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The Legends of the Iroquois

The Legends of the Iroquois
Title: The Legends of the Iroquois
Release Date: 2018-11-03
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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This is one of an edition of 500 copies printedOctober, 1902, of which this is number

The Legends of the Iroquois


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The Legends of the


From Authoritative
Notes and Studies



A. Wessels Company



Copyright, 1902
A. Wessels Company
New York

(Published October, 1902)



About Indian Legends 9
The Authority 15
The Confederation of the Iroquois 23
Birth of the Arbutus 41
A Legend of the River 47
Legends of the Corn 51
The First Winter 55
The Great Mosquito 59
The Story of Oniata 63
The Mirror in the Water 73
The Buzzard's Covering 77
Origin of the Violet 81
The Turtle Clan 85
The Healing Waters 89
The Sacrifice of Aliquipiso 99
Why the Animals do not Talk 103
The Message Bearers 119
The Wise Sachem's Gift 123
The Flying Head 125
The Ash Tree 127
The Hunter 129
Hiawatha 137
The Peacemaker 149
An Unwelcome Visitor 155
Bits of Folk-Lore 161
The Happy Hunting-Grounds 169
The Sacred Stone of the Oneidas 187
Notes to the Legends 197


About Indian Legends




HE Indians neither built monuments norwrote books. The only records theymade were those picture writingsknown in after years as wampum,which were mere symbols, recording feats of arms.Consequently, all that is known of them prior to thecoming to America of Europeans is traditional orconjectural. Not a page of their history has everbeen written by any save their foes, and the historythus written is so distorted and marred by prejudicethat much of it is misleading.

In the veins of the red man ran the wild poetryand imagination of the hunt, the chase, the battle,the capture, the dance, the forests, the valleys,the mountains, the streams, lakes and rivers, for athousand generations; and yet they were withoutaccomplishment in letters or arts. Is it, therefore,strange that they held in great reverence the traditionsand legends common in their tribes—reveredthem as the early Christians revered the first copiesof the sacred writings? These legends were toldover again and again for unknown years. They 10 were transmitted from one to another, as the unwrittenwork of Freemasonry has been transmittedby frequent and careful repetition. They were notbandied about like ordinary stories, but, repeatedwith something of a religious or sacramental spirit,as though the tales imparted an especial virtue tothose who learned them from reliable sources; wereheld as sacred as we hold the transactions of anhonored secret society.

The legends common to one clan were known allover the continent wherever Indians of that clanlived, and there is little doubt that many of thelegends of the Iroquois can be found in some formamong those of the Western Indian tribes of thepresent time. Yet the traditions of the Iroquoisherein contained are known positively to be twohundred years old, and are confidently believed tobe the stories told by the red men thousands ofyears ago.

The Indians never explained anything by thescience of natural philosophy. Every effect had tothem a mysterious, supernatural cause. They couldnot comprehend how sound thrown against an obstructingsurface would be repeated and form anecho. Instead they found supernatural reasons for thephenomenon, and certainly very pretty ones. Only 11 the absurdity of their ideas may appear to some, forin the light of present intelligence they are absurd,but, none the less, they are beautiful. If our forefathershad taken more interest in the peoples theyfound on the Western Continent, spending less oftheir energies in devising plans for cheating the Indiansout of their furs and lands—a policy their descendantshave closely followed and admirably succeededin—our libraries might contain volumes offairy tales that would delight the youth of manygenerations.

It is not too much to ask the reader to rememberthat these stories were told in the homes of the redmen many centuries ago, long before they learnedfrom the whites the cruel, heartless, treacherousand vindictive characteristics that unfair history hasfastened upon them as natural and inherent traits.If this is borne in mind, the perusal and study ofthese stories will, it is believed, give as much pleasureto the reader as the study of the Indian character,made necessary in order to properly clothe theiralmost forgotten legends with something like theiroriginal embellishment, has given the author.


The Authority




T is not the purpose of this volume todeal to any considerable extent with thehistory of the Indians, but simply topresent some of the legends of the Iroquois.To the reader or student, however, is due abrief statement as to the authority from which thefolk-lore contained herein has been drawn, that theremay remain no question as to its reliability.

A few years after the close of the war of theRevolution one of the pioneers of Western NewYork, who was in the service of the Holland LandCompany, made the acquaintance and won thefriendship of the Seneca chief, the Cornplanter,(Gy-ant-wah-chi, or, as written by some authorities,Gar-yan-wah-ga). The friendship continued aslong as the two men lived and was marked by itscordiality. In their intercourse they were throwntogether many winters, and the Cornplanter wasled to talk freely of his people, their past, theirpresent condition, and their future, and it was duringthese confidences that the Indian told his whitefriend many of the Iroquois legends. To the recollections 16 of the Cornplanter was added the knowledgepossessed upon the subject by the Nephew(Governor Blacksnake), who resided upon thesame reservation and in the immediate vicinity, andthat of "other old men and leaders of these Indians."The legends were preserved in outline notes uponthe blank pages of some diaries and civil engineerfield-books which the white man was accustomedto keep; and these outlines, with full oral explanationscame finally into the possession of the presentwriter. About twenty-five years ago the work oftheir further verification by means of inquiries madeof some of the most intelligent Indians in New YorkState was commenced. Many of those consultedhad only imperfect knowledge of the legends, othersknew one or more of the stories, and, by aid of theoutlines referred to above, were able to assist in thework of their restoration. Among those who gavemost valuable assistance was Simon Blackchief andhis mother. The latter spoke only in the Indiantongue, and her version of such of the stories as shehad heard in her girlhood was translated by herson. Chief John Mountpleasant, Harrison Halftown,Elias Johnson and John Kinjocity also gave valuableassistance. The late B. Giles Casler, who was theUnited States Indian Agent for New York State for 17 a term of years, accompanied the author upon anumber of visits to several of the reservations.Through these helps, and by a study pursued underthe favoring circumstance of former residence inclose proximity to the Allegany Reservation, thepresent writer believes that he has succeeded inbringing these legends to a point approximatingtheir original beauty. In their elaboration care hasbeen taken not to depart from the simplicity anddirectness of statement characteristic of the Indian,and only such additions that seemed to be warrantedhave been made. Whenever the primary authorityfor a legend is other than the Cornplanter, the factis mentioned in the appended notes.

Although the Cornplanter was a half-breed, hewas more thoroughly acquainted with the traditionsof his people than any contemporary chief in thenations comprising the Iroquois. He was born inConewangus, on the Genesee river, probably in theyear 1732, and died on Cornplanter Island in the Alleganyriver, in the State of Pennsylvania, near the NewYork line, March 7, 1836, at the age of one hundredand four years. He was the son of John Abeel (alsowritten O'Bail), a trader among the Indians. Hismother was an Indian Princess of the Turtle Clan.

From his earliest recollection the Cornplanter had 18 a pronounced hatred of the whites, caused, nodoubt, by the remembrance of the cruel treatment towhich his mother was subjected by his father, whoseems to have taken an Indian wife in order that hemight gain the friendship of the Indians, and thussecure good bargains in trade. The errors of historyhave led us to believe that love or respect fora mother were sentiments almost foreign to the Indianrace. These feelings always existed amongthem, however, to a much greater degree than weare willing to concede, though their respect andlove for women and children were greater beforetheir simple natures were blunted and distorted bythe vicious practices of the invading Europeans.

The Cornplanter spent his early years at the council-fires,and became one of the most celebratedorators in the Confederation of the Six Nations. Hetraveled from village to village and sought wisdomfrom the sages of the Iroquois. It was during thisportion of his life that he listened to the traditionsthat had descended from chief to chief over a periodof three centuries. When he had acquired a reputationfor bravery and woodcraft second to none of hisrace, he was unanimously chosen Chief of the Senecas,and came at once into prominence as the leaderof the war-parties of that nation in alliance with the 19 French against the English. He was present at thedefeat of Braddock, and, for a long time, by the mostdaring and cruel raids on the frontier settlements,spread destruction in the Mohawk Valley and inWestern New York. He was at that time an implacablefoe to all white people, and the names ofCornplanter, Brant, and Red Jacket were synonymouswith capture, torture and massacre. They werethe chief councilors and leaders of their people andfought against every overture made by the whites.In 1779, near the mouth of Redbank Creek, inPennsylvania, the Cornplanter, with a large force ofIndians, engaged in battle against a party of whites,led by Captain Samuel Brady. The engagementterminated in favor of the whites, and many of theIndians were killed or wounded. The survivorsfled to the river, then swollen with the spring rains,and dashed into its current. Few succeeded incrossing; one by one they were swept down thestream or sank, pierced by the bullets of Brady'smen. The Cornplanter reached the opposite shorealmost alone. From that moment the high spirit ofthe daring chieftain began to falter and he soughtpeace, making, in 1791, a treaty with "TheGreat Chief of the Thirteen Fires." The medal andother mementos given him by Washington are 20 still preserved by the descendants of the chief. Hewas put in possession of the island that bears

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