December 27, 2005

Turtle Goes to War


One time that well known brave, Snapping Turtle, became angry. All the people wondered why he acted so strangely. “Snapping Turtle is very cranky,” said the other turtles, “Something must be in the air.”

One day a messenger came to all of them, calling each to appear at Snapping Turtle’s wigwam. All the turtle people were glad, and hoped that this meant that he would be in a good mood, so they came and feasted. Then Snapping Turtle said to the them: “My brothers, I am angry at mankind. I am going to raise a war-party and fight them.”

All the turtles agreed that they had received many insults from men, and were ready to go. That night when everyone was asleep, the warriors started out to do battle. They traveled from dawn until dark, and then they rested and slept. One of their number, the little Box Turtle, had a dream of bad omen. This made Snapping Turtle angry. He said that he did not believe in omens, and that he was determined to fight anyway. Each dawn he called on his followers to narrate their dreams of the night before, and each morning they had only bad omens to report. One morning Box Turtle sang this song:

“Oh! Snapping Turtle, I see you now!

They are throwing all of us turtles in a sack!”

“Don’t sing that!” hissed Snapping Turtle. But Box Turtle continued to sing, so Snapping Turtle went up to him and kicked him, but found that Box Turtle was singing in his sleep. The blow struck Box Turtle on the chest so hard that it broke his shell, and you can still see the break-the hinge of the shell on his chest-to this very day.

He said, “Next time, Box Turtle, you will sing ‘Snapping Turtle is brave and cleans up all the villages wherever he goes.’ I don’t want you to sing that I get my people thrown into a sack. It is a bad song. Instead, sing that I am the one who makes a clean, sweep wherever he goes, and throws the enemy into hysterics.”

Box Turtle was indignant and answered, “I don’t want you people put in a sack. This is not my fault. I was asleep, and the dream I sang about came out that way. Who am I to control my dreams?”

Again they started out to war and at last they arrived at an Indian village. The turtles gave their war whoop and charged the village. All the women ran out of the wigwams. “Oh! Look at the turtles,” they cried. They all ran for their sacks and threw the turtles in them. Box Turtle was safe because he had been so badly hurt by being kicked by Snapping Turtle that he had fallen behind.

One of the turtles named Painted Turtle was so prettily marked with red that the woman who picked him up hugged him close to her. He bit her and she threw him into the water, where he escaped. The other women carried their captives home, and were very angry about the blow that the one turtle had struck. They had captured Snapping Turtle along with all the other turtles and held a council to decide what to do with him to punish him for attacking them.

One said, “Let’s burn him to death, he is our enemy.” Snapping Turtle thought “That will be good!”

“No,” said the council, “he would like that! He thinks that he will be able to kick the fire all over and thus destroy our lodges.”

Another said “Let’s shoot him with arrows.” Snapping Turtle said, “Oh yes, that is the best way to kill me!” “No,” decided the council, “The arrows will bounce off your shell, and others might be hurt.”

Another woman suggested, “Let’s boil him in a big clay pot.” And Snapping Turtle answered, “I would be glad to die that way!” “No,” announced the council. “He thinks that he will be able to spatter boiling water over us, and scald us to death.”

“In that case,” said another, “Let us throw him in the river!” At these words, Snapping Turtle and all his followers began to beg for mercy, and plead that they be not drowned. They claimed that this was an awful punishment. The women thought that at last they had hit on the right thing, and tossed every turtle into the lake. But really, those turtles lived in water, and they all escaped. And they would pester the women by messing up all the fresh springs where they went to get their water.

The men of the Indian village couldn’t believe that the turtles had deceived their wives until one day they saw a whole lot of turtles enjoying the sun on a log. The snappers lived in the springs under the mud, and people learned that turtles cannot be drowned.

After their escape, the Turtles held a great victory dance at Snapper’s house, and the Red Turtle was the hero, because he had had a victory by biting one of the women when she hugged him. Snapping Turtle and Box Turtle have never been able to get along together since that war-party, and they won’t even live in the same area as each other since then.

Potawatomi Legends
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