Chileeli Or The Red Lover

: The Myth Of Hiawatha


Many years ago there lived a warrior on the banks of Lake Superior,

whose name was Wawanosh. He was the chief of an ancient family of his

tribe, who had preserved the line of chieftainship unbroken from a

remote time, and he consequently cherished a pride of ancestry. To the

reputation of birth he added the advantages of a tall and commanding

person, and the dazzling qualities of pe
sonal strength, courage, and

activity. His bow was noted for its size, and the feats he had

performed with it. His counsel was sought as much as his strength was

feared, so that he came to be equally regarded as a hunter, a warrior,

and a counsellor. He had now passed the meridian of his days, and the

term Akkee-waizee, i.e., one who has been long on the earth, was

applied to him.

Such was Wawanosh, to whom the united voice of the nation awarded the

first place in their esteem, and the highest authority in council. But

distinction, it seems, is apt to engender haughtiness in the hunter

state as well as civilized life. Pride was his ruling passion, and he

clung with tenacity to the distinctions which he regarded as an


Wawanosh had an only daughter, who had now lived to witness the budding

of the leaves of the eighteenth spring. Her father was not more

celebrated for his deeds of strength than she for her gentle virtues,

her slender form, her full beaming hazel eyes, and her dark and flowing


"And through her cheek

The blush would make its way, and all but speak.

The sunborn blood suffused her neck, and threw

O'er her clear brown skin a lucid hue,

Like coral reddening through the darken'd wave,

Which draws the diver to the crimson cave."

Her hand was sought by a young man of humble parentage, who had no

other merits to recommend him but such as might arise from a tall and

commanding person, a manly step, and an eye beaming with the tropical

fires of youth and love. These were sufficient to attract the favorable

notice of the daughter, but were by no means satisfactory to the

father, who sought an alliance more suitable to the rank and the high

pretensions of his family.

"Listen to me, young man," he replied to the trembling hunter, who had

sought the interview, "and be attentive to my words. You ask me to

bestow upon you my daughter, the chief solace of my age, and my

choicest gift from the Master of Life. Others have asked of me this

boon, who were as young, as active, and as ardent as yourself. Some of

these persons have had better claims to become my son-in-law. Have you

reflected upon the deeds which have raised me in authority, and made my

name known to the enemies of my nation? Where is there a chief who is

not proud to be considered the friend of Wawanosh? Where, in all the

land, is there a hunter who has excelled Wawanosh? Where is there a

warrior who can boast the taking of an equal number of scalps? Besides,

have you not heard that my fathers came from the East, bearing the

marks of chieftaincy?

"And what, young man, have you to boast? Have you ever met your

enemies in the field of battle? Have you ever brought home a trophy

of victory? Have you ever proved your fortitude by suffering

protracted pain, enduring continued hunger, or sustaining great

fatigue? Is your name known beyond the humble limits of your native

village? Go, then, young man, and earn a name for yourself. It is none

but the brave that can ever hope to claim an alliance with the house of

Wawanosh. Think not my warrior blood shall mingle with the humble mark

of the Awasees[58]--fit totem for fishermen!"

The intimidated lover departed, but he resolved to do a deed that

should render him worthy of the daughter of Wawanosh, or die in the

attempt. He called together several of his young companions and equals

in years, and imparted to them his design of conducting an expedition

against the enemy, and requested their assistance. Several embraced the

proposal immediately; others were soon brought to acquiesce; and,

before ten suns set, he saw himself at the head of a formidable party

of young warriors, all eager, like himself, to distinguish themselves

in battle. Each warrior was armed, according to the custom of the

period, with a bow and a quiver of arrows, tipped with flint or jasper.

He carried a sack or wallet, provided with a small quantity of parched

and pounded corn, mixed with pemmican or maple sugar. He was furnished

with a Puggamaugun, or war-club of hard wood, fastened to a girdle of

deer skin, and a stone or copper knife. In addition to this, some

carried the ancient shemagun, or lance, a smooth pole about a fathom

in length, with a javelin of flint, firmly tied on with deer's sinews.

Thus equipped, and each warrior painted in a manner to suit his fancy,

and ornamented with appropriate feathers, they repaired to the spot

appointed for the war-dance.

A level, grassy plain extended for nearly a mile from the lodge of

Wawanosh along the lake shore. Lodges of bark were promiscuously

interspersed over this green, and here and there a cluster of trees, or

a solitary tall pine. A belt of yellow sand skirted the lake shore in

front, and a tall, thick forest formed the background. In the centre of

this plain stood a high shattered pine, with a clear space about,

renowned as the scene of the war-dance time out of mind. Here the

youths assembled, with their tall and graceful leader, distinguished by

the feathers of the bald eagle, which he wore on his head. A bright

fire of pine wood blazed upon the green. He led his men several times

around this fire, with a measured and solemn chant.[59] Then suddenly

halting, the war-whoop was raised, and the dance immediately began. An

old man, sitting at the head of the ring, beat time upon the drum,

while several of the elder warriors shook their rattles, and "ever and

anon" made the woods re-echo with their yells. Each warrior chanted

alternately the verse of a song, of which the words generally embraced

some prominent idea, often repeated.

The eagles scream on high,

They whet their forked beaks:

Raise--raise the battle cry,

'Tis fame our leader seeks.

Thus they continued the dance, till each had introduced his verse, with

short intermissions, for two successive days and nights. Sometimes the

village seer, who led the ceremony, would embrace the occasion of a

pause to address them with words of encouragement, in a prophetic voice

and air, suited to raise their voices.

In the dreamy hours of night

I beheld the bloody fight.

As reclined upon my bed,

Holy visions crowned my head;

High our guardian spirit bright

Stood above the dreadful fight;

Beaming eye and dazzling brand

Gleamed upon my chosen band,

While a black and awful shade

O'er the faithless foeman spread.

Soon they wavered, sunk, and fled,

Leaving wounded, dying, dead,

While my gallant warriors high

Waved their trophies in the sky.

At every recurrence of this kind, new energy was infused into the

dance, and the warriors renewed their gesticulations, and stamped upon

the ground as if they were trampling their enemies under their feet.

At length the prophet uttered his final prediction of success; and the

warriors dropping off, one by one, from the fire, took their way to the

place appointed for the rendezvous, on the confines of the enemy's

country. Their leader was not among the last to depart, but he did not

leave the village without seeking an interview with the daughter of

Wawanosh. He disclosed to her his firm determination never to return,

unless he could establish his name as a warrior. He told her of the

pangs he had felt at the bitter reproaches of her father, and declared

that his soul spurned the imputation of effeminacy and cowardice

implied by his language. He averred that he could never be happy until

he had proved to the whole tribe the strength of his heart, which is

the Indian term for courage. He said that his dreams had not been

propitious, but he should not cease to invoke the power of the Great

Spirit. He repeated his protestations of inviolable attachment, which

she returned, and, pledging vows of mutual fidelity, they parted.

That parting proved final. All she ever heard from her lover after this

interview was brought by one of his successful warriors, who said that

he had distinguished himself by the most heroic bravery, but, at the

close of the fight, he had received an arrow in his breast. The enemy

fled, leaving many of their warriors dead on the field. On examining

the wound, it was perceived to be beyond their power to cure. They

carried him towards home a day's journey, but he languished and expired

in the arms of his friends. From the moment the report was received, no

smile was ever seen in the once happy lodge of Wawanosh. His daughter

pined away by day and by night. Tears, sighs, and lamentation, were

heard continually. Nothing could restore her lost serenity of mind.

Persuasives and reproofs were alternately employed, but employed in

vain. She would seek a sequestered spot, where she would sit under a

shady tree, and sing her mournful laments for hours together. Passages

of these are yet repeated by tradition.

It was not long before a small bird of beautiful plumage flew upon the

tree under which she usually sat. This mysterious visitor, which, from

its sweet and artless notes, is called Chileeli, seemed to respond in

sympathy to her plaintive voice. It was a strange bird, such as had not

before been observed. It came every day and remained chanting its notes

till nightfall; and when it left its perch on the tree, it seemed, from

the delicate play of the colors of its plumage, as if it had taken its

hues from the rainbow. Her fond imagination soon led her to suppose it

was the spirit of her lover, and her visits to the sequestered spot

were repeated more frequently. She passed much of her time in fasting

and singing her plaintive songs. There she pined away, taking little

nourishment, and constantly desiring to pass away to that land of

expected bliss and freedom from care, where it is believed that the

spirits of men will be again reunited, and tread over fields of flowery

enjoyment. And when death came to her, it was not as the bearer of

gloom and regrets, but as the herald of happiness. After her decease,

the mysterious bird was never more seen, and it became a popular

opinion that the mysterious visitor had flown away with her spirit.[60]

[58] Catfish.

[59] Notes of the Pibbigwun.

[60] Notes of the Pibbigwun.