Seneca Folk Tales

An Electronic Edition · Seneca Stories

Original Source: Original Source: Seneca Fiction, Legends and Myths, Collected by Jeremiah Curtin and J.N.B. Hewitt, an accompanying paper to the 32nd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1910-11. ed. J. N. B. Hewitt. Washington Government Printing Office, 1918; and Seneca Myths and Folk Tales by Arthur C. Parker, M. S. Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, 1923. Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.

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The Story of the Hahskwahot[1]

There was once a boy who had no home. His parents were dead and his uncles would not care for him. In order to live this boy, whose name was Gaqka, or Crow, made a bower of branches for an abiding place and hunted birds and squirrels for food.

He had almost no clothing but was very ragged and dirty. When the people from the village saw him they called him Filth-Covered-One, and laughed as they passed by, holding their noses. No one thought he would ever amount to anything, which made him feel heavy-hearted. He resolved to go away from his tormentors and become a great hunter.

One night Gaqka found a canoe. He had never seen this canoe before, so he took it. Stepping in he grasped the paddle, when the canoe immediately shot into the air, and he paddled above the clouds and under the moon. For a long time he went always southward. Finally the canoe dropped into a river and then Gaqka paddled for shore.

On the other side of the river was a great cliff that had a face that looked like a man. It was at the forks of the river where this cliff stood. The boy resolved to make his home on the top of the cliff and so climbed it and built a bark cabin.

The first night he sat on the edge of the cliff he heard a voice saying, “Give me some tobacco.” Looking around, the boy, seeing no one, replied, “Why should I give tobacco?”

There was no answer and the boy began to fix his arrows for the next day’s hunt. After a while the voice spoke again, “Give me some tobacco.”[2]

Gaqka now took out some tobacco and threw it over the cliff. The voice spoke again: “Now I will tell you a story.”

Feeling greatly awed the boy listened to a story that seemed to come directly out of the rock upon which he was sitting. Finally the voice paused, for the story had ended. Then it spoke again saying, “It shall be the custom hereafter to present me with a small gift for my stories.” So the boy gave the rock a few bone beads. Then the rock said, “Hereafter when I speak, announcing that I shall tell a story you must say, ‘”Nio”,’ and as I speak you must say “Hĕⁿ”[3]  that I may know that you are listening. You must never fall asleep but continue to listen until I say, “Dā´neho nigagā´is..’ (So thus finished is the length of my story.) Then you shall give me presents and I shall be satisfied.”[4]

The next day the boy hunted and killed a great many birds. These he made into soup and roasts. He skinned the birds and saved the skins, keeping them in a bag.

That evening the boy sat on the rock again and looked westward at the sinking sun. He wondered if his friend would speak again. While waiting he chipped some new arrow-points, and made them very small so that he could use them in a blowgun. Suddenly, as he worked, he heard the voice again. “Give me some tobacco to smoke,” it said. Gaqka threw a pinch of tobacco over the cliff and the voice said, “Hau’nio’´,” and commenced a story. Long into the night one wonderful tale after another after another flowed from the rock, until it called out, “So thus finished is the length of my story.” Gaqka was sorry to have the stories ended but he gave the rock an awl made from a bird’s leg and a pinch of tobacco.

The next day the boy hunted far to the east and there found a village. Nobody knew who he was but he soon found many friends. There were some hunters who offered to teach him how to kill big game, and these went with him to his own camp on the high rock. At night he allowed them to listen to the stories that came forth from the rock, but it would speak only when Gaqka was present. He therefore had many friends with whom to hunt.[5]

Now after a time Gaqka made a new suit of clothing from deer skin and desired to obtain a decorated pouch. He, therefore, went to the village and found one house where there were two daughters living with an old mother. He asked that a pouch be made and the youngest daughter spoke up and said, “It is now finished. I have been waiting for you to come for it.” She gave him a handsome pouch.

Then the old mother spoke, saying, “I now perceive that my future son-in-law has passed through the door and is here.” Soon thereafter, the younger woman brought Gaqka a basket of bread and said, “My mother greatly desires that you should marry me.” Gaqka looked at the girl and was satisfied, and ate the bread. The older daughter was greatly displeased and frowned in an evil manner.

That night the bride said to her husband, “We must now go away. My older sister will kill you for she is jealous.” So Gaqka arose and took his bride to his own lodge. Soon the rock spoke and began to relate wonder stories of things that happened in the old days. The bride was not surprised, but said, “This standing rock, indeed, is my grandfather. I will now present you with a pouch into which you must put a trophy for every tale related.”

All winter long the young couple stayed in the lodge on the great rock and heard all the wonder tales of the old days. Gaqka’s bag was full of stories and he knew all the lore of former times.

As springtime came the bride said, “We must now go north to your own people and you shall become a great man.” But Gaqka was sad and said, “Alas, in my own country I am an outcast and called by an unpleasant name.”

The bride only laughed, saying, “Nevertheless we shall go north.”

Taking their pelts and bird skins, the young couple descended the cliff and seated themselves in the canoe. “This is my canoe,” said the bride. “I sent it through the air to you.”

The bride seated herself in the bow of the canoe and Gaqka in the stern. Grasping a paddle he swept it through the water, but soon the canoe arose and went through the air. Meanwhile the bride was singing all kinds of songs, which Gaqka learned as he paddled.

When they reached the north, the bride said, “Now I shall remove your clothing and take all the scars from your face and body.” She then caused him to pass through a hollow log, and when Gaqka emerged from the other end he was dressed in the finest clothing and was a handsome man.

Together the two walked to the village where the people came out to see them. After a while Gaqka said, “I am the boy whom you once were accustomed to call ‘Cia’´dōdă’.’ I have now returned.” That night the people of the village gathered around and listened to the tales he told, and he instructed them to give him small presents and tobacco. He would plunge his hand in his pouch and take out a trophy, saying, “Ho ho’! So here is another one!” and then looking at his trophy would relate an ancient tale.

Everybody now thought Gaqka a great man and listened to his stories. He was the first man to find out all about the adventures of the old-time people. That is why there are so many legends now.



The Story of the Ohohwa[6] People[7]

In a quiet forest, in a lodge of their own, a husband and his wife of the Ohohwa people lived in much contention. It was their invariable habit to quarrel all night long. In the morning, however, all was pleasant again.23.

One night a visitor came to pay them a call. As soon as the man of the lodge saw the newcomer he went away from the lodge. Thereupon, the would-be visitor remarked to the woman, “It is indeed strange that he should go out just as I came in, so I shall go, but will come again at another time.” With these words he left.24.

In a short time the husband returned, and being very jealous of his wife, seized the occasion of this visit of a strange man to scold and quarrel with her until, becoming enraged, he beat her and finally she fought in defense of herself. At last, becoming tired of fighting, the husband started off with the remark: “I am going to get another wife. I will not be troubled in this way any longer.” Weeping bitterly, she followed him until, touched by her plight, the husband grew sorry for what he was doing and returned with her to their lodge.25.

In the morning he told his wife that he had had a dream during the night. He said, “My dream spirit told me that I must kill a large bear and be back home before the dew is off the grass.” Ostensibly he started away to carry out this injunction, but when he got out of sight of the lodge he went to the lodge of another woman, who also was of the Ohohwa people, where he remained all day. Toward night he started for home. On his way he met a fine-looking woman. He addressed her, saying, “Where are you going, my cousin?” She replied, “Oh, I am only going home.” He asked, “Let me go home with you?” Answering coquettishly, “All right, if you can overtake me,” off she ran with great speed, with him in pursuit. This woman was of the Djohkwehyanih people.[8] 26.

All night long they ran toward the north. About midday they came to a lodge, which the woman entered. The Ohohwa man followed, but on entering the lodge he did not see the woman, but only two old men. He asked them, “Have you seen a woman pass here?” The two men sat with their heads down and did not answer the question. But on the question being repeated by the intruder, one of the men, looking up, said, “It seems to me that I heard some sound,” and the other made the same remark. The he who spoke first said, “Then get our canoe.” Going to another part of the lodge, the second man returned with a bark canoe and two basswood knives. “Now,” said the other old man, “seize the game that has come to our lodge.” The intruder drew back as the old man advanced, cautioning the old men, saying: “Be careful, old men. You are Nosgwais people, as I know. I came only to ask for information.” But as the two old men advanced the intruder turned and fled. The old men chased him with great speed. After a while, turning and running back to the lodge, he seized a wooden mallet and the first man that appeared at the doorway he knocked on the head, and he did likewise to the second man. As the old men picked themselves up they said, “It seems that there is a great deal of fun in the game animal that has come to us.” On their making another attempt to enter their lodge the intruder again knocked them down. Thereupon one of the old men said: “Get up and do the best you can [magically].[9] Are we to be beaten in this way? It would indeed be a singular occurrence for us to be overmatched by the game animal that has come to us.” But in making a third attempt to enter the lodge the old men were still again knocked down. But the intruder said to himself, however, “I can not kill these people, and so I would better try to escape.” So, passing out of the doorway at the opposite side of the lodge, he saw the tracks of the woman going directly northward. He followed them all day. When night came he still saw her tracks leading in the same direction. He remarked to himself, “I will soon overtake her, I think.” But these tracks were not those of the woman. He had made a circuit and at daybreak he was near the starting point. He looked down and, seeing his own tracks, said: “Oh, another man is following her I will kill him when I overtake them.” Soon he came to the lodge of the two old men from which he had started. Again he inquired of the old men about the woman, but they caught him and threw him into their canoe. Then they began to dispute as to which should kill and quarter him. At last they said, “Push the canoe back and leave it for the game animal can not run away.” Indeed, the man could not release himself, as he seemed to be fastened to the canoe.27.

Toward night he heard a voice saying: “You think that you are going to die. You would be were it not for me.” The man in the canoe replied, “I do think so.” Then the invisible man said, “No; you shall not die. At the end of the canoe there is a string, to which hand the two hearts of the old men; and this is why you were not able to kill them by knocking them on the head when you were here before (he now knew for the first time that he was in the same lodge again). Wait until it is dusk; then try to move and you will work loose. Then get out of the canoe quietly, and I will give you light to see where the hearts are. Take them off the string and pound them up, and you will be free. You can then remain here all night. This canoe has great orenda,[10] and these two old men use the canoe when they travel.[11] If you wish, I will teach you the song that belongs to it.” The man in the canoe, being very weak, could hardly speak, but he replied, “Yes; I should like to learn the song.” Then the invisible man answered, “I will teach you the song,” and he began singing, Tgâiieche oněⁿ o’waqděñdǐ’ne”´ ak‘hoñwâⁿ’. When he finished singing “Correctly my canoe has started” the man in the canoe thanked him, saying that he had learned the song. After dusk he began to move, and as he moved he gained strength. Looking around, he saw a pale light in the end of the canoe. Having freed himself, he took the hearts from the cord, and as he crushed them he heard groans and wails of pain. Placing them under the canoe, he crushed them, and their cries ceased. Then the young man lay down and slept.28.


The next morning he awoke and said: “Now I have something in which I can travel. I shall now soon overtake the woman.” Setting the canoe outside of the lodge, he turned its bow toward the north, and, getting into it, he sang the song which he had learned to cause it to fly. The canoe started off so rapidly that only the wind could be heard as it flowed past his ears. All the time the canoe kept going higher and higher and swifter and swifter, and the youth grew more and more frightened; he began to fear that the canoe might bear him off to some evil place Suddenly he heard a scrambling sound at the stern of the canoe, as if some one were trying to board it from the rear. Looking around, the youth saw a man getting aboard, who said: “It is wonderful how fast you are going. I was bound to get aboard, so I leaped. You are afraid this canoe will carry you away. I am the person who was with you last night. It is my fault that you are frightened, for I did not give you full instructions. The reason the canoe goes faster and faster and higher and higher is that you keep repeating the song. You should change the words of the song, and then you can guide it. I came to tell you this.” As he stopped speaking, he stepped off the stern of the canoe into the air and disappeared.29.

The youth now changed the words of the song, singing, “Tgāiehe wa’tkěⁿ’dioñ´dâ’t ne’´ ak‘hoñ´wãⁿ’ ,” and at once the canoe began to descend, gradually coming to the ground. But the occupant of the canoe exclaimed, “Oh! this is not what I wanted. I desired to come down a little lower only, not to the ground,” So he sang again the first words of the song. At once the canoe shot upward like an arrow and, heading northward, flew faster than it did before. As it flew along the youth saw the woman tracks ahead. Higher and higher went the canoe, the wind whizzing past his ears in a frightful manner. The speed of the canoe troubled the youth, and finally he exclaimed, “Oh I am getting too high again.” Then, recollecting that he must change the words of the song, he sang, “Tgāiehe hehdageshon hohweson nak‘hoñ´wâⁿ’ .” The canoe descended, but its speed was so great that he was greatly disturbed and distressed. At last he said, I have learned the music, and all I have to do is to sing, “My canoe must stop immediately.[12] 30.



The Legend of the Stone Coats (Genonsgwa)

It so happened in times past that three warriors left their homes for distant regions. They started away for the purpose of killing any people whom they might find in order to obtain their scalps. So they would travel for many days, and when they observed that they had arrived near a settlement they would conceal themselves, and one or more spies would be sent out by night to make a reconnaissance for the purpose of learning when, where, and how to make the attack.32.


It was a custom with them for the chief or leader of the little party to say: “Who will volunteer to go to investigate that light which appears in the distance?” Thereupon one of the warriors would reply: “I will go to reconnoiter that light,” and he would go, if alone, without definite instructions as to how he might find his companions in case he had to retreat; but if two decided to go, they would first agree on some point as a rendezvous in case they should have to retreat in haste. Then the spy or spies would go to the place whence the light had appeared. Having arrived there, he would manage to crawl stealthily into the shelters or ledges he might find, and he would also find the inmates lying asleep and their garments hanging on the supports of the structures.33.


In making such a reconnaissance on of the spies found the inmates asleep, and he saw that their garments, which were of stone[13]  since the Seneca often were set up against the trees which stood near by. He was surprised by one of these sleepers arising and saying to him: “What are you doing here? What do you want?” The spy replied: “I do not want anything; I intend nothing; I want peace.” But the other person said to him: “You intend, as you know, to kill all persons who may fall into your power; so you and I shall fight. That is verily what you and your companions are doing on your way here; you come with the intentions of fighting all persons whom you do not fear. Tomorrow at midday you and I shall meet face to face yonder in a place not far from here, in a valley which is very deep and has very high cliffs. You shall enter it from one entrance and I from the other, and there in the valley we shall meet.” He said this and ceased speaking. The spy replied: “So let it be.”34.

Having returned to the camp of his companions, the spy told what he had seen, saying: “I have seen a distressing sight. I saw beings who has assumed human forms and actions but who were not human. I saw their clothes, which were stone in material, set up against the trees about their camp. On of their number arose and said to me, ‘What are you intentions? I replied, ‘Nothing; only peace; but he as quickly said: ‘You desire to kill all persons who may fall into your power; so tomorrow at midday in a valley that is near here, and that is very deep, we, you and I, shall meet; you must enter it from the opposite side, and I shall enter it from this side; then you and I shall fight. I do not think that we have the ability to overcome and kill these people. They are numerous, forming a large body.”35.


The chief of the little party remained silent, thinking over the situation. Finally he said, “By means of a sacrifice we must ask Him who has made our lives to aid us in the coming battle. Moreover, we shall use in the sacrifice of prayer native tobacco, which I shall now cast on the fire.” Then he took from his pouch native tobacco, which he cast on the fire with the following words: “Thou who hast made our lives, give most attentive ear to the thing I am about to say. Now we are about to die. Do Thou aid us to the utmost of Thy power. Thou, ruler, it was Thou who gavest us this native tobacco; it is this that I am now employing. Here, take it; it is offered to Thee. Thou hast promised us that Thou wilt always be listening when we ask in prayer by sacrifice. Now, it matters not whether Thou Thyself shall stand here, or whether it shall come by the way of a dram, do Thou tell us fully what we must do in this crisis which Thou knowest confronts us so closely. Now I finish my tale. So it is enough. Now, moreover, we will lie down to sleep.”36.

Then they lay down to sleep. At midnight the chief, who was awake, heard some one speak there, saying: “I have heard your prayers asking me to aid you; so now I have arrived here. In this manner you must do, tomorrow. Verily, you two have agreed to meet in the deep valley at midday. You must act in this manner. You must go along the top of the ridge at the cliff’s edge, and you must lie prone, resting on your elbows; this you must do before it is midday. You must remain perfectly still, and you must not carry out your agreement with them. Then you must watch the opposite cliff, and as soon as you see a bear on the run there you must shout Pa—’a p-hu-e. Then you must retreat a short distance and stop, whereupon you shall see how truly I will aid you. You will hear them when they come into the valley, for the sound tau—u which they will make will be very loud.”37.

The men followed the directions given them by their Creator, to whom they had appealed in their extremity, and went to the cliff and lay down just as they had been instructed to do. They had not waited long before they heard their enemies coming along in the valley, with their chief singing as they marched. The chief of the warriors was intently watching the opposite cliff, when suddenly he saw a bear running along on the edge of it. At this he shouted, as he had been instructed to do, Pa—’a p-hu-e, and then, quickly arising and turning back, they fled; but after going a short distance they stopped, and turning around, they looked back to see what was talking place in the valley. As they watched, the sound of the oncoming of the Genonsgwa increased in volume and intensity; and when they had all got into the valley the sound of their marching became a veritable roar, sounding like dōō-ō.38.

Now they saw what astonished them; they saw the earth from the sides of the valley fall into it, carrying with it the forests which grew on it in the region of the valley. At once the sounds of the marching of the Genonsgwa died out, and the only sounds they then heard were the breaking and crashing of the trees as they settled down under the mountains of earth that fell into the valley. Then they heard the voice of their Creator saying: “What you asked of me has been granted in full. I am He whom you usually call Our Master. Verily, I continue to aid you, who are called the Seneca people. I aid you in all things, in ball-playing, in foot-racing, and in warfare. Now you shall go to your homes, to the places where your dwelling-places are. Never in the future must you do what you were doing. It is much better that you shall settle all differences which you may have with all other peoples. You must stop your present course, for if you do not do so, you yourselves shall bleed in turn. So you must make peace with all your neighbors, must bury deep in the earth the scalping-knife, the bow and the arrow, and the battle-ax. All these you must bury in the ground, and you must leave them there, and thus put them out of the world. Now I am through.”39.

Then the warriors started for home and soon arrived at their dwelling places. Immediately the chief assembled the people; he went through the village, and as he walked along he said to them: “We will hold a council, and we must assemble in the Long-lodge; we must assemble there early in the morning as soon as the morning meal has been eaten. Everyone must be there—children and women; the entire body of this people must be there to listen to the tiding which we have brought back.”40.

Early the next morning the chief made a second announcement, saying: “We will hold a council today.” So a large body of persons gathered in the Long-lodge in which was the council chamber, and when they had taken their places the chief arose and addressed them thus: “You must give strict attention to what we have to say to you. We have been absent in distant regions, where we had intended to kill any people whom we might find. There we saw people such as we had never seen before, for their garments were of stone. It is probable that we never could kill them; they were very numerous. It so happened that we encamped very near them and that when they kindled their fire we saw it in the distance. Then I, who was the chief of the band, said ‘Come, we will go to reconnoiter in the vicinity of that light. One of the warriors answered: ‘I will go there, but I went in his stead tothe neighborhood of the light to investigate. Having arrived there I found persons lying around asleep, and I saw that their garments were of stone, and that they were set up against the neighboring trees. Suddenly one of the sleepers, springing up, said to me, ‘What are your intentions? I said in reply, ‘I do not intend to do anything, for I was afraid. He replied: ‘Do you not intend to kill anyone you can? Now you and I shall fight. Tomorrow when the sun is at midday, there where the deep valley is, in the bottom of the valley, you must come from the one side and I, for my part, will enter the valley from the opposite side, and therein we shall meet; then you and I will fight.’[14]  I replied to him: ‘Let it be so, and departed thence and returned to our camp, where I at once told my friends what I had seen. I said: ‘I have seen an astonishing condition of things. When I arrived there I found t he people lying down, and near by, leaning against the trees, were their garments, which were of stone, so it is probably impossible for us to kill them. So let it be. I will make a sacrificial prayer to Him who has completed the structure of our lives; I will cast on the fire sacrificially native tobacco. At once I took tobacco, and holding it in my hand, I said: ‘Thou hast promised to aid those who shall pray to Thee with an offering of this native tobacco and then I cast it on the fire, and forthwith arose smoke from the burning tobacco. Thereupon I said: ‘Now aid us; tell us what we must do; perhaps You may come to us in a vision; perhaps You might send the advice to us through a dream; at all events tell us what to do. Now, we will lie down to sleep.41.


“Just at midnight I was surprised to hear one speak, saying: ‘I have come to aid you; I tell you that tomorrow just before midday you and your men must go to the valley, and there overlooking it you must lie down prone and rest on your elbows. And he said, too: ‘You must watch carefully the opposite side of the valley, and when you shall see a bear running along the opposite cliff you must shout Pa—’a p-hu-e, and thereupon you must all arise and flee from the place a short distance and must stop and look back toward the valley, and then you shall see what shall happen, what shall happen to the persons of your adversaries when they will enter the farther entrance to the valley—these Genonsgwa. The noise made by these Genonsgwa as they came forward was very great; the sound that they made was dū—ūm. As they came on, the voice of their chief was heard singing; he chanted the war song of the Genonsgwa, saying: ‘No one has the power to overcome me; this is what he said in his singing.42.


“Just then the cliffs on each side of the valley with the forests growing on them were upheaved with a deafening roar and crash and fell into the valley upon the advancing Genonsgwa; this was followed by the sounds of breaking trees and their limbs as they were crushed under the weight of the overturned cliffs, and then all was silent. Thus did this event come to pass.43.


“Now I shall speak to this assembly as it is here listening to what I have related. He who aided us was the Master of Life. He told us to return home, and He bade us never to undertake an enterprise such as that which took us from our homes. He bade us to make peace with all tribes of men, of whatsoever land or language they might be; for if we should not follow His advice we ourselves might one day shed one anothers’ blood; and He bade us to bury deep in the ground the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrow, and the battle-ax and the war-club. He bade us to put all these things out of this world, telling us that if we do this we shall be contented and happy in the future, if we consent to this and to inform all our people of this advice and the chiefs, too. But as we do not know what the chiefs will do in this matter we have called this council to ascertain this important opinion of our chiefs. Now we have told you these tidings which we have brought with us, and now you must take great pains in considering this matter in all its bearings; I mean you, our chiefs. There, I am through with my address.”44.

During the entire day they discussed this matter in all its bearings. Some said that it would not be good for them to adopt this kind advice, as many of their relations had been killed by the enemy, and they had always intended to have revenge for their deaths.45.

Others spoke for and against the proposition which had been presented to them by the returned warriors. The discussions took a wide range and consumed the entire day. Finally one of the leading chiefs of the place arose and said: “It is better that we take a recess until early tomorrow morning, at which time we will again assemble here. I will then speak, telling you my views on this question after having thought on them during the night. For this reason all should be present again so you must come and hear what I have to say to you. So there.”46.

Then they dispersed and went to their homes. In all the lodges there was much speculation as to what the chief would tell them in the morning. All had different views as to what he would say, and they made up their minds that they would go to the Long-lodge at early forenoon.47.

So in the morning of the next day they again assembled in the Long-lodge, and there was present a very large body of people.48.

Then the chief arose to his full height and began to speak, saying: “The time has now come. I said that today I should speak to you. My mind is now made up; I have decided what to say to you, and now I will tell you what I have thought best for us to do. I agree to the proposal to make peace with our enemies; that to that end we must certainly bury deep in the ground the scalping-knife and the war bow and arrow and the battle-ax; and that we must leave these things there out of sight and reach. You must put these things out of the world. So let this come to pass. Let everyone who has come here carry out this resolution as I have indicated it to you in what I have said. So there. Come, then, let us now make preparations. I supposed that we must send an embassy of two persons to that neighboring tribe, although we may not be certain whether they will be at all willing to make peace with us and thereby settle our difficulties. So we must commission our ambassadors to pray them to cease waging war against us; and we, too, must stop fighting on our part, and must cast away deep in the ground the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrow, and the battle-ax. These we must throw away, and thus you will put them outside of this world. When the two ambassadors arrive in the country of our enemies they shall say: ‘We have been sent by the chiefs of our people to know whether you are willing to agree to settle our difficulties and to make peace with us. This is what you two shall say. This is all.”49.

After some deliberation the chief arose again and said, “Come, now. Who will volunteer to go far away to the foreign land where our enemies dwell?” Then a certain man said, “I am willing to go.” “So be it,” replied the chief; “who else is willing to go? There is one lacking.” Then another man said, “I am willing to go.” The chief accepted him by saying, “So let it be.” Then the last volunteer asked the chief: “I ask you, who art the chief, what must be done, should they perhaps kill us, and you would not hear anything about it? Should we become angry should they attack us there, even though by doing so we should probably lose our lives? So there is what I have to say.”50.

Then the chief arose, and addressing the two ambassadors, said: “You have asked me a question. I shall tell both what you must do when you discover that the people whom you are going to visit dwell not far ahead of you. When you make this discovery you must leave there in safety your scalping-knife and your bows and arrows and your battle-axes; and you two must also carefully wash your faces o that there shall be no more paint on your faces. Then you must go to the village of the people; and according to custom they will not kill you because you have not your scalping knives, your bows and arrow, or your battle-axes, and because you will not have your faces painted.”51.

Then the warrior answered: “So be it. I think that my friend and I may perhaps start his evening just as soon as it becomes quite dark.” During the entire day they made their preparations so they would be able to start in the evening. In the early part of the evening they came together, whereupon one said: “My friend, now let us start, and you will leave directly from here in your own way, and I, too, will leave here directly in my own way.” The friend replied: “Do you feel that you have sufficiently potent orenda?”[15] He answered: “I think so.” The other continued: “What kind of thing does your body usually pretend to be as it flies along?” His friend replied: “Oh, just the night owl, saying wu, wu, wu hǔ, hŭ—u” At this time, the other, laughing, said: “My friend, you are indeed a brave man.” His companion answered: “With regard to yourself, what kind of thing does your body usually pretend to be when it goes along? Now I have asked you.” In replying the other man said: “As to myself, I shall be a fox, and I will go along barking; and we shall keep apart just the distance that I can hear the hooting of the night owl. How far do you say?” He replied: “Let us be just so far apart that it will be possible for me to hear the barking of the fox. And this, too, must be done. As daylight approaches we must draw nearer to each other, and when it is morning we will rejoin at some convenient place.” Then they started.52.

They observed their order of going, and when they had concluded that they had arrived in the neighborhood of the people whom they were going to visit, they were surprised to see the lights of a number of fires. So they stopped and sat down on a log. Then one of the men said: “We must leave our things, our weapons, here—our scalping-knives our bows and arrows, and our battle-axes—and we must remove the paint from our faces, too. There, on that side of the log, you may lay your things, and you must cover them with moss and earth very carefully; and I will lay my things here on this side of the log, and I will cover them even as you do.” Thus they completed this task of concealing their weapons. Then one of them said: “My friend, it shall be that he who shall be spared alive shall dig up these things, for we shall soon see them, and when they see us there is no assurance that either of us shall be let alive; but should one of us escape then let him dig up and carry home both these buried outfits.”53.

Then they went toward the place where they believed the enemies lived. They had not gone far when they were surprised to see in the distance a temporary shelter made of corn husks, for this was at the time of the corn harvest and the people were drying the strings of ears of corn. Thereupon one of the men said: “I will do the talking when we arrive at the temporary shelter; so do you not speak a word about anything. So now, come, let us go thither to the lodge.”54.

When the two men had arrived near the temporary shelter the children noticed their approach and fled into the shelter. On arriving at the shelter the two men found that the doorflap was of deerskin. When they had stepped inside they saw a woman sitting there; they noticed also that the children had hidden themselves, and that the woman was greatly frightened, for the color of her face had changed. On of the men at once said to her: “Do not fear us; we do not come on an evil errand, and you may know this to be true because we do not have our scalping knives, bows and arrows, or battle-axes, and we have no paint on our faces. So do not be afraid. We have come on a good errand; do not fear us.” All at once the woman spoke, saying: “Oh, children; verily, they will not kill us.” At this the children came forth from their hiding places, and the mother, too, regained her composure. The spokesman of the two visitors said, “Are you and your children here alone?” The woman replied, “No; our old man has gone yonder into the valley where in fact we dwell; he will soon return.” Then the man said: “So let it be. We will remain here until he returns.” The woman answered: “Let it be so.” So when the old man had returned the spokesman of the two ambassadors said: “We come as messengers. Let us talk together in peace. We are not thinking of evil purposes, and these, our peaceful sentiments, are shown by the fact that neither of us has our scalping knife, a bows and arrow, or battle-ax, and is not painted on the face. For this reason let there be peace while we talk together.” It seemed at first that the old man was angry, but when he had heard this statement his mind changed, and he said, “Come, then, do you relate the message, which you have been sent to bring to us. Come, now, tell us.” The man replied: “So be it. We have come to you to propose that we at once settle all our differences, because we have slaughtered not only ourselves, but also our friends and kinsmen. Let us stop this slaughter; and let us bury deep in the earth the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrow, and the battle-ax; in the earth we will put these weapons; so if you are willing to accept our proposals you will put these murderous things outside this world, if you are only willing to do so.” The old man replied: “So be it. Let us go to the place where usually we assemble in council in the Long-lodge, for indeed the chiefs dwell some distance from here. I will tell them what you have brought as a message to us. I do not know what answer they may give. I think you two should remain here, and I will go yonder to the Long-lodge, where are the chiefs of our people. It would not succeed well if you two should go there, for usually they are angry when they seen an enemy. I will prepare myself properly to tell them the message which you have been sent to bring to us. Then I shall come for you should their reply be favorable to a conference with them. Thus it shall be done.” One of the ambassadors answered, “Let it come to pass as you have suggested.”55.


Thereupon the old man started for the long-lodge to confer with the chiefs of his people. When he had reached a point near the village he began to cry out: Gō´we’, gō´we’. This is called proclaiming. As soon as his cries were heard everybody came forth from their lodges and at once went to the Long-lodge to hear what news the crier was bringing them. So a large assemblage crowded the Long-lodge. Then the old man, who was still crying out the cries of warning, entered the Long-lodge, whereupon, they set him down on one side. One of the chiefs arose and said: “Now, you must relate the important news which you bring to us, so tell us. That is all.” Arising, the old man said: “I will tell you of a very important matter which has come to pass. I saw two men who were in the lodge when I returned to my home. I was astonished, but one of these men at once arose and said: ‘We assure you that we are not intending anything evil, and this is proved by the fact that we have no scalping knife, no war bow and arrows, and no battle-ax, and we have not our faces painted. We have been sent by our chiefs to learn whether we can not settle all our difficulties. We have been killing ourselves and shedding each others’ blood; so let us stop doing this, and let us bury deep in the earth the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrows, and the battle-ax; let us lay these very deep in the ground. You must put these things outside the world. Thus it shall be done, provided that you will agree to this proposition. So this is the number of words which has been sent you by us. I am now through with what I have to say. So, there.” In reply, the chiefs of the village said to the old man: “Perhaps you would better fetch the two men here and let them come into this place. You alone go back after them. You must hasten your steps as you go, and you must bring them at once with you.” The old man, replying, “So let it be,” at once went out of the lodge and started on a run toward his temporary lodge, where the two men were awaiting his return. On entering, he said to them: “I have come after you.” Arising at once, they started for the place where the council was being held, and having reached there, they entered the long-lodge. One of the ambassadors was in a frenzy of fear, seeming to fear they would be killed, for before entering he kept saying to his friend: “Have courage, my friend; one of us will certainly escape.” When the entered the Long-lodge they made room for the two messengers, or ambassadors, to sit. One of the chiefs of the village, arising, said: “Is it true that you have been sent to come into our country? Are the things true which our friend has told us in full? That is what you two must tell us, for we do not know whether what he told us a short time ago is the truth or not.”56.

Then the spokesman of the two ambassadors, arising to his full height, said: “We two will now tell you that we were commissioned on a very important errand by our chiefs. We come to you to propose that your people and our people should settle all the troubles which have caused them to shed each others’ blood. What your chief has told you is an important matter. I am through.”57.

Then one of the chiefs of the village, arising, said: “Lo! now do you talk, everyone who has something to say, you who are the chiefs of this village, whether we shall agree to settle our difficulties with the people who have sent these two men to us, and to bury deep in the ground the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrow, and the battle-ax. Come, now, let each one say which side of the proposal he takes, whether we shall make peace, or whether we shall reject these overtures for peace. There are only two opinions that can be given; when one speaks he must tell which is his opinion. So I am done.”58.


Then another chief arose to speak, saying: “I am next in order to speak my sentiments. I am unwilling to consent to settle our difficulties with the people represented by these two messengers, because the many stains which have come from the blood of my own kinsmen, shed by these two men who are sitting here, are scarcely dried. In my heart there are constant passions arising which prompt me to take vengeance for this cruel slaughter of my own kinsmen; and I am tempted to scalp these two enemies who sit here in our presence.”59.

Then another chief, leaping to his feet, said to the one who was speaking: “Do you stop at once. Do not say that again; you must stop that kind of talk. I will say but a few words for my part. You two who are sitting here must listen and must hear all that I have to say in my own behalf and in that of my people. I think that we all realize that what we are about to do is a very important affair. One person alone has made us of one flesh and of one form, and of a reddish color. Now, too, you shall hear me declare that I agree to accept your proposal for an adjustment of all difficulties between your people and ours. We must bury deep in the ground all those things with which we fight; and you must put them out of the world; and this statement you must make when you two return to your own homes. The chief accepted this proposition, saying: “So now we will meet in joint council at the river, which is just halfway from here to our own country; we will meet there on one side of the river, and there you may prepare your camps. You must all go—children, women, and men—all must be present there. On the opposite side of the river we will make our camps. After the tenth night from now we must all be in camp there, and I shall bring all the people—children, women, and the warriors. So there; thus it shall come to pass. Then we shall lie down to rest and in the morning you and I will talk together, as thou art a chief and as I, too, am a chief. So you shall stand on the other side of the river, and I shall stand on this side of the river. Then it shall be that you will tell me how you and I may adjust our differences; and you shall accomplish this within the time of 10 days. After 10 nights you will have arrived on your side of the river, and I, too, shall have arrived on my side of the river. So there is what I have to say. Come, now, make your preparations, and when you have completed them we shall start to go to the river.”60.

In the meantime the two ambassadors had returned to their home and had made their report, and their chiefs had given the people instructions to prepare themselves to go to meet their former enemies at the river that bounded their lands. On both sides the people and the chiefs kept tally of the days that passed; the next day was one; the next, two; the next day, three, and so on. On the eighth day the chief on each side said: “Come now, let us start.” Thereupon they left their homes for the place of meeting; none remained behind. They traveled a long distance before they stopped for the night. In the morning they started again and arrived at the river bank at a seasonable hour. The chief of the opposite party said, too: “Come now, let us depart for the river bank where we are to meet in council.” All started, not one remaining at home. They, too, traveled a long distance before camping for the night, and in the morning early they, too, continued their journey and in good time arrived at the river bank, at the place of meeting. There was assembled a large body of people.61.


Then one of the chiefs, standing beside the river, said: “Behold! now tell me what your thought is as to how you and I may be able to adjust our troubles in peace. Tell me this. So there is what I have to say.”62.

Then the chief on the opposite side of the river, standing near the brink, said: “Now has come to pass what I think that He who alone has made our lives, desires, but where He abides I do not know, for our lives are alike, our forms are alike, and the color of our skin is the same, for we are reddish in color. We have blundered. We have only killed one another, and we have only shed one anothers’ blood. So let us stop this evil work, and let it not come to pass again; and let us bury the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrows, and the battle-ax; let all these be let deep in the ground; and thereby we shall put these out of the world. So this is my opinion. Let us be at peace in the future; let us be at peace in our minds; and let the minds of our people be at peace, those of our children, our women, and our warriors. Such is my opinion, and I who speak it am a chief. So this is enough. Now it is for you to speak, you who are a chief. I do not know whether what I have said is pleasing to you. This will I do. I have finished.”63.

There was a great sound dauñ—made by the assembled tribes, for there were very many people. Then the chief on the opposite side of the river, standing on the shore, said: “Now, you who are a chief have ended your address, and I agree to all that you have said; hence you and I will adjust all our troubles and difficulties so that they may never return. Now, too, you and I will bury deep into eh ground the scalping-knife, the war bow and arrows, and the battle-ax; all these things e will place in the earth, so that none of them shall come forth again, and there they shall disappear from the earth. Thus let it come to pass. So, there.”64.

Then, on the opposite side of the river, the other chief who had proposed this conference, arising, said: “I am, indeed, thankful that my desires have been fulfilled in this peaceful agreement. I do give you many thanks for your part in this matter, and so now you and I will bury in the ground all those things with which you and I have been accustomed to kill each other, in such manner that they shall never again come forth. We will put them out of the world, so that so long as the earth stands such things shall not again take place. So, there”65.

Then the chief on the other side of the river, arising in his place, said: “I am thankful for the accomplishment of this great compact of peace, and I congratulate you as well, you who are also a chief. So now we shall prepare it; and it shall be very broad. You and I must set to work so that we may make this good thing for our people; and this shall be a lever (peaceful and fruitful) country; and theron we must, one and all, take one another by the arm (hand)—all women, children, and men; and by this means each one will bear testimony to the fact that truly, indeed, we have made peace and have settled harmoniously all our difficulties; and when we shall have taken one another by the arm then we must dance to express our joy and good will and hope for the continuance of this peace during time to come.”66.

Then all who were able to do something were set to work, and they prepared a symbolical field of peace whereon they and theirs might enjoy life and might promote their welfare in such manner as seemed to satisfy their desires. When they had completed the task they cried to those across the river who had accepted the propositions of peace: “Come now! Do you come across the river and let us enjoy ourselves together.” Willingly obeying, the people soon crossed the stream, and they soon were standing on the prepared field of peace, whereon they ranged themselves in long files prepatory to taking part in the dances. Then the leaders grasped each others’ arms, saying, “Now, let us all take hold of one anothers’ arms, and then let us dance,” and then they continued, “We must now dance all night long.” Then they danced. Thereupon the singer began to sing:Hä’´ä’hoiā´ne‘ ,hä’´ä’hoiā´ne‘;wă´‘hu,wă´‘hu,wă´‘hu,hã’´ä’ hoiã´ne‘.[16]67.


When daylight had come, one of the chiefs made an address of thanksgiving. He said: “I am very thankful that day has dawned in peace on the assembly here present. So now we give our thanksgiving to him who place of residence we still do not know but who has made our lives. So now you and I have finished this work, which puts an end to any bitter feeling between us that might in the future lead some one to scalp another. So now we will separate again. So now we, for our part, will start for our homes, and you, too, will return to your homes.”[17] 68.


So it came to pass that the two peoples arrived safe at their homes, whence they had come forth to make peace with their enemies, and this peace has lasted unto this day.69.


So this came to pass in this way. And this is the end of the legend.70


[1] The following story is an eclectic text based on two versions of the Seneca legend. Arthur Parker’s more detailed “The Origin of Stories” forms the basis for most of the text, although the title comes from J. N. B. Hewitt’s version. “Hahskwahot” is translated “projecting rock,” or standing stone.” Interestingly, the term “Seneca” is derived from a Mohegan word roughly meaning “place of the standing stone,” although it is thought that the term originally applied to the Oneida.

[2] Hewitt’s version does not include much of the following narrative, including Gaqka’s history in the village and the episode with the canoe.

[3] Note on pronunciation of Seneca words: Accents determine pronuciation; unaccented vowels are similar to those of Continental European languages such as French: “i” as in pique. Consonants follow standard English, with the following exceptions: “d” is pronounced as a dental “th”; “q” is similar to the German “-ich”.  “‘” indicates an aspiration; “’” marks a glottal stop.

[4] The dialogue highlights many important customs of the Seneca oral legend, most notably its participatory nature. The Hage´otâ, or professional storyteller, would directly engage his audience before beginning. If auditors fell asleep during the relation of a tale, it was thought to be an evil omen. Oral tales had the capacity to put even animals and plants to sleep, so they were only told during the winter months when it would not affect the harvest. Finally, auditors gave gifts, often of tobacco, to the storyteller when he finished his tale.

[5] Hewitt’s version concludes: “The boy hunted birds, and he had many different persons to accompany him. He said to each: ‘You must accompany me (to hear) a man telling legends, as I think they are called.’ In the evening the two would take their seats on the rock and listen until they became sleepy, and then all would take a rest for the night. The next day they two would again return to the rock, and finally other persons followed them to the place. In the evening they would again sit around, and the man would relate another legend. On the following evening they would again repair the rock. There were now a large number who went to the place where the great rock stood; and the man would again tell a legend. In this manner did it come to pass that there are legends in the world, as these stories are called.”

[6] Hewitt translates “Ohohwa” as “owl.” Tribes of the Seneca were often divided into smaller clans named after various animals. These distinct clans sometimes determined representation in the Iroquois League, since each clan was allotted a certain number of delegates.

[7] The following edition of the legend is based on J. N. B. Hewitt’s translation of Jeremiah Curtin’s field notes from his ethnological studies on the Cattaraugus Reservation in the 1880’s.

[8] Djohkwehyanih can be loosely translated as “partridge;” the woman is a member of a different clan.

[9] “Magically” is most likely Hewitt’s addition. It might refer to the Hage´otâ, or storyteller, attempting to emulate the magical voices of the old men.

[10] “Orenda” denotes magic power.

[11] Parker notes that orenda figures prominently in many Seneca folk-tales. The magic can either exist in the individual or in some charm or fetish, as with the canoe. (Parker, 3).

[12] Hewitt adds the editorial note:”The story ends here thus abruptly.” According to Hewitt, Curtin’s pencilled field notes were quite old and partly illegible when he obtained them. The abrupt ending is thus most likely an instance where Hewitt did not have Curtin’s entire transmission of the legend. However, the sudden ending might also simply be for effect, given the climactic action that precedes it.

[13] Hewitt discusses the etymological relation between the Genonsgwa and the Winter God of creation myths, “He who is ice clad.” The original connection was metaphorical, in that the stone coats developed from the “flint-like” ice coating of the god. Thus, the Genonsgwa of legends are distinct from the mythic Winter God, and their actions are human. (Hewitt, 64).

[14] There are several repetitions of entire passages in this story, which the storyteller possibly used as both a mnemonic tool and a means of emphasis.

[15] “Orenda” is magic power. See “The Story of the Ohohwa People.”

[16] Parker writes, “The only word in this line which has a clear meaning is the second, which is the title of the highest order of federal chiefs.”

[17] Although Parker warns against attempting to moralize legends that were intended mostly for entertainment, it is diffiucult not to speculate that this particular story refers to an historical treaty involving the Seneca, perhaps even the establishment of the Irouquois League itself.

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Prose
Subjects: Native Americans
Location: British America
Edited by Thomas Kasprzak.