Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes

Page: 30

[80] he said. She made no answer. Only she raised again the death wail.

Then the chief thought. Perhaps only his spirit had returned. Perhaps his body was yet on the field of battle. So he followed the trail back to the battle field. It was a four days’ journey. For three days he saw no one as he journeyed. The fourth day, on the edge of the plain, he saw a fire in his trail. He walked to one side and the other; the fire moved also and always burned before him. Then he turned in another direction. The fire was again in his trail. Then he sprang suddenly, and jumped through the flame.

At once he awoke. He was sitting on the ground, with his back against a tree. Over his head in the branches sat a large war eagle. Now Eagle was his guardian, because he had come to him in his fasting vision in his youth.

Then the wounded chief arose. He followed the trail of the war party to his village. Four days he followed the homeward trail. He came to a stream which flowed between him and his wigwam, therefore he gave the whoop which means the return of an absent friend. Then the Indians began to think. They said, “No one is absent. Perhaps it is an enemy.” So they sent over a canoe with armed men. Thus the chief landed among his own people.

[81] Then the chief gave them instructions. He said it was pleasing to a spirit to have a fire burning at the grave for four days after the body was buried. This was because it is four days’ journey on the death trail to the Ghost-land; so the spirit needed a fire at his camping place every evening.

Also he said the spirit needed his bow and arrow, his best robes, in his journey. Therefore the Ojibwas burn a fire four nights at a new grave, that the spirit may be happy in following the Trail of the Dead to the Spirit-land.[16]

[16] Thus they buried Minnehaha.
And at night a fire was lighted,
On her grave four times was kindled,
For her soul upon its journey
To the Islands of the Blessed.
From his doorway Hiawatha
Saw it burning in the forest,
Lighting up the gloomy hemlocks;
From his sleepless bed uprising,
From the bed of Minnehaha,
Stood and watched it at the doorway,
That it might not be extinguished,
Might not leave her in the darkness.




AFTER a man dies, he must travel far on the death trail. It journeys to the Darkening-land, where Sun slips over the edge of the Earth-plain. Then the spirit comes to a deep, rapid stream. There are steep and rugged hills on each side, so that one may not follow a land trail. The Trail of the Dead leads over the stream, and the only bridge is a pine log. It is a very slippery log, and even the bark has been peeled off. Also on the other side of the bridge are six persons. They have rocks in their hands, and throw them at spirits when they are just at the middle of the log.

Now when an evil spirit sees the stones coming, he tries to dodge them. Therefore he slips off the log. He falls far into the water below, where are evil things. The water carries him around and around, as in a whirlpool, and then brings him back again among the evil things. Sometimes evil spirit climbs up on the rocks and looks over into the country of the good spirits. But he cannot go there.

Now the good spirit walks over safely. He does not [83] mind the stones and does not dodge them. He crosses the stream and goes to a good hunting land. It is more beautiful there than on the Earth-plain. There are no storms. The sky is always blue, and the grass is green, and there are many buffaloes. Therefore there is always feasting and dancing.




ONCE Shingebiss, the duck, lived all alone in his wigwam on the shore of a lake. It was winter and very cold. Ice had frozen over the top of the water. Shingebiss had but four logs of wood in his wigwam, but each log would burn one month and there were but four winter months.[17]

[17] And at night Kabibonokka
To the lodge came, wild and wailing,
Heaped the snow in drifts about it,
Shouted down into the smoke-flue,
Shook the lodge poles in his fury,
Flapped the curtain of the doorway,
Shingebis, the diver, feared not,
Shingebis, the diver, cared not;
Four great logs had he for firewood,
One for each moon of the winter,
And for food the fishes served him,
By his blazing fire he sat there,
Warm and merry, eating, laughing,
Singing, “O Kabibonokka,
You are but my fellow mortal!”
From Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology.
Picture Writing. An Ojibwa Meda Song.

Shingebiss had no fear of the cold. He would go [85] out on the coldest day. He would seek for places where rushes and flags grew through the ice. He pulled them up and dived through the broken ice for fish. Thus he had plenty of food. Thus he went to his wigwam dragging long strings of fish behind him on the ice.