Native American Legends
How fire came to the Six Nations
A Mohawk Legend
Often, around the fire in the long house of the Iroquois, during
the Moon of the Long Nights, this tale is told.
Three Arrows was a boy of the Mohawk tribe. Although he had not
yet seen fourteen winters he was already known among the Iroquois
for his skill and daring. His arrows sped true to their mark. His
name was given him when with three bone-tipped arrows he brought
down three flying wild geese from the same flock.
He could travel in the forest as softly as the south wind and he
was a skilful hunter, but he never killed a bird or animal unless
his clan needed food. He was well-versed in woodcraft, fleet of
foot, and a clever wrestler. His people said, 'Soon he will be a
chief like his father.'
The sun shone strong in the heart of Three Arrows, because soon
he would have to meet the test of strength and endurance through
which the boys of his clan attained manhood. He had no fear of the
outcome of the dream fast which was so soon to take.
His father was a great chief and a good man, and the boy's life
had been patterned after that of his father. When the grass was
knee-high, Three Arrows left his village with his father.
They climbed to a sacred place in the mountains. They found a narrow
cave at the back of a little plateau. Here Three Arrows decided
to live for his few days of prayer and vigil. He was not permitted
to eat anything during the days and nights of his dream fast.
He had no weapons, and his only clothing was a breechclout and
moccasins. His father left the boy with the promise that he would
visit him each day that the ceremony lasted, at dawn.
Three Arrows prayed to the Great Spirit. He begged that soon his
clan spirit would appear in a dream and tell him what his guardian
animal or bird was to be. When he knew this, he would adopt that
bird or animal as his special guardian for the rest of his life.
When the dream came he would be free to return to his people, his
dream fast successfully achieved. For five suns Three Arrows spent
his days and nights on the rocky plateau, only climbing down to
the little spring for water after each sunset. His heart was filled
with a dark cloud because that morning his father had sadly warned
him that the next day, the sixth sun, he must return to his village
even if no dream had come to him in the night.
This meant returning to his people in disgrace without the chance
of taking another dream fast. That night Tree Arrows, weak from
hunger and weary from ceaseless watch, cried out to the Great Mystery.
'O Great Spirit, have pity on him who stands humbly before Thee.
Let his clan spirit or a sign from beyond the thunderbird come to
him before tomorrow's sunrise, if it be Thy will.'
As he prayed, the wind suddenly veered from east to north. This
cheered Three Arrows because the wind was now the wind of the great
bear, and the bear was the totem of his clan. When he entered the
cavern he smelled for the first time the unmistakable odor of a
bear: this was strong medicine.
He crouched at the opening of the cave, too excited to lie down
although his tired body craved rest. As he gazed out into the night
he heard the rumble of thunder, saw the lightning flash, and felt
the fierce breath of the wind from the north.
Suddenly a vision came to him, and a gigantic bear stood beside
him in the cave. Then Three Arrows heard it say, 'Listen well, Mohawk.
Your clan spirit has heard your prayer. Tonight you will learn a
great mystery which will bring help and gladness to all your people.'
A terrible clash of thunder brought the dazed boy to his feet as
the bear disappeared. He looked from the cave just as a streak of
lightning flashed across the sky in the form of a blazing arrow.
Was this the sign from the thunderbird ? Suddenly the air was filled
with a fearful sound. A shrill shrieking came from the ledge just
above the cave. It sounded as though mountain lions fought in the
storm; yet Three Arrows felt no fear as he climbed toward the ledge.
As his keen eyes grew accustomed to the dim light he saw that the
force of the wind was causing two young balsam trees to rub violently
against each other. The strange noise was caused by friction, and
as he listened and watched fear filled his heart, for, from where
the two trees rubbed together a flash of lightning show smoke. Fascinated,
he watched until flickers of flames followed the smoke.
He had never seen fire of any kind at close range nor had any of
his people. He scrambled down to the cave and covered his eyes in
dread of this strange magic. Then he smelt bear again and he thought
of his vision, his clan spirit, the bear, and its message. This
was the mystery which he was to reveal to his people. The blazing
arrow in the sky was to be his totem, and his new name - Blazing
At daybreak, Blazing Arrow climbed onto the ledge and broke two
dried sticks from what remained of one of the balsams. He rubbed
them violently together, but nothing happened. 'The magic is too
powerful for me,' he thought. Then a picture of his clan and village
formed in his mind, and he patiently rubbed the hot sticks together
His will power took the place of his tired muscles. Soon a little
wisp of smoke greeted his renewed efforts, then came a bright spark
on one of the sticks. Blazing Arrow waved it as he had seen the
fiery arrow wave in the night sky. A resinous blister on the stick
glowed, then flamed - fire had come to the Six Nations!
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