New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Story of the Great Brothers

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From the blog at

The following First Nations story is from Lieut. Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon’s book “Wilderness Journeys in New Brunswick in 1862-63.” It seems that he heard the story while hiking with Gabriel Acquin, which hints that it may have Maliseet origins. Other guides and aides were involved in these expeditions, however, and the story may therefore be Mi’kmaq.

An unusual thing about the story is that it is told in a Elizabethan tongue. This is not the way that Gordon would have heard it, nor is it the way in which he wrote the rest of his book. I find it appealing however, since it gives the story an antique flavour which seems appropriate to a legend that would have come down through many generations.

 Gabriel Hunting

Gabriel Acquin (on the left) With a Hunting Party

From the New Brunswick Provincial Archives

— Gordon said that Gabriel’s Indian name was Kobleah


The Story of the Great Brothers

Long time ago, in the ages which are passed away, lived the great twin brethren, Clote Scarp and Malsunsis. [Gordon substituted ‘Malsunsis’ for the name of the second brother, which he had forgotten. ‘Clote Scarp’ translates as the big liar.]

That was in the days of the great beaver, feared by beasts and men; and in that time there was but one language among all things living.

Now, whence came the brethren, or what their origin, no man nor beast knew, nor ever shall know;—nay, they knew it not themselves.

And it came to pass one day, as they sat together in the lodge, that Malsunsis said unto his brother: “Brother, is there aught existing that can slay thee?” “Yea,” answered Clote Scarp: “if I be struck, though never so lightly, with an owl’s feather, I shall die.” (But he lied unto him.) “Will aught slay thee, O brother?” “Yea, truly,” answered Malsunsis: “he that toucheth me with a fern root shall kill me.” And herein he spake the truth.

Now there was no malice in the brethren’s hearts when they asked each other this, and it was their purpose and desire each to shield each from harm. Nor did Clote Scarp deceive his brother for any fear he had of him, but because he was very prudent and very subtle, and cared not that any man, nay,—not his brother—should know that which made his life depend upon the will of him that knew it.

But it came to pass, that as Malsunsis thought of these things day by day, it came into his mind to slay his brother, that he alone might be great among beasts and men; and envy of his brother began to eat up his heart. But how these thoughts arose no man nor beast knoweth, nor shall know. Some say that Mik-o the squirrel taught him thus to think, and some say Quah-Beet-E-Siss, the son of the great beaver. But some say he had no tempter save himself. No man nor beast knoweth this, nor ever shall know.

Now one night, Clote Scarp slept in the lodge, but Malsunsis lay awake. And he rose up and went out, and called to Koo-Koo-Skoos the owl, and said: “0 owl, give me one of your tail feathers.” “What for?” said the owl. “I may not tell thee,” said he; but in the end he told him. Then said Koo-Koo-Skoos, the owl; “Thou shalt not do this wickedness through my help. Nay, more: I will screech until I wake thy brother, and will tell him all thy design.” Then Malsunsis grew very wroth, and caught up his bow and arrows, and shot the owl, Koo-Koo- Skoos, and he tumbled down on the grass dead. Then Malsunsis took out one of the feathers, and stole gently, and struck Clote Scarp on the forehead between the eyes. And Clote Scarp awoke, and saw his brother standing over him (but the owl’s feather he saw not), and said: “0 brother, a fly hath tickled me;” and he sat up, and Malsunsis was ashamed. Yet he felt more angry with his brother than before. And when Clote Scarp sat up, he saw the owl and the arrow sticking in its body, and the feather wanting in his tail. (For the feather itself he could not see, Malsunsis having hidden it in his hand.) And he turned to his brother and said: “What is this, my brother, hast thou sought to kill me?” And he sang this song:—

“Verily I am ashamed for my brother, / Because he hath sought my life, / My safety is turned to my danger, / My pride is changed into my shame.”

And he said: “How came this to pass, my brother?” Then Malsunsis said: “Truly, I did this thing because I believed thee not, and knew well that I should not slay thee. I knew that thou hadst deceived me; and lo! thou hast not dealt fairly with me. Have I not told thee truly my secret? but thou hast not told me thine. Dost thou distrust thy brother? Dost thou fear me, though I fear not thee? Tell me truly thy secret, that I may keep the hurtful thing from thee.” But Clote Scarp feared him the more. Nevertheless, he made as though he believed him, and said: “Truly, my brother, I did wrong to lie to thee. Know that a blow from the root of a pine would kill me.” This he said, deceiving him again, for he trusted him not.

Then Malsunsis stole away into the forest, and marked where a great pine lay which the wind had overthrown, and whose roots lay bare and turned towards the sky. And the next day he called to his brother to hunt with him in the woods; and brought him near the pine-tree. Now it was mid-day, and the sun was hot, and Clote Scarp lay down and slept. Then Malsunsis, mighty in strength among men, seized the pine tree and raised it in his arms, and struck Clote Scarp on the head many times. Then Clote Scarp arose in anger, shouting: “thou false brother, get thee hence, lest I slay thee!” and Malsunsis fled through the forest. Clote Scarp sat by the river and laughed, and said in a low voice to himself: “Naught but a flowering rush can kill me.” But the musquash heard him. And he grieved because his brother sought to slay him; and he returned home to the lodge. Now it came to pass, that Malsunsis came and sat by the same river, and said: “How shall I slay my brother? for now I must slay him, lest he kill me.” And the musquash heard him, and put up his head and said: — “What wilt thou give me if I tell thee?”—And he said “I shall give thee whatsoever thou shalt ask.”—Then said the musquash: “the touch of a flowering rush will kill Clote Scarp: I heard him say it. Now give me wings like a pigeon.” But Malsunsis said: “Get the hence, thou with a tail like a file; what need hast thou of pigeon’s wings?” and he departed on his way.

Now the musquash was angry because he had not received his wish, and because Malsunsis had likened his tail to a file; and he was sorry, and he sought out Clote Scarp, and told him what he had done.

Then Clote Scarp rose up and took a fern-root in his hand, and sought out his brother, and said, “Why dost thou thus seek my life? So long as thou knewest not I had no fear, but now thou must die, for thou hast learned my secret, and I cannot trust thee.” And he smote him with the fern-root, and Malsunsis fell down dead. And Clote Scarp sang a song over him and lamented. And all that Clote Scarp did, and how he slew the great  beaver —whose house is even now in Kenebekasis—and how he ruled beasts and men, and what the great turtle—turtle of turtles, king and chief among turtles—did, I will tell another time.

Three brethren came to Clote Scarp, and they prayed him to make them tall, and give them great strength and a long life exceeding that of men, and Clote Scarp was vexed with them, and said, “Probably you desire great strength and size that you may help others and benefit your tribe; and long life, that you may have much opportunity to do good to men.” And they said, “We care not for others, neither do we seek the good of men; long life and strength and height are what we seek.” Then he said, “Will you take for these success in fight, that you may be glorious in your tribe?” And they answered, “Nay, we have told you what we seek.” Then he said, “Will you have, instead thereof, knowledge, that you may know sickness and the property of herbs, and so gain repute and heal men?” And they answered, “Verily we have informed thee touching our desire.”

Then he said once again, “Will you have wisdom and subtlety, that you may excel in counsel?”

And they answered him, “We have told thee what we seek. If thou wilt grant it, give; if thou wilt refuse, withhold. We have asked strength and long life and stature. Probably thou art not able to grant them, and seekest to put us off’ with these other things.” Then Clote Scarp waxed angry, and said, “Go your ways; you shall have strength, and stature, and length of days.” And they left him rejoicing. But before they had proceeded far, lo! their feet became rooted to the ground, and their legs stuck together, and their necks shot up, and they were turned into three cedar-trees, strong and tall, and enduring beyond the days of men, but destitute of all glory and of all use.”


Written by johnwood1946

January 29, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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