Raccoon and the Blind Men
by Oliver LaMère
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
Once there was a village in which two old blind men lived together in an oval lodge. To find their way out and back again to their lodge when they had to answer a call of nature, they strung a long rope from their lodge to a distant tree trunk. When the mischievous Raccoon passed by he suddenly had an idea for a good joke: he took the rope and untied it from the tree trunk and retied it to a tree hanging over the edge of the lake shore. He stood by and patiently watched for the men to come out. The first man came out of the lodge holding on to the rope. Soon the second one emerged and followed after him along the same rope. The first blind man came to the end of the rope, took one step farther, and promptly fell into the lake. Not much later the second man came along and did the same thing. The first blind man accused the other of pushing him in, and soon they were loudly arguing with each other. All the while Raccoon was beside himself with laughter.
When the villagers found out about this they went hunting for the raccoon. As hard as he tried, Raccoon could not control his laughter, and soon the villagers found him. After they shot him dead, they took his hide and fastened it to a tree trunk.1
Commentary. "fell into the lake" — raccoons have the odd habit of taking their prey and "washing" them in water before eating them. (Few scientists actually believe that they are washing their food, but just what they are doing is a subject of speculation.) Thus the raccoon causes many other animals to take an unwilling bath, in a way that looks like a cruel joke.
"Raccoon could not control his laughter" — in contemporary America, raccoons are noted for the mischief they cause in invading trash cans to eat discarded food. They generally come out only in the dark when all humans are blind, but the noise they make in the course of this mischief usually gives them away, making it easy for hunters to dispatch them.
"a tree trunk" — ne other waiką associates tree trunks with raccoons. The association may derive at least partly from raccoons using the water that collects in tree stumps to emerse their food before eating it. However, there is probably much more to it.
Comparative Material: A Lakota story has some interesting similarities to our Hočąk tale. One day as Hare was wandering about, he encountered a solitary lodge that looked very much like an oak tree. There inside he found an old man who had gone completely blind. The grandfather told Hare that the Great Spirit had provided for him by giving him bags of food of the very best kind so that he would not be in want; furthermore, a rope path had been constructed to the lake, and another one out into the woods where firewood could be gathered. Hare thought this an idyllic life, and offered to trade his own eyes for the grandfather's lodge. The grandfather warned him, but Hare would not be dissuaded. So the two of them made the trade. Hare loved the easy and tasty food, but had to go to the lake to fetch some water. Unlike the old grandfather, Hare walked briskly and when he stumbled, he pulled half the rope down. Soon he was navigating without any guide and suddenly fell down a slippery slope into the lake. Later he went out to fetch firewood, but broke that rope too, and could not find his way back. So he called upon his brother, who could always hear him, for aid. His brother brought the grandfather back and the traded back again. The old man liked the bow and arrow, but was too feeble to easily use them and was glad to be back to his lodge in the oak tree.2
The Hidatsa story replaces Raccoon with Coyote. One day Coyote was traveling about when he came across a lodge with a string attached to it leading down to the river bank. There he saw an old man fishing. Inside the lodge was another very old man sleeping. He soon discovered that both these men were blind. The man at the river caught a fish, but Coyote quietly scooped it up and brought it back to the lodge. The other man got up and began to prepare a kettle for the fish he found inside. Meanwhile, the other old man noticed his fish was missing. The second man told him that he had a fish, and that they could share it, but Coyote had taken the fish and eaten everything but the bones, which he threw back into the pot. When they took out the fish, they found only bones. Each accused the other of having eaten it. Coyote swatted each with a hot poker, and they were soon fighting one another. Eventually, they realized that they had been hit with a single stick, but by then Coyote had gone back to the village.3
Stories: featuring raccoons as characters: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Were-fish, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Bladder and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Trickster and the Mothers; mentioning blind people: A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men, Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Raccoon Coat, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Roaster, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Owl Goes Hunting.
Themes: blindness:The Raccoon Coat, A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Thunderbird and White Horse; people are led astray by a raccoon: A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men, Bladder and His Brothers; people who can't see are misdirected: Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; a spirit tricks men into fighting one another: A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men, Hare Visits the Blind Men.
1 Charles Edward Brown, Moccasin Tales (Madison, Wisc.: State Historical Museum, 1935) 4-5. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.
2 Zitkala-Ṣa, "Mastin, the Rabbit," Old Indian Legends (Lincoln: Univesity of Nebraska Press, 1901) 147-151.
3 Mrs. Good Bear, "38. Coyote and Two Blind Men," in Martha Warren Beckwith, Mandan and Hidatsa Tales: Third Series (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1934) 287.