The Man-fish

: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian

A very great while ago the ancestors of the Shawanos nation lived on

the other side of the Great Lake, half-way between the rising sun and

the evening star. It was a land of deep snows and much frost, of winds

which whistled in the clear, cold nights, and storms which travelled

from seas no eyes could reach. Sometimes the sun ceased to shine for

moons together, and then he was continually before their eyes for as

ore. In the season of cold the waters were all locked up, and

the snows overtopped the ridge of the cabins. Then he shone out so

fiercely that men fell stricken by his fierce rays, and were numbered

with the snow that had melted and run to the embrace of the rivers. It

was not like the beautiful lands--the lands blessed with soft suns and

ever-green vales--in which the Shawanos now dwell, yet it was well

stocked with deer, and the waters with fat seals and great fish, which

were caught just when the people pleased to go after them. Still, the

nation were discontented, and wished to leave their barren and

inhospitable shores. The priests had told them of a beautiful world

beyond the Great Salt Lake, from which the glorious sun never

disappeared for a longer time than the duration of a child's sleep,

where snow-shoes were never wanted--a land clothed with perpetual

verdure, and bright with never-failing gladness. The Shawanos listened

to these tales till they came to loathe their own simple comforts; all

they talked of, all they appeared to think of, was the land of the

happy hunting-grounds.

Once upon a time the people were much terrified at seeing a strange

creature, much resembling a man, riding along the waves of the lake on

the borders of which they dwelt. He had on his head long green hair;

his face was shaped like that of a porpoise, and he had a beard of the

colour of ooze.

If the people were frightened at seeing a man who could live in the

water like a fish or a duck, how much more were they frightened when

they saw that from his breast down he was actually fish, or rather two

fishes, for each of his legs was a whole and distinct fish. When they

heard him speak distinctly in their own language, and when he sang

songs sweeter than the music of birds in spring, or the whispers of

love from the lips of a beautiful maiden, they thought it a being from

the Land of Shades--a spirit from the happy fishing-grounds beyond the

lake of storms.

He would sit for a long time, his fish-legs coiled up under him,

singing to the wondering ears of the Indians upon the shore the

pleasures he experienced, and the beautiful and strange things he saw

in the depths of the ocean, always closing his strange stories with

these words, shouted at the top of his voice--

"Follow me, and see what I will show you."

Every day, when the waves were still and the winds had gone to their

resting-place in the depths of the earth, the monster was sure to be

seen near the shore where the Shawanos dwelt. For a great many suns

they dared not venture upon the water in quest of food, doing nothing

but wander along the beach, watching the strange creature as he played

his antics upon the surface of the waves, listening to his songs and

to his invitation--

"Follow me, and see what I will show you."

The longer he stayed the less they feared him. They became used to

him, and in time looked upon him as a spirit who was not made for

harm, nor wished to injure the poor Indian. Then they grew hungry, and

their wives and little ones cried for food, and, as hunger banishes

all fear, in a few days three canoes with many men and warriors

ventured off to the rocks in quest of fish.

When they reached the fishing-place, they heard as before the voice


"Follow me, and see what I will show you."

Presently the man-fish appeared, sitting on the water, with his legs

folded under him, and his arms crossed on his breast, as they had

usually seen him. There he sat, eying them attentively. When they

failed to draw in the fish they had hooked, he would make the water

shake and the deep echo with shouts of laughter, and would clap his

hands with great noise, and cry--

"Ha, ha! there he fooled you."

When a fish was caught he was very angry. When the fishers had tried

long and patiently, and taken little, and the sun was just hiding

itself behind the dark clouds which skirted the region of warm winds,

the strange creature cried out still stronger than before--

"Follow me, and see what I will show you."

Kiskapocoke, who was the head man of the tribe, asked him what he

wanted, but he would make no other answer than--

"Follow me."

"Do you think," said Kiskapocoke, "I would be such a fool as to go I

don't know with whom, and I don't know where?"

"See what I will show you," cried the man-fish.

"Can you show us anything better than we have yonder?" asked the


"I will show you," replied the monster, "a land where there is a herd

of deer for every one that skips over your hills, where there are vast

droves of creatures larger than your sea-elephants, where there is no

cold to freeze you, where the sun is always soft and smiling, where

the trees are always in bloom."

The people began to be terrified, and wished themselves on land, but

the moment they tried to paddle towards the shore, some invisible hand

would seize their canoes and draw them back, so that an hour's labour

did not enable them to gain the length of their boat in the direction

of their homes. At last Kiskapocoke said to his companions--

"What shall we do?"

"Follow me," said the fish.

Then Kiskapocoke said to his companions--

"Let us follow him, and see what will come of it."

So they followed him,--he swimming and they paddling, until night

came. Then a great wind and deep darkness prevailed, and the Great

Serpent commenced hissing in the depths of the ocean. The people were

terribly frightened, and did not think to live till another sun, but

the man-fish kept close to the boats, and bade them not be afraid, for

nothing should hurt them.

When morning came, nothing could be seen of the shore they had left.

The winds still raged, the seas were very high, and the waters ran

into their canoes like melted snows over the brows of the mountains,

but the man-fish handed them large shells, with which they baled the

water out. As they had brought neither food nor water with them, they

had become both hungry and thirsty. Kiskapocoke told the strange

creature they wanted to eat and drink, and that he must supply them

with what they required.

"Very well," said the man-fish, and, disappearing in the depths of the

water, he soon reappeared, bringing with him a bag of parched corn and

a shell full of sweet water.

For two moons and a half the fishermen followed the man-fish, till at

last one morning their guide exclaimed--

"Look there!"

Upon that they looked in the direction he pointed out to them and saw

land, high land, covered with great trees, and glittering as the sand

of the Spirit's Island. Behind the shore rose tall mountains, from the

tops of which issued great flames, which shot up into the sky, as the

forks of the lightning cleave the clouds in the hot moon. The waters

of the Great Salt Lake broke in small waves upon its shores, which

were covered with sporting seals and wild ducks pluming themselves in

the beams of the warm and gentle sun. Upon the shore stood a great

many strange people, but when they saw the strangers step upon the

land and the man-fish, they fled to the woods like startled deer, and

were no more seen.

When the warriors were safely landed, the man-fish told them to let

the canoe go; "for," said he, "you will never need it more." They had

travelled but a little way into the woods when he bade them stay where

they were, while he told the spirit of the land that the strangers he

had promised were come, and with that he descended into a deep cave

near at hand. He soon returned, accompanied by a creature as strange

in appearance as himself. His legs and feet were those of a man. He

had leggings and moccasins like an Indian's, tightly laced and

beautifully decorated with wampum, but his head was like a goat's. He

talked like a man, and his language was one well understood by the


"I will lead you," he said, "to a beautiful land, to a most beautiful

land, men from the clime of snows. There you will find all the joys an

Indian covets."

For many moons the Shawanos travelled under the guidance of the

man-goat, into whose hands the man-fish had put them, when he retraced

his steps to the Great Lake. They came at length to the land which the

Shawanos now occupy. They found it as the strange spirits had

described it. They married the daughters of the land, and their

numbers increased till they were so many that no one could count them.

They grew strong, swift, and valiant in war, keen and patient in the

chase. They overcame all the tribes eastward of the River of Rivers,

and south to the shore of the Great Lake.

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty,

at the Edinburgh University Press.