Schoolcraft Interview

An Interview Between

H. R. Schoolcraft,

Superintendent of Indian Affairs

With Three Wyandot Chiefs:

Oriwahento, Onhatotunyouh and Tyeronyouh

In Detroit on January 30, 1837

A delegation of three Wyandot chiefs visited me this day from their location near Amherstburg, in Canada, with their interpreter, George C. Martin.  Their names were O-ri-wa-hen-to, or Charlo; On-ha-to-tun-youh, or Round-Head, son of Round-Head, the brother of Splitlog; and Ty-er-on-youh, or Thomas Clark.  They informed me, in reply to a question, that the present population of their band, at that location, was eighty-six souls.  After transacting their business, I proposed several questions to them respecting their origin and history.

  1. What is the origin of the Indians?  We believe that all men sprang from one man and woman, who were made by God, in parts beyond the sea.  But in speaking of the Indians we say, how did they cross the sea without ships?  And when did they come?  And from what country?  What is your opinion on that subject?

Oriwahento answered:  “The old chief, Splitlog, who could answer you, is not able to come to see you from his age and feebleness; but he has sent us three to speak with you.  We will do the best we can.  We are not able to read and write, like white men, and what you ask is not therefore to be found in black and white.” (This remark was probably made as they observed I took notes of the interview.”)

“There was, in ancient times, something the matter with the earth.  It has changed.  We think so.  We believe God created it, and made men out of it.  We think he made the Indians in this country, and that they did not come over the sea.  They were created at a place called Mountains.  It was eastward.  When he had made the earth and those mountains, he covered something over the earth, as it were, with his hand.  Below this, he put man.  All the different tribes were there.  One of the young men found his way out to the surface.  He saw a great light, and was delighted with the beauty of the surface.  While gazing around, he saw a deer running past, with an arrow in his side.  He followed it to the place where it fell and died.  He thought it was a harmless looking animal.  He looked back to see its tracks, and he soon saw other tracks.  They were the footprints of the person who had shot the deer. He soon came up.  It was the Creator himself.  He had taken this method to show the Indians what they must do, when they came out from the earth.  The Creator showed him how to skin and dress the animal, bidding him do so and so, as he directed him.  When the flesh was ready, he told him to make a fire.  But he was perfectly ignorant.  God made the fire.  He then directed him to put a portion of the meat on a stick, and roast it before the fire.  But he was so ignorant that he let it stand til it burned on one side, while the other was raw.

Having taught this man  the hunter’s art, so that he could teach it to others, God called the Indians forth out of the earth.  They came in order, by tribes, and to each tribe he appointed a chief.  He appointed one Head Chief to lead them all, who had something about his neck, and he instructed him, and put it into his head what to say to the tribes.  That he might have an opportunity to do so, a certain animal was killed, and a feast made, in which they were told to eat it all.  The leader God had so chosen told the tribes what they must do to please their maker, and what they must not do.”

Oriwahento further said:  “God also made Good and Evil.  They were brothers.  The one went forth to do good, and caused pleasant things to grow.  The other busied himself in thwarting his brother’s work.  He made stony and flinty places, and caused bad fruits, and made continual mischief among men.  Good repaired the mischief as fast as it was done, but he found his labor never done.  He determined to fly upon his brother and destroy him, but not by violence.  He proposed to run a race with him.  Evil consented, and they fixed upon the place.  “But first tell me,” said Good, “what is your most  dread?”  “Buck’s horns!” replied he, “and tell me what is most hurtful to you?”  “Indian grass braid!” said Good.  Evil immediately went to his grandmother, who made braid, and got large quantities of it, which he put in the path and hung on the limbs that grew by the path where Good was to run.  Good also filled the path of his brother with the dreaded horns.  A question arose who should run first.  “I,” said Good, “will begin, since the proposition to try our skill first came from me.”  He accordingly set out, his brother following him.  But as he began to feel exhausted at noon, he took up the grass braid and ate it.  This sustained him, and he tired won his brother before night, who entreated him to stop.  He did not, however, cease, til he had successfully reached the goal.

The next day Evil started on his path.  He was encountered everywhere by the horns, which before noon had greatly weakened him.  He entreated to be relieved from going on.  Good insisted on running the course.  He sustained himself til sunset, when he fell in the path, and was finally dispatched by one of the horns wielded by his brother.

Having thus rid himself of his adversary, he thought he would walk out and see how things were going on, since there was no one to oppose his doing good.  After traveling some time, he saw a living object ahead.  As he drew nearer, he saw more plainly.  It was a naked man.  They began to talk to each other.  “I am walking to see the creation, which I have made,” said Good, “but who are you?”  “Clothed man,” said he, “I am as powerful as you, and have made all that land you see.”  “Naked man,” he replied, “I have made all things, but do not recollect making you.”  “You shall see my power,” said the naked man, “we will try strength.  Call to yonder mountain to come here, and afterwards I will do the same, and we will see who has the greatest power.”  The clothed man fell down on his knees, and began to pray, but the effort did not succeed, or but partially.  Then the naked man drew a rattle form his belt, and began to shake it and mutter, having first blindfolded the other.  After a time, now said he, “Look!”  He did so, and the mountain stood close before him, and rose up to the clouds.  He then blindfolded him again, and resumed his rattle and muttering.  The mountain had resumed its former distant position.

The clothed man held in his left hand a sword, and in his right hand the law of God.  The naked man had a rattle in one hand, and a war club in the other.  They exchanged the knowledge of the respective uses of these things.

To show the power of the sword, the clothed man cut off a rod, and placed it before him.  The naked man immediately put the parts together and they were healed.  Then he took his club, which was flat, and cut off the rod, and again healed the mutilated parts.  He relied on the rattle to answer the same purpose as the other’s book.  The clothed man tried the use of the club, but could not use it with skill, while the naked man took the sword and used it as well as the other.

Oriwahento continued:  “It is said that Evil killed his mother at his birth.  He did not enter the world the right way, but burst from the womb.  They took the body of the mother and laid it upon a scaffold.  From the droppings of her decay, where they fell on the ground, sprang up corn, tobacco, and such other vegetable productions as the Indians have.  Hence we call corn, our mother.  And our tobacco propagates itself by spontaneous growth, without planting; but the clothed man is required to labor in raising it.”

“Good found his grandmother in no better humor when he came back form the interview with the naked man.  He, therefore, took and cast her up, and she flew against the moon, upon whose face the traces of her are still to be seen.”

This comprised the first interview; after a recess during which they were permitted to refresh themselves and smoke their pipes, I returned to the office and resumed the inquiries.

  1. Where did your tribe first see white men on this continent?  The French say you lived on the St. Lawrence, and afterwards went to the north, from whence you afterwards came down to the vicinity of Detroit.  That you possess the privilege of lighting up the general council fire for the Lake tribes; and that you were converted to the Catholic faith.  Oriwahento again answered.

“When the tribes were all settled, the Wyandots were placed at the head.  They lived in the interior, at the mountains east, about the St. Lawrence.  They were the first tribe of old, and had the first chieftainship.  The chief said to their nephew, the Lenapees, ‘Go down to the sea coast and look, and if you see anything bring me word.’  They had a village near the seaside and often looked, but saw nothing except birds.  At length they espied an object which seemed to grow and come nearer, and nearer.  When it came near the land it stopped, but all the people were afraid, and fled to the woods.  The next day, two of their number ventured out, to look.  It was lying quietly on the water. A smaller object of the same sort came out of it and walked with long legs (oars) over the water.  When it came to land, two men came out of it.  They were different from us and made signs for the others to come out of the woods.  A conference ensued.  Presents were exchanged.  They gave presents to the Lenapees, and the latter gave them their skin clothes as curiosities.  Three distinct visits, at separate times, and long intervals were made.  The mode in which the white men got a footing and power in the country was this.  First, room was asked, and leave given to place a chair on the shore.  But they soon began to pull the lacing out of its bottom and go inland with it; and they have not yet come to the end of the string.”  Oriwahento exemplified this original demand for a cession of territory and its renewal at other epochs, by other figures of speech, namely, of a bull’s hide, and of a man walking.  The first request for a seat on the shore, was made, he said, of the Lenapees; alluding to the cognate branches of this stock, who were anciently settled at the harbor of New York, and that vicinity.

To the question of their flight form the St. Lawrence, their settlement in the north, and their subsequent migration to, and settlement on, the straits of Detroit, Oriwahento said:   “The Wyandots were proud.  God had said that such should be beaten and brought low.  This is the cause why we were followed from the east, and went up north away to Michilimackinac, but as we had the right before, so when we came back, the tribes looked up to us, as holding the council fire.”

(This interview is recorded in “Huron and Wyandot Mythology” by C. M. Barbeau, Page 296 – 300, 1915.)

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