Okteondon and his Uncle
A Seneca Legend
Okteondon lived in the woods with his uncle Haienthwûs. In front of the uncle's house was a great elm tree. The boy lay at the foot of this tree till the roots grew over and around his body, binding him firmly to the earth.
Haienthwûs was very fond of his nephew. He always brought him food: everything that he liked to eat and drink, venison, squashes, dried berries. Whatever the boy wanted the old man gave him.
The first work Haienthwûs did each morning was to put corn in a stone mortar to make meal. He struck one blow with the pestle and with that blow crushed the corn. People far and near heard the blow and all said, "Okteondon's uncle is well-to-do and strong."
The old man cooked the meal, carried a plenty to his nephew and ate his own share. Some days he went to the forest for fire-wood. He burned logs into pieces of such length as be could carry easily. When the fires on one log were burning well, he would light fires on other logs and go from one log to another keeping the fires in order. When the pieces were burned off and ready, the old man carried them home.
As he threw down the blocks they made a deep, pleasant sound on the earth and all the people in the region and to the most distant places heard the noise, and said, "Okteondon's uncle is well-to-do and strong."
Some days the old man went out to plant beans and squashes or dig wild potatoes. One Spring morning in the planting season, he went to his clearing in the woods with two baskets of seeds strapped to his belt. When starting he left a plenty of food with his nephew, and said, "I am going to plant these seeds."
The old man was in the field, making holes in the ground with a stick forked at one end and sharp at the other, dropping seeds in these holes and closing them, when all at once he heard a song that said: "I am going to rise. I am going to rise."
He knew it was his nephew's song, and dropping the pointed stick he hurried home, forgetting all about the seeds. As he ran the baskets struck the trees on both sides of the narrow trail and scattered the seeds till all were lost.
When Haienthwûs reached the house he saw that his nephew was on one elbow and the tree leaned toward the earth, with the roots starting out of the ground.
"Well, Nephew, what is the matter?" asked the old man.
"I want some water, Uncle."
The old man gave his nephew water, pushed the tree back to its place and then looking into his baskets saw they were empty. He spent the rest of the day on his hands and knees picking up what seeds he could find.
Another day he went out to strip bark from a slippery elm tree, to make strings, but before starting he gave Okteondon everything he needed. When he had stripped off a good deal of bark and was tying it in bundles, Haienthwûs heard the song again: "I am rising. I am rising!" The minute he heard those words, he threw a bundle of bark on his back and ran toward home. As he hurried along, the bundle struck the trees, first on one side and then on the other side of the trail. One piece of bark slipped out at one place and another at another till there was nothing left on the old man's shoulders but the straps.
"What is the matter, Nephew?" asked the old man when he saw Okteondon resting on an elbow and the tree leaning to one side.
"Oh, I'm thirsty, Uncle."
Haienthwûs brought him water, then straightened up the tree and went back to the woods. He picked up the pieces of bark on both sides of the trail till he came to the place where he had stripped them from the tree. That minute he again heard the song, "I am rising. I am rising."
"Poor boy, I wonder what he wants now," said the uncle, running home a third time. When about half way he heard the song repeated, then came a tremendous crash which was heard over the whole country.
All the people said: "Okteondon has come to manhood; he has got up."
When the old man reached home the great elm had fallen and his nephew was gone. He saw footprints far apart, long steps on the ground.
That night the young man came to his uncle's house and they had a talk.
The old man said, "You have grown up. You are now a man. You can go where you please, but I don't want you to go toward the North. If you do something evil will come upon you, you'll have bad luck."
The young man hunted for some time. He was a swift runner. He never killed deer or other game in the woods. He always drove the animals home and killed them at his uncle's door. After he had hunted in the West, South and East, he remembered his uncle's warning and wondering what it could mean, he made up his mind to go North and find out.
So one morning, when out of sight of his uncle's house, he turned to the North and ran swiftly till he came to a large opening in which there was a lake. The air was still; the lake calm and beautiful. Everything was so pleasing to look upon that the young man thought his uncle didn't want him to see the place because it was so agreeable be would want to stay there. Around the lake was a sandy beach, and a forest came to the edge of the sand, leaving a clean space around the water. In the middle of the lake was a wooded island.
Okteondon stood looking toward the island when he heard some one call once and then a second time. Soon a dark spot appeared on the water and grew in size. At last a man was seen and he was singing as his canoe moved on.
When quite near, Okteondon saw that the canoe was pushed by two rows of geese, one row on each side of the canoe, while the man sang, "Now wild geese's feet row my canoe."
When the canoe touched land, the man jumped out, and said to Okteondon, "I am glad you have come. I am glad we have met here."
The stranger walked along the sand a while, then turned to Okteondon, and said, "You are my own brother, we are of the same size."
They stood back to back, measured, and found they were of the same height.
"This shows," said the stranger, "that you are my brother. Your uncle is my uncle too, your bow and arrows are just like mine."
He went to the canoe, got his bow and two arrows and put them by Okteondon's bow and arrows. They were exactly alike.
"These bows and arrows," said the stranger, "were made by the same man, our uncle Haienthwûs. You are a fast runner, so am I, you run with the same swiftness that I do. This proves that we are brothers."
The beach where they stood jutted out into the lake and directly opposite, on the other side of the lake, was a Similar point.
The stranger said, "Let us shoot our arrows together, straight across the water to the point over there, then run along the shore and catch them."
Okteondon was willing. They shot the arrows at the same instant then ran around the lake till they reached the point where they saw the arrows coming through the air, They caught them before they came to the ground.
"Let us shoot them back," said the stranger.
They stood shoulder to shoulder, let the arrows fly and, then running along the shore came to the point from which they had started and caught the arrows before they came to the ground.
"We are brothers," said the stranger. "Your uncle used to tell me not to come here just as he has told you not to, but I came and have remained ever since because the hunting is good. Now you have come. We have an. other uncle living near here. He gave me this canoe and these geese to row it and take it to whatever place I want to go. He has given me an island in the middle of this lake, a beautiful place full of game. I am in need of nothing; whatever I want I find here. You must go with me to see the island. Get into the canoe."
While the canoe was on the shore the geese were swimming around in the water.
The stranger pushed the canoe to the edge of the water, and sang, "Come here, my geese. Come here, my geese."
The geese ranged themselves on both sides of the canoe and when the two men were seated, the stranger sang: "Row me home, my geese. Row me home, my geese."
The geese pushed the canoe in the direction of the island. The song continued. The geese went so fast that the canoe was almost lifted out of the water.
When the canoe touched shore, the stranger said to the geese, "You may go and feed a while." Then he drew the canoe on to land, took out his bow and arrows and told his brother to come with him and see the island.
Along the water there was a sandy beach, next to that soft grass and farther in thick woods.
The two men walked along till they came to a high bank where the water was deep, then the stranger said: "This is my playground and when anyone comes here with me he and I try to see who has the longest breath."
He took a smooth, round, white stone and threw it into the water, some distance from the shore. The water was so clear that the stone could be seen at the bottom. The stranger dived into the water but did not reach the bottom. Coming up he clambered on shore and said to Okteondon, "Now you try!"
The young man took off his clothes and sprang into the water. While he was trying to get the stone, the stranger took his clothes and his bow and arrows and running to the landing place jumped into the canoe and called the geese, and in a minute he was out on the water going towards the main land at great speed.
When Okteondon came out of the water and could see no one, he ran to the place where they had landed and from there he saw, far out on the lake, a black speck that soon disappeared.
Left without clothes or weapons he walked along the shore not knowing what to do. After a time he heard a man groan and it seemed to him that the sound came from the ground. He looked around and at last saw a nose sticking up through the sand.
As soon as he saw the nose a man spoke to him, and said, "My Nephew, I am sorry for you. You are poor and naked. Your brother, Shágowenotha, left me here too. I will tell you what to do. On the other side of the island you will find a soft maple tree. In that tree, near the ground, is a hole and in the hole is my pouch with a flint and a pipe in it. Bring the pouch here as quickly as you can."
The young man ran across the island, found the pouch, brought it to the old man, and said, "I have brought the pouch, my Uncle."
"Well, Nephew, go to work now and make three bows and three arrows."
Okteondon whittled out, with his uncle's flint knife, three small bows and three arrows. When these were ready the uncle said: "Find a basswood stick and make three dolls out of it."
When the dolls were ready, the uncle said, "Now run around the woods of this island and when it is midday you will come to a large tree. Climb the tree and fasten one doll and a bow and arrow on a crotch and say to the doll, 'If anyone comes to fight with you, you must kill him.' When you have done this, slip down and run around the island in every direction till the middle of the afternoon when you will come to a second large tree. Climb the tree and fix a doll in a crotch and say to it, 'If anyone comes to fight you, you must kill him.' Come down and run around a third time in every direction till it is nearly dark, then put the third doll on the third tree and tell it to kill any person who attacks it."
The young man followed the orders given him. He put three dolls on three trees and at dusk came back to his uncle, and said, "My Uncle, I have done as you told me to do."
"Very well, Nephew, now bury yourself up to your nose in the sand. Your brother will come early tomorrow morning and say, 'I will see if I can find any of my brother's blood.' He is the servant of a man-eater and his work is to entice people to this island where they can be caught and eaten."
The young man buried himself in the sand, with the point of his nose sticking out, and waited till the next morning when Shágowenotha came in his canoe, and said, "My geese, feed here while I see if I can find any of my brother's blood."
He started off on a run. Okteondon jumped up, ran to the canoe, pushed it into the water, and sang, "Now my geese, row me home. Now my geese, row me home."
In a minute the canoe was shooting over the lake. When he was well out Okteondon heard his brother shout, "Come back! come back!" but he paid no heed to the cries; he went on and the geese never stopped till they reached the opposite shore.
Okteondon landed he said to the geese, "Feed here till I call you." Then he put the canoe under water so no man could see it, and went to a house nearby. In the house he saw his bow and arrows that had been taken away by his brother, and many arms and much venison and dried green corn. He ate all he wanted.
That night the uncle on the island listened and heard a canoe come. In the canoe was the man-eater and his three dogs.
When they had landed, the man-eater said to the dogs: "Run around and see what you can find."
The dogs found the tracks made by the young man ill running over the island to put the three dolls on the trees, and they followed them.
About midnight they came to the first doll and began to howl and bark. The man-eater hurried to them, but before he got there a man on the tree shot an arrow and killed the foremost dog.
When the man-eater saw that one of his dogs was dead, he was furious and drawing his bow sent an arrow through the man on the tree; down the man fell. The two remaining dogs rushed at him and tore his body apart, when that was done the dead man was gone and the dogs threw bits of wood out of their mouths. The man had become a doll again.
The man-eater said to the two dogs, "There is good game on the island. Run and find it." The dogs ran around till they came, between midnight and daylight, to the tree on which the second doll was fixed. As they ran up, the doll became a man. They barked furiously. The man let fly an arrow and killed one of the two dogs.
The man-eater killed the man, the man fell to the ground and was torn to pieces by the remaining dog; the flesh turned to bits of wood which the dog threw out of his mouth.
The man-eater raged more than ever and said to the third dog, "Run now and find good game."
The dog ran till day was coming then he found the third doll. The doll turned to a man and the man killed the dog. When the man-eater came and found his last dog dead he shot the man, the man tumbled from the tree and when he struck the ground the man-eater saw only a small stick.
"Very well," said the man-eater. "I will go home now, but I will come again tonight."
He went home and the following night he came back to the island with three other dogs. He set the dogs on the trail. They soon found Okteondon's brother and began to bark. The man-eater hurried up to kill the game, the man began to cry out and beg, saying, "I am your servant. Don't kill me. I am your servant. Don't kill me."
But the man-eater wouldn't believe him. He drew his bow and killed him, flung his body into the canoe and went home.
The next morning Okteondon went to the shore of the lake, called the geese and started for the island, singing, "Row, my geese. Row, my geese."
When he got to the landing place he told the geese to feed nearby, and drawing the canoe to the shore, he went to see his uncle.
"Well, Uncle," said the young man, "I have come back to see you."
"My Nephew, the dogs seized your brother. He begged for his life but the man-eater killed him, flung his body into the canoe and carried it home. Now I have this to tell you. You have a sister who was brought to this island. The man-eater carried her to his own place. You must rescue her. You can go to his house at midday for at that time he is never there."
The young man called the geese, launched the canoe and hurried away.
The geese went so quickly that in a little while Okteondon saw the man-eater's house. At the door stood a woman watching for him. She knew her brother was coming and she ran to the landing place carrying two pieces of basswood bark.
"You must not step on the ground," said she. "If you do, the man-eater will find your tracks and kill you."
Before leaving the shore, Okteondon sank his canoe out of sight and told the geese to go far away to feed. His sister put one piece of bark near the edge of the water for him to step on and the other before that. When he, stood on the second piece she took up the first and put it in front, and so it went on. He stepped from one piece of bark to another till he came to the house, then she hid him under her couch and made ready for the man-eater. She thought if everything were ready for him she wouldn't have to leave her side of the house.
When the man-eater came home, he sat down on his own side of the fire and the dogs lay down near him.
The woman had a large bark bowl full of thigh bones. The bowl was hidden behind the couch on which she sat and under which her brother was lying.
After a while the man-eater asked for water, the woman told him she had put water right there near him; he could help himself, He ate his supper and lay down on his couch. The dogs sniffed something and went toward the couch where the woman sat making moccasins.
The man-eater sat up on his couch, and said. "Some kind of game has come to visit you."
"Your dogs are attacking me," said the woman. "I must defend myself," and reaching behind her she took a large thigh bone out of the bowl and struck the foremost dog with it. He howled, went back and lay down.
The man-eater lay down on his couch again, but soon the dogs started up a second time, came nearer the woman than before and barked furiously. Then the mar-eater said, "There must be something near you, my dogs wouldn't lie."
"If you think so, you ought to have killed me long ago," said the woman and she picked up another bone and hit one of the dogs a hard blow on the snout. They went away and lay down in their places.
At daylight the man-eater rose up, called his dogs and went off hunting.
After a while the woman saw one of the dogs coming back. Soon all three of them came in and directly the man-eater appeared. The dogs barked louder than ever and the man-eater said, "There must be game here, my dogs are true."
"They are barking at me all the time," said the woman.
You ought to have killed me long ago, not leave me here to be treated in this way." She took up another bone and gave each dog such a blow that it ran out of the house.
The man-eater said: "Come, my dogs, we'll go hunting." And he went, this time, a long distance.
The woman told Okteondon to come out from under the couch. She got pieces of basswood bark and placed them before him, one after another, till he came to the water. He raised the canoe, called the geese, and he and his sister sat in the canoe; he sang and the geese pushed them swiftly through the water. They were far out on the lake when all at once they saw that they were going back to the shore. There was a hook in the canoe, a line was tied to it and the man-eater was pulling in the line as fast as he could.
The woman took a round white stone and broke the hook, freed the canoe, and out it went into the lake again.
The man-eater took another hook, fastened it to a line threw the line out and caught the canoe. He was pulling it to shore when the woman broke the second hook. The man-eater was in a terrible rage for the second hook was his last and he could not catch the canoe again with a line. But he was determined to destroy Okteondon and his sister, so he lay down on the beach and began to drink. He drank so fast that the water ran in a great stream towards him. He was drinking up the lake.
When the canoe was straight in front of the man-eater's open mouth, Okteondon shot an arrow and pierced his stomach. The water of the lake rushed out with such force that the canoe was carried to where it had been before. They were moving on quickly and were near the island when all at once the man-eater caused the lake to freeze over. The canoe was fastened in thick ice.
The man-eater came running over the frozen lake and was near the canoe when Okteondon said, "It must be done; the ice must thaw!"
The ice thawed quicker than it had frozen and became so weak that when the man-eater was about to seize the canoe, he broke through the ice and sank to the bottom of the lake.
Then Okteondon said, "Creatures under the water I give this man-eater to you. Devour him!" They devoured him at once. A little blood that rose to the top was all that was seen of the man-eater.
The brother and sister went to the island. Okteondon left the canoe on shore and going to his uncle, who W85 buried in the sand, said, "Uncle, I have come back and my sister is with me."
The uncle said, "Fill my pipe with dry bark."
The young man did as he was bidden, then put the pipe in his uncle's mouth. The old man drew in smoke and let it come out through his nose, his eyes and his ears. As he smoked he grew strong and soon he said, "Nephew, draw me up," and Okteondon drew him out of the sand.
The more the old man smoked the stronger he grew.
The smoke spread out over the lake and was beautiful soon he said, "Now we will go to the canoe."
When the three were in the canoe, the young man said to the geese, "Go to the place where you first saw me," and then he sang, "Row me, my geese. Row me, my geese."
The geese swept the canoe over the lake quickly and then
Okteondon said to them, "I will free you now, but you will be seen year after year and people will call you wild geese, and you will always fly in the same form that you had in pushing the canoe-a flock pointed in front and broad behind."
The geese flew away and Okteondon with his sister and uncle went on till they came to Haienthwûs' home. Then they all lived together again.
Return to Seneca Legends