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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 188





TWO REVENGES

It is no more possible to predicate the conduct of an Indian than that of a woman. In Detroit lived Wasson, one of the warriors of the dreaded Pontiac, who had felt some tender movings of the spirit toward a girl of his tribe. The keeper of the old red mill that stood at the foot of Twenty-fourth Street adopted her, with the consent of her people, and did his best to civilize her. But Wasson kept watch. He presently discovered that whenever the miller was away a candle shone in the window until a figure wrapped in a military cloak emerged from the shadows, knocked, and was admitted. On the night that Wasson identified his rival as Colonel Campbell, an English officer, he stole into the girl's room through the window and cut her down with his hatchet. Colonel Campbell, likewise, he slew after Pontiac had made prisoners of the garrison. The mill was shunned, after that, for the figure of a girl, with a candle in her hand, frightened so many people by moving about the place that it was torn down in 1795.

But the red man was not always hostile. Kenen, a Huron, loved a half-breed girl, whom he could never persuade into a betrothal. One day he accidentally wounded a white man in the wood, and lifting him on his shoulder he hurried with him to camp. It was not long before he found that the soft glances of the half-breed girl were doing more to cure his victim than the incantations of the medicine-man, and in a fit of anger, one day, he plucked forth his knife and fell upon the couple. Her look of innocent surprise shamed him. He rushed away, with an expression of self-contempt, and flung his weapon far into the river. Soon after, the white man was captured by the Iroquois. They were preparing to put him to the torture when a tall Indian leaped in among them, with the cry, "I am Kenen. Let the pale face go, for a Huron chief will take his place." And, as the bonds fell from the prisoner's wrists and ankles, he added, "Go and comfort the White Fawn." The white man was allowed to enter a canoe and row away, but as he did so his heart misgave him: the words of a deathsong and the crackling of flames had reached his ears.





HIAWATHA

The story of Hiawatha—known about the lakes as Manabozho and in the East as Glooskapis the most widely disseminated of the Indian legends. He came to earth on a Messianic mission, teaching justice, fortitude, and forbearance to the red men, showing them how to improve their handicraft, ridding the woods and hills of monsters, and finally going up to heaven amid cries of wonder from those on whose behalf he had worked and counselled. He was brought up as a child among them, took to wife the Dakota girl, Minnehaha ("Laughing Water"), hunted, fought, and lived as a warrior; yet, when need came, he could change his form to any shape of bird, fish, or plant that he wished. He spoke to friends in the voice of a woman and to enemies in tones like thunder. A giant in form, few dared to resist him in battle, yet he suffered the common pains and adversities of his kind, and while fishing in one of the great lakes in his white stone canoe, that moved whither he willed it, he and his boat were swallowed by the king of fishes. He killed the creature by beating at its heart with a stone club, and when the gulls had preyed on its flesh, as it lay floating on the surface, until he could see daylight, he clambered through the opening they had made and returned to his lodge.

Believing that his father had killed his mother, he fought against him for several days, driving him to the edge of the world before peace was made between them. The evil Pearl Feather had slain one of his relatives, and to avenge that crime Hiawatha pressed through a guard of fire-breathing serpents which surrounded that fell personage, shot them with arrows as they struck at him, and having thus reached the lodge of his enemy he engaged him in combat. All day long they battled to no purpose, but toward evening a woodpecker flew overhead and cried, "Your enemy has but one vulnerable point. Shoot at his scalp-lock." Hiawatha did so and his foe fell dead. Anointing his finger with the blood of his foe, he touched the bird, and the red mark is found on the head of every woodpecker to this day. A duck having led him a long chase when he was trying to capture it for food, he angrily kicked it, thus flattening its back, bowing its legs, despoiling it of half of its tail-feathers, and that is why, to this day, ducks are awkward.

In return for its service in leading him to where the prince of serpents lived, he invested the kingfisher with a medal and rumpled the feathers of its head in putting it on; hence all kingfishers have rumpled knots and white spots on their breasts. After slaying the prince of serpents he travelled all over America, doing good work, and on reaching Onondaga he organized a friendly league of thirteen tribes that endured for many years. This closed his mission. As he stood in the assemblage of chiefs a white bird, appearing at an immense height, descended like a meteor, struck Hiawatha's daughter with such force as to drive her remains into the earth and shattered itself against the ground. Its silvery feathers were scattered, and these were preserved by the beholders as ornaments for their hair—so the custom of wearing feather head-dresses endures to our time. Though filled with consternation, Hiawatha recognized the summons. He addressed his companions in tones of such sweetness and terms of such eloquence as had never been heard before, urging them to live uprightly and to enforce good laws, and unhappy circumstance!—promising to come back when the time was ripe. The expectancy of his return has led to ghost-dances and similar demonstrations of enmity against the whites. When he had ended he entered his stone canoe and began to rise in air to strains of melting music. Higher and higher he arose, the white vessel shining in the sunlight, until he disappeared in the spaces of the sky.


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