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Friday, June 21, 2024

Mclaughlin - The Wonderful Turtle - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

If you live in a suburban or rural area, are you prepared to meet turtles?  These ancient creatures aren't surviving our population the way coyotes, foxes, raccoon, skunks, and opposums are.  Those creatures have adapted in many ways, but turtles move slower and also require a water habitat.  At this time of the year you might expect to see a slow moving turtle on the road.  I've had this experience twice so far this year.  

Photo by Luca Ambrosi on Unsplash

If the turtle is small enough you can use your car's floor mat to slide under the turtle and move him to the side of the road he wanted to reach.  For bigger turtles, be careful!  Assume it's a Snapping Turtle capable of biting off your finger!  This is where it's a good idea to have a shovel in your car beyond winter.  It keeps you away from those jaws and still lets you move the turtle where he wanted to go.  (It's also useful for moving opossums still alive, but foolish enough to "play possum" in the middle of the road.)

As might be expected, Wikipedia has an article on the turtle with way more information than you probably want to read, but it's worth prowling, especially this section on Conservation:

 Among vertebrate orders, turtles are second only to primates in the percentage of threatened species. 360 modern species have existed since 1500 AD. Of these, 51–56% are considered threatened and 60% considered threatened or extinct.[144] Turtles face many threats, including habitat destruction, harvesting for consumption, the pet trade,[145][146] light pollution,[147] and climate change.[148] 

Skipping the section on Asian turtles, it continues with

As of 2021, turtle extinction is progressing much faster than during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. At this rate, all turtles could be extinct in a few centuries.[150]

Since one of the two turtles I saw was a red-eared slider turtle, I found this part of the Conservation article interesting

 Native turtle populations can also be threatened by invasive ones. The central North American red-eared slider turtle has been listed among the "world's worst invasive species", pet turtle having been released globally. They appear to compete with native turtle species in eastern and western North America, Europe, and Japan.[161][162]

That type of turtle is also mentioned in the section on Turtles as Pets

Some turtles, particularly small terrestrial and freshwater species, are kept as pets.[187][188] The demand for pet turtles increased in the 1950s, with the US being the main supplier, particularly of farm-bred red-eared sliders.

Keep your pet turtle home!

Unfortunately the section about turtles "In Culture" and also "As Food and Other Uses" omits the turtle's importance to Native Americans.

I went looking and found Mrs Marie L. Mclaughlin heard stories while growing up among the eastern Sioux of Minnesota. She recorded them for posterity in 1916 in Myths and Legends of the Sioux. In her Foreword she states she is one-quarter Sioux, dating back to her maternal Scottish grandfather and her grandmother, Ha-za-ho-ta-win, who was a full-blooded member of the Medawakanton Band of the Sioux Tribe of Indians.  She "was born December 8, 1842, at Wabasha, Minnesota, then Indian country, and resided thereat until fourteen years of age, when I was sent to school at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin." 

She further explains

Having been born and reared in an Indian community, I at an early age acquired a thorough knowledge of the Sioux language, and having lived on Indian reservations for the past forty years in a position which brought me very near to the Indians, whose confidence I possessed, I have, therefore, had exceptional opportunities of learning the legends and folk-lore of the Sioux.

The stories contained in this little volume were told me by the older men and women of the Sioux, of which I made careful notes as related, knowing that, if not recorded, these fairy tales would be lost to posterity by the passing of the primitive Indian.

The book is dedicated
In loving memory of my mother,
at whose knee most of the stories
contained in this little volume
were told to me, this book is
affectionately dedicated

Personally I find this story is also particularly interesting in its view of the Sioux (or Dakota/Lakota) and the Chippewa (Ojibwe/Anishinaabe), one of Michigan and Canada's Native People.

The name Sioux came from the Anishinaabe word for their old enemies the "Nadouessioux", meaning "little snakes."  Is it any wonder they prefer being called Dakota or Lakota which means "friend" or "ally"?  Some of those 18th century battles are a major part of this story.


Near to a Chippewa village lay a large lake, and in this lake there lived an enormous turtle. This was no ordinary turtle, as he would often come out of his home in the lake and visit with his Indian neighbors. He paid the most of his visits to the head chief, and on these occasions would stay for hours, smoking and talking with him.

The chief, seeing that the turtle was very smart and showed great wisdom in his talk, took a great fancy to him, and whenever any puzzling subject came up before the chief, he generally sent for Mr. Turtle to help him decide.

One day there came a great misunderstanding between different parties of the tribe, and so excited became both sides that it threatened to cause bloodshed. The chief was unable to decide for either faction, so he said, “I will call Mr. Turtle. He will judge for you.”

Sending for the turtle, the chief vacated his seat for the time being, until the turtle should hear both sides, and decide which was in the right. The turtle came, and taking the chief’s seat, listened very attentively to both sides, and thought long before he gave his decision. After thinking long and studying each side carefully, he came to the conclusion to decide in favor of both. This would not cause any hard feelings. So he gave them a lengthy speech and showed them where they were both in the right, and wound up by saying:

“You are both in the right in some ways and wrong in others. Therefore, I will say that you both are equally in the right.”

When they heard this decision, they saw that the turtle was right, and gave him a long cheer for the wisdom displayed by him. The whole tribe saw that had it not been for this wise decision there would have been a great shedding of blood in the tribe. So they voted him as their judge, and the chief, being so well pleased with him, gave to him his only daughter in marriage.

The daughter of the chief was the most beautiful maiden of the Chippewa nation, and young men from other tribes traveled hundreds of miles for an opportunity to make love to her, and try to win her for a wife. It was all to no purpose. She would accept no one, only him whom her father would select for her. The turtle was very homely, but as he was prudent and wise, the father chose him, and she accepted him.

The young men of the tribe were very jealous, but their jealousy was all to no purpose. She married the turtle. The young men would make sport of the chief’s son-in-law. They would say to him: “How did you come to have so flat a stomach?” The turtle answered them, saying:

“My friends, had you been in my place, you too would have flat stomachs. I came by my flat stomach in this way: The Chippewas and Sioux had a great battle, and the Sioux, too numerous for the Chippewas, were killing them off so fast that they had to run for their lives. I was on the Chippewa side and some of the Sioux were pressing five of us, and were gaining on us very fast. Coming to some high grass, I threw myself down flat on my face, and pressed my stomach close to the ground, so the pursuers could not see me. They passed me and killed the four I was with. After they had gone back, I arose and lo! my stomach was as you see it now. So hard had I pressed to the ground that it would not assume its original shape again.”

After he had explained the cause of his deformity to them, they said: “The Turtle is brave. We will bother him no more.” Shortly after this the Sioux made an attack upon the Chippewas, and every one deserted the village. The Turtle could not travel as fast as the rest and was left behind. It being an unusually hot day in the fall, the Turtle grew very thirsty and sleepy. Finally scenting water, he crawled towards the point from whence the scent came, and coming to a large lake jumped in and had a bath, after which he swam towards the center and dived down, and finding some fine large rocks at the bottom, he crawled in among them and fell asleep. He had his sleep out and arose to the top.

Swimming to shore he found it was summer. He had slept all winter. The birds were singing, and the green grass and leaves gave forth a sweet odor.

He crawled out and started out looking for the Chippewa camp. He came upon the camp several days after he had left his winter quarters, and going around in search of his wife, found her at the extreme edge of the village. She was nursing her baby, and as he asked to see it, she showed it to him. When he saw that it was a lovely baby and did not resemble him in any respect, he got angry and went off to a large lake, where he contented himself with catching flies and insects and living on seaweed the remainder of his life.


May you play your part in keeping Turtle off the road and contentedly catching flies and insects and living on seaweed the remainder of his hopefully long life.


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 the late 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 December 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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