Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

The Delaware Indians, or Lenape, as they called themselves, are of Algonquin lineage. Their language, which is soft and musical, bears a strong resemblance to that of the Shawnees and Pottawatomies, who are descended from the same people. The word Lenape has been translated "men" or "fathers of men." This bears some significance, since the early traditions of the Delawares declare them to be the parent stock. They were the natives with whom William Penn held council, on the ground occupied at the present time by the city of Philadelphia.

The nation had been subjugated by the Iroquois, and bearing the name of "women" was at peace with the world. Although the domination of the other tribes was only temporary, the famous treaty with the Quakers was never broken, during the subsequent years of warfare.

The Delawares were a migratory people. Most of their legends have been preserved by missionaries. The Algonquin myth of the virgin who fell from heaven and became the mother of twins, one light and the other dark, was found among the Lenape, and may be explained as referring to the dawn, which gives birth to day and night.

The divinity Kikeron, the synonym for life, light and action, or energy, was believed to be the first factor of the universe. He originated all things, through the instrumentality of the tortoise, which, in Algonquin pictography, was the symbol of the earth. There was an unexpected depth to this native philosophy. The earth is all-producing, and from it proceeds, directly or indirectly, all animate existence. The tortoise had power to produce everything. From its back a tree had sprung, upon the branches of which grew men.

In the pristine age, the world lived at peace; but an evil spirit came and caused a great flood. The earth was submerged. A few persons had taken refuge on the back of a turtle, so old that his shell had collected moss. A loon flew over their heads and was entreated to dive beneath the water and bring up land. It found only a bottomless sea. Then the bird flew far away, came back with a small portion of earth in its bill, and guided the tortoise to a place where there was a spot of dry land.

The Delawares thought the land was an island, supported by a great turtle, the one that had been their preserver. There was a tradition that many hundreds of years ago their forefathers dwelt in a distant country, far to the west. They traveled east, and at the Mississippi River encountered a race of giants. The wanderers desired to settle between the river and the mountains; but the request was refused. However, they obtained permission to pass through the country. While in the midst of the strange land they were fiercely attacked by the huge people, who were very powerful. Many battles ensued. The enemy erected fortifications; but large numbers of their warriors were killed. The dead were placed in heaps and covered with earth. The giants were finally defeated, and fled, passing down the Mississippi River. The victors took possession of the country.

The nation was then divided into three tribes. One settled on the shore of the Atlantic, one remained in the conquered land, and the third lived west of the Mississippi River. The Atlantic coast Delawares were composed of three clans, the Turtle (Unâmi), the Turkey (Unalâchtgo) and the Wolf (Minsi). Other tribes, the Mohicans and Nanticokes among them, sprang from the Lenape.

The legend of the hairless bear is one of the oldest Delaware stories. It was narrated that in the past, at some remote period, the country was infested with a ferocious bear of immense size. Its skin was bare, with the exception of a single tuft of perfectly white hair on its back. The animal possessed a keen sense of smell, but its sight was defective. The heart of the bear was so small that only an expert hunter could hope to strike it. The people held council and finally decided that the best plan would be to break its back. Experienced hunters formed a party to rid the earth of the monster. They discovered its retreat, made a great noise to attract attention, and scaled a high rock. The bear could not climb the rock but tore at it in a fury. The men discharged arrows and threw stones at the creature until it was dead.

Indian mothers were wont to frighten their children into obedience, by saying:

"The naked bear will eat you."

The pictograph system, which was perfectly intelligible to all tribes, was based upon gesture speech. Rafinesque, a learned but somewhat erratic Frenchman, claimed to have seen a set of wooden tablets, on which was engraved the history of the Lenape, both in picture and in song. The eccentric archeologist prepared a translation of the strange document, which is called the Walam Olum, or Painted Record. Brinton seems inclined to believe it a genuine native production, given orally and written down by some one not thoroughly conversant with the Delaware language. There is a possibility that the priests or medicine men, realizing that their own downfall would come with the adoption of Christianity, were jealous of the missionaries. Having learned to read and write, from the white men, and hoping to gain new power, they may have transmitted the story to wood, in such form as to be readily understood, both by educated and uneducated Indians. The song is rhythmical, and describes the formation of the universe by the great Manito.

At first there was a fog and a watery waste; then the land and sky were formed and the heavens cleared. Each statement is accompanied by a rude drawing or picture. The first part reads:

1. At first, in that place, at all times, above the earth,

2. On the earth, an extended fog, and there the great Manito was.

3. At first, forever, lost in space, everywhere, the great Manito was.

4. He made the extended land and the sky.

5. He made the sun, the moon, the stars.

6. He made them all to move evenly.

7. The wind blew violently and it cleared, and the water flowed off far and strong.

Men and animals were created, and lived peaceably until the coming of an evil spirit, in the form of a serpent, which introduced war, sickness and premature death. Strife and wanderings commenced. The evil Manito brought a flood. A few people, escaping to the back of a turtle, were preserved by Nanabush, or Manabozho. Their protector caused the water to recede and the serpent to depart.

After the deluge the race found itself in a strange northern climate. The people journeyed south, arriving at "Snakeland." They conquered the region; and a long list of chiefs, migrations and wars are recorded. Abundance followed. Then there was a division, some of the nation going south and some east to the salt sea. The three subtribes of the Lenape eventually became established along the Delaware River. The song closes with the advent of the white man.

In 1683 there were six thousand Delawares. Within a century their numbers greatly diminished. In 1724 the white settlements had increased to such an extent that the former owners of the land began to seek homes in Western Pennsylvania.

It was at New Britain, Pennsylvania, that Tamenend--the Delaware chief for whom the Tammany Society, of New York, was named--committed suicide. He had become old and feeble and had been deserted by the tribe. Having failed in an attempt to stab himself, the unhappy old man threw burning leaves over his body, and in that manner, died.

A princess of the Lenape caused a cliff on Mount Tammany to be called Lover's Leap. Her affection for a European was unrequited and, in despair, the girl made the leap of death.

Not far from Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, was a clear and sparkling lake. On its bank stood a village of the Delawares. Among the wigwams was one larger than the rest and more commodious. There dwelt the successful young chief, Onoko, a man of wonderful size, strength and daring. Unaided, he had destroyed the bear on Mauch Chunk (Bear Mountain). Happy was Wenonah when he sought her in marriage. Her heart swelled with pride as she entered the richly decorated lodge.

The victories of Onoko in love, in war and in the chase aroused the anger and jealousy of Mitche Manito. One day, as the young people were floating idly upon the lake in their canoe, the terrible Manito arose among the mountains, with a dark look of hatred upon his face and the thunder rolling and crashing about his head, and while lightning darted from his eyes, smote the hills with a mighty hand covered by the magic mitten. The earth shook and a great chasm opened, through which poured a volume of foaming water.

At first alarm, the lovers, glancing upward, beheld the wrathful features, and seeing no hope, awaited death, clasped in a close embrace. The light canoe was swept rapidly away by the deluge; and the Manito, in gloomy satisfaction, retired to the hills. Ever since that time the Lehigh has flowed through the chasm that he made. The name of Onoko was bestowed upon a cascade and glen in the vicinity of Mauch Chunk.

The Lenape gradually drifted to the streams in Central and Eastern Ohio. The epoch of peace had passed and they were no longer "women"; but took a prominent part in the War of the Races. Removing to the valley of the White Water River, in Indiana, they founded six towns. The treaty of Vincennes guaranteed the title to the land forever, nevertheless it was "ceded" to the United States only ten years afterward. The fugitives then sought a home west of the Mississippi; and eventually received a tract at the mouth of the Kansas River. They never fought against the Government after that time. Other nations arrived. The Lenape lived at peace with all except the wild prairie tribes. The old warlike spirit, strong in every Indian, whether civilized or semi-civilized, was appeased by fierce battles far beyond their reservation. Even after the territory had become the property of the white man, the Delawares took pride in detailing such victories as

THE BATTLE OF THE PLAINS

Nestled among the hills, where the Kansas River empties into the Missouri, lay a village of the once prosperous Lenape, who gloried in the knowledge that, with the exception of a brief period, their people had, from time immemorial, been successful in war. Belonging to the East, they had drifted toward the setting sun, until the early part of the nineteenth century found them, still adhering to antique customs, in Eastern Kansas. Though but the shadow of its former greatness, the nation still retained sufficient numerical strength to keep up hostilities with its ancient enemies, the Sioux. At times, after seasons of rest and recuperation, well-equipped parties had sallied forth, going as far as Nebraska, Colorado or Dakota, in quest of adventure. A furious renewal of the old contest succeeded emigration to the Middle West, and all was made ready for an expedition. Religious rites were performed, and the medicine men promised an easy victory.

Among the Delawares was a chief, who bade fair to equal in fame, the most distinguished of his predecessors. Not many moons before, Ni-co-man had awakened from a dream of conquest and beheld, in the pale light, a shadowy figure wrapped in a blanket of snowy white. Its bony finger motioned the chief to arise and follow. Mechanically, like one asleep, he obeyed the phantom warrior, the strange chill that crept over him increasing with each step. On they went, beyond the confines of the village, toward one of the highest points along the river that shone like silver with reflected brightness. Pausing upon a spot from where the undulating prairie could be seen, reaching for miles to westward, the spirit chief stretched out a ghostly arm and addressed the awe-struck leader.

"Go thou, Ni-co-man, noblest of thy people, and lead them on to glory. Take all thy bravest warriors. Journey west; there shalt thou find, upon the distant plains, our enemies, the Sioux. Rest not until thou hast avenged my death, for by their hands was I, thy father's father, slain."

Slowly he vanished, and Ni-co-man, pondering over these words, returned to his abode. Thenceforward he agitated the question of an advance, with full assurance of meeting and overcoming the murderous Sioux.

Around the council-fire were plans perfected. The pipe of peace was passed from hand to hand. Old men led the discussion while their juniors listened in silent respect. When all the wiser heads had given advice, the youthful braves, in turn, expressed opinions. The latter being unanimously in favor of adopting extreme measures, the council of Ni-co-man prevailed; and having completed arrangements, the flower of the nation, mounted upon mettlesome ponies, went forth, as did the challengers of old, to seek renown.

Over the rolling prairies, the tall grass waving in the sunlight, rode the dusky knights, heavy war-paint giving greater fierceness to faces already glowing with excitement.

The second day, a long distance from the starting place, they stopped at night beside a flowing stream. The tired ponies, relieved of their burdens, were turned out to graze, a guard being stationed nearby. After a meal of savory buffalo meat, and a quiet smoke around the camp-fire, the Delawares, drawing their blankets over their heads, threw themselves upon the ground and were soon wrapped in profound slumber.

At early dawn, ere they had proceeded many leagues, a fresh breeze started from the Southwest, and close to the horizon a faint rose color tinged the sky. This suddenly changed to a lurid hue, as a sheet of flame, accompanied by volumes of smoke, swept rapidly toward them.

"Fly! _Tun-dahe Wel-seet-num-et_ (The God of Fire)!" shouted the Indians, as, turning on the trail, they lashed the horses to the highest possible speed, while the fire made steady headway.

On rushed the fugitives, bending every energy to reach the water; but the breath of the Fire God was at their shoulders. Then the hardy little ponies made a final heroic dash and landed in the creek--safe, all but one. As the terrible cloud passed swiftly over the half suffocated band, they saw the angry spirit in the great, dark, curling chariot, bend low and smite their comrade; and when the seething whirlwind had gone by, he lay, face down, a lifeless heap, upon the blackened cinders. A hasty burial, with few of the usual ceremonies, and the party was traversing the now desolate region, in the direction of the far-away mountains.

They entered what the white man calls the Great American Desert. A level country, the short-grass district, extended as far as the eye could see, on every side. Its monotony was broken by an occasional "draw," where wandering tribes often found refuge in defeat, or lay in ambush, ready to spring out at the approach of foes. These draws were caused by erosion, and may have been the beds of rivers, long since dried up.

The plains were dotted with wild flowers, for in Kansas each weed, at some season of the year, bursts forth in all the glory of rich or delicate blossoms. The fall had brought its wealth of gold and purple, and the buffalo grass, more nutritious when "cured" by the sun and hot winds of summer, had turned to a rich brown, the ruling note of color. Birds, and even the prairie dogs, barking and chattering at the entrances to their underground towns, conformed to the prevailing tint.

The "Loco" weed had gone to seed, and the Indians, well knowing its dangerous properties, kept their horses, while grazing, away from the plant, which is said to cause animals to become "locoed," or insane. A similar effect is produced on human beings, by the use of certain herbs compounded by the medicine men.

Winding through the sandy territory, was the Arkansas River, in the autumn a seemingly harmless layer of reddish brown soil with apparently stagnant water here and there upon its surface. Underneath the quicksand flowed a deep stream, promising certain death to him who essayed to cross with any but the lightest of vehicles.

The travelers had reached the heart of the buffalo country, and an abundance of game was found on every hand. A buffalo hunt, according to an Indian's views, was second only to victorious battle, therefore Ni-co-man called a halt and the entire company joined in a grand slaughter.

The hunters, familiar with the habits of the animals, first arranged themselves in groups in one of the draws, at the foot of a steep embankment or precipice, taking care to be well sheltered. Then a warrior, grotesquely arrayed, and astride a strangely caparisoned steed, galloped toward the herd, frantically waving a bright-hued blanket. The leader, an immense creature, scented danger and took his stand in front of the rest. However, curiosity, which is one of the characteristics of the buffalo, prompted him to draw cautiously nearer the queer figure. The herd followed. Gradually the decoy backed toward the precipice, still gesticulating violently.

At last, the animals, thoroughly frightened, stampeded, accelerating speed as they approached the embankment, over which they rolled and tumbled in the mad effort to escape. Those not injured in the fall, recovered their feet and dashed away to the opposite slope, being easily shot in attempting the toilsome ascent. Thus, the majority were at the mercy of the red men.

The wanton destruction of these beasts at the hands of both Indians and white men is to be deplored. Where, two score years ago, thousands roamed the plains, now nothing remains to prove their having existed save slight depressions in the earth called "wallows," and large numbers of horns, scattered over the ranches. Once in a while the buffalo ring may be seen, still barren of grass. Here the ever watchful sentinel had tramped around and around in a circle. A feast succeeded the favorable termination of the hunt. Only the finest portions of the meat, which resembles beef in flavor, were reserved as food. Tongues were considered a great delicacy.

Up to this time, a few straggling Comanches and Arapahoes were observed, but as yet no traces of the Sioux appeared. Ni-co-man, remembering his vision, still had faith that here, upon the plains, would the enemy be vanquished.

Early one morning a scout came in with the news that, far to the north, a stray band of Sioux had encamped the previous night. In a moment all was excitement. As soon as possible the entire cavalcade, well armed and ready for the fray, was galloping in the direction indicated. At sunset the Delawares halted for rest and food, waiting for darkness to make an attack. But the enemy, too, were watchful; and knowing the presence of danger almost by intuition, had prepared for encounters.

They were in a deep cut, not easily accessible. Where the natural defenses are limited, the natives learn to take advantage of every means of protection. Piling up large masses of hard earth, that had fallen from one portion of the crumbling bank, they had built a rude fortification, which extended entirely across the entrance. In the rear was a narrow pass, with a steep acclivity on either side. Guards were stationed here and on the highest ridges. These gave the alarm as the Delawares, in three divisions, came silently forward at midnight.

Ni-co-man sent a detachment of good marksmen to the top of the embankment overlooking the Sioux, the second was despatched to the rear to force a way through the narrow passage, while he boldly led the remainder to attempt the low earthworks at the entrance. The war-cry of the Lenape now filled the air.

The Sioux, crouching behind the fort and before the opening at the back of the camp, fought savagely. Occasionally marksmen on the elevation picked off one of their men, though it was a somewhat difficult task in the semi-darkness.

Ni-co-man, being taller than his companions, and always at the front, was a welcome target for his wild opponents. Again and again a shadowy figure intervened as the bullets sped toward him. He bore, in truth, a charmed life. As the moon passed under a cloud, for the elements were preparing for a conflict, the Delawares rushed forward, climbing recklessly over the heaps of hardened earth, scattering great lumps right and left. Some of the braves fell, mortally wounded--some pressed upon the retreating Sioux, who found themselves in a trap. The shadowy figure, invisible to all but the chief, was ever present, hewing down the enemy with his great tomahawk.

The sun rose upon a frightful scene. The carnage was over, but ghastly upturned faces, smeared with war-paint and distorted with terror, even in death, told the tale of the night's work. Ere long it sought retirement, and the day grew dark. Ni-co-man gazed at the heavens in wonder. Did the Great Spirit manifest displeasure? A storm followed. Lightning flashed and the ground seemed to shake with thunder. Rain fell in torrents, a most unusual occurrence in that locality.

When the atmosphere had cleared, and the drenched warriors again beheld the battle-field, lo! all blood was washed away. The Great Spirit had stamped with approval the triumph of his chosen people, the Lenape.

Lawrence, a town of more than ordinary historic interest, now the site of the Kansas State University, was built upon land that formerly belonged to the Kaws. At a more recent date the Delawares were established in that vicinity. Haskell Institute, a flourishing Indian school, is now located there. A majority of the nation, at the time of immigration, adhered to tribal costume, and while harmless as far as their white neighbors were concerned, presented a most ferocious appearance. Many of the early settlers of Lawrence were from Eastern cities, where the red man was known by reputation only. The Indians had a fear-inspiring way of peering into the windows of houses, and in order to obtain a better view, would spread out their blankets so as to exclude the light. Not infrequently a white family, while dining, would observe that the room had become unusually dark; and glancing toward the window from which the sunlight had vanished, would behold a hideously painted face, with piercing eyes looking through the glass, in keen interest. This was not at all contrary to Indian etiquette.

The wife of a resident who had the good fortune to secure the firm friendship of White Turkey, a Delaware chief, sat sewing one day, in her rocking chair. It was a tranquil morning in early summer and the air was still. Suddenly a shadow crossed the light, and to her intense fright, three huge Delawares, in all the horror of their picturesque native dress, loomed up before the window. The lady, who had recently arrived from New York City, fainted; and the disappointed visitors sought her husband, informing him that they had merely called to announce the birth of a son--the future chief--named "Solomon White Turkey" in honor of the pale-face family. Years later, the gentleman, while traveling through the Indian Territory, was approached by an aged Delaware, surrounded by his friends, and introduced to a tall, prepossessing young man, who proved to be Chief Solomon White Turkey.

Kansas had been supposed to be permanently secured to the Indians; but the emigrant ever followed in their footsteps, and again the land of the Delawares was sold to the United States, and the people, few in number, took up their abode in the Indian Territory.