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WIGWAM LEGEND OF HIAWATHA
N the banks of Tioto, or Cross Lake, resided an eminent man who bore
the name of Hiawatha, or the Wise Man.
This name was given him, as its meaning indicates, on account of his
great wisdom in council and power in war. Hiawatha was of high and
mysterious origin. He had a canoe which would move without paddles,
obedient to his will, and which he kept with great care and never used
except when he attended the general council of the tribes. It was from
Hiawatha the people learned to raise corn and beans; through his
instructions they were enabled to remove obstructions from the water
courses and clear their fishing grounds; and by him they were helped to
get the mastery over the great monsters which overran the country. The
people listened to him with ever increasing delight; and he gave them
wise laws and maxims from the Great Spirit, for he had been second to
him only in power previous to his taking up his dwelling with mankind.
Having selected the Onondagas for his tribe,
 years passed away in
prosperity; the Onondagas assumed an elevated rank for their wisdom and
learning, among the other tribes, and there was not one of these which
did not yield its assent to their superior privilege of lighting the
But in the midst of the high tide of their prosperity, suddenly there
arose a great alarm at the invasion of a ferocious band of warriors from
the North of the Great Lakes; and as these bands advanced, an
indiscriminate slaughter was made of men, women, and children.
Destruction fell upon all alike.
The public alarm was great; and Hiawatha advised them not to waste their
efforts in a desultory manner, but to call a council of all the tribes
that could be gathered together, from the East to the West; and, at the
same time, he appointed a meeting to take place on an eminence on the
banks of the Onondaga Lake. There, accordingly, the chief men assembled,
while the occasion brought together a vast multitude of men, women, and
children, who were in expectation of some marvellous deliverance.
Three days elapsed, and Hiawatha did not appear. The multitude began to
fear that he was not coming, and messengers were despatched for him to
Tioto, who found him depressed with a presentiment that evil would
follow his attendance. These fears were overruled by the eager
persuasions of the messengers; and Hiawatha, taking his daughter with
him, put his wonderful canoe in its element and set out for the council.
The grand assemblage that was to avert the threatened danger appeared
quickly in sight, as he moved rapidly along in his magic canoe; and when
the people saw him, they sent up loud shouts of welcome until the
 landed. A steep ascent led up the banks of the lake to the
place occupied by the council; and, as he walked up, a loud whirring
sound was heard above, as if caused by some rushing current of air.
Instantly, the eyes of all were directed upward to the sky, where was
seen a dark spot, something like a small cloud, descending rapidly, and
as it approached, enlarging in its size and increasing in velocity.
Terror and alarm filled the minds of the multitude and they scattered in
confusion. But as soon as he had gained the eminence, Hiawatha stood
still, causing his daughter to do the same—deeming it cowardly to fly,
and impossible, if it was attempted, to divert the designs of the Great
Spirit. The descending object now assumed a more definite aspect; and,
as it came nearer, revealed the shape of a gigantic white bird, with
wide-extended and pointed wings. This bird came down with ever
increasing velocity, until, with a mighty swoop, it dropped upon the
girl, crushing her at once to the earth.
The fixed face of Hiawatha alone indicated his consciousness of his
daughter's death; while in silence he signalled to the warriors, who had
stood watching the event in speechless consternation. One after the
other stepped up to the prostrate bird, which was killed by its violent
fall, and selecting a feather from its snow-white plumage, decorated
himself therewith. [Footnote: Since this event, say the Indians of this
tribe, the plumage of the white heron has been used for their
decorations on the war-path.]
But now a new affliction fell upon Hiawatha; for, on removing the
carcass of the bird, not a trace could be discovered of his daughter.
Her body had vanished from the earth. Shades of anguish contracted the
dark face of Hiawatha. He stood apart in voiceless
 grief. No word was
spoken. His people waited in silence, until at length arousing himself,
he turned to them and walked in calm dignity to the head of the council.
The first day he listened with attentive gravity to the plans of the
different speakers; on the next day he arose and said: "My friends and
brothers; you are members of many tribes, and have come from a great
distance. We have come to promote the common interest, and our mutual
safety. How shall it be accomplished? To oppose these Northern hordes in
tribes singly, while we are at variance often with each other, is
impossible. By uniting in a common band of brotherhood we may hope to
succeed. Let this be done, and we shall drive the enemy from our land.
Listen to me by tribes. You, the Mohawks, who are sitting under the
shadow of the great tree, whose branches spread wide around, and whose
roots sink deep into the earth, shall be the first nation, because you
are warlike and mighty. You, the Oneidas, who recline your bodies
against the everlasting stone that cannot be moved, shall be the second
nation, because you always give wise counsel. You, the Onondagas, who
have your habitation at the foot of the great hills, and are
overshadowed by their crags, shall be the third nation, because you are
greatly gifted in speech. You, the Senecas, whose dwelling is in the
dark forest, and whose home is all over the land, shall be the fourth
nation, because of your superior cunning in hunting. And you, the
Cayugas, the people who live in the open country and possess much
wisdom, shall be the fifth nation, because you understand better the art
of raising corn and beans, and making lodges. Unite, ye five nations,
and have one common interest, and no foe shall
 disturb and subdue you.
You, the people who are the feeble bushes, and you who are a fishing
people, may place yourselves under our protection, and we will defend
you. And you of the South and West may do the same, and we will protect
you. We earnestly desire the alliance and friendship of you all.
Brothers, if we unite in this great bond, the Great Spirit will smile
upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous, and happy; but if we remain
as we are, we shall be subject to his frown. We shall be enslaved,
ruined, perhaps annihilated. We may perish under the war-storm, and our
names be no longer remembered by good men, nor be repeated in the dance
and song. Brothers, those are the words of Hiawatha. I have spoken. I am
[Footnote: Canassatego, a renowned chief of the Confederacy, in
his remarkable piece of advice to the Colonial Commissioners of
Lancaster in July, 1744, seems to imply that there was an error in this
plan of Hiawatha, as it did not admit all nations into their Confederacy
with equal rights.]
The next day his plan of union was considered and adopted by the
council, after which Hiawatha again addressed the people with wise words
of counsel, and at the close of this speech bade them farewell; for he
conceived that his mission to the Iroquois was accomplished, and he
might announce his withdrawal to the skies. He then went down to the
shore, and assumed his seat in his mystical canoe. Sweet music was heard
in the air as he seated himself; and while the wondering multitude stood
gazing at their beloved chief, he was silently wafted from sight, and
they saw him no more. He passed to the Isle of the Blessed, inhabited by
Owayneo [Footnote: A name for their Great Spirit in the dialect of the
Iroquois.] and his manitos.
And they said, "Farewell forever!"
Said, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the forests, dark and lonely,
Moved through all their depths of darkness^
Sighed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the waves upon the margin,
Rising, rippling on the pebbles,
Sobbed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the heron, the shuh-shu-gah,
From her haunts among the fen-lands,
Screamed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
Thus departed Hiawatha,
Hiawatha the Beloved,
In the glory of the sunset,
In the purple mists of evening,
To the regions of the home-wind,
Of the northwest wind, Keewaydin,
To the Islands of the Blessed,
To the kingdom of Ponemah,
To the land of the Hereafter.
[Footnote: "The Song of Hiawatha," by H. W. Longfellow.]