MS/Lakes: Turtle

For a quite different story of the turtle on the warpath, see this Sioux story: The War-Like Seven.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Mississippi Valley / Great Lakes unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1914).


THERE was a large camp in which Miqkano, the Turtle, took up his abode. He built a wigwam but he had no one to keep house for him. He thought he needed a wife.

Now Turtle found a young woman whom he liked. He said, “I want you to be my wife.”

She said, “How are you going to provide for me? You cannot keep up with the rest of the people when they move.”

Turtle replied, “I can keep up with the best of your people.”

Then the young woman wanted to put him off. She said, “Oh, well, I will marry you in the spring.”

Turtle was vexed with this. At last he said, “I shall go to war and take some captives. When I return in the spring, I shall expect you to marry me.”

Then Turtle prepared to go on the war path. He called all his friends, the Turtles, to him. He left camp, followed by a throng of curious Indians. The young woman he wanted to marry laughed as the Turtles moved away. They were so very slow.

Turtle was vexed again. He said, “In four days from now you will surely mourn for me because I shall be at a great distance from you.”

“Why,” said the girl, laughing, “in four days from this time you will scarcely be out of sight.”

Turtle immediately corrected himself and said, “I did not mean four days, but four years. Then I shall return.”

Now the Turtles started off. They traveled slowly on until one day they found a great tree lying across their trail.

Turtle said, “This we cannot pass unless we go around it. That would take too long. What shall we do?”

Some said, “Let us burn a hole through the trunk,” but in this they did not succeed.

Therefore they had to turn back home, but it was a long time before they came near the Indian village again. They wanted to appear as successful warriors, so as they came near, they set up the war song. The Indians heard them. They at once ran out to see the scalps and the spoils. But when they came near, the Turtles each seized an Indian by the arm and said, “We take you our prisoners. You are our spoils.”

The Indians who were captured in this way were very angry. Now the Turtle chief had captured the young woman he said he was going to marry. He said to the Indian girl, “Now that I have you, I will keep you.”

Now it was necessary to organize a dance to celebrate the victory over the Indians. Everyone dressed in his best robe and beads. Turtle sang, “Whoever comes near me will die, will die, will die!” and the others danced around him in a circle.

At once the Indians became alarmed. Each one fled to his own lodge in the village. Turtle also went to the village, but he arrived much later because he could not travel so fast.

Someone said to him, “That girl has married another man.”

“Is that true?” stormed Turtle. “Let me see the man.”

So he went to that wigwam. He called, “I am going for the woman who promised to be my wife.”

Her husband said, “Here comes Turtle. Now what is to be done?”

“I shall take care of that,” said his wife.

Turtle came in and seized her. He said, “Come along with me. You belong to me.”

She pulled back. She said, “You broke your promise.”

The husband said also, “Yes, you promised to go to war and bring back some prisoners. You failed to do so.”

Turtle said, “I did go. I returned with many prisoners.” Then he picked up the young woman and carried her off.

Now when Turtle arrived at his own wigwam, the young woman went at once to a friend and borrowed a large kettle. She filled it with water and set it on to boil. Turtle became afraid. He said, “What are you doing?”

She said, “I am heating some water. Do you know how to swim?”

“Oh, yes,” said Turtle. “I can swim.”

The young woman said, “You jump in the water and swim. I can wash your shell.”

So Turtle tried to swim in the hot water. Then the other Turtles, seeing their chief swimming in the kettle, climbed over the edge and jumped into the water. Thus Turtle and his warriors were conquered.

(800 words)

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