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The Story of Glooskap and Commentary on the Myth and H. D. Thoreau by Charles G. Leland (from The Algonquin Legends of New England Or Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes by Charles G. Leland. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1884. 65-67.)

The Story of Glooskap
(As Told in a few Words by a Woman of the Penobscots.)

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 maybe 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.

Commentary on the Myth and H. D. Thoreau by Charles G. Leland

Many a place is pointed out as the locality of the same legend. In addition to those in New Brunswick and Bar Harbor, Thoreau found another in Maine, which he thus describes: "While we were crossing this bay" (that is, the mouth of Moose River), "where Mount Kineo rose dark before us, within two or three miles, the Indian repeated the tradition respecting this mountain's having been anciently a cow moose, --how a mighty Indian hunter, whose name I forget, succeeded in killing this queen of the moose tribe with great difficulty, while her calf was killed somewhere among the islands in Penobscot Bay; and to his eyes this mountain had still the form of the moose in a reclining posture, its precipitous side presenting the outline of her head. He told this at some length, though it did not amount to much, and with apparent good faith, and asked us how we supposed the hunter could have killed such a mighty moose as that; how we could do it. Whereupon a man-of-war to fire broadsides into her was suggested, etc. An Indian tells such a story as if he thought it deserved to have a good deal said about it, only he has not got it to say; and so he makes up for the deficiency by a drawling tone, long-windedness, and a dumb wonder which he hopes will be contagious."

This concluding criticism is indeed singularly characteristic of Mr. Thoreau's own nasal stories about Nature, but it is as utterly untrue as ridiculous when applied to any Indian storytelling to which I have ever listened, and I have known the near relatives of the Indians of whom he speaks, and heard many of them tell their tales. This writer passed months in Maine, choosing Penobscot guides expressly to study them, to read Indian feelings and get at Indian secrets, and this account of Glooskap, whose name he forgets, is a fair specimen of what he learned. Yet he could in the same book [The Maine Woods, 1864] write as follows:

"The Anglo-American can indeed cut down and grub up all this waving forest, and make a stump and vote for Buchanan on its ruins; but he cannot converse with the spirit of the tree he fells, he cannot read the poetry and mythology which retires as he advances."

If Mr. Thoreau had known the Indian legend of the spirit of the fallen tree--and his guide knew it well--he might have been credited with speaking wisely of the poetry and mythology which he ridicules the poor rural Yankees for not possessing. Such a writer can, indeed, peep and botanize on the grave of Mother Nature, but never evoke her spirit.




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