: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The story of Hiawatha--known about the lakes as Manabozho and in the East

as Glooskapis the most widely disseminated of the Indian legends. He came

to earth on a Messianic mission, teaching justice, fortitude, and

forbearance to the red men, showing them how to improve their handicraft,

ridding the woods and hills of monsters, and finally going up to heaven

amid cries of wonder from those on whose behalf he had worked and

/> counselled. He was brought up as a child among them, took to wife the

Dakota girl, Minnehaha (Laughing Water), hunted, fought, and lived as a

warrior; yet, when need came, he could change his form to any shape of

bird, fish, or plant that he wished. He spoke to friends in the voice of

a woman and to enemies in tones like thunder. A giant in form, few dared

to resist him in battle, yet he suffered the common pains and adversities

of his kind, and while fishing in one of the great lakes in his white

stone canoe, that moved whither he willed it, he and his boat were

swallowed by the king of fishes. He killed the creature by beating at its

heart with a stone club, and when the gulls had preyed on its flesh, as

it lay floating on the surface, until he could see daylight, he clambered

through the opening they had made and returned to his lodge.

Believing that his father had killed his mother, he fought against him

for several days, driving him to the edge of the world before peace was

made between them. The evil Pearl Feather had slain one of his relatives,

and to avenge that crime Hiawatha pressed through a guard of

fire-breathing serpents which surrounded that fell personage, shot them

with arrows as they struck at him, and having thus reached the lodge of

his enemy he engaged him in combat. All day long they battled to no

purpose, but toward evening a woodpecker flew overhead and cried, Your

enemy has but one vulnerable point. Shoot at his scalp-lock. Hiawatha

did so and his foe fell dead. Anointing his finger with the blood of his

foe, he touched the bird, and the red mark is found on the head of every

woodpecker to this day. A duck having led him a long chase when he was

trying to capture it for food, he angrily kicked it, thus flattening its

back, bowing its legs, despoiling it of half of its tail-feathers, and

that is why, to this day, ducks are awkward.

In return for its service in leading him to where the prince of serpents

lived, he invested the kingfisher with a medal and rumpled the feathers

of its head in putting it on; hence all kingfishers have rumpled knots

and white spots on their breasts. After slaying the prince of serpents he

travelled all over America, doing good work, and on reaching Onondaga he

organized a friendly league of thirteen tribes that endured for many

years. This closed his mission. As he stood in the assemblage of chiefs a

white bird, appearing at an immense height, descended like a meteor,

struck Hiawatha's daughter with such force as to drive her remains into

the earth and shattered itself against the ground. Its silvery feathers

were scattered, and these were preserved by the beholders as ornaments

for their hair--so the custom of wearing feather head-dresses endures to

our time. Though filled with consternation, Hiawatha recognized the

summons. He addressed his companions in tones of such sweetness and terms

of such eloquence as had never been heard before, urging them to live

uprightly and to enforce good laws, and unhappy circumstance!--promising

to come back when the time was ripe. The expectancy of his return has led

to ghost-dances and similar demonstrations of enmity against the whites.

When he had ended he entered his stone canoe and began to rise in air to

strains of melting music. Higher and higher he arose, the white vessel

shining in the sunlight, until he disappeared in the spaces of the sky.

Incidents of the Hiawatha legend are not all placed, but he is thought to

have been born near the great lakes, perhaps at Mackinack. Some legends,

indeed, credit him with making his home at Mackinack, and from that

point, as a centre, making a new earth around him. The fight with his

father began on the upper Mississippi, and the bowlders found along its

banks were their missiles. The south shore of Lake Superior was the scene

of his conflict with the serpents. He hunted the great beaver around Lake

Superior and brought down his dam at the Sault Sainte Marie. A depression

in a rock on the southern edge of Michipicotea Bay is where he alighted

after a jump across the lake. In a larger depression, near Thunder Bay,

he sat when smoking his last pipe. The big rocks on the east side of

Grand Traverse Bay, near Antrim City, Michigan, are the bones of a stone

monster that he slew.

So trifling an incident as the kicking of the duck has been localized at

Lake Itasca. [It is worth passing mention that this name, which sounds as

if it were of Indian origin, is held by some to be composed of the last

syllables of veritas and the first letters of caput, these

words-signifying the true head--being applied by early explorers as

showing that they were confident of having found the actual source of the

Mississippi.] Minnehaha lived near the fall in Minneapolis that bears her

name. The final apotheosis took place on the shores of Lake Onondaga, New

York, though Hiawatha lies buried under a mountain, three miles long, on

the east side of Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, which, from the water,

resembles a man lying on his back. The red man makes oblation, as he rows

past, by dropping a pinch of tobacco into the water. Some say that

Hiawatha now lives at the top of the earth, amid the ice, and directs the

sun. He has to live in a cold country because, if he were to return, he

would set the earth on fire with his footsteps.