Tau-wau-chee-hezkaw Or The White Feather
Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha
A DACOTAH LEGEND.
There was an old man living in the centre of a forest, with his
grandson, whom he had taken when quite an infant. The child had no
parents, brothers, or sisters; they had all been destroyed by six large
giants, and he had been informed that he had no other relative living
besides his grandfather. The band to whom he belonged had put up their
children on a wager in a race against those of the giants, and had thus
lost them. There was an old tradition in the band, that it would
produce a great man, who would wear a white feather, and who would
astonish every one with his skill and feats of bravery.
The grandfather, as soon as the child could play about, gave him a bow
and arrows to amuse himself. He went into the edge of the woods one
day, and saw a rabbit; but not knowing what it was, he ran home and
described it to his grandfather. He told him what it was, that its
flesh was good to eat, and that if he would shoot one of his arrows
into its body, he would kill it. He did so, and brought the little
animal home, which he asked his grandfather to boil, that they might
feast on it. He humored the boy in this, and encouraged him to go on in
acquiring the knowledge of hunting, until he could kill deer and larger
animals; and he became, as he grew up, an expert hunter. As they lived
alone, and away from other Indians, his curiosity was excited to know
what was passing in the world. One day he came to the edge of a
prairie, where he saw ashes like those at his grandfather's lodge, and
lodge-poles left standing. He returned and inquired whether his
grandfather put up the poles and made the fire. He was answered no, nor
did he believe that he had seen anything of the kind. It was all
Another day he went out to see what there was curious; and, on entering
the woods, he heard a voice calling out to him, "Come here, you
destined wearer of the White Feather. You do not yet wear it, but you
are worthy of it. Return home and take a short nap. You will dream of
hearing a voice, which will tell you to rise and smoke. You will see in
your dream a pipe, smoking sack, and a large white feather. When you
awake you will find these articles. Put the feather on your head, and
you will become a great hunter, a great warrior, and a great man,
capable of doing anything. As a proof that you will become a great
hunter, when you smoke, the smoke will turn into pigeons." The voice
then informed him who he was, and disclosed the true character of his
grandfather, who had imposed upon him. The voice-spirit then gave him a
vine, and told him he was of an age to revenge the injuries of his
relations. "When you meet your enemy," continued the spirit, "you will
run a race with him. He will not see the vine, because it is enchanted.
While you are running, you will throw it over his head and entangle
him, so that you will win the race."
Long ere this speech was ended, he had turned to the quarter from which
the voice proceeded, and was astonished to behold a man, for as yet he
had never seen any man besides his grandfather, whose object it was to
keep him in ignorance. But the circumstance that gave him the most
surprise was, that this man, who had the looks of great age, was
composed of wood from his breast downward, and appeared to be fixed
in the earth.
He returned home, slept, heard the voice, awoke, and found the promised
articles. His grandfather was greatly surprised to find him with a
white feather on his forehead, and to see flocks of pigeons flying out
of his lodge. He then recollected what had been predicted, and began to
weep at the prospect of losing his charge.
Invested with these honors, the young man departed the next morning to
seek his enemies and gratify his revenge. The giants lived in a very
high lodge in the middle of a wood. He travelled on till he came to
this lodge, where he found that his coming had been made known by the
little spirits who carry the news. The giants came out, and gave a cry
of joy as they saw him coming. When he approached nearer, they began to
make sport of him, saying, "Here comes the little man with the white
feather, who is to achieve such wonders." They, however, spoke very
fair to him when he came up, saying he was a brave man, and would do
brave things. This they said to encourage, and the more surely to
deceive him. He, however, understood the object.
He went fearlessly up to the lodge. They told him to commence the race
with the smallest of their number. The point to which they were to run
was a peeled tree towards the rising sun, and then back to the
starting-place, which was marked by a Chaunkahpee, or war-club, made of
iron. This club was the stake, and whoever won it was to use it in
beating the other's brains out. If he beat the first giant, he was to
try the second, and so on until they had all measured speed with him.
He won the first race by a dexterous use of the vine, and immediately
despatched his competitor, and cut off his head. Next morning he ran
with the second giant, whom he also outran, killed, and decapitated. He
proceeded in this way for five successive mornings, always conquering
by the use of his vine, cutting off the heads of the vanquished. The
survivor acknowledged his power, but prepared secretly to deceive him.
He wished him to leave the heads he had cut off, as he believed he
could again reunite them with the bodies, by means of one of their
medicines. White Feather insisted, however, in carrying all the heads
to his grandfather. One more contest was to be tried, which would
decide the victory; but, before going to the giant's lodge on the sixth
morning, he met his old counsellor in the woods, who was stationary. He
told him that he was about to be deceived. That he had never known any
other sex but his own; but that, as he went on his way to the lodge, he
would meet the most beautiful woman in the world. He must pay no
attention to her, but, on meeting her, he must wish himself changed
into a male elk. The transformation would take place immediately, when
he must go to feeding and not regard her.
He proceeded towards the lodge, met the female, and became an elk. She
reproached him for having turned himself into an elk on seeing her;
said she had travelled a great distance for the purpose of seeing him,
and becoming his wife. Now this woman was the sixth giant, who had
assumed this disguise; but Tau-Wau-Chee-Hezkaw remained in ignorance of
it. Her reproaches and her beauty affected him so much, that he wished
himself a man again, and he at once resumed his natural shape. They sat
down together, and he began to caress her, and make love to her. He
finally ventured to lay his head on her lap, and went to sleep. She
pushed his head aside at first, for the purpose of trying if he was
really asleep; and when she was satisfied he was, she took her axe and
broke his back. She then assumed her natural shape, which was in the
form of the sixth giant, and afterwards changed him into a dog, in
which degraded form he followed his enemy to the lodge. He took the
white feather from his brow, and wore it as a trophy on his own head.
There was an Indian village at some distance, in which there lived two
girls, who were rival sisters, the daughters of a chief. They were
fasting to acquire power for the purpose of enticing the wearer of the
white feather to visit their village. They each secretly hoped to
engage his affections. Each one built herself a lodge at a short
distance from the village. The giant knowing this, and having now
obtained the valued plume, went immediately to visit them. As he
approached, the girls saw and recognized the feather. The eldest sister
prepared her lodge with great care and parade, so as to attract the
eye. The younger, supposing that he was a man of sense, and would not
be enticed by mere parade, touched nothing in her lodge, but left it as
it ordinarily was. The eldest went out to meet him, and invited him in.
He accepted her invitation, and made her his wife. The younger invited
the enchanted dog into her lodge, and made him a good bed, and treated
him with as much attention as if he were her husband.
The giant, supposing that whoever possessed the white feather possessed
also all its virtues, went out upon the prairie to hunt, but returned
unsuccessful. The dog went out the same day a hunting upon the banks of
a river. He drew a stone out of the water, which immediately became a
beaver. The next day the giant followed the dog, and hiding behind a
tree, saw the manner in which the dog went into the river and drew out
a stone, which at once turned into a beaver. As soon as the dog left
the place, the giant went to the river, and observing the same manner,
drew out a stone, and had the satisfaction of seeing it transformed
into a beaver. Tying it to his belt, he carried it home, and, as is
customary, threw it down at the door of the lodge before he entered.
After being seated a short time, he told his wife to bring in his belt
or hunting girdle. She did so, and returned with it, with nothing tied
to it but a stone.
The next day, the dog, finding his method of catching beavers had been
discovered, went to a wood at some distance, and broke off a charred
limb from a burned tree, which instantly became a bear. The giant, who
had again watched him, did the same, and carried a bear home; but his
wife, when she came to go out for it, found nothing but a black stick
tied to his belt.
The giant's wife determined she would go to her father, and tell him
what a valuable husband she had, who furnished her lodge with
abundance. She set out while her husband went to hunt. As soon as they
had departed, the dog made signs to his mistress to sweat him after the
manner of the Indians. She accordingly made a lodge just large enough
for him to creep in. She then put in heated stones, and poured on
water. After this had been continued the usual time, he came out a very
handsome young man, but had not the power of speech.
Meantime, the elder daughter had reached her father's, and told him of
the manner in which her sister supported a dog, treating him as her
husband, and of the singular skill this animal had in hunting. The old
man, suspecting there was some magic in it, sent a deputation of young
men and women to ask her to come to him, and bring her dog along. When
this deputation arrived, they were surprised to find, in the place of
the dog, so fine a young man. They both accompanied the messengers to
the father, who was no less astonished. He assembled all the old and
wise men of the nation to see the exploits which, it was reported, the
young man could perform. The giant was among the number. He took his
pipe and filled it, and passed it to the Indians, to see if anything
would happen when they smoked. It was passed around to the dog, who
made a sign to hand it to the giant first, which was done, but nothing
affected. He then took it himself. He made a sign to them to put the
white feather upon his head. This was done, and immediately he regained
his speech. He then commenced smoking, and behold! immense flocks of
white and blue pigeons rushed from the smoke.
The chief demanded of him his history, which he faithfully recounted.
When it was finished, the chief ordered that the giant should be
transformed into a dog, and turned into the middle of the village,
where the boys should pelt him to death with clubs. This sentence was
The chief then ordered, on the request of the White Feather, that all
the young men should employ themselves four days in making arrows. He
also asked for a buffalo robe. This robe he cut into thin shreds, and
sowed in the prairie. At the end of the four days he invited them to
gather together all their arrows, and accompany him to a buffalo hunt.
They found that these shreds of skin had grown into a very large herd
of buffalo. They killed as many as they pleased, and enjoyed a grand
festival, in honor of his triumph over the giants.
Having accomplished their labor, the White Feather got his wife to ask
her father's permission to go with him on a visit to his grandfather.
He replied to this solicitation, that a woman must follow her husband
into whatever quarter of the world he may choose to go.
The young men then placed the white feather in his frontlet, and,
taking his war-club in his hand, led the way into the forest, followed
by his faithful wife.
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