Tarenyawagon or Hiawatha

Search Fold3 for your
Native American Records

I will now resume the history of the sixth and last family, the Tuscarora On-gwe-hon-wa, that were left at the Neuse river, or Gan-ta-no. Here they increased in numbers, valor and skill, and in all knowledge of the arts necessary in forest life. The country was wide and covered with dense wilderness, large rivers and lakes, which gave shelter to many fierce animals and monsters which beset their pathways and kept them in dread. Now the Evil Spirit also plagued them with monstrous visitations. They were often induced to change their locations; sometimes from fear of enemies and sometimes from epidemics, or some strange visitations.

I will now relate a few of the monsters that plagued them: The first enemy that appeared to question their power or disturb their peace was the fearful phenomenon of Ko-nea-rah-yah-neh, or the flying heads. The heads were enveloped in beard and hair, flaming like fire; they were of monstrous size, and shot through the air with the speed of meteors. Human power was not adequate to cope with them. The priests pronounced them a flowing power of some mysterious influence, and it remained with the priests alone to expel them by their magic power.

Drum and rattle and enchantments were deemed more effective than arrows or clubs. One evening, after they had been plagued a long time with fearful visitations, the flying head came to the door of a lodge occupied by a single female and her dog. She was sitting composedly before the fire roasting acorns, which, as they became cooked, she deliberately took from the fire and ate. Amazement seized the flying head, who put out two huge black paws from under his streaming beard. Supposing the woman to be eating live coals he withdrew, and from that time he came no more among them.

And they were also invaded by a still more fearful enemy, the Ot-nea-yar-heh, or Stonish Giants. They were a powerful tribe from the wilderness, tall, fierce and hostile, and resistance to them was vain. They defeated and overwhelmed an army which was sent out against them, and put the whole country in fear. These giants were not only of great strength, but they were cannibals, devouring men, women and children in their inroads.

It is said by the Shawnee that these giants were descended from a certain family which was journeying on the east side of the Mississippi. After some of them had crossed the river on a vine it broke, which left the main body on the east bank of the river. Those who were on the west side of the river went toward the northwest. Being abandoned in their wanderings, and being vagrants, without any knowledge of the arts of life, they forgot the rules of humanity. They at first began to eat their game in the raw flesh, which led them finally to become cannibals, and they practiced to roll themselves in the sand, which caused their bodies to be covered with a hard skin, so that the arrows of the Tuscarora only rattled against their rough bodies and fell at their feet. And the consequence was, that they were obliged to bide in caves and glens, and were brought into subjection by those fierce invaders for many winters. At length the Holder of the Heavens visited his people, and finding that they were in great distress, he determined to relieve them of these barbarous invaders. To accomplish this he changed himself as into one of those giants. As you will remember, it is said that he was able to change himself into any shape that he wished. He then joined himself with the invaders, and brandishing his heavy war club, led them on under the pretence of finding the other five nations, which they were also in the habit of visiting. When they came near to the strong fort at Onondaga, they being weary of the long journey, and the night being dark, their leader bade them lie down at the foot of a mountain until the customary time to make the attack, which was at the break of day. But during the night the Indian benefactor ascended the height and overwhelmed the slumbers below with a vast mass of rocks. At this catastrophe only one escaped to carry the news of their dreadful fate, and he fled toward the north.

The Tuscarora and the other five nations were so much troubled with giants and other monsters that they were obliged to build forts to protect themselves. The way they built them was always by selecting an eminence, or rocky cliff, and on the back part was dug a trench according to the plan of the fort. Then timbers were set in the trench upright, projecting above the ground several feet, and being adjusted together as close as possible, and the trench being filled in again. They had two gates, one way to get their water, the other for a sally port.

They were also molested by a terrific animal which they called Ro-qua-ho a variegated lizard a swift runner and strikes very violent blows with its tail, which destroyed many hunters while lying in lurk for them. One day while a party of hunters were on their journey to camp-out for the purpose of hunting, the party consisting of four, they came to a very large hollow tree where they noticed quite a number of great marks of claws on the bark of the tree. Supposing it to be the lodge of bears, they laid their bundles down and made ready for their game. One of them bounded on the tree and climbed it, and he struck the trunk of the tree several times. When the supposed bear appeared, to their consternation it was found to be the enemy they so much dreaded, the Ro-qua-ho. The person on the tree only stepped behind it and the other three ran away for their lives. The Ro-qua-ho came down and pursued them, and while yet in sight one was caught, killed and brought back, and he carried the body into the tree. Then he went after the second which was brought in a short time, after which, he went for the third; then the one on the tree came down and ran away also. While on his way he heard a voice calling him; he stopped, and behold, a man of stately form, with long flowing hair stood and said, “Why run? I have seen the distress of my people, I have come to deliver them out of trouble; now confide in me and we will prevail. I am your benefactor, Tarenyawagon. Get behind me, the enemy is approaching.”

In the twinkling of an eye this Celestial being was changed, and assumed himself into a great white bear. When the Roquaho came a great struggle ensued, but with the help of the man the enemy was killed.

They were again molested by an extraordinary and ferocious animal in various places a mammoth bear. One morning while a party of hunters were in their camp, they were alarmed by a great tumult breaking out from the forest. Upon going to ascertain the cause of this extraordinary noise, they saw the great monster on the bank pawing and rolling stones and logs in every direction, exhibiting the utmost rage. Another great animal of the cat kind appeared, and seized the bear and a dreadful fight ensued. In the end the bear got the worst of it and retired horribly mangled, and never was heard of afterwards.

After a while a pestiferous and annoying creature of the insect kind appeared in the guise of the Ro-tay-yo (a huge mosquito). It first appeared among the Tuscarora along the Neuse river. It flew about with vast wings, making a loud noise, with a long stinger; and on whomsoever it lighted it sucked out all the blood and killed them. Many warriors were destroyed in this way, and all attempts made to subdue it were vain; but at length it retired of itself. Next they heard that it appeared about the fort at Onondaga, where it also destroyed many lives, until Tarenyawagon made a visit to the ruler of the Onondagas. The great mosquito happened to come flying about the fort as usual at that time. Tarenyawago immediately made his attack, but such was the rapidity of its flight, that he could scarcely keep in sight of it. He chased it around the borders of the great lakes, towards the sun-setting, and around the great country at large, east and west. At last he overtook it, and took his strong bow and sent an arrow which struck him through the heart and killed him, near Gen-an-do-a (the salt lake of Onondaga). From the blood flowing out on this occasion were the present species of small mosquito originated.

I have now related a few of the tragedies of the dark recesses of the forest, from the many that our tradition relates.

There was also a little old man of singular appearance that frequented among them at their ball plays, and did not seem to be inclined to make acquaintance with any one, but kept by himself and appeared to be mild and humble. At length this man became very sick with putrefying sores from head to foot and was very loathsome. Nobody knew who he was or where he came from: he had no home; he gave his name as Qua-ra, or Rabbit: he went from house to house of all the different clans or tribes in the nation, as for instance, the Eel, Snipe, Beaver, Turtle, Wolf, Deer. When he would approach the house, seemingly to go in, they would loathe him to enter, and when he came to the doorstep he would seem to hear their thoughts and then return; thus he was repulsed from all the houses of the above clans, he finally came to the house of the Bear clan. When the mistress of the house observed him coming, she had pity on him, and presently prepared a bed for him with the best deerskins she had; when he came to the door he knew her hospitable heart and went in. She immediately assured him of his welcome in her meanly hut, and that she was ready to do everything in her power to relieve his distress, and appointed his lodge where he had laid himself nearly exhausted. He then told her to go and get the root of a certain kind of plant, which she immediately did and prepared according to his direction, which he took and readily recovered. He then went through a series of diseases, directing her as before to get the different kind of medicines for the different diseases. Lastly, he became sick with that fatal disease, consumption. This he said was incurable, and he must die. He then told her he was a messenger from Tarenyawagon, to show them the diseases that they should be subjected to, and also the medicine to cure them. And also to tell them the predictions of their fate and doom. Said he could not withhold the water from his eyes, or keep from quaking when he thought of their irrevocable doom to which they were destined, and said: “There is a habitation beyond these great waters towards the sun-rising, which are inhabited by beings of very pale faces, and are looking only to themselves, have pity for nobody, and make their delight in doing mischief. They have killed Rah-wah-ne-yo (God); they mocked him and done all manner of bad things to him, and finally, they fastened him to a tree until he died. But death and the grave had not power to hold him. He arose and lives again, and he has gone to the world above, in those happy hunting grounds where all good O-qua-ho-wa (Indians), will go when they die, and will see him as he is.

“Now this class of pale-faces will come across the great waters and make their abode on this island, and will bring poison to give you to drink, which will poison the spirit and kill the body. They will kill your husbands, brothers and sons, and drive you away to the sun-setting, and will deprive the children that are coming behind, off their domain. They will drive you until you are in the great salt water up to your waist. Oh, hostess, this is the final doom of your great nation.

“And now as for you, Oh, mother, I have no words that I can utter, to express the sincere gratitude of my inmost soul. I have nothing to give to compensate you for all the tenderness you have given me. But my blessings I will leave with you. I place in the midst of your clan, the Bear, a majestic pine tree, which is ever green, and as the top reaches above all other trees, so will your clan be. Wherever the nation will be driven to, your clan will multiply above all others, and be the ruler of the nation. This is all I have to deliver unto you. I now commend myself to that Great Spirit that has made us all, who ruleth above.”

Thus ended the last messenger of Tarenyawagon, who is now basking in the pleasures of that hunting ground in the world above.

Tarenyawagon united in one person the power of a God and a man, and gave him the expressive name of the Holder of the Heavens, and was capable of assuming any form or shape that he chose, but appeared to them only in the form of a man, and taught them hunting, gardening, and the knowledge of the arts of war. He imparted to them the knowledge of the laws and government of the Great Spirit, and gave them directions and encouragement how to fulfill their duties and obligations. He gave them corn, beans, and fruits of various kinds, with the knowledge of planting those fruits. He taught them how to kill and to cook the game. He made the forest free to all the tribes to hunt, and removed obstructions from the streams. He took his position, sometimes, on the top of high cliffs, springing, if needs be, over frightful chasms; and he flew, as it were, over great lakes in a wonderful canoe of immaculate whiteness and of magic power.

Having finished his commission with the Tuscaroras at Cautanoh, in North Carolina, and the other five families, which were left at the north, he came down to closer terms and intimacy with the Onondagas. He resolved to lay aside his divine character and live among them, that he might exemplify the maxims which he had taught. And for this purpose he selected a handsome spot of ground on the southern banks of Cross Lake, New York. Here he built his cabin, and from the shores of this lake he went into the forest, like the rest of his companions, in quest of game and fish. He took a wife of the Onondagas, by whom he had an only daughter, whom he tenderly loved, and most kindly and carefully treated and instructed, so that she was known far and near as his favorite child, and was regarded almost as a goddess. The excellence of his character, and his great sagacity and good counsels, led the people to regard him with veneration, and they gave him, in his sublunary character, the name of Hi-a-wat-ha (a wise man). People came to him from all quarters, and his abode was thronged by all ages and conditions who came for advice.

He became the first chief of all the land, and whomsoever he made his companions and friends were likewise clothed with the authority of chiefs in the tribe. In this manner all power came naturally into his hands, and the tribe rejoiced that they had so wise and good a man as their ruler. For in those days each tribe was independent of all others; they had not yet formed a league, but fought and made war with each other.

Nothing that belonged to Hiawatha, in his character of Tarenyawagon, was more remarkable than his light and magic canoe, which shone with a supernatural luster, and in which he had performed so many of his extraordinary feats. This canoe was laid aside when he came to fix his residence at Cross Lake, and never used it but for great and extraordinary purposes. When great councils were called, and he assembled the wise men to deliberate together, the sacred canoe was carefully lifted from the grand lodge; and after these occasions were ended, it was carefully returned to the same receptacle, on the shoulders of men, who felt honored in being the bearers of such a precious burden.

Thus passed away many years, and every year saw the people increasing in numbers, skill, arts and bravery. It was among the Onondagas that Tarenyawagon had located himself, although he regarded the other tribes as friends and brothers; he had become identified as an adopted member of this particular tribe. Under his teaching and influence they became the first among all the original tribes, and rose to the highest distinction in every art which was known to or prized by the Akonoshuni (Iroquois). They were the wisest counselors, the best orators, the most expert hunters, and the bravest warriors. They also afforded the highest examples of obedience to the laws of the Great Spirit. If offences took place, Hiawatha redressed them, and his wisdom and moderation preserved the tribe from feuds. Hence, the Onondagas were early noted among all the tribes for their pre-eminence. He appeared to devote his chief attention to them, that he might afterwards make them examples to the others, in arts and wisdom. They were foremost in the overthrow of the Stonish Giants and the killing of the great Serpent. To be an Onondaga was the highest honor.

While Hiawatha was thus living in domestic life quietly among the people of the hills, and administering their simple government with wisdom, they became alarmed by the sudden news of the approach of a furious and powerful enemy from north of the great lakes. As the enemy advanced, they made an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children. The people fled from their villages a short time before them, and there was no heart in the people to make a stand against such powerful and ruthless invaders. In this emergency, they fled to Hiawatha for his advice. He counseled them to call a general council of all the tribes from the east and west. “For,” said he, “our strength is not in the war club and arrows alone, but in wise counsels.” He appointed a place on the banks of Onondaga Lake for the meeting. It was a clear eminence from which there was a wide prospect. Runners were dispatched in every direction, and the chiefs, warriors and headmen forthwith assembled in great numbers, bringing with them, in the general alarm, their women and children. Fleets of canoes were seen on the bosom of the lake, and every interior warpath was kept open by the foot-prints of the different tribes, hurrying to obey the summons of Hiawatha. All but the wise man himself had been there for three days, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hiawatha, when a messenger was dispatched after him. They found him gloomy and depressed. Some great burden appeared to hang on his mind. He told them that evil lay on his path, and that he had fearful forebodings of ill-fortune. He felt that he was called to make some great sacrifice, but he did not know what it was, it seemed to be hid from him. Least of all did he think it was to be his daughter: ever careful of her, he bade her kindly to accompany him. Nothing happened to hinder, or at all interrupt their voyage. The Talismanic canoe, which held them, gilded silently down the waters of the Seneca; not a paddle was necessary to give it impetus, while it pursued the downward course of the stream till they reached the point of the lake outlet. At this point Hiawatha took his paddle and gave it impetus against the current, until they entered on the bright and calm surface of the Onondaga, cradled, as this blue sheet of water is, among the lofty and far-swelling hills. When the white canoe of the venerable chief appeared, a shout of welcome rang among those hills. The day was calm and serene. No wind ruffled the lake, and scarcely a cloud floated in the sky above. But while the wise man was measuring his steps towards the place designated for the council, and while ascending from the water’s edge, a rumbling and low sound was heard, as if it were caused by the approach of a violent, rushing wind. Instantly all the eyes were turned upwards, where a small and compact mass of cloudy darkness appeared. It gathered in size and velocity as it approached, and appeared to be directed inevitably to fall in the midst of the assembly. Every one fled in consternation but Hiawatha and his daughter. He stood erect, with ornaments waving in his frontlet, and besought his daughter calmly to await the issue, “for it is impossible,” said he, “to escape the power of the Great Spirit. If he has determined our destruction we cannot, by running, fly from him.” She modestly assented and they stood together, while horror was depicted in the faces of the others. But the force of the descending body was that of a sudden storm. They had hardly taken the resolution to halt when an immense bird, with long, extended wings, came down with swoop. This gigantic agent of the sky came with such force that the assembly felt the shock. The girl being in a nature, and embodied in the combination of the Terrestial and Celestial nature, was beautiful and fascinating in her looks and form, was borne away by this Celestial Bird to be seen no more upon the earth. But Hiawatha was inconsolable for his loss. He grieved sorely, day and night, and wore a desponding and dejected countenance. But these were only faint indications of the feelings of his heart. He threw himself upon the ground, and refused to be comforted. He seemed dumb with melancholy, and the people were concerned of his life. He spoke nothing; he made no answers to questions put to him, and laid still as if dead. After several days

the council appointed a certain merry-hearted Chief to make him a visit, and to whisper a word of consolation in his ears to arouse him from his stupor. The result was successful. He approached with ceremonies and induced him to arise, and named the time when the council would convene. Yet haggard with grief, he called for refreshments and ate. He then adjusted his wardrobe and head-dress and went to the council. He drew his robe of wolf-skin gracefully around him, and walked to his seat at the head of the assembled chiefs with a majestic step. Stillness and the most profound attention reigned in the council while he presided, and the discussion opened and proceeded. The subject of the invasion was handled by several of the ablest counselors and the bravest warriors. Various plans were proposed to defeat the enemy. Hiawatha listened with silence until all had finished speaking. His opinion was then asked. After a brief allusion of the calamity which had befallen him through the descent of the great bird by the Great Spirit, he spoke to the following effect:

“I have listened to the words of the wise men and brave chiefs, but it is not fitting that we should do a thing of so much importance in haste; it is a subject demanding calm reflection and mature deliberation. Let us postpone the decision for one day. During this time we will weigh well the words of the speakers who have already spoken. If they are good, I will then approve of them. If they are not, I will then open to you my plan. It is one which I have reflected on, and feel confident that it will insure safety.”

When another day had expired, the council again met. Hiawatha entered the assembly with even more than ordinary attention, and every eye was fixed upon him, when he began to address the council in the following words:

“Friends and Brothers: You being members of many tribes, you have come from a great distance; the voice of war has aroused you up; you are afraid of your homes, your wives and your children; you tremble for your safety. Believe me, I am with you. My heart beats with your hearts. We are one. We have one common object. We come to promote our common interest, and to determine how this can be best done.

“To oppose those hordes of northern tribes, singly and alone, would prove certain destruction. We can make no progress in that way. We must unite ourselves into one common band of brothers. We must have but one voice. Many voices makes confusion. We must have one fire, one pipe and one war club. This will give us strength. If our warriors are united they can defeat the enemy and drive them from our land; if we do this, we are safe.

“Onondaga, you are the people sitting under the shadow of the Great Tree , whose branches spread far and wide, and whose roots sink deep into the earth. You shall be the first nation, because you are warlike and mighty.

“Oneida, and you, the people who recline your bodies against the Everlasting Stone , that cannot be moved, shall be the second nation, because you always give good counsel.

“Seneca, and you, the people who have your habitation at the foot of the Great Mountain , and are overshadowed by its crags, shall be the third nation, because you are all greatly gifted in speech.

“Cayuga, you, whose dwelling is in the Dark Forest , and whose home is everywhere, shall be the fourth nation, because of your superior cunning in hunting.

“Mohawk, and you, the people who live in the open country, and possess much wisdom, shall be the fifth nation, because you understand better the art of raising corn and beans and making cabins.

“You five great and powerful nations, with your tribes, must unite and have one common interest, and no foes shall disturb or subdue you.

“And you of the different nations of the south, and you of the west, may place yourselves under our protection, and we will protect you. We earnestly desire the alliance and friendship of you all.

“And from you, Squaw-ki-haws (being a remote branch of the Seneca Nation), being the people who are as the Feeble Bushes , shall be chosen, a Virgin, who shall be the peacemaker for all the nations of the earth, and more particularly the favored Ako-no-shu-ne, which name this confederacy shall ever sustain. If we unite in one band the Great Spirit will smile upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous and happy; but if we shall remain as we are we shall incur his displeasure. We shall be enslaved, and perhaps annihilated forever.

“Brothers, these are the words of Hiawatha. Let them sink deep into your hearts. I have done.”

A deep and impressive silence followed the delivery of this speech. On the following day the council again assembled to act on it. High wisdom recommended this deliberation.

The union of the tribes into one confederacy was discussed and unanimously adopted. To denote the character and intimacy of the union they employed the figure of a single council-house, or lodge, whose boundaries be co-extensive with their territories. Hence the name of

Ako-no-shu-ne, who were called the Iroquois

The great bird which visited them from heaven brought a precious gift to the warriors in the white plumes which she shed at the visit. Every warrior, as he approached the spot where they fell, picked up a feather of snowy white to adorn his crown; and the celestial visitant thus became the means of furnishing the aspirants of military fame with an emblem which was held in the highest estimation. Succeeding generations imbibed the custom from this incident to supply themselves with a plumage approaching it as nearly as possible; they selected the plume of the white heron.

At the formation of the confederacy Ato-ta-rho, being considered next in wisdom and all other traits of character which constitutes the necessary qualifications of an honored Sachem, was ordained as the head Sachem of the confederacy, which office has been transmitted down to succeeding generations of the Onondaga Nation to the present time.

Hiawatha, the guardian and founder of the league, having now accomplished the will of the Great Spirit, and the withdrawal of his daughter having been regarded by him as a sign that his mission was ended, he immediately prepared to make his final departure. Before the great council, which had adopted his advice just before dispersing, he arose, with a dignified air, and addressed them in the following manner:

“Friends and Brothers: I have now fulfilled my mission here below; I have furnished you seeds and grains for your gardens; I have removed obstructions from your waters, and made the forest habitable by teaching you how to expel its monsters; I have given you fishing places and hunting grounds; I have instructed you in the making and using of war implements; I have taught you how to cultivate corn, and many other arts and gifts. I have been allowed by the Great Spirit to communicate to you. Last of all, I have aided you to form a league of friendship and union. If you preserve this, and admit no foreign element of power by the admission of other nations, you will always be free, numerous and happy. If other tribes and nations are admitted to your councils, they will sow the seed of jealousy and discord, and you will become few, feeble and enslaved.

“Friends and brothers, these are the last words you will hear from the lips of Hiawatha. The Great Creator of our bodies calls me to go; I have patiently awaited his summons; I am ready to go. Farewell.”

As the voice of the wise man ceased, sweet strains of music from the air burst on the ears of the multitude. The whole sky appeared to be filled with melody; and while all eyes were directed to catch glimpses of the sights, and enjoy strains of the celestial music that filled the sky, Hiawatha was seen, seated in his snow-white canoe, amid the air, rising, rising with every choral chant that burst out. As he rose the sound of the music became more soft and faint, until he vanished amid the summer clouds, and the melody ceased. Thus terminated the labors and cares of the long-cherished memory of Ta-ren-ya-wa-gon.



MLA Source Citation:

Johnson, Elias. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, New York: Union Printing and Publishing Co. 1881. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 24 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tarenyawagon-or-hiawatha.htm - Last updated on Jun 4th, 2013


Categories: , ,
Topics: , ,

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.