Native American Legends
Owl and his jealous wife
A Seneca Legend
There was a man and wife, O'Ówa People (owls), who quarreled
every night. When morning came, all. was pleasant again.
One night a visitor came and as soon as O'Ówa saw him, he
went out of the house and off into the woods. The visitor said,
"It is strange that O'Ówa went just as I came. I will go,
and come another time."
After a while O'Ówa came back. He was jealous and scolded
his wife till they began to fight. He beat her and then started
off, saying, "I am going to get another wife; I'll not be bothered
The woman followed him, crying. At last he grew sorry and went
back with her. In the morning he said, "had a dream and it told
me I must kill a bear and be back before the dew is off the grass."
He started, but when out of sight he went to a woman's house and
stayed there all day. Towards night he thought he would go home,
but on the way he met a nice looking woman, "Where are you going?"
"'I am going home."
"I will go with you."
"All right, if you can overtake me," said the woman, and off she
ran, O'Ówa after her. They ran all night toward the North.
(The woman was a partridge.) About noon of the following day they
came to a house and the woman went in. O'Ówa followed, but
he lost sight of her. In the house were two old men. O'Ówa
asked, "Did you see a woman pass?"
The men sat with their heads down and didn't answer. O'Ówa
repeated the question. One of the men looked up, and said, "It seems
to me that I hear something."
"It seems to me that I hear something," said the other old man.
"Get our canoe," said the first man.
Going to another part of the cabin, the second man came back with
a bark canoe and two basswood knives.
"Now," said the first man, "I will catch the game that has come
O'Ówa drew back. "Be careful, old man," said he, "I came
to ask a question. I'll not harm you." He started to run, the old
men followed him. After a time O'Ówa turned and running back
to the house got a mallet he had seen there. The first man to appear
he knocked down with a blow on the head; the second he treated in
the same way.
Then one man said to the other, "Get up and do the best you can.
It would be strange for us to be beaten by our game."
Again they were knocked down.
O'Ówa thought, "These men are Nosgwais (Toads). I cannot
kill them." And he ran off.
After a while he came upon a woman's tracks and he followed them
all day. When night came he thought he would soon overtake her,
but the tracks were not the woman's tracks; he had made a circle.
At daybreak he was far back and seeing his own tracks he said, "Another
man is following the woman. When I overtake him, I will kill him."
Again he came to the house of the two Nosgwais men. When he asked
for the woman, they caught him and threw him into their canoe, then
they began to dispute as to which one should cut up the game. At
last they back the canoe and left it. O'Ówa could not get
up, he was fastened to the canoe.
Towards night he heard somebody say, "You think you are going to
"Yes, I think so," said O'Ówa.
"You will not," said the invisible man. "At the end of the canoe
is a string and on it hang the hearts of the two old men. Wait till
dark then move and you will get loose and can get out of the canoe.
I will give you light to see where the hearts are. Squeeze them
and you will kill the old men. The canoe has great power, the Nosgwais
use it when they travel. I will teach you the song that belongs
O'Ówa was so weak he could hardly speak, the teacher sang,
"Gayeihe onen Owaqdendi ne okhonwan
(My canoe has started)."
When he finished singing, O'Ówa said, "I have learned the
As soon as it was dark, O'Ówa began to move and as he moved
he gained strength. Looking around he saw a pale light at the end
of the canoe. He found the hearts and took them from the string;
as he crushed them he heard screams and groans. He put the hearts
under the canoe and pounded them, then the cries ceased.
O'Ówa lay down and slept. The next morning he said, "Now
I have something to travel in and I will soon overtake that woman."
And carrying the canoe outside he turned it toward the North, got
into it and began to sing.
The canoe started off so swiftly that only the whiz of the air
could be heard. As it went on it rose higher and higher. O'Ówa
began to be afraid that the canoe was carrying him to some bad place.
It went higher and faster and he grew more and more afraid. All
at once he heard a scrambling behind, as of some one trying to get
into the canoe, and looking around he saw a man who said, "How fast
you go! I was bound to get it, so I jumped. You are afraid that
the canoe is going to carry you away. The reason the canoe goes
higher and higher and faster and faster is that you keep repeating
You must change the words, then you can guide it. I forgot to tell
you this last night."
As the man finished speaking, he stepped from the stern of the
canoe into the air and disappeared.
O'Ówa now sang, "My canoe is going down! My canoe is going
down!" In a flash the canoe came to the ground.
"This is not what I wanted," said O'Ówa, "I wanted, to come
lower but not to the ground."
Again he sang the first song; the canoe flew up like an arrow and
off toward the North faster than before. As it went along O'Ówa
saw the tracks of the woman ahead. Higher and higher went the canoe,
the wind whizzed frightfully.
"I am getting too high," thought O'Ówa and he changed his
song to, "My canoe must go lower, My canoe must go lower." It came
down but its speed was so great that O'Ówa was troubled and
began to sing, "My canoe must stop! My canoe must stop!" He came
to the ground, but he had lost the woman's tracks and he was far
from his own country.
Again he sat in the canoe but this time he sang, "Let my canoe
travel just above the trees." The canoe obeyed but it soon came
to an opening. Then, as there were no trees, it came to the ground.
O'Ówa thought, "I will go back to my wife," and he began
The canoe rose in the air going higher and higher as it went toward
the South. It went up till it struck the Blue. The strength of the
canoe was in the fore end and as it struck against the Blue it broke
and the canoe came down, O'Ówa fell in at the smoke-hole
of his own house.
"Get up!" screamed his wife, "You have put the fire out."
He couldn't move, she pulled him up, and asked, "Where have you
been? You said you would be back before the dew was off the grass."
The woman was jealous. From words they began to quarrel and fight.
At last O'Ówa said, "I'll not stay here."
The canoe had such power that if broken it soon became whole again.
The man sat in it and began to sing. The canoe floated away and
soon was over a village. Then O'Ówa sang, "Let my canoe come
down." It came to the ground, and O'Ówa left in and went
to the village. To the I first man he met, he said, "I have come
to get men to go to war."
The man said, "I will call the people together."
When the people had assembled O'Ówa said, "An enemy is coming.
I want volunteers to go against him."
Ten men agreed to go. (The people of this village were Racoons.)
They traveled for a long time but found no enemy to fight. At last
they met a man and captured him.
The man said, "A captive is always permitted to sing his last war-song."
The party talked it over, and said, "That is fair and according
They released the captive and forming a line on each side let him
walk through, singing as he went. He sang, "Djinónehe,
Ágadyéngwâq oyâ´de," repeating
the same words all the time.
The chief said, "He sings, 'I wish there were a hole!'"
"No," said the captive, "that is only the way the song goes."
As he walked he rubbed the ground with his feet to see if he could
find a hole. At last he found one and dropped into it. The men grabbed
at him as he was disappearing, but caught only the end of his tail.
It broke off and that is why woodchucks have short tails, for the
captive was a woodchuck.
When Woodchuck got away O'Ówa scolded and abused the Racoon
men. They got mad and pounded him till they thought he was dead,
then they left him and went home.
O'Ówa's wife was angry at his delay, and taking a basswood
knife she started off to find him for she thought he was making
love to some woman. When she found his canoe, she took a club and
broke it to pieces, then went to the village and asked where O'Ówa
The men who had killed him said, "His body is over there not far
away, you will find the pieces."
One of the men said, "I will go with you.'
The woman found O'Ówa's body and left it where she found
it. She went home with the Racoon man and became his wife. When
she found that he already had a wife, she was jealous and began
to quarrel with the woman and then to fight with her. The two fought
till both died.
Racoon felt sad and lonesome and soon he began to cry, and he cried
till he changed to a dove and still he cried and Indians called
him the crying dove (mourning dove), and that dove cries yet.
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