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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Cornplanter/Canfield - The First Winter - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

This is not the start of winter (thank heavens!), but we still have a lot of it left.  This past week I saw the first hopeful sign...the local parks have changed their sunset closing to half an hour later!  It means the days are finally a bit longer with more coming.  Winter is starting to leave -- HOORAY!  Okay, it's a long way until it's over, but it fits with today's story.

Recently I was able to purchase The Legends of the Iroquois which is officially listed as being written by William W. Canfield, but he attributes the source to "The Cornplanter", a Seneca who died in 1836 at the age of 104.  I have quite a few Iroquois books, including one by J.(Jesse)J. Cornplanter which is a reprint from Iroqrafts, so it is recognized as an important book to the Iroquois (originally published in 1938 and still under copyright because of renewal).  Jesse died in 1957 and was a descendant of the chief commonly called "The Cornplanter."  Jesse's father worked closely with the Seneca folklorist, Arthur C. Parker, whose books are starting to enter Public Domain.  The Seneca are among the five original (and still are) members of the Iroquois Confederation or League.  Their own name is the Haudenosaunee or "People of the Longhouse."  Living so long and training his son and Arthur Parker was not the extent of the Cornplanter's passing on of Iroquois folklore, so when I saw this book with its close reproduction of legends, I had to get it!

None of my half dozen other books include this story which matches my delight in the lengthening of daylight.  After the story I will include the notes accompanying the story, but first let it speak to us as we huddle in our "shorthouses."  (Yes, I made up that name, but the longhouses of the Haudenosaunee were perfect for this elder's passing along their traditions.)  Canfield explained it was during the last twenty years of his life the Cornplanter "recalled and told (the legends).  He did not speak of them generally, for he held them sacred, but reserved them for the ears of those in full sympathy with the people of which he was one of the last true representatives."  May you receive them with respect.
The notes show the work of William C. Canfield in interpreting and explaining the stories.  The type size in the Notes is truly the "fine print" so I will provide it here for your understanding and "full sympathy" with the Haudenosaunee values.
The Indians were taught never to speak ill of any of the celestial bodies or of the works of nature.  They must never complain of the glare and heat of the sun, lest they be stricken blind; nor must they complain of the clouds for fear that they might be shut up in caves in the mountains where no light could enter.  The moon must be treated with the same respect and consideration, for those who said aught against her were in imminent danger of death by a fall of rocks from the sky.  The most severe storms of wind, snow, frost or hail must be treated only with great respect.  Those who complained about them were by this act unarmed and could not resist their attacks and rigors.  In fact, they were taught to 'take the bitter with the sweet' without making wry faces.  This training through long generations rendered the race cold and stoical, apparently indifferent to suffering.  They probably suffered the same as others, but they bore it without a sign.  This legend was a very common one and was frequently told the young in order that the lesson might be deeply impressed upon them that they should never set themselves up in opposition to the Great Spirit or complain of the enforcement of his laws.
Canfield calls the legend "a very common one", but I find it interesting none of my other major Iroquois sources give it.  This is both a "pourquois" tale explaining how something came to be and a cautionary tale.  It does indeed offer lessons, but the trick is for the teller to avoid becoming "preachy", turning off the listeners.  The common saying about the weather is "everybody talks about it; no one does a thing about it."  This story shows an extreme our common grumbling, thank heaven!, doesn't create.  I plan to keep on grumbling, but am grateful something like this isn't caused by it.

Until next week "that's my story and I'm sticking to it!"
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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