New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Origin of the War Between the Mi’kmaq and the Kwěděches

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From the blog at

This is another in a series of occasional Mi’kmaq stories from Legends of the Micmacs by Silas T. Rand, Wellesey Philological Publications, New York, 1894. This edition presents a story of war between the Mi’kmaq and the Kwěděches. The young people are blamed for the war, as usual.

There is a short introduction to these Mi’kmaq stories in the first blog posting entitled Robbery and Murder Revenged.

 006 Two men in canoe

Two men in Mi’kmaq canoe at Boucher Falls, Nipisiquit River, c. 1920 – N.B. Museum


 Origin of the War Between the Micmacs and the Kwěděches

On the two opposite banks of the Restigouche, near its mouth, were two towns, — one inhabited by Micmacs, and the other by the Kwěděches. They were at peace with each other, and frequently attended each other’s festivals.

On one occasion the Micmacs had attended a festival of the Kwěděches; and while the children were engaged in some of their games, a child of the Micmac party was killed. Nothing, however, was said about it at the time, and it was passed over as an accident; but the circumstance was remembered. Not long after, the Kwěděches were invited to a feast by the Micmacs. They feasted, they danced, tooaadǐjǐk (they played ball), tossing up the ball; the one who caught it had to run to a fixed pole, and if he reached it without being caught, he won the game; if he was caught, he yielded, and the one who succeeded in grasping and holding him took the ball, and the party to which he belonged had the next throw. The players were stark naked, except a cloth around their loins, so as to make it a difficult matter to seize and hold them. Generally, this could be done only by grasping them by the hair of the head. Another game was the alchāmadǐjǐk (hurley). The women, too, had their games, — the altěstăkŭn (a sort of dice); and the wŏbŭnâkŭn, somewhat like altěstăkŭn.

While the games were proceeding, the Micmac boys took occasion — accidentally, as they would have it supposed — to revenge the death of their comrade by killing two of the other party. Nothing was said of the matter at the time, and it was passed over as an accident; but the young folk laid it up in their hearts, and awaited an opportunity for revenge.

Time passed, spring opened, and the season for catching salmon came. The regulation between the two tribes was this: each took its turn annually for the first and best part of the fishery; one year the Micmacs went first to the fishing-ground, which was at a considerable distance up the river; the next year the Kwěděches went up first. This year it was the Micmacs’ turn. About fifty of the younger men went up with their canoes, being several days reaching the place. They had not been there long before the Kwedech chief’s son, who had been brooding over the wrong done by the Micmac boys in murdering two of his tribe, planned and executed a scheme of retaliation and vengeance. Without the knowledge of the chief, his father, and the old men of the tribe, he collected a company of warriors, and marched up by land to surprise and cut off the whole party of Micmacs. Reaching the place, they lay hid, waiting for the darkness of night to shroud their diabolical scheme.

The Micmacs were out spearing salmon by torchlight; after they came ashore, they kindled fires and began roasting fish for their suppers. The salmon were split, and placed head downward on a split stick, small sticks being placed across on each side, between the fish and the split stick that held it; then the gridiron was stuck into the ground near the fire, and when one side was done, the fish was turned by simply turning around the instrument that held it. While the cooking process was proceeding, the men, all unconscious of the storm that was about to burst upon them, were laughing, talking, and joking. The Kwěděches crept up in the darkness, the crackling of the fires and the noise of the merry multitude helping them to approach unheard; a shower of well-aimed arrows laid all the Micmacs in the dust. One old man was wounded, but not killed. He was a powerful powwow; but the attack was so sudden and unexpected that he had no time to summon up his magical powers; otherwise he would not have been hurt. He was struck in the side, but the wound was not mortal. He made a rush for the river, and plunged in. Just at that place there was a deep hole in the curve of the river; at the bottom of this hole there were some large rocks, from under which the sand had been swept away by the current, leaving a passage far beneath the shelving rocks. Into this passage he crawled, and concealed himself. Having his magic now fairly up, he could remain under the water as long as he pleased; he knew he would be hunted for, and so he was. He was seen to rush towards the river and plunge in; and the canoes were immediately manned, the torches lighted, and the river everywhere searched. They discovered him at last, but they could not get at him with their spears. They watched him all night, and the next day; after all, he managed to evade them, and passed far down the river.

Somewhere below, a spring gushed out of the rock; and to this place the exhausted man crawled, and lay down for some time, so as to let the water flow over his wound.

In the mean time a man and his wife, who started for the fishing-ground some days after the others, and were now poling their canoe slowly up the stream, reached the place where the spring was. The wife proposed to go ashore for some cool, fresh water. On approaching the place, they saw something red where the fountain gushed up, and on coming nearer saw something singular, — it might be a log, it might be a man; but it was evidently something unusual. Soon they saw that it was a human body, and supposed it was a corpse. The red leggins and the other garments were recognized by the woman as belonging to one of her uncles. ′Nkŭlamooksis na! (“It is my uncle!”) she exclaimed. They approached cautiously, being terrified at the sight of a dead body; they soon learned, however, that he was not dead, but wounded, and faint from the loss of blood, and weak with hunger. He said to them, Tāsămeěk’ (“You see the whole of us”), and related to them the particulars of the attack and slaughter.

They take him into their canoe, bind up his wounds, and care for him, and immediately return to the village and report the distressing news. In a few days this man’s wound is so far healed that he can go over to the village of the Kwěděches, and make report to the chief. He shows his wound, and gives the names of the perpetrators of the foul deed; while they were watching him in the water, he was looking at them in return, and is thus enabled to testify to their identity. He throws all the blame upon the young chief, the leader of the murderous band. They had hoped to kill all, so that no one would be left to tell the tale; as no one, in that case, would know who had done it. In this they are disappointed and defeated.

A demand is now made upon the whole village, — not, however, to punish or deliver up the individuals who had committed the deed; the whole tribe is made responsible, and they must retire from the place or try the fortunes of war. Three days are given them, and they are told that unless they remove bag and baggage, they will rest there forever: Na oola’ tět tŭlekěs pŭkŭmǐksědŏksŭp (“Here you will end your days”).

As the Micmacs are altogether the stronger in numbers, the others conclude to remove, and immediately begin their preparations; all is ready on the third day, and the parties begin their sorrowful retreat. The young Kwěděch chief is severely reprimanded by his father, as the author of all their troubles.

Before they leave, the chief of the Micmacs makes a farewell visit to the chief of the other tribe. “We will continue to be friends,” he says. “You will once in a while think of the place you have left; and when there comes over me a lonely longing to see your face again, I will make you a visit; and when you wish it, you can come down and see us.” The whole village now depart, and go up by easy stages to Canada, travelling onward till winter, though with long intervals of rest. They halt for the winter on the borders of a large lake.

Some time in the winter, when the rivers and lakes were thoroughly frozen over, the Micmac powwow who had been wounded in the fatal affray at the fishing-grounds, having been thoroughly healed of his wounds, proposed to the young men of his tribe that they should pay a visit to their departed friends. All were eager for the adventure; but he limited the number, selected his men, and started off on the expedition. They followed the trail of the others, which was marked by the deserted camps on the road, and knew well when they were nearly up to them. They reached the lake on the farther shores of which, and beyond an intervening mountain, the Kwěděches were encamped. To the top of that high lookout the young Kwěděch chief was in the habit of making daily excursions, that he might look far over the lake, to see whether any danger was approaching under the disguise of a visit of friendship from the outraged nation they had left behind.

A little before nightfall, the Micmac leader sends four subordinate chiefs, masters of the magical art, down upon the lake to explore; they walk out upon the ice one after another, and then return to camp. It so happens that just then the young Kwěděch chief is at his post on the mountain, looking out over the landscape to the eastward; and on returning to his lodge he reports having seen four white bears walking out one after the other upon the ice, looking around, and then returning. These four scouts, on the other hand, relate what they saw; they saw an abooksǐgŭn (lynx) on the opposite side of the hike, on the top of the hill, looking round, and then, turning about, gliding quietly back down on the other side of the hill.

The report of each party is understood, and measures are taken accordingly. The Kwěděch chief says to his rash son, “To-morrow you will be paid for your folly. You see now what you have done for us; we shall be attacked and destroyed.” The young man is not going to be alarmed; he blusters, and boasts of what he can and will do. The Micmac leader informs his friends that they have seen the author of the mischief, — that the lynx which went slinking over the hills was he. “To-morrow,” says the chief, “we meet.”

And so they do meet, — at first apparently in the most friendly manner, taking each other by the hand, and mutually inquiring the news, asking after each other’s welfare, and having a feast together. After a while the Micmac proposes that the young men shall go out upon the ice and play. To this proposal the Kwěděch chief cordially consents. The young men begin operations, dancing the ‘nskowŏkŭn (war-dance), shouting and stamping, and making the thick ice rise and fall like the waves of the sea in a storm. It becomes in a short time pretty rough play; they seize each other and wrestle, and the victor stabs his victim to the heart. The Micmacs soon carry the day, having killed or disabled all the warriors of the party.

The most horrible part of the tale is the beginning of the fight. The Micmac leader of the party was quietly seated in the old Kwěděch chief’s wigwam; the son of the latter was sitting there also, and a young girl, the sister of the young man, was sitting on the side where the Micmac sat. The Micmac made a spring upon the poor girl, and plunging his knife into her bosom, killed her instantly, and ripped her open; filling his hands with her warm heart’s blood, he drank it, and then, again filling his hands, rushed over to the brother, offering him a draught, as a challenge to single combat; this the brother accepted. Intoxicated and maddened by the horrid potion, these two began the fray; seizing their hatchets, they rushed out, uttering unearthly yells, and attacked each other with might and main. The poor Kwěděch, notwithstanding all his previous vain-glorious boasting, was soon overpowered and killed.

This was the signal for a general melee. Far and wide over the lake resounded their yells. They used neither bows nor hatchets nor spears; strength of muscle, agility, and the scalping-knife did the work of death. The Micmacs were victorious; they lost but few men in the battle. They laid no further hand on the women, children, or old men; they took no prisoners, but bade them adieu, — telling them that when they felt disposed to make the Micmacs a visit in return, they might come on. They then returned to their own place.


Written by johnwood1946

October 23, 2013 at 10:09 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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