The cataract of Niagara (properly pronounced Nee-ah-gah-rah), or

Oniahgarah, is as fatal as it is fascinating, beautiful, sublime, and the

casualties occurring there justify the tradition that the Thundering

Water asks two victims every year. It was reputed, before white men

looked for the first time on these falls--and what thumping yarns they

told about them!--that two lives were lost here annually, and this

average has been kept up by men and women who fall into the flood through

accident, recklessness or despair, while bloody battles have been fought

on the shores, and vessels have been hurled over the brink, to be dashed

to splinters on the rocks.

The sound of the cataract was declared to be the voice of a mighty spirit

that dwelt in the waters, and in former centuries the Indians offered to

it a yearly sacrifice. This sacrifice was a maiden of the tribe, who was

sent over in a white canoe, decorated with fruit and flowers, and the

girls contended for this honor, for the brides of Manitou were objects of

a special grace in the happy hunting-grounds. The last recorded sacrifice

was in 1679, when Lelawala, the daughter of chief Eagle Eye, was chosen,

in spite of the urgings and protests of the chevalier La Salle, who had

been trying to restrain the people from their idolatries by an exposition

of the Christian dogma. To his protests he received the unexpected

answer, Your words witness against you. Christ, you say, set us an

example. We will follow it. Why should one death be great, while our

sacrifice is horrible? So the tribe gathered at the bank to watch the

sailing of the white canoe. The chief watched the embarkation with the

stoicism usual to the Indian when he is observed by others, but when the

little bark swung out into the current his affection mastered him, and he

leaped into his own canoe and tried to overtake his daughter. In a moment

both were beyond the power of rescue. After their death they were changed

into spirits of pure strength and goodness, and live in a crystal heaven

so far beneath the fall that its roaring is a music to them: she, the

maid of the mist; he, the ruler of the cataract. Another version of the

legend makes a lover and his mistress the chief actors. Some years later

a patriarch of the tribe and all his sons went over the fall when the

white men had seized their lands, preferring death to flight or war.

In about the year 200 the Stone Giants waded across the river below the

falls on their northward march. These beings were descended from an

ancient family, and being separated from their stock in the year 150 by

the breaking of a vine bridge across the Mississippi, they left that

region. Indian Pass, in the Adirondacks, bore the names of Otneyarheh,

Stony Giants; Ganosgwah, Giants Clothed in Stone; and Dayohjegago, Place

Where the Storm Clouds Fight the Great Serpent. Giants and serpents were

held to be harmful inventions of the Evil Spirit, and the Lightning god,

catching up clouds as he stood on the crags, broke them open, tore their

lightnings out and hurled them against the monsters. These cannibals had

almost exterminated the Iroquois, for they were of immense size and had

made themselves almost invincible by rolling daily in the sand until

their flesh was like stone. The Holder of the Heavens, viewing their evil

actions from on high, came down disguised as one of their number--he used

often to meditate on Manitou Rock, at the Whirlpool--and leading them to

a valley near Onondaga, on pretence of guiding them to a fairer country,

he stood on a hill above them and hurled rocks upon their heads until

all, save one, who fled into the north, were dead. Yet, in the fulness of

time, new children of the Stone Giants (mail-clad Europeans?) entered the

region again and were destroyed by the Great Spirit,--oddly enough where

the famous fraud known as the Cardiff giant was alleged to have been

found. The Onondagas believed this statue to be one of their ancient


Nezhik-e-wa-wa-sun Or The Lone Lightning Night Travelling facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail