The Storykeepers Project #30: Great-Uncle Étienne and the Game Warden


Michigan’s foremost raconteur, Genot “Winter Elk” Picor, brings another insightful and entertaining tale to The Storykeepers Project. Drawing on the ages-old hunting traditions of the French-Canadians, Métis, and First Peoples, he reaches us on many levels with this sharp and funny tale of Great Uncle Étienne and his encounter with a changing world.

As told by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor

François Mercier, voyageur canadien
Depiction of real-life François Mercier, voyageur canadien, par Notman.

One afternoon, a very long time ago, Paul André and his mixed blood cousin Genot Élan de L’Hiver were reminiscing about the old days and sharing stories from their youth. Of course, every story is only as good as can be embellished, and since they were French, this tendency came naturally to them. Their arms would wave, and their voices would rise and fall. Their faces contorted as they played each and every character. As one cousin told a story, the other would listen intently, waiting for that spark of humor to ignite the expectant climax of the tale.

After having shared several good laughs between them, a reclining Paul André propped himself up on his elbow.

“Do you remember the stories Pipi (grandfather) and Mimi (grandmother) told us when we were children?” asked Paul André. “I could never tell what was true and what was make-believe.”

Cornelius Krieghoff, le indien chasseur

“Do I remember? How could I forget!” replied Genot. “There was the story Mimi told us during Lent…about the farmer who refused to go to Mass on Good Friday. Instead, he worked his field planting potatoes, and when it came time to harvest his crop, all the spuds had turned to stones.”

“It served him right for not going to church,” said Paul André.

“I always liked the story about Madame Maingauche, the old woman who could change herself into a frog,” said Paul André. “She lived off the cream she stole from her neighbor’s cow barn. When the laitier (dairy farmer) caught her, he took her into the house and tossed her onto the hot pot-bellied stove. The frog leaped off the stove and out the door. When Madame Maingauche came by a few days later, she could barely walk. Her hands and feet were blistered!”

“I never trusted that old woman,” said Genot. “I still say she changed herself into mouse and ate all the grain in our storehouse.”

Paul André continued on.

“I always got a chuckle when Pipi told the story of how you got your dark skin and black hair,” said Paul André with a grin.

Genot grimaced. He knew what was coming. He had heard that story a hundred times.

“How you fell from the black walnut tree and landed in a pool of rotting black walnut juice…forever stained!” roared Paul André.

“I know,” said Genot. “And before that day, I was blonde, blue-eyed and pale as a February full-moon…encore et encore.”

“Do you remember the story of great-uncle Étienne and the game warden?” asked Paul André?

Genot furrowed his brow and gave Paul André a puzzled look.

“I’ve never heard that story,” replied Genot.

Paul André sat up straight and leaned forward. His piercing blue eyes reached deep into Genot’s soul as he began the story.

“Well, as Pipi used to tell me, great-uncle Étienne was a hunter. He learned this skill from The People who lived here before our French ancestors arrived. Great uncle Étienne was a friend of The People. He would share his bounty with them. He saved the choicest parts for the families with the greatest needs. He never wasted and only took what he needed.”

Feeling slighted for never having heard this story, Genot urged Paul André to continue.

“Great uncle Étienne did this for many years up until the Anglais (English) arrived. The tradition of sharing and gift giving with The People soon gave way to new rules and regulations brought by the English.”

“One day, great-uncle Étienne was out hunting along what is now the river road. When he came out of the woods, he was dragging a deer he had field dressed. Well, standing right there in the path was a government game warden with his hands on his hips and a stern look on his face.

“I see you have yourself a fine deer,” said the game warden. “Let me see your permit!”

“Permit?” asked great-uncle Étienne. “I don’t have a permit. I’ve never needed a permit before. I’ve hunted here for years. Why do I now need a permit?”

“This is the king’s land,” said the game warden, “and that is the king’s deer.”

“No it’s not!” said great-uncle Étienne, “It’s my deer. I hunted it. I field dressed it. I dragged it out of the woods. Where is this king that I might have a word with him?”

“The king lives in Great Britain, and I am his agent here on British land,” answered the game warden. “Now, you must have a permit or pay a fine. If you don’t have a permit and can’t pay the fine, then you will go to jail, and I will take the deer from you as evidence.”

“What?!” protested great-uncle Étienne. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. You tell me it’s the king’s deer, but he won’t be eating at my table. The king won’t be using the hide to keep warm. The deer’s antlers won’t be mounted above his fireplace! I don’t have money to buy a permit or to pay a fine!”

By now, Paul André was on his feet, waving his arms about in a most frantic manner, just as great-uncle Étienne would have done. “But great uncle Étienne had a plan.”

“He did?” inquired Genot as he sat cross-legged on the ground. “What did he do?”

Paul André squared his broad shoulders. His voice took on a more serious tone.

Chasseur Canayen photo @James LaFOrest
Chasseur canayen; photo © James LaForest

“Great uncle Étienne said to the game warden, ‘then I must tell you, in all fairness, I have an even finer deer waiting to be dragged out of the forest. If you wait right here, I’ll bring that one out too.’”

“The game warden, surprised and impressed by great-uncle Étienne’s honesty, agreed to stand there in the path until our great-uncle returned with the other deer.”

“Why would great-uncle Étienne admit to harvesting another deer if he didn’t have a permit or money to pay a fine?” asked Genot.

“Bouffon!” scolded Paul André as he cuffed Genot upside his head. ”Ne comprends-tu pas? There WAS no ‘other deer.’ Great uncle Étienne just made that up, and that’s how he made his escape. But if you walk along the river road, some say that game warden is still waiting on the trail for great-uncle Étienne to drag that other deer out of the forest!”

“Oh….now I understand,” said Genot with a nervous laugh.

Well my friends, if ever you’re out for a stroll along the old river road, and you hear a rustling in the bushes, it’s probably Genot looking to see if that old game warden is still waiting for great-uncle Étienne!



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