The Story of Chakapas

The Story of Chakapas

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The Story of Chakapas

A Cree Indian Legend

Adam Ballantyne
Collected and Transcribed by Prentice G. Downes
Edited and Illustrated by Annie Downes Catterson

9 X 12 inches, 32 pages

Cree Legends of Pelican Narrows, No. 1

A TRADITIONAL WOODLAND CREE INDIAN LEGEND, The Story of Chakapas is an excellent example of the Cree belief in animism; it concerns the heroic efforts of the Least Mouse in releasing the Moon from an unhappy snare.

This story comes from an unpublished collection entitled Kyass: The Stories of Long Ago, that P.G. Downes made in 1949. These tales were originally recorded as notes in his journals from his summer travels to the North, starting in 1936. Adam Ballantyne—the old Cree medicine man, who once heard the story from his grandfather and told it to Downes—is the narrator. "This story is about the days before the white man came among us. It is of long ago."

P.G. Downes first paid tribute to the stories of the Woodland Cree in 1943 with the publication of Sleeping Island. Annie Downes Catterson has drawn upon her father's unpublished collections of Cree lore and mythology, fashioning otherworldly illustrations to accompany what is now a Penumbra Press trilogy of books for the child and dreamer in everyone. The Story of Chakapas, is the first, followed by Wisakyjak and the New World and The Legend of the Mimigwesseos.


Adam Ballantyne


'... Adam Ballantyne was, at the time he told me these stories, a man probably about seventy-five years old. This was in the summer of 1937. I saw him again in the summer of 1947 and he was still quite alive. As he was not a Christian Indian there was no definite record of his birth. He spoke no English and the stories were told to me in his native Cree language.... Adam was a member of the Pelican Narrows Band, a forest dwelling, hunting people found at Pelican Lake in far northeastern Saskatchewan, Canada. Though these Indians have long been exposed to the white man and the white man's various religious concepts, as one can see, the more ancient beliefs still persist, at least among such of the old men as Adam. He himself occupies a curious postion in the band. Though the younger members are inclined to ridicule his ancient beliefs, when all the white man's religion, his nostrums, painkillers and pills fail, they turn to the old medicine man—Adam.'

—Prentice Downes, from the Postscript to the third book, The Legend of the Mimigwesseos


Prentice G. Downes



'P.G. Downes was a naturalist, cartographer, geologist and a teacher. Above all he was a northern traveller. During the summer from 1936 to 1947 he packed only what he could carry on his back and set out for the Canadian North travelling the wild rivers and crossing lakes few white men had ever seen.... Adam shared with Downes stories, myths and information about his people, especially the dream life and spiritual world of the Woodland Cree. "To the Cree mind, all the world was spirit-bearing and animistic. He and the world about him were a completely dual world of the physical and its spiritual counterpart." Downes carefully recorded all that he heard and gathered in his journals. He knew that the old ways of the North were being fast forgotten... He had travelled a great distance "in order to learn the things of long ago."'

—Annie Downes Catterson, from the Preface to the first book, The Story of Chakapas



Annie Downes Catterson

Editor, Illustrator

Annie Downes Catterson has illustrated this trilogy of Cree stories that the raconteur Adam told her father. Annie is a practising artist and teacher of art in Chicago.

Eighteen stunning woodcuts from Wisakyjak and the New World, the second book in the series, are available in a limited edition portfolio or as individual prints.

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