Native American Legends
The Mischief Maker. A tradition of the origin of the mythology of the Senecas
A Seneca Legend
An Indian mischief maker was once roving about. He saw that he
was approaching a village, and said, "How can I attract attention?"
Seeing two girls coming from the wigwams, he pulled up a wild plum-bush
and placed it upon his head, the roots clasping about his chin.
"It will be strange to see a plum-tree on my head, bearing ripe
fruit. These girls will want trees also." So he thought.
The tree shook as he walked, and many plums fell to the ground.
The girls wondered greatly at the strange man with the tree. They
admired it, and said they, too, would like to be always supplied
with fruit in such a manner.
"I can manage that," he replied. So he pulled up a bush for each,
and planted them on their heads. The plums were delicious, and grew
as fast as they were plucked; and the girls stepped along proudly,
for they had something which certainly no girls ever had before.
The Mischief Maker went on to the village. On the way he reflected,
"There is no such thing in the world as a plum-tree growing on a
man's head. I will take this off." He did so, and, on entering the
village, gave a loud signal (a whoop). All the people listened,
and the chiefs sent messengers to inquire what news he brought.
He said, "I have seen a very strange sight. As I was coming hither
I saw two girls walking. Trees grew on their heads; the boughs were
covered with plums, and the roots, which came through their hair,
were fastened about their necks. They were beautiful, and seemed
to be very happy."
"We will go and see them!" cried the women.
They had not gone far before they saw one of the girls lying on
the ground, while the other pulled at the tree on her head. The
roots gave way and the tree came out, but all the hair came with
it also. Then the other lay down, and her friend in turn pulled
the tree from her head. They were very angry, and said, "If we meet
with the man who played us this trick we will punish him."
When the women who had gathered round them learned how the trees
had been fastened by magic upon the girls' heads, they returned
to the village, resolved to chastise the man who had played the
trick. But when they reached home he was gone.
Gone far and away to another town. Before reaching it he sat down,
and said, "Now I will show these people also what I can do." He
went a little distance into the woods, where he found a wigwam.
A woman with a bucket in her hand came from it. He saw that as she
passed along she reached high with one hand, and felt her way by
a thong which ran from tree to tree till it ended at a spring of
cold water. She went on, filled her bucket, and so returned. Then
another woman after her did the same.
"They must be blind," said the Mischief Maker. "I will have some
fun with them." And so it was. There lived in that wigwam five blind
Then he untied the thong from the tree near the spring and fastened
it to another, where there was no water. Then a third blind woman
came with a bucket, and followed the line to the end, but found
no water. She returned to the wigwam, and said, "The spring is dried
"No, it isn't," replied one of the sisters, who was stirring pudding
over the fire. "You say that because you are too lazy to bring water;
you never work. Here, do you stir the pudding, and let me go for
The Mischief Maker heard all this, and made haste to tie the end
of the thong where it belonged. The blind woman filled her bucket,
and when she returned said to her sister, "There, you lazy creature,
I found the water!"
By this time the Mischief Maker was in the house, and slipping
quietly up to the fire he dipped out some of the pudding and threw
it, scalding hot, into the face of the scolding woman, who cried
in a rage,--
"You throw hot pudding at me, do you?"
"No, I did not throw any at you," replied the sister.
Then the Mischief Maker threw some into her face. She screamed,
being very angry.
"You mean thing! You threw hot pudding at me, when I did you no
"I didn't throw any!" said the other, in a rage.
"Yes, you did, you mean thing!"
"Stop! stop!" cried the others. Just then hot pudding flew in all
their faces; they had a terrible quarrel, and the Mischief Maker
left them to settle it among themselves as they could.
He entered the village near by, and gave the usual signal for news.
The runners came out and met him; the chiefs and all the people
assembled, lining the path on both sides for a long way. They asked,
"What news do you bring?"
He replied, "I come from a village where there is great distress.
A pestilence visited the people. The medicine man could not cure
the sick; till I came there was no remedy; the tribe was becoming
very small. But I told them the remedy, and now they are getting
well. I have come to tell you to prepare for the pestilence: it
will soon be here; it is flying like the wind, and there is only
"What is it? what is it? what is it?" interrupted the people.
He answered, "Every man must embrace the woman who is next to him
at this very instant; kiss her, quick, immediately!"
They all did so on the spot, he with the rest.
As he was leaving them an elderly man came to him and whispered,
"Are you going to do this thing again at the next village? If you
are I should like to be on hand. I didn't get any girl myself here.
The woman I went for dodged me, and said she had rather have the
pestilence, and death too, than have me kiss her. Is the operation
to be repeated?"
The Mischief Maker said that it certainly would be, about the middle
of the morrow forenoon.
"Then I will start now," said the middle-aged man, "for I am lame,
and it will take me all night to get there."
So he hurried on, and at daylight entered the village. He found
a wigwam, by which several beautiful Indian girls were pounding
corn in a great wooden mortar. He sat down by them. He could hardly
take his eyes from them, they were so charming, and they wondered
at his strange behavior.
He talked with them, and said, "My eyelids quiver, and by that
I know that some great and strange news will soon be brought to
this tribe. Hark!"--here he moved up towards the one whom he most
admired,--"did you not hear a signal?"
"No," they replied.
The middle-aged man became very uneasy. Suddenly the girls gave
a cry, and dropped their corn pestles. A voice was heard afar; the
runners leaped and flew, the chiefs and people went forth. With
them went the girls and the middle-aged man, who took great pains
to keep very near his chosen one, so as to lose no time in applying
the remedy for the pestilence when the Mischief Maker should give
the signal. He was determined that a life should not be lost if
he could prevent it.
The Stranger went through his story as at the other village. The
people became very much excited. They cried out to know the remedy,
and the old bachelor drew nearer to the pretty girl.
"The only remedy for the pestilence is for every woman to knock
down the man who is nearest her."
The women began to knock down, and the first to fall was the too
familiar old bachelor. So the Mischief Maker waited no longer than
to see the whole town in one general and bitter fight, tooth and
nail, tomahawk and scalper, and then ran at the top of his speed
far away and fleet, to find another village. Then the people, finding
they had been tricked, said, as people generally do on such occasions,
"If we had that fellow here, wouldn't we pay him up for this?"
The Mischief Maker was greatly pleased at his success. It was nearly
dark when he stopped, and said, "I will not enter the next village
to-night; I will camp here in the woods." So he had piled up logs
for a fire, and was just about to strike a light, when he saw a
stranger approaching. "Camp with me here over night," said the Mischief
Maker, "and we will go to the village in the morning."
So they ate and smoked their pipes, and told stories till it was
very late. But the stranger did not seem to tire; nay, he even proposed
to tell stories all night long. The Mischief Maker looked at him
"My friend," he said, "can you tell me of what wood my back-log
"Hickory?" inquired the stranger.
"No, not hickory."
"No, not maple."
"No, not white oak."
"No, not black walnut."
"No, not moosewood."
"No, not ash."
"No, not Pine."
"No, not cedar."
The stranger began to yawn, but he kept on guessing. Then his head
nodded. By the time he had found out that it was slippery elm he
was sound asleep.
"This fellow deserves punishment," remarked the Mischief Maker.
"He is an enemy to mankind." Here he adroitly put some sticky clay
on the sleeper's eyes, and departed. When the stranger awoke he
thought himself still fast asleep in darkness, and then that he
"If ever I meet with that fellow again," he said, "I'll punish
The Mischief Maker played so many pranks that all the tribes sent
out runners to catch him. He heard their whoops in every forest.
He knew that he was being hunted down. He hurried on, and once at
night hid in a cave under a rock. The runners did not quite overtake
him, but they saw that his tracks were fresh, and thought they might
catch him in the morning. In the morning he was up and far away
long before they awoke. The next night he hid again in a hollow
log. In the middle of the afternoon of the next day he heard the
whoops of the pursuers very near, and knew that they were gaining
fast on him. He climbed a thickly limbed tree, and hid in the top.
Here the runners lost his track, because he had broken the weeds
and bushes down beyond the tree, as if he had gone further on. They
ran for a long distance. Then they returned, and camped and built
a fire under the tree.
The smoke crept up among the branches and curled above, and rose
in a straight column to the sky. The fugitive sailed away on the
smoke, going up and up,--past beautiful lakes and hunting-grounds
stocked with deer, large fields of corn and beans, tobacco and squashes;
past great companies of handsome Indians, whose wigwams were hung
full of dried venison and bear's meat. And so he went on and up
to the wigwam. of the Great Chief.
Here he rested. He remained for a hundred moons observing the customs
of the people and learning their language. One morning the Great
Chief told him that he must return to his own people. He disliked
to do this, for he was very happy in the new place. The Chief said,
"These are the happy hunting-grounds. We have admitted you that
you may know how and what to teach your people, that they may get
here. Go, and if you do what I tell you, you may return to remain
forever. You have not been allowed to come here to remain, but only
to observe. When you come again, you shall join us in all things.
You shall hunt and fish then, and have whatever you wish. But return
now, and teach what you have learned here."
A cloud of smoke in the form of a great eagle came to him, and,
seated on its back, he was borne down to the top of the tree from
which he had risen. He opened his eyes. The sun was shining. His
pursuers had gone away. He descended and traveled on. His mind was
filled with what he had seen. He said, "I will no longer play tricks,
but tell the people about what I learned in the happy hunting-grounds."
After a long journey he drew near a village. He gave the common
signal. Runners came to meet him. The head chief and all the people
came to hear. He was asked, "What news do you bring us?
He said, "I that was the Mischief Maker am the Peace Maker now.
The Great Spirit took me to the happy hunting-grounds, and I am
sent back to tell you how to get there." Then the Peace Maker described
all he had seen. The people built a great fire and danced around
it, and shouted as they had never done before. Then he said, "This
is the message I bring you."
So the people sat in a great circle round the fire and listened.
"The Great Spirit is unseen, but he is about us. He will not forsake
us. He rules all things for us. He will take care of us. He told
me that we should return thanks to him, for he changes the seasons,
and makes corn and beans and squashes grow for us. He is displeased
when we kill our brothers. He hopes that we will not forget him.
He will never die. His name is Ha-wen-ni-yu,--the Ruler.
He bids us keep away from his wicked brother, whose name is Ha-ne-go-ate-geh,
the Evil-Minded. He is very bad. He brings pestilence and fevers,
and lizards and poisonous weeds. He destroys peace, and brings war.
Ha-wen-ni-yu will care for us if we trust in him. Obey his words,
and Ha-ne-go-ate-geh will never harm us.
"The Great Spirit, has messengers, who aid him in his work. They
watch over the people. They take care of the mother and her new-born
babe, that they receive no harm; they watch over those whom the
Evil-Minded has troubled with disease. The Evil-Minded has messengers
who do his work. They scatter pestilence, and whisper in our ears,
and tell us to go against Ha-wen-ni-yu.
"The Great Spirit has messengers. Heno has a pouch filled with
thunderbolts. Heno gathers the clouds and sends the rain. He is
a friend to the corn and beans and squashes. He also punishes witches
and evil persons. Pray to Heno when you plant, and thank him when
you gather your crop. Pray also to Ha-wen-ni-yu, who will send Heno
to care for you. Let Heno be called Grandfather.
"Ga-oh is the Spirit of the Winds. He moves the winds, but he is
chained to a rock. The winds trouble him, and he tries very hard
to get free. When he struggles the winds are forced away from him,
and they blow upon the earth. Sometimes he suffers terrible pain,
and then his struggles are violent. This makes the winds wild, and
they do damage on the earth. Then he feels better and goes to sleep,
and the winds become quiet also.
"There is a spirit for the corn, another for beans, another for
squashes. They are sisters, and are very kind to each other. They
dwell together, and live in the fields. They shall be known as De-o-ha-ka,--the
keepers of our life.
"There are spirits in the water, in fire, in all the trees and
berries, in herbs and in tobacco, in the grass. They assist the
"Always return thanks to Ho-noh-che-noh-keh, the Guardian
"Ha-ne-go-ate-geh has messengers. These are the spirits
of disease, of fever, of witches, weeds, and murder. But the Great
Spirit will keep them away from his children.
"This is the message I bring from the happy hunting-grounds. Obey
these words, and the Great Spirit will give you a place there."
So Peace Maker taught the people. They threw tobacco on the fire,
according to his instructions, and on the column of its smoke he
was borne away to the happy hunting-grounds. And the people danced
and sang around the dying embers of the council fire.
This is probably an ancient legend with a modern moral. The idea
of an Indian Tyl Eulenspiegel going about the country making mischief
recalls a great part of the adventures of Hiawatha or Manobozho;
in fact, it could not fail to suggest itself to a believer in Shamanism,
or pow-wow, according to which evil spirits and men like them are
continually teasing mankind, out of sheer malice. The reform of
the wicked man, under the influence of the "Great Spirit," is of
later days. I do not believe that the idea of a Great Spirit, in
the sense in which it is generally used by Indians, or is attributed
to them, was ever known till learned from the whites. Nothing is
more natural than that during the two hundred years past intelligent
Indians, who felt that there were many evils in the old barbaric
state, yet who were still under the influence of its myths and poetry,
should have made up legends like this purporting to be revelations.
There is one of the kind given in the Hiawatha Legend, as "Eroneniera,
an Indian visit to the Great Spirit," which bears on its face every
mark of modern manufacture for a purpose. For these very reasons,
however, the tale here given is of great interest to the impartial
historian. I am indebted for it to the kindness of Colonel T. Wentworth
Higginson, who informs me that it was written by the Rev. J. Wentworth
Sanborn (alias O-yo-gah-weh) of Batavia, N. Y.
In the first part we have in the Mischief Maker the same
character or principle who appears as Lox, the Wolverine, the Raccoon,
and Badger among the Wabanaki. The setting the blind women together
by the ears, and the dashing of hot pudding, soup, or water in their
faces, is another form of a Lox story, which occurs again in the
Kalevala. But the entire spirit of the tricks is that of Lox, as
those of Lox are like those of Loki. The Rev. Moncure D. Conway
once said to me, as Miss E. Robins has also said in an article in
the Atlantic Monthly, that it is only in the Norse mythology that
the Evil One, or devil, is represented as growing up from or inspired
solely by reckless wanton mischief,--the mischief of a bad
boy or a monkey. But the very same is as true of so much of a devil
as there is in the Wabanaki mythology. It is as a grotesque shadow
of Loki, but still it is his. The Germans say the devil is God's
ape; the Indian Lox is the Norse devil's.
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