13.THE STORY OF THE INDIAN CORN
Some years ago the Ottawa Indians inhabited the Manatoline Islands. Their enemies were the Iroquois Indians, who lived on the lake shore near the islands. One night they came and attacked the Ottawas. The two tribes fought for a long time, but at last the Iroquois won, and the Ottawas were driven away from their islands. They wandered off towards the Mississippi River, where they settled near a small lake, many miles away from their home.
The Manatoline Islands were now uninhabited, except by an Indian magician, whose name was Masswaweinini. He remained behind to act as sentry for his tribe. He guarded the beautiful islands and kept a close watch on their enemy, the Iroquois. Two young boys stayed with him to paddle his canoe. In the daytime they used to paddle close to the shore, so that the Iroquois could not see them, and at night they slept in the deep woods.
One morning Masswaweinini rose early and left the two boys asleep. He walked a long distance through the woods, hunting for game. At last he found himself on the edge of a wide prairie. He began to walk across it, when a man suddenly appeared in front of him. He was very tiny and had some red feathers in his hair. “Good-morning, Masswaweinini,” he said. “You are a very strong man, are you not?”
“Yes,” replied the magician. “I am as strong as any man, but no stronger.”
The tiny man then pulled out his tobacco-pouch and pipe.
“Come and smoke with me,” he said, “and then we must have a wrestling match. If you can throw me, you must say, ‘I have thrown Wagemena.'”
So they smoked together, but when the little man was ready to wrestle, the magician did not like to do it, for he was afraid he might hurt the tiny fellow. But the other insisted, and so they began to wrestle. The magician soon found that the little man was very strong and quick, and he felt himself growing weaker every moment. But at last he succeeded in tripping the man with the red feathers, and he fell. Then the magician said, “I have thrown you, Wagemena.” At once the little man vanished, and in his place lay an ear of corn, with a red tassel where the feathers had been. As he stood staring at it, the corn spoke. “Pick me up,” it said, “and pull off my outer covering. Then take off my kernels and scatter them over the ground. Break my cob into three parts and throw them near the trees. Leave, but come back after one moon, and see what has happened.”
The magician did exactly as the corn had told him, and went away. At the end of the time he came back. To his surprise, he found green blades of corn coming through the ground where the kernels had been scattered. And near the trees pumpkin-vines were growing where the cobs of the corn had been thrown.
He had not told the young boys of his adventure with the tiny man, so he did not tell them anything of the growing corn. All the rest of that summer he busied himself in closely watching the Iroquois, who were still prowling near the islands. Very often he killed a deer, and the boys would cook the meat over their camp-fire. One day, when the summer was nearly over, he paddled his canoe around the island till he came near the wrestling ground. He stepped ashore, and left the two boys to watch the canoe, while he walked to the field. To his great astonishment, he found the corn in full ear, and the pumpkins of an immense size. He pulled some ripened ears of corn and gathered some pumpkins. Then a voice spoke to him from the corn. “You have conquered me, Masswaweinini,” it said. “If you had not done so, you would have been killed yourself. But your strength gave you the victory, and now you shall always have my body for food. It will be nourishment for you and your tribe.”
Thus the Ottawa Indians were given the gift of the maize and to this day their descendants are noted for the care that they take of their immense fields of corn.