Zac McDorrWhen Europeans first came to the shores of New England in the 1500s, they found people already living here. The Wabanaki had been around for thousands of years, but where did they come from originally? Scientists will talk about land bridges to Asia, but the Wabanaki would tell you stories about the mighty Glooscap.

After the Great Spirit created the world, there was nothing but land, trees, and water. Then came Glooscap, a giant who looked like a normal Native American, though much larger and stronger, and in possession of magic powers. From small rocks he first created the faeries and little people who live in the forest. Next, he molded the first human beings in his own image from the red sand on the banks of the Penobscot River.

In another version of the story, he shot arrows into the trunks of ash trees, and the first people emerged from inside the trees. He called them “Wabanaki,” which means, “those who live where the day breaks.”

Finally, Glooscap created all the animals from rocks and clay.

The people were ignorant, so Glooscap taught them everything they needed to survive. He showed them how to make birch bark canoes, how to make fire, how to hunt and make fish weirs, how to identify medicinal plants, and he taught them the names of the stars. Glooscap brought tobacco to the people by conquering a giant grasshopper who was hoarding it on an island.

In another story, somewhat opposite of Noah’s Ark, a giant frog swallowed the world’s water and sat on Mt. Katahdin while the plants dried up and the people went thirsty. Glooscap saved the world by splitting the frog’s back with his stone ax, and then squeezing the frog down to the size we see in ponds today.

Sadly, Glooscap’s powers were not enough to save the people from European invaders. Some say he sits inside Mt. Katahdin, ready to return when the people are in need.

Source: “Maine Folk History, In Story, Legend, and Myth,” by Carol Whitmore and Michael E. Day, 1978.


Zac McDorr is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. He recently moved home after living in Oklahoma City for many years.