Myths & Legends


Ojibwe: The Red Lover

Chippewa is an alternative name for the Ojibwe.

This fable is cited in Algic Researches, Comprising of Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians, First Series In Two Volumes, Vol. I, Indian Tales and Legends, edited by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.
— Orly


Many years ago there lived a warrior on the banks of Lake Superior, whose name was Wawanosh. He was the chief of an ancient family of his tribe, who had preserved the line of chieftainship unbroken from a remote time, and he consequently cherished a pride of ancestry. To the reputation of birth he added the advantages of a tall and commanding person, and the dazzling qualities of personal strength, courage, and activity. His bow was noted for its size, and the feats he had performed with it. His counsel was sought as much as his strength was feared, so that he came to be equally regarded as a hunter, a warrior, and a counsellor. He had now passed the meridian of his days, and the term Akkee-waizee, i. e., one who has been long on the earth, was applied to him.

Such was Wawanosh, to whom the united voice of the nation awarded the first place in their esteem, and the highest authority in council. But distinction, it seems, is apt to engender haughtiness in the hunter state as well as civilized life. Pride was his ruling passion, and he clung with tenacity to the distinctions which he regarded as an inheritance.

Wawanosh had an only daughter, who had now lived to witness the budding of the leaves of the eighteenth spring. Her father was not more celebrated for his deeds of strength than she for her gentle virtues, her slender form, her full beaming hazel eyes, and her dark and flowing hair.

"And through her cheek
The blush would make its way, and all but speak.
The sunborn blood suffused her neck, and threw
O'er her clear brown skin a lucid hue,
Like coral reddening through the darken'd wave,
Which draws the diver to the crimson cave."

Her hand was sought by a young man of humble parentage, who had no other merits to recommend him but such as might arise from a tall and commanding person, a manly step, and an eye beaming with the tropical fires of youth and love. These were sufficient to attract the favourable notice of the daughter, but were by no means satisfactory to the father, who sought an alliance more suitable to the rank and the high pretensions of his family.

"Listen to me, young man," he replied to the trembling hunter, who had sought the interview, "and be attentive to my words. You ask me to bestow upon you my daughter, the chief solace of my age, and my choicest gift from the Master of Life. Others have asked of me this boon, who were as young, as active, and as ardent as yourself. Some of these persons have had better claims to become my son-in-law. Have you reflected upon the deeds which have raised me in authority, and made my name known to the enemies of my nation? Where is there a chief who is not proud to be considered the friend of Wawanosh? Where, in all the land, is there a hunter who has excelled Wawanosh? Where is there a warrior who can boast the taking of an equal number of scalps? Besides, have you not heard that my fathers came from the East, bearing the marks of chieftaincy?

"And what, young man, have you to boast? Have you ever met your enemies in the field of battle? Have you ever brought home a trophy of victory? Have you ever proved your fortitude by suffering protracted pain, enduring continued hunger, or sustaining great fatigue? Is your name known beyond the humble limits of your native village? Go, then, young man, and earn a name for yourself. It is none but the brave that can ever hope to claim an alliance with the house of Wawanosh. Think not my warrior blood shall mingle with the humble mark of the Awasees — fit totem for fishermen!"

The intimidated lover departed, but he resolved to do a deed that should render him worthy of the daughter of Wawanosh, or die in the attempt. He called together several of his young companions and equals in years, and imparted to them his design of conducting an expedition against the enemy, and requested their assistance. Several embraced the proposal immediately; others were soon brought to acquiesce; and, before ten suns set, he saw himself at the head of a formidable party of young warriors, all eager, like himself, to distinguish themselves in battle. Each warrior was armed, according to the custom of the period, with a bow and a quiver of arrows, tipped with flint or jasper. He carried a sack or wallet, provided with a small quantity of parched and pounded corn, mixed with pemmican or maple sugar. He was furnished with a Puggamaugun, or war-club of hard wood, fastened to a girdle of deer skin, and a stone or copper knife. In addition to this, some carried the ancient shemagun, or lance, a smooth pole about a fathom in length, with a javelin of flint, firmly tied on with deer's sinews. Thus equipped, and each warrior painted in a manner to suit his fancy, and ornamented with appropriate feathers, they repaired to the spot appointed for the war-dance.

A level, grassy plain extended for nearly a mile from the lodge of Wawanosh along the lake shore. Lodges of bark were promiscuously interspersed over this green, and here and there a cluster of trees, or a solitary tall pine. A belt of yellow sand skirted the lake shore in front, and a tall, thick forest formed the background. In the centre of this plain stood a high shattered pine, with a clear space about, renowned as the scene of the war-dance time out of mind. Here the youths assembled, with their tall and graceful leader, distinguished by the feathers of the bald eagle, which he wore on his head. A bright fire of pine wood blazed upon the green. He led his men several times around this fire, with a measured and solemn chant. Then suddenly halting, the war-whoop was raised, and the dance immediately began. An old man, sitting at the head of the ring, beat time upon the drum, while several of the elder warriors shook their rattles, and "ever and anon" made the woods re-echo with their yells. Each warrior chanted alternately the verse of a song, all the rest joining in chorus.


The eagles scream on high,
They whet their forked beaks:
Raise—raise the battle cry,
'Tis fame our leader seeks.


'Tis fame my soul desires,
By deeds of martial strife:
Give—give me warlike fires,
Or take—ah take my life.


The deer a while may go
Unhunted o'er the heath,
For now I seek a nobler foe,
And prize a nobler death.


Lance and quiver, club and bow,
Now alone attract my sight;
I will go where warriors go,
I will fight where warriors fight.

Thus they continued the dance, with short intermissions, for two successive days and nights. Sometimes the village seer, who led the ceremony, would embrace the occasion of a pause to address them with words of encouragement.

In the dreamy hours of night
I beheld the bloody fight.
As reclined upon my bed,
Holy visions crowned my head;
High our guardian spirit bright
Stood above the dreadful fight;
Beaming eye and dazzling brand
Gleamed upon my chosen band,
While a black and awful shade
O'er the faithless foeman spread.
Soon they wavered, sunk, and fled,
Leaving wounded, dying, dead,
While my gallant warriors high
Waved their trophies in the sky.

At every recurrence of this kind, new energy was infused into the dance, and the warriors renewed their gesticulations, and stamped upon the ground as if they were trampling their enemies under their feet.


Now my heart with valour burns,
I my lance in fury shake;
He who falters, he who turns,
Give him fagot, fire, and stake.


See my visage scarred and red—
See my brows with trophies bright—
Such the brows that warriors dread,
Such the trophies of the fight.

At length the prophet uttered his final prediction of success; and the warriors dropping off, one by one, from the fire, each sought his way to the place appointed for the rendezvous, on the confines of the enemy's country. Their leader was not among the last to depart, but he did not leave the village without seeking an interview with the daughter of Wawanosh. He disclosed to her his firm determination never to return, unless he could establish his name as a warrior. He told her of the pangs he had felt at the bitter reproaches of her father, and declared that his soul spurned the imputation of effeminacy and cowardice implied by his language. He averred that he never could be happy, either with or without her, until he had proved to the whole tribe the strength of his heart, which is the Indian term for courage. He said that his dreams had not been propitious, but he should not cease to invoke the power of the Great Spirit. He repeated his protestations of inviolable attachment, which she returned, and, pledging vows of mutual fidelity, they parted.

All she ever heard from her lover after this interview was brought by one of his successful warriors, who said that he had distinguished himself by the most heroic bravery, but, at the close of the fight, he had received an arrow in his breast. The enemy fled, leaving many of their warriors dead on the field. On examining the wound, it was perceived to be beyond their power to cure. They carried him towards home a day's journey, but he languished and expired in the arms of his friends. From the moment the report was received, no smile was ever seen in the once happy lodge of Wawanosh. His daughter pined away by day and by night. Tears and sighs, sorrow and lamentation, were heard continually. Nothing could restore her lost serenity of mind. Persuasives and reproofs were alternately employed, but employed in vain. She would seek a sequestered spot, where she would sit under a shady tree, and sing her mournful laments for hours together.

It was not long before a small bird of beautiful plumage flew upon the tree under which she usually sat, and with its sweet and artless notes seemed to respond to her voice. It was a bird of strange character, such as had not before been observed. It came every day and sang, remaining until dark. Her fond imagination soon led her to suppose it was the spirit of her lover, and her visits were repeated with greater frequency. She passed her time in fasting, and singing her plaintive songs. Thus she pined away, until that death she so fervently desired came to her relief. After her decease the bird was never more seen, and it became a popular opinion that this mysterious bird had flown away with her spirit.

But bitter tears of regret fell in the lodge of Wawanosh. Too late he regretted his false pride and his harsh treatment of the noble youth.




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