Jack Fiddler, also known as Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow (“he who stands in the southern sky”), was a Cree man who belonged to the Sucker people of Sandy Lake, on the upper reaches of the Severn River in northwestern Ontario. He was a headman of his people and was renowned for his healing abilities and for his power to fight evil spirits.
Fiddler and his brother Pesequan (aka Joseph Fiddler) were self-proclaimed Wendigo hunters who would travel around in search of people whom were reputed to have consumed human flesh, or when requested by family members who feared that one of their people was turning into the monster. It was reputed that they killed 17 Wendigo.
By 1907, word of their Wendigo killings reached the North-West Mounted Police, and a patrol was dispatched to investigate. On their travels the Mounties learned of Wahsakapeequay, a woman suspected of being possessed by the creature. She had been choked to death with a piece of string by Pesequan and Jack. The Mounties found the evidence credible and the brothers were arrested and charged with murder on June 15.
After 15 weeks of captivity, the Jack escaped, fled into the woods, and killed himself. Joseph’s trial began a week later. He had no legal representation and was quickly found guilty and ordered to hang.
Following Joseph’s conviction, some questioned whether the brothers should have been punished for committing an act that wasn’t an offense in their culture. For evidence of this, one need look no further than Fiddler’s statement to police, in which he insisted that “I did not know what I was doing was wrong, and if I had known, I would not have done the deed.” However, critics of the sentence failed to get it overturned. Joseph Fiddler died from illness before he could hang, and in 1910, after losing two of their leaders, the Sandy Lake First Nation signed Treaty Five with the Canadian federal government, ending their freedom and forcing them onto a reserve.
February 9, 1941 (Page 56 of 98) Minneapolis Star-Journal
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On a lonely river, in a small village, once lived a man named Gizhiiyaanimad and his wife Baashkaabigwanii. They had three children: two sons, Bizhiins and Gekek, a daughter named Anangokwe. The children grew up to be fine people and one day the daughter married a man who came to her father and offered many furs and gifts for her. Her father accepted these, even though the man, Wiiyagasenh was known to be a bad man, and even though Anangokwe did not like him. Sadly, Anangokwe went away with her new husband and soon found he was a very jealous man who often hit her for no reason other than he enjoyed being cruel.
One day, Wiiyagasenh decided to go hunting in a very remote area that was quite a distance away from camp. Gizhiiyaanimad and Baashkaabigwanii knew that Wiiyagasenh was often brutal and abusive to Anangokwe, and they were afraid that he might kill her while out hunting while she was alone with him. They decided to send Bizhiins along with under the pretense of ‘helping’ his brother in law. The two men and the Anangokwe camped near a lake that had lots of nesting ducks in the rushes along the shore. They set up camp and took up hunting.
One day, when her brother was out hunting by himself, Anangokwe's husband ordered her to bring him a duck egg for breakfast. While down at the shore of the lake, she met a man who said to her “Aniin young lady. What do you want?” Anangokwe responded, “My husband has sent me to get an egg” she answered. He gave her one, which she carried home and set down outside the wigwam. When her husband asked her if she had brought the egg, she told him that she had left it outside. He went out and looked at it, then said very angrily “I don't want a small egg like this! I will surely starve. I want a big one.” Anangokwe returned to the lake and, meeting the same man again, said to him “It is a big egg that my husband wants.” The man smiled and he picked up an egg twice the size of a normal duck egg. He gave her the big egg and she walked back to the camp and again left outside the wigwam. But her husband only became angrier and said, “Stupid woman! This egg is not big enough. Bring me a bigger one” and he hit her across the face. So for the third time she returned to the lake and told the man that her husband was not satisfied. The man took her hand and said, “Young woman. Nothing you can do will satisfy your husband. He only wants to kill you. Remain with me. You must not go home.”
The woman stayed with the man. Her brother returned from his hunting and asked her husband “Where is your wife…my sister?” “I do not know,” the husband answered. After discussing it, Biizhins and Wiiyagasenh followed Anangokwe's tracks to the lake and looked out over the water. Suddenly, Anangokwe rose up from the middle of the lake. She told her brother what had happened. In anger, Bizhiins turned to his brother in law and hit him with his club, killing him. Anangokwe then said to Bizhiins, “Brother. Return to our parents. You must tell them to come to this lake at the same time as this next year.” Bizhiins told her he would, and he returned to his village and reported this to his parents.
Exactly a year later, Gizhiiyaanimad and Baashkaabigwanii came to the lake, and Anangokwe rose from the water. In one arm she was holding a baby girl, and in the other was a baby boy. She said to her parents, “Mother and father. Take these children and raise them. When they grow up let them marry for love and not because of custom. I married the wrong man because if it, and I was miserable.”
From that day forward, the people made the decision to take love into consideration when choosing spouses for their sons and daughters.
In a village near a large lake lived a small boy called Miskogwan (Red feather). He lived in a small lodge with his great-grandfather. They were very poor because Miskogwan’s parents had been killed during a Dakota raid on his village when he was just a baby, and his great-grandfather had to raise him all by himself. Even so, the old man taught him to how to shoot with his bow and they were able to get by pretty well.
Miskogwan’s great grandfather was an amazing storyteller. He would tell Miskogwan all about the old ways and different stories about how each creature in the forest had its own different personality. Miskogwan used the knowledge that his great grandfather taught him to understand how each animal thought. This helped him to hunt them better, and he soon became a precocious young man who was known for his keen hunting prowess.
Springtime came, and little Miskogwan hunted frogs in the area around the large lake. Miskogwan would take his little bow and arrows and kill all the frogs he could get. He rarely left any for any of the other animals, and he and his great grandfather enjoyed lots of frog leg soup.
One day a crane walked over to where Miskogwan was sneaking up on a few fat frogs. The crane spoke to Miskogwan, “Hey. Miskogwan! Can’t you leave some for me and my brothers to eat?” The crane continued, “If you leave some for me, I’ll give you my nicest feather.” Miskogwan said, “Ha! Why would I want your old dirty feathers? Leave me alone. I can do what I want. Just be glad I’m not hunting cranes.”
The crane went back to his brothers and they talked about what they should do about Miskogwan. After much discussion it was decided that they should seek the help of a particularly old and wise owl who lived near Miskogwan's village on an island with some large trees on it. The cranes told the old owl that Miskogwan must be punished. The cranes said that they were starving because Miskogwan killed the frogs and the birds. No one could live in peace. The old owl agreed to do what he could.
One evening, the old owl perched himself on a tree close to Miskogwan's wigwam, and said, “Koo Koo!” Miskogwan's great grandfather called to Miskogwan, “Boy, come in now. The owl is calling for you.” Miskogwan said, “Never mind. I’ll get my straightest arrow and shoot him.” Great grandfather said, “You must watch yourself. The owl has large claws. Hemight catch you too. You should come in and go to sleep.” But Miskogwan disobeyed and went out and shot at the owl. He missed the mark! The old owl was angry and he swooped down and picked up Miskogwan. He then flew off with him across the lake to his island.
The old owl flew to his nest and dropped Miskogwan into it. The owl told his chicks, “Here is a naughty little boy. He’s too big for you now, but when you grow a bit you can eat him up.” Then the owl flew away.
The next day, the owl called to the cranes. He said, “I have caught naughty Miskogwan. When your babies are old enough we’ll let them join my chicks in eating him.” Miskogwan cried for help, but he couldn't get down.
Back in the village Miskogwan’s great grandfather knew that he was lost. He prayed to the Manitou to help find Miskogwan. The Manitou took pity on his and looked for Miskogwan. He found him and returned to the great grandfather and told him that Miskogwan was a prisoner in the owl’s tree. The Manitou told the great grandfather to give a great feast and ask the owl to return Miskogwan. The old man gathered every frog, fish, squirrel, and rabbit he could find and gave a huge feast. He called to the cranes and the owl to come eat and to forgive Miskogwan. They came and ate. Then the owl told the great grandfather he would be released, but only if Miskogwan promised not to overhunt any more. Miskogwan promised, and he was returned. From that day forward he listened to the animals.
A long time ago the Dakota people were camped along the shores of Spirit Lake (Devils Lake) near what is now the present day town of Minnewaukan, North Dakota. Their camp was a beautiful place where fish were plentiful, the deer roamed nearby, and the people were happy.
One day, as the women were preparing meals near the shore and the children were swimming and playing in the shallows of the lake, a monster appeared suddenly from under the water and grabbed one of the children – dragging them away to their death. The women were in panic! The monster, it was reported, was a rather large, flat bodied creature with short legs, scaly sides, and a broad head with a long snouted mouth containing many sharp teeth. The men took their canoes out onto the lake, but they could find no trace of the child. For many weeks following this incident, the monster would occasionally run up onto the shore and try to steal children, attacked the tribe’s horse, and terrified the Dakota greatly. Nobody could think of what to do to stop this horrible creature from terrorizing the people.
The men of the Dakota held a council to decide what to do. After deliberating for a while, it was decided that a messenger would take tobacco across the lake to a village of Ojibwe who were living on what is now Graham’s Island. At that village was a medicine man who was known to be very powerful and who had faced terrible monsters in the past. It was hoped that he could stop the creature from killing any more Dakota children.
The Dakota envoy rowed across the lake and presented the tobacco to the Ojibwe medicine man. Taking the tobacco, he smoked it and told the Dakota messenger that he would do what he could to help. That night he prepared many herbs and medicines to help him in his quest; he prayed to the manitous to help him and give him strength; and the next morning he took his canoe out to the lake until he found the spot where he suspected the creature was coming from.
The medicine man took some herbs from his pouch and chewed them up. These herbs would give him the power to dive deep into the water and to hold his breath for a very long time. Once he had chewed his medicine, the medicine man dove over the side of his canoe and swam very deep to the bottom of the lake. At the bottom he saw a large hole – a cave of sorts – that he determined led to a series of underground rivers and lakes where the creature was hiding. While there, he took more medicines from his pouch and said prayers to the Manitou. He cast the medicine into the hole and sealed it up so that the creature could not return to that spot again. With that task complete, he swam to the surface and climbed back into his canoe.
The next day and the days following, no trace of the monster was seen. The Dakota invited the Ojibwe to join them for a feast to celebrate the defeat of the creature. For years following this act, the Dakota and Ojibwe lived at peace with each other and shared Spirit Lake and its bounty.
During the middle of winter a family was trapped for many days by a bad blizzard. The snow outside was so deep and the storm lasted that eventually their food ran out and the worried that they would starve. Finally, the wind and snow died away. The father, who was known as Makade-waagosh (black fox) ventured outside. He looked to the sky and noticed that more storm clouds were coming and that if he did not act fast his family would perish.
Makade-waagosh took his knife, spear, and bow and immediately left on his most reliable hunting trail, looking for any sign of game. He looked around for some sign of animal footprints in the newly-fallen snow, but the forest was oddly silent. He though that perhaps every creature was deep in their burrows. He was losing hope, but he knew he had to keep trying or his family would surely die.
He continued on his path and he soon perceived a strange hissing sound coming from the trees to his left side. Makade-waagosh stopped walking and he listened, hoping it was an animal that he could kill. It was then that he looked ahead a few yards and noticed what appeared to be bloody footprints on the path in front of him. In fear he gripped his knife tightly, because he suddenly realized what the hissing sound was – a Windigo was in the trees, watching him.
Makade-waagosh knew he would have just one chance to survive.
Slowly, he backed away from the bloody footprints, listening intently to where the hissing sound was coming from. He gripped spear in one hand, knife in the other and tried to make as little sound as he could. Just as he thought the sound of the hissing was fading, the snowbank to his left erupted as the creature rushed forward! It was as tall as a small tree and its fangs were bared for the attack. Makade-waagosh dove to one side, rolling into the snow. The Windigo missed and it rushed past. Makade-waagosh threw his spear at the back of the Windigo. It struck the creature's back and it roared in pain, but it just shook it off and turned to attack again. Makade-waagosh ran behind a small tree and the Windigo looked around to see where he had gone.
Makade-waagosh heard the Windigo walking towards his hiding place. With his back to the tree, Makade-waagosh saw its sharp claws reaching around towards him. He leapt to the side and rushed at the Windigo, thrusting his knife into its black, fathomless eye. The Windigo howled in pain and tried to brush the knife from its face, but Makade-waagosh clung to the creature, stabbing it again and again in the eyes and head. Eventually the Windigo collapsed to the ground dead.
Shaken and his heart pounding with fear and fatigue, Makade-waagosh turned to walk home. He was weakened by lack of food, and was in despair as he knew that the storm come soon and he and his family would die.
As he neared his lodge, he suddenly saw a large deer. It was a fat old buck. It stood still, as if it had been brought to him as a reward for killing the Windigo. With a prayer of thanks to the Creator, Makade-waagosh killed the deer and took it home to his starving family. The meat lasted for many days, until the final storm had blown itself out and he could safely hunt once more.
The Memegwesi (Little People) can do magnificent things whenever they wish. Legends say that they can fly through the air and even live underwater if they want. Other stories say that they can dig deep into the earth and through the rocks as they please. If a person sees a Memegwesi and is kind to them, the Memegwesi will bring them good luck.
It is said that there are three tribes of Memegwesi — those that live in the banks beside streams and lakes, those live near the flowers and plants, and those who guard the lands under the earth.
The Memegwesi who live in the banks are very strong. They can uproot trees and can hurl great rocks with ease. Sometimes they will challenge people to tests of strength; the Memegwesi who live with the plants help the berries to grow fat, make flowers bloom and medicines to grow, and can show how these can be used to help the people; and the Memegwesi who live under the earth guard against serpents and monsters who live in the darkness below from coming to the surface and harming people.
Sometimes, deep in the woods, you find a tree around which no grass will grow. These trees are sacred to the Memegwesi and are places where their dance ring has been formed. Care must be taken not to cut these trees down or the Memegwesi will curse you.
If you see a Memegwesi, you should thereafter leave a plate of food for them from your table at the spot where you saw them. This will show respect to them and they will favor you with luck for the rest of your days.
Almost every tribe in the woodlands and plains believed in the existence of the thunderbirds (animikiig). They believed that thunder, lightning and great winds were produced by these great birds, whose shadows were the thunder clouds, whose flapping wings make the sound of thunder and produced strong winds, and whose flashing eyes rapidly opening or closing sent forth the lightning.
Around the Great Lakes, the Ojibwe believed that the thunderbirds dwelled upon high hills or rocky elevations with difficult access, and that the white smears on the many rocks along the shores of the lakes were the remnants of their droppings. Within the territory, several places are believed to be thunderbird nests. The thunderbirds are said to appear in the form of great eagles which feed on water monsters and evil serpents. It is said that once, a brave warrior climbed up to a thunderbird’s nest and found the bones of many great serpents scattered around.
On the plains, many places were thought to be thunderbird nesting sites. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota believed that the thunderbirds nested in the neighborhood of Big Stone Lake, and there is a place near the summit of the Coteau des Prairies, in eastern South Dakota, where a number of large round boulders are found that are considered to be the remnants of a thunderbird nest.
In one Dakota legend, it is said that a hunter once shot and wounded a large bird which fell to the ground. Being afraid to attack it alone on account of its size, the hunter returned to camp for help from his friends, but when they approached the spot where the bird had fallen the hunters heard the sound of thunder and saw flashes of lightning shooting out from the ravine where the bird lay. As they drew near, the flashes of lightning blinded them so that they could not see the bird. It is said that one of the bolts of lightning struck and killed a hunter. This so frightened the men that they fled back to camp in fear for their lives.
The Plains Ojibwe tell of a story of a thunderbird encounter on the plains of the coteau overlooking the Souris River. They say that a party of hunters once found a thunderbird's nest. The men noticed that there were several chicks – each as big as a man – in the nest and they determined that they would kill and destroyed the young birds. As they were shooting the birds with their arrows, the old birds returned and chased the men away as they fled towards the trees along the river. It is said that they thunderbirds killed all but one of the warriors.
The Legend of Flies Fast
Once upon a time, when no wars existed among men, the only thing which they feared was the great thunderbird seen flying through the air, which caused great storms and damage. The thunderbirds were thought to have nests in the area, and great curiosity existed among the people as to the exact character of the birds and the location of their nesting places. But try as they might, nobody could find a nest.
At this time there lived on the northern shore of Lake Superior a warrior named ‘Otter Man’ noted for his courage and his wisdom. One time, as he was returning from a hunt, Otter Man was carrying a beaver on his back. It had become dark sooner than he had expected and he was still a far ways from home, but the moon appeared before he had traveled very far and lit up the trail which he was following. As he was leaving the trail to walk across the ice of a lake he needed to cross, he noticed the shadow of something large passing above him. He looked up and saw a great bird approaching him, and before he could defend himself it swooped down and carried him away in its talons. The bird rose high into the air and carried him westward, far above the earth.
After traveling a great distance Otter Man could see a high hill which was barren of trees that had a great rock at its crest. As they neared the rock, the bird dropped Otter Man, but was able to land without being hurt too badly. He looked around himself and saw a nest where the young thunderbirds were. Sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning happened as the old bird flew overhead.
Soon the young thunderbirds became aware of Otter Man’s presence and began to look over the edge of the nest at him. Otter Man prepared to defend himself, but whenever the birds winked a flash of lightning would pass from their eyes and scorch his hands and face. After a hard fight he finally succeeded in killing the young birds with his spear. Luckily the old bird did not return to exact vengeance upon him.
Not knowing what to do, Otter Man took out his pipe and offered up a prayer to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit spoke to him and told him that he should skin one of the young birds and use its skin to fly back home. He did this, and as he jumped from the cliff of the hill he found that he could fly. After a long flight he landed near the same spot from which he had been taken by the thunderbird. He found his wife and children there mourning for him, as they supposed that he had been killed by an evil spirit.
When they got home, Otter Man told his fellow tribesmen about his ordeal and everyone was amazed. He took from his pouch the hearts of the young thunderbirds that he had killed and they held a feast in celebration of his great deed. He was awarded a new name: Flies Fast!
As the hearts broiled they made a loud, crackling sound. To this day children are told that when the lodge fire makes a loud crackling noise it is because the hearts of the thunder birds are broiling in it.
Transactions of the Illinois Historical Society for the year 1908. Illinois State Historical Society, Springfield.
Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology: 1896. Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
A long time ago a man was hunting. He was in a very wild place where nobody lived. His luck wasn’t so good, and he was becoming very hungry. Eventually, he saw a footprint in the snow. This footprint was huge – twice the size of a man’s foot. He decided to follow the tracks and he travelled for a long time until he finally came to a clearing. In the clearing he saw a large bark lodge. He figured he would ask the owner for hospitality.
So the man went and rapped at the door. A woman came out and said to the hunter, “Why are you here? You shouldn’t have come here, for this is where the Windigo lives?” The hunter replied, “Good woman, I am very hungry. Will you give me some food?” The woman felt badly for the hunter and took him inside. She told him that he must hurry before the Windigo came home. The man, curious, asked the woman “What do you usually do for the Windigo when he comes home?” She told him that the Windigo forced her to rub his back, which was often sore after he went hunting for humans. "Well,” the man said, “I will hide behind his chair so he won’t see me.”
Soon, the Windigo arrived home. When the Windigo sat down, he said to the woman, “I smell some fresh Ojibwe meat.” The woman said, “It must be the smell of the people you just killed lingering on the air.” After sitting by the fire for a while, the Windigo said to the woman, “Come. Scratch my back and rub my shoulders.” She asked him, “Where is the sorest spot?” The Windigo said, “Here. Between my shoulders.” Hearing this, the hunter jumped up and buried his knife up to the handle in that spot. The Windigo screamed and died.
The Windigo's wife was very glad that the Windigo was killed. She thanked the man for saving her from him. She was a pretty woman, so the hunter took her home and kept her as his wife. They lived happily together for many years.
One time long ago a big Windigo stole a boy from a village, but the boy was very skinny - too thin for the Windigo to eat right away. So the Windigo decided to keep the boy, waiting for him to fatten up.
Every day the Windigo would feed the boy deer and moose that he would kill, giving him the best parts of the animals in hopes of making him fat and delicious. Every day the Windigo took a knife and would cut the boy on the hand to see if he was fat enough to eat, but the boy didn't seem to be getting fatter, no matter how much the Windigo fed him.
One day during the winter, the Windigo was having a hard time finding enough food for himself and to fatten up the boy. They came to a village and the Windigo sent the boy to the village to beg for some food. He gave the boy only so much time to go there and back. The boy told the people of the village that the Windigo was near them, and showed them his hand where the Windigo cut him to see if he was fat enough to eat. The people told the boy to stay there. Soon, they heard the Windigo calling the boy. He said to the boy " Hurry up so that I may fatten you up more!''
The warriors from the village went out and attacked the Windigo. They figured he was dead, but after thinking about it the warriors went back to check if he was truly dead. When they got back to where they had attacked him, they found that the Windigo wasn't dead. He was eating part of his own hand!! The warriors asked the Windigo if he tasted good, and he said "You bet I do. I have eaten many Ojibwe and they have made me tasty"
The warriors then attacked him again and this time they cut him to pieces so that he was truly dead. The boy lived with the people who saved him and he eventually grew up to be a fine, fat man.