104 Mishosha, or The Magician of the Lakes

Jane Schoolcraft

IN an early age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants than  there  now  are,  there  lived an Indian, in a remote place, who had  a wife and two children.  They  seldom  saw  any  one  out  of the circle of their own lodge. Animals were abundant in so secluded a situation, and the man  found no difficulty in supplying his family with food.

In this way they lived in peace and happiness, which might have continued if the hunter had not found cause to suspect his wife. She secretly cherished an attachment for a young man  whom she accidentally met one day in  the woods.  She even planned the death of her husband for his sake, for she knew if she did not kill her husband, her husband, the moment he detected her crime, would kill her.

The  husband, however, eluded  her project by  his readiness and decision.    He narrowly watched her movements. One day he secretly followed her footsteps into the forest, and having concealed him­self behind a tree, he soon beheld a tall young man approach and lead away his wife.  His  arrows were in his hands, but he did not use  them.  He  thought he would kill her the moment she returned.

Meantime, he went home and sat down to think. At last he came to the determination of quitting her for ever, thinking that her own conscience would punish her sufficiently, and relying on her maternal feelings to take care of the two children, who were boys, he immediately took up his arms and departed.

When the wife returned she was disappointed in not finding her husband, for she had now concerted her plan, and  intended  to  have despatched  him. She waited several days, thinking he might have been led away by the chase, but finding he did not return,  she suspected  the true cause.    Leaving her two children in the lodge, she told them she was going a short distance and would return. She then fled to her paramour and came back no more.

The children thus abandoned, soon made way with the food left in the lodge, and were compelled to quit  it in search of more.  The eldest boy, who was of an intrepid temper, was strongly attached to his brother, frequently carrying him when he became weary, and gathering all the wild fruit he saw. They wandered deeper and deeper into the forest, losing all traces of their  former  habitation,  until they were completely lost in its mazes.

The eldest boy had a knife, with  which he made a bow and arrows, and was thus enabled to kill a few birds for himself and brother. In this manner they continued to pass on, from one piece of forest to another, not knowing whither they were going. At length they saw an opening through the woods, and were shortly afterward delighted to find themselves on the borders of a large lake’. Here the elder bro­ther busied  himself  in picking the seed pods of  the wild  rose,  which   he   preserved   as  food.    In the meantime, the younger brother amused himself by shooting arrows in the sand, one of which happened. to fall into the lake. Panigwum,[1]  the elder brother, not willing to lose  the  arrow,  waded  in the water to reach it. Just as  he  was  about  to  grasp  the arrow, a canoe passed up to him with great rapidity. An old man, sitting in the centre, seized  the affrighted youth and placed him in  the canoe.  In vain the boy addressed  him-” My granfather, (a term of respect for old people,) pray take my little brother also. Alone, I cannot go with you ; he will starve if I leave him.” Mishosha, (the old man,) only laughed at him. Then uttering the charm, Chemaun Poll, and giving his canoe a slap, it glided through  the  water  with  inconceivable swiftness. In a few moments they  reached  the habitation  of the magician, standing on an island in the centre of the lake. Here he  lived  with  his  two  daughters, who managed the affairs of his household. Leading the’ young man up to the lodge, he addressed his eldest daughter.    ”  Here,” said  he,  ” my daughter, I have brought a young man to be your husband.” Husband ! thought the young woman ; rather ano­ther victim of your bad arts, and your insatiate enmity to the human race. But she made no reply, seeming thereby to acquiesce in her father’s will.

The young man thought he saw surprise depicted in the eyes of the daughter, during the scene of this introduction, and determined to watch events nar­rowly. In the evening he overheard the two daugh­ters in conversation. “There,” said the eldest daughter, “I told you he  would  not  be  satisfied with his last sacrifice. He has brought  another victim, under the pretense of providing me a husband. Husband, indeed ! the poor youth will be in some horrible predicament before another sun has set. When shall we  be  spared  the  scenes of vice and wickedness which are daily taking place before our eyes.”


Panigwun took the first opportunity of acquainting the daughters how he had been carried off, and. been compelled to leave his little brother on the shore. They told him to wait until their father was asleep, then to get up and take his canoe, and using the charm he had obtained, it would carry him quickly to his brother. That he could carry him food, prepare a lodge for him, and be back before daybreak.

He did, in every respect, as he had been directed­ the canoe obeyed the charm, and carried him safely over, and after providing for the subsistence of his brother, told him that in a short time he should come for him.   Then  returning  to the enchanted island, he resumed his place in the lodge, before the magi­cian awoke. Once, during the night, Mishosha awoke, and not seeing his destined son-in-law, asked his daughter what had become of him. She replied that he had merely stepped out, and would be back soon. This satisfied  him.  In  the morning, finding the young man in the lodge, his suspicions were completely  lulled.   ” I  see, my  daughter,” said he, ” you have told the truth.”

As soon as the sun arose, Mishosha thus addressed the young man. ” Come, my son, I have a mind to gather gulls’ eggs. I know an island where there are great quantities, and I wish your aid in getting them.” The young man saw no reasonable excuse; and getting into the canoe, the magician gave it a slap, and uttering a command, they were in an instant at the island. They found· the shores strown with gulls’ eggs, and the island full of birds of this  species.  “Go, my son,” said  the old man, ” and gather the eggs, while I remain in the canoe-.” But Panigwun had no sooner got ashore, than Mishosha pushed his canoe a little from the land, and exclaimed-” Listen, ye gulls ! you have long expected an offering from me. I now give you a victim.   Fly down and devour  him.”   Then striking his canoe, he left the young man to his fate.

The birds immediately came in clouds around their victim, darkening the air with their numbers. But the youth seizing the first that came near him, and drawing his knife, cut off its head.   He immediately skinned the bird, and hung the feathers as a trophy on his breast.  ” Thus,” he exclaimed, “will I treat every one of you who approaches me. For­ hear, therefore, and listen to my words.  It is not for you to eat human flesh. You have been given by the Great  Spirit as food for man.  Neither is it in the power of that old magician to do you any good. Take me on your backs and carry me to his lodge, and you shall see that I am not ungrateful.” The gulls obeyed; collecting in a cloud for him to rest upon, and quickly flew to the lodge, where they arrived before the magician. The daughters were surprised at his return, but Mishosha,  on entering the lodge, conducted himself as if nothing extraordinary had taken place.

The next day he again addressed the youth :­  “Come, my son,” said he, “I will take you to an island covered with the moat beautiful atones and pebbles,  looking like silver.  I  wish  you  to  assist me in gathering some of them. they will make handsome ornaments, and possess great medicinal virtues.”  Entering  the  canoe,  the magician  made use  of  his  charm,  and  .they  were  carried   in  a few moments to a solitary bay in an island, where there was a smooth sandy beach. The young man went ashore as usual, and began to search. “A little farther, a little farther,” cried the old  man.  “Upon that rock you will get some fine ones.”  Then pushing his canoe  from  land- “Come,  thou  great  king of fishes,” cried the old man: “you have long expected  an offering from me.  Come, and eat the stranger whom I have just put ashore  on  your island.” So saying, he commanded his canoe  to return, and it was soon out of sight.

Immediately, a monstrous fish thrust his long snout from the water, crawling partially on the beach, and opening wide his jaws to receive his victim. “When!” exclaimed the young man, drawing his knife and putting himself in a threatening attitude, “when did you ever taste human flesh? Have a care of yourself. You were given by the Great Spirit to man, and if you, or any of your tribe eat human flesh,you will fall sick and die. Listen not to the words of that wicked man, but carry me back to his island, in return for which I will present you a piece of red cloth.” The fish complied,  raising his back out of the water, to allow the young man to get on. Then taking his way through  the lake, he landed his charge safely on the island before the return of the magician. The daughters were still more surprised to see that he had escaped the arts of their father the second time.  But the old  man on his return maintained his taciturnity and self composure. He could not, however, help saying to himself- ” What manner of boy is this, who is ever escaping from my power. But his spirit shall not save him. I will entrap him to-morrow. Ha, ha, ha!”

Next day the magician addressed the young man as follows: “Come,  my  son,” said  he, “you  must go with me to procure some  young eagles.  I  wish to tame them. I have discovered an island  where they are in great abundance.” When they  had reached the island, Mishosha led him inland until they came to the foot of a tall pine, upon which the nests were. “Now, my son,”  said  he,  “climb  up this  tree and  bring down  the  birds.”  The  young ma obeyed.  When  he  had  with  great  difficulty got near the nest, “Now,” exclaimed the magician, addressing the tree, “stretch  yourself  up and  be very tall.” The tree rose up at  the  command. “Listen, ye eagles,” continued the old man, “you have long expected a gift from me. I now present you this boy, who has had the presumption to mo­lest your young.  Stretch  forth  your  claws  and seize him.”  So saying  he  left the  young  man  to his fate, and returned.

But the intrepid youth drawing his knife, and cutting off the head of the first eagle that menaced him, raised his voice and exclaimed, ” Thus will I deal with all who come near me. What right have you, ye ravenous birds, who were made to feed on beasts, to eat human flesh? Is it because that cowardly  old canoe-man  has  bid  you do so?_  He is an old woman. He can neither do you good nor harm. See, I have already slain one of your  number.  Respect  my  bravery,  and carry me  back  that I may show you how I shall treat you.” The eagles, pleased with his spirit, assented, and clustering thick around him formed a seat with their backs, and flew toward the enchanted island. As they crossed the water they passed over the magician, lying half asleep in his canoe.

The return of the young man was hailed with joy by the daughters, who now plainly saw that he was under  the  guidance  of  a  strong  spirit.   But   the ire of the  old man  was  excited, although  he kept his  temper  under subjection.  He   taxed  his wits for some new mode of  ridding  himself  of  the youth, who had so  successfully  baffled  his  skill. He next invited him to go a hunting.

Taking his canoe, they proceeded to an island and  built  a  lodge  to  shelter  themselves  during the night.    In  the   mean  while  the  magician caused a deep fall of snow, with a storm of wind and severe cold. According to custom, the young man  pulled off his moccasins and leggings and hung them be­fore the fire to dry. After he had gone to sleep the magician, watching his opportunity, got up, and taking one moccasin and one legging threw them into the fire. He then  went to sleep.  In the morning, stretching himself as he arose and uttering an exclamation of surprise, “My son,” said  he, “what has become of your moccasin and legging ? I be­lieve this is the moon in which fire  attracts, and I fear they have been drawn in.” The young man suspected the true cause of his loss, and rightly attributed it to a design of the magician to freeze him to death on the march. But he maintained  the strictest silence, and drawing his conaus over his head thus communed with himself: ” I  have full faith in the Manito  who has  preserved  me thus far, I do not fear that he will forsake me in this cruel and emergency. Great is his power,  and  I  invoke  it now that he may enable me to prevail over this wicked enemy of mankind.”

He then threw on the remaining moccasin and legging, and taking a dead coal from the fireplace, invoked his spirit to give it efficacy, and blackened his foot and leg as far as the lost garment usually reached. He then got up and announced himself ready for the march. In vain Mishosha led him through snows and  over  morasses,  hoping to see the lad sink at every moment. But in this he was disappointed, and for the first time they returned home together.

Taking courage from this  success,  the  young man now determined to try bis own power, having previously consulted with the daughters. They all agreed that the life the old man led was detestable, and that whoever would rid the world of him, would entitle himself to the thanks of the human race.

On  the  following day  the  young   man  thus ad­dressed his hoary captor. ” My grandfather, I have often gone with you on perilous excursions and never murmured.  I  must  now  request  that  you will accompany me. I wish to visit my little bro­ther, and to bring him home with me.” They ac­cordingly went on a visit to the main land, and found the  little lad in   the  spot  where  he   had  been left. After taking him into the canoe, the young man again addressed the magician:  “My  grandfather, will you go and cut me a few of those red willows on the bank, I wish to prepare some smoking mix­ture.” “Certainly, my son,” replied the old man, “what you wish is not very  hard.  Ha,  ha, ha!  do you think me too old to get up there?”  No sooner was Mishosha ashore, than the young man, placing himself in the proper position struck the canoe with his hand, and pronouncing the charm, N’cHJMAUN PoLL, the canoe immediately flew through  the water  on  its return  to the  island.    It was evening when the two brothers arrived, and carried the canoe ashore. But the elder daughter informed the young man that unless he sat up and  watched  the canoe, and kept his hand upon it, such was the power of their father, it would slip off and return to him. Panigwun watched faithfully till near the dawn of day, when he could no longer resist the drowsiness which oppressed him, and  he fell into a short doze. In the meantime  the canoe slipped  off  and sought its master, who soon returned in high  glee.  ”  Ha, ha, ha!  my son,” said he;  “you  thought to  play me a  trick.  It  was very clever.  But you see I am too old for you.” 

A short time after, the youth again addressed the magician. ” My grandfather,  I wish to try my skill in hunting. It is said there is plenty of game on an island not far off, and I have to request that you will take me there in your canoe.” They  accordingly went to the island and spent the day in  hunting. Night coming on they put up a temporary lodge. When the magician had sunk into a profound sleep, the young man got up, and taking one of Mishosha’s leggings and moccasins from the place where they hung, threw them into the fire, thus retaliating the artifice before played upon himself. He had discovered that the foot and leg were the only vulnerable parts of the magician’s body. Having com­mitted these articles to the fire, he besought his Manito that he would raise a great storm of snow, wind, and hail, and then laid himself down  beside the old man. Consternation was depicted on the countenance of the latter, when he awoke in the morning and found his moccasin and legging missing. “I believe, my grandfather,” said the young man, ” that this is the moon in which fire attracts, and I fear your foot and leg garment have been drawn in.” Then rising and bidding the old man follow him, he began the morning’s hunt, frequently turning to see how Mishosha kept up. He saw him faltering at every step and almost benumbed with cold, but encouraged him to follow, saying, we shall soon get through and reach the shore; although he took pains, at the same time, to lead him in round­ about ways, so as to let the frost take  complete effect. At length the old man reached the  brink  of the island where the woods are succeeded by a bor­der of smooth  sand.  But  he  could  go  no farther; his legs became stiff and refused motion, and he found himself fixed to the spot. But he still kept stretching out his arms and swinging  his  body  to and fro. Every moment he found the numbness creeping higher. He felt his legs  growing downward like roots, the feathers of his head turned to leaves, and in a few seconds he stood a tall and stiff sycamore, leaning toward the water.

Panigwun leaped into the canoe, and pronounc­ing the charm, was soon transported to the island, where he  related  his  victory  to  the  daughters. They applauded the deed, agreed to put on mortal shapes, become wives to the two young men, and for ever quit the enchanted island. And passing im­mediately over to the main land, they lived lives of happiness and peace.



Algic Researches Comparing Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians, First Series Indian Tales and Legends in Two Volumes, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Public Domain

  1. The end wing feather.

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