Source: Legends Of The Kaw
The Delaware Indians, or Lenape, as they called themselves, are of
Algonquin lineage. Their language, which is soft and musical, bears a
strong resemblance to that of the Shawnees and Pottawatomies, who are
descended from the same people. The word Lenape has been translated
"men" or "fathers of men." This bears some significance, since the early
traditions of the Delawares declare them to be the parent stock. They
were the natives with whom William Penn held council, on the ground
occupied at the present time by the city of Philadelphia.
The nation had been subjugated by the Iroquois, and bearing the name of
"women" was at peace with the world. Although the domination of the
other tribes was only temporary, the famous treaty with the Quakers was
never broken, during the subsequent years of warfare.
The Delawares were a migratory people. Most of their legends have been
preserved by missionaries. The Algonquin myth of the virgin who fell
from heaven and became the mother of twins, one light and the other
dark, was found among the Lenape, and may be explained as referring to
the dawn, which gives birth to day and night.
The divinity Kikeron, the synonym for life, light and action, or energy,
was believed to be the first factor of the universe. He originated all
things, through the instrumentality of the tortoise, which, in Algonquin
pictography, was the symbol of the earth. There was an unexpected depth
to this native philosophy. The earth is all-producing, and from it
proceeds, directly or indirectly, all animate existence. The tortoise
had power to produce everything. From its back a tree had sprung, upon
the branches of which grew men.
In the pristine age, the world lived at peace; but an evil spirit came
and caused a great flood. The earth was submerged. A few persons had
taken refuge on the back of a turtle, so old that his shell had
collected moss. A loon flew over their heads and was entreated to dive
beneath the water and bring up land. It found only a bottomless sea.
Then the bird flew far away, came back with a small portion of earth in
its bill, and guided the tortoise to a place where there was a spot of
The Delawares thought the land was an island, supported by a great
turtle, the one that had been their preserver. There was a tradition
that many hundreds of years ago their forefathers dwelt in a distant
country, far to the west. They traveled east, and at the Mississippi
River encountered a race of giants. The wanderers desired to settle
between the river and the mountains; but the request was refused.
However, they obtained permission to pass through the country. While in
the midst of the strange land they were fiercely attacked by the huge
people, who were very powerful. Many battles ensued. The enemy erected
fortifications; but large numbers of their warriors were killed. The
dead were placed in heaps and covered with earth. The giants were
finally defeated, and fled, passing down the Mississippi River. The
victors took possession of the country.
The nation was then divided into three tribes. One settled on the shore
of the Atlantic, one remained in the conquered land, and the third lived
west of the Mississippi River. The Atlantic coast Delawares were
composed of three clans, the Turtle (Unami), the Turkey (Unalachtgo) and
the Wolf (Minsi). Other tribes, the Mohicans and Nanticokes among them,
sprang from the Lenape.
The legend of the hairless bear is one of the oldest Delaware stories.
It was narrated that in the past, at some remote period, the country was
infested with a ferocious bear of immense size. Its skin was bare, with
the exception of a single tuft of perfectly white hair on its back. The
animal possessed a keen sense of smell, but its sight was defective. The
heart of the bear was so small that only an expert hunter could hope to
strike it. The people held council and finally decided that the best
plan would be to break its back. Experienced hunters formed a party to
rid the earth of the monster. They discovered its retreat, made a great
noise to attract attention, and scaled a high rock. The bear could not
climb the rock but tore at it in a fury. The men discharged arrows and
threw stones at the creature until it was dead.
Indian mothers were wont to frighten their children into obedience, by
"The naked bear will eat you."
The pictograph system, which was perfectly intelligible to all tribes,
was based upon gesture speech. Rafinesque, a learned but somewhat
erratic Frenchman, claimed to have seen a set of wooden tablets, on
which was engraved the history of the Lenape, both in picture and in
song. The eccentric archeologist prepared a translation of the strange
document, which is called the Walam Olum, or Painted Record. Brinton
seems inclined to believe it a genuine native production, given orally
and written down by some one not thoroughly conversant with the Delaware
language. There is a possibility that the priests or medicine men,
realizing that their own downfall would come with the adoption of
Christianity, were jealous of the missionaries. Having learned to read
and write, from the white men, and hoping to gain new power, they may
have transmitted the story to wood, in such form as to be readily
understood, both by educated and uneducated Indians. The song is
rhythmical, and describes the formation of the universe by the great
At first there was a fog and a watery waste; then the land and sky were
formed and the heavens cleared. Each statement is accompanied by a rude
drawing or picture. The first part reads:
1. At first, in that place, at all times, above the earth,
2. On the earth, an extended fog, and there the great Manito was.
3. At first, forever, lost in space, everywhere, the great Manito was.
4. He made the extended land and the sky.
5. He made the sun, the moon, the stars.
6. He made them all to move evenly.
7. The wind blew violently and it cleared, and the water flowed off far
Men and animals were created, and lived peaceably until the coming of an
evil spirit, in the form of a serpent, which introduced war, sickness
and premature death. Strife and wanderings commenced. The evil Manito
brought a flood. A few people, escaping to the back of a turtle, were
preserved by Nanabush, or Manabozho. Their protector caused the water to
recede and the serpent to depart.
After the deluge the race found itself in a strange northern climate.
The people journeyed south, arriving at "Snakeland." They conquered the
region; and a long list of chiefs, migrations and wars are recorded.
Abundance followed. Then there was a division, some of the nation going
south and some east to the salt sea. The three subtribes of the Lenape
eventually became established along the Delaware River. The song closes
with the advent of the white man.
In 1683 there were six thousand Delawares. Within a century their
numbers greatly diminished. In 1724 the white settlements had increased
to such an extent that the former owners of the land began to seek homes
in Western Pennsylvania.
It was at New Britain, Pennsylvania, that Tamenend--the Delaware chief
for whom the Tammany Society, of New York, was named--committed suicide.
He had become old and feeble and had been deserted by the tribe. Having
failed in an attempt to stab himself, the unhappy old man threw burning
leaves over his body, and in that manner, died.
A princess of the Lenape caused a cliff on Mount Tammany to be called
Lover's Leap. Her affection for a European was unrequited and, in
despair, the girl made the leap of death.
Not far from Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, was a clear and sparkling lake.
On its bank stood a village of the Delawares. Among the wigwams was one
larger than the rest and more commodious. There dwelt the successful
young chief, Onoko, a man of wonderful size, strength and daring.
Unaided, he had destroyed the bear on Mauch Chunk (Bear Mountain). Happy
was Wenonah when he sought her in marriage. Her heart swelled with pride
as she entered the richly decorated lodge.
The victories of Onoko in love, in war and in the chase aroused the
anger and jealousy of Mitche Manito. One day, as the young people were
floating idly upon the lake in their canoe, the terrible Manito arose
among the mountains, with a dark look of hatred upon his face and the
thunder rolling and crashing about his head, and while lightning darted
from his eyes, smote the hills with a mighty hand covered by the magic
mitten. The earth shook and a great chasm opened, through which poured a
volume of foaming water.
At first alarm, the lovers, glancing upward, beheld the wrathful
features, and seeing no hope, awaited death, clasped in a close embrace.
The light canoe was swept rapidly away by the deluge; and the Manito, in
gloomy satisfaction, retired to the hills. Ever since that time the
Lehigh has flowed through the chasm that he made. The name of Onoko was
bestowed upon a cascade and glen in the vicinity of Mauch Chunk.
The Lenape gradually drifted to the streams in Central and Eastern Ohio.
The epoch of peace had passed and they were no longer "women"; but took
a prominent part in the War of the Races. Removing to the valley of the
White Water River, in Indiana, they founded six towns. The treaty of
Vincennes guaranteed the title to the land forever, nevertheless it was
"ceded" to the United States only ten years afterward. The fugitives
then sought a home west of the Mississippi; and eventually received a
tract at the mouth of the Kansas River. They never fought against the
Government after that time. Other nations arrived. The Lenape lived at
peace with all except the wild prairie tribes. The old warlike spirit,
strong in every Indian, whether civilized or semi-civilized, was
appeased by fierce battles far beyond their reservation. Even after the
territory had become the property of the white man, the Delawares took
pride in detailing such victories as
THE BATTLE OF THE PLAINS.
Nestled among the hills, where the Kansas River empties into the
Missouri, lay a village of the once prosperous Lenape, who gloried in
the knowledge that, with the exception of a brief period, their people
had, from time immemorial, been successful in war. Belonging to the
East, they had drifted toward the setting sun, until the early part of
the nineteenth century found them, still adhering to antique customs, in
Eastern Kansas. Though but the shadow of its former greatness, the
nation still retained sufficient numerical strength to keep up
hostilities with its ancient enemies, the Sioux. At times, after
seasons of rest and recuperation, well-equipped parties had sallied
forth, going as far as Nebraska, Colorado or Dakota, in quest of
adventure. A furious renewal of the old contest succeeded emigration to
the Middle West, and all was made ready for an expedition. Religious
rites were performed, and the medicine men promised an easy victory.
Among the Delawares was a chief, who bade fair to equal in fame, the
most distinguished of his predecessors. Not many moons before, Ni-co-man
had awakened from a dream of conquest and beheld, in the pale light, a
shadowy figure wrapped in a blanket of snowy white. Its bony finger
motioned the chief to arise and follow. Mechanically, like one asleep,
he obeyed the phantom warrior, the strange chill that crept over him
increasing with each step. On they went, beyond the confines of the
village, toward one of the highest points along the river that shone
like silver with reflected brightness. Pausing upon a spot from where
the undulating prairie could be seen, reaching for miles to westward,
the spirit chief stretched out a ghostly arm and addressed the
"Go thou, Ni-co-man, noblest of thy people, and lead them on to glory.
Take all thy bravest warriors. Journey west; there shalt thou find, upon
the distant plains, our enemies, the Sioux. Rest not until thou hast
avenged my death, for by their hands was I, thy father's father, slain."
Slowly he vanished, and Ni-co-man, pondering over these words, returned
to his abode. Thenceforward he agitated the question of an advance, with
full assurance of meeting and overcoming the murderous Sioux.
Around the council-fire were plans perfected. The pipe of peace was
passed from hand to hand. Old men led the discussion while their juniors
listened in silent respect. When all the wiser heads had given advice,
the youthful braves, in turn, expressed opinions. The latter being
unanimously in favor of adopting extreme measures, the council of
Ni-co-man prevailed; and having completed arrangements, the flower of
the nation, mounted upon mettlesome ponies, went forth, as did the
challengers of old, to seek renown.
Over the rolling prairies, the tall grass waving in the sunlight, rode
the dusky knights, heavy war-paint giving greater fierceness to faces
already glowing with excitement.
The second day, a long distance from the starting place, they stopped at
night beside a flowing stream. The tired ponies, relieved of their
burdens, were turned out to graze, a guard being stationed nearby. After
a meal of savory buffalo meat, and a quiet smoke around the camp-fire,
the Delawares, drawing their blankets over their heads, threw themselves
upon the ground and were soon wrapped in profound slumber.
At early dawn, ere they had proceeded many leagues, a fresh breeze
started from the Southwest, and close to the horizon a faint rose color
tinged the sky. This suddenly changed to a lurid hue, as a sheet of
flame, accompanied by volumes of smoke, swept rapidly toward them.
"Fly! Tun-dahe Wel-seet-num-et (The God of Fire)!" shouted the
Indians, as, turning on the trail, they lashed the horses to the highest
possible speed, while the fire made steady headway.
On rushed the fugitives, bending every energy to reach the water; but
the breath of the Fire God was at their shoulders. Then the hardy little
ponies made a final heroic dash and landed in the creek--safe, all but
one. As the terrible cloud passed swiftly over the half suffocated band,
they saw the angry spirit in the great, dark, curling chariot, bend low
and smite their comrade; and when the seething whirlwind had gone by, he
lay, face down, a lifeless heap, upon the blackened cinders. A hasty
burial, with few of the usual ceremonies, and the party was traversing
the now desolate region, in the direction of the far-away mountains.
They entered what the white man calls the Great American Desert. A level
country, the short-grass district, extended as far as the eye could see,
on every side. Its monotony was broken by an occasional "draw," where
wandering tribes often found refuge in defeat, or lay in ambush, ready
to spring out at the approach of foes. These draws were caused by
erosion, and may have been the beds of rivers, long since dried up.
The plains were dotted with wild flowers, for in Kansas each weed, at
some season of the year, bursts forth in all the glory of rich or
delicate blossoms. The fall had brought its wealth of gold and purple,
and the buffalo grass, more nutritious when "cured" by the sun and hot
winds of summer, had turned to a rich brown, the ruling note of color.
Birds, and even the prairie dogs, barking and chattering at the
entrances to their underground towns, conformed to the prevailing tint.
The "Loco" weed had gone to seed, and the Indians, well knowing its
dangerous properties, kept their horses, while grazing, away from the
plant, which is said to cause animals to become "locoed," or insane. A
similar effect is produced on human beings, by the use of certain herbs
compounded by the medicine men.
Winding through the sandy territory, was the Arkansas River, in the
autumn a seemingly harmless layer of reddish brown soil with apparently
stagnant water here and there upon its surface. Underneath the quicksand
flowed a deep stream, promising certain death to him who essayed to
cross with any but the lightest of vehicles.
The travelers had reached the heart of the buffalo country, and an
abundance of game was found on every hand. A buffalo hunt, according to
an Indian's views, was second only to victorious battle, therefore
Ni-co-man called a halt and the entire company joined in a grand
The hunters, familiar with the habits of the animals, first arranged
themselves in groups in one of the draws, at the foot of a steep
embankment or precipice, taking care to be well sheltered. Then a
warrior, grotesquely arrayed, and astride a strangely caparisoned steed,
galloped toward the herd, frantically waving a bright-hued blanket. The
leader, an immense creature, scented danger and took his stand in front
of the rest. However, curiosity, which is one of the characteristics of
the buffalo, prompted him to draw cautiously nearer the queer figure.
The herd followed. Gradually the decoy backed toward the precipice,
still gesticulating violently.
At last, the animals, thoroughly frightened, stampeded, accelerating
speed as they approached the embankment, over which they rolled and
tumbled in the mad effort to escape. Those not injured in the fall,
recovered their feet and dashed away to the opposite slope, being easily
shot in attempting the toilsome ascent. Thus, the majority were at the
mercy of the red men.
The wanton destruction of these beasts at the hands of both Indians and
white men is to be deplored. Where, two score years ago, thousands
roamed the plains, now nothing remains to prove their having existed
save slight depressions in the earth called "wallows," and large numbers
of horns, scattered over the ranches. Once in a while the buffalo ring
may be seen, still barren of grass. Here the ever watchful sentinel had
tramped around and around in a circle. A feast succeeded the favorable
termination of the hunt. Only the finest portions of the meat, which
resembles beef in flavor, were reserved as food. Tongues were considered
a great delicacy.
Up to this time, a few straggling Comanches and Arapahoes were observed,
but as yet no traces of the Sioux appeared. Ni-co-man, remembering his
vision, still had faith that here, upon the plains, would the enemy be
Early one morning a scout came in with the news that, far to the north,
a stray band of Sioux had encamped the previous night. In a moment all
was excitement. As soon as possible the entire cavalcade, well armed
and ready for the fray, was galloping in the direction indicated. At
sunset the Delawares halted for rest and food, waiting for darkness to
make an attack. But the enemy, too, were watchful; and knowing the
presence of danger almost by intuition, had prepared for encounters.
They were in a deep cut, not easily accessible. Where the natural
defenses are limited, the natives learn to take advantage of every means
of protection. Piling up large masses of hard earth, that had fallen
from one portion of the crumbling bank, they had built a rude
fortification, which extended entirely across the entrance. In the rear
was a narrow pass, with a steep acclivity on either side. Guards were
stationed here and on the highest ridges. These gave the alarm as the
Delawares, in three divisions, came silently forward at midnight.
Ni-co-man sent a detachment of good marksmen to the top of the
embankment overlooking the Sioux, the second was despatched to the rear
to force a way through the narrow passage, while he boldly led the
remainder to attempt the low earthworks at the entrance. The war-cry of
the Lenape now filled the air.
The Sioux, crouching behind the fort and before the opening at the back
of the camp, fought savagely. Occasionally marksmen on the elevation
picked off one of their men, though it was a somewhat difficult task in
Ni-co-man, being taller than his companions, and always at the front,
was a welcome target for his wild opponents. Again and again a shadowy
figure intervened as the bullets sped toward him. He bore, in truth, a
charmed life. As the moon passed under a cloud, for the elements were
preparing for a conflict, the Delawares rushed forward, climbing
recklessly over the heaps of hardened earth, scattering great lumps
right and left. Some of the braves fell, mortally wounded--some pressed
upon the retreating Sioux, who found themselves in a trap. The shadowy
figure, invisible to all but the chief, was ever present, hewing down
the enemy with his great tomahawk.
The sun rose upon a frightful scene. The carnage was over, but ghastly
upturned faces, smeared with war-paint and distorted with terror, even
in death, told the tale of the night's work. Ere long it sought
retirement, and the day grew dark. Ni-co-man gazed at the heavens in
wonder. Did the Great Spirit manifest displeasure? A storm followed.
Lightning flashed and the ground seemed to shake with thunder. Rain fell
in torrents, a most unusual occurrence in that locality.
When the atmosphere had cleared, and the drenched warriors again beheld
the battle-field, lo! all blood was washed away. The Great Spirit had
stamped with approval the triumph of his chosen people, the Lenape.
Lawrence, a town of more than ordinary historic interest, now the site
of the Kansas State University, was built upon land that formerly
belonged to the Kaws. At a more recent date the Delawares were
established in that vicinity. Haskell Institute, a flourishing Indian
school, is now located there. A majority of the nation, at the time of
immigration, adhered to tribal costume, and while harmless as far as
their white neighbors were concerned, presented a most ferocious
appearance. Many of the early settlers of Lawrence were from Eastern
cities, where the red man was known by reputation only. The Indians had
a fear-inspiring way of peering into the windows of houses, and in order
to obtain a better view, would spread out their blankets so as to
exclude the light. Not infrequently a white family, while dining, would
observe that the room had become unusually dark; and glancing toward the
window from which the sunlight had vanished, would behold a hideously
painted face, with piercing eyes looking through the glass, in keen
interest. This was not at all contrary to Indian etiquette.
The wife of a resident who had the good fortune to secure the firm
friendship of White Turkey, a Delaware chief, sat sewing one day, in her
rocking chair. It was a tranquil morning in early summer and the air
was still. Suddenly a shadow crossed the light, and to her intense
fright, three huge Delawares, in all the horror of their picturesque
native dress, loomed up before the window. The lady, who had recently
arrived from New York City, fainted; and the disappointed visitors
sought her husband, informing him that they had merely called to
announce the birth of a son--the future chief--named "Solomon White
Turkey" in honor of the pale-face family. Years later, the gentleman,
while traveling through the Indian Territory, was approached by an aged
Delaware, surrounded by his friends, and introduced to a tall,
prepossessing young man, who proved to be Chief Solomon White Turkey.
Kansas had been supposed to be permanently secured to the Indians; but
the emigrant ever followed in their footsteps, and again the land of the
Delawares was sold to the United States, and the people, few in number,
took up their abode in the Indian Territory.
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