Mabel Powers.

Stories the Iroquois tell their children online

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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Janet Blenkinship and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









STORIES
THE IROQUOIS
TELL THEIR
CHILDREN


[Illustration]


MABEL POWERS
(YEH SEN NOH WEHS)


AMERICAN BOOK COMPANY
NEW YORK CINCINNATI CHICAGO

Copyright, 1917, by
MABEL POWERS.
_All rights reserved._
W. P. 9


[Illustration]




TO ALL THE CHILDREN WHO ASK
HOW AND WHY,
ESPECIALLY THOSE RED CHILDREN
WHO SEE WITH WONDER EYES,
AND THOSE PALEFACE CHILDREN
WHO YET BELIEVE IN FAIRIES,
THESE STORIES ARE LOVINGLY DEDICATED

[Illustration]




CONTENTS

PAGE

ACKNOWLEDGMENT 8

FOREWORD BY THE CHIEFS 9

INTRODUCTORY

HOW THE STORIES CAME TO BE 11

WHY I WAS CALLED THE STORY-TELLER 13

THE LITTLE PEOPLE 18

STORY-TELLING TIME 23

HOW THE IROQUOIS GIVE THANKS 27

A FIREMAKER AND A PEACEMAKER 34


IROQUOIS WONDER STORIES

HOW THE WHITE MAN CAME 45

WHY THE EAGLE DEFENDS AMERICANS 49

HOW THE TURKEY BUZZARD GOT HIS SUIT 60

WHY THE PARTRIDGE DRUMS 66

HOW THE INDIANS LEARNED TO HEAL 69

WHY DOGS CHASE FOXES 75

WHY HERMIT THRUSH IS SO SHY 79

HOW GOOD AND EVIL CAME TO BE 85

HOW A BOY WAS CURED OF BOASTING 90

WHY THE CUCKOO IS SO LAZY 95

HOW THE COON OUTWITTED THE FOX 99

WHY THE GOLDFINCHES LOOK LIKE THE SUN 103

WHAT THE ASH AND THE MAPLE LEARNED 107

HOW THE WOMAN OVERCAME THE BEAR 112

WHY THE WOODPECKER BORES FOR ITS FOOD 115

WHY THE ICE ROOF FELL 119

WHY THE CHIPMUNK HAS BLACK STRIPES 122

HOW TWO INDIAN BOYS SETTLED A QUARREL 125

HOW MICE OVERCAME THE WARRIORS 130

WHY CROWS ARE POOR 135

WHY THE INDIAN LOVES HIS DOG 139

GREEDY FAWN AND THE PORRIDGE 145

WHY HOUNDS OUTRUN OTHER ANIMALS 152

WHY INDIANS NEVER SHOOT PIGEONS 155

HOW OLD MAN WINTER WAS DRIVEN BACK 159

WHY LIGHTNING SOMETIMES STRIKES 168

WHY THE HARE HAS A SPLIT LIP AND SHORT TAIL 176

CORN PLUME AND BEAN MAIDEN 180

HOW THE ROBIN BURNED HIS BREAST 187


IROQUOIS FAIRY STORIES

HOW MORNING STAR LOST HER FISH 195

HOW LITTLE SHOOTER LOST HIS LUCK 201

HOW AN INDIAN BOY WON HIS NAME 205

HOW THE FAIRIES WORKED MAGIC 211




ACKNOWLEDGMENT


If the Red Children had not welcomed the writer to their lodge fires,
these stories the Iroquois tell their children could not have been
retold. With one or two exceptions, the ideas found in the stories have
been had from the lips of the Indians themselves. To ARTHUR C.
PARKER - _Ga wa so wa neh_ - for his careful review of the stories and
assistance in securing authentic Iroquois illustrations; and to the
following story-tellers who so kindly welcomed her to their lodges, and
told her stories, the writer is most grateful.

EDWARD CORNPLANTER (_So son do wah_ - "Great Night") Seneca Wolf
WILLIAM PATTERSON (_Ga reh hwonts_ - "Power has come down") Tuscarora Deer
MOSES SHONGO (_Ho non da a suh_ - "Keeper of the hills") Seneca Wolf
CLIFFORD SHONGO (_Ouhn yah dah goh_ - "Very dark blue sky") Seneca Wolf
CHARLES DOXON (_Hoh squa sa ga dah_ - "Woodsman") Onondaga Turtle
DANIEL GEORGE (_Jo ha a ga dah_ - "Roadscraper") Onondaga Eel
MARY PRINTUP (_Wah le sa loh_) Mohawk Snipe
DAN WILLIAMS
(_Oh geh rah u reh ru ha neh_ - "Running Bear") Tuscarora Bear
ELI HENRY Tuscarora Deer
HARRIETT PEMBLETON (_Gah do rehn tah_ - "Dropping Husks") Tuscarora Turtle
AMOS KILLBUCK
(_Har wen do dyoh_ - "He has forsaken early dawn") Seneca Wolf
ALFRED JIMESON (_Har neh a oh_ - "Hatchet in his hands") Seneca Heron
WILLIAM HOAG (_O no nah_ - "Very cold") Seneca Wolf
ELLEN PIERCE SHONGO (_Yea wen noh aih_ - "The high word") Seneca Wolf
BAPTIST THOMAS (_Sa ha whe_ - "Long feather") Onondaga Turtle
ALBERT CUSICK (_Sha go na qua da_ - "Made them mad") Onondaga Eel
THEODORE JIMESON (_Jah o yah_) Seneca Snipe
DAVID WARRIOR (_Dwen o gwah_) Cayuga White Heron
WILLETT JIMESON (_So i as ah_ - "Owner of fine cornstalks") Seneca Wolf
NANCY GREYSQUIRREL (_Gah gwah tah_ - "One who lifts") Seneca Bear
EMILY TALLCHIEF (_Gi das was_ - "Wind blowing through corn") Seneca Turtle
LOUISE PIERCE LOGAN (_Ga yah was_ - "The quivering heaven") Seneca Wolf
THOMAS JONES (_Gah ne yehs_ - "The dropping snow") Seneca Wolf




FOREWORD


Once our fathers own these lands of New York State. Once the Iroquois
were great people. Their council fires burn from Hudson on east to Lake
Erie on west, from rising to setting sun. Then White man come. He ask
for small seat size buffalo skin. He take larger and larger one, till
Indian have but small place to sit.

Now we have little left but stories of our fathers. They, too, will soon
be lost and forgotten, but a voice has come to speak for us. _Yeh sen
noh wehs_ - the one who tells the stories - will carry these stories of
our fathers to Paleface. She will help White man to understand Indian,
Indian to be understood. She will have all men brothers.

Indian's heart is glad that _Yeh sen noh wehs_, our white friend, has
come to us. She have good eyes. She see right. She like things Indian.
She try to preserve them. Our old men and women tell her the stories
told them, many, many moons ago, when little children.

_Yeh sen noh wehs_ write down these stories so our children and our
children's children may read and know them; and so Paleface Children may
learn them also. Indian tell these stories to his children to make them
good and brave and kind and unselfish. May they teach Paleface Children
how they should do.

Again we say, Indian is glad to have some one speak for him. He is glad
to have some one write down the great and beautiful thoughts in Indian's
mind and heart. We have spoken. _Na ho._

Chief of Seneca Nation,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]

Chief of Onondagas,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]

Chief of Tuscaroras,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]

Chief of Oneidas,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]

Chief of Cayugas,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]

Chief of Mohawks,

[Illustration: handwritten signature]




HOW THE STORIES CAME TO BE


Out of the moons of long ago, these stories have come. Then every tribe
of the Iroquois had its story-teller.

When the Old Man of the North came out of his lodge, and the forests and
rivers of the Red Children grew white with his breath, these
story-tellers wandered from wigwam to wigwam.

Seated on warm skins by the fire, the story-teller would exclaim,
"_Hanio_!" This meant, "Come, gather round, and I will tell a story."

Then all the Red Children would cry, "_Heh_," and draw close to the
fire. This meant that they were glad to hear the story. And as the
flames leaped and chased one another along the fire trail, they would
listen to these wonder stories of the Little People, of the trees and
flowers, of birds, of animals, and men. When the story-teller had
finished, he said, "_Na ho_." This meant, "It is the end."

The earth was very young, when the Red Children first learned how
everything came to be, and just why it is that things are as they are.
They told these wonderful things to their children, and their children
in turn told them to their children; and those children again in turn
told them to theirs, that these things might not be forgotten.

Now, but few of the Red Children know these stories that the
grandmothers and old men of the tribe used to tell. The story-teller is
no longer seen wandering from wigwam to wigwam.

[Illustration]




WHY I WAS CALLED THE STORY-TELLER


Some time ago the writer of these stories was asked to speak for an
Indian Society. She accepted the invitation, and that night made her
first Indian friends.

Her new friends told her many beautiful things about the Red Children.
The more the writer learned about the Iroquois people, and things
Indian, the more interested she became. After a time she began to tell
the Paleface the things she had learned.

Soon, one of the tribes, the Senecas - the tribe to which her new friends
belonged - heard that she was speaking for them. They wished to honor
her, so they asked her to be present at their Green-Corn Feast, and
become one of them.

So when the Green-Corn moon hung her horn in the night sky, the writer
found the trail to the Land of the Senecas. There the Senecas adopted
her into the Snipe clan of their nation. She was called _Yeh sen noh
wehs_ - "One who carries and tells the stories."

Thus it was that the writer became one of the Red Children, _Yeh sen noh
wehs_ - the Daughter of the Senecas.

The more _Yeh sen noh wehs_ learned of the Red Children, and their
simple stories, the more she loved them. One day, _Yeh sen noh wehs_
said she would be the story-teller not only of the Senecas, but of all
the tribes of the Iroquois. There are six great families of this people.
Each family is called a tribe or nation.

Once, the council fires of these six nations burned from the Hudson on
the east, to Lake Erie on the west, and they were a great and powerful
people.

It was at the time of the Berry Moon that _Yeh sen noh wehs_ hit the
story trail. Since then she has journeyed through all the lands of the
Senecas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, the Mohawks, and the
Tuscaroras.

Like the story-teller of old, _Yeh sen noh wehs_ wandered from lodge to
lodge of the Iroquois. "_Hanio_," she would call, and as the Indians
gathered round, she would tell them one of the stories that other Indian
friends had told to her.

Sometimes this would remind the Red Children of another story, which
_Yeh sen noh wehs_ did not know, and they would tell it to her. It was
in this way that these stories have been gathered.

There were many days when _Yeh sen noh wehs_ told her stories, but none
were told in return. Few members of the tribes - these usually the
oldest - could remember the stories "they used to tell."

Sometimes _Yeh sen noh wehs_ heard a story as she trudged along a
furrow, beside a ragged Indian who was plowing with a more
ragged-looking team. Or she would listen as she helped an Indian woman
prepare the evening meal, pick berries, or gather nuts.

[Illustration]

Sometimes, as _Yeh sen noh wehs_ sat by a fire down in the depths of a
beautiful wood, and watched the smoke of the sacred medicine rise, a
medicine man would tell her a story; or an Indian woman would drop a
word, as she sat at her door weaving baskets or making beadwork.

These stories _Yeh sen noh wehs_ has made into a story book, that they
might not be lost and forgotten; that all the Iroquois Red Children and
their children's children might know and tell them, and that Paleface
children might learn them as well.

The American children have no fairies of their own. They must borrow
their fairies from children of other nations. _Yeh sen noh wehs_ thought
it very sad, so she put a magic feather in her cap, and winged moccasins
on her feet. Then she went on the chase for real American wonder
stories, and for real American fairies.

[Illustration]

Had there not been a feather in the magic cap she wore, _Yeh sen noh
wehs_ would not have found them. But the feather pointed the way to the
Nature Wonder Trail, and there she caught a glimpse of the "Little
People," - the only true American fairies.




THE LITTLE PEOPLE


All children who live close to Mother Earth come to know and to see the
fairies of the flowers, the woods, the rocks, and the waters.

These fairies the Iroquois call the _Jo gah oh_, or "Little People,"
because they are so small. The Little People can do wonderful things.
Whatever they wish, they can do. They can fly through the air. They can
dart under or through the water, into the earth and through the rocks,
as they please, for they wear invisible moccasins and travel in winged
canoes.

Their wee babies are carried on the little mothers' backs, - just like
the Indian's papoose. The little fathers have wonderful winged bows and
arrows, that can shoot any distance they wish.

[Illustration]

The Little People bring good luck to the Indians. Whatever Indian boys
and girls wish for, - if they wish hard enough, the _Jo gah oh_ will
bring to them.

It is said that there are three tribes of these Little People, - those
that live in the rocks beside streams and lakes, those that hover near
the flowers and plants, and those that guard the dark places under the
earth.

The rock Little People are very strong. They can uproot large trees and
can hurl great rocks. Sometimes they dare the Indians to a test of
strength with them. They also like to play ball with stones.

The Red Children fear the Stone Throwers, as they call them. But they
love the little folk that help the flowers to blossom, and the fruit and
grains to grow and ripen.

They remember these Little People in their Feasts of Thanksgiving, for
do the _Jo gah oh_ not help the sweet waters of the maple to flow? Do
they not whisper to the growing seeds and show the way to the light? Do
they not guide the runners of the strawberries, turn the blossoms to the
sun, and paint the berries red? They also tint the grains, and give to
the corn its good taste.

A third tribe of Little People dwell under the earth. They guard the
sacred white buffaloes, and keep the serpent monsters that live in the
darkness below from coming to the surface to the Red Children.

[Illustration]

There are trails that lead out to the sunlight, but the Little People
guard them close, although sometimes a great serpent will find the
trail of a spring, and will follow it and poison the waters.

Often, at night, these elves of the dark come to the upper world to
dance with the other Little People.

Wherever you find a tree in a deep, dark part of the wood, around which
no grass will grow, there you may be sure a dance ring has been formed.
There the Little People have danced till the moon dropped out of the
sky.

[Illustration: DANCE RATTLE]




STORY-TELLING TIME


The old-time Indians say that long, long ago, the Little People made a
law that stories must not be told in summer.

Summer is the time for work. Bees must store their honey. Squirrels must
gather their nuts. Men must grow their corn. Trees and plants must leaf,
and flower, and bear their fruit.

If stories were told, plants, birds, animals, and men would stop their
work to listen. This would mean poor crops and hungry people. Animals
would forget to grow their winter coats and lay by their winter stores.
Birds would fail to start in time for the South.

The old Indians say that the story-teller who disobeys this law of _Jo
gah oh_ will suffer some misfortune. Winter is the time to tell the
stories, for then the work of animals, plants, and men is done, - and the
Little People are fast asleep.

No, it is not safe to tell stories in summer. No one knows when a bird,
or a bee, or a butterfly may be listening, and may tell the chief of the
Little People. Should the chief of the Little People be offended, he
might cause something dreadful to happen to the story-teller.

Last summer, the writer of these stories came very near being changed
into an animal, - or something worse, - just for telling stories. So an
old Indian said. She does not know now how she escaped. She thinks it
must have been because she was a White Indian. This is how it happened.

It was at the time of the Harvest Moon. _Yeh sen noh wehs_ spoke for one
of the tribes at their council house, and she told some of these wonder
stories.

All went well until the middle of the night. Then a very old Indian
came to warn her of her danger. It seems that he had been at the council
in the evening, and had heard the stories told, many of which he knew.

He told _Yeh sen noh wehs_ he had expected to see her change into
something else right then and there. He said he would not dare to tell a
story. "No, no, me 'fraid, evil come!" he said.

Then he wanted to know if _Yeh sen noh wehs_ was a real Indian. He had
been told that she was a White Indian, but when he heard her tell the
stories, he said, he thought she was a real Indian.

When _Yeh sen noh wehs_ told him that she had not a drop of Indian blood
running in her veins, he looked very solemn. At last he spoke. He told
the interpreter to tell her, - for he spoke but a few words of
English, - that the Great Spirit made a snake, a snake; a fox, a fox; a
muskrat, a muskrat; a coon, a coon; a bear, a bear; an Indian, an
Indian; a White Indian, a White Indian. Each must be snake, fox, coon,
bear, Indian or White Indian, as long as he lived. Each must be himself.

Then the old man asked what disease _Yeh sen noh wehs_ had, that made
her go around with a feather in her hair, acting like a real Indian, if
she were a White Indian.

_Yeh sen noh wehs_ had no answer. And she does not know to this day,
what saved her from being changed into a rabbit, a katydid, or something
worse, by the chief of the Little People. She knows, however, that she
is very glad she is telling the stories to you, in the WINTER time.

[Illustration]




HOW THE IROQUOIS GIVE THANKS


The Iroquois Red Children are a grateful people. The true Iroquois never
rises after eating without saying, "_Niaweh_," which means, "I am
thankful." The others reply, "_Niuh_," - "It is well."

The Red Children never pick a flower without thinking how kind the Great
Spirit has been, to cause the flowers to grow. They like flowers, and no
matter how poor the Indian cabin, flowers are always to be found near.

When the Iroquois pick fruit, they give thanks to the Great Spirit. And
always do they leave some, for the "little brothers of the wood."

They do not try to pick every cherry or berry, or nut or apple, for
themselves. Fruits grow for the birds and animals as well as for men,
and the little brothers of the wood must not be forgotten. Some of
everything that grows is left for them.

[Illustration: SAP BUCKET]

During the spring and summer, the Iroquois give several thanksgiving
feasts. The first is early in the spring, at maple-sugar time. As soon
as the sap begins to flow, the Maple Feast is called.

The Indians gather about a large maple tree. A fire is lighted near,
upon which one of their number sprinkles tobacco. As the smoke rises, a
prayer of thanksgiving is made to the Great Spirit, for causing the
sweet waters of the maple to flow. Then the maple trees are thanked for
their service to men, and protection is asked for the trees during the
coming year.

When "the leaf of the dogwood is the size of a squirrel's ear," it is
planting time. Then an Indian maid goes into the fields and scatters a
few grains of corn, asking the aid of the Great Spirit for the harvest.
The Indian always plants his seed with the growing moon, that it may
grow with the moon.

[Illustration]

The next feast is the Strawberry Feast and Dance.

The strawberry is one of the best gifts of the Great Spirit to his
children. So greatly is it prized that it is thought to grow on the Sky
Road that leads to the Happy Hunting Ground. An Indian who has been very
ill, near death, will say, "I almost ate strawberries."

When the strawberry ripens, the Red Children are happy. They sing their
praises to the Great Spirit and dance with joy. They remember the Little
People who have helped to make the berries beautiful, and they have a
song of praise and dance of thanks for them as well. Without the help of
the Little People, the strawberries would not be so sweet and ripe.

At the time of the Harvest Moon comes the last feast of the summer. This
thanksgiving feast lasts four days. The Indians not only give thanks for
the ripening of the corn, but for every growing thing. Therefore this
feast is longer than the others, since it takes some time to name all
the good gifts of the Great Spirit to the Red Children, and to give
thanks for them all.

There is a story[1] of the corn in which the Spirit of the Corn is a
maiden, not a handsome young chief, as one of the stories claims. This
Corn Maiden was one of three sisters, and was called _Ona tah_.

[Footnote 1: _Myths and Legends of the Iroquois_, by Harriet Maxwell
Converse.]

The three sister vegetables - the corn, the bean, and the squash - were
called the _Di o he ko_, which means "those we live on," since they are
the life-giving vegetables.

These sisters lived together on a hill and were very happy. But one day
_Ona tah_ wandered away in search of dews for her kernels.

The Evil Spirit was watching. He seized _Ona tah_, the Spirit of the
Corn, and sent one of his monsters to blight her fields. The killing
winds swept over the hill, and the spirits of the squash and bean fled
before them.

_Ona tah_ was held for some time a prisoner in the darkness under the
earth, by the Evil Spirit.

[Illustration]

At last a sun ray found her and guided her back to her lost hilltop.
There she found that her sisters had fled. She was alone.

Then _Ona tah_ made a vow to the sun that she would never again leave
her fields. But she sighs for her lost sisters, and mourns the blight
that came upon her beautiful fields. For since the time when _Ona tah_
wandered away and left her fields, the corn has not grown so tall or so
beautiful as once it did.

[Illustration]




A FIREMAKER AND A PEACEMAKER


[Illustration]

In the olden times, tribes of Indians did not always live in one place
as they do now. They sometimes wandered from one valley or woodland to
another. When they came to a sheltered place, where there was pure
running water, and where plenty of game and wood were to be found, they
would build their lodges and light their council fires.

There they might camp for one moon, or for many moons. As long as their
arrows brought game on the hunting trails near, they would not break
camp. But if game grew scarce, or if for any reason they did not like
the camp ground, they would move farther on.

Sometimes they would go several days' journey, before they found a
camping place such as they liked.

The first thing that was done in making a camp was to secure fire and
light the council fire. This fire was always kept burning. It never went
out while they remained.

The Indians loved the fire. It was the gift of the Great Spirit to the
Red Children. It kept them warm and cooked their food by day, and
protected them by night.

A line of fires was kept burning around the camp. This protected the Red
Children from the wild animals, for all animals fear fire, and are
charmed by it. They might prowl and howl all night long outside the fire
ring, but never would they attempt to come within that ring. There the
Indians could sleep in peace, guarded by the spirits of the fire.

[Illustration]

The Indian that could make fire first became a chief and leader. When it
was decided to camp at a certain place, a signal would be given. At this
the young braves would leap into the woods, to see which one first could
bring back fire. Each had his own secret way of making it. Usually a
bowstring was twisted about a fire stick, and the stick was turned


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Online LibraryMabel PowersStories the Iroquois tell their children → online text (page 1 of 6)