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The Story of Hiawatha

Preface

The Peace-Pipe

Long ago, when our cities were pleasant woodlands and the white man was far beyond the seas, the great Manito, God of all the Indians, descended to the earth. From the red crags of the Great Red Pipestone Quarry he gazed upon the country that he ruled, and a silver river gushed from this footprints and turned to gold as it met with morning sun. The Great Manitor stooped to gather some of the red stone of the quarry, and molded it with giant fingers into a mighty pope-bowl; he plucked a reed from the river bank for a pope-stem, filled the pipe with the bark of the willow, breathed upon the forest until the great boughs chafed together into flame, and there alone upon the mountains he smoked the pipe of peace. The smoke rose high and slowly in the air. Far above the tops of the tallest pine-trees it rose in a thin blue line, so that all the nations might see and hasten at the summons of the Great Manito; and the smoke as it rose grew thicker and purer and whiter, rolling and unfolding in the air until it glistened like a great white fleecy could that touched the top of heaven. The Indians saw it from the Valley of Wyoming, and from Tuscaloosa and the far-off Rocky Mountains, and their prophets said: "Come and obey the summons of the Great Manito, who called the tribes of men to council!"

Over the prairies, down the rivers, through the forests, from north and south and east and west, the red men hastened to approach the smoke-cloud. There were Delawares and Dacotahs and Choctaws and Comanches and Pawnees and Blackfeet and Shoshonies, — all the tribes of Indians in the world, and one and all they gathered at the Pipestone Quarry, where the Great Manito stood and waited for them. And the Great Manito saw that they glared at one another angrily, and he stretched his right hand over them and said:

"My children, I have given you a happy land, where you may fish and hunt. I have filled the rivers with the trout and sturgeon. There are wild fowl in the lakes and marshes; there are bears in the forest and bison on the prairie. Now listen to my warning, for I am weary of your endless quarrels: I will send a Prophet to you, who shall guide you and teach you and share your sufferings. Obey him, and all will be well with you. Disobey him, and you shall be scattered like the autumn leaves. Wash the war-paint and the bloodstains from your bodies; mould the red stone of the quarry into peace-pipes, and smoke with me the pipe of peace and brotherhood that shall last forever."

The tones of his deep voice died away, and the Indians broke their weapons and bathed in the sparkling river. They took the red stone of the quarry and made peace-pipes and gathered in a circle; and while they smoked the Great Manito grew taller and mightier and lighter until he drifted on the smoke high above the clouds into the heavens.

The Four Winds

In the far-off kingdom of Wabasso, the country of the North-wind, where the fierce blasts howl among the gorges and the mountains are like flint the year round, Mishe Mokwa, the huge bear, had his cave. Years had passed since the great Manito had spoken to the tribes of men, and his words of warning were forgotten by the Indians; the smoke of his peace-pipe had been blown away by the four winds, and the red men smeared their bodies with new war-paint, as they had done in days of old. But, brave as they were, none of them dared to hunt the monster bear, who was the terror of the nations of the earth. He would rise from his winter sleep and bring the fear of death into the villages, and he would come like a great shadow in the night to kill and to destroy. Year by year the great bear became bolder, and year by year the number of his victims had increased until the mighty Mudjekeewis, bravest of all the early Indians, grew into manhood.

Although Mudjekeewis was so strong that all his enemies were afraid of him, he did not love the war-path, for he alone remembered the warning of the great Manito; and as he wished to be a hero, and yet to do no harm to his fellow men, he decided to hunt and kill the great bear of the mountains, and to take the magic belt of shining shells called wampum that the great bear wore about his neck. Mudjekeewis told this to the Indians, and one and all they shouted: "Honor be to Mudjekeewis!"

For a weapon he took a huge war-club, made of rock and the trunk of a tough young pine, and all alone he went into the Northland to the home of Mishe Mokwa. Many days he hunted, for the great bear knew of his coming, and the monster's savage heart felt fear for the first time; but at last, after a long search, Mudjekeewis heard a sound like far-off thunder, that rose and fell and rose again until the echoes all around were rumbling, and he knew the sound to be the heavy breathing of the giant bear, who slept. Softly Mudjekeewis stole upon him.

The great bear was sprawled upon the mountain, so huge that his fore-quarters rose above the tallest boulders, and on his rough and wrinkled hide the belt of wampum shone like a string of jewels. Still he slept; and Mudjekeewis, almost frightened by the long red talons and the mighty arms and fore-paws of the monster, drew the shining wampum softly over the closed eyes and over the grim muzzle of the bear, whose heavy breathing was hot upon his hands.

Then Mudjekeewis gripped his club and swung it high above his head, shouting his war-cry in a terrible voice, and he struck the great bear on the forehead a blow that would have split the rocks on which the monster slept. The great bear rose and staggered forward, but his senses reeled and his legs trembled beneath him. Stunned, he sat upon his haunches, and from his mighty chest and throat came a little whimpering cry like the crying of a woman. Mudjekeewis laughed at the great bear, and raising his war-club once again, he broke the great bear's skull as ice is broken in winter. He put on the belt of wampum and returned to his own people, who were proud of him and cried out with one voice that the West-wind should be given him to rule. Thenceforth he was known as Kabeyun, father of the winds and ruler of the air. Kabeyun had three sons, to whom he gave the three remaining winds of heaven. To Wabun he gave the steady East-wind, fresh and damp with the air of the ocean; to the lazy Shawondasee he gave the scented breezes of the south, and to the cruel Kabibonokka he gave the icy gusts and storm-blasts of the Northland.

Wabun, the young and beautiful, ruled the morning, and would fly from hill to hill and plain to plain awakening the world. When he came with the dew of early dawn upon his shoulders the wild fowl would splash amid the marshes and the lakes and rivers wrinkle into life. The squirrels would begin to chatter in the tree-tops, the moose would crash through the thicket, and the smoke would rise from a thousand wigwams.

And yet, although the birds never sang so gayly as when Wabun was in the air, and the flowers never smelled so sweet as when Wabun blew upon their petals, he was not happy, for he lived alone in heaven. But one morning, when he sprang from the cloud bank where he had lain through the night, and when he was passing over a yet unawakened village, Wabun saw a maiden picking rushes from the brink of a river, and as he passed above her she looked up with eyes as blue as two blue lakes. Every morning she waited for him by the river bank, and Wabun loved the beautiful maiden. So he came down to earth and he wooed her, wrapped her in his robe of crimson till he changed her to a star and he bore her high into the heavens. There they may be seen always together, Wabun and the pure, bright star he loves — the Star of Morning.

"Ho," cried Kabibonokka, "I will rush upon him! I will shake his lodge to pieces! I will scatter his bright fire and drive him far to the south!" And in the night Kabibonokka piled the snowdrifts high about the lodge of Shingebis, and shook the lodge-pole and wailed around the smoke-flue until the flames flared and the ashes were scattered on the floor. But Shingebis cared not at all. He merely turned the log until it burned more brightly, and laughed and sang as he had done before, only a little louder: "O Kabibonokka, you are but my fellow-mortal!"

"I will freeze him with my bitter breath!" roared Kabibonokka; "I will turn him to a block of ice," and he burst into the lodge of Shingebis. But although Shingebis knew by the sudden coldness on his back that Kabibonokka stood beside him, he did not even turn his head, but blew upon the embers, struck the coals and made the sparks flicker up the smoke-flue, while he laughed and sang over and over again: "O Kabibonokka, you are but my fellow-mortal!"

Drops of sweat trickled down Kabibonokka's forehead, and his limbs grew hot and moist and commenced to melt away. From his snow-sprinkled locks the water dripped as from the melting icicles in spring, and the steam rose from his shoulders. He rushed from the lodge and howled upon the moorland; for he could not bear the heat and the merry laughter and the singing of Shingebis, the diver."Come out and wrestle with me!" cried Kabibonokka." Come and meet me face to face upon the moorland!" And he stamped upon the ice and made it thicker; breathed upon the snow and made it harder; raged upon the frozen marshes against Shingebis, and the warm, merry fire that had driven him away.

Then Shingebis, the diver, left his lodge and all the warmth and light that was in it, and he wrestled all night long on the marshes with Kabibonokka, until the North- wind's frozen grasp became more feeble and his strength was gone. And Kabibonokka rose from the fight and fled from Shingebis far away into the very heart of his frozen kingdom in the north.

Shawondasee, the lazy one, ruler of the South-wind, had his kingdom in the land of warmth and pleasure of the sunlit tropics. The smoke of his pipe would fill the air with a dreamy haze that caused the grapes and melons to swell into delicious ripeness. He breathed upon the fields until they yielded rich tobacco; he dropped soft and starry blossoms on the meadows and filled the shaded woods with the singing of a hundred different birds.

How the wild rose and the shy arbutus and the lily, sweet and languid, loved the idle Shawondasee! How the frost-weary and withered earth would melt and mellow at his sunny touch! Happy Shawondasee! In all his life he had a single sorrow — just one sleepy little sting of pain. He had seen a maiden clad in purest green, with hair as yellow as the bright breast of the oriole, and she stood and nodded at him from the prairie toward the north. But Shawondasee, although he loved the bright-haired maiden and longed for her until he filled the air with sighs of tenderness, was so lazy and listless that he never sought to win her love. Never did he rouse himself and tell her of his passion, but he stayed far to the southward, and murmured half asleep among the palm-trees as he dreamed of the bright maiden.

One morning, when he awoke and gazed as usual toward the north, he saw that the beautiful golden hair of the maiden had become as white as snow, and Shawondasee cried out in his sorrow: "Ah, my brother of the North-wind, you have robbed me of my treasure! You have stolen the bright-haired maiden, and have wooed her with your stories of the Northland!" and Shawondasee wandered through the air, sighing with passion until, lo and behold ! the maiden disappeared.

Foolish Shawondasee! It was no maiden that you longed for. It was the prairie dandelion, and you puffed her away forever with your useless sighing.

Hiawatha's Childhood

No doubt you will wonder what the stories of the Four Winds have to do with Hiawatha, and why he has not been spoken of before; but soon you will see that if you had not read these stories, you could not understand how the life of Hiawatha was different from that of any other Indian. And Hiawatha had been chosen by the great Manito to be the leader of the red men, to share their troubles and to teach them; so of course there were a great many things that took place before he was born that have to be remembered when we think of him.

In the full moon, long ago, the beautiful Nokomis was swinging in a swing of grape-vines and playing with her women, when one of them, who had always wished to do her harm, cut the swing and let Nokomis fall to earth. As she fell, she was so fair and bright that she seemed to be a star flashing downward through the air, and the Indians all cried out: "See, a star is dropping to the meadow!"

There on the meadow, among the blossoms and the grasses, a daughter was born to Nokomis, and she called her daughter Wenonah. And her daughter, who was born beneath the clear moon and the bright stars of heaven, grew into a maiden sweeter than the lilies of the prairie, lovelier than the moonlight and purer than the light of any star.

Wenonah was so beautiful that the West-wind, the mighty West-wind, Mudjekeewis, came and whispered tenderly into her ear until she loved him. But the West-wind did not love Wenonah long. He went away to his kingdom on the mountains, and after he had gone Wenonah had a son whom she named Hiawatha, the child of the West-wind. But Wenonah was so sad because the West-wind had deserted her that she died soon after Hiawatha was born, and the infant Hiawatha, without father or mother, was taken to Nokomis' wigwam, which stood beside a broad and shining lake called "The Big-Sea-Water."

There he lived and was nursed by his grandmother, Nokomis, who sang to him and rocked him in his cradle. When he cried Nokomis would say to him: "Hush, or the naked bear will get thee," and when he awoke in the night she taught him all about the stars, and showed him the spirits that we call the northern lights dance the Death-dance far in the north.

On the summer evenings, little Hiawatha would hear the pine-trees whisper to one another and the water lapping in the lake, and he would see the fire-flies twinkle in the twilight; and when he saw the moon and all the dark spots on it he asked Nokomis what they were, and she told him that a very angry warrior had once seized his grand-mother and thrown her up into the sky at midnight, "right up to the moon," said Nokomis, "and that is her body that you see there."

When Hiawatha saw the rainbow, with the sun shining on it, he said: "What is that, Nokomis?" and Nokomis answered, saying: "That is the heaven of the flowers, where all the flowers that fade on the earth blossom once again." And when Hiawatha heard the owls hooting through the night he asked Nokomis: "What are those?" And Nokomis answered: "Those are the owls and the owlets, talking to each other in their native language."

Then Hiawatha learned the language of all the birds of the air, all about their nests, how they learned to fly and where they went in winter; and he learned so much that he could talk to them just as if he were a bird himself. He learned the language of all the beasts of the forest, and they told him all their secrets. The beavers s howed him how they built their houses, the squirrels took him to the places where they hid their acorns, and the rabbits told him why they were so timid. Hiawatha talked with all the animals that he met, and he called them "Hiawatha's brothers."

Nokomis had a friend called Iagoo the Boaster, because he told so many stories about great deeds that he had never done, and this Iagoo once made a bow for Hiawatha, and said to him: "Take this bow, and go into the forest hunting. Kill a fine roebuck and bring us back his horns." So Hiawatha went into the forest all alone with his bow and arrows, and because he knew the language of the wild things he could tell what all the birds and animals were saying to him. "

Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!" said the robins; and the squirrels scrambled in fright up the trunks of the trees, coughing and chattering: "Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!" But for once Hiawatha did not care or even hear what the birds and beasts were saying to him.

At last he saw the tracks of the red deer, and he followed them to the river bank, where he hid among the bushes and waited until two antlers rose above the thicket and a fine buck stepped out into the path and snuffed the wind. Hiawatha's heart beat quickly and he rose to one knee and aimed his arrow. "Twang!" went the bowstring, and the buck leaped high into the air and fell down dead, with the arrow in his heart. Hiawatha dragged the buck that he had killed back to the wigwam of Nokomis, and Nokomis and lagoo were much pleased. From the buckskin they made a fine cloak for Hiawatha; they hung up the antlers in the wigwam, and invited everybody in the village to a feast of deer's flesh. And the Indians all came and feasted, and called Hiawatha "Strong Heart."

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