Juvenile Instructor » Joseph Smith in Iroquois Country: The Handsome Lake Story
 


Joseph Smith in Iroquois Country: The Handsome Lake Story

By: Guest - June 30, 2010

[This is a continuation of sorts of an earlier post on Native Americans and early Mormonism.–David G.]

Joseph Smith and the Code of Handsome Lake

Lori Taylor, Ph.D.

Lori Taylor has three degrees in American Studies: Ph.D. from the SUNY at Buffalo, M.A. from The George Washington University, and B.A. from Brigham Young University. Through all of those degrees, she chased down the ways people frame and reframe the cultural and historical tidbits from which they make deep meaning. The joy in historiography for Lori is the story that makes THEN interesting NOW.

In 1994, sitting in a Western-themed lodge in Billings, Montana, a friend and colleague told me a story that I spent the next several years hunting down. I’m trained as a folklorist and oral historian, so the play of story, memory, and forgetting influence my understanding of histories. Whether the concept of “truth” plays any part in an exploration of this story, I’m not so sure. If the concept of “fact” is slippery for historians, “truth” is even more so.

“You’re a Mormon?” Nicholas said to me. “Oh, boy, do I have a good story to tell you.”

He spent more than an hour telling me about a sundance at Turtle Mountain in 1987 when dancers were talking as they prepared for the dance. It was here that he first heard the story he told me.

“Hey, you guys ever hear the story of how the Mormons came to be?” Wabanimkee had asked Nicholas and the other dancers. “The real story?”[1]

He told them about hard times in western New York after the War of 1812. The Senecas’ transition from their pre-white-settlement lives to the new reality after two generations was not going well. Iroquois have long been farmers, but crops had failed during the year of no summer in 1816. The local Indian agent wrote, “The situation of the Indians is truly deplorable.”[2]

During this period of transition and difficulty, the story goes, a young Joseph Smith worked as a field hand. He met Seneca field hands who were not like the other Senecas who were “into alcohol and debauchery and stuff.” He asked them why they were “so solid, so stable, so strong. And they say, well, they were followers of Handsome Lake.” Who was Handsome Lake? They told him.

Handsome Lake spent the last 15 years of his life, from 1800 to 1815, encouraging his people to turn away from alcohol, gambling, promiscuity, witchcraft, and the worst excesses that came with the settlers. He asked them to follow a code and a ceremonial cycle that maintained their Haudenosaunee identity while also embracing elements white Christian values. He preached of the need to adjust in order to survive. It wasn’t until 1826 that the women Faithkeepers of Tonawanda asked Handsome Lake’s grandson to recall the words of the teacher.[3] From these recollections, they created the Code of Handsome Lake, which has since evolved into the Gaiwiio (Good Word), the syncretic American religion practiced today as the longhouse religion of the Haudenosaunee. For most Iroquois, Handsome Lake is a prophet.

The Seneca field hands told Joseph Smith that Handsome Lake “found a way of blending” the best of Iroquois traditions and the best of Christian traditions “because his vision told him that they only way his people were going to survive is if they held on to the root, the main root of who they were throughout time that gave them a sense of identity and strength and consistency of heritage.” They had to incorporate the new into the old “in order for them to get along in this new society that was forming.”

Hearing the story of mixing two world views into a New World view, Joseph Smith said, “this is just what the white people need because they’re just as pitiful as the Indians are. And, because it’s a new world for everybody, what the white people need to do is to take the best of their Christian heritage and traditions and stuff that come out of their European ways and mix it with the indigenous ways of the people who have lived on this land for a long time.”

“And, so what he decided, what was really needed was an equivalent of Handsome Lake’s Gaiwiio, but for the white people, maybe with a little more Christian emphasis.”

What about all of the books and gold, the dancers asked the storyteller. The Senecas helped Joseph Smith, he said. “We’ll be better, us Indians will be better off if you white people do just like we did to get along here in this new world. We’ll be better off if you folks can understand us a little bit more by taking in some of our world view, too. So, we will help you. We will help you bring this new word. We will help you bring the Word to your own people.”

The teller of the story goes on to outline melting of the gold paid Tonawanda Senecas by the British for their help during the War of 1812 into tablets like Moses’ commandments, a story that bears no resemblance to reports of thin, brass plates found in construction of the Erie Canal during that generation. They told their stories in their own writing, taught him how to read it, then told him how he would make the discovery of his golden book a media event.

The story ends, and the sundance went on. Nicholas told me the story, and he told a few others, just as Wabanimkee had told a few others before.

In the years I spent asking whether such events could be possible let alone plausible—years I spent in graduate school in western New York with Haudenosaunee teachers, students, and friends—I heard a few much shorter versions of the story.

Among the questions I asked during my research was, what other comparisons have been made by those familiar with both the Iroquois longhouse and Mormonism? Edmund Wilson, on a tour of the Six Nations for the New Yorker in the 1950s, visited Philip Cook, Mohawk of Akwesasne. Cook was a convert to the LDS church. He told Wilson that he wondered whether Joseph Smith might have been influenced by Handsome Lake through Senecas in western New York, but “he concluded that no white man at the time could ever have had access to their ceremonies or understood what was said if he had.”[4]

Tracing the lines of acquaintances of all the people I know who know this story (at least, those who told me they know this story),[5] I find that one man knew them all or knew who told them. In another of Edmund Wilson’s articles for the New Yorker, he wrote of Wallace “Mad Bear” Anderson, in 1958 a dynamic man of 31 years old. Mad Bear become one of those elders who for young people in the 1960s and 1970s imparted Indian wisdom and stories. He also, in his extensive travels, made connections with indigenous peoples around the world and worked to bring them together. He spread Iroquois stories and his contemporary interpretations far and wide as a merchant seaman then as a travelling elder.

Mad Bear Anderson is the trickster figure in the story of Handsome Lake followers and Joseph Smith—possibly a source, possibly just a very strong teller of the tale.

Could these events have happened?

On the one hand, there are parallels between Handsome Lake’s teachings and Book of Mormon, economic and social interactions between Iroquois and white settlers at the time were still extensive during the early decades of the 19th century, and Lucy Mack Smith wrote that Joseph talked about Indians “as if he had spent his whole life among them.”[6] Joseph Smith was interested in the people who lived around him. Young Joseph was a member of the juvenile debating club in Palmyra during 1822 when Red Jacket, arguably the most widely-known Seneca of this period, delivered a speech in town. Joseph also liked to hang out on Ganargua Creek (Mud Creek) in the area where Iroquois travelers camped. He had interest and access.

On the other hand, melting down gold for thick tablets seems unlikely for quite a few reasons, including economic reality and cultural skill sets, and a coordinated cross-cultural media event is more of our day than of the 19th century. Even if such an event as described in the story actually happened in time, it is unlikely there would be any historically useful trace beyond memory through story.

Is the story possible? Sure. Is it plausible? Probably not, at least not in the specifics. After 200 years, a story can stretch to meet a lot of different needs. I’ve frequently heard people say after hearing the story, “I always wondered about that.” This story makes connections between peoples, connecting a few dots of curiosity. That may be the need it meets. Then again, it may bring up more questions than it claims to answer as it sparks an interest in what happened hundreds of years ago between early Mormons and their Haudenosaunee neighbors.

A generation ago, after scholars went through New York, turned it upside down and shook it out, someone asked if there is “anything new to be found in the history of the Church in New York.”[7]

Scholars have looked for influences on Mormonism in Puritan roots, evangelical revivals, hermetic traditions, folk magic, and in various social movements. Given the fact that Joseph Smith lived in Iroquoia—New York, Ontario, and beyond—we can include those historical sources for another potential area of influence. There is plenty “anything new” in Mormon history where it meets the parallel space of Indian Country. I’m confident more areas of influence will be added to the list in time as well.

Of course there is an endless new history to be written. We look in different places. We find different traces of the past. We ask different questions as we ourselves change. And, we rewrite histories we thought we knew when they no longer answer the questions we ask about our past. If history weren’t so fluid, there wouldn’t be much point in our discussing it here.

NOTES

The story and the questions come from my PhD dissertation, Telling Stories about Mormons and Indians (State University of New York at Buffalo, 2000).

[1] Nicholas C. P. Vrooman, “Handsome Lake, Joseph Smith, and the Word,” recorded 7 November 1994. For clarity, I’ve made my paraphrase and quotation of the story italics.

[2] Erastus Granger to Acting Secretary of War, George Graham, 20 January 1817. In Charles M. Snyder, ed., Red and White on the New York Frontier: A Struggle for Survival. Insights from the Papers of Erastus Granger, Indian Agent, 1807-1819 (Harrison, New York: Harbor Hill Books, 1978): 85.

[3] Elisabeth Tooker, “Iroquois Since 1820,” in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978): 452. There were others who contributed to the codification of the teachings of Handsome Lake as well.

[4] The New Yorker articles were published as Edmund Wilson, Apologies to the Iroquois (1959, 1960; Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991): 123.

[5] Even as a colleague read over this post before I sent it, he said, “Now I understand better what my grandfather said to me about Seneca gold.” People I’ve known for years sometimes come up with pieces around the edges of this story.

[6] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S.W. Richards, 1853): 85. If she told her stories in chronological order, the dates of these recitals would be 1823 or 1824.

[7] Chad Flake, review of The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History, eds. F. Mark McKiernan, Alma R. Blair, Paul M. Edwards, BYU Studies 15/3 (Spring 1975): 373.



28 Comments

  1. Thanks for the overview. I need to make time to read your dissy. This is fun stuff.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 30, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  2. This was a fun–not to mention informative–read. Thanks.

    Comment by Ben — July 1, 2010 @ 7:07 am

  3. Very interesting. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 1, 2010 @ 7:54 am

  4. This is very cool stuff, Lori. Thanks for contributing it here.

    Comment by Christopher — July 1, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

  5. Excellent. Thanks for posting it.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 1, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  6. Big thanks to David for inviting me to write.

    There is so much in David’s original post that is exactly what I find so exciting about writing history. Some of the stories that surround Keys of the Priesthood Illustrated, for example, are just as fun.

    Comment by Lori — July 1, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

  7. Great story and well told. Thank you!

    Comment by Jared T — July 1, 2010 @ 11:47 pm

  8. Very interesting. I think the post by David that you mentioned suggest that while the story may not be strictly accurate in all the details it certainly works symbolically.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 2, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  9. Thanks for putting in the time to revisit this material, Lori.

    Indeed, Steve. I think this story (as Lori implies in the post) is important on two different levels. First, it invites historians to look more closely at the indigenous landscape that early Mormonism comes out of. Second, it raises the fascinating question of how contemporary Haudenosaunees, both Mormon and non-Mormon, interpret and adapt accounts of JS’s early New York origins.

    Comment by David G. — July 2, 2010 @ 9:21 am

  10. Fascinating

    I had never heard of thin, brass plates being used in construction of the Erie Canal. Can you point me toward something for that?

    Also, what is the source for Joseph liking to hang out on Ganargua Creek (Mud Creek) in the area where Iroquois travelers camped?

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — July 2, 2010 @ 10:58 am

  11. Somewhere in the dim distant past, I remember hearting that after the “Wyoming Valley Masacre” in Penn., (which the anti-British lost), a large group of soldiers (led by by young George Washington), in retaliation,went to a group of Iroquois villages in upstate New York and wiped out 12 villages, thus opening up the area to white settlement (including Palmyra). These events overlap significantly with my family history and that is where I heard all this. It should be independently verifiable however. If it is true, how many Iroquois were still in the immediate area and what was their attitude about and association with the white settlers who only a generation before had wiped out so many of their villages and were now living on “Iroquois land”?

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — July 2, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

  12. Mark, brass plates referred to in Brodie p35. She cites newspaper Western Farmer from 19 Sept 1821. I remember reading an article a while ago about a collection of brass (or thin metal?) plates in Notre Dame University collection, but I have never been able to find that reference again. Granted, I didn’t try very hard, since it wasn’t really a research focus for me. There would be several ways to pursue it further—Erie Canal Museum, for one.

    Iroquois on Ganargua Creek from Stephen Durfee quoted in Orasmus Turner’s Phelps and Gorham Purchase p383. GREAT book for local remembrances. Durfee name is generally remembered in Mormon history through Stephen’s brother Lemuel, who employed the Smith boys occasionally. More references to the creek & Iroquois travellers in local histories like Turner’s.

    Joseph Smith on Mud Creek (same creek, different name) from Stephen Harding, whose name may be familiar as he was at Grandin’s when he pulled the BoM proof and he was later an appointed governor of Utah territory. Harding said/wrote? that Joseph Smith “was generally fishing in the mill pond at Durfee’s grist mill, on Mud Creek, when my elder brother and I went to the mill.” Published in a couple of places: Thomas Gregg, Prophet of Palmyra (1890) and Mulder & Mortensen eds, Among the Mormons (1958).

    Comment by Lori — July 3, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

  13. Marjorie, there were Iroquois on both sides in the Revolutionary War. I’ve heard stories of battles that were all Iroquois (Mohawk/British vs. Oneida/American). I heard that from Haudenosaunee, though, so I can’t give a citation. Those battles were downstate rather than Finger Lakes or western New York. There was a lot more contact in that area pre-Revolution, since there was already white settlement in the Mohawk Valley. Families moved in with the war, too. My people were on both sides of the war in that area, so I have read family stories about this time & place as well—more tantalizing than detailed, but it gives me a feeling of connection.

    Not everyone within any of the six nations agreed on the same approach to alliances during the war, so nations were split. This was one factor leading to contemporary Haudenosaunee on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border. When there was retaliation for Iroquois participation in battles, everyone suffered, not just those who fought against the Americans.

    The big retaliation was Sullivan’s march through New York during the summer of 1779, an amazingly ugly scorched-earth campaign that destroyed a lot more than 12 villages. It’s probably closer to 3-4 times that many. Iroquois crops were destroyed, and they had a terrible winter, but that wasn’t the last straw in removing them from their lands. That came through so-called treaties and a somewhat controlled settlement as New York was divided into townships 10-15 years later. Seeing the lush, rolling green hills and the fields & fields of corn could well have convinced a lot of the soldiers that this would be the place for them to settle. A lot of Iroquois persisted in the Finger Lakes through the settlement period even after the treaties and townships—families and individuals more than villages.

    I don’t know enough about the Revolutionary War to know what General Washington was doing at the time, but it was Major General John Sullivan who led the expedition on Washington’s orders. Sullivan’s name is still very unpopular in the area (well, among Haudenosaunee).

    The question of attitude is a good one. Washington himself doesn’t seem to have suffered as much long-term damage to his reputation as Sullivan. There was some positive post-war contact between Iroquois and the new American leaders—those were the Iroquois who stayed in south of the border in New York, though. There were also treaties that took Iroquois land from those who had no authority to give it (an old story played out often). Washington appears in Handsome Lake’s vision as a good man, and Handsome Lake and others visited Washington himself. So, good, bad, ugly. There were probably as many attitudes as people.

    I’ve read a lot of accounts of Indian-white interactions from as far west as Lake Erie (Ohio) to the earlier frontier areas like the Mohawk Valley. Especially on the established Iroquois trails (approximately where the thruway skirts the top of the Finger Lakes now), there was a lot of interaction. I didn’t see a lot of fear and anger in the relationships. Social and economic transactions weren’t at all unusual through the period Joseph Smith lived in western New York. There wasn’t an ongoing guerilla war, for example. Iroquois were farmers and diplomats. As far as I can tell, not just contacts but relationships were extensive. They weren’t necessarily reconciled to white encroachment, though. The reason Red Jacket was in Palmyra in 1822 was to visit a Quaker to the north to ask for help preventing whites living on reservations.

    All of that said, I’m not a scholar of the Revolutionary War so much as a student of it. It is context for my period. I undoubtedly have big gaps in my knowledge.

    Still, no short answers!

    Comment by Lori — July 3, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

  14. Lori–You may not be a “scholar” but you obviously know tons more than I do about this. Thanks for sharing. Since you had people on both sides, I’m wondering if they were Terry’s, those were my folk.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — July 3, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  15. Marjorie, no Terrys. My people on the British side were Hessians who stayed after the war, moving to Upper Canada (Ontario). Those on the American side were based in Rome (near Oneida).

    Comment by Lori — July 4, 2010 @ 9:55 am

  16. Great stories and great insights. I wish there were better diaries or some such, but documents are what they are.

    Comment by smb — July 4, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  17. Thanks Lori

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — July 6, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

  18. Loved this comment, Lori:

    There is plenty “anything new” in Mormon history where it meets the parallel space of Indian Country. I’m confident more areas of influence will be added to the list in time as well.

    This is what makes the study of Mormon history so fascinating. There is always new stuff to learn. Thanks for a great post.

    Comment by kevinf — July 6, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

  19. Mark, I just re-read your question. The brass plates weren’t used in Erie canal construction but found during excavation.

    Comment by Lori — July 6, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

  20. Quoting anthropologist author, educator and filmmaker, Dr. Edmund Carpenter . . .

    Parrish was one of the Quaker ‘witnesses’ who covered many Indian treaties, and left some particularly interesting reports on the Iroquois. . . .

    Your suggestion of a Smith connection is interesting, but doubtful, I think. Smith was a romantic digger, not concerned with living Indians. There’s a footnote in Faith [sic] Brodie’s book, NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY, that mentions his digging activities. And I published a passing reference to this, as well. I was a foreman on a WPA-CCC crew in 1940, excavating Hopewellian burial mounds on either side of the New York-Pennsylvania border. Nearly all of those mounds had been opened, time & again, by amateurs. In checking old accounts, including newspaper accounts, I came across articles on the Smith brothers’ digging. Since a rare, but characteristic feature of these mounds was copper plaques (highly oxidized) and ‘gem stone’ discs (resembling ‘philosopher’s stones’), I wondered if such finds had not added to the sum total of Smith’s vision. Smith, as an early digger, stood a good chance of hitting the central tomb and finding it untouched. As rare as those plaques & discs are, he might have found examples, or seen ones found by others. . . .

    — Edmund Carpenter to Rick Grunder (New York City, May 7, 1984); original letter in my possession. For full background, see Mormon Parallels (2008) entry 307 discussing an 1816 letter from Indian interpreter Jasper Parrish to David A. Ogden.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — July 6, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

  21. What a fascinating tale. I just printed it for my records. It should come in handy for my own dissertation on Mormons and Indians.

    I’m sure most of the story as told is fictional, but the bare bones of it are not impossible. JS does seem to have met and heard tales of buried treasure from at least one Indian during those early money-digging years. In order to obtain the treasure he employed the white dog sacrifice, which suggests a familiarity with Iroquois ritual. He also did his seeing with his head in a hat, which is not unlike the Iroquois shaman’s practice of putting a blanket over his head. (Indeed, Lake and Smith followed similar trajectories from shaman to prophet.) It’s even possible JS was influenced by reports that some of the Brothertown Indians’ skin was turning white. JS was a “romantic money-digger,” sure, but that doesn’t me he was uninterested in living Indians. Heck, he had a whole plan to gather them to a New Jerusalem and teach them Christianity!

    Comment by Chris Smith — July 8, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  22. I found this artile very interesting, I’ve never heard of such a story. I’ve lived my life among Indians and the ones that join the church never have assumptions like this. I’ll have to ask if they know the story of Handsome Lake. I too found it a little over it’s date with information on melting the gold and making the idea of the story up for finding the plates for Joseph Smith; sounds like too much effort for nothing. A lot of persecution and helping the poor is far from what many of my Indian friends would do for good old times. Handsome Lake seems like an incredibly unique story but completely debatable, with a laugh at times, but thanks for making mention of it…

    Comment by John — July 8, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

  23. That was an interesting story. I’m always interested in hearing about little tidbits in Church history that are little known. This story about Joseph Smith seems to smack a little too much of degrading the reality of what Joseph accomplished.

    Comment by John — July 8, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  24. […] dissertation on white Mormon-Indian relations, which we’ve discussed here on the blog before, explores the possible implications of the Book of Mormon’s emergence from not only […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Columbus, the European Conquest, and the Radical Message of the Book of Mormon — October 11, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  25. Fascinating, I was actually looking this up because I noticed similarities between Red Jacket’s speeches and some concepts in the Book of Mormon and then I found this which while an oral history may have some truth behind it.

    I found similarities in particular with Oliver Cowdery’s Delaware speech to the Indians while on his mission to the Lamanites and an 1805 speech by Red Jacket.
    Both contain very specific phrases:
    “Council”, “brethren and friends”, “crossed the deep waters”, “from the rising to the setting sun”, “shedding much blood”, “handed down from father to son”, “the book”, “the great spirit”, “favor of the Great Spirit”, “knowledge of forefathers” and “means of understanding it” and that it would “do them good”. It is obvious that Cowdery was aware of Red Jacket’s speech and even answered his questions in his own speech.

    There are also strong similarities with Alma 30.

    There was also an interesting speech Red Jacket made in 1822 where he spoke about Indians turning black based on a change in their customs:

    “And I say that it is a fact, that whenever you find a tribe of Indians that have been christionized and have changed their custom or habit, which the Great good Spirit gave them, you will see that they are a poor, worthless, lying, ragged, miserable and degraded set of beings; and instead of becoming white men, as they expected to have become by changing their customs and habits, they have formed connections with the blacks, and have become black men in their actions and conduct. I say, therefore, that the Great Spirit will not suffer his Red Children to change their religion or custom. But when they attempt to do it punishes them by turning them into Black Men.”

    I thought this was an interesting concept. I don’t think Red Jacket was speaking literally, he was talking about the fact that Indians thought that by adopting white customs like their christian religion they would be accepted by the europeans and what actually happened was they were grouped with the same social status as slaves. Still the idea of turning white or black based on changing religious customs and mixing is something that is quite unique to the Book of Mormon and this could be a source.

    I think you are right about rewriting our histories, eventually we come closer to the truth. I knew that Red Jacket’s speeches were widely circulated in newspapers but I was not aware that he had visited Palmyra in 1822. If you want I can send you a copy of the comparisons that I found.

    Thank you for this, just another piece in the puzzle.

    Comment by Red Jacket — October 25, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  26. Dear Lori,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece.

    Wondering if you have plans to publish your dissertation?

    Thanks,

    Taylor

    Comment by Tay — January 20, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  27. My committee chair’s husband is an emeritus professor of Linguistics whose life’s work has been documenting the Seneca language. I heard him give a presentation about a lengthy (multi-day?) recitation of ritual language he recorded from the Seneca, and some of the content seemed vaguely familiar–sounded almost Mormon. I approached him afterward and asked him whether he knew of any contact between Joseph Smith and early Mormons and the Seneca (in either direction). His response (or lack thereof) revealed a certain bias toward Mormons, and I decided to set the matter aside. Do any of you know whether there’s been a real attempt to study the original language of some of the rituals/oral traditions to see whether any evidence of early Mormon contact can be shown to have occurred (in either direction)? If I recall the story I heard correctly, wasn’t it the case that two or more messengers brought this still-recited ritual language to the Seneca? (I remember the condensed version I heard brought to mind our folk traditions about the Three Nephites.)

    Comment by Alex — February 28, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  28. David reminded me to check comments. Sorry I missed a couple.

    Red Jacket, I’d love to see the comparisons you have made. Maybe an administrator could send you my email.

    Tay, at this point I haven’t been looking for publication of my dissertation. It would need a decade of updating to be relevant today, but never say never.

    Alex, I don’t know of anyone who has studied language of rituals in Seneca or Cayuga for evidence of Mormon contact. My Seneca vocabulary is no more than a couple dozen words, so I know it won’t be me. There are written versions, but language does change over time in an oral tradition. Have you heard of midrash? It’s a helpful way of thinking about reciting a religious text as well as telling the metastory at the same time. The stories of stories accumulate.

    As for messengers bringing the language, not quite. Handsome Lake had four guides in his visions. Those visions were primarily symbolic. For the rest of his life, he walked from nation to nation telling about what he had learned. The rituals themselves, though, came later. After Handsome Lake’s death, his grandson was asked to recall his words. He and another came to preach versions of what is called the Gaiwiio (the Good Word). Handsome Lake preachers still recite the Gaiwiio. The long version told at midwinter is 3-4 days long.

    Comment by Lori — February 28, 2011 @ 2:36 pm