An Otter Legend Derived from the Cree Indians


As the story is told, in the days when the earth was new and there were no men but only animals, the sun was far away in the sky. It was so far away that there was no summer. It was so far away that the trees and the grasses did not grow as they should.

He-Who-Made-the-Animals saw how it was that there was not enough sun to heat the earth, and so he fashioned a snare. The Sun did not see the snare in his path, walked into the snare, and the snare held him fast.

Then the sun was close to the earth. In fact, the snare held the sun so close to the earth that there was no night. Day after day the sun shown and the earth dried and the grasses withered. There was not enough food or water for the animals and they desperately called a council. "Sun," the animals said, "You give too much heat to the earth."

"Set me free from this snare" the Sun said, "and I will go away."

"But if you go away, then there will not be enough heat." "Set me free," the Sun said, "and I will come to the edge of the earth in the morning and in the evening; then at noon-time I will stand straight above the earth and warm it then."

The animals sat around the council fire and they said, "Who is going to set the sun free?"

"I shall not do it," Wildcat said. "Whoever sets the sun free must go so close to the sun that he will be burned to death." Lynx said, "Whoever sets the sun free must chew the leather thong that holds him; the sun will burn him to death before he can do it."

"I shall not do it," said the deer, the wolf and the raccoon. "I shall do it," Otter said. "How can you do it?" said the animals. "You are too small, your teeth are for fish, and your fur has already burned away." None of the other animals liked the otter because he played too much. They did not think he was brave.

"Let him try," Bear said. "He will burn to death, but we will not miss him. He is of no use to us. He looks silly now that his fur is gone." The animals laughed.

Ignoring the taunts, the otter set off to the place in the sky above the earth where the sun was held by the snare. Otter took many days to get to the sun. The sun burned him. The sun was so bright, Otter had to close his eyes. When he reached the sun, Otter began to chew on the leather thong that held the sun. His skin was burning and blistering, his eyes were hot stones. But Otter did not stop chewing.

Suddenly he chewed through the leather. The animals saw the sun rise into the sky. The animals felt the cool winds begin to blow on the earth. Otter had freed the sun from the snare.

Time passed. Otter lay in the center of the council ring. There was no fur at all left on his body. His skin was burned and scorched and his flesh was falling off his bones. His teeth were only blackened stumps.

He-Who-Made-the-Animals also stood in the center of the council ring. "Otter," he said, "the animals will not forget what you have done for them. I will see that they do not forget," and he gave Otter new strong teeth, tireless muscles, keen eyesight, and a powerful tail to help him in his hunting and in his play. He did not have to give him bravery. But he gave him new fine fur that was like down on his skin, and a second coat of fur to guard the first so that he would not get cold in water or in winter. Then he gave him joy so that he would always be happy in his otter's life, and Otter has so remained until this day.


- Contributed by John Mulvihill