Friday, November 23, 2018

Legend of Minnehaha from an Interesting Source

I have a weakness for books, especially free books.

My county genealogical society announced at our meeting a week ago they had several books available for free because they were outdated, had copyright issues, or were duplicates--issues that that made them inappropriate to be in a county library repository.

I found some interesting genealogical sources, but mostly I felt drawn to the HISTORICAL books. Among them was the following book:

From Fort Atkinson, Iowa to Long Prairie, Minn.
Guarding Removal of Winnebago Indians

By William E. Read

Private in Morgan's company

This narrative, which was transcribed from handwritten pages, was originally written about 1848 at the close of the Mexican-American War. In the middle, the author told an interesting account of the legend of Minnehaha.

I looked this up on Wikipedia, and here is what the first paragraph read:

Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman documented in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. She is the lover of the titular protagonist Hiawatha and comes to a tragic end. The name, often said to mean "laughing water", literally translates to "waterfall" or "rapid water" in Dakota.

Yet, in this narrative, the author wrote it as an actual event he heard from the last living witness. Here is the transcribed story from the ca. 1848 narrative listed above, including the original spelling and punctuation:

Now we are approaching the rocky cliff, or precipice, where Minnehaha took her fatal leap that immortalized her name. As I am, perhaps the only white man now living who met and talked with an eye witness of that tragic scene, I will tell what he told me. He was a small Indian, not more than 4 and one half feet high, rather lean and sparely built, tolerably gray; and, I should think, about seventy-five years old. The interpreter I had was a young half-breed, by the name of Balige, who lived in the vicinity of Reed’s Landing, below Wabasha, on the Mississippi. He was not an expert in the language of the Dakotas, but could converse with them pretty well. The old Indian said, and showed with his hands:

“A good many years, or moons, ago,” pointing north west, “up a river”, (which we understood to be the St, Peters river) lived a young chief. He married another chiefs daughter; and, after so many moons, came with his wife to a big falls on this river and went down a little ways to a little falls. That here his wife was delivered of a daughter (paplaspapoose), it being near enough the little falls so that they could hear the noise. The woman, waking up once, and a kind of dreamy state, and hearing the sound of the water falling, thought it was a band of Indians laughing, and she asked her husband, “Who is that laughing?” He answered “It is the water laughing (Menaukuanuahuawah).” The name has grown into Minnehaha in the same way that Ouisconsin has grown into Wisconsin, and Maquoquetois into Maquoketa. When little Menauhuawah grew up to womanhood, she was the fairest of fair daughters of the northwestern tribes and just as good as she was handsome. She was beloved by all the Indians far and wide and had lovers, who sought her hand in marriage by the score. 
John Henry Bufford's cover for The Death of Minnehaha, 1856.

One young brave, from away east on the Wisconsin river wooed her and won her heart. But her father had grown to be a big chief -- Head Chief of a good many tribes, and it was beneath his dignity to give his daughter in marriage to a low grade hunter. She must marry a chief, and he forbade the young brave’s coming about his lodge. The Old Chief had located his village some way up the ridge from where Menauhuawah made her fatal leap. Finding that his orders had been disobeyed, and that the lovers had met, against his will, he flew into a passion and sold his daughter to a young chief that lived away up the St. Peter river. The time arrive when the young chief was to come and claim his bride. All preparations were made, and the ceremony was to take place at sundown. When the groom came in sight, everyone was on alert, and Menauhuawah slipped out and her absence was not discovered until she was half way to the river. The Big Chief ordered some young braves to run after her and fetch her back. A good many ran, but three of the swiftest outran the others, and were within a few bounds of her when she leaped from the precipice. They ran to the edge and looked down, but could see nothing of her. They had to go back some distance before they could found a place where they could get down. They got down and went to the place where she went over, but could find no sign of her whatsoever, not even blood on the rocks where she must have fallen. For two days, the whole tribe and the bridegroom with all his retinue made search, but could find no trace or sign of Menauhuawah’s body. 

Death of Minnehaha by William de Leftwich Dodge, 1885
On the third morning, as there were many old squaws and others around the precipice, mourning for the lost, when the sun rose and shown over the hills on the east side of the river, and its rays struck the rocks of the precipice, they began to send forth a dismal sound that increase in volume till it made the stoutest heart quail, and the boldest brave tremble with fear. And, although many years have gone by, and the sound diminished, nothing would induce an Indian to go near the cliff at early sunrise. The name Menauhuawah (now Minnehaha) will exist as long as the world stands. The English Mina, the Dutch Mena, and the Indian Menau you, have all merged into the Scotch Minnie in form, but retain the meaning of the Indian Menau, when attached to counties, towns, lakes, etc., such as Minnehaha, Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, etc. And long after the last Indian has passed from the wide domain of North America, and he exists only in history, the name of Minnehaha will stand as a monument to remind us of the once numerous and noble red men of the forest.

My latest novel, Nissa, Book 3 in The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series is now available on Amazon including Kindle Unlimited. To read the book description and purchase your copy, please CLICK HERE.

No comments: