Long ago Wild Rabbit of the North land wore a brown fur coat, throughout the year. Today, when the long winter months come, Wild Rabbit changes his coat of brown to one that is the color of the snow. And this is how the change happened.
Wild Rabbit could not defend himself from his many foes. Almost all the animals,—foxes of all kinds, wildcats, wolves, wolverines, weasels, and ermine hunted Wild Rabbit for food. Then there were the fierce birds,—the eagles, hawks, and owls—they were always on the lookout for rabbits, young or old. The result was that with this war continually waged against them, the poor rabbits were having a hard time of it, especially in winter. They found it very difficult to hide themselves when the leaves were off the trees and the ground was covered with snow.
In those days of long ago the animals used to have a large council. There was a great father at the head of each kind of animal and bird, and these leaders used to meet and talk about the welfare of their kind. There were always peace and friendship among them while at the council. They appointed a king and he presided as chief. All the animals that had troubles or problems had a right to come and speak about them at the council, and if it were possible, all wrongs were remedied.
Sometimes strange things were said. At one council the bear found great fault with the fox who had tricked him and had caused him to lose his beautiful tail by telling him to go and catch fish with it in a big crack in the ice. The bear sat fishing so long that the crack froze up solid and, to save his life, the bear had to break off his tail.
But all the things they talked about were not so funny as the bear’s complaint. They had their troubles and dangers and they discussed various plans for improving their condition; also, they considered how they could best defeat the skill and cleverness of the human hunters.
At one of the council meetings, when the rabbit’s turn to be heard came, he said that his people were nearly all destroyed, that the rest of the world seemed to be combined against his race and they were getting rid of them by day and night, in summer and winter. Also, he declared that the rabbits had little power to fight against enemies, and, therefore, his people were almost discouraged, but they had sent him to the council to see if the members could suggest any remedy or plan to save the rabbit race from complete destruction.
While the rabbit was speaking the wolverine winked at the wildcat, while the fox, although he tried to look serious, could not keep his mouth from watering as he thought of the many rabbits he intended to eat.
Thus it can be seen that the rabbit did not get much sympathy from his enemies in the council. But his friends,—the moose, the reindeer, and the mountain goat—stood up in the meeting and spoke out bravely for their little friend. Indeed, they told the animals that they had laughed at the little rabbit’s sad story that if they continued to eat all the rabbits they could find there would soon be none left. Then these cruel animals would be the greatest sufferers, for what else could they find to eat in sufficient numbers to keep them alive, if the rabbits were all gone?
This thought sobered the thoughtless animals at first but they soon resumed their mocking at the poor little rabbit and his story. As they happened to be in the majority, the council refused to do anything in the matter.
When the moose heard the decision of the council he was very sorry for his poor little brother rabbit. He lowered his head and told the rabbit to jump on one of his flat horns. The moose then carried him some distance away from the council and said, “There is no hope for you here. Most of the animals live on you and so they will not do anything that will make it more difficult for you to be caught than it is now. Your only hope is to go to Manabozho, and see what he can do for you. His name was once Manabush, which means Great Rabbit, so I am sure he will be your friend because I think he is a distant relative of yours.”
Away sped the rabbit along the route described by the moose, who had lately found out where Manabozho was stopping.
The rabbit was such a timid creature that, when he came near to Manabozho, he was much afraid that he would not be welcomed. However, his case was desperate, and although his heart was thumping with fear he hurried along to have the matter decided as soon as possible.
To his great joy he found Manabozho in the best humor and the little creature was received most kindly. The great Master saw how weary the little rabbit was after the long journey so he made the little fellow rest on some fragrant grass in the sunshine. Then Manabozho went out and brought in some of the choicest things in his garden for the rabbit.
“Tell me all your troubles, little brother,” said Manabozho. “Also, tell me about the council meeting.”
The rabbit repeated his story and told all about the treatment he had received at the council.
When the Great Master heard how unjustly the little rabbit had been treated he grew very angry and said, “And that is the way they treated little brother at the council we have given them, is it? And they know we expect them to give the smallest and weakest the same kind of justice as they offer the biggest and strongest! It is high time for someone to report the council news to me if such unfair meetings take place. Look out, Mr. Fox, Mr. Wolverine, and Mr. Wildcat, for if I take you in hand you’ll be sorry little brother was obliged to come to Manabozho for help.”
The Great Master had worked himself up into such a furious temper that the rabbit was frightened almost to death. But when Manabozho saw this he laughed and said, “I’m sorry to have frightened you, little brother. But I was so very angry with those animals for ill-treating you that I forgot myself. And now tell me what you wish me to do for you?”
After a long talk about the matter it was decided that there should be two great changes made. First, the eyes of the rabbit should be so increased in power that in the future they would be able to see by night as well as by day. Second, in all the North land where much snow falls during many months of the year the rabbits of that region should change their coats for the winter season into a beautiful white color like the snow.
And the rabbits of the North land now have a much better time than they had formerly. In their soft white coats they can glide away from their enemies, or they can sometimes escape notice by remaining perfectly still on the white earth.