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Niagara






Category: THE HUDSON AND ITS HILLS

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The cataract of Niagara (properly pronounced Nee-ah-gah-rah), or
Oniahgarah, is as fatal as it is fascinating, beautiful, sublime, and the
casualties occurring there justify the tradition that the Thundering
Water asks two victims every year. It was reputed, before white men
looked for the first time on these falls--and what thumping yarns they
told about them!--that two lives were lost here annually, and this
average has been kept up by men and women who fall into the flood through
accident, recklessness or despair, while bloody battles have been fought
on the shores, and vessels have been hurled over the brink, to be dashed
to splinters on the rocks.

The sound of the cataract was declared to be the voice of a mighty spirit
that dwelt in the waters, and in former centuries the Indians offered to
it a yearly sacrifice. This sacrifice was a maiden of the tribe, who was
sent over in a white canoe, decorated with fruit and flowers, and the
girls contended for this honor, for the brides of Manitou were objects of
a special grace in the happy hunting-grounds. The last recorded sacrifice
was in 1679, when Lelawala, the daughter of chief Eagle Eye, was chosen,
in spite of the urgings and protests of the chevalier La Salle, who had
been trying to restrain the people from their idolatries by an exposition
of the Christian dogma. To his protests he received the unexpected
answer, Your words witness against you. Christ, you say, set us an
example. We will follow it. Why should one death be great, while our
sacrifice is horrible? So the tribe gathered at the bank to watch the
sailing of the white canoe. The chief watched the embarkation with the
stoicism usual to the Indian when he is observed by others, but when the
little bark swung out into the current his affection mastered him, and he
leaped into his own canoe and tried to overtake his daughter. In a moment
both were beyond the power of rescue. After their death they were changed
into spirits of pure strength and goodness, and live in a crystal heaven
so far beneath the fall that its roaring is a music to them: she, the
maid of the mist; he, the ruler of the cataract. Another version of the
legend makes a lover and his mistress the chief actors. Some years later
a patriarch of the tribe and all his sons went over the fall when the
white men had seized their lands, preferring death to flight or war.

In about the year 200 the Stone Giants waded across the river below the
falls on their northward march. These beings were descended from an
ancient family, and being separated from their stock in the year 150 by
the breaking of a vine bridge across the Mississippi, they left that
region. Indian Pass, in the Adirondacks, bore the names of Otneyarheh,
Stony Giants; Ganosgwah, Giants Clothed in Stone; and Dayohjegago, Place
Where the Storm Clouds Fight the Great Serpent. Giants and serpents were
held to be harmful inventions of the Evil Spirit, and the Lightning god,
catching up clouds as he stood on the crags, broke them open, tore their
lightnings out and hurled them against the monsters. These cannibals had
almost exterminated the Iroquois, for they were of immense size and had
made themselves almost invincible by rolling daily in the sand until
their flesh was like stone. The Holder of the Heavens, viewing their evil
actions from on high, came down disguised as one of their number--he used
often to meditate on Manitou Rock, at the Whirlpool--and leading them to
a valley near Onondaga, on pretence of guiding them to a fairer country,
he stood on a hill above them and hurled rocks upon their heads until
all, save one, who fled into the north, were dead. Yet, in the fulness of
time, new children of the Stone Giants (mail-clad Europeans?) entered the
region again and were destroyed by the Great Spirit,--oddly enough where
the famous fraud known as the Cardiff giant was alleged to have been
found. The Onondagas believed this statue to be one of their ancient
foes.





Next: The Deformed Of Zoar

Previous: The Retreat From Mahopac



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