pathetically stated their sufferings arising from the sun having been stolen from them, and asked his advice. The squirrel bids them repose until he should dream. This dream lasted some days, and on awaking he told them that a she bear held the sun from them.

Our adventurers upon this information determined to go inquest of the bear and engaged this sagacious squirrel to accompany them. After great fatigue, they arrived in a beautiful country which the bear with her two cubs inhabited. They soon discovered her wash or couch with the two cobs: the mother was out upon an excursion on the other side of the lake nigh to her retreat. Our adventurers' attention was soon attracted by a long line of babishe suspended from the cloud and tied to a piece of wood which lay upon the top of the bear's covering and dwelling place. Upon this line, at certain distances, there were a number of bags neatly laced with babishe and which seemed to contain something mysterious

Our adventurers did not fail to remark this line, and the prudent squirrel averred that no time should he lost, as flue mother bear night arrive soon, that an explanation should be extorted by threats from the cubs concerning the line and the number of bags. Accordingly all hands assuming a savage look entered the couch with bonded bows and quivers foil of arrows and threatened the cubs with instant death if they did not reveal theirs another's secrets. The terrified cobs promised to comply. "The first bag upon that line, what does it contain? Snow," replied the large cub. "The second? Rain. The third? Thunder. The fourth? The Stars. The fifth?" At this question the cub refused to comply, but the adventurers, presenting their daggers and arrows to his breast intimidated him, and he very reluctantly replied that the fifth bag contained the sun.

This put a stop to further enquiries. The active squirrel commanded to his assistance, a pike, first, a loche and a mouse. "Come," says the squirrel to the pike and loche, "be quick; go" and descend the bag containing the sun, and you, my little "mouse, go upon the other side of the lake and nibble the bear's" paddle half through, so that it may break when she forces it "in paddling; you are little and she will not perceive you."

Off they go upon their errands. The loche was very slow in her movements, but the Pilate soon ascended and untied the bag, and was upon his return when he met the lochs whom he thus accosts: "Be you gone you tardy creature!" "Nay, but give me the bag" retorted the loche" and i'll mend my pace; you will see how I will twist my tail. The pike, not to lose time by further resistance, delivered the bag, but finding that the Locke could not make way for him, snatched the bag from the latter and soon descended.

The mouse, after executing her task returned at the same time, and the pike was about cutting the bag with his teeth when the bear made her appearance on the other side of the lake, and seeing strangers at her home, quickly shoved her canoe into the water and was crossing with all speed when, to her surprise, her paddle broke. The pike by this time had made a small hole in the bag, and to the unspeakable joy of our adventurers, out flies the Sun, the appearance of which entirely disconcerted the bear. She made the earth tremble with her howlings, but finding that she could not make way without her paddle, she trust herself into the water and made the best speed she could by means of her paws. After all her roaring end exertions she reflected that revenge was now out of her power, as the adventurers had fled, and her power with the sun was now expiring; but in order not to be deprived of the sun's influence. while yet she had some power over him, she in her turn was prudent enough, before it was too late, to command the Smut to show himself to all the Earth, that every one might enjoy his powerful influence.

Let us now return to our exulting adventurers, who soon after found themselves plunged into the other extreme. They had not proceeded many days upon their return when they were threatened with a deluge arising from the impression that the heat of the sun mace upon the snow. The waters increasing more and snore, our adventurers redoubled their pace in order to get to the summit of a very high rocky mountain. Unfortunately only two of them, a man and his wife, reached the top of the mountain, all the rest were drowned in the waters. Upon the summit of this mountain were gathered two of every living creature (male and female) that liveth upon the Earth, many of the drowned people transformed themselves into fowls of the air and had the sagacity to retire to this place.

The waters continuing a long time, reduced those creatures to great extremities for want of food. It was at length proposed by the canard de France, the petit plongeux and the buzzard to dive into the waters in order to try to fled ground. Accordingly the canard de France showed the example, but soon made his appearance upon the surface of the waters, and only served as a laughing stock to his companions. The plongeux proceeded next, but found nothing. The buzzard dived next, and remained under water until his strength was almost exhausted, and was some time above the water before he could impart his adventure, which was however unsuccessful.

After remaining some days inactive, they again dived, and the buzzard alone, after appearing upon the surface seemingly in a lifeless state, had his bill full of earth, which showed that the waters were decreasing. They continued to dive with unremitting diligence for sometime afterwards, throwing out now and then some bitter sarcasm against the least successful, in which dispute, the plongeux did not fail to remind the canard de France of his bad jealous head. In short the waters dried upon the earth, but as yet the situation was deplorable, as they could scarcely find even roots for their subsistence.

During this interval, l'epervier, l'emerillon, the canard de France agreed to change the colour of their feathers, (at that time, all the species were white) which they effected, but by what means is not known. Immediately after this event, the corbeau or raven made his appearance. "Come," says l'epervier to the corbeau, "look at my feathers, are they not beautiful? would "you not wish to have a coat like mine?" "Hold your tongue," rejoined the corbeau, "with your crooked bill; is not white handsomer than any other colour?" The others argued with the corbeau to consent, but he remained inflexible, which so exasperated l'epervier and the others that they determined to revenge this affront, and each taking a burnt coal in his bill they blackened him all over, and those who could swim took refuge in the river, the others escaped by their superior swiftness in flying.

The corbeau, in the mean time, enraged at this treatment, and determined not to be singular, espied a flock of etourneaux and, without shaking off the black dust from his feathers, threw himself amongst them and bespattered them all over with black, which is the reason of their still retaining this colour.

Some days afterwards the corbeau, in order to vex his enemies, paid them another visit; he had brought with him about his neck a collar upon which were lumps of the fat of the moose and reindeer. L'epervier and the others accost him, and ask for a little fat, adding that he was very Hungry. The corbeau made no reply and would not even discover to them where he had taken the fat. The confederates were highly incensed at his behaviour, and resolved to rob him, and l'epervier was pitched upon for the enterprise. Off the robber goes, and with one grapples carries ok all the fat. The corbeau immediately went off in a passion, but thought the adventure fortunate enough, as he was not personally hurt.

This circumstance of the fat roused a desire in some of the feathered species to partake of this good chore with the corbeau, and the chat-truant or chouette undertook to observe the corbeau in his flight, and directed l'epervier to throw some ashes upon his eyes when he should tell him, for his sight would probably fail him after steadfastly looking after the corbeau for a long time. The chat-truant called aloud for ashes, which were no sooner applied to his eyes than he saw clearly, and was enabled to trace the corbeau to his retreat, which was in a valley beyond a very high mountain. This fortunate discovery was no sooner made than both man and beast, &c., were informed of it and they all agreed, the water fowls excepted, to go in search of the corbeau's dwelling, and took their departure the next day.

After incredible sufferings from want of food as well as from the fatigue of the journey, they arrived at his retreat which was a large lodge covered with the branches of the fir tree. The door of the lodge was made of the pounces of the reindeer. The wolf offered his services first to break open the door, but the fox, on account of his cunning and swiftness, was fixed upon to do this office. The latter, running with all his might, the door split in twain, by which means a prodigious number of moose and reindeer were liberated, being formerly shut up in this lodge.

The man with his wife, who by this time had several children, killed a number of these animals, and seeing that they had enough of provisions for a long time, let the rest go unhurt whither they pleased. Here, this man made an agreement with the beasts of the Earth and the fowls of the Air, (for he was afraid some of them would assume their former shape and become enemies to him and his family) to retain every one his present form, engender and cover the earth; and he on his part agreed not to assume any other form and likeness, nor deter them from wandering whither-soever they choose and both parties agreeing, seperated, which separation continues to this day.

George Keith letters. McKenzie's River Department at the west end of Great Bear Lake, ca. 1808. In: Les Bourgeois de la compagne du nord-ouest. Regits de voyages, lettres et rapports inedits relatifs au nord-ouest Canadien.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

May I ask how this tale is connected to the title "The Flood - A Tale of the Beaver Indians" for there is no mention of beavers in it?

Anonymous said...

The "Beaver Indians" are a tribe of Native Americans. This is their 'Flood' story.

Anonymous said...

so amazing!
only reason i'm here: sign of the beaver

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