BNA: How the Earth Was Formed

The character you will meet in this Cree legend, Wisagatcak, is the "crane spirit" of Algonquian myth and legend. The Cree people are one of the largest First Nation populations in Canada, and there are Cree who also live in Montana, sharing a reservation with the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. You can read more about the Cree people at Wikipedia, and also more about Wisakedjak.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the British North America unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of British North America by Katharine Berry Judson (1917).

How the Earth Was Formed

ONE winter day Wisagatcak was chiseling the ice, trying to catch Big Beaver. At last he caught him by shutting up the creek with stakes, leaving only an opening in the center of the stream. Then Wisagatcak stood there, waiting for Big Beaver to attempt an escape in that way. He stood there a long while.

Just as evening came, Wisagatcak saw a beaver coming along, but just as he was about to kill him, Muskrat came up quietly behind him and scratched him. Wisagatcak was so startled he did not catch the beaver.

At last it became dark, so he went ashore and built a fire, but he had nothing to eat. He said to himself, "Tomorrow I will try to break the dam down and dry up the creek."

Early next morning Wisagatcak made a pointed stick from juniper wood. Then he broke the dam down, but yet the creek did not dry up. The water rose, and rose, and rose, until Wisagatcak no longer stood on dry ground. So he at once made a raft and got on that. He took on the raft with him two of every kind of animal, and stayed there with them for two weeks. So they drifted about because there was no chance to land anywhere. And while he drifted, Big Beaver was making medicine against him for breaking the dam.

Now after two weeks, Wisagatcak wished to know the depth of water under the raft. He tied a long string to the feet of Muskrat and asked him to dive down and bring up some mud.

Muskrat went down, down, down! He could not even reach the bottom, and drowned before Wisagatcak could bring him up.

Then he waited three days and told Crow to go and see if he could find any moss. Crow came back without anything in his bill. When Crow came back without any moss, Wisagatcak was frightened. He had a little moss on his raft, so he took that and began to make medicine.

The next day he asked Wolf to take the moss in his mouth and run around the raft with it. Wolf did so, and as he ran around, earth began to appear and grow on the raft. Wolf ran around the raft for a week, and the land grew larger and larger. It continued to grow for two weeks. By that time the earth had grown so large that Wolf never came back. This is how the earth came to be built over water. And this is why there are springs in the earth.

When Wolf had been gone for a week, Wisagatcak said to the other animals, "I guess now the land must be large enough for us all to live on."

Beaver asked, "How are we going to live? We are eating willows and poplars here, but there are no trees on earth yet."

Wisagatcak said, "Um-m-m-m! Yes, you will need a little creek to live in also."

Beaver said, "Why, yes, of course."

Wisagatcak said, "I'll do something tonight."

That night Wisagatcak made magic again. He tried to dig down through the earth to his raft to get a log from it, but the earth was so thick and the pressure of it so great, he could not even find a trace of a log. When he failed to get even a stick, he said to Beaver, "I'll make a creek for you, and you will have to live on grass roots until trees grow up."

That is why, even today, Beaver eats certain white roots as well as bark. When Wisagatcak came back, he found that Beaver had dug ditches in every direction in his search for roots.

(600 words)

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