Long, long ago, in days that fell in the dust and now are long
forgotten, the winsome West-Wind wooed and won a lovely Indian
maiden. But, on the seventh day, after the sun went down and
before the moon came up, he left her sleeping on a small island in
the river. The lapping of the waves awoke her. The last shadows of
night were racing fast across the waves.
She was all alone. The moon was hanging upside down and the night
was burning hot as the sun arose in the light of day.
For a full year she waited for her love to return, but West-Wind had
disappeared and the lovely Indian maiden used her last strength to
swim ashore and leave her baby son, Hiawatha, to the care of Old
Nokomis, his grandmother.
Hiawatha grew up tall and straight, like a forest king reaching for
the light. Soon Hiawatha was skilled in the woodland craft of Indian
All the lore of the wise men lay behind his tongue. Every man of his
tribe was his First Uncle; and they taught him all they knew. There
came a day when the wise old men brought him forth and said,
Hiawatha is a man. A proud shout rang out and sang through the stout
forest of giant chestnut trees. Pigeons rose into the air with a
roar of wings. They filled the sky for miles, for all this happened,
a long, long time ago.
A man must learn wisdom in his youth. Hiawatha took up his bow and
his arrows, and his knife and walked deep into the forest and from
one moon rising until it came again, Hiawatha lived in his forest
home. Nature was now his final teacher. He studied the birds until
he knew their calls and their plumage. He watched them build their
nests, and learned where they hid in times of snow, All the wild
beasts that roamed through the woods became his friends. They taught
him how to speak their language and when the moon was come again.
Hiawatha knew all their secrets.
When Hiawatha came forth from the woods there was a smile upon his
face and his eyes were deep with honor and truth. Truly this is the
son of West-Wind, said the mothers of the tribe. “It is well.”
Only then did Old Nokomis tell the story of his mother's cruel
desertion to Hiawatha. Full of wrath, he determined to be revenged
on his father and in spite of his grandmother's warnings, the young
man set out on his long journey. Wearing his deerskin shoes,
Hiawatha journeyed westward, ever, ever westward, until at length he
reached the white mountains from whence sprang all the winds of
heaven. West-Wind clasped his son to his breast and joyfully
welcomed the handsome youth to his rocky home.
But anger rose in the heart of Hiawatha. “Ho, I will kill you now,”
he cried. For seven days the two warriors waged a terrible battle
that knocked stars from the sky. Lightning flashed with every blow
and the winds shrieked in agony, so swiftly did he fall. But
Hiawatha rose from the ground time and time again. It came to pass
that their battle raged for seven full days.
Then West-Wind called for the winds to be still and he said.. "Hold,
my son, it is impossible to kill me, for I am immortal. You have
proven your valor is equal to mine. Go back now to your people; live
with them, work in the fields with them, and free the lands of all
monsters and kill the giants that lurk in the shadows where the
rivers gulp for air and whirlpools swallow whole trees at night.”
"But, know this, my son, When Winds-of-Death at last lays his icy
hand upon your breast, you shall come again to this place. What is
mine shall then be thine, and you shall share my kingdom and joy
with me, for you are my son. By my side you shall be ruler of
Northwest-Wind. When you speak, thunder shall peal over the hills
and the gentle rains shall whisper the song of happy births in their
season. All the earth shall honor you.”
Then all anger departed from Hiawatha and he went homeward on his
way with a softer heart. When he came to the great river Hiawatha
turned aside to buy arrow-heads from the curious arrow-maker in the
land of Red Earth where thousands of warriors lived as one in a
Now the old arrow-maker had come from the land of the Dacotahs in
his youth. All his arrowheads were chipped from the dark stones
found only in the sharp, dark hills of the land of the Dacotahs.
When the arrowheads were set he then hardened the end of the arrows
in a fierce fire so the flints would never loosen from their place.
This made all his arrows fly straight and true; therefore warriors
came to him from the ends of the earth.
"To my death I am a stranger in this land," he told Hiawatha. "But
it is good to me that I am here. Therefore you shall eat with me
this night, as a stranger and a welcome guest. Laughing Water shall
prepare our meal and you shall eat with me this night."
Hiawatha turned and looked at the maiden, Laughing Water. Her name
would ever after be Minnehaha in his own language. When he saw her
his heart burned within him as if Hiawatha had been pierced by one
of the old man's fire-hardened arrows. This is flesh to my flesh, he
said. I must have this maiden of dark eyes or else my flesh shall
"This is good," said Hiawatha.
Then Minnehaha hastened to prepare a meal and set it before the two
men. When they had finished eating, Hiawatha spoke of his childhood,
his friends, and of the happiness and plenty in his land. “Give this
maiden to be my wife and all shall be well with us."
The ancient arrow-maker brought out his pipe and shared it with
Hiawatha while he considered the request. “I am a stranger here,” he
said at last. “But Laughing Water is very beautiful even with these
pale ones that never seek the sun. Every day they beg me to give her
to them for wife. I am from the land of the Dacotahs, and I am very
proud. I do not wish Laughing Water to be wife to any of them; They
are not good enough.
"You are a stranger here. If she becomes your wife, you will take
her far, far from here. Will she be a stranger there?”
Hiawatha answered gravely: "Minnehaha will never be a stranger to my
"Minnehaha?” asked the old man? “Already you have given her a new
name that will not be strange to your people?” He laid his pipe
At last he looked up at his daughter. “Minnehaha, it shall be as you
wish; let your heart speak to us. Is this the man you would have for
Thus it came to pass that the young maiden rose up at once and took
the seat of honor behind Hiawatha's right shoulder. Softly she said:
"Father, this is the man I will follow all my days; Let Hiawatha be
"These men eat red dirt and they are proud. Before you can leave
their shadow you shall walk for many days in any direction, for they
are Great, in numbers and in power. Thousands live in this one city
alone, and there are more with numbers that even wise old men cannot
count, east for days from the trees across the river, west to the
burning hills of rolling sand and south to the mountains that smoke,
they are Great.
"I cannot give Minnehaha to you without cost, lest their anger burns
and they kill you. Therefore I shall ask a hero's task for you to
perform. In the great river that divides two worlds, you will use
your crystal to see a monster fish lying on white sand at the bottom
of this great river. Your task, if you love Minnehaha and will
promise to cherish her forever, is to capture this monster fish,
even Nahma, king of fishes."
And thus it came to pass that Hiawatha left them and traveled
eastward to the great river that divides two worlds. There he took
off his crystal and peered through it into the great river. The
monster fish lay on the white sand at the bottom of the river.
Hiawatha, whittled a great canoe from a white birch and went forth,
line in hand, and sat in his canoe, shouting: "Take my bait, O Nahma;
come up and let us see which of us is the stronger!"
At first Nahma ignored the taunts of Hiawatha, but at length Nahma
grew weary of this clamor, and yanked on the bait of this rude
fellow to snap his line and be done with him. But no, this line was
woven from the soap fiber that grows long and tall on the white
mountains. It came to pass that the monster fish tugged at the line
till the birch canoe stood almost on its nose, but still the line
held and Hiawatha only leaned back and pulled the harder. Then Nahma
grew angry. Opening his huge jaws, he swallowed both the canoe and
Finding himself in utter darkness, Hiawatha groped about till he
felt the monster's heart. With one of the paddles he smote the
monster's heart so fiercely that he killed the great fish Nahmah.
Hiawatha waited till the giant fish drifted on to the shore, then he
called for his friends the sea-gulls, to work with their claws and
beaks till they made a wide rift in Nahma's side and thus was
Hiawatha set free.
To prove he had captured the giant fish, Hiawatha carved the huge
heart from the beast and carried only that back to the home of the
arrow-maker. When he had told his story and shown the people of Red
Earth the huge heart they sent twenty one warriors racing to the
shore of the Great River to begin smoking the meat. Another 21
warriors followed them in order to carry the smoked meat home. Every
warrior that had sought the hand of Minnehaha was bade to come, eat
and see that Hiawatha truly had paid for her hand with a task that
only a hero could perform. “Haugh!” said the arrow-maker, now we can
cross the great river in peace. The monster fish shall swallow no
more of our runners, or warriors. Our canoes shall carry the wampum
of peace to all the chiefs on both sides of the Great River.
Thus was the heart of Minnehaha won with a mighty wooing, and hand
in hand the young couple went away together, leaving the old
arrow-maker behind with the people of Red Earth.
When Hiawatha and his fair bride reached their home, Old Nokomis
prepared a sumptuous wedding-feast to which many guests were bidden.
Among them was a handsome but idle youth named KoKo-Pelle
Pau-Puk-Keewis, who rose from his seat and danced his merry dances
to the music of his special flutes and the tribe's celebration
drums. The Evening-Stars spun across the heavens and danced in joy
with the tribe of Hiawatha and Minnehaha. Last of all KoKo-Pelle sang
the swaying, feather light love-song of the gentle-Evening-Breeze.
All those with love in their hearts heaved a great sigh of lasting
contentment. Then they promised that Minnehaha would never be a
stranger in her new home.