NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Previous section

Chapter V. — Iroquois Cosmogony.

THE interpretation of an Iroquois tradition requires a great degree of caution, there being always something concealed by metaphor, or to be explained by after investigation. The mental reservations of the Indian are numerous, and his communications always clothed in figurative language. Still greater circumspection is requisite where the object of research is confessedly mythological, or relates to mysterious agencies. Subjoined, is a copy of a written mythology of the Six Nations, from the pen of the late James Dean, Esq., of Oneida county, New York. Mr. Dean had, from the period of his boyhood, passed his life among the Oneidas, spoke their language fluently, was familiar with their manners and customs, and ever enjoyed their respect and regard. In introducing a paper which is rather marked by plain understanding than by imaginative or descriptive power, it may be observed that no effort has been made to re-construct it, and no change whatever made, which has not been deemed essential to the explanation of the Indian theory.

"An unlimited expanse of water once filled the space now occupied by the world we inhabit. Here was the abode of total darkness, which no ray of light ever penetrated. At this time the human family dwelt in a country situated in the upper regions of the creation, abounding in everything conducive to the comfort and convenience of life. The forests were full of game, the lakes and streams swarmed with fish and fowl, while the earth and fields spontaneously produced a profusion of vegetables for the use of man. An unclouded sun enlivened their days, and storms and tempests were unknown in that happy region.

"The inhabitants were strangers to death, and its harbingers, pain and disease; while their minds, freed from the corroding passions of jealousy, hatred, malice, and revenge, were perfectly happy.

"At length, however, an event occurred which interrupted their tranquillity, and introduced care and anxiety, till then unknown. A certain young man, of high position, was observed to withdraw himself from the circle of their social amusements. The solitary recesses of the grove became his favorite walks; care and chagrin were depicted

-- 667 --

in his countenance; and his body, from long abstinence, presented to the view of his friends the mere skeleton of a man. Anxious friends again and again vainly solicited to know the cause of his grief, until, debilitated both in body and mind, he yielded to the importunities of his associates, and promised to disclose the cause of his troubles, on condition that they would dig up by the roots a certain white pine tree, lay him on his robes near the edge of the hole, and seat his wife by his side. Complying with his request, all were ready, and the fatal tree was taken up by the roots, in doing which the earth was perforated, and a passage opened to the abyss below. The robe was placed by the side of the opening, and the youth laid thereon; his wife taking her seat by his side. The multitude, eager to learn the cause of such strange and unusual conduct, pressed around; when, on a sudden, to their horror and astonishment, he seized upon the woman, then enciente, and precipitated her headlong into the darkness below; then, rising from the ground, he informed the assembly that he had for some time suspected the chastity of his wife, and that having now disposed of the cause of his mental suffering, he should soon recover his usual health and vivacity. All the birds and amphibious animals which now inhabit the earth, then occupied the watery waste, to which the woman in her fall was hastening.

"The loon first discovered her coming, and called a council to prepare for her reception. Observing that the animal which approached was a human being, they knew that earth was indispensably necessary for her accommodation. The first subject of deliberation was, who should support the burden. The sea bear first presented himself for a trial of his strength. Instantly the other animals gathered around, and seated themselves on his back; but the bear, unable to support the weight, sunk beneath the surface of the water, and was judged by the whole assembly unequal to the task of supporting her, and her prerequisite, the earth. Several others in succession presented themselves as candidates for the honor, and with similar ill-success. Last of all, the turtle modestly advanced, tendering his broad shell as the basis of the earth, now about to be formed. The beasts then made trial of its strength to bear weight, and finding their united pressure unable to sink the turtle below the surface, adjudged to him the honor of supporting the world. A foundation being thus provided, the next subject of deliberation was, how to procure earth. It was concluded that it must be obtained from the bottom of the sea. Several of the most expert divers went in quest of it; and uniformly, when they rose to the surface of the water, they were dead. The mink at length took the dangerous plunge, and, after a long absence, his carcass floated to the surface. By a critical examination, a small quantity of earth was discovered in one of his claws, which he had scratched from the bottom. This being carefully preserved, was placed on the back of the turtle. In the meantime, the woman continued falling, and at length alighted on the back of the turtle. The earth had already grown to the size of a man's foot, when she stood with one foot covering the other. Shortly after she had room for both feet, and was soon able to sit down. The

-- 668 --

earth continued to expand, and soon formed a small island, skirted with willow, and other aquatic plants and shrubbery; and at length it stretched out into a widely-extended plain, interspersed with rivers and smaller streams, which, with gentle current, rolled forward their tributary waters to the ocean. Ataheritsic, 884 the woman, then repaired to the sea-shore, erected a habitation, and settled in her new abode. Not long after she became the mother of a daughter, and was supported by the spontaneous productions of the earth until the child arrived at adult years. She was then selected in marriage by several animals, changed into the form of young men. The loon first presented himself as a suitor, in the form of a tall, well-dressed, fine-looking young man. After due consultation with the mother, his suit was rejected. Several others presented themselves, and were rejected by the mother; until, at length, the turtle, with his short neck, short bandy legs, and humped back, offered himself as a suitor, and was received. After she had laid herself down to sleep, the turtle placed upon her abdomen two arrows in the form of a cross, one headed with a flint, the other with the rough bark of a tree, and took his leave. She, in due time, became the mother of two sons, called, in Iroquois, Yoskiki and Thoitsaron, 885 but died in giving them birth. When the time arrived that the children should be born, they consulted together about the best mode of egress from their place of confinement. The youngest determined to make his exit by the natural passage, whilst the other resolved to take the shortest route, by breaking through the walls of his prison; in effecting which he consequently destroyed his mother, thus giving the first evidence of his malignant disposition. The grandmother, enraged at her daughter's death, resolved to destroy the children, and, taking them in her arms, threw them both into the sea. Scarcely had she reached her wigwam, when the children appeared at the door. The experiment of drowning them was several times repeated, but in vain.

"Discouraged by her ill success, she determined to let them live. Then, dividing the corpse of her daughter into two parts, she threw them upwards towards the heavens, when the upper part became the sun and the lower part the moon, which is the reason why the latter has always presented the form of the human face. Then began the succession of day and night in our world. The children speedily became men, and expert archers. The elder, whose name, in Oneida, was Thau-wisk-a-lau (a term expressive of the greatest degree of malignity and cruelty), had the arrow of the turtle pointed with flint, and killed with it the largest beasts of the forest. The younger, whose name, in the same dialect, was Tau-lou-ghy-au-wan-goon (a name denoting unbounded goodness and benevolence), had the arrow headed with bark. The former was, on account of his malignant disposition, and his skill and success in hunting, a favorite with his grandmother. They lived in the midst of plenty, but would not

-- 669 --

permit the younger brother, whose arrow was not sufficiently powerful to destroy anything but birds, to share in their abundance. As this young man was one day wandering along the shore, he saw a bird, perched upon a bough projecting over the water. He attempted to kill it; but his arrow, till that time unerring, flew wide of the mark and sank in the sea. He determined to recover it; and, swimming to the place where it fell, plunged to the bottom. Here, to his astonishment, he found himself in a small cottage. A venerable old man, who was sitting in it, received him with a smile of fraternal complacency, and thus addressed him: ‘My son, I welcome you to the habitation of your father. To obtain this interview, I have directed all the circumstances which have conspired to bring you hither. Here is your arrow, and here is an ear of corn, which you will find pleasant and wholesome food. I have watched the unkindness both of your grandmother and your brother. While he lives, the earth can never be peopled; you must, therefore, take his life. When you return home, you must traverse the whole earth; collect all the flint-stones into heaps which you find, and hang up all the bucks'-horns. These are the only things of which your brother is afraid, or which can make any impression upon his body, which is made of flint. They will furnish you with weapons, always at hand, wherever he may direct his course.’ Having received these and other instructions from his father, he returned to the world, and began immediately to obey his father's directions. This being done, the elder at length resolved on a hunting excursion. On their way to the hunting-ground, he inquired of the younger what were the objects of his greatest aversion. He informed him (falsely) that there was nothing so terrific to him as beech-boughs and bulrushes, and inquired in turn of Thau-wisk-a-lau what he most dreaded; he answered, nothing so much as flint-stones and bucks'-horns, and that nothing else could injure him; and that lately he had been much annoyed by them wherever he went. Having arrived at their place of destination, the elder went in quest of game, leaving the younger to attend to the menial occupation of erecting his hut, and preparing such other accommodations as he required. After an absence of some time, he returned exhausted with fatigue and hunger. Having taken a hearty repast, prepared by his brother, he retired to his wigwam to sleep; and when he had fallen into a profound slumber, the younger kindled a large fire at its entrance. After a time, the elder found himself extremely incommoded by the heat; and the flinty materials of his body, expanding by its intensity, were exploding in large scales from his carcass. In a great rage, and burning with revenge, he broke through the fire in front of the hut, hastened to a neighboring beech, armed himself with a large bough, and returned to chastise and destroy his brother. Finding that his repeated and violent blows had no effect upon his brother, who pelted him with flint-stones and belabored him with bucks'-horns, which caused the flinty scales to fall from his body in copious showers, he betook himself to a neighboring marsh, where he supplied himself with a bundle of bulrushes, and returned to the contest, but with the same want of success. Finding himself deceived, and failing of his purpose, he sought

-- 670 --

safety in flight. As he fled, the earth trembled. A verdant plain, bounded by the distant ocean, lay before him; behind him, the earth sunk in deep valleys and frightful chasms, or rose into lofty mountains or stupendous precipices. The streams ceased to roll forward their waters, and, bursting their barriers, poured down the cliffs in cataracts, or foamed through their rocky channels to the ocean. The younger brother followed the fugitive with vigorous steps, and wounded him continually with his weapons. At length, in a far distant region, beyond the savannahs of the west, he breathed his last, and loaded the earth with his flinty form. 886

"The great enemy of the race of the turtle being destroyed, they came up out of the ground in human form, and for some time multiplied in peace and spread extensively over its surface. 887 Atahentsic, the grandmother, roused to furious resentment for the loss of her darling son, resolved to be revenged. For many days successively, she caused the rain to descend in torrents from the clouds, until the whole surface of the earth, and even the highest mountains, were covered. The inhabitants fled to their canoes, and escaped the impending destruction. The disappointed grandmother then caused the rains to cease, and the waters to subside, when the inhabitants returned to their former places of abode. She then determined to effect her purpose in another manner, and covered the earth with a deluge of snow. To escape this new evil they betook themselves to their snow-shoes, and thus eluded her vengeance. Chagrined at length by these disappointments, she gave up the idea of destroying the whole human race at once, and determined to wreak her vengeance upon them in a manner which, although less violent, should be more efficacious. Accordingly, she has ever since been employed in gratifying her malignant disposition, by inflicting upon mankind all those evils which are suffered in this present world. Tarenyawagon, in Oneida, Tau-lou-ghy-au-wan-goon, on the other hand, displays the infinite benevolence of his nature by bestowing on the human race the blessings they enjoy, all of which flow from his bountiful providence. This personage afterwards dwelt among his brethren under the name of Hiawatha. The name Tarenyawagon, literally translated, is ‘the Holder, or Supporter of the Heavens.’ Hiawatha was the minister of Tarenyawagon, and agent of his good will to mankind."

-- 671 --

Previous section


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic