Moose River Hospitality and Heritage Association

The Legend of Wamasuse (Loutitt, Albany, 1928)

Once upon a time there lived a great conjuror with his wife and two boys. It seems that the older boy was going to be a greater conjuror than his father. It happened that one of the windigos, so numerous in those days, came to this man’s camp and swore to kill him. After they had fought for most of the night the windigo killed him and also his wife, and began to eat them. The boys saw this, and the older boy called for Mikenak, his most loyal helper, to plan a way of escape. They arranged that the two boys should run for their lives into an underground channel. The older boy took his younger brother on his back and ran. While running under the ground, the younger boy got a scratch on his face and began to cry. They ran for three days and three nights. On the morning of the third day they came out on the shore of a big lake. Then both began to cry, and looked along the shore in either direction for someone who could assist them. After a time, the boys saw something swimming very fast in the lake and approaching them. The boys looked about for some means of escape, but before they could run the monster was upon them. It asked them what was wrong and why were they alone. So they told him that the windigo had killed their father and mother, and they had run, before he killed them, too. The big monster told them, “I am he that is called the big Sea Serpent, and I govern all the animals in the sea. Do not be afraid of me. I will save you but you must do as I tell you.”  “Get unto my back,” he continued, “and hold onto my horn” – for he had a big horn, the length of a tent pole, between his eyes. Then he asked them if they saw that island in the middle of the lake. They said that they thought they did. “Well,” he said, “that is where I am going to put you ashore. It is a big island and you will find there all kinds of animals to hunt.” Just as they had mounted his back and as he was leaving the shore out comes the windigo from the underground place they had come out. The windigo yelled to the big Sea Serpent to bring back the boys to him.  The Sea Serpent answered, “What do you want with them?” The windigo said, “I want to eat them.” The Sea Serpent then told him to wait, that he would return for him. At this the two boys began to cry and told the Serpent not to go for him. The Serpent told them not to be afraid, but just to look and see what he was going to do to him. The Sea Serpent went back for the windigo and told him also to get on his back. Then the Serpent swam to the deepest part of the lake. As he was going along the windigo began to pinch the Serpent on his back, and the Serpent asked, “What are you doing that for?” The windigo replied, “I am only moving a little” — and began to laugh. The Serpent was then at the deepest part of the lake. There he threw the windigo off his back, and the windigo drowned. “Now,” said the Serpent to the boys, “Listen to what I have to say. Do not forget that you must not leave this island. This is where you are going to live until you grow up to manhood. Now, there lives around here a man called Wamasuse who always passes along the island here. He will always want you to shoot your arrows in the water to see who will shoot the farther. But you must not do it, because if you do he will scoop you up with his big spoon that he carries and throw you into his canoe. He does not paddle his canoe. He need only tap the thwart of his canoe, and it goes as if he was paddling it. Always hide when you hear him coming.” It so happened that when Wamasuse was passing along the shore he noticed that someone had been on the shore. Said he, “I must pass along here oftener than I do. I might happily find someone that I shall take home for my son-in-law. My daughter must have a husband.” One time as the boys were shooting their arrows at marks along the shore, the arrow of the older boy happened to fall into the water. As luck would have it, Wamasuse appeared around the point of the island just where they were shooting, and tapped his canoe in the direction of the submerged arrow. Wamasuse spoke first: “One of you boys come out for the arrow” – shoving the arrow toward the shore. The older boy was just going to get it, but his younger brother stopped him, telling him not to go for the arrow, and saying, “Remember what the Sea Serpent told us about this man.” Wamasuse told them that the Serpent had been telling them only a lot of lies. He at last got the boy to wade out for his arrow. Just as the boy reached for his arrow Wamasuse scooped him up with his big spoon and threw him into the bow of the canoe, saying, “You shall be my son-in-law.” And away they went, Wamasuse tapping the thwart of his canoe. When the younger brother saw his brother taken away he rolled on the sand, crying until he fell asleep. When he awoke from his sleep the sun was nearly setting. As he was crying, he saw a big black bear coming toward him. When the bear came up to the boy, the bear told him not to cry any more, that he would live with him and be his companion. So they both went into the bush to where the two boys used to spend the night. By this time Wamasuse was home at his camp. After he sat a while in his wigwam he  said to his daughter, “Go down to the canoe and bring up your husband that I have brought for you.” The daughter went down to the canoe and looked in but saw no one. She returned to the wigwam and told her father that he was lying. Wamasuse retorted, “Did you look everywhere in and about the canoe? Look in the very end of the bow of the canoe, and you will see him.” When the daughter looked as she was told she saw two lights like two small boats in the very end of his canoe. So she took the boy out of the canoe and saw that he was crying. She began to cry also, and said to the boy, “You should not have come here with my father because he will only kill you after a while.” She took him into the wigwam and washed his face and combed his hair and kissed him on his forehead. After also giving him something to eat, she turned to scold her father for bringing her a husband that she could not live long with, for her father would only kill him after a while. The boy would go out every day to shoot squirrels and whiskey jacks around and about the wigwam. Wamasuse went on his usual trip every day in his canoe, tapping the thwart of his canoe, and so travelling along the shores of the lake. As the boy grew up he began to hunt farther afield and started to cache the best part of his hunt, storing it up for future use. He grew up to manhood. Every evening when he came home his wife always washed his face and kissed him afterwards. One day when Wamasuse and his son-in-law were at home the young man asked Wamasuse if there was no place where they could have some sport. Wamasuse replied, “There is such a place where I used to have my sport and where I used to jump. We will go over there to jump, my son, and we will see who will jump the farther. We shall go in the morning.” They started off the next morning, and traveled for two days without getting there. On the third morning the young man said to Wamasuse, “When are we going to get there?” Wamasuse stopped and pointed to where they were going, and asked the young man if he saw that high land over there. The young man said that he thought he could. “That is where it is,” said Wamasuse. After some time they got there. The young man looked about and saw a deep chasm. He looked over the edge of the chasm, and saw the bottom covered with bones of dead men; – those Wamasuse had lured them to their death. So you can imagine how many husbands Wamasuse’s daughter must have had! “Here,” said Wamasuse, “is where I used to jump. Now, son, you must jump first.” So the young man measured the distance with his eye and thought that he could manage it. He took a run and jumped over, landing on the other side. Just as he jumped Wamasuse blew a blast at him to make him fall in the center. But the young fellow was prepared for such an emergency and landed safely on the other side. “Now, Wamasuse,” said the young man, “it is your turn.” But Wamasuse got very excited and said, “I am afraid to jump over this time. I have never been like this before.” Twice he took a run, but in each case he stopped at the edge. The young man said, “You said you always played here. What are you afraid of now?” Wamasuse took a long run and jumped. Just as he was about half way over the young man blew a blast at him. Down went Wamasuse. He fell to the bottom and there he lay without moving. The young man looked at him for some time and saw that he did not move. So he looked around for a way to get down to him and in one corner he saw steps leading to the bottom. So before he went down he blew three blasts on it in case it might close over him and kill him. For Wamasuse was very cunning and was a great conjuror. He got down to him and spoke to Wamasuse, asking him if he was alive. Wamasuse said, “There is very little life in me. My head is broken.” The young man looked at his head and saw that it was split in three pieces. He then took his handkerchief, that was about his head, and bound up the head of Wamasuse and laid him out with a stone for a pillow. Wamasuse then said, “Tell my daughter not to expect me to return to my lodge, for I don’t expect to live.” Then the young man began to look around. After gazing about for a while he said, “It is awful to see the bottom of this place. It is entirely covered with human bones.” Then he climbed out by the same way that he had gone down and went back to his lodge. When he arrived his wife washed his face as usual and kissed him. Then she said, “Where is my father?” He said, “Your father is lying at the bottom of his jumping place, with his head split into three pieces.” Then she began to cry, but the young man said, “If you saw the piles of bones – the bones of your dead husbands – you would not want to cry.” He then told her, “Your father will be back in three days, for I fixed up his head.” So it happened that Wamasuse return to his lodge on the third day more dead than alive. He just managed to crawl into his lodge and lie down. So he lay groaning for three day more, and on the third day in the evening he got up and called for meat to be given to him. So his daughter gave him meat and drink and told him not to do anything like that again. “You will not come back the next time,” she said. “Not so,” said Wamasuse, “I can look after my self all right.” All the time that Wamasuse was laid up his son-in-law was not idle. He went out hunting  every day and was storing part of the game he killed for future use. By this time he had two sons born to him, and they were now big enough to play outside of the door of the lodge. It must be remembered that Wamasuse never had to go out hunting. The animals that he lived on were always at the door of his lodge. After some time the young man began to think of trying Wamasuse again. By this time the latter was quite all right again. One day the young man said to him, “My father, is there no place near here where we could go to find the eggs of the big sea gulls?” “Yes,” said Wamasuse, “there is such a place out in the sea. We will go by canoe in the morning.” They traveled again by canoe for three days and on the third day the young man said, “Where is this place you told me of? We do not seem to be getting there.” Wamasuse pointed with his hand and said, “Do you see that land way out there?” The young man said, “I can just about make it out.” “That is the place where the big sea gulls lay their eggs,” said Wamasuse. So they came to the place. It was a big island. There they saw the big sea gulls sitting on their nests. Then they began to gather the eggs and put them in their blankets. The young man then said, “There are very few eggs on this end of the island on which we put ashore.” This was said just to try Wamasuse, to see what he would say. “Then, my son,” said Wamasuse, “I think that if you go to the other end of the island you will get more and better eggs over there.” So the man went. He knew all the time what Wamasuse would do, and just as he was getting to the other end of the island he looked back and saw Wamasuse shoving off from the shore, tapping the thwart of his canoe with all his might. The young man called out to him and said, “My father, you are leaving.” But Wamasuse did not even look back, but kept on going with all his might. The man called after him, “You can go. I am going too and will get home before you.” While he was picking up the eggs one of the big gulls flew at him and attempted to strike him with its beak. But the man clubbed it on the head, skinned it, and put the skin over himself. The he flew around the island for a while until he thought that he would not fall. He then made after Wamasuse. After some time he caught up to Wamasuse, who was furiously tapping his thwart. The man flew over him so that his shadow would fall on Wamasuse. When the latter saw the shadow of the gull he looked up. Just as he looked up the man dropped his dung on Wamasuse’s face. “Oh!” said Wamasuse, “the gulls have already eaten my son-in-law. What a stink this gull’s dung is!” The man flew right on to his lodge and before he had quite arrived there he glided to the ground, took off the gull skin and hung it on the willows. He then took his blanket of eggs and went into his lodge. His wife as usual washed his face and kissed him. After they had eaten some of the eggs he told his two boys to go and play at the water’s edge with the egg shells, and to watch for their grandfather. Only then did his wife know that he had not done anything to the old man. So after some time they saw the old man coming along with his canoe. He came ashore, and as he was going to get out of his canoe he saw the boys drinking water out of the egg shells. He sat there and looked at them for a long time, wondering where they had got them from. He then asked the boys where they had gotten the eggs. The boys replied, “Our father brought them.” “Your father brought them!” The big sea gulls have eaten your father. Did I not smell the dung of one of them that passed me as I was canoeing homeward?” “Go into the lodge if you do not believe us,” said the boys, “and you will see him.” So Wamasuse drew his canoe ashore and went into the lodge. He spied his son-in-law and sat and stared at him for a long time, wondering how he could have gotten back.” His daughter said to him, “What are you looking at? Is it the first time that you see us eat your food? Don’t stare so.” So the young man went out to hunt as usual, storing away part of every kill he made. This he did for many days. Then one evening when they were at home the man said to Wamasuse, “Is there no place where we could get some eagle quills to put on our arrows, so that we could try one another and determine who is the best shot?” “Yes, my son,” said Wamasuse, “there is such a place three days travel from here. We will go off in the morning to get the quills.” Well, the same thing happened as before. They sighted nothing until the third day. That day they arrived, and when they got there, there was a large pine tree standing by itself in a large, bare plain. “Now,” said Wamasuse, “you had better go up first, young man, and get the quills for your arrows. The eagle’s nest is up at the top of this tree.” So the young man started to climb up and after he had climbed for some time he commenced to wonder why he could not get to the top where the nest was. It appears that Wamasuse blew a blast at the tree and it began to grow up. After doing this, Wamasuse set off back to his lodge as fast as his legs could carry him. Then the young man blew three blasts on the tree and it stopped growing. He climbed up the rest of the way, and as he was getting to the top one of the young eagles from the nest tried to hit him in the eye. Of course, this was Wamasuse’s doing. The young man hit the eagle on the head with his club, as he had done before to the gull. In like manner, he slew them all, throwing them to the ground. Then he went to the top of the tree where the nest was and looked down. He could hardly see the ground, so high was he. The lakes looked like dishes, he was so high up. He then descended the tree and skinned one of the young eagles and put the skin on himself. Then he took off the quills of the others to carry back with him. He flew around for while until he thought that he would not tire, and then flew away back to his lodge. He got there before Wamasuse arrived. His wife washed his face as usual and gave him some food. After a while he told his boys to play outside and watch for their grandfather. The boys took the quills their father had brought back and stuck them up in the ground and shot at them with their bow and arrows. After playing with the quills for a long time they saw Wamasuse coming afar off. They ran into the lodge and said, “Our grandfather’s coming now.” So they ran to meet him, holding their quills. Wamasuse came up and stood and looked at them holding their quills. At last he asked them where they got the quills. The boys said, “Our father brought them.” “Your father,” said Wamasuse, “will be dead by this time, eaten by the great eagles.” “Our father is in the lodge,” said the boys. “You are lying,” said Wamasuse. “Go into the lodge and look if you don’t believe us,” replied the boys. So he went in and sure enough there was his son-in-law sitting with his wife. Now Wamasuse could not understand how the man had managed to get back. His daughter then began to scold him. “Are you going to stop your tricks now, seeing that  my husband has come back again?” But Wamasuse said nothing. The next day the man went out to hunt and store up part of his kill as usual for future use. This he did for many weeks. One day when they were both at home the young man thought to himself, “Now I will give him the final trial this time, and so put an end to him.” He always knew beforehand what Wamasuse would say. So he said to Wamasuse, “My father, is there some place near here where we could chisel beaver?” “Oh,” said Wamasuse, “there is such a place where I used to chisel beaver.” “I would like to eat beaver,” said the young man. “It is a three days’ journey from here,” said Wamasuse. “But we will get there if you want to go,” he added. They started the next morning and got there on the third evening. The next day they began to chisel the beaver and killed a number of them. In the evening they made camp and they began to roast a young beaver each. When they went to bed they hung up their leggings over the fire to dry, for it would be cold in the morning, and they were to go home to their lodge. Wamasuse then said that he was sick and that he had eaten too much. But he was only shamming and made more fire and sat close to the fire to warm his belly, groaning all the while and going out to defecate all the time. The young man said nothing. After a while the young man began to snore and sham sleep. But he was watching Wamasuse on the quiet all the time. Wamasuse, after going out once more, came in and looked at his son-in-law and thought he was sound asleep. He then took the young man’s leggings and hung them on his own side of the fire and put his own leggings on the side his son-in-law was occupying. Then he put more wood on the fire to make it burn up good, and went out once more. While he was out the young man got up and took back his leggings and put them where they were hanging before and put back Wamasuse’s leggings where they were at first. He lay down and feigned sleep again. Shortly after, Wamasuse came in. By this time the fire was in full blaze. Wamasuse took a stick and pushed his own leggings into the fire, thinking they were those of his son-in-law. They were, in fact, his own. The young man was watching on the quiet all the time. When they were nearly burnt up, Wamasuse, who had feigned sleep, jumped up and yelled at his son-in-law: “My son, your leggings are burning!” His son-in-law arose and took down his leggings, and said, “These are my leggings. I hung them here when I went to bed.” “Oh, truly,” said Wamasuse, “they are mine.” What Wamasuse had intended was that his son-in-law would have nothing to put on his legs in the morning when they started back. He was playing his last card, but the young fellow was too smart for him. There were the same signs here as in the other places, – human bones lying all around – as Wamasuse had beaten all his other sons-in-law at one place or another. In the morning when they were going to go home they started to load their toboggans with the beaver they had killed, the young man said to Wamasuse, “Why don’t you wrap your legs with your small beaver skins. If you do not have enough, I will lend you some of mine.” “Not so,” said Wamasuse. “I can save myself yet.” He then took the burnt-out coals off the fire and blackened up his whole legs. So they started for home and after they had traveled for a while the young man began to hear something cracking now and then, but he never looked back for he knew what it was. After a while Wamasuse called to his son-in-law. So the latter stopped and looked back. “I am unable to go any father,” said Wamasuse. “Those are my legs you hear cracking with the frost. I will give up here and turn into a juniper, so if the earth gets peopled they will use the juniper for their toboggans and snow shoes.” Then he said, “You might take these beaver that I killed with you for my grandchildren.” But he was told to throw them in the snow. The young man started off and after going a little way he looked back and what did he see but a fine juniper standing straight as it could be. This was Wamasuse turned into a tree. The young man traveled for three days and on the third day he reached his lodge. When his wife saw that her father did not come back she asked her husband, “What did you do to the old man that he is not back?” He said, “Your father has killed himself at last – since he would not stop his foolishness.” The woman began to cry and he said to her, “I don’t think I would cry for one that did so much to me as your father did to you. So you should not cry now.” He lived there for a long time hunting and caching food as he killed the game. After a time he began to long for his brother that Wamasuse had left on the island. So one evening he said to his wife, “I am going off to look for my brother where Wamasuse left him the time he took me. If I don’t find him I shall come back again, but if I find him I may not return.” So he left his wife and boys after telling his wife where she would find all the food that he had cached for them. Then they all began to cry for him, and he could hear them crying for a long time as he was walking. He was tempted at times to turn back. However, he traveled on, and on the third day he came to the island where he had last seen his brother. There he saw a big lodge standing. And as he was going up to it he heard a deep-throated groan. The next moment a big man came out of the lodge with a bow and arrow, ready to shoot him. He called out, “Don’t shoot me. I am your brother, who was taken from you. If you will look in the water you will see that scar on your face where you got a scratch the time we were running under the ground when the windigo was chasing us.” So the man looked into the water and sure enough he saw the scar on his face. The other man then went up to his younger brother, and they embraced. All this time the bear would not stop growling at him. so the younger brother spoke to him and said, “You must not do that. This is my brother.” The younger man asked his brother about where he had been and how he had got on. His brother told all that had happened to him and about his father-in-law, Wamasuse. Then the younger man told also about how the bear took pity on him after he was left alone on the island, and had taught him how to hunt. Then the older brother told how Wamasuse had conjured him and had tried to kill him, but could not, and how in the end he beat Wamasuse. He also told his brother about his two boys that were born to him by the daughter of Wamasuse. The younger brother said, “You might have as well brought them along.” “Well,” the other said, “I thought we would not be able to do what we are going to do if I took them with me.” So after living there for a time, preparing themselves for their last long journey, they started out for the other world. As they left the lodge the bear would go along with them, but they told him that he could not go with them. Then the bear began to howl and to cry after them, and the bear would not hear of leaving them. But at the end of the third day they got the bear to go back. Thus they traveled along, resting only where night overtook them, until they got up to the clouds and so reached the other world.  It is not known how the family of the son-in-law of Wamasuse got on after he had left them, and here ends the doings of Wamasuse.  [END] JMC note: in Loutitt’s ms Wamasuse is sometimes spelled Wamasus.  RF COMMENTS Wamasuse [Son-in-law]  Loutitt  JMC, written out for him in English and sent 1927 or 1928 (a great story for “threes”) Story well told, smooth, logical , detailed. Sometimes seems to insert explanations that possibly would not have been in the original? e.g., “Son-in-law knew what W was thinking and what he would say when asked about places where eggs, or eagle gulls, could be found.” Story is probably an Albany one as it is closer to Skinner’s (father-in-law’s name is same) vs. Harvey’s Moose story where name differs, lacks introduction – same events of contest but different details.