THE SPIRIT OF THE CORN
AN IROQUOIS LEGEND
BY HARRIET MAXWELL CONVERSE (ADAPTED)
THERE was a time, says the Iroquois grandmother, when it was
not needful to plant the corn-seed nor to hoe the fields,
for the corn sprang up of itself, and filled the broad
meadows. Its stalks grew strong and tall, and were covered
with leaves like waving banners, and filled with ears of
pearly grain wrapped in silken green husks.
In those days Onatah, the Spirit of the Corn, walked upon
the earth. The sun lovingly touched her dusky face with the
blush of the morning, and her eyes grew soft as the gleam of
the stars on dark streams. Her night-black hair was spread
before the breeze like a wind-driven cloud.
As she walked through the fields, the corn, the Indian
maize, sprang up of itself from the earth and filled the air
with its fringed tassels and whispering leaves. With Onatah
walked her two sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the
Bean. As they passed by, squash-vines and bean-plants grew
from the corn-hills.
One day Onatah wandered away alone in search
 of early dew. Then the Evil One of the earth,
Hahgwehdaetgah, followed swiftly after. He grasped her by
the hair and dragged her beneath the ground down to his
gloomy cave. Then, sending out his fire-breathing monsters,
he blighted Onatah's grain. And when her sisters, the
Spirits of the Squash and the Bean, saw the flame-monsters
raging through the fields, they flew far away in terror.
As for poor Onatah, she lay a trembling captive in the dark
prison-cave of the Evil One. She mourned the blight of her
cornfields, and sorrowed over her runaway sisters.
"O warm, bright sun!" she cried, "if I may walk once more
upon the earth, never again will I leave my corn!"
And the little birds of the air heard her cry, and winging
their way upward they carried her vow and gave it to the sun
as he wandered through the blue heavens.
The sun, who loved Onatah, sent out many searching beams of
light. They pierced through the damp earth, and entering the
prison-cave, guided her back again to her fields.
And ever after that she watched her fields alone, for no
more did her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and Bean,
watch with her. If her fields thirsted, no longer could she
seek the early dew. If the flame-monsters burned her corn,
 not search the skies for cooling winds. And when the great
rains fell and injured her harvest, her voice grew so faint
that the friendly sun could not hear it.
But ever Onatah tenderly watched her fields and the little
birds of the air flocked to her service. They followed her
through the rows of corn, and made war on the tiny enemies
that gnawed at the roots of the grain.
And at harvest-time the grateful Onatah scattered the first
gathered corn over her broad lands, and the little birds,
fluttering and singing, joyfully partook of the feast spread
for them on the meadow-ground.
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