A Seneca Legend of Hi-nuⁿ and Niagara

A beautiful Indian maiden was about to be compelled by her family to marry a hideous old Indian.

Despair was in her heart. She knew that there was no escape for her, so in desperation she leaped into her canoe and pushed it from shore on the roaring waters of Niagara. She heeded not that she was going to her death, preferring the angry waters to the arms of her detested lover.

Now, the God of Cloud and Rain, the great deity Hi-nuⁿ who watches over the harvest, dwelt in a cave behind the rushing waters. From his home he saw the desperate launching of the maiden’s canoe; saw her going to almost certain destruction. He spread out his wings and flew to her rescue, and caught her just as her frail bark was dashing on the rocks below.

The grateful Indian girl lived for many weeks in Hi-nuⁿ’s cave. He taught her many new things. She learned from him why her people died so often—why sickness was always busy among them. He told her how a snake lay coiled up under the ground beneath the village, and how he crept out and poisoned the springs, because he lived upon human beings and craved their flesh more and more, so that he could never get enough if they died from natural causes.

Hi-nuⁿ kept the maiden in till he learned that the ugly old suitor was dead. Then he bade her return and tell her tribe what she had learned of the great Hi-nuⁿ.

She taught them all he had told her and begged them to break up their settlement and travel nearer to the lake; and her words prevailed. For a while sickness ceased, but it broke out again, for the serpent was far too cunning to be so easily outwitted. He dragged himself slowly but surely after the people, and but for Hi-nuⁿ’s influence would have undermined the new settlement as he had the former one. Hi-nuⁿ watched him until he neared the creek, then he launched a thunderbolt at him. A terrible noise awoke all the dwellers by the lake, but the snake was only injured, not killed. Hi-nuⁿ was forced to launch another thunderbolt, and another and another, before, finally, the poisoner was slain.

The great dead snake was so enormous that when the Indians laid his body out in death it stretched over more than twenty arrow flights, and as he floated down the waters of Niagara it was as if a mountain appeared above them. His corpse was too large to pass the rocks, so it became wedged in between them and the waters rose over it mountains high. As the weight of the monster pressed on the rocks they gave way and thus the horseshoe form, that remains to this day, was fashioned. But the Indians had no more fever in their settlement.

Myths of the Iroquois