Birch Bark legends of Niagara
An Iroquois Legend
Within sound of the thundering cataract's roar once worshipped the roaming sons of the forest in all their primitive freedom. They recognized in its thunder the voice, in its mad waves the wrath, and in its crashing whirlpool the Omnipotence of the Great Spirit-the Manitou of their simple creed.
Also in the rising mist, the flight of the soul, and in the beautiful bow-the brilliant path followed by the spirits of good Indians to their Happy Hunting Ground.
With this belief came the custom of yearly offering a sacrifice to the Great Spirit, or whenever any particular blessing was to be acknowledged, or for some wrong perpetrated, to propitiate the righteous anger of their Deity of the roaring waters.
The sacrifice, or offering, consisted of a boat filled with fruit, flowers and any precious gift, which was to be paddled over the foaming cataract by one either drawn by lot or selected by the chiefs; or, as often happened, a voluntary offering of life, as it manifested heroism beyond their usual test of torture. Martyrs thus sacrificed had this consolation: that their spirits were sure to rise in the mist and follow the bright path above, while bad Indians' spirits passed down in the boiling, crashing current, to be torn and tossed in the whirlpool, there to linger in misery forever.
With all thy present loveliness-smooth paths cut round thy rocky banks, covered with trailing vines and bright, soft mosses, nature's beautiful tapestry; flights of steps, half hidden with gay foliage, displaying at almost every turn majestic scenery; bridges thrown over the bounding, foaming rapids, from island to island, opening bower after bower with surprises of beauty at every step. Scattered here and there the nut-brown Indian maids and mothers; among the last of the race-still lingering around their fathers' places and working at the gay embroidery-soon to pass away forever.
Yes, with all thy loveliness, the circle of mirth and gaiety, reflecting happy faces of thy present worshippers, tame is the scene compared with the traditions of a by-gone race, which, notwithstanding the simplicity in forms of customs that governed them, were among the brightest pictures of American life - always associated with the beautiful forest, which together are passing away, and oblivion's veil fast gathering around them.
Thy rocks, now echoing the gay laugh of idlers, first rang with the wild war-whoop, or sent back the Indian's low, mellow songs of peace, or mingled with the heavy roar of thy failing waters the mournful dirge of the doomed one, to the Great Manitou.
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