Native American Legends
The Wife Of The Thunderer
An Iroquois Legend
Many years ago a young woman lived with her father's sister in
the village of Gaugwa, close to the great falls of Neahga. Her other
relatives had died of the sickness which came each year to the people
of her village. Although she was beautiful, hardworking and kind
to everyone, she was not treated well. She was dressed in the oldest
clothing and made to do the worst tasks. Despite it all, her beauty
shone through the dirt and ragged clothes. Many men thought they
would be glad to marry her, but her aunt would give no man permission
even to visit their Lodge. As the years passed by, Ahweyoh-whose
name means Water Lily-became more and more certain that she would
never be allowed to marry.
Then one day, during the moon when raspberries ripens as Ahweyoh
was grinding corn her aunt came to her with a wide smile on her
"Make ready, Girl," the aunt said. "Tomorrow you
will carry marriage bread to the man who will be your husband."
Ahweyoh's heart lifted in her chest like a hummingbird taking flight.
"Who is the man I am to marry? Is it Big Tree? Is it Grey Eagle?"
"Neh," said the aunt, "I would never allow you to
marry any young boaster such as those two. I have found a perfect
husband for you. Tomorrow you will become the second wife of Sweaty
Sweaty Hands! Of all the men in the village there was no one more
unpleasant. It was said that he beat his wife so badly that often
she could not walk for a whole day's journey of the sun across the
sky. His face was as ugly as his manners. He was short and fat as
a woodchuck in the summer and he never had a good word for anyone.
He was even said to be a coward in battle. It was rumoured that
the wealth he had in his lodge had been gained only by treachery
or by evil medicine.
"My aunt," Ahweyoh said, "you are teasing me. Surely
you do not want me to marry that awful man."
But the aunt did not smile. Instead her face grew ugly as Sweaty
"Girl," said the aunt in a loud and angry voice, "I
will not allow you to speak that way of a man who has given me such
fine presents for your worthless self! You will carry the marriage
bread to him tomorrow or I'll whip the skin off your back."
To prove her point the aunt took a willow switch and brought it
down several times across the girl's shoulders until the switch
broke. Then, turning her back, the aunt walked away and left Ahweyoh
weeping. She did not hear the words which her niece spoke in a soft
but determined voice.
"Neh," Ahweyoh said, "I will never marry such a
man. First I will die."
That night, when Grandmother Moon looked down from her sky and
all others in the village slept, a single small bark canoe left
the shores of Cayuga Creek. Her paddle moving with short sure strokes,
its lone passenger steered the boat into the rushing waters of the
Niagara River. Down stream the rumbling noise of the great falls
of Neahga could be heard. Then, as the current swept her faster
and faster downstream, Ahweyoh threw away her paddle.
"Forgive me, my parents," she said, raising her hands.
"Now I must join you in death. I give myself into the hands
of the Thunderers whose voices come from the great falls."
Folding her hands in heap, she sat calmly as the bark canoe rushed
downstream, was lifted as if it weighed no more than a drifting
leaf and catapulted over the lip of the great falls. She closed
her eyes, waiting to he smashed to pieces on the rocks below.
But, instead of striking foaming water and great stones, she felt
herself land on something which stopped her fall. She opened her
eyes. She was at the base of the falls. In front of her like a great
wall of ice flowed the falling water and her face was moist with
the mist. She was resting on a big blanket which was held firmly
by three men. Ahweyoh looked at them and then looked quickly away.
Surely this was a dream. They were dressed in warrior costume and
on the head of each was a single large feather. They were more handsome
and strong than any men she had ever seen before.
One warrior was taller than the others. On his back was a pack
basket filled with pieces of flint stone. "Little Sister,"
said the tallest of the men, "We heard you call our name. Often
have we watched you from above as you worked without complaining.
We have seen how you always give thanks for the fruits of the earth
and for the good rain which we send. It was not right that one such
as you should end her life in this way."
Ahweyoh could hardly believe her ears. This man was He-noh, the
Thunderer and the others were his helpers. These men were the ones
who ranged the sky, sending down the rain to help the earth, the
ones whose lightning bolts terrified evildoers and protected the
good. Often had she heard it said that the Thunderers lived beneath
the great falls, liking the sound of its thunder. Now she knew it
"Nyah-weh," she said, "I thank you for my life."
All three of the men smiled at her. "Come," said the leader.
His voice was deep and rumbled like the thunder, yet it was filled
with peace. "You shall stay with us now."
So it was that Water Lily came to dwell with the Thunderers. As
time went on it became clear that there was love between her and
the leader of the Thunderers and the two were married. Things went
on happily for them and when the space of four seasons had passed
Ahweyoh gave birth to a son.
"Now, my wife," said He-noh, "You must go for a
time to live among your own people. Our son must know what it is
like to be a human being. When the time is right, you shall return
to us again."
"Nyoh," Ahweyoh said. It was right. Though she had been
badly treated by the aunt, she longed to see her own people again.
Their son should know something of the human world.
"Now listen well," said He-noh. "These are matters
of great importance. As you bring up our son you must remember to
keep him hidden away. Tell no one who his father is. As he grows,
caution him never to grow angry at anyone. As long as he remembers
this, he can remain among human beings.
"Now that you are returning to your people, I must tell you
why it is that so many have died of sickness. Under your village
in a great burrow lives a monstrous snake. This snake eats the bodies
of your people after they die and have been buried. It does not
come out of the earth for fear we will kill it with our lightning
stones. It goes to the places where your people drink and it poisons
the waters so they will die in numbers to satisfy its appetite.
This it does once a year. Then it sleeps until again it feels hunger.
Soon it will wake again. Before it wakens, you must tell your people
to move to the Buffalo Creek."
Bearing her husband's words in mind, Ahweyoh returned to her people
at Gaugwa. Her face shone like a cloud touched by the sun and her
clothing was so fine and beautiful that the people did not recognize
her. But Sweaty Hands and the aunt thought this strange woman with
a child whose face was covered in its cradle board looked something
like that girl they had lost. To the Clan Mothers Ahweyoh spoke
her words of warning with such simple eloquence that they were convinced
of the truth. They in turn spoke to the Council of Elders and before
three sunrises had come and gone the whole village had moved to
That night the monstrous serpent woke. It crawled through its burrows
to poison the springs. Then it waited in a hole beneath the place
where the Gaugwa people buried their dead. For the space of a moon
it waited, yet no dead bodies were buried. Its hunger grew greater
and greater. Finally it pushed its head out of the earth to see
what was wrong. Around it was a deserted village.
The monstrous serpent grew angry. How could they dare to move away!
Scenting the trail they had taken, it came out of the ground, heedless
of danger. It crawled into the lake where their canoes had gone
and began to go up Buffalo Creek.
Looking down from a cloud in the sky, He-noh and his warriors saw
that the time was right. As the serpent came up the narrow creek,
its body filling it from one bank to the other, He-noh hurled a
thunder stone. It struck the serpent in its side, making a terrible
wound. The monster squirmed and thrashed about, trying to turn around
and seek the safety of the deeper water, but the Thunderers struck
again and again. To this day the banks of that stream are curved
in the spot where the monstrous serpent shoved against its sides.
At last the monster was dead. It began to float downstream and
entered the river. Down it floated until it reached the great falls
and lodged against the stones, its body stretching across the river
like a broken circle. For a time the water was held back. Then a
great piece of the falls broke away. The place where the monstrous
serpent's body became caught is today called the Horseshoe Falls.
As the stones fell, they destroyed the place where the Thunderers
had lived. Though the great falls still echo their voices, no longer
would He-noh and his helpers dwell beneath the falls. From that
day forward, their dwelling place on earth has been far to the west.
Now the people of Gaugwa were happy. They gave great honour to
Ahweyoh and built for her a lodge at the edge of the village. She
asked to be allowed to live there in seclusion and no one thought
of troubling her... except the aunt and Sweaty Hands. The aunt began
to spread stories about this woman with a baby and no husband. Sweaty
Hands asked again and again why it was that no one was allowed to
see the child's face. Most of the people would not listen to such
gossip, saying that Hawenio, our Creator, did not like human beings
to talk badly about each other, but still the aunt and Sweaty Hands
persisted. Seasons came and went. The baby grew to be a small boy
crawling about the floor of the lodge, but still no one was allowed
to see his face.
Finally, one night, the aunt and Sweaty Hands could stand it no
longer. They would go together and confront this woman who so resembled
their Ahweyoh of old. If indeed she was that girl, she would be
forced to marry Sweaty hands, baby or not! The aunt brought a willow
switch and Sweaty Hands carried a stick which was shaped like a
snake. Some of the people in the village saw where they were headed
and thought to stop them, but a wise old woman shook her head.
"Neh," she said, "wait a bit. Those who think evil
of others usually bring it upon themselves."
When the aunt and Sweaty Hands reached the lodge of Ahweyoh and
her son, they paused at the door. A stick had been leaned across
the doorway. This meant that those within the lodge did not wish
to be disturbed. They paid no attention and pushed their way in.
There, in front of a small fire, sat Ahweyoh. Across from her, his
back turned to them, her small son sat, playing with some chips
of flint. "Ha-a-ah," said the aunt in her loud angry voice,
"now I know you, my niece. You will come with us now and marry
this man as I promised." She stepped across the fire and grabbed
Ahweyoh by the arm. raising the switch to strike her. Sweaty Hands
stepped forward to grab Ahweyoh's other arm, but as he did so he
looked for the first time into the face of Ahweyoh's son.
The eyes of the boy caught his attention. At first they were the
clear blue of a calm sky, but as they took in the sight of these
two people threatening his mother, they became as grey and dark
as a thundercloud. With an angry shout the boy hurled the chips
of flint in his small hands at the two intruders. Immediately two
bolts of lightning struck the aunt and Sweaty Hands. When the smoke
cleared, Ahweyoh and her son stood there alone.
From the sky came a great cloud. As it touched the earth He-noh
and his two helpers stepped down.
"Now," said He-noh, "it is time for you both to
return to us."
And so it was. Ahweyoh and the son of He-noh joined him. From that
day there were four Thunderers, for the boy grew up to join his
father. At times, though, the Thunder Boy comes down and walks on
the earth, remembering the short time when he was a human being.
And when storms roll across the sky you can sometimes hear the lightning
answer from below as Thunder Boy and his father speak to each other.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends