The Spirit of the Corn
An Iroquois Legend
by Harriet Maxwell Converse (Adapted)
There was a time, says the Iroquois grandmother,
when it was not needful to plant the corn-
seed nor to hoe the fields, for the corn sprang up of
itself, and filled the broad meadows. Its stalks
grew strong and tall, and were covered with leaves
like waving banners, and filled with ears of pearly
grain wrapped in silken green husks.
In those days Onatah, the Spirit of the Corn,
walked upon the earth. The sun lovingly touched
her dusky face with the blush of the morning, and
her eyes grew soft as the gleam of the stars on
dark streams. Her night-black hair was spread
before the breeze like a wind-driven cloud.
As she walked through the fields, the corn, the
Indian maize, sprang up of itself from the earth
and filled the air with its fringed tassels and
whispering leaves. With Onatah walked her two
sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean. As
they passed by, squash-vines and bean-plants
grew from the corn-hills.
One day Onatah wandered away alone in search
of early dew. Then the Evil One of the earth,
Hahgwehdaetgah, followed swiftly after. He
grasped her by the hair and dragged her beneath
the ground down to his gloomy cave. Then, sending
out his fire-breathing monsters, he blighted
Onatah's grain. And when her sisters, the Spirits
of the Squash and the Bean, saw the flame-
monsters raging through the fields, they flew far
away in terror.
As for poor Onatah, she lay a trembling captive
in the dark prison-cave of the Evil One. She
mourned the blight of her cornfields, and sorrowed
over her runaway sisters.
``O warm, bright sun!'' she cried, ``if I may
walk once more upon the earth, never again will I
leave my corn!''
And the little birds of the air heard her cry, and
winging their way upward they carried her vow
and gave it to the sun as he wandered through the
The sun, who loved Onatah, sent out many
searching beams of light. They pierced through
the damp earth, and entering the prison-cave,
guided her back again to her fields.
And ever after that she watched her fields alone,
for no more did her sisters, the Spirits of the
Squash and Bean, watch with her. If her fields
thirsted, no longer could she seek the early dew.
If the flame-monsters burned her corn, she could
not search the skies for cooling winds. And when
the great rains fell and injured her harvest, her
voice grew so faint that the friendly sun could not
But ever Onatah tenderly watched her fields
and the little birds of the air flocked to her service.
They followed her through the rows of corn, and
made war on the tiny enemies that gnawed at the
roots of the grain.
And at harvest-time the grateful Onatah
scattered the first gathered corn over her broad lands,
and the little birds, fluttering and singing, joyfully
partook of the feast spread for them on the