Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
February 25, 1892


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


[By Mrs. W. Wallace Brown.]

It has been said that the legends of a people are subject to climatic influence.  How far Wabanaki legends are influenced by climate it would be difficult to determine.

That the Wabanaki were a superior people, peacefully inclined, and full of poetic imagery, all must concede, who have listened to their legends.  Wonderful poems, in themselves, are these legends; peopling every nook and rivulet, not altogether from the imagination, but giving voice and language to all nature.  They have been said to resemble so strongly the ancient sagas of the Scandinavians as to suggest a common origin.  Possibly the Indian received these mystic songs from the Northmen, who are said to have visited this coast a century before Saemund collected the sagas of the Edda; yet it is just as possible that those sagas were borrowed from the Indian.

The Indian tongue is not deficient in its capacity of expression; and its grammar, though unwritten, is formed on a similar model to that of the so-called learned languages.1

The legends of the Wabanaki may be divided into two general classes, mythology and folk-lore.  Their folk-lore is an unlimited number of tales, in which human properties are ascribed to the lower animals, and made to explain any seeming discrepancy in nature.

Gloos-kahp or Glooskap, as he is called by the Passamaquoddies, (Glos-cap, by the Micmacs; Gloos-kop-be, by the Penobscots;) is the great central figure in Wabanaki mythology.  Though regarded by his people with high admiration, he is not exactly a divinity.  He is believed to be all-powerful, all-wise; and yet his name seems a misnomer, for the word glooskap means a liar.

There is little cosmogony ante-dating Glooskap; who is said to have ‘come out of the mists of the swamp’-the Indian idea of chaos.  He shot arrows into the ash tree and called mankind therefrom.  He named and changed for man’s use the already created animals, reducing the size of some of them, and adapting them to their mode of life.  Still a friend of the Wabanaki, he hears their call and aids them in time of need.

The stories told of Glooskap’s life are innumerable and varied.  When he left his people, he went down under a great cobs-cook (water fall); and there, on an island, he remains; in company with his adopted grandmother.  His wigwam is lined with pockets made of bark which shines like silver.  He is making arrows; and when he has the pockets full of arrows he will consume the world in a fire, caused by his arrows flying thick and fast in battle.2

Probably no better description could be given of his supposed nature and attributes than is comprised in the tales that have been localized by the Etchemin, of which the following is a fragmentary example:-

How Glooskap chased K’chi-Quabeet.

K’chi-Quabeet (the Great Beaver) had been the source of much annoyance; and Glooskap determined to capture him; so he took a position on the top of N’monee-quen-e-moosa-kesq-as the Indians call the hill between Waweig and Oak Bay, which means, ‘the place of many sugar maples.’  There he could get a good view of Qua-beet-a-osis, or Beaver-house, (the Indian name for the dome-shaped island in Oak Bay, now called Cookson’s Island.)

But the Great Beaver had been warned of his danger, and had already left for the St. John river, where he built a dam.  The ledge of rocks at the Falls is still called ’Chi-Quabeet-a-wick-pa-hegan,’ or Great Beaver’s dam.  He then started for further up river.

When Glooskap found the beaver had escaped, he followed after him as far as the dam at St. John; breaking the dam, in hopes that the rush of water would bring the beaver within his reach.  The Glooskap took a large stone and threw it up river, expecting to drive the beaver down stream again.  But the beaver had gone into Lake Ah-ben-squaa-tuct, where he has built another wigwam; and the rock which Glooskap threw fell near Tobique, where it may still be seen.

Besides having such superhuman powers, which he always exercised for the good of his people, in some of the tales Glooskap seems to have had a beneficent control over the forces of nature.  An instance is given in the following song, recited to the writer by an Indian named Stephen Neptune:-

How Glooskap found the Summer.

In the long ago time,
When people lived always in the early
red morning, before sunrise,
Before the land of the Wabanaki was peo-
pled as to-day,
Glooskap went very far north, where all
was ice.
He came to a wigwam.  Therein he found
a giant-a great giant-for he was
Glooskap entered: he sat down.
Then Winter gave him a pipe; he smoked,
and the giant told tales of the old
The charm was on him: [it was the frost.]
The giant talked on and Glooskap fell
He slept for six months, like a toad: then
the charm fled, and he awoke.
He went his way home: he went to the
south, and at every step it grew
And the flowers began to come up and
talk to him.
He came to where there were many little
ones3 dancing in the forest.  Their
queen was Summer.
I am singing the truth: it was Summer,
the most beautiful one ever born.
The fairies surrounded their queen: but
the Master deceived them by a
crafty trick:
He cut a moose hide into a narrow strip,
and bade them hold one end;
As he ran away with Summer, he let the
end trail behind him.
They, the fairies of light, pulled at the
But, as Glooskap ran, the cord ran out;
and though they pulled he left them
far away.
So he returned to the lodge of Winter; but
now he had Summer in his bosom;
And Winter welcomed him; for he hoped
to freeze him again to sleep.
I am singing the song of Summer.
But this time the Master did the talking:
this time his magic was the strong-
And ere long the sweat ran down Win-
ter’s face, and then he melted more
and quite away, as did the wigwam.
Then everything awoke; the grass grew,
the fairies came out, and the snow
ran down the rivers, carrying away
the dead leaves.
Then Glooscap left Summer with them
and went home.

There are other mighty beings in Wabanaki mythology.  One of these, Pook-jin-squis, or the Toad-Woman, holds nearly as prominent a place as Glooskap.  She is the harbinger of evil; and through her influence have come all venomous insects.  She is seldom or never mentioned in the Glooskap tales; but is the centre of another group of legends.4

Another mythical being, Lox, is the impersonation of mischief and obscenity; and resembles in character, as much as in name, the Loki of Norse legends.

The Keewaqu’ are a frightful race of cannibal giants, with hearts of ice.

Still more powerful and more dreaded, is Chee-bal-ok, the spirit of the air; who was the only being Glooskap feared.  He is represented as having head, legs, wings and heart; but no body.  He has power in his shriek to kill all who hear him; and the sight of him would render one blind until sunset.

Among the many other marvelous creatures, giants and pigmies, friendly and unfriendly, even the names of which would make too long a list, there is another great being, seldom mentioned in the stories, but always feared-Katowks, the spirit of night and of death.

1The Micmac, like many, if not all, of the other Native American languages, is remarkable for its copiousness, its regularity of declension and conjugation, its expressiveness, its simplicity of vocables, and its mellifluousness. In all these particulars, and others, it will not suffer from a comparison with any of the most learned and polished languages of the world.-Preface to Rand’s Micmac Dictionary.

2The Micmac story says that Glooskap, grieved by the evil ways of men and beasts, sailed away to the west (from Minas Basin); and until he shall return again all nature mourns.  A slightly different version of the story, as told in verse by Rev. A. W. Eaton, is given in another column.-Ed.

3The flower fairies.

4The long account of the conflict between Glooskap and Pook-jin-squis given by Leland in Algonquin Legends is the result of his piecing together several different tales.  It was the Black Cat, not Glooskap, who vanquished the Toad-Woman.