This document was submitted by Scott Mardis as providing part of the doicumentation for the possibility of the survival of the Pleistocene Giant beaver or Castoriodes.
The American Society for Ethnohistory The Giant Beaver: A Prehistoric Memory?
Author(s): Jane C. BeckReviewed work(s):Source: Ethnohistory, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1972), pp. 109-122Published by: Duke University Press
URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/481746 .Accessed: 28/01/2013 17:34
THE GIANT BEAVER: A PREHISTORIC MEMORY? by Jane C. Beck Middlebury, Vermont ABSTRACT An examination of the giant beaver tale among various northeastern Algonkian tribes (such as the Montagnais, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Malecite) and a study of the nature and distribution of the Pleistocene giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, lead to the tentative conclusion that elements in these tales represent a kind of fossil memory of this long-extinct rodent. When it can be established that a folktale is anchored in fact it may very Well be as revealing about a people's past as any archaeological discovery. Not only does it retain the memory of an actual occurrence but it may better illuminate cultural attitudes than would be possible through an archaeological find. The problem, of course, is to determine the facts that lie behind the shape of the tale in its oral form. With this in mind, I would like to discuss the giant beaver tale of the Northeastern Algonkian as a possible prehistoric memory holding a key for archaeologists and historians alike. The tale of the giant beaver is usually related as an episode in the Gluskap cycle, Gluskap being the culture hero and transformer of most of the tribes of the Northeast. As Frank Speck tells us, he is also a trickster. Some of his performances are of a trifling nature, and while Gluskabe is the great supernatural wonder, he is not spoken of with reverencen or is he feared. While we gather from the myths that he was often the helper of mankind, he does not seem to have been profoundly concerned with human beings. His own personal interests, his success against rivals were his prime motives. The extolling of ethical principles and provision for his "descendants" do not appear at the beginning of his career; a mission develops only with the course of events (Speck 1935c:6). Gluskap's adventures are usually localized within the bounds of each tribe's habitat. However, it is generally agreed by the Indians that the majority of the transformer's feats were located on the St. John River (Speck 1935c:8). [ 109] ETHNOHISTORY19 /2 (Spring1 972)
110 JANE C. BECK For example, the Penobscot believe that "after leaving the main seats of his labors in New Brunswick he came down the coast to their river in the last stages of his earthly sojourn" (Speck 1935c:8). The giant beaver was a character which from folktale evidence appears to have been almost unique to the Northeastern Algonkian Indians. Of monstrous size, this creature wrought great damage with its huge dams, causing Gluskap to set out to destroy the beast. The most complete version of this tale, found among the Malecite (Beck 1966:61), attempts to explain the great size of the beaver, blaming its creation on the transformer. It was Gluskap who fashioned all the animals and gave them breath. Lastly, he created his favorite creature, man, and presented him to the other animals. Those which did not show due respect, the culture hero reduced in size simply by stroking them with his hand. One beaver escaped this treatment and found its way to St. John, New Brunswick, where it built a dam that was so high that "all the land behind it was flooded, and in attempting to reach the ocean, the waters were forced to run uphill (north)." Eventually this dam brought great hardship to the local Indians and in desperation they sent a messenger to Gluskap who immediately set off to dispatch the troublesome monster. After many days he finally reached the site of the dam and with a great blow from his axe he smote it completely through at the spot which is known today as Reversing Falls. Gluskap then called to the beaver, intending to pet him down to a smaller size, but remembering the fate of his companions, the monster ran off in the opposite direction. Furious with this defiance, the transformer began a headlong pursuit. But the beaver was an equal match for him, and as the creature fled upstream the Indian hero had all he could do to keep up with him on his snowshoes. Periodically he saw the shadow of the beaver beneath the ice. Striking at it with his axe he tore down into the mud, thus forming islands which are still to be seen in the St. John River. Day and night the flight and the pursuit continued until they reached Fredericton. At this point the beaver emerged from the river and fled atop the ice. Gluskap, having become disgusted with the whole affair, gave up the chase at Kingsclear and with one final outburst of frustration, pulled off his snowshoes and flung them after the fleeing monster. There they remain today in the form of two large islands in the river. The beaver meanwhile continued its flight and made its way to the St. Lawrence River where it built a great dam which created the Great Lakes. Swimming across these the monster disappeared forever into the land beyond. This Malecite version is the most explicit text we have. Very often the giant beaver tale is told as an incident in the Gluskap cycle, but seldom is it made so clear as to how the beaver came to be of such large proportions. In other texts varying features of the countryside are attributed to the struggle between Gluskap and his giant adversary, and we find that the Reversing Falls
The Giant Beaver: A Prehistoric Memory? 111 is not always the scene of his great dam, nor, for that matter, does the giant beaver always build a dam. Frank Speck tells us that this tale was known from the Montagnais south to the Wabanaki people, west to the Ojibwa and east to the Micmac (Speck 1925:2). Unfortunately, it seems that only a few of these texts have found their way into print, the Montagnais, Malecite, Micmac, and Passa-maquoddy versions alone being represented. A. I. Hallowell expressed some doubt to me whether the Ojibwa actually possessed this tale and has stated that he has never heard it among them. There seems to be no such Ojibwa tale in print. Instead, the tale appears to be centered farther to the east, and if such a story was ever in oral tradition among the Ojibwa it probably diffused across the St. Maurice River westward and would be found in a version similar to that of the Montagnais. At this point it would be worthwhile to examine some of the extant texts. There are a number of Malecite versions that differ slightly from the tale already given. These variations are minor and usually relate to different topographical features. For example, in another text collected by Horace Beck, as the beaver tried to make its escape, Gluskap threw a rock at it. It missed the beaver and you can still see the rock he threw at St. John. The beaver swam up the river and Gluskap threw another stone which you can still see at Oromocto. He threw another one which you can still see at Fredericton.T hat one has his fingerprintsi n it where he squeezed the rock. He threw another one which landed at Kingsclear (Horace P. Beck, unpublished manuscript, copy on file with the author). In a still different version the Tobique Rocks are supposed to have been thrown by Gluskap at the beaver, and a few miles below these two rocks the exhausted creature is said to have crawled up the north bank of the St. John River, breathed his last and turned to stone. He may still be observed in this condition today (Mechling 1914:1-3). Another text reported by Edward Jack seems to be a further reduced tale. When Glooscap came out of the woods to the St. John River, he found that there was a dam at its mouth. . . He found the beaver very big and very dangerous. He killed the whole family, the old ones and the young ones, so he broke the dam and killed the beaver by spearing. Looking up the river he saw a young beaver going up, so he threw two stones up to the Tobique to frighten him back. These are the Tobique Rocks. Where the dam stood, where the falls are, it flowed back to Hampton Ferry and above Fredericton. There is an island in Kennebecasis Bay, which was the beaver house. It is called in Indian, "Qua-beet-wo-sis" (beaver house) (Jack 1895: 193). Again the emphasis seems to be on the explanation of certain topographical features. However, it is interesting to note that here the beaver is only described as "very big" - not as a colossus. This may well be a rationalization
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to bring the tale in harmony with the conditions of the times. In other texts we will find that the giant size of the beaver is forgotten entirely. Rather than a monster we have a kind of large freak of the modem species. South of the Malecite lived the Passamaquoddy people who tell a similar story about Gluskap, and the giant beaver most probably derived from their Malecite neighbors since once more we hear of the Tobaic rocks. Glooskap was no friend of the Beavers; he slew many of them. Up on the Tobaic are two salt-water rocks (that is, rocks by the ocean-side, near a fresh-water stream.) The Great Beaver, standing there one day, was seen by Glooskap miles away, who had forbidden him that place. Then picking up a large rock where he stood by the shore, he threw it all that distance at the Beaver, who indeed dodged it, but when another came, the beast ran into a mountain, and has never come forth to this day. But the rocks which the master threw are yet to be seen (Leland 1884:20). In contrast to the above, the Micmac have localized their variants of the giant beaver tale to explain certain portions of their topography. Leland (1884:63-64) tells us: It came to pass in those days that the Beavers had built a dam across from Utkoguncheek or Cape Blomidon, to the opposite shore, and thereby made a pond that filled all the valley of Annapolis. Now in those times the Beavers were monstrous beasts, and the Master, though kind of heart, seems to have had but little love for them ever since the day when Quah-beetsis, son of the Great Beaver, tempted Malsum to slay his brother. Now the bones of these Beavers may be found to this day, and many there are on Oonamangik, and their teeth are six inches across, and there are no such qwah-beet today. And these are the remains of the Beavers who built the dam at Cape Blomidon and forded the Annapolis valley. Gluskap broke the monster beaver's dam. And when the dam was cut from where it joined the shore there was a mighty rush of many waters, so that it swung round to the westward, yet it did not break away from the other shore. Therefore the end of it lodged with a great split therein where the flood had found a free course, and the hole may be seen there still, even to this day, and may be seen by all of those who pass up the bay; and this point, or Cape Split, is called by the Micmacs Pleegun, which being interpreted, means the opening of a beaver dam. Then to frighten the Beaver, Glooscap threw at it a few handfuls of earth, and these falling somewhat to the eastward of Partridge Island, became the five islands. And the pond which was left was the Basin of Minas. Rand (1894:236) had a very similar version from the Micmacs, which is included here as it offers a few different explanations for other parts of the landscape.
The GiantB eaver:A PrehistoricM emory? 113
In former days, water covered the whole Annapolis and Cornwallis valley. Glooscap cut out a passage at Cape Split and at Annapolis Cut, and thus drained off the pond and left the bottom dry; long after this the valley became dry land. Aylesford bog was a vast lake; in this lake there was a beaver-house; and hence to this day, - Cobeetek (the beaver's home). Out of this beaver house Glooscap drove a small beaver, and chased it down to the Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton, - pursuing it in a canoe all the way. There it ran into another beaver house, but was killed; and the house was turned into a high-peaked island; Glooscap feasted the Indians there. Furthermore, the Indians told Rand that: A few years ago a heavy freshet tore up the earth in those regions, and laid bare the huge bones of the beaver upon whose flesh Glooscap and his guests had feasted, - monstrous thigh-bones, the joints being as big as a man's head, and teeth huge in proportion. This anecdote gives no indication that Gluskap is dealing with a giant beaver - we are specifically told that it was a "small beaver" - until we learn of the "monster thigh bones." The same is true in the following text collected by Frank Speck (1925:23), which gives an account of Gluskap working in the reverse direction - chasing the beavers from Bras d'Or Lake west. "At Middle River he killed a young beaver, whose bones are still to be seen there." In a footnote Speck gives the tradition of these bones: A Micmac named Tamekian (Tom Stevens) a long while ago is said to have found some of these bones, - ribs eight feet long, - some of which, with a hip-joint of monstrous size, he is said to have brought out. The Indians claim that these remains are now in the Museum at Halifax. Returning to the text we find: Then Gluskap followed the big beaver [who he had started at the same time as the young one] until he lost track of him for a while. He stood at Wisik (Indian Island), and took a piece of rock and threw toward the place where he thought the beaver was. This rock is now Red Island. This started the beaver up, and he ran back through St. Peter's Channel and burrowed through underneath, which is the cause of the crooks and windings there now. Then the chase continued outside in the ocean, when the beaver struck out for the Bay of Fundy. Here at Split Point, Gluskap dug out a channel with his paddle, forming Minas Basin, Nova Scotia. There he killed the beaver. Near here is a small island, which is the pot in which he cooked the beaver. Near where he killed the beaver are still to be seen the bones turned into rock. When he broke the channel here in Minas Basin to drain the water out, in order to uncover the beaver, he left it so that to-day the water all drains out at each tide. So Gluskap caused the Bay of Fundy tides. Among the Montagnais the giant beaver tale takes on a little different twist. Here it is not a contest between the culture hero and the monster beast
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but between a contrary individual the Montagnais call "Mistabeo" (Big Man) (Speck 1915:59-60). The beavers had a great dam at the headwaters of the Mistassini River which Mistabeo broke so he could kill them. Lying down across the dam he awaited their attempt to escape. But the beavers bided their time and made counsel. Three times .they sent muskrat to spy on Mistabeo before he returned to say he was asleep. Quietly they jumped over the sleeping enemy and as the last beaver, the mother, escaped, "she took an armful of mud and daubed it all over his face, eyes, nose, and ears." Instantly Mistabeo awoke, but before he could pursue the fleeing beaver he had to wash the mud off his face. The chase was a long one - over two hundred miles to Lake St. John, and then across it to the Grand Discharge. Here the pursuer tried to stop the beaver family, but all escaped by swimming around and between his legs except the female who: . . .dove back into the lake toward MistassiniP oint. Mistobeot ook one step and reached the point. Then she dived again before he could seize her. She came up at Pointe Bleue and he missed her again. Then she dove and passed down the Grand Discharge and escaped. Swimming down the Saguenay, they all reached the sea safely and we are told "The falls are now called Kastsegau, 'where the rocks are cut down.' " Along the Saguenay River a sitting station where the giant beaver rested after his escape from Mistabeo is pointed out to this day and, indeed, much of the change of contour in the region is attributed to the giant beaver. A case in point is the opening up of the outlet at Grand Discharge which is seen as causing the drainage of the Lake St. John basin to its present level (Speck 1935b: 112). Although this tale accounts for certain changes in the topography of the region its chief purpose seems to be to explain the final departure of the giant beaver from the country. He was thought of as the master of all other beavers, and with his departure he drew his followers after him. Before his exit the Indians believed that the Lake St. John region had abounded with beaver, but since his expulsion only a few of these creatures remained (Speck 1935b: 112). In the Montagnais version of this tale it is significant that the roles have been reversed. Unlike Gluskap, Mistabeo is causing harm to man by driving the giant beaver from the land. It is this beaver who is the friend of man. Although in one Malecite version Gluskap drove the beaver out of the country and across the Great Lakes where he disappeared into the land beyond, there is apparently no sense of loss, but rather the feeling that the riddance of the monster beaver is a boon for man. With the Passamaquoddy text we come the closest to the possibility of a sense of loss. Here we are not told that the giant beaver is particularly destructive, but just that Gluskap
The Giant Beaver: A Prehistoric Memory? 115 dislikes him and that he is where he shouldn't be. Escaping into the mountain, he has failed to return. Nevertheless, this tale still appears to be in the tradition of the other Malecite texts and it is doubtful that we should read more into it. In discussing this tale, it is important to see it in a cultural context, remembering the prominent place the hunt occupied among the Northeastern Algonkian. As Frank Speck says, "No other regular activity occupied spirit, mind, and body so incessantly. It furnished the dominant food supply" (Speck 1940:34). As hunting was so important to the red man he took many precautions to prevent anything from going wrong. He believed in many different: ...guardian spirits or departmental deities, which were not sharply distinguished from other manitos since any might become a guardian spirit on occasion. Notable among these were the elder brothers of the animals which were larger than the actual animals but which resembled them in every respect (Bailey 1937:136). The elder brother of a particular species was not only of large size but was also possessedw ith great supernatural powers( Hyde 1962:6). He was the protector of his breed and it was he who held the strings of success in the red man's hunting ventures. Hence when an animal was killed it was all important that its elder brother be duly propitiated and thanked so that he would continue to smile with favor upon the native. It was an attitude of "hope for his generosity and obligation of his [the Indian's] part to observe the rules for disposing of the remains of the slain animals" (Speck 1935b: 112) which the Northeastern Algonkian held for the animal's elder brother. At the same time the slain creature itself must be asked forgiveness so that its soul would not return to bring bad luck to the hunter. This was particularly the case with bear and beaver among the northeastern tribes. Not only was there a particular kind of ritual surrounding the death of one of these creatures but there were other beliefs too. For instance, as the beaver was thought to be sensitive to the mention of his death: When the hunter returned from beaver killing he did not tell how many he had taken but silently threw chips of wood, corresponding to the number of animals killed, to his wife or companion to inform of his success (Speck 1940:44). Among the Montagnais the beaver were believed to possess supernatural powers, enabling them to transform themselves into other animal forms or to disappear "by penetrating the ground, by rising aloft into the air, or by diving into the depths of lake or stream and remaining any length of time desired" (Speck 1935b: 112). Thus the beaver in the Northeast played an important part in the red man's beliefs as well as in his diet. Moreover, beaver skins were sewn together
116 JANE C. BECK to make robes - practically the only article of clothing these Algonkians wore (Bailey 1937:34). And one of the native's most necessary possessions, his curved hunting knife, was made from beaver teeth. The beaver's shoulder blades, its pelvic bones or its patella were used in divination (Speck 1935b: 116). In all, this creature proved to be very significant economically to the Northeast tribes. With the establishment of New France and the Europeans' thirst for skins, the beaver gained a new importance while the introduction of firearms enabled many more to be killed. Beaver were brought to the trading posts by the score. The result of such intensive hunting was inevitable and soon there was a very real depletion of the beaver population. They were the Montagnais bands who inhabited the region from Tadoussac to Quebec who probably were the first to be denuded of beaver because they had been trading extensively with the French from the time of Cartier (Bailey 1937:34). With all this in mind it is surprising to find, according to Frank Speck, that the episode of the giant beaver is apparently "lacking among the Penobscot" (Speck 1935c:8). Perhaps this was because, like the Passama-quoddy, the Penobscot didn't localize this tale and it has been forgotten because the place names are insignificant to them. Despite the lack of the giant beaver tale among the Penobscot, they do possess a number of tales concerning the modern beaver - for example, "Beaver and Muskrat Change Tails" (Speck 1935c: 105-106). Indeed, this is true among all the tribes of the Northeast. It is interesting to note that one of these tales, "Glooscap and the Beaver" (Fauset 1925:304-305), appears among the Micmac to be very similar to variants of their giant beaver tale. More likely than not this indicates a "forgetting" of the original tale. The destructive giant beaver no longer had any meaning for the Micmac and thus they told the tale about the creature with which they were familiar, the modern beaver. In contrast, the Montagnais have maintained the monster beaverb y transferringt o it the charactero f the elder brother. It is further notable that: The Montagnais-Nascopi show more resemblances to the eastern Algonkian with respect to tales lying outside the culture-hero type than within it, and that in the culture hero cycle the similarities with the central Algonkian tales are more pronounced than they are with the Wabanaki cycle (Bailey 1937:1 57). This might well explain the absence of Gluskap. He was not the culture hero of the Montagnais and they did not show him the corresponding affection that the other Northeastern Algonkian tribes did. As a result, the switch between Gluskap and Mistabeo is possible. Thus the Montagnais tale has come to have a new meaning in its attempt to explain the disappearance of the
The GiantB eaver:A PrehistoricM emory? 117 beaver - the disappearance that resulted from the concentrated hunting of this creature to gain skins to trade with the white man. Although the apparent meaning of the Montagnais version is different from other texts of the giant beaver tale, there is one element that all the variants have in common - they are all explanatory tales. Yet it is generally theorized that the explanatory element in a tale is not of primary significance. More often than not the explanation has been reinterpreted to fit numerous conditions (Waterman 1914:1-54). Often what appears to be an actiological tale is really a narrative with an explanation grafted on to prove its truth. Such appears to be the case with our giant beaver tale. As Waterman suggests, "The story is the original thing, and the explanation an after-thought." In this light it is simply the monster's experience with Gluskap or Mistabeo that is the significant element of the tale. But why such a tale? What lies behind it? Most folktales, to a greater or lesser extent, preserve something notable for the people who tell them. Often they "contain memories of features that no longer exist." And this seems originally to have been the chief function of the giant beaver tale. More and more credence is being given to a lengthy span of memory preserved by oral tradition (Montagu 1944:569-70; Pendergast and Meighan 1959:128-133). For many years archaeologists had no proof that man and the mastodon or any other paleolithic creatures had been in association. Folklorists long ago suggested that such had been the case from evidence presented in certain tales still told among the Indians of great stiff-legged beasts who could not lie down or of the creature who had a fifth arm coming out of its head (Beck 1949:294-301; Speck 1935a: 159-163; Strong 1934:81-88). Recently, specific finds have settled the question. The remains of mammoths have been discovered with man-made spear heads embedded in them. Thus it seems more credible than ever that the tales the Indians tell of the great beast that cannot lie down but must sleep leaning against trees are fossilized memories of the mammoth. Likewise, it seems plausible that the monster beaver tales might stem from early times and be a memory of the giant beaver that once roamed the face of this continent. This species of beaver, known scientifically as Castoroides ohioensis, was the largest rodent ever known in North America. It is thought to have appeared at about the dawn of the Pleistocene and to have vanished in sub-recent or very early recent times (Powell 1948:11). About the size of the black bear, specimens have been discovered ranging from six to nine feet in length and it is estimated that it would have weighed somewhere between three hundred and five hundred pounds (Powell 1948:3). From observation, "all of the larger features bespeak its relation to the modern beaver," (Powell 1948:3). However, a close study of the vertebrae reveals that 118 JANE C. BECK
such creatures probably had round tails (letter from Claude W. Hibbard, Curator of Vertebrates at the Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan. [This is of course uncertain since the fleshy part of the tail is not preserved in fossils, and Hibbard was known to poseidosyncratic views-DD]). Apparently the giant beaver lived in extensive marsh land along large rivers and lakes. It is not certain whether or not they ever built dams and lodges (letter from Hibbard). One report exists that a specimen was found in a lodge, but no one has found or recorded trees cut by the giant beaver. Because its upper incisors grew to four times as large as those of the modern beaver, its teeth marks on wood would be most evident. But such a lack by no means settles the question. Today it is conceded that man had reached North America when the last of these monster creatures were extant (Martin 1967:32-38). Although there are no Carbon-14 dates, specimens have been found in Michigan in deposits that are no older than 15,000 B.P. Further, it is thought that they are probably much younger inasmuch as some of the mammoths that lived in Michigan and with which the giant beaver was an exact contemporary date from 9,000 to 6,000 years B.P. (letter from Hibbard). Alfred Romer tells us that Castoroides ohioensis was "common in the northeast" and "absent only in the southwest" (Romer 1933:53). However, it appears from fossil evidence that the giant beaver was most abundant in the region of Indiana (Cahn 1932:237). Remains have been found "throughout the central part of the United States and along the Atlantic coast from Florida to New York. In the far West its remains are rare, but a single occurrence in Oregon shows that it did cross the Rockies" (Simpson 1930:311). There is no positive evidence in the way of fossil discoveries that the giant beaver ever reached the Maritime provinces, but it is thought to be more than probable. However, in such early times it is extremely doubtful that the ancestors of the Northeastern Algonkian inhabited this region. Evidence is very scanty concerning the different prehistoric Indian migrations, but the general consensus is that the progenitors of the Northeastern Algonkian probably came from farther west, possibly the northwest (Griffin 1952:23, 33). Thus their associations with the giant beaver could very well have occurred at- this time, the memory of this monster creature being pre-served in oral tradition and becoming a kind of legacy of the northeastern tribes. But let us return to the tales themselves. W. D. Strong (1934:81) has said: Myths or traditions purporting to refer to extinct animals formerly numerous in certain areas usually fall into one of two classes. Tales of the first class suggest an easy mythical rationalization based on the observation of fossil bones, objects which would appear to have always
The GiantB eaver:A PrehistoricM emory? 119 excited human interest. Such may be termed "myths of observation" and, being based in part on actual phenomena, are often very puzzling as to the modicum of truth they do contain. The second class, which may be called "historical traditions," seem to embody a former knowledge of the living animals in question, perhaps grown hazy through long oral transmission. We appear to have both "myths of observation" and "historical traditions" represented in the giant beaver tales. The first class seems to be illustrated by the Micmac variants. The tales are "proven" to be true by the remains of huge bones. Whether paleontologists are in agreement with the aborigine on his identification of these bones (which is seldom the case) is not the point. What is significant is that the Indians believe that certain bones are the remnants of particular creatures. In this case the beaver tale is proven to be true by the evidence of concrete bones which are claimed by some to be in the museum of Halifax (although, in fact, there is no record of such). Did the tales then grow up simply from the observation of these huge bones? I think not. It appears that this "proof" has been grafted on at a later time. The fact that the Malecite seem to have the most comprehensive text suggests that the Micmac may have first learned the tale from them and adapted it to their own region. It is also notable that all Malecite versions include the incidents of the breaking of the dam and the chase. In only one Micmac text is the giant beaver's dam mentioned. The Malecite variants seem to come under Strong's second category, "historical traditions." The historical tradition would simply be the fossilized memory of the giant beaver and perhaps also of its dam. (If we were to go on folktale evidence we might say that the giant beaver did build dams.) As we turn to the Montagnais text we find the spotlight once more on the giant beaver. But here, as previously mentioned, the monster creature seems to be an embodiment of the belief in the elder brother overlord. If the giant beaver tales are a memory of this extinct creature we might expect to find other tales concerning it. These are by no means abundant. In fact, to date I have been able only to find one other, and this among the Beaver Indians who occupy the region of the Peace River in British Columbia. This does not mean categorically that there are no other giant beaver tales, but it does point to a paucity of them. There is apparently no relation between the western tale and those of the Northeast as can be seen by the following: At first they say there was a large man who chiseled for a large beaver. He worked in vain for he could not kill it. He could not find its track anywhere nearby. He went out on the large frozen lake and saw the beaver walking along under the ice. He tapped on the ice and drove the beaver back into its house where he killed it. She had young ones in her and because of that the ice would not remain quiet. He cut the mother 120 JANE C. BECK
open, took out the young ones, and put them in the water. The ice then became quiet. That was why he did it. They say both the man and the beaver were giants. The beaver house is still standing (Goddard 1916:257). According to tradition this incident took place on Great Slave Lake and the beaver house which is said to be still standing is exemplified by a local hill. Unlike the Montagnais, the giant beaver here does not appear to be revered as an elder brother, nor like the other variants is the giant beaver considered to be harmful to man. Probably once a conservation legend, this tale seems to be in a state of decay and it seems that the explanation which is suggested is almost certainly an afterthought. But why the giant beaver? Goddard explains in a footnote that among the Beaver Indians, "stories of giants in the north are common" (Goddard 1916:257). Then is the beaver just another form of giant? In the modern Beaver Indian tale this seems to be his plight - but I suggest that this tale holds a remnant of a former memory - the memory of the Pleistocene beaver. There are several other beaver tales among these western Indians, but none indicate a monster creature. All these suggestions may seem a bit tenuous. Let me point, however, to one more tested theory. The periphery is the best place to go for remnants of an archaic culture. Thus wouldn't we expect that if a memory of the monster beaver survived, it would be at the very edges of where the giant beaver was once known? And, indeed, the Beaver Indians and the Northeastern Algonkian are on this periphery. In conclusion, then, we cannot offer a water-tight case for this tale's being the vestigial remnant of a memory from a prehistoric age; but we can suggest, and this suggestion seems plausible. Certainly if man were in association with such a beast as the giant beaver, particularly if there were just one or two of these monsters left, such an unusual creature would make a deep impression on him - an impression and memory that he would want to nurture and preserve. Further, we can argue by analogy: if the mammoth was fossilized in folktales, why not the giant beaver? It may reasonably be asked that if this is such an ancient memory why was it preserved in a number of texts in the Northeast while there is such a paucity of giant beaver tales throughout the rest of the country? There are probably two reasons for this. First, if every tale was collected from each tribe we might find a few more memories of the giant beaver; and second, and more significant, the monster beaver became associated with Gluskap in the Northeast. As the culture hero, tales concerning him would be carefully preserved. The skeptic might point to the Montagnais variant, but I think it is fairly obvious that this version has been adapted from the Gluskap tale and probably diffused to the Montagnais relatively late. Having no other tradition of the giant beaver they interpreted it in terms of the elder brother belief. It The GiantBeaver:A PrehistoricMemory? 121
is also notable that Gluskap's entanglement with the giant beaver is told early in the cycle of his adventures, suggesting that such a conflict happened in very early times. Thus it seems that all evidence points to the giant beaver tale being a folk memory of a prehistoric creature. Actual proof is not yet possible, but it is important to look to the future and suggest a road that the archaeologist and historian might well follow. REFERENCES Bailey, Alfred G. 1937 The conflict of European and eastern Algonkian cultures, 1504-1700. Publications of the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B., Monograph Series, no. 2. Sackville, N. B., The Tribune Press. Beck, Horace P. 1949 The animal that cannot lie down. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. 39, no. 9 (September 15), pp. 294-301. Baltimore, Washington Academy of Sciences. 1966 Gluskap the liar & other Indian tales. Freeport, Maine, B. Wheelwright Company. Cahn, Alvin R. 1932 Records of distribution of the fossil beaver, Castoroides Ohioensis. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 13, no. 3 (August), pp. 229-241. Baltimore, American Society of Mammalogists. Fauset, Arthur H. 1925 Folklore from the half-breeds in Nova Scotia. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 38, no. 148 (April-June), pp. 300-315. New York, American Folk-Lore Society. Goddard, Pliny E. 1916 The Beaver Indians. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 10, part 4. New York, The Trustees. Griffin, James B., ed. 1952 Archaeology of eastern United States. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Hyde, George E. 1962 Indians of the woodlands. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press. Jack, Edward 1895 Maliseet legends. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 8, no. 30 (July- September), pp. 193-208. Boston and New York, American Folk-Lore Society. Leland, Charles G. 1884 The Algonquin legends of New England. Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Martin, Paul S. 1967 Pleistocene overkill. Natural History, Vol. 76, no. 10 (December), pp. 32-38. New York, American Museum of Natural History. Mechling, W. H. 1914 Malecite tales. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Canada, no. 49, Anthropological Series, no. 4. Ottawa, Government Printing Bureau. Montagu, Ashley 1944 An Indian tradition relating to the mastodon. American Anthropologist, Vol. 46, no. 4 (October-December), pp. 568-571. Menasha, Wisconsin, Ameri-can Anthropological Association. Pendergast, David M., and Clement W. Meighan 1959 Folk tradition as historical fact. A Paiute example. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 72, no. 284 (April-June), pp. 128-133. Montpelier, Vermont, The American Folk-Lore Society. Powell, Louis H. 1948 The giant beaver Castoroides in Minnesota. Science Bulletin, no. 2. St. Paul, Minnesota, Science Museum, St. Paul Institute. Rand, Silas T. 1894 Legends of the Micmacs. New York and London, Longmans, Green and Company. Romer, Alfred S. 1933 Pleistocene vertebrates and their bearing on the problem of human antiquity in North America. In The American aborigines, their origin and antiquity, edited by Diamond Jenness, pp. 47-83. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. Simpson, George G. 1930 Rodent giants. Natural History, Vol. 30, no. 3 (May-June), pp. 305-313. New York, American Museum of Natural History. Speck, Frank G. 1915 Some Micmac tales from Cape Breton Island. Journal ofAmerican Folk-Lore, Vol. 28, no. 107 (January-March), pp. 59-69. New York, American Folk-Lore Society. 1925 Montagnais and Naskapi tales from the Labrador peninsula. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 38, no. 147 (January-March), pp. 1-32. New York, American Folk-Lore Society. 1935a Mammoth or "stiff legged bear." American Anthropologist, Vol. 37, no. 1 (January-March), pp. 159-163. Menasha, Wisconsin, American Anthropological Association. 1 935bNaskapi, the savage hunters of the Labrador peninsula. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press. 1935c Penobscot tales and religious beliefs. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 48, no. 187 (January-March), pp. 1-107. New York, American Folk-Lore Society. 1940 Penobscot man. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press; London, H. Milford, University of Oxford Press. Strong, William D. 1934 North American Indian traditions suggesting a knowledge of the mammoth. American Anthropologist, Vol. 36, no. 1 (January-March), pp. 81-88. Menasha, Wisconsin, American Anthropological Association. Waterman, T. T. 1914 The explanatory element in folk-tales of the North American Indians. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 27, no. 103 (January-March), pp. 1-54. New York, American Folk-Lore Society.
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