This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 9

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 9: Dekanawida and Hiawatha.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 167-186 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 8 | ahead to: Chapter 10

The heroic legend of the formation of the league of Five Nations — Hayonwatha's journey to Dekanawida at the Mohawk town near Cohoes Falls — Adodarho subdued — the two Iroquois heroes unite the tribes at Onondaga

North of the beautiful lake (Ontario) in the land of the Crooked Tongues, was a long winding bay and at a certain spot was the Huron town, Ka-ha-nah-yenh. Near by was the great hill, Ti-ro-nat-ha-ra-da-donh. In the village lived a good woman who had a virgin daughter. Now strangely this virgin conceived and her mother knew that she was about to bear a child. The daughter about this time went into a long sleep and dreamed that her child should be a son whom she should name Dekanawida. The messenger in the dream told her that he should become a great man and that he should go among the Flint people [Mohawks] to live and that he should also go to the Many Hill Nation [Onondagas] and there raise up the Great Tree of Peace. It was true as had been said the virgin gave birth to a boy and the grandmother greatly disliked him and she rebuked her daughter.

"You refuse to tell me the father of the child," she said, "and now how do you know that great calamity will not befall us, and our nation? You must drown the child."

So then the mother took the child to the bay and chopped a hole in the ice where she customarily drew water and thrust him in, but when night came the child was found at his mother's bosom. So then the mother took the child again and threw him in the bay but at night the child returned. Then the third time the grandmother herself took the child and drowned him but in the morning the child nestled as before on his mother's own bosom.

So the grandmother marveled that the child, her grandson, could not be drowned. Then she said to her daughter:

"Mother, now nurse your child, for he may become an important man. He can not be drowned, we know, and you have borne him without having marriage with any man. Now I have never heard of such an occurrence nor has the world known of it before."

Beginning with that time the mother took great care of her child and nursed him. She named him Dekanawida in accord with the instruction of her dream.

The child rapidly grew and was remarkably strong and healthy. His appearance was noticed for its good aspect and his face was most handsome.

When Dekanawida had grown to manhood he was greatly abused by the Huron people because of his handsome face and his good mind. He was always honest and always told what he believed was right. Nevertheless he was a peculiar man and his people did not understand him.

Many things conspired to drive him away for the Crooked Tongues had no love for such a man. Their hearts were bitter against a man who loved not war better than all things.

After a journey by canoe across the lake he came into the hunting territory of the Flint Nation. He journeyed on to the lower fall of the river of the Flint Nation and made a camp a short way from the fall on the flat land above it. He sat beneath a tall tree and smoked his pipe in quiet meditation.

A man of the Flints passed by and seeing the fire and the stranger approached him cautiously to discover what weapon he bore, if any. Carefully the man of the Flint reconnoitered but saw no weapon, but only the stranger quietly smoking. Return ing to the town a short distance away the presence of the odd stranger was reported. Then the chiefs and their men went out and assembled about the man who smoked. One of the head men was delegated to question the stranger and so he asked, "From whence came you?"

"I am from Ka-ka-na-yenh," the stranger replied.

"I am of the Wyandots, whom you call the Crooked Tongues because our speech is slightly different," answered the stranger, "My mother is a virgin woman."

"Then," said the speaker, "By what name are you known?"

"I am Dekanawidah, so named because my virgin mother dreamed that it should be so and no one else shall ever be named by this name."

"What brought you here to us," asked the speaker.

So then Dekanawidah answered, "The Great Creator from whom we all are descended sent me to establish the Great Peace among you. No longer shall you kill one another and nations shall cease warring upon each other. Such things are entirely evil and he, your Maker, forbids it. Peace and comfort are better than war and misery for a nation's welfare."

Then answered the speaker of the Flints, "All that you say is surely true and we are not able to contradict it. We must have proof, however, before we submit ourselves to you whereby we may know that you indeed possess rightful power to establish the Great Peace."

So answered Dekanawida, "I am able to demonstrate my power, for I am the messenger of the Creator and he truly has given me my choice of the manner of my death."

"Choose then," said the speaker, "a manner of destruction, for we are ready to destroy you." Dekanawida replied, "By the side of the falls at the edge of a precipice stands a tall tree. I will climb the tree and seat myself in the topmost branches. Then shall you cut down the tree and I shall fall into the depths below. Will not that destroy me?"

Then said the speaker, "Let us proceed at once."

Dekanawida ascended the tree and it was chopped down. A multitude of people saw him fall into the chasm and plunge into the water. So they were satisfied that he was surely drowned. Night came but Dekanawida did not appear and thus were the people sure of his death, and then were they satisfied.

The next morning the warriors saw strange smoke arising from the smoke hole of an empty cabin. They approached cautiously and peering in the side of the wall where the bark was loosened they saw Dekanawidah. He was alive and was not a ghost and he was cooking his morning meal.

So the watchers reported their discovery and then were the chiefs and people truly convinced that indeed Dekanawidah might establish the Great Peace.

The Troubled Nations

The Ongwe-oweh had fought long and bravely. So long had they fought that they became lustful for war and many times Endeka-Gakwa, the Sun, came out of the east to find them fighting. It was thus because the Ongwe-oweh were so successful that they said the Sun loved war and gave them power.

All the Ongwe-oweh fought other nations sometimes together and sometimes singly and, ah-gi! ofttimes they fought among themselves. The nation of the Flint had little sympathy for the Nation of the Great Hill, and sometimes they raided one another's settlements. Thus did brothers and Ongwe-oweh fight. The nation of the Sunken Pole fought the Nation of the Flint and hated them, and the Nation of the Sunken Pole was Ongwe.

Because of bitter jealousy and love of bloodshed sometimes towns would send their young men against the young men of another town to practice them in fighting.

Even in his own town a warrior's own neighbor might be his enemy and it was not safe to roam about at night when Soi-ka-Gakwa, our Grandmother, the Moon, was hidden.

Everywhere there was peril and everywhere mourning. Men were ragged with sacrifice and the women scarred with the flints, so everywhere there was misery. Feuds with outer nations, feuds with brother nations, feuds of sister towns and feuds of families and of clans made every warrior a stealthy man who liked to kill.

Then in those days there was no great law. Our founder had not yet come to create peace and give united strength to the Real Men, the Ongwe-oweh.

In those same days the Onondagas had no peace. A man's life was valued as nothing. For any slight offense a man or woman was killed by his enemy and in this manner feuds started between families and clans. At night none dared leave his doorways lest he be struck down by an enemy's war club. Such was the condition when there was no Great Law.

South of the Onondaga town lived an evil-minded man. His lodge was in a swale and his nest was made of bulrushes. His body was distorted by seven crooks and his long tangled locks were adorned by writhing living serpents. Moreover, this monster was a devourer of raw meat, even of human flesh. He was also a master of wizardry and by his magic he destroyed men but he could not be destroyed. Adodarhoh was the name of the evil man.

Notwithstanding the evil character of Adodarhoh the people of Onondaga, the Nation of Many Hills, obeyed his commands and though it cost many lives they satisfied his insane whims, so much did they fear him for his sorcery.

The time came, however, when the Onondaga people could endure him no longer. A council was called to devise a way to pacify him and to entreat him to cease his evil ways. Hayonwatha called the council for he had many times sought to clear the mind of Adodarhoh and straighten his crooked body. So then the council was held in the house of Hayonwatha. It was decided that half the people should go by boat across the creek where it widens and that others should skirt the shore. Adodarhoh was not in his nest in the swale but in a new spot across the wide place in the creek.

The boats started and the people walked. From the bushes that overhung the shore a loud voice sounded: "Stand quickly and look behind you for a storm will overwhelm you."

In dismay the people arose in their canoes and turned about. As they did so the canoes overturned and the men were plunged into the water and many were drowned. A few escaped and then all survivors returned to the village. So had Adodarhoh frustrated the attempt to meet with him.

Again the people prepared to conciliate Adodarhoh. Three times they agreed to attempt the undertaking. So on the second occasion they go by canoe and by land, those who go by canoe follow the shore and those who go by land walk on the pebbles close to the water's edge.

Again the cunning Adodarhoh sees them and calling down Hagoks he shook him, and the people in a wild rush scramble for the feathers, for the plumes of Hagoks are most beautiful and men are proud when their heads are adorned with them. There is a tumult and blows are struck. Evil feelings arise and in anger the people return to the village still contending. The mission of conciliation is forgotten.

The next day Ayonwhatha called the people to their promise and for the third time to attempt a council with Adodarhoh. Moreover, they promised to obey every instruction and listen neither to a voice outside nor an omen nor any commotion.

Another council was held in the lodge of a certain great dreamer. He said, "I have dreamed that another shall prevail. He shall come from the north and pass to the east. Hayonwhatha shall meet him there in the Mohawk country and the two together shall prevail. Hayonwhatha must not remain with us but must go from us to the Flint land people."

So when the journey across the lake was attempted there was a division and the dreamer's council prevailed.

Then the dreamer held two councils and those who believed in him conspired to employ Ohsinoh, a famous shaman.

Hayonwhatha had seven daughters whom he loved and in whom he took great pride. While they lived the conspirators knew he would not depart. With the daughters dead they knew the crushing sorrow would sever every tie that bound him to Onondaga. Then would he be free to leave and in thinking of the welfare of the people forget his own sorrow.

Hayonwhatha could not call the people together, for they refused further to listen to his voice. The dreamer's council had prevailed.

At night Osinoh climbed a tree overlooking his lodge and sat on a large limb. Filling his mouth with clay he imitated the sound of a screech owl. Calling the name of the youngest daughter he sang:

"Unless you marry Osinoh
You will surely die, whoo-hoo!"

Then he came down and went to his own home.

In three days the maiden strangely died. Hayonwhatha was disconsolate and sat with his head bowed in his hands. He mourned, but none came to comfort him.

In like manner five other daughters passed away and the grief of Hayonwhatha was extreme.

Clansmen of the daughters then went to the lodge of Hayonwhatha to watch, for they knew nothing of Osinoh's sorcery. They gathered close against the large trees and in the shadows of bushes. The clansmen suspected some evil treachery and were there to discover it.

There was no moon in the sky when Osinoh came. Cautiously he came from habit but he was not afraid. He drove his staff in the ground, he breathed loud like a magic totem animal snorting and then he climbed the tree. He spat the clay about the tree to imitate the screech owl and as he did he said: "Si-twit, si-twit, si-twit." Then he sang:

"Unless you marry Osinoh
You shall surely die, whoo-hoo!"

The morning came and Osinoh descended. As he touched the ground a clansman shot an arrow and transfixed him. Prostrate fell Osinoh and the clansman rushed at him with a club.

Osinoh looked up. "You are unable to club me," he said. "Your arm has no power at all. It weakens. Today I shall recover from this wound. It is of no purpose to injure me."

It was true indeed; the clansman could not lift the club to kill Osinoh. Then Osinoh arose and went home and in three days the daughter died. So perished all by the evil magic arts of Osinoh.

The grief of Hayonwhatha was terrible. He threw himself about as if tortured and yielding to the pain. No one came near him so awful was his sorrow. Nothing would console him and his mind was shadowed with the thoughts of his heavy sorrow.

"I shall cast myself away, I shall bury myself in the forest, I shall become a woodland wanderer," he said. Thus he expressed his desire to depart. Then it was known that he would go to another nation.

Hayonwhatha "split the heavens," Watanwhakacia, when he departed and his skies were rent asunder.

Toward the south he went and at night he camped on the mountain. This was the first day of his journey. On the second day he descended and camped at the base of the hill. On the third day he journeyed onward and when evening came he camped in a hickory grove. This he named O-nea-no-ka-res-geh, and it was on the morning he came to a place where round jointed rushes grew. He paused as he saw them and made three strings of them and when he had built a fire he said: "This would I do if I found any one burdened with grief even as I am. I would console them for they would be covered with night and wrapped in darkness. This would I lift with words of condolence and these strands of beads would become words with which I would address them."

So at this place he stayed that night and he called the spot O-hon-do-gon-wa, meaning Rush-land.

When daylight came he wandered on again and altering the course of his journey turned to the east. At night he came to a group of small lakes and upon one he saw a flock of ducks. So many were there and so closely together did they swim that they seemed like a raft.

"If I am to be truly royaneh (noble)," he said aloud to himself, "I shall here discover my power." So then he spoke aloud and said: "Oh you who are 'floats' lift up the water and permit me to pass over the bottom of the lake dryshod."

In a compact body the ducks flew upward suddenly and swiftly, lifting the water with them. Thus did he walk down the shore and upon the bottom of the lake. There he noticed lying in layers the empty shells of the water snail, some shells white, and others purple. Stooping down he filled a pouch of deer skin with them, and then passed on to the other shore. Then did the ducks descend and replace the water.

It was here that Hayonwhatha desired for the first time to eat. He then killed three ducks and roasted them. This was the evening of the fifth day.

In the morning he ate the cold meat of the roasted ducks and resumed his journey. This was the sixth day and on that day he hunted for small game and slept.

On the morning of the seventh day he ate again and turned his way to the south. Late in the evening he came to a clearing and found a bark field hut. There he found a shelter and there he erected two poles, placed another across the tops and suspended three shell strings. Looking at them he said: "Men boast what they would do in extremity but they do not do what they say. If I should see any one in deep grief I would remove these shell strings from the pole and console them. The strings would become words and lift away the darkness with which they are covered. Moreover what I say I would surely do." This he repeated.

A little girl discovered smoke arising from the field lodge and she crept up and listened. She advanced and peered in a chink in the bark. Then she ran homeward and told her father of the strange man.

"The stranger must be Hayonwhatha," said the father, "I have heard that he has departed from Onondaga. Return, my daughter, and invite him to our house."

The girl-child obeyed and Hayonwhatha went to her house. "We are about to hold a council," the father said. "Sit in that place on one side of the fire and I will acquaint you with our decisions."

The council was convened and there was a great discussion. Before darkness every evening the council dissolved and at no time was Hayonwhatha called upon for advice nor was anything officially reported to him.

On the tenth day of his journey during the debate in the council Hayonwhatha quietly left and resumed his wandering. Nothing had been asked of him and he felt himself not needed by the people. Late in the evening he came to the edge of another settlement and as was his custom he kindled a fire and erected a horizontal pole on two upright poles. On this he placed three strings of the wampum shells. Then he sat down and repeated his saying: "Men boast what they would do in extremity but they do not do what they promise. If I should see any one in deep grief I would remove these shells from this pole and console him. The shells would become words and lift away the darkness with which they are covered. Moreover, I truly would do as I say." This he repeated.

The chief man of the village saw the smoke at the edge of the forest and sent a messenger to discover who the stranger might be. Now when the messenger reached the spot he saw a man seated before a fire and a horizontal pole from which three strings of small shells were suspended. He also heard the words spoken as the stranger looked at the strings. So then when he had seen all he returned and reported what he had seen and heard.

Then said the chief man, "The person whom you describe must truly be Hayonwhatha whom we have heard left his home at Onondaga. He it is who shall meet the great man foretold by the dreamer. We have heard that this man should work with the man who talks of the establishment of peace."

So then the chiefs sent a messenger who should say, "Our principal chief sent me to greet you. Now then I wish you would come into our village with me."

Hayonwhatha heard the messenger and gathered up his goods and went into the village and when he had entered the chief's house the chief said, "Seat yourself on the opposite side of the fire so that you may have an understanding of all that we do here in this place."

Then Hayonwhatha sat there for seven days and the chiefs and people talked without arriving at any decision. No word was asked Hayonwhatha and he was not consulted. No report was made officially to him. So he did not hear what they talked about.

On the eighteenth night a runner came from the south. He was from the nation residing on the seashore. He told the chiefs of the eminent man who had now come to the town on the Mohawk River at the lower falls. Then the messenger said: "We have heard of the dream of Onodaga which told of the great man who came from the north. Now another great man who shall now go forward in haste to meet him shall change his course and go eastward to meet in the Flinty land village (Kanyakahake), the great man. There shall the two council together and establish the Great Peace." So said the messenger from the salt water seashore, who came to tell Hayonwhatha to journey east.

So the chiefs of the town where Hayonwhatha was staying chose five men as an escort for Hayonwhatha. They must go with him until he reached the house where Dekanawida was present. So then on the next day the chief himself went with the party and watched carefully the health of Hayonwhatha. The journey lasted five days and on the fifth day the party stopped on the outskirts of the town where Dekanawida was staying and then they built a fire. This was the custom, to make a smoke so that the town might know that visitors were approaching and send word that they might enter without danger to their lives. The smoke was the signal of friends approaching. The Mohawks (People of the Flinty Country) knew the meaning of the signal so they sent messengers and invited the party into the village.

When Hayonwhatha had entered the house where the people had gathered the chief asked him whom he would like to see most. Then Ayonwhatha answered, "I came to see a very great man who lately came from the north." The chief said, "I have with me two men who shall escort you to the house where Dekanawida is present." Then the people went out and the two men escorted Hayonwhatha to Dekanawida. This was on the twenty-third day. Then Dekanawida arose when Hayonwhatha had entered and he said: "My younger brother, I perceive that you have suffered from some deep grief. You are a chief among your people and yet you are wandering about."

Hayonwhatha answered, "That person skilled in sorcery, Osinoh, has destroyed my family of seven daughters. It was truly a great calamity and I am now very miserable. My sorrow and my rage have been bitter. I can only rove about since now I have cast myself away from my people. I am only a wanderer. I split the heavens when I went away from my house and my nation."

Dekanawida replied, "Dwell here with me. I will represent your sorrow to the people here dwelling."

So Hayonwhatha had found some one who considered his distress and he did stay. Then Dekanawida told of his suffering and the people listened.

The five escorts were then dismissed and Hayonwhatha gave thanks to them and told them to return to their own region again. Then the escorts said, "Now today it has happened as was foretold in a dream. The two are now together. Let them now arrange the Great Peace." Then they returned home.

When Dekanawida laid the trouble before the council he promised to let Hayonhwatha know their decision. The chiefs deliberated over the sad events and then decided to do as Dekanawida should say. He then should remedy the trouble. Then Dekanawida went in perplexity to his lodge and as he came to it he heard Hayonhwatha say, "It is useless, for the people only boast what they will do, saying, 'I would do this way,' but they do nothing at all. If what has befallen me should happen to them I would take down the three shell strings from the upright pole and I would address them and I would console them because they would be covered by heavy darkness." Dekanawida stood outside the door and heard all these words. So then Dekanawida went forward into the house and he went up to the pole, then he said: "My younger brother, it has now become very plain to my eyes that your sorrow must be removed. Your griefs and your rage have been great. I shall now undertake to remove your sorrows so that your mind may be rested. Have you no more shell strings on your pole?"

Hayonhwhatha replied, "I have no more strings but I have many shells in a tanned deer's skin. So he opened his bundle, and a great quantity of shells fell out. So then Dekanawida said, "My younger brother, I shall string eight more strands because there must be eight parts to my address to you." So then Hayonhwatha permitted the stringing of the shells and Dekanawida made the strings so that in all there were thirteen strings and bound them in four bunches. These must be used to console the one who has lost by death a near relative. "My younger brother, the thirteen strings are now ready on this horizontal pole. I shall use them. I shall address you. This is all that is necessary in your case."

So then he took one bunch off the pole and held it in his hand while he talked. While he talked, one after another he took them down and gave one to Hayonwhatha after each part of his address.

The words that he spoke when he addressed Hayonwhatha were eight of the thirteen condolences.

When the eight ceremonial addresses had been made by Dekanawida the mind of Hayonhwatha was made clear. He was then satisfied and once more saw things rightly.

Dekanawida then said, "My younger brother, these thirteen strings of shell are now completed. In the future they shall be used in this way: They shall beheld in the hand to remind the speaker of each part of his address, and as each part is finished a string shall be given to the bereaved chief (Royaneh) on the other side of the fire. Then shall the Royaneh hand them back one by one as he addresses a reply; it then can be said, 'I have now become even with you.'"

Dekanawida then said, "My junior brother, your mind being cleared and you being competent to judge, we now shall make our laws and when all are made we shall call the organization we have formed the Great Peace. It shall be the power to abolish war and robbery between brothers and bring peace and quietness.

"As emblems of our Royaneh titles we shall wear deer antlers and place them on the heads of Royaneh men."

Hayonhwatha then said, "What you have said is good, I do agree."

Dekanawida said, "My younger brother, since you have agreed I now propose that we compose our Peace song. We shall use it on our journey to pacify Adodarhoh. When he hears it his mind shall be made straight. His mind shall then be like that of other men. This will be true if the singer remembers and makes no error in his singing from the beginning to the end, as he walks before Adodarhoh."

Hayonhwatha said, "I do agree, I truly believe the truth of what you say."

Then Dekanawida said, "My younger brother, we shall now propose to the Mohawk council the plan we have made. We shall tell our plan for a confederation and the building of a house of peace. It will be necessary for us to know its opinion and have its consent to proceed."

The plan was talked about in the council and Dekanawida spoke of establishing a union of all the nations. He told them that all the chiefs must be virtuous men and be very patient. These should wear deer horns as emblems of their position, because as he told them their strength came from the meat of the deer. Then Hayonwhatha confirmed all that Dekanawida had said.

Then the speaker of the Mohawk council said, "You two, Dekanawida and Hayonhwatha, shall send messengers to the Oneida (People of the Stone) and they shall ask Odatshedeh if he will consider the plan."

When Odatshedeh had been asked he replied, "I will consider this plan and answer you tomorrow." [meaning a year from that time].

When the tomorrow of the next year had come, there came the answer of the Oneida council, "We will join the confederation."

So then the Mohawks (Kanyenga) sent two messengers to Onondaga asking that the nation consider the proposals of Dekanawida. It was a midsummer day when the message went forth and the Onondaga council answered, "Return tomorrow at high sun." So the two great men returned home and waited until the next midsummer. Then the midday came and the Onondaga council sent messengers who said, "We have decided that it would be a good plan to build the fire and sit about it with you." Dekanawida and Hayonhwatha heard this answer.

So then at the same time Dekanawida and Hayonhwatha sent messengers to the Cayuga nation and the answer was sent back. The Cayugas said they would send word of their decision tomorrow, upon the midsummer day. The next year at midsummer the Cayugas sent their answer and they said, "We do agree with Dekanawida and Hayonhwatha."

Now the People of the Great Hill were divided and were not agreed because there had been trouble between their war chiefs, but messengers went sent to them but the Senecas could not agree to listen and requested the messengers to return the next year. So when the messengers returned the councils did listen and considered the proposals. After a year had passed they sent messengers to say that they had agreed to enter into the confederacy.

Then Dekanawida said, "I now will report to the Mohawk council the result of my work of five years." Hayonhwatha then said, "I do agree to the report."

The Establishment of the Great Peace

Dekanawida requested some of the Mohawk chiefs to call a council, so messengers were sent out among the people and the council was convened.

Dekanawida said, "I, with my co-worker, have a desire to now report what we have done on five successive midsummer days, of five successive years. We have obtained the consent of five nations. These are the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas and the Senecas. Our desire is to form a compact for a union of our nations. Our next step is to seek out Adodarhoh. It is he who has always set at naught all plans for the establishment of the Great Peace. We must seek his fire and look for his smoke."

The chief speaker of the council then said, "We do agree and confirm all you have said and we wish to appoint two spies who shall volunteer to seek out the smoke of Adodarhoh."

Two men then eagerly volunteered and Dekanawida asked them if they were able to transform themselves into birds or animals, for such must be the ability of the messengers who approached Adodarhoh. The two men replied, "We are able to transform ourselves into herons and cranes."

"Then you will not do for you will pause at the first creek or swamp and look for frogs and fish."

Two men then said, "We have magic that will transform us into humming birds. They fly very swiftly."

"Then you will not do because you are always hungry and are looking for flowers."

Two other men then said, "We can become the Dare, the white crane."

"Then you will not do because you are very wild and easily frightened. You would be afraid when the clouds move. You would become hungry and fly to the ground looking about for ground nuts."

Then two men who were crows by magic volunteered but they were told that crows talked too loudly, boasted and were full of mischief.

So then in the end two men who were powerful by the magic of the deer and the bear stepped before the council and were chosen. The speaker for the council then reported to Dekanawida that the spies were ready to go. Then they went.

Now Dekanawida addressed the council and he said, "I am Dekanawida and with me is my younger brother. We two now lay before you the laws by which to frame the Ka-ya-neh-renh-ko-wa. The emblems of the chief rulers shall be the antlers of deer. The titles shall be vested in certain women and the names shall be held in their maternal families forever." All the laws were then recited and Hayonhwatha confirmed them.

Dekanawida then sang the song to be used when conferring titles. So in this way all the work and the plans were reported to the Mohawk council and Hayonhwatha confirmed it all. Therefore the council adopted the plan.

When the spies returned the speaker of the council said, "Ska-non-donh, our ears are erected." Then the spies spoke and they said, "At great danger to ourselves we have seen Adodarhoh. We have returned and tell you that the body of Adodarhoh has seven crooked parts, his hair is infested with snakes and he is a cannibal."

The council heard the message and decided to go to Onondaga at midsummer.

Then Dekanawida taught the people the Hymn of Peace and the other songs. He stood before the door of the long house and walked before it singing the new songs. Many came and learned them so that many were strong by the magic of them when it was time to carry the Great Peace to Onondaga.

When the time had come, Dekanawida summoned the chiefs and people together and chose one man to sing the songs before Adodarhoh. Soon then this singer led the company through the forest and he preceded all, singing the Peace songs as he walked. Many old villages and camping places were passed as they went and the names were lifted to give the clan name holders. Now the party passed through these places:

All these places were in the Mohawk country.

Now they entered the Oneida country and the great chief Odatshedeh with his chiefs met them. Then all of them marched onward to Onondaga, the singer of the Peace Hymn going on ahead.

The frontier of the Onondaga country was reached and the expedition halted to kindle a fire, as was customary. Then the chiefs of the Onondagas with their head men welcomed them and a great throng marched to the fireside of Adodarhoh, the singer of the Peace Hymn leading the multitude.

The lodge of Adodarhoh was reached and a new singer was appointed to sing the Peace Hymn. So he walked before the door of the house singing to cure the mind of Adodarhoh. He knew that if he made a single error or hesitated his power would be weakened and the crooked body of Adodarhoh remain misshapen. Then he hesitated and made an error. So another singer was appointed and he too made an error by hesitating.

Then Dekanawida himself sang and walked before the door of Adodarhoh's house. When he finished his song he walked toward Adodarhoh and held out his hand to rub it on his body and to know its inherent strength and life. Then Adodarhoh was made straight and his mind became healthy.

When Adodarhoh was made strong in rightful powers and his body had been healed, Dekanawida addressed the three nations. He said, "We have now overcome a great obstacle. It has long stood in the way of peace. The mind of Adodarhoh is now made right and his crooked parts are made straight. Now indeed may we establish the Great Peace.

"Before we do firmly establish our union each nation must appoint a certain number of its wisest and purest men who shall be rulers, Rodiyaner. They shall be the advisers of the people and make the new rules that may be needful. These men shall be selected and confirmed by their female relations in whose lines the titles shall be hereditary. When these are named they shall be crowned, emblematically, with deer antlers."

So then the women of the Mohawks brought forward nine chiefs who should become Rodiyaner and one man, Ayenwaehs, as war chief.

So then the women of the Oneidas brought forward nine chiefs who should become Rodiyaner, and one man, Kahonwadironh, who should be war chief.

So then the Onondaga women brought forward fourteen chiefs who should become Rodiyaner, and one man, Ayendes, who should be war chief.

Each chief then delivered to Dekanawida a string of lake shell wampum a span in length as a pledge of truth.

Dekanawida then said: "Now, today in the presence of this great multitude I disrobe you and you are not now covered by your old names. I now give you names much greater." Then calling each chief to him he said: "I now place antlers on yourhead as an emblem of your power. Your old garments are torn off and better robes are given you. Now you are Royaner, each of you. You will receive many scratches and the thickness of your skins shall be seven spans. You must be patient and henceforth work in unity. Never consider your own interests but work to benefit the people and for the generations not yet born. You have pledged yourselves to govern yourselves by the laws of the Great Peace. All your authority shall come from it.

"I do now order that Skanawateh shall in one-half of his being be a Royaneh of the Great Peace, and in his other half a war chief, for the Rodiyaner must have an ear to hear and a hand to feel the coming of wars."

Then did Dekanawida repeat all the rules which he with Ayonhwatha had devised for the establishment of the Great Peace.

Then in the councils of all the Five Nations he repeated then and the Confederacy was established.

The Council of the Great Peace. The Great Binding Law, Gayanashagowa.

I am Dekanawida and with the Five Nations' Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of the Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.

I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.

We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.

Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace, one to the north, one to the east, one to the south and one to the west. The name of these roots is The Great White Roots and their nature is Peace and Strength.

If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.

We place at the top of the Tree of the Long Leaves an Eagle who is able to see afar. If he sees in the distance any evil approaching or any danger threatening he will at once warn the people of the Confederacy.

To you Adodarhoh, the Onondaga cousin Lords, I and the other Confederate Lords have entrusted the caretaking and the watching of the Five Nations Council Fire.

When there is any business to be transacted and the Confederate Council is not in session, a messenger shall be dispatched either to Adodarhoh, Hononwirehtonh or Skanawatih, Fire Keepers, or to their War Chiefs with a full statement of the case desired to be considered. Then shall Adodarho call his cousin (associate) Lords together and consider whether or not the case is of sufficient importance to demand the attention of the Confederate Council. If so, Adodarhoh shall dispatch messengers to summon all the Confederate Lords to assemble beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.

When the Lords are assembled the Council Fire shall he kindled, but not with chestnut wood; and Adodarhoh shall formally open the Council.

Then shall Adodarhoh and his cousin Lords, the Fire Keepers, announce the subject for discussion.

The Smoke of the Confederate Council Fire shall ever ascend and pierce the sky so that other nations who may be allies may see the Council Fire of the Great Peace.

Adodarho and his cousin Lords are entrusted with the Keeping of the Council Fire.

You, Adodarho, and your thirteen cousin Lords, shall faithfully keep the space about the Council Fire clean and you shall allow neither dust nor dirt to accumulate. I lay a Long Wing before you as a broom. As a weapon against a crawling creature I lay a staff with you so that you may thrust it away from the Council Fire. If you fail to cast it out then call the rest of the United Lords to your aid.

The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three parties as follows: Tekarihoken, Ayonhwhathah and Shadekariwade are the first party; Sharenhowaneh, Deyoenhegwenh and Oghrenghrehgowah are the second party, and Dehennakrineh, Aghstawenserenthah and Shoskoharowaneh are the third party. The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the first and second parties and if an error is made or the proceeding is irregular they are to call attention to it, and when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties they shall confirm the decision of the two parties and refer the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision. When the Seneca Lords have decided in accord with the Mohawk Lords, the case or question shall be referred to the Cayuga and Oneida Lords on the opposite side of the house.

I, Dekanawidah, appoint the Mohawk Lords the heads and the leaders of the Five Nations Confederacy. The Mohawk Lords are the foundation of the Great Peace and it shall, therefore, be against the Great Binding Law to pass measures in the Confederate Council after the Mohawk Lords have protested against them.

No council of the Confederate Lords shall be legal unless all the Mohawk Lords are present.

Whenever the Confederate Lords shall assemble for the purpose of holding a council, the Onondaga Lords shall open it by expressing their gratitude to their cousin Lords and greeting them, and they shall make an address and offer thanks to the earth where men dwell, to the streams of water, the pools, the springs and the lakes, to the maize and the fruits, to the medicinal herbs and trees, to the forest trees for their usefulness, to the animals that serve as food and give their pelts for clothing, to the great winds and the lesser winds, to the Thunderers, to the Sun, the mighty warrior, to the moon, to the messengers of the Creator who reveal his wishes and to the Great Creator who dwells in the heavens above, who gives all the things useful to men, and who is the source and the ruler of health and life.

Then shall the Onondaga Lords declare the council open.

For the balance of Gayanshagewa, "the Great Binding Law," the reader is referred to "The Constitution of the Five Nations" by Mr. Arthur C. Parker, published 1916, as Bulletin No. 184 of the New York State Museum, University of the State of New York.

The second version of the Confederation and its constitution was compiled by the chiefs of the Six Nations council at Grand River, Canada, and adopted by the Council of Chiefs, July 3, 1900. Compared with the first legend, it is somewhat obscure and involved. In the second version, Hayonwatha is a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, and Dekanawida says to Hayonwatha "as the Good Tidings of Peace and Power first originated at Kan-yen-geh (flinty place) you shall be called Kan-yen-geh-ha-ka (Canienga, Mohawks), Flint People."

In Mr. Parker's work "The Hiawatha Tradition", is given, as related by Baptist Thomas (Sa-ha-whi), an Onondaga Indian. He had it from Thomas Commissary (Os-te-wa-go-na, Big Feather). This version says that Ha-yent-wat-ha was a Mohawk who left his country because of his great sorrow over the death of an only sister.

So it is evident from the versions of the Dekanawida legend that is here mentioned, that the Confederation had its inception among the Mohawks, in our Mohawk Valley. The original League is said to have been formed with the Mohawks, Oneidas and Onondagas as the confederate parties and it may at first have consisted only of these tribes because of their having been former neighbors along the St. Lawrence before the Algonquin war.

To lovers of legendary lore, to students of governmental systems, to students of anthropology, and to the thousands all over the United States who love the romance of the Mohawk Valley, its greatest legend — that of Dekanawida and Hayonwatha and their Great Peace offers a theme of poetic and heroic interest.

The earliest account of the formation of the Iroquois' League is that of Pyrlaeus, who received it in 1743, which says that the Confederation was proposed by Thannawaga (Dekanawida) an aged Mohawk. In the council which formed the League of Five Nations, Toganawitha (Hiawatha) appeared for the Mohawks, Otatschta for the Oneidas, Tateyarho (Adodarho) for the Onondagas, Togarhayon for the Cayugas and Ganiatario and Satagarnyes for the Senecas. This may be the nearest to a correct historical version of the formation of the League that we possess, just as it was nearest in point of time. In the great number of accounts of and poetical versions inspired by the formation of the League, this simple record is important.

The meaning of Hiawatha or Hayonwhatha, Ha-yon-wha-tha, is "he who seeks his lost mind and knows where to find it," or possibly a more spiritual rendering might be "he who seeks his ideal and knows where to realize it." (O-tat-sheh-te or Tat-she-teh) signifies "Quiver-bearer," Ta-teyar-ho (Ta-too-ta-hoo or A-do-dar-ho), means "Entangled", referring to his headdress of snakes. To-gar-ha-yon (Te-ka-ha-hoonk) means "He looks both ways", Gan-ia-tar-i-o, (Kan-ya-tai-yo), signifies "Beautiful Lake" similar to Ontario, with the same meaning. Sat-a-gar-nyes (Sat-ta-kass-yes) means "Skies of equal length".

It must be remembered that the Iroquois as well as all Indian names vary greatly through their rendering in writing by various people and by slight or marked variations in pronunciation by the Indians at the time these names were written down. Seth Newhouse, the Mohawk who transcribed the Dekanawida legend, spells Hiawatha's name in three different forms: — Hayonwatha, Hayonhwatha and Ayonhwatha.

The League of the Five Nations was formed between 1580 and 1600 and, as the Iroquois had of course no written records but only their wampum belts which were mnemonic signs or aids to memory, the legend may have had considerable variation in the intervening years, with some influence of the white man creeping into the story.

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 8 | ahead to: Chapter 10

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 9 updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library