Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

The Rattlesnake God

Mr. Henry had traveled several days with the Indians going to Fort Niagara to make peace. One day the wind was blowing so hard that they could not go on. So they camped on a point in Lake Huron.

While the Indians were building a hut, Mr. Henry was lighting a fire. He went off a little way to get dry wood, and while he was picking up sticks he heard a strange sound. It lasted only a little while; but, when Mr. Henry went a little farther, it began again. He looked up into the air to see where it came from. Then he looked down on the ground, and saw a large rattlesnake coiled close to his naked leg. If he had taken one step more, he would have stepped on it, and it would have bitten him.

He now ran back to the canoe to get his gun to kill the snake.

"What are you doing?" asked the Indians.

"I am going to kill a rattlesnake," he said.

"Oh, no! don't do that," they said.

The Indians all got their tobacco bags and pipes, and went to the place where the snake had been seen. It was still lying in a coil.



The Indians now stood round the snake, and one after another spoke to it. They called it their grandfather. But they took care not to go too close to their grandfather. They stood oft and filled their pipes with tobacco. Each one in turn blew tobacco smoke at the snake. The snake seemed to like it. For half an hour it lay there in a coil, and breathed the smoke. Then it slowly stretched itself out at full length, and seemed in a very good humor. It was more than four feet long.

After having more smoke blown at it, it slowly crept away. The Indians followed, begging their grandfather, as they called it, to take care of their families while they were gone. They also asked that the snake would open the heart of the English general so that he would give them a great deal of rum. One of the chiefs begged the snake to take no notice of the insult offered to him by the white man, who would have killed it if the Indians had not stopped him. They also begged that it would remain and live in their country.

The Indians thought that the snake was a spirit or god in this form. They thought that it had been sent to stop them on their way. They were almost ready to turn back, but Mr. Henry persuaded them to go on.

The next morning was calm. The Indians took a short course by sailing straight to an island out in the lake. But after they had got far out, the wind began to blow very hard. They expected every moment that their canoe would be swallowed up by the waves. They began to pray to the rattlesnake to help them. One of the chiefs resolved to make a sacrifice to the snake. He took a dog, and tied its legs together, and threw it into the water. He asked the snake spirit to be satisfied with this. But the wind continued to grow higher, and so another dog was thrown into the water, and some tobacco was thrown with it. The chief told Grandfather Snake that the man who wanted to kill him was really a white man, and no kin to the snake or to the Indians.

Some of the Indians began to think of throwing Mr. Henry in after the dog and the tobacco to satisfy the snake spirit; but the wind went down, and they soon got to the island. Some days afterward the party came to the fort. The English general was very glad to see Mr. Henry, and his long captivity was over, in spite of the anger of the rattlesnake god of the Indians.