AN INDIAN LEGEND
Many years ago there lived in the west a tribe of Indians who
called themselves Illinois. They were not savage and warlike, as
the tribes around them were, but they liked to live in peace,
hunting the deer in the great woods, and taking the fish from the
On the bank of a pretty little river that flows into the great
Mississippi a small band of these Indians had built their
wigwams. All along the stream were tall oaks and spreading walnut
trees, with here and there a grove of wild plums or a thicket of
hazel bushes. But only half a mile away began the great prairie,
where there was neither tree nor bush, but only tall grass; and
it stretched like a green sea as far as the eye could reach.
What there was on the other side of the prairie the Indians did
not know. But they had been told that a fierce race of men lived
there who loved only war.
"We will live quietly in our own place," they said, "and
these strangers will not molest us."
And so for many years they lived, in a careless, happy way by the
side of the pretty river; and few of their young men dared to
wander far from the friendly shelter of the woods.
One day in summer, when the woods were full of the songs of
birds, and the prairie of the sweet odors of flowers, the
Illinois had a festival under the oaks that shaded their village.
The young people played merry games on the green, while their
fathers and mothers sat in the doors of the wigwams and talked
of the peaceful days that were past.
All at once a savage yell was heard in the hazel thicket by the
river; then another from the edge of the prairie; and then a
third from the lower end of the village. In a moment all was
terror and confusion. Too well the Illinois knew the meaning of
these cries. The savage strangers from beyond the prairie had
come at last.
The attack had been so sudden and fierce that the Illinois could
not defend themselves. They scattered and fled far into the woods
on the other side of the little river. Then, one by one, they
came together in a rocky glen where they could hide from danger.
But even there they could hear the yells of their foes, and they
could see the black smoke that rose from their burning wigwams.
What could they do, now that this ruin had at last come upon
them? The bravest among them were in despair. They threw their
bows upon the ground. The warriors were gloomy and silent. They
said it was useless to fight with foes so strong and fierce. The
women and children wept as though heartbroken.
But at the very moment when all seemed lost, a young girl stood
up among them. She had been well known in the little village. Her
thoughtful, quiet ways had endeared her to old and young alike.
Her name was Watseka.
There were no tears in Watseka's eyes as she turned her face
toward the gloomy warriors. All her quietness of manner was gone.
There was no fear in her voice as she spoke.
"Are you men," she said, "and do you thus give up all hope?
your faces toward the village. Do you see the smoke of our
burning homes? Our enemies are counting the scalps they have
taken. They are eating the deer that you killed yesterday on your
own hunting grounds. And do you stand here and do nothing?"
Some of the warriors turned their faces toward the burning
village, but no one spoke.
"Very well," said Watseka. "If you dare not, then I will
what can be done. Follow me, women of the Illinois! The strangers
shall not laugh because they have driven us so easily from our
homes. They shall not feed upon the corn that we have raised. We
will show them what the Illinois can do. Follow me!"
As Watseka spoke, her eyes sparkled with a light which filled
every heart with new courage. With one accord the women and girls
gathered around her.
"Lead us, Watseka!" they cried. "We will follow you. We are
They armed themselves with the bows and the hatchets which the
warriors had thrown upon the ground. Those who could find nothing
else, picked up stones and sticks. The boys joined them, their
eyes flashing with eagerness. All felt that Watseka would lead
them to victory.
Then it was that courage came into the hearts of the warriors.
"Are we men, and do we let the women and boys thus outdo us?"
they cried. "No, we alone will drive our foes from our home. We
alone will avenge our kinsmen whom they have slain. We will fear
nothing. We will never rest until we have won back all that we have lost!"
And so Watseka and the women and boys did not go into battle. But
the warriors of the Illinois in the darkness of the night crept
silently back through the shadows of the wood. While their foes
lay sleeping by the fires of the burning wigwams, they swept down
upon them like a thunderbolt from the clear sky. Their revenge
was swift and terrible.
And so the Illinois were again at peace, for the fierce warriors
who dwelt on the other side of the prairie dared never molest
them again. And they rebuilt their wigwams by the side of the
pleasant river, and there they lived in comfort for many long
years. Nor did they ever forget how the maiden, Watseka, had
saved them in their hour of greatest need. The story of her
bravery was told and retold a thousand times; the warriors talked
of her beauty; the women praised her goodness; other tribes heard
of her and talked about the hero maiden of the Illinois; and so
long as there were Indians in that western land, the name of
Watseka was remembered and honored.
Prairie, a treeless plain.
Wigwam, an Indian house.
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