Native American Legends
Birch Bark legends of Niagara
An Iroquois Legend
Within sound of the thundering cataract's roar once worshipped
the roaming sons of the forest in all their primitive freedom. They
recognized in its thunder the voice, in its mad waves the wrath,
and in its crashing whirlpool the Omnipotence of the Great Spirit-the
Manitou of their simple creed.
Also in the rising mist, the flight of the soul, and in the beautiful
bow-the brilliant path followed by the spirits of good Indians to
their Happy Hunting Ground.
With this belief came the custom of yearly offering a sacrifice
to the Great Spirit, or whenever any particular blessing was to
be acknowledged, or for some wrong perpetrated, to propitiate the
righteous anger of their Deity of the roaring waters.
The sacrifice, or offering, consisted of a boat filled with fruit,
flowers and any precious gift, which was to be paddled over the
foaming cataract by one either drawn by lot or selected by the chiefs;
or, as often happened, a voluntary offering of life, as it manifested
heroism beyond their usual test of torture. Martyrs thus sacrificed
had this consolation: that their spirits were sure to rise in the
mist and follow the bright path above, while bad Indians' spirits
passed down in the boiling, crashing current, to be torn and tossed
in the whirlpool, there to linger in misery forever.
With all thy present loveliness-smooth paths cut round thy rocky
banks, covered with trailing vines and bright, soft mosses, nature's
beautiful tapestry; flights of steps, half hidden with gay foliage,
displaying at almost every turn majestic scenery; bridges thrown
over the bounding, foaming rapids, from island to island, opening
bower after bower with surprises of beauty at every step. Scattered
here and there the nut-brown Indian maids and mothers; among the
last of the race-still lingering around their fathers' places and
working at the gay embroidery-soon to pass away forever.
Yes, with all thy loveliness, the circle of mirth and gaiety, reflecting
happy faces of thy present worshippers, tame is the scene compared
with the traditions of a by-gone race, which, notwithstanding the
simplicity in forms of customs that governed them, were among the
brightest pictures of American life - always associated with the
beautiful forest, which together are passing away, and oblivion's
veil fast gathering around them.
Thy rocks, now echoing the gay laugh of idlers, first rang with
the wild war-whoop, or sent back the Indian's low, mellow songs
of peace, or mingled with the heavy roar of thy failing waters the
mournful dirge of the doomed one, to the Great Manitou.
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