Native American Legends
Origin of the Pleiades
An Onondaga Legend
A long time ago a party of Indians went through the woods toward
a good hunting-ground, which they had long known. They traveled
several days through a very wild country, going on leisurely and
camping by the way.
At last they reached Kan-ya-ti-yo, "the beautiful lake,"
where the gray rocks were crowned with great forest trees. Fish
swarmed in the waters, and at every jutting point the deer came
down from the hills around to bathe or drink of the lake. On the
hills and in the valleys were huge beech and chestnut trees, where
squirrels chattered, and bears came to take their morning and evening
The chief of the band was Hah-yah-no, "Tracks in the water,"
and he halted his party on the lake shore that he might return thanks
to the Great Spirit for their safe arrival at this good hunting-ground.
"Here will we build our lodges for the winter, and may the
Great Spirit, who has prospered us on our way, send us plenty of
game, and health and peace." The Indian is always thankful.
The pleasant autumn days passed on. The lodges had been built,
and hunting had prospered, when the children took a fancy to dance
for their own amusement. They were getting lonesome, having little
to do, and so they met daily in a quiet spot by the lake to have
what they called their jolly dance. They had done this a long time,
when one day a very old man came to them. They had seen no one like
him before. He was dressed in white feathers, and his white hair
shone like silver. If his appearance was strange, his words were
unpleasant as well. He told them they must stop their dancing, or
evil would happen to them. Little did the children heed, for they
were intent on their sport, and again and again the old man appeared,
repeating his warning.
The mere dances did not afford all the enjoyment the children wished,
and a little boy, who liked a good dinner, suggested a feast the
next time they met. The food must come from their parents, and all
these were asked when they returned home. "You will waste and
spoil good victuals," said one. "You can eat at home as
you should," said another, and so they got nothing at all.
Sorry as they were for this, they met and danced as before. A little
to eat after each dance would have made them happy indeed. Empty
stomachs cause no joy.
One day, as they danced, they found themselves rising little by
little into the air, their heads being light through hunger. How
this happened they did not know, but one said, "Do not look
back, for something strange is taking place." A woman, too,
saw them rise, and called them back, but with no effect, for they
still rose slowly above the earth. She ran to the camp, and all
rushed out with food of every kind, but the children would not return,
though their parents called piteously after them. But one would
even look back, and he became a falling star. The others reached
the sky, and are now what we call the Pleiades, and the Onondagas
Oot-kwa-tah. Every falling or shooting star recalls the story, but
the seven stars shine on continuously, a pretty band of dancing
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