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Pah-hah-undootah The Red Head

Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha


As spring approaches, the Indians return from their wintering grounds
to their villages, engage in feasting, soon exhaust their stock of
provisions, and begin to suffer for the want of food. Such of the
hunters as are of an active and enterprising cast of character, take
the occasion to separate from the mass of the population, and remove to
some neighboring locality in the forest, which promises the means of
subsistence during this season of general lassitude and enjoyment.

Among the families who thus separated themselves, on a certain occasion,
there was a man called Odshedoph Waucheentongah, or the Child of Strong
Desires, who had a wife and one son. After a day's travel he reached an
ample wood with his family, which was thought to be a suitable place to
encamp. The wife fixed the lodge, while the husband went out to hunt.
Early in the evening he returned with a deer. Being tired and thirsty he
asked his son to go to the river for some water. The son replied that it
was dark and he was afraid. He urged him to go, saying that his mother,
as well as himself, was tired, and the distance to the water was very
short. But no persuasion was of any avail. He refused to go. "Ah, my
son," said the father, at last, "if you are afraid to go to the river,
you will never kill the Red Head."

The boy was deeply mortified by this observation. It seemed to call up
all his latent energies. He mused in silence. He refused to eat, and
made no reply when spoken to.

The next day he asked his mother to dress the skin of the deer, and make
it into moccasins for him, while he busied himself in preparing a bow
and arrows. As soon as these things were done, he left the lodge one
morning at sunrise, without saying a word to his father or mother. He
fired one of his arrows into the air, which fell westward. He took that
course, and at night coming to the spot where the arrow had fallen, was
rejoiced to find it piercing the heart of a deer. He refreshed himself
with a meal of the venison, and the next morning fired another arrow.
After travelling all day, he found it also in another deer. In this
manner he fired four arrows, and every evening found that he had killed
a deer. What was very singular, however, was, that he left the arrows
sticking in the carcasses, and passed on without withdrawing them. In
consequence of this, he had no arrow for the fifth day, and was in great
distress at night for the want of food. At last he threw himself upon
the ground in despair, concluding that he might as well perish there as
go further. But he had not lain long before he heard a hollow, rumbling
noise, in the ground beneath him. He sprang up, and discovered at a
distance the figure of a human being, walking with a stick. He looked
attentively and saw that the figure was walking in a wide beaten path,
in a prairie, leading from a lodge to a lake. To his surprise, this
lodge was at no great distance. He approached a little nearer and
concealed himself. He soon discovered that the figure was no other than
that of the terrible witch, Wok-on-kahtohn-zooeyah-pee-kah-haitchee, or
the little old woman who makes war. Her path to the lake was perfectly
smooth and solid, and the noise our adventurer had heard, was caused by
the striking of her walking staff upon the ground. The top of this staff
was decorated with a string of the toes and bills of birds of every
kind, who at every stroke of the stick, fluttered and sung their various
notes in concert.

She entered her lodge and laid off her mantle, which was entirely
composed of the scalps of women. Before folding it, she shook it
several times, and at every shake the scalps uttered loud shouts of
laughter, in which the old hag joined. Nothing could have frightened
him more than this horrific exhibition. After laying by the cloak she
came directly to him. She informed him that she had known him from the
time he left his father's lodge, and watched his movements. She told
him not to fear or despair, for she would be his friend and protector.
She invited him into her lodge, and gave him a supper. During the
repast, she inquired of him his motives for visiting her. He related
his history, stated the manner in which he had been disgraced, and the
difficulties he labored under. She cheered him with the assurance of
her friendship, and told him he would be a brave man yet.

She then commenced the exercise of her power upon him. His hair being
very short, she took a large leaden comb, and after drawing it through
his hair several times, it became of a handsome feminine length. She
then proceeded to dress him as a female, furnishing him with the
necessary garments, and decorated his face with paints of the most
beautiful dye. She gave him a bowl of shining metal. She directed him to
put in his girdle a blade of scented sword-grass, and to proceed the
next morning to the banks of the lake, which was no other than that over
which the Red Head reigned. Now Pah-hah-undootah, or the Red Head, was a
most powerful sorcerer and the terror of all the country, living upon an
island in the centre of the lake.

She informed him that there would be many Indians on the island, who,
as soon as they saw him use the shining bowl to drink with, would come
and solicit him to be their wife, and to take him over to the island.
These offers he was to refuse, and say that he had come a great
distance to be the wife of the Red Head, and that if the chief could
not come for her in his own canoe, she should return to her village.
She said that as soon as the Red Head heard of this, he would come for
her in his own canoe, in which she must embark. On reaching the island
he must consent to be his wife, and in the evening induce him to take a
walk out of the village, when he was to take the first opportunity to
cut off his head with the blade of grass. She also gave him general
advice how he was to conduct himself to sustain his assumed character
of a woman. His fear would scarcely permit him to accede to this plan,
but the recollection of his father's words and looks decided him.

Early in the morning, he left the witch's lodge, and took the hard
beaten path to the banks of the lake. He reached the water at a point
directly opposite the Red Head's village. It was a beautiful day. The
heavens were clear, and the sun shone out in the greatest effulgence.
He had not been long there, having sauntered along the beach, when he
displayed the glittering bowl, by dipping water from the lake. Very
soon a number of canoes came off from the island. The men admired his
dress, and were charmed with his beauty, and a great number made
proposals of marriage. These he promptly declined, agreeably to the
concerted plan. When the facts were reported to the Red Head, he
ordered his canoe to be put in the water by his chosen men, and crossed
over to see this wonderful girl. As he came near the shore, he saw that
the ribs of the sorcerer's canoe were formed of living rattlesnakes,
whose heads pointed outward to guard him from enemies. Our adventurer
had no sooner stepped into the canoe than they began to hiss and
rattle, which put him in a great fright. But the magician spoke to
them, after which they became pacified and quiet, and all at once they
were at the landing upon the island. The marriage immediately took
place, and the bride made presents of various valuables which had been
furnished by the old witch.

As they were sitting in the lodge surrounded by friends and relatives,
the mother of the Red Head regarded the face of her new daughter-in-law
for a long time with fixed attention. From this scrutiny she was
convinced that this singular and hasty marriage augured no good to her
son. She drew her husband aside and disclosed to him her suspicions:
"This can be no female," said she; "the figure and manners, the
countenance, and more especially the expression of the eyes, are,
beyond a doubt, those of a man." Her husband immediately rejected her
suspicions, and rebuked her severely for the indignity offered to her
daughter-in-law. He became so angry, that seizing the first thing that
came to hand, which happened to be his pipe stem, he beat her
unmercifully. This act requiring to be explained to the spectators, the
mock bride immediately rose up, and assuming an air of offended
dignity, told the Red Head that after receiving so gross an insult from
his relatives he could not think of remaining with him as his wife, but
should forthwith return to his village and friends. He left the lodge
followed by the Red Head, and walked until he came upon the beach of
the island, near the spot where they had first landed. Red Head
entreated him to remain. He pressed him by every motive which he
thought might have weight, but they were all rejected. During this
conference they had seated themselves upon the ground, and Red Head, in
great affliction, reclined his head upon his fancied wife's lap. This
was the opportunity ardently sought for, and it was improved to the
best advantage. Every means was taken to lull him to sleep, and partly
by a soothing manner, and partly by a seeming compliance with his
request, the object was at last attained. Red Head fell into a sound
sleep. Our aspirant for the glory of a brave man then drew his blade of
grass, and drawing it once across the neck of the Red Head completely
severed the head from the body.

He immediately stripped off his dress, seized the bleeding head, and
plunging into the lake, swam safely over to the main shore. He had
scarcely reached it, when, looking back, he saw amid the darkness the
torches of persons come out in search of the new-married couple. He
listened till they had found the headless body, and he heard their
piercing shrieks of sorrow, as he took his way to the lodge of his kind

She received him with rejoicing. She admired his prudence, and told him
his bravery could never be questioned again. Lifting up the head, she
said he need only have brought the scalp. She cut off a small piece for
herself, and told him he might now return with the head, which would be
evidence of an achievement that would cause the Indians to respect him.
In your way home, she said, you will meet with but one difficulty.
Maunkah Keesh Woccaung, or the spirit of the Earth, requires an offering
from those who perform extraordinary achievements. As you walk along in
a prairie, there will be an earthquake. The earth will open and divide
the prairie in the middle. Take this partridge and throw it into the
opening, and instantly spring over it. All this happened precisely as it
had been foretold. He cast the partridge into the crevice and leapt over
it. He then proceeded without obstruction to a place near his village,
where he secreted his trophy. On entering the village he found his
parents had returned from the place of their spring encampment, and were
in great sorrow for their son, whom they supposed to be lost. One and
another of the young men had presented themselves to the disconsolate
parents, and said, "Look up, I am your son." Having been often deceived
in this manner, when their own son actually presented himself, they sat
with their heads down, and with their eyes nearly blinded with weeping.
It was some time before they could be prevailed upon to bestow a glance
upon him. It was still longer before they recognized him for their son;
when he recounted his adventures they believed him mad. The young men
laughed at him. He left the lodge and soon returned with his trophy. It
was soon recognized. All doubts of the reality of his adventures now
vanished. He was greeted with joy and placed among the first warriors of
the nation. He finally became a chief, and his family were ever after
respected and esteemed.

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