How Raccoon Got His Coat

Alan P. Scott - Fictions

cultural imperialism

This is the tale of how Raven the Trickster was once himself tricked, and of what he did when he found out who'd tricked him...

* * *

One bright and sunny dawn, many years ago, Raccoon was trotting back to his burrow after a long night's successful hunting, when he came across Raven's longhouse in the forest. Raccoon saw Raven himself through the longhouse's half-open doorway, in fact, but Raccoon couldn't quite see what Raven was doing. It was all very mysterious.

Now, in those days Raccoon didn't look much like he does today. In those days, Raccoon's fur was all one color, a smooth, glossy gray from nose to tail. But Raccoon was just as curious then as ever. Rather than go about his business the way any well-behaved animal would, Raccoon decided to find out just what Raven was up to. He crept quietly closer to the side of Raven's longhouse, so he could see what Raven was doing without himself being seen.

Peering through a chink in Raven's longhouse wall, Raccoon could see that Raven had taken out a few of the treasures he'd been hiding - as you know, Raven loves to collect shiny objects - in a great cedar chest at the foot of his sleeping mat, and was cleaning and arranging them with care.

On this particular day Raven was admiring five beautiful silver rings, a matched set that he had spirited away from a young squaw while she was washing her clothing in the stream near Raven's home.

Raccoon saw the rings and coveted them, for he has always been much like Raven in his love for bright, shiny objects. But he knew that Raven would never willingly give him the rings. So Raccoon slipped quietly away from the longhouse and went back to his burrow to think of a plan, to steal the rings from Raven without getting caught.

* * *

Late the next night, when the moon had risen and set and Raven was fast asleep, Raccoon came creeping back to Raven's longhouse through the dark woods. This time, Raccoon was wearing a mask to hide his eyes, and he carried a torch close to his chest, making the light leap up and illuminate his face from below. As you can well imagine, this made Raccoon look very frightening.

Raccoon crept up to the window of Raven's longhouse and began moaning in a most ghostly voice.

"Oooh! Ooowoooh!"

Raven awoke with a squawk of fright, and saw Raccoon's horrible torchlit mask peering in his window.

"Oowoowooh!" moaned Raccoon again. Raven leaped from his sleeping mat.

Raccoon hastily put out his torch and ran around the corner of Raven's longhouse in the darkness to enter the front door, counting on Raven to run out the back in panic. But Raven was naturally brave, and recovered quickly from being frightened. Instead of running out the back as Raccoon had intended, Raven picked up a cudgel and ran out the front!

Although Raccoon was surprised by Raven's quick action, he was not so surprised that he forgot what he'd come for. It was a close shave, but Raccoon was able to reverse course and elude Raven in the darkness without being seen, while Raven went crashing out through the undergrowth around the longhouse, looking for his attacker.

Quickly running around the back of Raven's longhouse, Raccoon scurried inside and opened up Raven's cedar chest. The beautiful rings Raccoon had coveted lay on top.

Raccoon discovered that he couldn't pick up the rings and hold his torch at the same time. And he couldn't just leave the torch behind; he'd need it to make his way through the dark forest without the moon in the sky to provide light. Thinking quickly, Raccoon took his long, bushy gray tail and slid each ring onto it in turn.

Just as he got the fifth ring onto his tail, he heard Raven running back through the bushes. Raccoon closed the cedar chest, lit his torch again from Raven's fire, and scurried out the back of the longhouse, unseen, just before Raven burst in through the front.

Grumbling and squawking in frustration, the exhausted Raven went back to his bed. Raccoon was long gone. He scurried back through the forest, through the damp underbrush, skirting the sulfurous hot springs that marked the trail to his burrow, where he removed the silver rings from his tail and hid them in his own secret place.

* * *

When Raven awoke the next day, he noticed that his cedar chest was not quite in the same place as he'd left it. His first thought was for his treasures. Pulling the cedar chest out and opening it up, Raven saw that his prized silver rings were missing! Raven knew then that he had been tricked - that the ghost he'd seen last night had not been a ghost at all, but one of the animals of the forest.

But Raven did not know which one.

Raven went to all the animals of the forest - to Bear, to Chipmunk, to Badger, to Rabbit, even to Eagle - but without having any luck. Finally, late in the afternoon, Raven came to Raccoon's burrow.

"Halloo," called Raven. "Raccoon? Are you in there?"

Raccoon trembled in fear but hid it with gruffness as he came to the mouth of his burrow.

"What do you want, Raven? I was sleeping." Raccoon considered including a yawn for dramatic effect, but decided against it.

"Out late last night, were you?"

Now Raccoon did yawn. He couldn't help it.

"No, I've been sleeping in my burrow. I always do during the day. What do you want?"

Raccoon's act of innocence was very well-done. Although Raven was by nature a very suspicious animal, he was convinced.

"Oh, nothing," Raven sighed.

"Well, then, I'll just go back to sleep."

Raccoon turned to go back into his burrow, and at that moment Raven caught sight of Raccoon's tail. There were five black rings of tarnish on the gray fur.

"Oho!" said Raven, pointing at Raccoon's tail. Raccoon whirled around and around, trying to get a glimpse of it.

When Raccoon saw the evidence of his theft displayed on his tail for all to see, he hung his head in shame, and confessed his whole plan to Raven.

Raven chuckled ruefully at the way he'd been taken in. That didn't stop him from being angry, though. After Raccoon had gone sheepishly inside his burrow and brought out the rings he'd stolen, Raven sat him down on a tree stump and passed judgment.

"Raccoon, from now on you shall bear the marks of your theft, as a reminder to you and all the creatures of the forest. Forevermore, your tail shall bear the marks of the rings you stole from me. Your paws shall be black, to remind you of the torch you held. And you shall wear a mask like the one you wore to scare me. I have spoken." And it was so.

Then Raven went back to his longhouse, to hide his treasures in a safer place. And Raccoon, after suffering many jeers from his friends in the forest, eventually came to love his distinctive new coat even more than the old one.

But Raccoon never really learned his lesson. Although he never again tried to take anything from Raven, he still comes to us sometimes, like a thief in the night, wearing his mask and markings and looking for good things he can steal.

Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

This page last updated November 30, 1997

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