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قراءة كتاب Legends of The Kaw: The Folk-Lore of the Indians of the Kansas River Valley

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‏اللغة: English
Legends of The Kaw: The Folk-Lore of the Indians of the Kansas River Valley

Legends of The Kaw: The Folk-Lore of the Indians of the Kansas River Valley

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

traditions—the author, trusting to the indulgence of the public, ventures to submit the following.

Legends of the Kaw.


The history of Kansas has been of peculiar interest to the world at large, by reason of the struggles of ante-bellum days. The adventures of John Brown of Osawatomie and the achievements of General Lane, Governor Robinson, and other heroes of that period have formed the nucleus of many a story and song. All honor to the men who labored so successfully in the cause of freedom! There is another, equally brave, though less fortunate, race that wandered over the rolling prairies of the Sunflower State and camped along its rivers; a race stern, taciturn, and ever ready to do battle for home and liberty. Like the buffalo, former monarch of the plains, it has gradually diminished in numbers. Extinction or amalgamation is now a question of only a few brief years. This nation furnishes a romantic background, full of rich though somber color, to the later record of the great West.

Who can say that the traditions of the red man lack pathos, or that his character is devoid of the elements of nobleness, self-sacrifice and even martyrdom? Rude, wild and imperfect though it be, his folklore tells the story of a people, barbarous, it is true, but strong in their attachments and devoted to their faith. Many Indian myths, adventures and scraps of history are full of deep—often tragic—interest to one who delves in legendary lore. Like the tales of ancient Greece, as explained by Ruskin in Queen of the Air, each weird story admits of more than one interpretation. Sometimes a great spiritual truth lies hidden in its quaint phrases—sometimes a scientific fact.

There was an idea, current among the Indians who roamed over the central portion of the United States, that at one time in the long past, the rivers of the Mississippi basin filled the entire valley, and only great elevations were visible. Geology substantiates this teaching. The theory of a dual soul approached very close to the teachings of modern psychologists. While one soul was supposed to remain in the body, its companion was free to depart on excursions during sleep. After the death of the material man, it went to the Indian elysium and might, if desirous, return, in time, to earth, to be born again.

Like that of all uncivilized races, the ancient religion of the North American Indian was incoherent. Association with Europeans produced changes. Doctrines before unknown to the red man were engrafted upon his faith. Some writers maintain that it is doubtful if the idea of a single divinity had been developed previous to intercourse with missionaries. Brinton asserts that the word used by the natives to indicate God, is analogous to none in any European tongue, conveying no sense of personal unity. It has been rendered Spirit, Demon, God, Devil, Mystery and Magic. The Dakota word is Wakan (above), the Iroquois, Oki; the Algonquin, Manito. God and heaven were probably linked together before there was sufficient advancement to question whether heaven were material and God spiritual; whether the Deity were one or many. Good Spirit and Great Spirit are evidently of more recent origin and were, perhaps, first suggested by missionaries, the terms being applied to the white man's God, and adopted by the Indian and applied to his own. The number of spirits was practically unlimited, communication being usually in the hands of the medicine men, although the unseen world was often heard from directly in dreams.

A description of heaven—by Wampasha, an Iowa Indian—was found in the diary of Reverend S. M. Irvin, a devoted missionary among the Iowas and Sacs. It reads:

"The Big Village (heaven) is situated near the great water, toward the sunrise, and not far from the heads of the Mississippi River. None go there until after they die. A smart person can make the journey in three or four days; if, however, his heart be not right at death, the journey will be prolonged and attended with difficulties and stormy weather till he reaches the land of rest. Infants, dying, are carried by messengers sent for them; the old or infirm are borne upon horses; they have horses, plenty, and fine grass, and infirmities will all be healed in that village. The blind will receive new eyes; they have plenty of good eyes and ears there. Good people will never die again, but the bad may die three or four times and then turn into some bird."

Father Allouez, one of the first missionaries among the Algonquins, entered a village never before visited by a white man. He was invited to a council, and the old men, gathering around him, said:

"It is well, Blackrobe, that thou dost visit us; thou are a Manito; we give thee to smoke. The Iroquois are devouring us. Have mercy upon us. Hear us, O Manito! we give thee to smoke. Let the earth yield us corn; the rivers give us fish; sickness not slay us; nor hunger so torment us. Hear us, O Manito! we give thee to smoke."

Birds and beasts were selected as guardians. Everyone considered his totem a protector, and refrained from killing it. Whole clans were believed to be descended from a common totem and information was conveyed by means of omens.

The character of a nation is engraven upon its literature, which, like a mirror, reflects the thoughts, emotions and progress of a people. The folklore of the North American Indians was their literature. The myth, grounded upon the unchanging laws of the universe, was conscious, however vaguely, of great principles that are forever true. Physical existence formed the basis of each important fable. The earth, air, water and other elements were personified. Every image had its moral significance.

Mythology has been said to be simply the idea of God, expressed in symbol, figure and narrative. That of primitive America was founded upon the conviction that there was, in pre-historic times, another world inhabited by a people strong and peaceable. So long as harmony reigned, comfort and happiness were theirs, but when discord entered this Eden, conflict succeeded conflict, until, to punish his disobedient children, the Master of Life transformed them, one by one, into trees, plants, rocks and all the living creatures. It was said that each person became the outward embodiment of what he had previously been within himself. For instance, from the head of one sprang an owl, from another a buzzard, a third became an eagle, and in this manner was the present world with its three kingdoms, vegetable, animal and mineral, evolved.

Another tradition says that in the days of turmoil, a powerful man, or demi-god, ran to the place where the earth and sky meet, and with a lighted torch, set fire to the tall grass, igniting the earth itself. Those worthy of preservation were caught up to a place of safety. Sparks, rising from the flames, and finding lodgment high above, became the twinkling "sky-eyes," which, in the language of the white man, are called stars.

After the conflagration had subsided, one whose duty in the upper sphere had been to provide water, carried it in a basket; and as she walked, drop after drop fell through upon the parched region below, causing it to revive. Awakened Nature blossomed into new beauty, and all who had escaped the terrible fire fiend, returned to take possession of the country. The Water-Maiden still carries the basket; and its contents, which never grow less, still fall