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The Wyandots

Source: Legends Of The Kaw

The Wyandots, or Hurons, are of Northern origin, and descended from a
branch of the Iroquois. At the time of the discovery of America, their
villages were located near the Senecas, on the banks of the St. Lawrence
River. When Cartier appeared, a small band of Delawares first observed
the ships of the Frenchmen on the gulf, and sent messengers to announce
the presence of "great white-winged animals, spitting out fire and
speaking with voices of thunder."

The Wyandots and Senecas were closely allied and lived in amity many
years. It is said that the long peace terminated and hostilities began
through the influence of a woman. One version of the story is that a
Seneca maiden loved a young man, whose father, a powerful chief, opposed
his son's taking her as a wife. Other suitors were rejected. Then it was
declared that the hand of the maiden would be bestowed upon him, only,
who should slay the chief. A Wyandot fulfilled this condition and became
her husband.

The enraged Senecas flew to arms. An interminable war followed. Their
neighbors moved to the vicinity of Niagara Falls. A series of migrations
succeeded. At one epoch a portion of the tribe settled near Lake Huron,
which was named for them. A part of the Bear Clan always remained in

For some unknown reason, the other tribes of the Five Nations joined the
enemies of the Wyandots. Cooper's novels contain numerous allusions to
the undying hatred of the Iroquois toward the Hurons, as they were
called by the French, although Wyandot is the proper term.

Always pursued by the Senecas, a majority of the nation became
wanderers. In 1701, seeking a new home, they embarked in canoes and
passed out of Lake Huron, and into and beyond Lake St. Clair. In the
distance a group of white tents was visible. This comprised the city of
Detroit. Landing, by order of the head chief, the Indians were received
kindly by the governor of the colony. Accepting the protection offered,
they found a home in that locality.

After the French territory had passed into the hands of the English,
some of the Wyandots settled in parts of Ohio and Michigan. They were
divided into clans, named for animals, conspicuous among which were the
deer, bear, turtle, porcupine, snake and wolf. The nation originally had
twelve of these divisions. Two or more formed a band. It was against the
law to marry in one's own clan. Children belonged to the mother's clan;
and women were accorded the privilege of voting for chiefs and council.

The head chief, or king, was the highest officer. The succession
belonged to the Big Turtle and Deer clans; and every heir to the throne
must be of pure Wyandot blood. The last head chief, Suts-taw-ra-tse,
lived in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

The primitive religion of the Wyandots was somewhat similar to that of
other aboriginal nations. The Great Spirit ruled supreme. There was a
God of the Forest, called Sken-ri-a-taun. Once a year a night feast was
held, in memory of the departed. Dancing was dispensed with, but all
joined in condolence with some lately bereaved family. It was thought
that after death, the soul must cross a deep, swift river, on a bridge
made of a slight tree, and be compelled to defend itself, repeatedly,
from the attacks of a dog. The Dakotas also believed this, but affirmed
that the bridge was formed from the body of an immense snake. The prayer
of the Huron to a local god--as recited verbatum by Father
Brebeuf--throws some light upon the subject of their conception of

"Oki, thou who livest in this spot, I offer thee tobacco. Help us, save
us from shipwreck, defend us from our enemies, give us a good trade and
bring us back safe and sound to our villages."

The teachings of the Jesuits were early engrafted upon the original

Few of the oldest Wyandot legends have been preserved. The literary
world is indebted to Schoolcraft for the narration of the experience of
Sayadio, which gives a glimpse into the spirit world as pictured by
Indian fancy.

The heart of Sayadio was heavy with sorrow. His young and beautiful
sister had died and he refused to be comforted. Desirous of bringing her
back, the young man embarked upon a long and difficult journey to the
land of souls. When ready to give up in despair, after many adventures,
he met an old man who gave him a magic calabash with which to dip up the
spirit, when it should be found. This man, who proved to be the keeper
of that part of the land where the maiden dwelt, also gave him her
brains, which had been carefully kept.

On reaching the place of departed souls, Sayadio was surprised that they
fled at his approach. Tarenyawgo assisted him. The spirits had
assembled for a dance and he attempted to embrace his sister, but she
straightway vanished with the others. Tarenyawgo then provided him with
a mystical rattle to call them back. The taiwaiegun, or drum, sounded,
and the notes of the flute could be heard. Immediately the air was full
of floating figures, and Sayadio, dipping up the damsel with the magic
calabash, despite the efforts of the imprisoned soul to liberate itself,
returned to earth.

Friends were invited to the lodge, and the dead body brought from its
place of burial to be restored to life. Just before the moment of
reanimation, a curious old woman looked into the calabash, and the
spirit took flight. Sayadio gazed heavenward but could see nothing.
Then, with downcast eyes, he sat in the lodge, deploring that idle
curiosity had rendered of no avail his travels to the land of the

Peter Clarke, a native writer, was undoubtedly one of the most reliable
sources of information regarding the ancient history of the Wyandots,
whose descendants, absorbed by the white race, have permitted the
customs and many of the traditions of their forefathers to die out.
Until a comparatively recent period many firmly believed


On the shore of Lake Huron, long years ago, was a deep pool, or spring,
in the midst of marshy ground. An outlet into a river allowed the
discharge of surplus water. Reeds and tall grasses almost obscured the
pond from view, and the scream of the loon and the cry of the reed-bird
alone disclosed its presence, until the traveler found himself upon its
very verge.

The Wyandots knew of this place, and had little doubt that it was
inhabited by a mysterious spirit. Sometimes the water rose and fell, as
if stirred by the breathing of an immense animal beneath its surface,
then grew suddenly calm. A benighted hunter, passing that way, told of a
wondrous light, sparkling like the glow of a thousand fireflies; and of
a rumbling sound that shook the earth, announcing that an evil spirit
was at work.

A party of the Prairie Turtle Clan camped one day at the spring,
established an altar and offered burnt offerings to the strange god.
Articles of value, silver ornaments and wampum belts, were cast into the
pool and Ce-zhaw-yen-hau was chosen to call up the spirit. Standing in
the marsh, with a bow in one hand and a bunch of arrows in the other, he
chanted a song; while his companions, in homage to the Hoo-kee, or
wizard of the spring, burned tobacco. He invoked the spirit to come
forth. A loon arose, screaming and flapping its wings.

"Not you," said Ce-zhaw-yen-hau, and the loon vanished. Next came an

"Not you," said the Indian, "begone! Come forth, you wizard!"

The water rose, as if agitated by some huge body, and a white panther
emerged, looking eastward. Piercing its side with an arrow, the conjurer
quickly extended a small vessel to catch the blood which trickled from
the creature's side. The moment the pan filled, the wounded animal
disappeared, and the air vibrated with a rumbling, muttering sound, like
distant thunder. Volumes of turbid water came to the surface, indicating
the course the monster had taken in passing down the river. Never again
was it seen at the pool.

The Prairie Turtle Clan, which had always been considered refractory in
disposition, and inclined to be rebellious toward the Good Spirit, now
formed a society and deified the white panther. Anyone who divulged the
secrets of the association was instantly put to death. The blood in the
small vessel coagulated and became dry. This was broken into pieces and
distributed among the members to be placed in their medicine bags. The
medicine bag was usually made from the whole skin of an otter, a mink,
or other diminutive animal. Those who had been led by fanaticism to seek
new gods were repeatedly warned by the Catholic priest to renounce the
evil spirit, or it would cause their destruction.

"Throw away the baneful substance which came to you from the devil in
the form of a panther," he said, "for just as certain as you continue to
keep it among you, the time is not far distant when you will be ruined
by it, body and soul."

The unmanageable society, however, persisted in worshipping the white
panther; and the substance obtained from the demon of the spring, which
was used in witchcraft, eventually consumed the members themselves.

Not many years after the episode at the pool, Ce-zhaw-yen-hau turned
traitor to the nation, and joined the Senecas. When leading a war-party
against his own people, during the absence of the men, he saw two young
women working in a field adjacent to the village. In a frenzy of
enthusiasm for new friends and of hatred of the old, he slew the two
girls, and fled precipitately.

The warriors, returning, pursued with fury, and overtook the murderers,
crossing a miry creek. The entire band was destroyed, with the
exception of two Senecas. Putting out the eyes of one and cutting off
the thumbs of the other, the Wyandots sent them back to their nation to
tell the story.

The white panther worshippers were now made objects of revenge, being
hunted down and killed, if suspected of carrying the ruinous substance.
The Prairie Turtle Clan finally became extinct. Its fate was considered
an evidence of the evil effects of being led by superstition to adopt
unknown gods.

The Hurons, keen and skeptical, became acknowledged leaders in the
councils of nations. When the Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawatomies and
Wyandots formed an alliance for mutual protection, the latter were
appointed keepers of the council fire, and the inter-national archives
were committed to their care.

Wampum belts designated agreements. Wampum was manufactured from a
species of sea-shell and was composed of tubes one-eighth of an inch in
diameter and one-half an inch in length. These were fastened together
with strong cords or ligaments. Each belt represented a compact, the
conditions of which were retained in memory by the chiefs and warriors
of the tribe. The beaver belt of the Mohawk, Captain Brant, emblematic
of secret enmity, was deemed a pledge, on the part of those who accepted
it, to assist in exterminating the Wyandots. A dark colored bead belt,
with a red tomahawk upon it, indicated, when exhibited in council, that
warfare was in contemplation. These tokens, as well as parchments and
other records, were taken to Kansas in 1843, but became scattered and
are now the property of private parties.

The Green Corn Dance was celebrated each year, in the month of August.
Festivities opened with a great banquet in which corn was the principal
element. After all had partaken generously of corn soup, corn bread and
meat boiled with corn, the men formed in a circle and the dance began. A
wild chant, or Hoo-ah, accompanied the music of the tom-tom and cedar
flute; and dried deer hoofs, tied around the legs of the warriors,
rattled as they kept time. The cedar flute, a much valued instrument,
was composed of two cylindrical pieces of wood, tied together with
buckskin thongs. At intervals a sudden change of step and outward
turning of faces occurred, every movement possessing deep religious

At the annual corn feast, children and those adopted into the nation,
received names, bestowed by the clans instead of by the parents. Each
clan had a list of names that it was required to keep in use. A Wyandot
historian tells a singular story, which illustrates the belief of the
tribe in the necessity of observing this law.

While living, with the rest of her people, at Lower Sandusky, a young
girl, gathering strawberries a short distance from the village, was
taken prisoner by a party of white scouts. On the second night of her
journey in their company, a queer-looking Indian appeared in a vision,
and said:

"I come to tell you that to-morrow about noon these white men will meet
a party of Indians on the war-path, and have a fight. Then will be your
chance to escape and return home. I am not one of your race; I am a
frog, although appearing in human shape. Your race has often rescued one
of our kind from the jaws of the snake, therefore, it is with grateful
feeling that I come to tell you of an opportunity to escape from the
hands of these snoring white men, lying around here."

Next morning the march was continued. About noon, as predicted, the
Indians came in view and immediately made an attack. In a moment of
excitement, the prisoner was forgotten. Without waiting to learn the
outcome of the struggle, she ran into the woods and was soon beyond
reach of enemies. At dark, the tired and hungry maiden crept into a
hollow sycamore tree, through an aperture at its base, and fell asleep.
An Indian woman became visible in a dream, and said:

"The day after to-morrow you will meet a party of warriors from your
village. Follow their war path northward. I am not one of your race; I
am a bear. Say to the people that there are three names belonging to
your clan, the Bear Clan, that are not now among you. Keep these names
in use hereafter."

The famishing girl spent another night in the woods, and at dawn resumed
her travels, striking the war path at mid-day. When the shadows began to
lengthen, she met the Wyandots upon this trail. Providing food and
replacing the torn clothing and worn-out moccasins with the best that
could be obtained in such an emergency, they started her toward home,
where a glad welcome awaited the wanderer, and perfect willingness to
heed the admonition of her dreams.

In the war of 1812, a portion of the tribe adhered to Great Britain,
while the remainder espoused the American cause. Roundhead
(Staw-ye-tauh), who lived at the largest Wyandot village in Michigan,
and Warrow, the leading chief on the Canadian side of the Detroit
River, took an active part on behalf of the British, and were
conspicuous in the battle of the River Raisin. Walk-in-the-Water
(Mey-ye-ra), maintained strict neutrality, although in sympathy with the

Big Tree, a Wyandot whose eventful life has made his name a familiar
one, warred against the Americans, beginning, when a boy, at Braddock's
defeat. He belonged to the Bear Clan and was noted for strength and
activity. During a war with the Southern Indians, he was taken prisoner
by the Cherokees, in a battle on the Kentucky River. The contest was a
bloody one, the combatants laying aside guns, bows and arrows and
fighting with tomahawks. Night ended the struggle and both sides retired
from the field.

Big Tree was taken from one place to another; at last to the mouth of a
river, unknown to him. The Cherokees held council and concluded to burn
the prisoner. Before the sentence could be executed, a woman whose sons
had been killed in the battle, stepped forward and claimed him. She

"You took all my sons with you. Now they are dead and I am left alone
without any help. I claim this young man as my son. Will you pity my age
and helplessness and release him to me?"

He was given to the widow, but could not forget his own people and was
always looking for a chance to escape. The opportunity came while he was
out hunting. For three days and nights the Cherokees pursued. The
fugitive became faint from want of food. Reaching the Ohio River, he
paused a moment and prayed:

"O Great Spirit, help a poor prisoner to swim this river, that he may
get home to his own country." Then, tying his gun on his head, plunged
into the water and succeeded in getting to the opposite shore. He killed
a deer, cooked a part of the meat and rested. After three moon's
traveling, the wanderer arrived home.

In his old age, Big Tree became a devout Christian, and often related
how he had tried to follow the advice of the old people in the worship
of the Great Spirit; how he had feared the "Man in the Clouds"; and had
followed, first, the Seneca Prophet, next the Shawnee Prophet, then had
gone back to the religion of his fathers; and finally, through the
teachings of Stewart, the colored preacher, had gone down on his knees,
with the petition:

"O Homendezue, tamentare, tamentare (O Great Spirit, take pity on me,
take pity on me)."

Chief Splitlog (To-oo-troon-too-ra), a brother of Roundhead, and also a
Royalist, was one of the last to give up the habits of his progenitors.
Although a Roman Catholic, he retained, to a great extent, the ancient
beliefs of his people. One who was thoroughly familiar with the history
of Splitlog, describes the last effort on the part of the chief to
observe the old customs, in the following language:

"One day, a few years before he died, after the last council wigwam was
demolished (wigwam, or we-go-wam, is a Chippewa word for any kind of a
house), and the ground on which it stood had been ploughed up, he called
together at his residence, the few who still adhered to the ancient
customs of the tribe. It was his last feast, and the last dance song of
this feast sounded mournful to the ears of the distant passer, who knew
what it was.

"Two Indians, with whole snapping turtle shells, having some hard
substance inside to make a rattling sound, sat on the ground, with two
folded deer skins, pelt side out, between them, on which they beat with
the turtle shells, while singing for the dance. The necks of the turtles
were stretched out to their utmost length and stiffened, for handles.
After the dance, the musicians were allowed to walk off with the deer
skins as their compensation."

Much has been said concerning the bravery and adventures of Chief
Splitlog, not only in the battles against General Wayne, but also in the
war of 1812.

William Walker, the father of Governor Walker, was one of General
Harrison's scouts at that time. Having been captured, several years
before, by the Delawares, and traded to the Wyandots, he had become,
both by marriage and adoption, a member of the latter nation. During the
heat of battle he was taken prisoner by the British and carried along
with the army, his wife, also a prisoner, being placed on board an
English warship.

In 1842 Silas Armstrong and Matthew Walker, whose Indian name,
translated, was "Twisting the Forest," were sent beyond the Mississippi
to locate a new home, and went as far west as Salina, Kansas, with the
intention of buying a large tract of land. A thorough investigation,
however, resulted in their securing from the Delawares a comparatively
small tract, seven or eight miles in extent, and the Wyandots
established themselves at the mouth of the Kaw River.

William Walker, afterward Provisional Governor of Nebraska Territory,
had previously traveled west, having this removal in mind, and examined
the lands. He was a man of education and great strength of character--an
acknowledged leader in the nation, as well as a writer of merit.

Matthias Splitlog was identified with the early commercial interests of
Kansas City. Leaving Canada about the year 1840, he resided for some
time at Neosho, Missouri, and was the projector of a small railroad, now
a portion of the Pittsburg & Gulf line. He removed to Wyandotte, Kansas,
became interested in numerous financial ventures and was known as the
wealthiest of the Indians. Shrewd business men and corporations rendered
his later life a series of law suits; and much property was sacrificed.

This silent and reserved man lived, for many years, simply, in a log
house. His wife was unable to converse in English. Finally, accompanying
the remnant of the tribe to the Indian Territory, he built a mansion,
with modern conveniences, in the reservation of the Senecas.

At the time of emigration to Kansas, a majority of the people were of
superior intelligence, had long adopted the arts of civilization and,
through the influence of missionaries, had become converted to
Methodism. They were distinguished for regularity of feature and grace
of movement, keeping perfect measure in the dance. The women were adepts
in the art of needle-work. At the home of a lady of Wyandot lineage, is
exhibited an elaborate piece of beading, of great age, in fleur-de-lis
pattern. The center of each leaf is of pale pink, encircled with dark
green, skillfully shaded to delicate tints. A variety of colors were
introduced, yet the whole produced a most harmonious effect.

The belle of the nation in the '40s is said to have been so beautiful
and cultured that, on the occasion of a visit to New Orleans, she was
supposed to be a French lady, and the most exclusive society of the city
extended courtesies. The handsome young woman reigned supreme for a
short period. On the return trip, three or four squaws boarded the
steamer, and after standing quietly back for a brief space, silent
witnesses of her numerous conquests, one of them came forward and said:

"Her squaw, like me--heap big squaw."

Contrary to general opinion, the Indians possessed a keen sense of humor
and thoroughly enjoyed a laugh at the expense of one of their number.

In the olden days, Elder Dennison conducted services in the Methodist
Church, through an interpreter. One Sunday, owing to the illness of the
latter, a well-educated Wyandot named Browneyes, was engaged as
substitute. Browneyes, not being religiously inclined, had partaken too
freely of firewater. However, he appeared on the scene well dressed in
honor of the event. A huge cravat, faultlessly tied, and a dark green
coat, resplendent with brass buttons, were prominent features of his
attire. Unfortunately, a large flask protruded from his hip pocket, and
it was quietly decided that Mr. Armstrong should officiate. Browneyes
sat down in a front seat, apparently humiliated on account of being
supplanted. The sermon proceeded smoothly for a time, then he remarked,

"Sile, you are not telling a word of truth, and you know it."

No attention was paid to the interruption, but when the discourse became
more eloquent, he averred, loudly and decidedly:

"Sile, that's a lie, and you know it."

Elder Dennison, discontinuing the address, said:

"Let us pray."

Descending from the rostrum, he placed one hand in the back of
Browneyes' cravat, twisted it until the man's tongue hung out, and
prayed long and loudly. It is needless to say this was the last time the
services were interfered with while the elder presided.

A strange story is related concerning


For some reason, Chudaquana had gained the enmity of a certain old woman
of the community; perhaps he had unwittingly slighted her; perhaps a
family feud existed; at any rate, the evil black eyes seemed to follow
him from place to place. It was reported that this woman had the faculty
of changing herself into a dog. Chudaquana noticed that a
stealthy-looking canine was constantly at his heels. Day after day, and
week after week, the animal was to be seen skulking near. The eyes were
certainly those of the witch. Fearing some great misfortune might ensue
if this continued, he decided to be rid of the nuisance once and

In order to kill a witch it was necessary to use silver bullets. Having
procured these, Chudaquana went about his ordinary pursuits, keeping a
sharp lookout, meantime, for the enemy. It could be seen in the rear, at
some distance, tracing his footsteps. The man sought shelter behind a
tree. On came the wild-looking animal, sniffing at the ground. As it
paused directly opposite, there was a sharp report, an unearthly howl,
and the witch was no more. The silver bullet had fulfilled its mission.
The old woman, so rumor said, carried to the day of her death, festering
and sore, the mark of a bullet in her side.

Romantic courtships and marriages between Wyandot maidens and white
settlers were not infrequent.

Before the entire tribe had discarded its picturesque costume, a young
man of Caucasian descent located among the Wyandots for the purpose of
trade. One clear October morning, looking from the door of the small
frame building in which he conducted business, he saw a graceful figure
approaching, and a moment later, an Indian girl of thirteen or fourteen
years, arrayed in all the finery of her people, stepped lightly across
the threshold and stood, glancing confusedly and with decided coquetry,
at the young merchant. Her slight form was clothed with a loose crimson
waist, or shirt, and a short skirt ornamented with embroidery and
notched ribbons. Beaded moccasins covered the little feet, and
broadcloth leggings extended to the knees. Her black hair was confined
by a silk handkerchief. The color came and went in the dark cheeks, and
bright eyes flashed admiration from under long lashes. He hastened to
respond to orders given timidly in the universal language of signs.

Again and again Markrete visited the store, purchasing brilliant hued
calicoes, beads and blankets, and receiving little presents from the
trader, who endeavored in this manner to win her regard. At last he was
compelled to employ an interpreter, who attempted to persuade her to
accept an offer of marriage.

For some time the girl turned a deaf ear to all overtures. She was too
young to give up freedom; and marriage, to an Indian woman, meant
slavery. She climbed fences and rode horses; on one occasion, when
there was no ferry, swimming her horse across the river in order to
visit a relative.

However, after protracted efforts under many difficulties, the young man
was victorious; and acquired rights in the nation, an Indian name, and
last, but not least, pretty Markrete.

The Wyandots have been gradually absorbed by the white race, and those
who maintain tribal relations are located in the Indian Territory. Many
prominent residents of Kansas City are descended from the Wyandots.

Next: The Pottawatomies

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