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Bragging Rights

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Occasionally, boys between the ages of six and sixty-five will exaggerate—tell stretchers, as Huck Finn called them—to impress other boys. It's a kind of contest, and it's universal, as the British adventurer, Jonathan Carver discovered one evening in 1766 as he sat around a Chippewa Indian campfire along the Mississippi upstream from Prairie du Chien.

The Chippewa were explaining their lack of greed or jealousy over possessions. Aside from personal belongings such as drinking gourds or knives, no Chippewa desires to possess more goods than another. An Indian who finds himself with a surplus will automatically give it to another Indian in need.

Carver was amused. This was clearly one of these stretchers. It was human nature to want more than another person. The Chippewa grew even more unbelievable. A couple who had lost a child was often given a slave child to replace it, which the couple raised and loved as their own.

When the Chippewa had finished their tall tale, it was Jonathan Carver's turn. He began to tell them about gold, which he was hoping to find during his explorations. The Chippewa were skeptical. Why would anyone go out of his way to amass a metal as soft and useless as gold?

Carver tried to explain that gold was money, and what money could do. The Chippewa were surprised that anyone would deliberately want money. Money, they felt, was responsible for all the mischiefs that plagued the Europeans: treachery, plundering, and even murder.

Then when Carver went onto explain that in England, men were judged high or low in society by the amount of money each one had, the Chippewa could not believe that any honor should be associated with possessing money. Their eyebrows went up.

But when Carver told them that English prisons were full of men who were there because they lacked money, it was too much for the Chippewas. Jonathan Carver had clearly won the tall tale contest hands down.

A society like that, exhibiting such a total lack of humanity, they could not even imagine. Why, the Chippewa told Carver, such a people would have to be called "savages."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.