Tales of the North American Indians
The Son-in-law Tests
Wemicus [the animal-trickster] had a son-in-law who was a man. This man’s wife, the daughter of Wemicus, had had a great many husbands, because Wemicus had put them to so many different tests that they had been all killed off except this one. He, however, had succeeded in outwitting Wemicus in every scheme that he tried on him. Wemicus and this man hunted beaver in the spring of the year by driving them all day with dogs.
The man’s wife warned him before they started out to hunt, saying, “Look out for my father; he might burn your moccasins in camp. That’s what he did to my other husbands.” That night in camp Wemicus said, “I didn’t tell you the name of this lake. It is called ‘Burnt moccasins lake.'” When the man heard this, he thought that Wemicus was up to some sort of mischief and was going to burn his moccasins. Their moccasins were hanging up before a fire to dry and, while Wemicus was not looking, the man changed the places of Wemicus’ moccasins and his own, and then went to sleep. Soon the man awoke and saw Wemicus get up and throw his own moccasins into the fire. Wemicus then said, “Say! something is burning; it is your moccasins.” Then the man answered, “No, not mine, but yours.” So Wemicus had no moccasins, and the ground was covered with snow. After this had happened the man slept with his moccasins on.
The next morning the man started on and left Wemicus there with no shoes. Wemicus started to work. He got a big boulder, made a fire, and placed the boulder in it until it became red hot. He then wrapped his feet with spruce boughs and pushed the boulder ahead of him in order to melt the snow. In this way he managed to walk on the boughs. Then he began to sing, “Spruce is warm, spruce is warm.” When the man reached home be told his wife what had happened. “I hope Wemicus will die,” she said. A little while after this they heard Wemicus coming along singing, “Spruce is warm, spruce is warm.” He came into the wigwam and as he was the head man, they were obliged to get his meal ready.
The ice was getting bad by this time, so they stayed in camp a while. Soon Wemicus told his son-in-law, “We’d better go sliding.” He then went to a hill where there were some very poisonous snakes. The man’s wife warned her husband of these snakes and gave him a split stick holding a certain kind of magic tobacco, which she told him to hold in front of him so that the snakes would not hurt him. Then the two men went sliding. At the top of the hill Wemicus said, “Follow me,” for he intended to pass close by the snakes’ lair. So when they slid, Wemicus passed safely and the man held his stick with the tobacco in it in front of him, thus preventing the snakes from biting him. The man then told Wemicus that he enjoyed the sliding.
The following day Wemicus said to his son-in-law, “We had better go to another place.” When she heard this, the wife told her husband that, as it was getting summer, Wemicus had in his head many poisonous lizards instead of lice. She said, “He will tell you to pick lice from his head and crack them in your teeth. But take low-bush cranberries and crack them instead.” So the man took cranberries along with him. Wemicus took his son-in-law to a valley with a great ravine in it. He said, “I wonder if anybody can jump across this?” “Surely,” said the young man, “I can.” Then the young man said, “Closer,” and the ravine narrowed and he jumped across easily. When Wemicus tried, the young man said, “Widen,” and Wemicus fell into the ravine. But it did not kill him, and when he made his way to the top again, he said, “You have beaten me.” Then they went on.
They came to a place of hot sand and Wemicus said, “You must look for lice in my head.” “All right father,” replied the son-in-law. So Wemicus lay down and the man started to pick the lice. He took the cranberries from inside his shirt and each time he pretended to catch a louse, he cracked a cranberry and threw it on the ground, and so Wemicus got fooled a second time that day. Then they went home and Wemicus said to his son-in-law, “There are a whole lot of eggs on that rocky island where the gulls are. We will go get the eggs, come back, and have an egg supper.” As Wemicus was the head man, his son-in-law had to obey him.
So they started out in their canoe and soon came to the rocky island. Wemicus stayed in the canoe and told the man to go ashore and to bring the eggs back with him and fill the canoe. When the man reached the shore, Wemicus told him to go farther back on the island, saying, “That’s where the former husbands got their eggs, there are their bones.” He then started the canoe off in the water by singing, without using his paddle. Then Wemicus told the gulls to eat the man, saying to them, “I give you him to eat.” The gulls started to fly about the man, but the man had his paddle with him and he killed one of the gulls with it. He then took the gulls’ wings and fastened them on himself, filled his shirt with eggs, and started flying over the lake by the aid of the wings.
When he reached the middle of the lake, he saw Wemicus going along and singing to himself. Wemicus, looking up, saw his son-in-law but mistook him for a gull. The man flew back to camp and told his wife to cook the eggs, and he told his children to play with the wings. When Wemicus reached the camp, he saw the children playing with the wings and said, “Where did you get those wings?” “From father,” was the reply. “Your father? Why the gulls ate him!” Then he went to the wigwam and there he saw the man smoking. Then Wemicus thought it very strange how the man could have gotten home, but no one told him how it had been done. Thought he, “I must try another scheme to do away with him.”
One day Wemicus said to his son-in-law, “We’d better make two canoes of birch-bark, one for you and one for me. We’d better get bark.” So they started off for birch-bark. They cut a tree almost through and Wemicus said to his son-in-law, “You sit on that side and I’ll sit on this.” He wanted the tree to fall on him and kill him. Wemicus said, “You say, ‘Fall on my father-in-law,’ and I’ll say, ‘Fall on my son-in-law,’ and whoever says it too slowly or makes a mistake will be the one on whom it will fall.” But Wemicus made the first mistake, and the tree fell on him and crushed him. However, Wemicus was a manitu and was not hurt. They went home with the bark and made the two canoes. After they were made, Wemicus said to his son-in-law, “Well, we’ll have a race in our two canoes, a sailing race.” Wemicus made a big bark sail, but the man did not make any, as he was afraid of upsetting. They started the race. Wemicus went very fast and the man called after him, “Oh, you are beating me.” He kept on fooling and encouraging Wemicus, until the wind upset Wemicus’ canoe and that was the end of Wemicus. When the man sailed over the spot where Wemicus had upset, he saw a big pike there, into which Wemicus had been transformed when the canoe upset. This is the origin of the pike.