Flood Myth of the Bois Fort Chippewas of Minnesota

by Albert B. Reagan, 1871–1936

Manabush is the creator god of our people (the Bois Fort Chippewas). Soon after his birth his parents were both killed by a clan of sea lions. After their death he lived with his grandmother till he became of age. He then decided to go out and avenge the death of his parents. The sea monsters who had killed them lived on an island.
 This was first surrounded by water for a short distance. Then for a space of about a mile and a half there was a circular band-area of floating pitch-like ice across which a canoe could not venture without certainly getting stuck in the pitch and consequently being captured.
 But not  withstanding this apparently unsurmountable difficulty, he was determined.
 He told his grandmother his plans. She listened attentively to
 their narration, then sadly advised him not to undertake the hazardous 
task, though she wished to see the annihilation of the destructive sea
beasts. In concluding, she said: “It is no use for you to fight with
 the sea lions on that island. Your canoe will get stuck in the pitch.
 Then the beasts will come out and devour you, canoe and all.” But he
 was the more determined. He made a large canoe and covered it with 
tallow so it would float and go through the pitch. After it was completed, he made a strong bow and prepared plenty of arrows. He then launched his canoe and told his grandmother to go ahead of him with
 another canoe in a zigzag way up the channel for a little distance at the start. (This custom of having the women proceed a war party for a little way when starting on a war expedition was long afterwards
 followed by the Chippewas in starting on the war path against the 

Then when everything was ready, he started out on his war 
 After considerable labor in paddling and pushing his canoe through
and over the pitch-like ice, he landed safe on the island in the night 
where he stayed till the break of day. Then at dawn he gave the 
war-whoop and ran for the house of the chief sea monster. Upon hearing the war-whoop, the king beast jumped from his bed and secured his
 bows and arrows, and the two powerful beings started to fight accord
ingly as they were fitted by their superior giver. The battle was terrible. They fought continually for two days without killing each other.
 They then rested on their arms with the contest a draw.
 But Manabush had advisers at hand. On the evening following the
 second day’s battle Batter, a bird of the Blue Jay family, accosted him
 and said: “You can not kill King Sea lion by shooting him in the body,
 as his heart and vital parts are not there as in most beings. Then after 
a short pause he continued: ”I will tell you where they are if you will
 promise to give me some of the meat of his dead carcass. “
With open mouth and wide eyes Manabush listened to Batter’s
 statement and advice till he had closed then replied: “My brother, if 
you will tell me where King Sealion’s heart is I will give you the meat
 you ask and make you king of the Blue Jays and all meat birds.” “In truth,” spoke up Batter as he flew to a limb over Manabush so 
as to be heard more easily without talking loud enough to be heard by
 any one else, “this beast’s heart is in his little toe. Aim for that the
 next time you go to battle with him and you will succeed.” 
The morning of the third day Manabush gave the war whoop again.
 Immediately King Sealion came out with his full equipment for battle.
 The fight was on. Manabush aimed for the little toe of his adversary.
 The arrow struck the mark squarely and penetrated the vital regions.
 King Sealion keeled over and died there and then. Seeing his fall,
 Manabush ran to him, took out his big knife and scalped him. He then 
sailed across the surf to where he had left his grandmother, singing his
 song of victory as he went, as the Indians (Chippewas) have since sung 
when returning from a victorious battlefield.
 When his grandmother heard him coming singing his song of
 triumph, she started out to meet him in her canoe. Meeting him, she
 took the scalp and went on ahead of him to the shore. Landing, she
 called the village neighbors and all commenced to have the war dance 
around the scalp in the middle of the dance hall, as it has since been 
the custom of Chippewas to dance the war dance down through the 
ages. Thus they danced till they had completed the orgie, after which 
they smoked the pipe of peace.
 This dance lasted four days. Then Manabush bade his grandmother 
goodbye and started westward over the earth in quest of other “hurtful” 
beasts. After four days of journeying he met four wolves, one of which
 was a chief. These accompanied him for four days in his passing
 westward As he thus journeyed with them, he noticed every evening
 when they camped for the night they would pile sticks in a heap
 and King Wolf would jump over the pile four times, after which the
 wood would catch fire without the aid of a fire-starter. By watching 
them he also learned the art. On they traveled. As they thus journeyed, young wolves followed along behind and chased down the
 moose and deer and killed them as needed. Then they would dress and 
cook same and all would eat to their satisfaction. So all had a pleasurable time.

After journeying four days with the wolf pack, he chose for his
 companion one of the young wolves whom he called his nephew.
Leaving the rest behind, he then traveled on on his western travels. 
The evening of the first day after they had parted company with the 
other wolves they came upon the track of a moose which it was decided
 his nephew should chase on the following morning. That night Manabush had an unfavorable dream. The next morning as a consequence 
of the foreboding evil foreshadowed in it, he cautioned his comrade to
 be careful. “The dream was about chasing this moose,” he said. “It was
 a bad dream about you in this chase.” After a moment’s reflection he
added in commanding order: “In chasing this moose you are to track,
 whenever you come to a little stream always cut a tree down and walk 
across it. Don’t jump the stream. Be careful.”
 As per arrangement, the nephew started out on the chase, Manabush
 following his tracks. Soon he came to a little stream over which he 
fell a tree, as he had been instructed. He then crossed it safely. After
 a while he came to another small stream which he thought he would 
jump as it seemed too small to take time to cut a tree down on which 
to cross. Furthermore, he could see the moose only just a little farther
 on, staggering with fatigue, and by crossing immediately, he could 
soon overtake it. He could even taste fresh meat, he imagined, the 
moose being so sure his. As he jumped the stream it instantly swelled
 its dimensions to a raging torrent and swept him away with it; it had 
been caused to become a large river by the great Snake God who lived
 near a sand point that projected into the lake a little way off from 
the outlet of the river. This snake god’s home was on an island just
 beyond the sand point. Here he lived in company with many other
 snakes and other animals that lived in the water. Here they had their 
lodges as did the bear family also. These snakes and beasts were the 
great evil enemies of our race. Here to this island the wolf was taken 
prisoner. There he was killed and skinned and his hide was used to
 cover the door-way of the principal lodge of the place where the greater 
part of the snakes went in and out in their crawlings about.
 Following along behind, Manabush tracked his nephew to this
 second stream, now a big river, and found that his tracks ended there.
 At once he knew that he had disobeyed his orders of the morning 
when he had told him to cut a tree across every stream he came to. He
 had cut one tree down and had crossed the stream safely. Now he had
 disobeyed orders and had tried to jump the stream, but was taken by 
the current. And the stream, getting larger and swifter as it passed on
toward the lake, took him out with it to the residence of King Snake. 
There this snake and his companions had killed him and took his hide
 for a door-cover for the snakes’ passage-way. Finding that the tracks ended at the stream crossing and that he had undoubtedly been swept 
out into the lake, Manabush started down the winding course, hoping
 against hope that he might find him stranded and yet alive, or might
 be lucky to find his body, if dead.
 He had luck obtaining desired information.
 As he neared the stream’s mouth he saw a bird looking down into 
the water. He slipped slowly up to it and made a grab for its head. 
Unluckily, however, he just missed his hold and ruffled up the feathers
 on the back of its head and neck. The bird was Kingfisher. The top
 bunch of feathers on his head as a pompadour Manabush made by this
 stroke, by grabbing him by the hand and slipping his hold. Escaping,
 the bird flew away a short distance and lit. Then looking back and
 seeing Manabush, he said: “I would have told you where your nephew 
has gone had you not grabbed me as you did,” Manabush, however, was
 equal to the occasion, for he knew the weak points in the make-up of
 the lives of all living things. So he said to Kingfisher: “Come over and
 tell me and I will make you a pretty bird,” In consequence of this 
promise he flew near and told him that his nephew had been killed by 
King Snake who lived near the sand point. He told him further that
 the snakes and bears and other water beasts come out on the sand
point to sun themselves about noon each nice day and that King Snake
 would be the last to come on shore. Manabush thanked him for the 
information and then ”fixed him up“ and made him a pretty bird by 
rubbing his breast with white clay and painting his back blue. 
Having completed his talking with Kingfisher, he started for the
sand point mentioned, after he had made a strong bow and had pre
pared bullrush arrows, pointing same with bull rush tops. When he got
 near the sand beach he said to himself: ”I will be a tree stub,“ and on
reaching the place he turned into a stub of a poplar tree. Then after a
while as the sun ascended the heavens the snakes came out to sun
 themselves on the sand as they were wont to do. The white bears
 came last, followed by King Snake. The others had noticed nothing; 
but King Snake at once noticed the stub. ”What is it?“ he asked. On 
scanning it further, he exclaimed: ”I believe that is Manabush standing
 there.“ He then turned to one of the chief snakes and said: “Go to yonder
 stub. Climb it. Then coil around it and squeeze it hard.“ This snake
chief did as he was bidden. He coiled himself around the stub and
 squeezed it, but Manabush never moved. After this snake had tried his
 crushing powers for a considerable time, he gave it up and went back to where King Snake was, saying: ”That can’t be Manabush.“ King
 Snake, however, was not satisfied. He turned to a white bear and commanded him also to examine the supposed stub, saying: “You go and climb on that stub to its very top. Then slide down so as to scratch it as you descend.” The bear did as he was told. Manabush nearly yelled,
 the pain of the scratching was so great, but he never moved. Going
 back to his master, the bear then said: ”That can’t be Manabush.“
Being satisfied, King Snake then immediately came on shore and
 stretched himself on the sand in the sun.
After all the reptiles were fast asleep, Manabush turned to be a man
 again. He then took out his bow and arrows and went near King
 Snake and shot him in his body, but without injuring him in the least.
 He then remembered what Kingfisher had told him, that to injure
 King Snake he must shoot his shadow. So with a second shot he aimed
 at that beast’s shadow, and instantly that reptile stretched out and
 gasped in awful pain. Seeing this, Manabush started to run back to get 
a few logs together to make a raft, for Kingfisher had told him that if he
 wounded King Snake he would flood the world to the top of the trees 
in revenge. Then the water would go down again. But if he killed him,
 in his dying struggles he would destroy the whole world in a mighty
 flood. The water had already begun to rise. So he got on the little
 raft he had succeeded in making and floated about as he watched the 
water until the trees all disappeared. Then the water went down 
 After it had got dry on the earth he went back to tell Chief Wolf 
what had happened. After narrating this to the wolf tribe he went back
 to the lake where he had had the encounter with King Snake: he knew 
by the world’s not being destroyed utterly that the snake had only. Consequently he had it in his mind to make sure of his killing him, be the consequences what they would.
 As he was walking along the shore of the lake, he heard something rattling. Looking ahead, he saw a large frog-like, old lady of the bad witch type jumping along. She had a rattle which she used in doctor
ing. She also had a pack of basswood on her back.
 “Hello, grandma,” he shouted to her. “Where are you going?” 
“I am going to King Snake’s house to doctor him,” answered the 
 “Why, what is the matter with King Snake, grandma?”
 “One great god, Manabush, shot King Snake for revenge.”
 “Grandma, teach me your medicine,” broke in Manabush. “I will 
pay you.’’
 Tempted with the promised pay, the old medicine-frog-lady told 
him all about her doctoring and medicine songs. Then after he had 
learned all she could impart to him, he killed her and skinning her, put 
the skin on himself. He then took the rattle and the pack of basswood 
bark and started for the village where King Snake lived. On the way 
he stopped where the old frog lady lived. There he made himself 
much at home and waited an invitation to doctor, which soon came. 
That very evening a messenger came to him, saying “Grandma, you are
 again requested to come and doctor King Snake.” 
“All right,” answered Manabush. Then imitating the old frog-lady, 
he started to finish his killing of King Snake. Moreover, realizing the 
dire results that would follow, he got a lot of trees together for a raft,
 as he journeyed to the snake’s house. Getting everything in readiness,
 he entered the reptile’s yard. As he neared the door he noticed his
 nephew’s skin hanging as a curtain to the doorway. The sight of it
 made him feel so bad that he almost cried. He entered the house, they,
 of course, supposing him to be the old medicine-frog-lady. They had 
him enter the room where King Snake lay very sick. On entering, he 
took his rattles and started to sing the medicine songs he had learned 
from the aged frog-lady. As he sung, he crawled nearer and nearer
 King Snake’s side. As he did so, he saw that the arrow he had shot
 at the previous time was still imbedded in the flesh with broken end still
 sticking out. He waited. At the opportune moment he pushed the
 arrow completely in and instantly killed King Snake. He then immediately fled from the house, singing to cover his tracks and to prevent suspicion. 
He knew the consequence of his act and made with all speed for
 his raft. And none too soon, for while he was still running the water 
reached knee deep in depth. The raft began to float away just as he
 got on it. Soon then the world was submerged. In this catastrophe
 the animals commenced to swim around trying to get somewhere 
where they would be safe from the raging waters. Some succeeded in 
getting onto the raft; others hung to it. For three days they were
 floating as if it were in the middle of the great ocean. There was no 
land to be seen anywhere. The whole land surface of the earth had
 been swallowed up.
 Manabush had forgotten to get a handful of dirt from Mother earth
 before getting aboard his raft—he had no “starter” to commence an-other earth with. So on the morning of the fourth day of the tempestuous waters he called a council, saying: “We must do something. We can not stay here on this raft for all time. We must get some dirt.”

In accordance with the decision of the council, Manabush chose
 Beaver, Otter, Loon, and Muskrat as divers to try their hands in get
ting some earth from the bottom of the deep to start land again. Beaver
 went down first, but died before he reached the bottom of the waters.
 Otter dove likewise, but died and floated lifeless over the top of the 
water. Then Loon went down and down but returned without any-
thing. He had seen the bottom of the surging waters, but had lost his 
life just as he was nearing the green-carpeted land and trees. When 
he had floated near the raft dead on his return, Manabush seized him.
 He then brought him back to life by blowing his breath in his face.
 Muskrat then started in his diving. For four days nothing was seen 
of him. Then he floated again on the water near the raft dead and all
 doubled up. Manabush pulled him aboard the raft and blowed life into 
him again. Then he went to examining him to see what he had found.
 In his hands (front paws) he found a little dirt and sand, also some in 
his feet and mouth. A leaf and some seed were also found. Having
 obtained the coveted gifts of earth, he dried them in his hands and 
caused them to increase till he had a handful. The act of recreation of
 the world was then at hand. 
Being all ready for the work before him, Manabush held his filled 
hand of dirt, sand, and seed up on a level with his face with palm up.
 At once he began to blow his breath strongly over the lump and blew
 particles off it around the raft. In this way he formed an island. Immediately, then, the animals left the raft and began to roam over the 
land surface; but he kept on blowing the particles from his hand out 
farther and farther, thus extending the land area. He kept up this
 blowing till the “land could be seen out of sight.” He then sent a raven 
to fly around the land to see how large it was. This bird was gone two 
days, then returned. So Manabush said: “That’s too small.” He then 
blowed more and more and more. He then sent a dove to see how 
large the land surface had grown. This bird found it so large that it 
never came back. So Manabush was satisfied that the world (land) 
was big enough. He then threw down the chunks of substance he still 
had in his hands and these are the mountains of the world. He then replanted the earth with mosses, trees, herbs, and grasses, after which 
he departed for his home.
 He now lives in the home of the Dawn and is the great king of all spirits.