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Source: Legends of The KawThe Folk-Lore of the Indians of the Kansas River Valley by Carrie de Voe, etext available at Project Gutenberg.

The Wyandots, or Hurons, are of Northern origin, and descended from a branch of the Iroquois. At the time of the discovery of America, their villages were located near the Senecas, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. When Cartier appeared, a small band of Delawares first observed the ships of the Frenchmen on the gulf, and sent messengers to announce the presence of "great white-winged animals, spitting out fire and speaking with voices of thunder." 


The Wyandots and Senecas were closely allied and lived in amity many years. It is said that the long peace terminated and hostilities began through the influence of a woman. One version of the story is that a Seneca maiden loved a young man, whose father, a powerful chief, opposed his son's taking her as a wife. Other suitors were rejected. Then it was declared that the hand of the maiden would be bestowed upon him, only, who should slay the chief. A Wyandot fulfilled this condition and became her husband.

The enraged Senecas flew to arms. An interminable war followed. Their neighbors moved to the vicinity of Niagara Falls. A series of migrations succeeded. At one epoch a portion of the tribe settled near Lake Huron, which was named for them. A part of the Bear Clan always remained in Canada.

For some unknown reason, the other tribes of the Five Nations joined the enemies of the Wyandots. Cooper's novels contain numerous allusions to the undying hatred of the Iroquois toward the Hurons, as they were called by the French, although Wyandot is the proper term.

Always pursued by the Senecas, a majority of the nation became wanderers. In 1701, seeking a new home, they embarked in canoes and passed out of Lake Huron, and into and beyond Lake St. Clair. In the distance a group of white tents was visible. This comprised the city of Detroit. Landing, by order of the head chief, the Indians were received kindly by the governor of the colony. Accepting the protection offered, they found a home in that locality.

After the French territory had passed into the hands of the English, some of the Wyandots settled in parts of Ohio and Michigan. They were divided into clans, named for animals, conspicuous among which were the deer, bear, turtle, porcupine, snake and wolf. The nation originally had twelve of these divisions. Two or more formed a band. It was against the law to marry in one's own clan. Children belonged to the mother's clan; and women were accorded the privilege of voting for chiefs and council.

The head chief, or king, was the highest officer. The succession belonged to the Big Turtle and Deer clans; and every heir to the throne must be of pure Wyandot blood. The last head chief, Suts-taw-ra-tse, lived in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

The primitive religion of the Wyandots was somewhat similar to that of other aboriginal nations. The Great Spirit ruled supreme. There was a God of the Forest, called Sken-ri-a-taun. Once a year a night feast was held, in memory of the departed. Dancing was dispensed with, but all joined in condolence with some lately bereaved family. It was thought that after death, the soul must cross a deep, swift river, on a bridge made of a slight tree, and be compelled to defend itself, repeatedly, from the attacks of a dog. The Dakotas also believed this, but affirmed that the bridge was formed from the body of an immense snake. The prayer of the Huron to a local god--as recited verbatum by Father Brebeuf--throws some light upon the subject of their conception of Deity.

"Oki, thou who livest in this spot, I offer thee tobacco. Help us, save us from shipwreck, defend us from our enemies, give us a good trade and bring us back safe and sound to our villages."

The teachings of the Jesuits were early engrafted upon the original faith.

Few of the oldest Wyandot legends have been preserved. The literary world is indebted to Schoolcraft for the narration of the experience of Sayadio, which gives a glimpse into the spirit world as pictured by Indian fancy.

The heart of Sayadio was heavy with sorrow. His young and beautiful sister had died and he refused to be comforted. Desirous of bringing her back, the young man embarked upon a long and difficult journey to the land of souls. When ready to give up in despair, after many adventures, he met an old man who gave him a magic calabash with which to dip up the spirit, when it should be found. This man, who proved to be the keeper of that part of the land where the maiden dwelt, also gave him her brains, which had been carefully kept.

On reaching the place of departed souls, Sayadio was surprised that they fled at his approach. Tarenyawgo assisted him. The spirits had assembled for a dance and he attempted to embrace his sister, but she straightway vanished with the others. Tarenyawgo then provided him with a mystical rattle to call them back. The _taiwaiegun_, or drum, sounded, and the notes of the flute could be heard. Immediately the air was full of floating figures, and Sayadio, dipping up the damsel with the magic calabash, despite the efforts of the imprisoned soul to liberate itself, returned to earth.

Friends were invited to the lodge, and the dead body brought from its place of burial to be restored to life. Just before the moment of reanimation, a curious old woman looked into the calabash, and the spirit took flight. Sayadio gazed heavenward but could see nothing. Then, with downcast eyes, he sat in the lodge, deploring that idle curiosity had rendered of no avail his travels to the land of the departed.

Peter Clarke, a native writer, was undoubtedly one of the most reliable sources of information regarding the ancient history of the Wyandots, whose descendants, absorbed by the white race, have permitted the customs and many of the traditions of their forefathers to die out. Until a comparatively recent period many firmly believed


On the shore of Lake Huron, long years ago, was a deep pool, or spring, in the midst of marshy ground. An outlet into a river allowed the discharge of surplus water. Reeds and tall grasses almost obscured the pond from view, and the scream of the loon and the cry of the reed-bird alone disclosed its presence, until the traveler found himself upon its very verge.

The Wyandots knew of this place, and had little doubt that it was inhabited by a mysterious spirit. Sometimes the water rose and fell, as if stirred by the breathing of an immense animal beneath its surface, then grew suddenly calm. A benighted hunter, passing that way, told of a wondrous light, sparkling like the glow of a thousand fireflies; and of a rumbling sound that shook the earth, announcing that an evil spirit was at work.

A party of the Prairie Turtle Clan camped one day at the spring, established an altar and offered burnt offerings to the strange god. Articles of value, silver ornaments and wampum belts, were cast into the pool and Ce-zhaw-yen-hau was chosen to call up the spirit. Standing in the marsh, with a bow in one hand and a bunch of arrows in the other, he chanted a song; while his companions, in homage to the _Hoo-kee_, or wizard of the spring, burned tobacco. He invoked the spirit to come forth. A loon arose, screaming and flapping its wings.

"Not you," said Ce-zhaw-yen-hau, and the loon vanished. Next came an otter.

"Not you," said the Indian, "begone! Come forth, you wizard!"

The water rose, as if agitated by some huge body, and a white panther emerged, looking eastward. Piercing its side with an arrow, the conjurer quickly extended a small vessel to catch the blood which trickled from the creature's side. The moment the pan filled, the wounded animal disappeared, and the air vibrated with a rumbling, muttering sound, like distant thunder. Volumes of turbid water came to the surface, indicating the course the monster had taken in passing down the river. Never again was it seen at the pool.

The Prairie Turtle Clan, which had always been considered refractory in disposition, and inclined to be rebellious toward the Good Spirit, now formed a society and deified the white panther. Anyone who divulged the secrets of the association was instantly put to death. The blood in the small vessel coagulated and became dry. This was broken into pieces and distributed among the members to be placed in their medicine bags. The medicine bag was usually made from the whole skin of an otter, a mink, or other diminutive animal. Those who had been led by fanaticism to seek new gods were repeatedly warned by the Catholic priest to renounce the evil spirit, or it would cause their destruction.

"Throw away the baneful substance which came to you from the devil in the form of a panther," he said, "for just as certain as you continue to keep it among you, the time is not far distant when you will be ruined by it, body and soul."

The unmanageable society, however, persisted in worshipping the white panther; and the substance obtained from the demon of the spring, which was used in witchcraft, eventually consumed the members themselves.

Not many years after the episode at the pool, Ce-zhaw-yen-hau turned traitor to the nation, and joined the Senecas. When leading a war-party against his own people, during the absence of the men, he saw two young women working in a field adjacent to the village. In a frenzy of enthusiasm for new friends and of hatred of the old, he slew the two girls, and fled precipitately.

The warriors, returning, pursued with fury, and overtook the murderers, crossing a miry creek. The entire band was destroyed, with the exception of two Senecas. Putting out the eyes of one and cutting off the thumbs of the other, the Wyandots sent them back to their nation to tell the story.

The white panther worshippers were now made objects of revenge, being hunted down and killed, if suspected of carrying the ruinous substance. The Prairie Turtle Clan finally became extinct. Its fate was considered an evidence of the evil effects of being led by superstition to adopt unknown gods.

The Hurons, keen and skeptical, became acknowledged leaders in the councils of nations. When the Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawatomies and Wyandots formed an alliance for mutual protection, the latter were appointed keepers of the council fire, and the inter-national archives were committed to their care.

Wampum belts designated agreements. Wampum was manufactured from a species of sea-shell and was composed of tubes one-eighth of an inch in diameter and one-half an inch in length. These were fastened together with strong cords or ligaments. Each belt represented a compact, the conditions of which were retained in memory by the chiefs and warriors of the tribe. The beaver belt of the Mohawk, Captain Brant, emblematic of secret enmity, was deemed a pledge, on the part of those who accepted it, to assist in exterminating the Wyandots. A dark colored bead belt, with a red tomahawk upon it, indicated, when exhibited in council, that warfare was in contemplation. These tokens, as well as parchments and other records, were taken to Kansas in 1843, but became scattered and are now the property of private parties.

The Green Corn Dance was celebrated each year, in the month of August. Festivities opened with a great banquet in which corn was the principal element. After all had partaken generously of corn soup, corn bread and meat boiled with corn, the men formed in a circle and the dance began. A wild chant, or Hoo-ah, accompanied the music of the tom-tom and cedar flute; and dried deer hoofs, tied around the legs of the warriors, rattled as they kept time. The cedar flute, a much valued instrument, was composed of two cylindrical pieces of wood, tied together with buckskin thongs. At intervals a sudden change of step and outward turning of faces occurred, every movement possessing deep religious significance.

At the annual corn feast, children and those adopted into the nation, received names, bestowed by the clans instead of by the parents. Each clan had a list of names that it was required to keep in use. A Wyandot historian tells a singular story, which illustrates the belief of the tribe in the necessity of observing this law.

While living, with the rest of her people, at Lower Sandusky, a young girl, gathering strawberries a short distance from the village, was taken prisoner by a party of white scouts. On the second night of her journey in their company, a queer-looking Indian appeared in a vision, and said:

"I come to tell you that to-morrow about noon these white men will meet a party of Indians on the war-path, and have a fight. Then will be your chance to escape and return home. I am not one of your race; I am a frog, although appearing in human shape. Your race has often rescued one of our kind from the jaws of the snake, therefore, it is with grateful feeling that I come to tell you of an opportunity to escape from the hands of these snoring white men, lying around here."

Next morning the march was continued. About noon, as predicted, the Indians came in view and immediately made an attack. In a moment of excitement, the prisoner was forgotten. Without waiting to learn the outcome of the struggle, she ran into the woods and was soon beyond reach of enemies. At dark, the tired and hungry maiden crept into a hollow sycamore tree, through an aperture at its base, and fell asleep. An Indian woman became visible in a dream, and said:

"The day after to-morrow you will meet a party of warriors from your village. Follow their war path northward. I am not one of your race; I am a bear. Say to the people that there are three names belonging to your clan, the Bear Clan, that are not now among you. Keep these names in use hereafter."

The famishing girl spent another night in the woods, and at dawn resumed her travels, striking the war path at mid-day. When the shadows began to lengthen, she met the Wyandots upon this trail. Providing food and replacing the torn clothing and worn-out moccasins with the best that could be obtained in such an emergency, they started her toward home, where a glad welcome awaited the wanderer, and perfect willingness to heed the admonition of her dreams.

In the war of 1812, a portion of the tribe adhered to Great Britain, while the remainder espoused the American cause. Roundhead (Staw-ye-tauh), who lived at the largest Wyandot village in Michigan, and Warrow, the leading chief on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, took an active part on behalf of the British, and were conspicuous in the battle of the River Raisin. Walk-in-the-Water (Mey-ye-ra), maintained strict neutrality, although in sympathy with the Americans.

Big Tree, a Wyandot whose eventful life has made his name a familiar one, warred against the Americans, beginning, when a boy, at Braddock's defeat. He belonged to the Bear Clan and was noted for strength and activity. During a war with the Southern Indians, he was taken prisoner by the Cherokees, in a battle on the Kentucky River. The contest was a bloody one, the combatants laying aside guns, bows and arrows and fighting with tomahawks. Night ended the struggle and both sides retired from the field.

Big Tree was taken from one place to another; at last to the mouth of a river, unknown to him. The Cherokees held council and concluded to burn the prisoner. Before the sentence could be executed, a woman whose sons had been killed in the battle, stepped forward and claimed him. She said:

"You took all my sons with you. Now they are dead and I am left alone without any help. I claim this young man as my son. Will you pity my age and helplessness and release him to me?"

He was given to the widow, but could not forget his own people and was always looking for a chance to escape. The opportunity came while he was out hunting. For three days and nights the Cherokees pursued. The fugitive became faint from want of food. Reaching the Ohio River, he paused a moment and prayed:

"O Great Spirit, help a poor prisoner to swim this river, that he may get home to his own country." Then, tying his gun on his head, plunged into the water and succeeded in getting to the opposite shore. He killed a deer, cooked a part of the meat and rested. After three moon's traveling, the wanderer arrived home.

In his old age, Big Tree became a devout Christian, and often related how he had tried to follow the advice of the old people in the worship of the Great Spirit; how he had feared the "Man in the Clouds"; and had followed, first, the Seneca Prophet, next the Shawnee Prophet, then had gone back to the religion of his fathers; and finally, through the teachings of Stewart, the colored preacher, had gone down on his knees, with the petition:

"_O Homendezue, tamentare, tamentare_ (O Great Spirit, take pity on me, take pity on me)."

Chief Splitlog (To-oo-troon-too-ra), a brother of Roundhead, and also a Royalist, was one of the last to give up the habits of his progenitors. Although a Roman Catholic, he retained, to a great extent, the ancient beliefs of his people. One who was thoroughly familiar with the history of Splitlog, describes the last effort on the part of the chief to observe the old customs, in the following language:

"One day, a few years before he died, after the last council wigwam was demolished (wigwam, or we-go-wam, is a Chippewa word for any kind of a house), and the ground on which it stood had been ploughed up, he called together at his residence, the few who still adhered to the ancient customs of the tribe. It was his last feast, and the last dance song of this feast sounded mournful to the ears of the distant passer, who knew what it was.

"Two Indians, with whole snapping turtle shells, having some hard substance inside to make a rattling sound, sat on the ground, with two folded deer skins, pelt side out, between them, on which they beat with the turtle shells, while singing for the dance. The necks of the turtles were stretched out to their utmost length and stiffened, for handles. After the dance, the musicians were allowed to walk off with the deer skins as their compensation."

Much has been said concerning the bravery and adventures of Chief Splitlog, not only in the battles against General Wayne, but also in the war of 1812.

William Walker, the father of Governor Walker, was one of General Harrison's scouts at that time. Having been captured, several years before, by the Delawares, and traded to the Wyandots, he had become, both by marriage and adoption, a member of the latter nation. During the heat of battle he was taken prisoner by the British and carried along with the army, his wife, also a prisoner, being placed on board an English warship.

In 1842 Silas Armstrong and Matthew Walker, whose Indian name, translated, was "Twisting the Forest," were sent beyond the Mississippi to locate a new home, and went as far west as Salina, Kansas, with the intention of buying a large tract of land. A thorough investigation, however, resulted in their securing from the Delawares a comparatively small tract, seven or eight miles in extent, and the Wyandots established themselves at the mouth of the Kaw River.

William Walker, afterward Provisional Governor of Nebraska Territory, had previously traveled west, having this removal in mind, and examined the lands. He was a man of education and great strength of character--an acknowledged leader in the nation, as well as a writer of merit.

Matthias Splitlog was identified with the early commercial interests of Kansas City. Leaving Canada about the year 1840, he resided for some time at Neosho, Missouri, and was the projector of a small railroad, now a portion of the Pittsburg & Gulf line. He removed to Wyandotte, Kansas, became interested in numerous financial ventures and was known as the wealthiest of the Indians. Shrewd business men and corporations rendered his later life a series of law suits; and much property was sacrificed.

This silent and reserved man lived, for many years, simply, in a log house. His wife was unable to converse in English. Finally, accompanying the remnant of the tribe to the Indian Territory, he built a mansion, with modern conveniences, in the reservation of the Senecas.

At the time of emigration to Kansas, a majority of the people were of superior intelligence, had long adopted the arts of civilization and, through the influence of missionaries, had become converted to Methodism. They were distinguished for regularity of feature and grace of movement, keeping perfect measure in the dance. The women were adepts in the art of needle-work. At the home of a lady of Wyandot lineage, is exhibited an elaborate piece of beading, of great age, in fleur-de-lis pattern. The center of each leaf is of pale pink, encircled with dark green, skillfully shaded to delicate tints. A variety of colors were introduced, yet the whole produced a most harmonious effect.

The belle of the nation in the '40s is said to have been so beautiful and cultured that, on the occasion of a visit to New Orleans, she was supposed to be a French lady, and the most exclusive society of the city extended courtesies. The handsome young woman reigned supreme for a short period. On the return trip, three or four squaws boarded the steamer, and after standing quietly back for a brief space, silent witnesses of her numerous conquests, one of them came forward and said:

"Her squaw, like me--heap big squaw."

Contrary to general opinion, the Indians possessed a keen sense of humor and thoroughly enjoyed a laugh at the expense of one of their number.

In the olden days, Elder Dennison conducted services in the Methodist Church, through an interpreter. One Sunday, owing to the illness of the latter, a well-educated Wyandot named Browneyes, was engaged as substitute. Browneyes, not being religiously inclined, had partaken too freely of firewater. However, he appeared on the scene well dressed in honor of the event. A huge cravat, faultlessly tied, and a dark green coat, resplendent with brass buttons, were prominent features of his attire. Unfortunately, a large flask protruded from his hip pocket, and it was quietly decided that Mr. Armstrong should officiate. Browneyes sat down in a front seat, apparently humiliated on account of being supplanted. The sermon proceeded smoothly for a time, then he remarked, distinctly:

"Sile, you are not telling a word of truth, and you know it."

No attention was paid to the interruption, but when the discourse became more eloquent, he averred, loudly and decidedly:

"Sile, that's a lie, and you know it."

Elder Dennison, discontinuing the address, said:

"Let us pray."

Descending from the rostrum, he placed one hand in the back of Browneyes' cravat, twisted it until the man's tongue hung out, and prayed long and loudly. It is needless to say this was the last time the services were interfered with while the elder presided.

A strange story is related concerning


For some reason, Chudaquana had gained the enmity of a certain old woman of the community; perhaps he had unwittingly slighted her; perhaps a family feud existed; at any rate, the evil black eyes seemed to follow him from place to place. It was reported that this woman had the faculty of changing herself into a dog. Chudaquana noticed that a stealthy-looking canine was constantly at his heels. Day after day, and week after week, the animal was to be seen skulking near. The eyes were certainly those of the witch. Fearing some great misfortune might ensue if this continued, he decided to be rid of the nuisance once and forever.

In order to kill a witch it was necessary to use silver bullets. Having procured these, Chudaquana went about his ordinary pursuits, keeping a sharp lookout, meantime, for the enemy. It could be seen in the rear, at some distance, tracing his footsteps. The man sought shelter behind a tree. On came the wild-looking animal, sniffing at the ground. As it paused directly opposite, there was a sharp report, an unearthly howl, and the witch was no more. The silver bullet had fulfilled its mission. The old woman, so rumor said, carried to the day of her death, festering and sore, the mark of a bullet in her side.

Romantic courtships and marriages between Wyandot maidens and white settlers were not infrequent.

Before the entire tribe had discarded its picturesque costume, a young man of Caucasian descent located among the Wyandots for the purpose of trade. One clear October morning, looking from the door of the small frame building in which he conducted business, he saw a graceful figure approaching, and a moment later, an Indian girl of thirteen or fourteen years, arrayed in all the finery of her people, stepped lightly across the threshold and stood, glancing confusedly and with decided coquetry, at the young merchant. Her slight form was clothed with a loose crimson waist, or shirt, and a short skirt ornamented with embroidery and notched ribbons. Beaded moccasins covered the little feet, and broadcloth leggings extended to the knees. Her black hair was confined by a silk handkerchief. The color came and went in the dark cheeks, and bright eyes flashed admiration from under long lashes. He hastened to respond to orders given timidly in the universal language of signs.

Again and again Markrete visited the store, purchasing brilliant hued calicoes, beads and blankets, and receiving little presents from the trader, who endeavored in this manner to win her regard. At last he was compelled to employ an interpreter, who attempted to persuade her to accept an offer of marriage.

For some time the girl turned a deaf ear to all overtures. She was too young to give up freedom; and marriage, to an Indian woman, meant slavery. She climbed fences and rode horses; on one occasion, when there was no ferry, swimming her horse across the river in order to visit a relative.

However, after protracted efforts under many difficulties, the young man was victorious; and acquired rights in the nation, an Indian name, and last, but not least, pretty Markrete.


The Wyandots have been gradually absorbed by the white race, and those who maintain tribal relations are located in the Indian Territory. Many prominent residents of Kansas City are descended from the Wyandots.