American Heroes — Native American Style

horseheader1.jpeIt has dawned on me that many people in this wonderful country of ours may not know its deep, deep roots.  Perhaps I should say that I didn’t learn about these fascinating men (and women) until I started doing research.  So I thought that perhaps we might have a look at some real Native American heros.  Now, I was going to try to put them all into one post and that became impossible.  There’s just too much to say, too much history to cover to try to do it all in one post.  So let’s start with what we know — I’m certain there were many other American heros before these next two men that I’ll bring to your attention.  But we don’t know about them.  There is no written record of them.  Of these two men that I’m about to discuss, there is a written record — written in wampam belts.images15

Come with me back in time to around the early 1400’s or 1300’s (the date is not clearly known — it could be much earlier), to a time before the white man stepped foot on the soil of North America  (it may be true that Vikings had come here by this time, but again, if this is so, we don’t have a clear written record of it).  At this time, there were two men who lived who changed the whole course of a country.  Those men were Hiawatha  (the real Hiawatha, not the Hiawatha of Longfellow’s poem) and Deganawida (known as the peacemaker to the Iroquois).  It’s pronounced De-gan-a-wi-dah.

95021_d1189b1thumbnail1It was a time of strife.  The world of the American Indian was disturbed by tribal wars with the Algonquian and the Alligewi (Allegheny).  It was also a time of strife between clans and families of the Iroquois, themselves.  A man was expectetd to take justice into his own hands, and once the killing started, there seemed to be no end to it.  Clan against clan, brother against brother.

Deganawidah, or the peacemaker, was Huron and was inspired by spiritiual forces.  Legend tells us that he was born to a virgin mother.  He left the Hurons, however, to venture south into Mohawk territory, where he was welcomed as a great sage.  It was his vision that the Iroquois would live in peace with each other.  It was his vision to “establish a univeral peace based on harmony, justice, and a goverment of law. ” The Mohawk embraced his teachings, but the Peacemaker had a problem.  According to legend, he had a lisp, and so he could not speak well for himself or for the peace that he envisioned.

Hiawatha was Onondaga.  By the way, the Iroquois Confederacy consisted of five and later six tribes.  They were:  the Cayugas, Oneidas, Onandagas, Senecas & the Mohawk.  Later they were joined by the Tuscaroras in the early 1700’s.  Hiawatha was a chief of some rank.  He was a little past middle age when this all took place.  quanahWhat apparently happened was the Peacemaker left his home in Huron country because he could not adequately bring about his vision of peace for all nations.  He began his journey in a canoe of white stone., telling of his message of “Good News of Peace and Power” to anyone who would listen.  He met Hiawatha, who was then known as “a man who eats humans.”  However, so taken was Hiawatha with the message of the Peacemaker, he immediately saw the error of his ways and joined forces with Deganawidah.  What Hiawatha brought to the vision was his eloquence of speaking, as well as his influence among his people.   But there was another problem.  While the people readily embraced the message of harmony and peace, there was a terrible tyrant living amongst the Onandagas, Atotarho.  He ate human flesh and his hair and mind were so twisted, that it is said that his hair was nothing but snakes.  This man stood in the way of the Great Peace.

images11Both Hiawatha and  the Peacemaker visited Atotarho, but the man would yield to nothing.  Twice Hiawatha sent out runners to bring people in to tell them of the vision of harmony.  Twice Atotarho came, his appearance forbidding, frightening all the people away.  A third time Hiawatha sent out runners of a meeting, but no one dared show up.  Now it was during this period that Hiawatha’s three daughters became ill and died.  His wife was also killed.  The deaths were attributed to the magical and evil powers of Atotarho.  Overcome with grief, Hiawatha disappeared into the forest where he had many adventures.  However, in the meantime, the Peacemaker had succeeded with the Mohawks, who readily embraced his vision.


Although Hiawatha traveled far and wide, no one came to ease his suffering or pain.  Then one day, his journey brought him into Mohawk country, where he camped outside their village.  It was by a beautiful lake  that Hiawatha gathered shells to make them into wampam belt.  It was beautiful and its purpose would be that of easing the pain of anyone suffering from grief..  The strings of the rushes would “become words,” and he determined to console others who suffered. The Peacemaker heard about Hiwatha’s presence in Mohawk country, and came that night to comfort him.  And it is reported that these were his words to Hiawatha.  “I wipe away the tears from thy face….using the white fawnskin of pity…I make it daylight for thee…  I beautify the sky.  Now shalt thou do thy thinking in peace where thy eyes rest on the sky, which the Perfector of out Faculties, the Master of All Things, intended should be a source of happiness to man.”  So are the Words of the Requickening Address of the Iroquois.

adam-beach.jpgSo powerful were the Peacemaker’s words, that Hiawatha’s mind wa freed and together, the two men eventually brought peace to the entire tribe of the Iroquois.  They had to conquer the bad mind of Atotarho and according to legend, it was Hiawatha who combed the evil thoughts of this chief from his mind.    They also gave to him the power of absolute veto of any law which he did not deem worthy.  But after Hiawatha and the Peacemaker spoke to him and his mind was changed, he joined the Confederacy.  This was quite a feat in Native America.  Five nations aligned together to bring about peace, harmony and liberty.   There is a great deal more to the story, but this legend stands almost alone in its vision.  The Confederacy was not formed to rule over others.  Others were to have complete freedom of their own lives.  And the delegates to the confederacy were responsible to the people.  It became a government of, by and for the people, truly.  In fact, it inspired Benjamin Franklin, who had an idea of using its model for our own government.  It also inspired Thomas Paine, who is reported to have spent time living amongst the Iroquois.  It also inspired Thomas Jefferson.

moonThere truly was a spirit of freedom and independence that filled Native Ameria long before the white man “discovered” America.  This was so much the case, that it was unwittingly written into James Fenimore Cooper’s books.  In fact, if one were to watch Michael Mann’s most recent rendition of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992), and listen to our hero, Nathaniel, one can hear him state that he is not subject to much at all.  Such was the attitude prevalent throughout Native America.  America was a country of free men and free women, and no “subjects” were to be found.

Such was the legacy left by the great Peacemaker and Hiwatha…a legacy that greeted the people who first came here seeking religious and political freedom.  A legacy that we share to this very day.  I thought — and hope I succeeded in doing so — that you might find this fascinating.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please come on in and let’s talk — I should also tell you that because I am taking a very demanding course at the moment, I’ll be answering your comments during my lunch and dinner hours.  But I will be coming onto the forums to look and see and respond to what your say.  So come on in and let me know your thoughts.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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35 thoughts on “American Heroes — Native American Style”

  1. Oh, Kay, what a terrific post. I taught the Iroquois Constitution in American Lit and how Dekinawidah’s ideas influenced our founding gathers. (that’s how we spelled it 🙂 The students enjoyed the origin of the term “bury the hatchet” that he used. If I’m not mistaken, his ideas still govern the Iroquois confederacy yet today in update New York.

    I just love that term Peacemaker. We sure could use more of them. As well as Adam Beach…thanks for that, too!


  2. This is fascinating, Karen. I love it. You’ve mentioned the Iroquois before but not in detail so I’m glad you talked more about it.

    I heard once that … who? Genghis Khan? Attila the Hun? Whoever it was that stopped the Romans from conquering China…succeeded in uniting all the tribal chinese people. And holding their country for the Chinese.

    In America the closest anyone came was at the Battle of Little Big Horn, when tribes gathered together to fight. But even after that victory, the tribes turned and fought each other soon after. They just could not unite, and because of that, they lost out to the white invaders.

    From your article it appears the Iroquois and others in that area made some headway with it.

  3. Mary, it was the emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BCE – 210 BCE) who united China. Actually, China got it’s name after him. Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227) was a Mongol, who founded Mongol Empire and he and his escendants caused trouble around Eurasia, China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asian countries, and in substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

  4. And Attila (406 – 453), also known as Attila the Hun, was leader (Khagan) of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire which stretched from Germany to the Ural River and from the River Danube to the Baltic Sea. During his rule, he was one of the most fearsome of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires’ enemies: he invaded the Balkans twice and marched through Gaul (modern France) as far as Orleans before being defeated at the Battle of Chalons. He refrained from attacking either Constantinople or Rome. His story that the Sword of Attila had come to his hand by miraculous means, was reported by the Roman Priscus. But in the documentary series called Barbarians they said that Attila was actually paid huge sums of gold so that he would stay away.

  5. Hi Kay, I really enjoyed you post, it is very fasinating info. I sometimes think that was the time when there was true freedom, before the white man came. Today the goverment dictates to us what we came and can’t do.

  6. Loved learning about the early days of the American Indian tribes and how they united. I hate to think of what our country would be like if the visionaries hadn’t copied the example of the Native Americans. I’m sure we’d have been modeled somewhat after the English government with some minor variations of course. The English way of life was all the Colonists knew until they met and engaged with the Natives. All I have to say is I’m glad everything turned out the way it did. In spite of its faults, I’m so grateful to live in this country.

  7. Hi Tanya!

    Yes, I find this whole concept amazingly interesting. Very true American — and yet it’s not a piece of history that i had learned.

    Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

  8. Hi Mary!

    I think that at that time technology-wise, the Indians and the whites were fairly even. Of course the white, who had access to trade beads and other things from other countries, eventually made the tribes dependent on them.

    I think that technology also played a role in their eventual defeat — only because they let themselves become dependent on foreigners who didn’t have their welfare at heart. They could have made the same things themselves and learned how to do it, but instead they became dependent. I think whiskey had something to do with it, too.

    An interesting part of history is that the English, no matter where they have gone to spread their empire, have carefully addicted the natives to some sort of drug — alcohol is after all a drug.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Hi Charlene,

    Yes! And the day is getting closer and closer. Gee, I’m working pretty hard. : ) But soon I’ll be home and I’ll be working pretty hard there, too. I’ll just be home. Yea!

  10. Wow, Minna, I love the history. Another story about Attila the Hun — I believe it was he — is that he caused a town to surrender to him — they did, believing he would let them live — they surrendered themselves, their means of defending themselves, everything. Only to have him round them all up and slaughter them to a man/child. He didn’t respect someone who would give up without a fight.

    I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned here — when someone who cares nothing for you or knows nothing about you — tries to convince you to give up everything you have to them.

  11. Oh, one more thing on the same line of thought — as Benjamin Franklin said, “He who would give up his liberty for a little safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”

    It was something like that. The same sort of thought, but milder put than ole Attila.

  12. Hi Quilt Lady!

    I so agree. I so very much agree. I think, however, that governments try to dictate to usu what we can and can’t do — and they keep passing bills and laws to make this so — but I still think there is a spark of “be free” here in America.

  13. Oh, Linda, I so love how you put this. Yes, despite all her faults and despite all those who would attempt to make slaves of us all, this country still leads the world in the concept of “be free,” I think.

    It’s what made this country great, and I hope it never dies.

  14. Yeah, I heard that story too. Not sure if it was in the Terry Jones’ series Barbarians. Watch it if you have the chance, it’s interesting series.

  15. “when someone who cares nothing for you or knows nothing about you — tries to convince you to give up everything you have to them.”

    Hmm. I heard about how Stalin had told the Russian soldiers how they are going to Finland to “liberate” the people and had we not fought back, we would have been “liberated” straight to Siberia. Those who would have still been alive, anyway. Of course he had already tried to get pieces of Finland by negotiating.

  16. Thanks, Kay! Enjoyed the lesson and the Adam
    Beach photograph! You do know that he is a great
    favorite of mine, don’t you? I miss him when I
    watch Law & Order!

    Pat Cochran

  17. Great post, Kay. I don’t know how you find time to research and write such fascinating posts when you are busy studying as well.

    I think it’s very interesting that so many races/societies, etc have a story of a ‘peacemaker’ of virgin birth. Of course as a Christian, I’m biased, but it amazes me how certain details pre-dated the whites ‘discovery’ of America.

  18. Kay, what a wonderful story. Loved where the grief was lifted from Hiwatha it is so beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Love the history lesson Minna.

  19. Hi Minna!

    Interesting, interesting. And Stalin killed over 60 million of his own people — calling it “liberation.” That’s not my idea of liberation of being free.

    Gift horses have many colors — maybe we should know more of the history of the Russians under Stalin — may it never happen here.

  20. HI Elizabeth!

    Thanks for your comments. Yeah, Adam is, indeed, very handsome. But you know who my current Native American hero is?

    Russell Means. I think he is a true hero.

  21. Hi Pat!

    Maybe it’s lucky for me that I’m one of the few people in the US who doesn’t own a TV and doesn’t watch it, so I’ve never seen it to miss seeing him on it. : )

    Love talking to you here on the forums.

  22. HI Anita Mae!

    Yes, I was amazed to discover this little bit of legend, as well. Oh, my gosh, this course has been long and intense — but I am almost done with it and so am pushing hard to get to the finish line. Soon…

    The research is like candy to me. I love it! : )

  23. Sherry, that part of the story brings tears to my eyes. Also, what these two men accomplished was so great. Without firing a single shot, without war, they changed a whole society toward peace and tried to make that culture free from war.

    That they didn’t succeed isn’t the point — it the point that they started something that we each one continue to this day — “be free — live in peace with your neighbor” These are things we have inherited, I think.

  24. What I meant is that they didn’t succeed in stopping war — they succeeded very much in uniting the Iroquois in peace. It was their vision to bring this peace to the place they called Turtle Island (North America).

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Growing up in Upstate New York – part of the area the Confederacy
    covered – I knew some of the story. However, history was not covered the way it is now. Unfortunately, in school they seldom have the time to cover things in depth. It’s too bad, the kids would remember it better if they would include the interesting details. The arrogance of the european settlers in their attitudes towards the native peoples all over the world is well recorded. The Confederacy was a well functioning “nation” and a model of what the united colonies would become.

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