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 sisters.
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 up."
"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 water."
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 harm."
"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 one remedy."
"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 aslant.
"My friend," he said, "can you tell me of what wood my back-log is?"
"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 was blind.
"If ever I meet with that fellow again," he said, "I'll punish him!"
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. He spoke:--
"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 Great Spirit.
"Always return thanks to Ho-noh-che-noh-keh, the Guardian Spirits.
"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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