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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
March 24, 1892

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.

IX – WABANAKI M’TAOULIN.1

[Mrs. W. Wallace Brown.]

Among the strange links which bind together the numerous Indian tribes of North America, is their general belief in m’taoulin, (magician, witch, sorcery, etc.,-all of which the name m’taoulin implies.)  Perhaps such beliefs are not confined to the Indian.  We all have our superstitions, which we cannot shake off, although we know them to be absurd.

One of the most prevalent errors in regard to the Indian is to suppose that he knows every plant of the forest, and that the medicine man outranks the white physician in the healing art; while, as a matter of fact, the Indian doctor relies in a great measure on m’taoulin to effect a cure.  By him, disease is supposed to be caused by witchcraft; therefore counter witchcraft must be employed to drive it away.  The playing of special games was often resorted to; and sometimes the patient was upheld by others and made to go through the form of dancing, while the doctor sing [sic] his m’taoulin incantations.

In their mythology, as in real life, there were m’taoulin and m’taoulin.  There were some whose deeds were decidedly shady; and others, for instance, like Gov. John Francis, an Indian highly respected, who was made m’taoulin through a dream, and by it became a famous hunter.  There is a tradition that when chanting a war song he could throw his voice to his tribe from any distance.

The echoes that are often heard along the eastern shore of the Saint Croix are said to be the cries of an invisible ’Chee-M’taoulin, (Giant Witch); and at Lewy’s Cove, a place nearly opposite St. Andrews, there is a perpendicular ledge called Pulpit Rock, but known to the Indians as M’taoulin-Penobsqu’, on the top of which m’taoulin from different tribes met and held high carnival, although it is quite inaccessible to common humanity.  The bay of Fundy and its environs seem to have been peculiarly adapted to m’taoulin; and we hear of battles, short and decisive, being fought by Keewaqu’ and M’taoulin along its shores.

When m’taoulin power became too aggressive, as in the following tale, the whole available force was brought to bear against it.

The Fight with the Giant Witch2

Long ago, there dwelt in a large cave in the interior of a great mountain an old man who was a Keewaqu’-M’taoulin, or Giant Witch.3

Near the mountain was a very large village, the chief of which was named Hass-ag-waak, the Striped Squirrel.

Every few days some of the best warriors mysteriously disappeared from the village.  Hass-ag-waak soon became convinced that they had been killed by the Giant Witch, and he called a council of all the noted witches who possessed the greatest power.

They gathered in a new, strong wigwam made for the purpose.  There were ten of them in all, named Quabeet, the Beaver; Moosqu’, the Wood-worm; Quagsis, the Fox; K’chee-Attosis, the Great Serpent; Eagwin, the Loon; Cosqu’, the Crane; Mooin, the Bear; Lox, the Lynx, commonly called Indian Devil; K’chee-Pelogan, the Great Eagle; and Wabtek, the Wild-goose.

Hass-ag-waak addressed the witches, telling them he hoped they might be able to conquer the Giant Witch; and that if possible it must be done at once, or his tribe would be exterminated.

The witches resolved that they would commence the battle the next night, and use their greatest powers to kill the Giant Witch.

Now the Giant Witch could foretell all his troubles by his dreams: and on that very night he dreamed of all the plans which the witches had made for his destruction.

All Indian witches have poohegans, or attendant spirits; and the Giant Witch sent one of his poohegans, little Alumuset, or the Humming-bird, to chief Hass-ag-waak, telling him that it would not be fair to send ten to fight one, but that if he would send one witch at a time he would be pleased to meet them.

The chief sent word in return that the witches would meet him in battle one at a time.

The next night the witches met, as appointed, as soon as the sun slept; and it was agreed that the Beaver should fight first.

Now the Beaver had So-ga-lum, or Rain, for his poohegan; and he caused a great flood to come and fill up the cave where the Giant Witch lived, and by this means he hoped to drown him.  But the Giant Witch changed himself into Se-quap-squit-un, a Lamper-eel, and held fast to the side of his cave and thus escaped.

The Beaver, thinking that the Giant Witch was probably drowned, swam down into the cave and got caught in a beaver-trap which the Giant Witch had purposely set for him.  Thus the Beaver was defeated.

The next witch to fight was Moosqu’, the Wood-worm, whose poohegan was Fire.  The Wood-worm told Fire that he would bore a hole down into the cave that night, and that on the next night Fire should go down into the hole, and by this means burn the Giant Witch.

The Wood-worm went to work, and, by whirling himself round like a screw, with his sharp head soon made a deep hole in the side of the mountain; but the Giant Witch knew what was going on, and he sent Humming-bird with a piece of punk, and put a plug in the hole so tight that Wood-worm could not get back.  Next night, when Fire went into the hole, he set fire to the punk and burnt up Moosqu’, the Wood-worm; and thus perished the second witch.

The next to fight was K’chee-Attosis, the Serpent.  He had Hum-me-wess, the Bee, for his poohegan.

The Bee called all the bees together, and they went into the cave and swarmed all over the Giant Witch, and made him roar with pain; but he sent Humming-bird to collect a lot of birch bark and set it on fire, which made a dense smoke and stifled all the bees.

After waiting some time, Serpent went into the cave to see if the bees had killed the Giant Witch; but he got caught in a dead-fall which the Giant Witch had prepared for him.

Chief Hass-ag-waak was now almost discouraged, having lost three of his best witches without accomplishing anything; but seven more remained.

The next to fight was Quagsis, the Fox.  His poohegan was Ksee-no-ka, Disease; and he sent him to afflict the Giant Witch with all kinds of sickness.  The Giant Witch was soon covered with sores and boils, and every part of his body was filled with aches and pains; but he sent his poohegan, Humming-bird, to Quilip-hoit, the god of medicine, who gave him the plant kee-kaywee n’bisoon, which, as soon as administered to the Giant Witch, immediately cured him of all his diseases.

The next witch to fight was Eagwin, the Loon; whose poohegan was T’kaion, Cold.

In a short time the mountain was covered with snow and ice, and the cave was filled with cold blasts of wind.  The frost cracked the trees, and broke asunder the great stones.  The Giant Witch suffered terribly, but he did not become discouraged.  He tried his magic stone, and heated it red hot; but the cold was so great that it had lost its power and could not help him.

Alumuset, the Humming-bird, had both wings frozen and could not be sent on any more errands; but one of the Giant Witch’s best poohegans was Tlit-us-wa-gon, or Thought, and he sent him like a flash to Sou-nessen, the South Wind, to come to his aid.  In a short time the warm South Wind began to blow around the mountain, and Cold was obliged to depart from the cave.

The next witch to fight was Cosqu’, the Crane.  His poohegan was Keewaqu’, the giant with heart of ice, who soon went to work with his big stone axe and chopped down the trees and tore up the rocks and began to cut a large hole into the solid rock in the side of the mountain.  But the Giant Witch now let loose his great and terrible dog, ’Mdasmoos, who barked so loudly and attacked Keewaqu’ so fiercely that he was frightened off.

The next witch to fight was Mooin, the Bear, whose poohegans were Ba-do-gick, Thunder, and Pa-sok-way-tuk, Lightning.

Soon a great thunder-storm took place, which shook the whole mountain, and a thunder-bolt split the mouth of the cave and nearly blinded the Giant Witch, who was now for the first time terribly frightened.  He cried with pain, for he was badly burned by the lightning; but Thunder and Lightning redoubled their strength and filled the cave with fire.

The Giant Witch, now greatly alarmed, quickly sent Humming-bird to summon Hap-le-bem-lo, the Great Bull-frog, to come to his aid: who soon came, and spit out his great mouthful of water, which nearly filled the cave and extinguished the fire and drove off Thunder and Lightning.

The next witch was Lox, the Indian Devil.  Now Lox was always a coward, so when he learned of the misfortune of the other witches he cut off one of his big toes, and when Hass-ag-waak called him to go to fight he made the excuse that he was lame and could not go.

The next to fight was K’chee-Pelogan, the Eagle.

His poohegan was Ap-laus-um-lucssit, the Whirl-wind.  When he went to the cave, with all his fury and violence and noise, he awoke the Giant Witch, who was asleep, and who at once lost his breath and was unable to speak.  But the Giant Witch made signs to Humming-bird to go for Culoo, the chief of all great birds.  The wind blew with such strength that Humming-bird was driven back, and could not get out of the mouth of the cave.  The Giant Witch now sent his poohegan Thought to command Culoo to come.  In a moment Culoo came, and he made such a great wind with his wings at the mouth of the cave that the power of the Whirl-wind was useless.

Chief Hass-ag-waak now became discouraged, as but one more witch remained to fight, and this was Wabtek, the Wild-goose, a very quiet and clever fellow, who never quarreled with anyone and was not regarded as a powerful warrior.

Now the chief had a dream, in which he saw a great giant who stood before the mouth of the Giant Witch’s cave and was so tall that he reached from the earth to the sky, and who said that all that was necessary in order to destroy the Giant Witch was to have some young woman entice him out of his cave, when he would lose his power: and that he (the giant) would then kill him.

Hass-ag-waak told his dream to the witch Wabtek, Wild-goose, and bade him do as he had been told in the dream.

Wild-goose had for his poohegan Mik-um-Wiss, or a Fairy; who changed himself into a beautiful young woman, and, going to the mouth of the cave, got up into a large hemlock tree and sang a song:

Come to me, young man-
Come hear my sweet song-
Come out this beautiful evening-
Come on this beautiful mountain-
Come see the leaves, so red.

The Giant Witch heard the singing, and was so fascinated that he came out of the cave; when he saw a beautiful young woman up in a tree, who said to him, ‘Please, kind old man, help me down.’

As soon as he came near, Glooskap, the great king of all men, springing from behind the tree, threw his stone axe at him and split his head open.

Then Glooskap said to him, ‘You have been a wicked, bad witch, and have destroyed nearly all of chief Hass-ag-waak’s best warriors; now speak, and tell me what you have done with the bones of your victims.’

The Giant Witch replied that in the hollow of the mountain could be found a heap of human bones, which was all that remained of the great warriors of Hass-ag-waak’s tribe.

As soon as he was dead, Glooskap summoned all the beasts of the forest and all the birds of the air to come together and eat the body of the Giant Witch.  Then Glooskap ordered the beasts to go into the cave and bring forth the bones of the dead warriors, which they did; and he told the birds to take each a bone, and to carry them and pile them together at the village of chief Hass-ag-waak.  Then he ordered the chief to build a wall of large stones around the heap of bones, and to cover them with wood and make equ’naqu’n, the hot bath.

Glooskap set the wood on fire, and began to sing his magic song.  Then he ordered more wood to be put on, and water to be poured on the heated stones.

Glooskap sang louder and faster, until his voice shook the whole village, and he ordered the people to close their ears lest his voice should kill them.

Then Glooskap redoubled his voice; and the bones began to be moved by the heat, and began to sizzle and make a peculiar sound.

The Glooskap sang his resurrection song, in a low voice.  At last the bones began to sing with Glooskap; and he sprinkled on more water, and the bones came together into their natural places, and soon became human beings again.

The people were amazed at Glooskap’s power.  Chief Hass-ag-waak gathered together all the neighboring tribes, and celebrated the great event by a resurrection feast, which lasted for many days; and thereafter his tribe was troubled by evil witches no more.

The following, from the Illustrated London News, of July 16, 1864, refers to the ‘Laney Stone,’ mentioned in one of the earlier chapters of this series:-

We are indebted to Mr. C. C. Ward of St. John, New Brunswick, for the following account of a curious specimen of Indian sculpture, which is represented in our engraving.  It is a basso-relievo cut in red granite, of an oval shape, 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 1 inches thick.  Although much worn and defaced by time and the weather, it still retains evidence of having been done by a bold and skilful hand.  It was found in the month of November last, at the foot of a precipice of red granite, about a quarter of a mile from the western shore of Lake Utopia, in Charlotte county, New Brunswick.  When it was shown to the Indians who frequent the neighborhood, they at once pronounced it to be the portrait of a chief, and said it was very likely that the chief himself was buried near the spot.  They thought it was many hundred years old.  If this surmise be correct and the grave can be found, it is possible that its contents may go far to establish the antiquity of the stone; for it was customary with the Indians to bury along with the deceased chief all the weapons he had used in war or in the chase, and whatever ornaments or trinkets he had possessed in his life time.  Now amongst the first, or perhaps the very first, Europeans who landed in New Brunswick, were Jacques Cartier, and his party, who landed at Bay Chaleur in 1534.  At a later date, 1604, a Frenchman named Des Monts established a colony and built a fort near the St. Croix river, now the boundary line between Maine and New Brunswick.  He found the Indians friendly.  He traded and lived on peaceable terms with them.  The St. Croix is, in a direct line, only about twenty miles distant from the place where the sculptured stone was found at Lake Utopia.  And if the grave can be discovered, and any of the contents should prove to be articles of European manufacture, such as glass beads, or implements of iron, which the Indians usually got in exchange for their furs, this would be presumptive evidence of the stone having been the work of a comparatively recent date.  If, on the contrary, none of these articles should be found, there would be fair reason to believe that it is of very great antiquity.  The Indians who have seen it are quite at a loss to account for the fashion and quantity of the hair represented on the head, since, from time immemorial, it was customary for the Indians to shave or pluck out all the hair, with the exception of the scalp-lock.  And although the shape of the head and cast of the features represented on the stone were decidedly Indian, there is an Egyptian character about the whole which suggests some curious ethnological speculations.  It may be mentioned that a few years ago, whilst some men were digging for the foundation of a house near the old Portage road, at the village of St. George, one mile distant from Lake Utopia, various Indian relics were found.  Stone hatchets, arrows and spear heads, gouges, chisels, and other implements of flint.  The tribe of Indians now living at Lake Utopia are the Passamaquoddys, descendants of the old Delaware stock, who for generations have made that locality their favorite haunt.  These Passamaquoddies are very skilful in their representations of the beaver and other animals, and we have seen some very beautiful specimens, sculptured in bas relief, on the bowls of stone pipes.  These figures were anatomically correct in drawing, and would do credit to a professional artist.  The Passamaquoddys are much superior in every way to any of the other tribes of Indians inhabiting this province, being honest and trustworthy, and not addicted to drunkenness and other vices.  Whilst retaining many of the peculiarities of their ancestors, they live a primitive and harmless life.  These Indians are all Roman Catholics.


1Nearly m-do-lin.  (It is difficult to represent the word with our letters.  The first syllable is sounded with the lips closed.)

2First published by Garrick Mallery, in the American Anthropologist for January, 1890, as translated by Mr. and Mrs. W. Wallace Brown.

3This translation, regardless of gender, is in accordance with one of the characteristics of the language of the Passamaquoddies, in which there is no distinction of masculine and feminine.