The Sun Fire At Sault Sainte Marie

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Father Marquette reached Sault Sainte Marie, in company with Greysolon Du

Lhut, in August, 1670, and was received in a manner friendly enough, but

the Chippewas warned him to turn back from that point, for the Ojibways

beyond were notoriously hostile to Europeans, their chief--White

Otter--having taken it on himself to revenge, by war, his father's

desertion of his mother. His father was a Frenchman. Inspired by his

sion, and full of the enthusiasm of youth and of the faith that had

led him safely through a host of dangers and troubles, Marquette refused

to change his plans, and even ventured the assertion that he could tame

the haughty Otter and bring him to the cross. At dawn he and his doughty

henchman set off in a war-canoe, but, on arriving in White Otter's camp

and speaking their errand, they were seized and bound, to await death on

the morrow. The wife of the chief spoke, out of the kindness of her

heart, and asked mercy for the white men. To no avail. The brute struck

her to the ground. That night his daughter, Wanena, who had seen Du Lhut

at the trading post and had felt the stir of a generous sentiment toward

him, appeared before the prisoners when sleep was heaviest in the camp,

cut their bonds, led them by an obscure path to the river, where she

enjoined them to enter a canoe, and guided the boat to the Holy Isle.

This was where the Ojibways came to lay offerings before the image of

Manitou, whose home was there believed to be. There the friendly red men

would be sure to find and rescue them, she thought, and after a few hours

of sleep she led them into a secluded glen where stood the figure rudely

carved from a pine trunk, six feet high, and tricked with gewgaws. As

they stood there, stealthy steps were heard, and before they could

conceal themselves White Otter and eight of his men were upon them. Du

Lhut grasped a club from among the weapons that--with other

offerings--strewed the earth at the statue's feet and prepared to sell

his life dearly. The priest drew forth his crucifix and prayed. The girl

dropped to the ground, drew her blanket over her head, and began to sing

her death-song.

So the black-coat and the woman-stealer have come to die before the

Indian's god? sneered the chief.

If it be God's will, we will die defying your god and you, replied

Marquette. Yet we fear not death, and if God willed he could deliver us

as easily as he could destroy that worthless image. He spoke in an

undertone to Du Lhut, and continued, confidently, challenge your god to

withstand mine. I shall pray my God to send his fire from the sky and

burn this thing. If he does so will you set us free and become a


I will; but if you fail, you die.

And if I win you must pardon your daughter.

White Otter grunted his assent.

The sun was high and brought spicy odors from the wood; an insect hummed

drowsily, and a bird-song echoed from the distance. Unconscious of what

was being enacted about her, Wanena kept rocking to and fro, singing her

death-song, and waiting the blow that would stretch her at her father's

feet. The savages gathered around the image and watched it with eager

interest. Raising his crucifix with a commanding gesture, the priest

strode close to the effigy, and in a loud voice cried, in Chippewa, In

the name of God, I command fire to destroy this idol!

A spot of light danced upon the breast of the image. It grew dazzling

bright and steady. Then a smoke began to curl from the dry grass and

feathers it was decked with. The Indians fell back in amazement, and when

a faint breeze passed, fanning the sparks into flame, they fell on their

faces, trembling with apprehension, for Marquette declared, As my God

treats this idol, so can he treat you!

Then, looking up to see the manitou in flames, White Otter exclaimed,

The white man's God has won. Spare us, O mighty medicine!

I will do so, if you promise to become as white men in the faith and be

baptized. Tamed by fear, the red men laid aside their weapons and knelt

at a brook where Marquette, gathering water in his hands, gave the rite

of baptism to each, and laid down the moral law they were to live by.

Wanena, who had fainted from sheer fright when she saw the idol burning,

was restored, and it may be added that the priest who Christianized her

also married her to Du Lhut, who prospered and left his name to the city

of the lake. News of the triumph of the white men's God went far and

wide, and Marquette found his missions easier after that. Du Lhut alone,

of all those present, was in the father's secret. He had perpetrated a

pious fraud, justified by the results as well as by his peril. A

burning-glass had been fastened to the crucifix, and with that he had

destroyed the idol.

Trading thus on native ignorance a Frenchman named Lyons at another time

impressed the Indians at Dubuque and gained his will by setting a creek

on fire. They did not know that he had first poured turpentine over it.