Published on January 27, 2013 by Casey
Potawatomi legends about the Tree of Peace.
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Earthmaker made the world with trees and fields, with rivers, lakes, and springs, and with hills and valleys. It was beautiful. However, there weren’t any humans, and so one day he decided to make some.
He scooped out a hole in a stream bank and lined the hole with stones to make a hearth, and he built a fire there. Then he took some clay and made a small figure that he put in the hearth. While it baked, he took some twigs and made tongs. When he pulled the figure out of the fire and had let it cool, he moved its limbs and breathed life into it, and it walked away. Earthmaker nonetheless realized that it was only half-baked. That figure became the white people.
Earthmaker decided to try again, and so he made another figure and put it on the hearth. This time he took a nap under a tree while the figure baked, and he slept longer than he intended. When he pulled the second figure out of the fire and had let it cool, he moved its limbs and breathed life into it, and it walked away. Earthmaker realized that this figure was overbaked, and it became the black people.
Earthmaker decided to try one more time. He cleaned the ashes out of the hearth and built a new fire. Then he scooped up some clay and cleaned it of any twigs or leaves, so that it was pure. He made a little figure and put it on the hearth, and this time he sat by the hearth and watched carefully as the figure baked. When this figure was done, he pulled it out of the fire and let it cool. Then he moved its limbs and breathed life into it, and it walked away. This figure was baked just right, and it became the red people.
The red people became many tribes, and they spread across the land. Among these tribes were the Ojibwe, the Ottawa, and the Potawatomi. These three tribes were enemies and fought many battles. One Potawatomi man had ten sons, all of whom were killed in battle. Unbeknownst to him, there was an Ojibwe man who had lost ten sons in these battles, and there was an Ottawa man who had likewise lost ten sons. Each man mourned so much that they wandered away from their tribes, each looking for a place to die in the woods.
The Ojibwe man walked and walked, and eventually he came to a huge tree. The tree had four long roots stretching to the north, east, south, and west, and four huge branches that extended in the same directions. The tree also had one huge root that ran straight toward the center of the earth, and its center limb ran straight up into the sky. The tree was so beautiful, and the view from under it was so tranquil, that the man forgot his sorrow, and eventually he was happy.
As the Ojibwe man sat under the tree, he saw another man approaching in the distance. This newcomer was crying as he walked toward the tree, but eventually he saw the tree’s beauty and stopped under it. The Ojibwe man said, “I lost ten sons in war and was so heartbroken that I wandered away to die, until I came to this tree. Why have you come here?” The newcomer, an Ottawa, said, “I too lost ten sons in war, and I lost myself in grief until I came to this place”. The two men sat and talked of their troubles.
As the two men talked, a third approached weeping. The first two watched as this third came to the tree. When they asked, the third man, a Potawatomi, told how he had lost ten sons in war and had walked in grief until he came to this beautiful place.
The three men talked and realized that their sons had died fighting in the same wars. They concluded that the Great Spirit had brought them together to this tranquil place, where they could hear the spirits speak. They agreed that there had been too much fighting between their tribes, and too much grief. They resolved to go back to their tribes and get them to live in peace. They made three pipes, and each took a pipe of tobacco home to his people as a symbol of peace.
Ten days later, the three old men led their people to the great tree. Each man brought wood from which they built a fire together, and they cooked food from each tribe. They filled a pipe and offered its smoke to the Great Spirit above, to the spirits of the four directions, and then downward to the spirit that keeps the earth from sinking into the water. The tribes each smoked from the pipe of peace and ate of the common meal, and their chiefs agreed that they should live in peace. The three old men agreed to a set of rules to preserve the peace and to guide their peoples. This is how the Potawatomi, the Ojibwe, and Ottawa came to live in peace and to intermarry, as one people.
Dorothy Moulding Brown, 1947, Indian Fireside Tales: Madison, Wisconsin Folklore Society, 7 p.
Harry H. Anderson, ed., 1992, Myths and Legends of Wisconsin Indians, Milwaukee History, vol. 15, no. 1, p. 2-36. (as available at http://188.8.131.52/wirp/ICW- 137.html)