Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
The Legend Of The Falls

On the Spirit-Island sitting under midnight's misty moon,
Lo I see the spirits flitting o'er the waters one by one!
Slumber wraps the silent city, and the droning mills are dumb;
One lone whippowil's shrill ditty calls her mate that ne'er will come.
Sadly moans the mighty river, foaming down the fettered falls,
Where of old he thundered ever o'er abrupt and lofty walls.
Great _Unktehee_--god of waters--lifts no more his mighty head;
Fled he with the timid otters?--lies he in the cavern dead?
Hark!--the waters hush their sighing and the whippowil her call,
Through the moon-lit mists are flying dusky shadows silent all.
Lo from out the waters foaming--from the cavern deep and dread--
Through the glamour and the gloaming comes a spirit of the dead.
Sad she seems; her tresses raven on her tawny shoulders rest;
Sorrow on her brow is graven, in her arms a babe is pressed.
Hark!--she chants the solemn story--sings the legend sad and old,
And the river wrapt in glory listens while the tale is told.
Would you hear the legend olden hearken while I tell the tale--
Shorn, alas, of many a golden, weird Dakota chant and wail.


THE LEGEND


Tall was young Wanata, stronger than _Heyoka's_ giant form,--
Laughed at flood and fire and hunger, faced the fiercest winter storm.
When _Wakinyan_ flashed and thundered, when Unktehee raved and roared,
All but brave _Wanata_ wondered, and the gods with fear implored.
When the war-whoop shrill resounded, calling friends to meet the foe,
From the _teepee_ swift he bounded, armed with polished lance and bow.
In the battle's din and clangor fast his fatal arrows flew,
Flashed his fiery eyes with anger,--many a stealthy foe he slew.
Hunter swift was he and cunning, caught the beaver, slew the bear,
Overtook the roebuck running, dragged the panther from his lair.
Loved was he by many a maiden; many a dark eye glanced in vain;
Many a heart with sighs was laden for the love it could not gain.
So they called the brave "_Ska Capa_;" but the fairest of the band--
Moon-faced, meek Anpetu-Sapa--won the hunter's heart and hand.

From the wars with triumph burning, from the chase of bison fleet,
To his lodge the brave returning, spread his trophies at her feet.
Love and joy sat in the _teepee_; him a black-eyed boy she bore;
But alas, she lived to weep a love she lost forevermore.
For the warriors chose Wanata first _Itancan_ of the band.
At the council-fire he sat a leader brave, a chieftain grand.
Proud was fair Anpetu-Sapa, and her eyes were glad with joy;
Proud was she and very happy with her warrior and her boy.
But alas, the fatal honor that her brave Wanata won,
Brought a bitter woe upon her,--hid with clouds the summer sun.
For among the brave Dakotas wives bring honor to the chief.
On the vine-clad Minnesota's banks he met the Scarlet Leaf.

Young and fair was Ape-duta--full of craft and very fair;
Proud she walked a queen of beauty with her dark, abundant hair.
In her net of hair she caught him--caught Wanata with her wiles;
All in vain his wife besought him--begged in vain his wonted smiles.
Ape-duta ruled the _teepee_--all Wanata's smiles were hers;
When the lodge was wrapped in sleep a star beheld the mother's tears.
Long she strove to do her duty for the black-eyed babe she bore;
But the proud, imperious beauty made her sad forevermore.
Still she dressed the skins of beaver, bore the burdens, spread the fare;
Patient ever, murmuring never, though her cheeks were creased with care.
In the moon _Maga-o kada_, twice an hundred years ago--
Ere the "Black Robe's" sacred shadow
     stalked the prairies' pathless snow--
Down the swollen, rushing river, in the sunset's golden hues,
From the hunt of bear and beaver came the band in swift canoes.
On the queen of fairy islands, on the _Wita Waste's_ shore
Camped Wanata, on the highlands just above the cataract's roar.
Many braves were with Wanata; Ape-duta, too, was there,
And the sad Anpetu-sapa spread the lodge with wonted care.
Then above the leafless prairie leaped the fat-faced, laughing moon,
And the stars--the spirits fairy--walked the welkin one by one.
Swift and silent in the gloaming on the waste of waters blue,
Speeding downward to the foaming, shot Wanata's birch canoe.
In it stood Anpetu-sapa--in her arms her sleeping child;
Like a wailing Norse-land _drapa_ rose her death-song weird and wild:

 _Mihihna_, _Mihihna_, my heart is stone;
  The light is gone from my longing eyes;
 The wounded loon in the lake alone
  Her death-song sings to the moon and dies.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, the path is long,
  The burden is heavy and hard to bear;
 I sink--I die, and my dying song
  Is a song of joy to the false one's ear.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, my young heart flew
  Far away with my brave to the bison-chase;
 To the battle it went with my warrior true,
  And never returned till I saw his face.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, my brave was glad
  When he came from the chase of the roebuck fleet;
 Sweet were the words that my hunter said
  As his trophies he laid at Anpetu's feet.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, the boy I bore--
  When the robin sang and my brave was true,
 I can bear to look on his face no more,
  For he looks, _Mihihna_, so much like you.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, the Scarlet Leaf
  Has robbed my boy of his father's love;
 He sleeps in my arms--he will find no grief
  In the star-lit lodge in the land above.

 _Mihihna, Mihihna_, my heart is stone;
  The light is gone from my longing eyes;
 The wounded loon in the lake alone
  Her death-song sings to the moon and dies.

Swiftly down the turbid torrent, as she sung her song she flew;
Like a swan upon the current, dancing rode the light canoe.
Hunters hurry in the gloaming; all in vain Wanata calls;
Singing through the surges foaming, lo she plunges o'er the Falls.

Long they searched the sullen river--searched for leagues along the shore,
Bark or babe or mother never saw the sad Dakotas more;
But at night or misty morning oft the hunters heard her song,
Oft the maidens heard her warning in their mellow mother-tongue.
On the bluffs they sat enchanted till the blush of beamy dawn;
Spirit Isle, they say, is haunted, and they call the spot Wakan
Many summers on the highland in the full moon's golden glow--
In the woods on Fairy Island,CR walked a snow-white fawn and doe--
Spirits of the babe and mother sadly seeking evermore
For a father's love another turned away with evil power.

Sometimes still when moonbeams shimmer through the maples on the lawn,
In the gloaming and the glimmer walk the silent doe and fawn;
And on Spirit Isle or near it, under midnight's misty moon,
Oft is seen the mother's spirit, oft is heard her mournful tune.