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The Fire Plume

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian

Wassamo was living with his parents on the shores of a large bay on
the east coast of Lake Michigan. It was at a period when nature
spontaneously furnished everything that was wanted, when the Indians
used skins for clothing, and flints for arrow heads. It was long
before the time that the flag of the white man had first been seen in
these lakes, or the sound of an iron axe had been heard. The skill of
our people supplied them with weapons to kill game, with instruments
to procure bark for their canoes, and they knew to dress and cook
their victuals.

One day, when the season had commenced for fish to be plentiful near
the shore of the lake, Wassamo's mother said to him--

"My son, I wish you would go to yonder point, and see if you cannot
procure me some fish. You may ask your cousin to accompany you."

He did so. They set out, and, in the course of the afternoon, arrived
at the fishing-ground. His cousin attended to the nets, for he was
grown up to manhood, but Wassamo had not yet reached that age. They
put their nets in the water, and encamped near them, using only a few
pieces of birch-bark for a lodge to shelter them at night. They lit a
fire, and, while they were conversing together, the moon arose. Not a
breath of wind disturbed the smooth and bright surface of the lake.
Not a cloud was seen. Wassamo looked out on the water towards their
nets, and saw that almost all the floats had disappeared.

"Cousin," he said, "let us visit our nets. Perhaps we are fortunate."

They did so, and were rejoiced, as they drew them up, to see the
meshes white here and there with fish. They landed in good spirits,
and put away their canoe in safety from the winds.

"Wassamo," said his cousin, "you cook that we may eat."

Wassamo set about it immediately, and soon got his kettle on the
flames, while his cousin was lying at his ease on the opposite side of
the fire.

"Cousin," said Wassamo, "tell me stories, or sing me some love-songs."

The other obeyed, and sang his plaintive songs. He would frequently
break off, and tell parts of stories, and would then sing again, as
suited his feelings or fancy. While thus employed, he unconsciously
fell asleep. Wassamo had scarcely noticed it in his care to watch the
kettle, and, when the fish were done, he took the kettle off. He spoke
to his cousin, but received no answer. He took the wooden ladle to
skim off the oil, for the fish were very fat. He had a flambeau of
twisted bark in one hand to give light; but, when he came to take out
the fish, he did not know how to manage to hold the light, so he took
off his garters, and tied them tight round his head, and then placed
the lighted flambeau above his forehead, so that it was firmly held by
the bandage, and threw its light brilliantly about him. Having both
hands thus at liberty, he began to take out the fish. Suddenly he
heard a laugh.

"Cousin," said he, "some one is near us. Awake, and let us look out."

His cousin, however, continued asleep. Again Wassamo heard the
laughter, and, looking, he beheld two beautiful girls.

"Awake, awake," said he to his cousin. "Here are two young women;" but
he received no answer, for his cousin was locked in his deepest

Wassamo started up and advanced to the strange women. He was about to
speak to them, when he fell senseless to the earth.

A short while after his cousin awoke. He looked around and called
Wassamo, but could not find him.

"Netawis, Netawis (Cousin, cousin)!" he cried; but there was no
answer. He searched the woods and all the shores around, but could not
find him. He did not know what to do.

"Although," he reasoned, "his parents are my relations, and they know
he and I were great friends, they will not believe me if I go home and
say that he is lost. They will say that I killed him, and will require
blood for blood."

However, he resolved to return home, and, arriving there, he told
them what had occurred. Some said, "He has killed him treacherously,"
others said, "It is impossible. They were like brothers."

Search was made on every side, and when at length it became certain
that Wassamo was not to be found, his parents demanded the life of

Meanwhile, what had happened to Wassamo? When he recovered his senses,
he found himself stretched on a bed in a spacious lodge.

"Stranger," said some one, "awake, and take something to eat."

Looking around him he saw many people, and an old spirit man,
addressing him, said--

"My daughters saw you at the fishing-ground, and brought you here. I
am the guardian spirit of Nagow Wudjoo (the sand mountains). We will
make your visit here agreeable, and if you will remain I will give you
one of my daughters in marriage."

The young man consented to the match, and remained for some time with
the spirit of the sand-hills in his lodge at the bottom of the lake,
for there was it situated. At last, however, approached the season of
sleep, when the spirit and his relations lay down for their long rest.

"Son-in-law," said the old spirit, "you can now, in a few days, start
with your wife to visit your relations. You can be absent one year,
but after that you must return."

Wassamo promised to obey, and set out with his wife. When he was near
his village, he left her in a thicket and advanced alone. As he did
so, who should he meet but his cousin.

"Netawis, Netawis," cried his cousin, "you have come just in time to
save me!"

Then he ran off to the lodge of Wassamo's parents.

"I have seen him," said he, "whom you accuse me of having killed. He
will be here in a few minutes."

All the village was soon in a bustle, and Wassamo and his wife excited
universal attention, and the people strove who should entertain them
best. So the time passed happily till the season came that Wassamo and
his wife should return to the spirits. Netawis accompanied them to the
shores of the lake, and would have gone with them to their strange
abode, but Wassamo sent him back. With him Wassamo took offerings from
the Indians to his father-in-law.

The old spirit was delighted to see the two return, and he was also
much pleased with the presents Wassamo brought. He told his son-in-law
that he and his wife should go once more to visit his people.

"It is merely," said he, "to assure them of my friendship, and to bid
them farewell for ever."

Some time afterwards Wassamo and his wife made this visit. Having
delivered his message, he said--

"I must now bid you all farewell for ever."

His parents and friends raised their voices in loud lamentation, and
they accompanied him and his wife to the sand-banks to see them take
their departure.

The day was mild, the sky clear, not a cloud appeared, nor was there a
breath of wind to disturb the bright surface of the water. The most
perfect silence reigned throughout the company. They gazed intently
upon Wassamo and his wife as they waded out into the water, waving
their hands. They saw them go into deeper and deeper water. They saw
the wave close over their heads. All at once they raised a loud and
piercing wail. They looked again. A red flame, as if the sun had
glanced on a billow, marked the spot for an instant; but the
Feather-of-Flames and his wife had disappeared for ever.

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Previous: The Swing By The Lake

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