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^^f^^ducation Department Bulletin

Published fortnightly by the University of the State of New York

Entered as second-class matter June 24, 1908. at the Post Office at Albany, N. Y., under
the act of July 16, 1894

No. 530


November 1,1912

New York State Museum

John M, Clarke, Director

Museum Bulletin 163




i»iM J 2 b. la lJ



Introduction 5

Handsome Lake 9

Effects of Handsome Lake's

teaching 14

How the white race came to

America 16

The Gaiwiio code 20

Sections I to 130: The Great

Message 27

Part 2. !^eld notes on rites and

ceremonies 81

White dog sacrifice 85

Ganeowo 94

Cornplanting and maple thanks-
giving lOI

Legend of the coming of Death. . 105
The funeral address 107


The death feast no

Medicine societies 113

Dark dance or pygmy ceremony . . 119

Society of otters 121

Society of mystic animals 122

The eagle society 124

The bear society 125

The Buffalo society 125

Chanters for the dead 126

Woman's society 126

Sisters of the Dio''he'ko 126

False face company 127

Husk faces 129

Iroquois sun myths 131

Anecdotes of Cornplanter 136

Key to pronunciation 139

Index 145







Book.i aH 2>A-




New York State Education Department

Science Diz'ision, September ii, iqi3

Hon. Andrew S. Draper LL.D.

Commissioner of Education

Sir: I transmit to you herewith and recommend for publication
as a bulletin of the State Museum, a manuscript entitled The Code
of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet, prepared by Arthur C.
Parker, Archeologist.

Very respectfully

John M. Clarke



commissioner's room

Approved for puhUcation this i6th day of September iqij


Education Department Bulletin

Published fortnightly by the University of the State of New York

Entered as second-class matter June 24, 1908. at the Post OfGce at Albany, N. Y.,
under the act of July 16, 1894

No. 530 ALBANY, N. Y. November i. 1912

New York State Museum

Juiix M. Clarke, Director
Museum Bulletin 163





The (lai'wiio' is the reeord of the teachings of Handsome Lake,
the Seneca prophet, and purports to be an exact exposition of the
precepts that he taught during a term of sixteen years, ending with
his death in 1815. It is the basis of the so-called "new religion"
of the Six Nations and is preached or recited at all the annual mid-
winter festivals on the various Iroquois reservations in New York
and Ontario that have adherents. These reservations are Onon-
daga, Tonawanda, Cattaraugus and Allegany in New York and
Grand River and Muncytown in Ontario.

There are six authorized " holders "' of the Gai'wiio'^ among
whom are John Gibson (Ganio'dai'io') and Edward Cornplanter
( Soson'dowa), Senecas, and Frank Logan (Adodar'ho), Onon-
daga. Chief Cornplanter is by far the most conservative though
Chief Gibson seems to have the greater store of explanatory mat-
ter, often interpolating it during his exposition. Chief Logan is a
devout adherent of his religion and watches the waning of his
prophet's teachings with grave concern. His grief is like that of
Hiawatha (Haiyo"'wentha) and inclines him to leave Onondaga
for a region where the prophet will not be jeered.

'Key to pronunciation of Indian words on page 139. See also Glossary,
page 140.


The slalttl times for the proclaiming of the Gai'wiio' are at the
Six Nations' meeting in September and at the midwinter thanks-
giving in the moon Nisko'wuknl, between January 15th and Febrn-
ar)^ 15th. At such times the Ongwe"onweka or " faithful In-
dians " send for an expounder paying his traveling expenses and
entertaining him during his stay. Usually reservations "exchange ''
preachers, Cornplanter going to Grand River or Onondaga and
Chief Gibson to Cattaraugus or Allegany.

The time consumed in reciting the Gai'wiio' is always three days.
At noon each day the expositor stops, for the sun is in midheaven
and readv to descend. All sacred things must be done sede'tcifi,
early in the morniug. Before sunrise each morning of the preach-
ing the preacher stands at the fireplace in the long house and sings
a song known as the Sun Song. This is an obedience to a command
of the prophet who promised that it should insure good weather for
the day. " The wind always dies down when I sing that song,"
affirms Chief Cornplanter.

During the recital of the Gai'wiio' the preacher stands at the
fireplace which serves as the altar. Sitting beside him is an assist-
ant or some officer of the rites who holds a white wampum strand.^
A select congregation sits on benches placed across the long house
but the majority use the double row of seats around the walls. The
w^omen wear shawls over their heads and during afifecting parts of
the story hide their faces to conceal the tears. Some of the men,
stirred to emotion, likewise are moved to tears but are unable to
hide them. Such emotion once detected by the auditors sometimes
l)ecomes contagious and serves as the means of scores repledging
their allegiance to the old religion. In 1909, for example, 136
Allegany Senecas promised Chief Cornplanter that they would stop
drinking licj[Uor and obey the commands of Handsome Lake. \'isit-
ing Canadian Oneida Indians at the Grand River ceremonies, as
a result of such a " revival," petitioned for a visit of the Gai'wiio'
preachers several years ago, saying that a portion of the Oneida
of the Thames wished to return to the " old way." This some of
them have done but they comj^lain of the persecution of their
Christian tribesmen who threatened to burn their council house. In
other places the case seems dififerent and the " prophet's cause " is
not espoused with nmch enthusiasm h\ the younger element to
whom the white man's world and thought present a greater appeal.

'The original Handsome Lake belt is still displaved at the religious council
at Tonawanda. (See plate 15.)


Those who Hve in communities in which the prophet's word is still
strong are drawn to the ceremonies and to the recitals hecause it is
a part of their social system.

Its great appeal to the older people is that it presents in their own
language a system of moral precepts and exhortations that they can
readily understand. The prophet, who is called " oitr great
teacher" ( sedwa'gowa'ne'), was a man of their own l:)lood, and the
ground that he traversed was their ancestral domain. Patriotism
and religious emotion mingle, and, when the story of the " great
wrongs " is remembered, spur on a ready acceptance. The fraudu-
lent treaty of Buffalo of 1838, for example, caused many of the
Buffalo Senecas to move to the Cattaraugus reservation. Here they
settled at Ganun'dase' or Newtown, then a desolate wilderness.
Their bitter wrongs made them hate white men and to resist all
missionary eft'orts. Today there is no mission chapel at Newtown.
All attempts have failed.^ Whether future ones will readily succeed
is conjectural. The Indian there clings to his prophet and heeds
the word of his teacher. At Cold Spring on the Allegany is an-
other center of the " old time people." On the Tonawanda reserva-
tion this element is chiefly centered " down below " at the long
house. On the Onondaga reservation the long house stands in the
middle of the Onondaga village and the Ganung'sisne'ha ( long
house people) are distributed all over the reservation but perhaps
chiefly on Hemlock road. It is an odd sight, provoking strange
thoughts, to stand at the tomb of the prophet near the council house
and watch each day the hundreds of automobiles that fly by over
the State road. The Tuscarora and St Regis Indians are all nomin-
ally Christians and they have no long houses.

The present form of the Gai'wiio' was determined by a council
of its preachers some fifty years ago. They met at Cold Spring,
the old home of Handsome Lake, and compared their versions.
Several differences were found and each preacher thought his ver-
sion the correct one. At length Chief John Jacket, a Cattaraugus
Seneca, and a man well versed in the lore of his people, was chosen
to settle forever the words and the form of the Gai'wiio'. This
he did by writing it out in the Seneca language by the method taught
by Rev. Asher Wright, the Presbyterian missionary. The preachers
assembled again, this time, according to Cornplanter, at Cattaraugus
where they memorized the parts in which they were faulty. The
original text was written on letter paper and now is entirely de-

See Caswell, Our Life Aiikmis the Troquois. Bpstoii. i8<)S.


stroyed. Chief Jacket gave it to Henry Stevens and Chief Stevens
passed it on to Chief Cornplanter who after he had memorized the
teachings became careless and lost the papers sheet by sheet. Fear-
ing that the true form might become lost Chief Cornplanter in 1903
began to rewrite the Gai'wiio' in an old minute book of the Seneca
Lacrosse Club. He had finished the historical introduction when
the writer discovered what he had done. He was implored to finish
it and give it to the State of New York for preservation. He was
at first reluctant, fearing criticism, but after a council with the lead-
ing men he consented to do so. He became greatly interested in
the progress of the translation and is eager for the time to arrive
when all white men may have the privilege of reading the " wonder-
ful message " of the great prophet.

The translation was made chiefly by William Bluesky, the native
lay preacher of the Baptist church. It was a lesson in religious
toleration to see the Christian preacher and the " Instructor of the
Gai'wiio' " side by side working over the sections of the code, for
beyond a few smiles at certain passages, in which Chief Corn-
planter himself shared, Mr Bluesky never showed but that he
reverenced every message and revelation of the four messengers.



Handsome Lake, the Seneca prophet, was born in 1735 in the
Seneca village of Conawagas (Gano"'wages) on the Genesee river
opposite the present town of Avon, Livingston county. He is de-
scribed by Buffalo Tom Jemison as a middle-sized man, slim and
unhealthy looking. He was a member of one of the noble
(hoya'ne') families in which the title of Ganio'dai'io' or
Ska'niadar'io' is vested, thus holding the most honored Seneca title.
What his warrior name was is not known and neither is it known
just when he received the name and title by which he later became
known. It is known, however, that he belonged to the Turtle clan.
Later he was " borrowed " by the Wolves and reared by them. His
half brother was the celebrated Cornplanter.

The general story of his life may be gleaned from a perusal of
his code, there being nothing of any consequence known of his life
up to the time of his "vision."' Li 1794 his name appears on a
treaty but whether he took active part in the debates that led up to
it is not known. It is known from tradition and from his own
story that he was a dissolute person and a miserable victim of the
drink habit. The loss of the Genesee country caused him to go
with his tribesmen to the Allegany river settlements. Here he
became afflicted with a wasting disease that was aggravated by his
continued use of the white man's fire water. For four years he
lay a helpless invalid. His bare cabin scarcely afforded him shelter
but later he was nursed by his married daughter who seems to have
treated him with affection. His sickness afforded him much time
for serious meditation and it is quite possible that some of his pre-
cepts are the result of this opportunity. His own condition could
not fail to impress him with the folly of using alcoholic drink and
the wild whoops of the drunken raftsmen continually reminded him
of the " demon's " power over thought and action. In the fore-
word of his revelation he tells how he became as dead, and of the
visitation of the " four beings " who revealed the will of the

After this first revelation he seemed to recover and immediately
began to tell the story of his visions. His first efforts were to con-
demn the use of the " first word " or the white man's " one'ga."
He became a temperance reformer but his success came not from
an appeal to reason but to religious instinct. The ravages of


inlemperance for a century had made serious inroads on the domestic
and social life of his people. It had demoralized their national life
and caused his brother chiefs to barter land for the means of a
debauch. It threatened the extinction of his people. Such were
the factors that induced the revelation.

He was a man past the prime of life, a man weakened by disease
and drunkenness. Yet he assumed the role of teacher and prophet.
In two years' time his efforts were conducive of so much reform
that they attracted the attention of President Jefiferson who caused
Secretary of War Dearborn to write a letter commending the teach-
ings of Handsome Lake. The Seneca construed this as a recogni-
tion of the prophet's right to teach and prophesy. The nature of
the document is revealed in the following letter, a copy of which is
in the possession of every religious chief of the Six Nations :

Brothers — The President is pleased with seeing you all in
good health, after so long a journey, and he rejoices in his heart
that one of your own people has been employed to make you
sober, good and happy; and that he is so well disposed to give
you good advice, and to set before you so good examples.

Brothers — If all the red people follow the advice of your
friend and teacher, the Handsome Lake, and in future will he
sober, honest, industrious and good, there can be no doubt but the
Great Spirit will take care of you and make you happy.

This letter came as one of the results of Handsome Lake's visit
in 1802, to Washington with a delegation of Seneca and Onondaga
chiefs. The successful results of his two years' ministry became
more fruitful as time went on. In 1809 a number of members of
the Society of Friends visiting Onondaga left the following record,
of the effects of the prophet's teachings : " We were informed, not
only by themselves, but by the interpreter, that they totally refrained
from the use of ardent spirits for about nine years, and that none
of the natives will touch it.''

The success of Handsome Lake's teachings did much to crystal-
lize the Iroquois as a distinct social group. The encroachments of
civilization had demoralized the old order of things. The old be-
liefs, though still held, had no coherence. The ancient system had
no longer definite organization and thus no specific hold.

The frauds which the Six Nations had suffered, the loss of land
and of ancient seats had reduced them to poverty and disheartened
them. The crushing blow of Sullivan's campaign was yet felt and
the wounds then inflicted were fresh. The national order of the
Confederacy was destroyed. Poverty, the sting of defeat, the loss
of ancestral homes, the memory of broken promises and the hostility


of the white settlers all conspired to bring despair. There is
not mttch energy in a despairing nation who see themselves hopeless
and alone, the greedy eyes of their conquerors fastened on the few
acres that remain to them. It was little wonder that the Indian
sought forgetfulness in the trader's rum.

As a victim of such conditions, Handsome Lake stalked from the
gloom holding up as a beacon of hope his divine message, the
Gai'wiio'. He became in spite of his detractors a commanding
figure. He created a new system, a thing to think about, a thing to
discuss, a thing to believe. His message, whether false or true, was
a creation of their own and afforded a nucleus about which they
could cltister themselves and fasten their hopes. A few great
leaders such as Red Jacket denounced him as an imposter but this
only afforded the necessary resistant element. The angels then
conveniently revealed that Red Jacket was a schemer and a seller
of land and an unhappy w^retch doomed to carry burdens of soil
through eternity as a punishment for perfidy. This was enough
to create a prejudice among the Indians and one that lasts to this
day an^ong all classes of the reservation Iroquois. A few others
endeavored to expose the prophet but this action only created a
large faction that stood strongly for him.

Whatever may be the merits of the prophet's teachings, they
created a revolution in Iroquois religious life. With the spread of
his doctrines the older religious system was overturned until today
it is to be doubted that a single adherent remains. Handsome
Lake's followers were few at first. He was despised, ridiculed and
subject to bodily insults. Certain failures to live up to a precon-
ceived idea of what a prophet should be caused a continual perse-
cution. Cornplanter, his half brother, continually harassed him, as
may be seen in the relation. Some of his failures, real or fancied,
catised caktmny to be heaped upon him and they are current todav
among those inclined to scoff". It is said that he learned his ideas
of morality from his nephew, Henry Obail (Abeal), who had been
at school in Philadelphia. Henry, it is said, took him up in the
mountains and explained the Christain Bible to him, thus giving
him the idea of devising the Gai'wiio'. Other tales are that he failed
to find the great serpent in the bed of the Allegany river though he
pretended to locate it and charge it with ha\ing spread disease
auK^ng the i)eople, and that he erected an idol on an island in the
river, a thing which from more authentic accounts he did not do.

Previous to his residence at Tonawanda he had lived ten vears


at Cornplanter's town and two years at Cold Spring. At the latter
place he made so many enemies that he resolved to leave with his
followers. This was in about 1812. With him went his chief fol-
lowers and his family, among them his grandson Sos'heowa who
later became his successor.

Sos'heowa was born in 1774 in the old town of Ganowa'ges, the
home of both Cornplanter and Handsome Lake. Lewis H. Morgan,
who knew him well, describes him as " an eminently pure and
virtuous man . . . devoted ... to the duties of his office,
as the spiritual guide and teacher of the Iroquois."

Morgan gives a full account of the recitation of Sosehawa at
the mourning council at Tonawanda in 1848^ and credits the
translation to Sosehawa's grandson, Ely S. Parker (Ha-sa-

During the prophet's four years' stay at Tonawanda he became
many times discouraged, " reluctant to tell," and though the people
gradually became more friendly, he seemed loath at times to pro-
claim his revelations. Some Christian Indians have explained this
as caused by an uneasy conscience that came with greater knowl-
edge of the white man's religion but there is no evidence of this.
During this stay he was invited to visit the Onondaga and this he
did, though according to his visions it necessitated the singing of
his " third song," which meant that he should die. In a vision
which he related he saw the four messengers who said " They have
stretched out their hands pleading for you to come and they are
your own people at Onondaga " (section 122).

When the word was given. Handsome Lake with a few chosen
followers started to walk to Onondaga. His prediction of his own
death, however, caused many more to join the party when it became
definitely known he had started. The first camping spot mentioned
is at the old village, Gano^'wa^ges. Here upon retiring he com-
manded the company to assemble " early in the morning." At the
morning gathering he announced a vision. It had been of a path-
way covered with grass. At the next camp, at Ganundasa'ga, his
vision was of a woman speaking. On the borders of Onondaga he
discovered that he had lost a favorite knife and went back to find
it. He was evidently much depressed and approached Onondaga
with a reluctance that almost betokened fear. Upon his arrival he

1 Morgan, League, p. 233, Rochester, 1851.

2 Later known as DionT'hoga'we, Door Keeper, a sachem of the Seneca.
Parker was Morgan's collaborator in writing the League of the Iroquois.


was unable to address the people because of his distress, so that it
was said, " Our meeting is only a gathering about the fireplace."
A game of lacrosse was played to cheer him but he could only re-
spond to the honor by saying : " I will soon go to my new home.
Soon will I step into the new world for there is a plain pathway
before me leading there."" He repaired to his cabin at the foot of
the hill, in sight of the council house and there after a most dis-
tressing illness " commenced his walk " over the path that had
appeared before him. He was buried under the council house with
impressive ceremonies and his tomb may still be seen though the
house has been removed. A granite monument, erected by the Six
Nations, marks his resting place.

Handsome Lake lived to see his people divided into two factions,
one that clung to the old order and one that followed him. After
his death the older order gradually faded out of existence, either
coming over to the New Religion or embracing Christianity. Thus
by the time of the Civil War in 1861 there were only the two ele-
ments, the Christians and the followers of Handsome Lake. They
stand so arrayed today but with the '' new religionists " gradually
diminishing in number. The force of Handsome Lake's teaching,
however, is still felt and affects in some w^ay all the New York
reservations, except perhaps St Regis.

Handsome Lake as the founder of a religious system occupied
such a position that his followers place implicit confidence in that
system whatever his personal weaknesses and failures may have

" He made mistakes," said Chief Cornplanter, " many mistakes,
so it is reported, but he was only a man and men are liable to com-
mit errors. Whatever he did and said of himself is of no conse-
quence. What he did and said by the direction of the four
messengers is everything — it is our religion. Ganiodaiio was weak
in many points and sometimes afraid to do as the messengers told
him. He was almost an unwilling servant. He made no divine
claims, he did not pose as infallible nor even truly virtuous. He
merely proclaimed the Gai'wiio' and that is what we follow, not
him. We do not w^orship him, we worship one great Creator. We
honor and revere our prophet and leader, we revere the four
messengers who watch over us — but the Creator alone do we
worship." Such is the argument of his followers.



There is no record of Handsome Lake's visiting Tuscarora,
Oneida or St Regis. The result is that these reservations contain
only Indians who are nominally Christian. The Oneida are virtually
citizens, the Tuscarora as capable of being so as any community of
whites, and the St Regis progressive enough not only to use all
their own lands but to rent from the whites. Their " Indianess "
is largely gone. They ha\'e no Indian customs though they are
afifected b\' Indian folk-thought and exist as Indian communities,
governing their selves and receiving annuities. Their material
culture is now largely that of the whites about them and they are
Indians only l)ecausc they dwell in an Indian reservation, possess
Indian blood and speak an Iroquois dialect.

In. contrast to these reservations where the Indian has become
■■ whitemanized " stand out the reservations of the Seneca and
Onondaga. On the latter the folk-ways and the " Indian way of
thinking " struggle with the white man's civilization for supremacy.
The Indian of the old way is arrayed against the Indian of the
new way. The conservative Indian calls his Christian brother a
traitor to his race, a man ashamed of his ancestors, a man who
condones all the wrongs the white man has done his people, and a
man who is at best an imitator and a poor one. On the other
hand the Christain Indian calls his " feather wearing " (AdTstowae' )
brother, " a blind man in the wilderness," a nonprogressive, behind
the times, a man hopelessly struggling against fate, a heathen and

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