Many years ago a young woman lived with her father's sister in
the village of Gaugwa, close to the great falls of Neahga. Her
other relatives had died of the sickness which came each year to
the people of her village. Although she was beautiful,
hardworking and kind to everyone, she was not treated well. She
was dressed in the oldest clothing and made to do the worst
tasks. Despite it all, her beauty shone through the dirt and
ragged clothes. Many men thought they would be glad to marry
her, but her aunt would give no man permission even to visit
their Lodge. As the years passed by, Ahweyoh-whose name means
Water Lily-became more and more certain that she would never be
allowed to marry.
Then one day, during the moon when raspberries ripens as Ahweyoh
was grinding corn her aunt came to her with a wide smile on her
"Make ready, Girl," the aunt said. "Tomorrow you will carry
marriage bread to the man who will be your husband."
Ahweyoh's heart lifted in her chest like a hummingbird taking
flight. "Who is the man I am to marry? Is it Big Tree? Is it
"Neh," said the aunt, "I would never allow you to marry any young
boaster such as those two. I have found a perfect husband for
you. Tomorrow you will become the second wife of Sweaty Hands."
Sweaty Hands! Of all the men in the village there was no one more
unpleasant. It was said that he beat his wife so badly that
often she could not walk for a whole day's journey of the sun
across the sky. His face was as ugly as his manners. He was
short and fat as a woodchuck in the summer and he never had a
good word for anyone. He was even said to be a coward in battle.
It was rumoured that the wealth he had in his lodge had been
gained only by treachery or by evil medicine.
"My aunt," Ahweyoh said, "you are teasing me. Surely you do not
want me to marry that awful man."
But the aunt did not smile. Instead her face grew ugly as Sweaty
"Girl," said the aunt in a loud and angry voice, "I will not
allow you to speak that way of a man who has given me such fine
presents for your worthless self! You will carry the marriage
bread to him tomorrow or I'll whip the skin off your back." To
prove her point the aunt took a willow switch and brought it down
several times across the girl's shoulders until the switch broke.
Then, turning her back, the aunt walked away and left Ahweyoh
weeping. She did not hear the words which her niece spoke in a
soft but determined voice.
"Neh," Ahweyoh said, "I will never marry such a man. First I
That night, when Grandmother Moon looked down from her sky and
all others in the village slept, a single small bark canoe left
the shores of Cayuga Creek. Her paddle moving with short sure
strokes, its lone passenger steered the boat into the rushing
waters of the Niagara River. Down stream the rumbling noise of
the great falls of Neahga could be heard. Then, as the current
swept her faster and faster downstream, Ahweyoh threw away her
"Forgive me, my parents," she said, raising her hands. "Now I
must join you in death. I give myself into the hands of the
Thunderers whose voices come from the great falls." Folding her
hands in heap, she sat calmly as the bark canoe rushed
downstream, was lifted as if it weighed no more than a drifting
leaf and catapulted over the lip of the great falls. She closed
her eyes, waiting to he smashed to pieces on the rocks below.
But, instead of striking foaming water and great stones, she felt
herself land on something which stopped her fall. She opened her
eyes. She was at the base of the falls. In front of her like a
great wall of ice flowed the falling water and her face was moist
with the mist. She was resting on a big blanket which was held
firmly by three men. Ahweyoh looked at them and then looked
quickly away. Surely this was a dream. They were dressed in
warrior costume and on the head of each was a single large
feather. They were more handsome and strong than any men she had
ever seen before.
One warrior was taller than the others. On his back was a pack
basket filled with pieces of flint stone. "Little Sister," said
the tallest of the men, "We heard you call our name. Often have
we watched you from above as you worked without complaining. We
have seen how you always give thanks for the fruits of the earth
and for the good rain which we send. It was not right that one
such as you should end her life in this way."
Ahweyoh could hardly believe her ears. This man was He-noh, the
Thunderer and the others were his helpers. These men were the
ones who ranged the sky, sending down the rain to help the earth,
the ones whose lightning bolts terrified evildoers and protected
the good. Often had she heard it said that the Thunderers lived
beneath the great falls, liking the sound of its thunder. Now
she knew it was true.
"Nyah-weh," she said, "I thank you for my life." All three of the
men smiled at her. "Come," said the leader. His voice was deep
and rumbled like the thunder, yet it was filled with peace. "You
shall stay with us now."
So it was that Water Lily came to dwell with the Thunderers. As
time went on it became clear that there was love between her and
the leader of the Thunderers and the two were married. Things
went on happily for them and when the space of four seasons had
passed Ahweyoh gave birth to a son.
"Now, my wife," said He-noh, "You must go for a time to live
among your own people. Our son must know what it is like to be a
human being. When the time is right, you shall return to us
"Nyoh," Ahweyoh said. It was right. Though she had been badly
treated by the aunt, she longed to see her own people again.
Their son should know something of the human world.
"Now listen well," said He-noh. "These are matters of great
importance. As you bring up our son you must remember to keep
him hidden away. Tell no one who his father is. As he grows,
caution him never to grow angry at anyone. As long as he
remembers this, he can remain among human beings.
"Now that you are returning to your people, I must tell you why
it is that so many have died of sickness. Under your village in a
great burrow lives a monstrous snake. This snake eats the bodies
of your people after they die and have been buried. It does not
come out of the earth for fear we will kill it with our lightning
stones. It goes to the places where your people drink and it
poisons the waters so they will die in numbers to satisfy its
appetite. This it does once a year. Then it sleeps until again
it feels hunger. Soon it will wake again. Before it wakens, you
must tell your people to move to the Buffalo Creek."
Bearing her husband's words in mind, Ahweyoh returned to her
people at Gaugwa. Her face shone like a cloud touched by the sun
and her clothing was so fine and beautiful that the people did
not recognize her. But Sweaty Hands and the aunt thought this
strange woman with a child whose face was covered in its cradle
board looked something like that girl they had lost. To the Clan
Mothers Ahweyoh spoke her words of warning with such simple
eloquence that they were convinced of the truth. They in turn
spoke to the Council of Elders and before three sunrises had come
and gone the whole village had moved to Buffalo Creek.
That night the monstrous serpent woke. It crawled through its
burrows to poison the springs. Then it waited in a hole beneath
the place where the Gaugwa people buried their dead. For the
space of a moon it waited, yet no dead bodies were buried. Its
hunger grew greater and greater. Finally it pushed its head out
of the earth to see what was wrong. Around it was a deserted
The monstrous serpent grew angry. How could they dare to move
away! Scenting the trail they had taken, it came out of the
ground, heedless of danger. It crawled into the lake where their
canoes had gone and began to go up Buffalo Creek.
Looking down from a cloud in the sky, He-noh and his warriors saw
that the time was right. As the serpent came up the narrow
creek, its body filling it from one bank to the other, He-noh
hurled a thunder stone. It struck the serpent in its side,
making a terrible wound. The monster squirmed and thrashed
about, trying to turn around and seek the safety of the deeper
water, but the Thunderers struck again and again. To this day
the banks of that stream are curved in the spot where the
monstrous serpent shoved against its sides.
At last the monster was dead. It began to float downstream and
entered the river. Down it floated until it reached the great
falls and lodged against the stones, its body stretching across
the river like a broken circle. For a time the water was held
back. Then a great piece of the falls broke away. The place
where the monstrous serpent's body became caught is today called
the Horseshoe Falls. As the stones fell, they destroyed the
place where the Thunderers had lived. Though the great falls
still echo their voices, no longer would He-noh and his helpers
dwell beneath the falls. From that day forward, their dwelling
place on earth has been far to the west.
Now the people of Gaugwa were happy. They gave great honour to
Ahweyoh and built for her a lodge at the edge of the village.
She asked to be allowed to live there in seclusion and no one
thought of troubling her--except the aunt and Sweaty Hands. The
aunt began to spread stories about this woman with a baby and no
husband. Sweaty Hands asked again and again why it was that no
one was allowed to see the child's face. Most of the people
would not listen to such gossip, saying that Hawenio, our
Creator, did not like human beings to talk badly about each
other, but still the aunt and Sweaty Hands persisted. Seasons
came and went. The baby grew to be a small boy crawling about
the floor of the lodge, but still no one was allowed to see his
Finally, one night, the aunt and Sweaty Hands could stand it no
longer. They would go together and confront this woman who so
resembled their Ahweyoh of old. If indeed she was that girl, she
would be forced to marry Sweaty hands, baby or not! The aunt
brought a willow switch and Sweaty Hands carried a stick which
was shaped like a snake. Some of the people in the village saw
where they were headed and thought to stop them, but a wise old
woman shook her head.
"Neh," she said, "wait a bit. Those who think evil of others
usually bring it upon themselves."
When the aunt and Sweaty Hands reached the lodge of Ahweyoh and
her son, they paused at the door. A stick had been leaned across
the doorway. This meant that those within the lodge did not wish
to be disturbed. They paid no attention and pushed their way in.
There, in front of a small fire, sat Ahweyoh. Across from her,
his back turned to them, her small son sat, playing with some
chips of flint. "Ha-a-ah," said the aunt in her loud angry voice,
"now I know you, my niece. You will come with us now and marry
this man as I promised." She stepped across the fire and grabbed
Ahweyoh by the arm. raising the switch to strike her. Sweaty
Hands stepped forward to grab Ahweyoh's other arm, but as he did
so he looked for the first time into the face of Ahweyoh's son.
The eyes of the boy caught his attention. At first they were the
clear blue of a calm sky, but as they took in the sight of these
two people threatening his mother, they became as grey and dark
as a thundercloud. With an angry shout the boy hurled the chips
of flint in his small hands at the two intruders. Immediately
two bolts of lightning struck the aunt and Sweaty Hands. When
the smoke cleared, Ahweyoh and her son stood there alone.
From the sky came a great cloud. As it touched the earth He-noh
and his two helpers stepped down.
"Now," said He-noh, "it is time for you both to return to us."
And so it was. Ahweyoh and the son of He-noh joined him. From
that day there were four Thunderers, for the boy grew up to join
his father. At times, though, the Thunder Boy comes down and
walks on the earth, remembering the short time when he was a
human being. And when storms roll across the sky you can
sometimes hear the lightning answer from below as Thunder Boy and
his father speak to each other.
Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
Copyright @ 1993-2016
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