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Thunder Boy
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois


Note: Ideally, the best way for this story to be communicated is in the Old Way - elders gathered with their younger relatives, during the colder months, educating each other within the family circle. The written word can only convey a part of the richness of a story such as this. However, in trying to convey the rhythm of the oral tradition, I have broken the story into small pieces. Enjoy.


This legend happened long ago on an island in the St. Lawrence River. The island is called by the Akwesasne Mohawks, Tekatarenre (day-kaht-dah-LEHN-lay), and lies opposite the point where the St. Regis River meets the St. Lawrence River at Akwesasne.

The story happened many summers in the past

Long ago, a man, his wife, and his daughter lived alone on this island.

They had a garden where they raised corn, beans, and squashes. One day, as the three were working in their garden, the sky became very dark.

Glancing up at the dark clouds,

the father said that they had better run quickly

to their house or they would be caught in the rain.

The mother shouted to her daughter, who was working at the other end of the field, telling her to cease her work and run for the house.

The man and his wife then quickly ran for the house. Before they were half way there, the storm had reached them. Heavy bursts of rain fell all about them. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky, and thunder roared above them.

Inside the house, the man and his wife waited for their daughter. They supposed she was following them. "Probably when the storm overtook her, she sought shelter in the forest," said mother. In vain, the parents waited for their daughter.

After the storm, the parents returned to the field. They searched the island, but they could find no trace of the daughter. They called to the girl, but they received no answer.

Sadly, they returned to their house. "The Thunder People have taken her away," said the mother, and she wept bitter tears.

The young daughter had been busy working in the garden when the storm was approaching.

When she saw the fast thickening clouds and heard her parents calling her to the cabin, she had dropped her hoe and started to follow them.

Suddenly, she was entirely surrounded by what seemed to be a heavy mist. Her head felt strangely dizzy, and before she knew what was happening, she felt herself being lifted up into the sky. In a dazed condition, she was carried swiftly above the earth.

After a while, the girl found herself in a strange land. Never before had she seen anything like it. He who carried her was a little man.

He led her through this country until they came to a long council house.

Upon entering this house, the girl saw many other strange little men all of whom stared at her. At one end of the house stood a man who seemed to be the chief of these little people.

This little chief seemed very angry when he saw the girl and her escort. "My son," said he, "why did you bring this earth person to our country?"

The son answered, "Father, I saw her working in the field, and I fell in love with her. I wanted her, so I took her away."

The chief said, "You should have left her upon the earth. Her ways are not our ways. She cannot eat snails, bugs, and worms, which is the kind of food that we live on."

Again, he spoke. "If you insist upon keeping her here, you yourself must return to earth and secure earth food for her. The ways of Ratiweras (lah-dee-WAY-lahs), the Thunder People, are different from the ways of the Earth People."

The son agreed to do this. Every day he would travel to earth to secure food for his wife.

For one year, this earth girl lived in the country of the Thunder People. Her husband granted her every wish, and she became very happy. Though she sometimes thought of her parents, she did not become lonesome.

On day, the chief of the Thunder People said, "My daughter, you are soon to give birth to a son. It would not do to have the child born in this land. You must return to your old home on the island, Tekatarenre. But there is one thing I want to warn you about. After your boy is born, guard him carefully. You must warn everyone who goes near the boy never to strike him. If anyone strikes the boy, you will lose him."

Suddenly, without warning, the girl was again surrounded by the heavy mist. Her mind became dazed. Once again, she found herself at a great speed through space.

After what seemed a little while, she opened her eyes and to her surprise, found herself in front of her mother's cabin back at the island.

The parents of the girl were happy to see her. They had long given her up for lost. The girl told her strange story and said that soon she was to give birth to a son.

What the Thunder Chief had said came true - in time, a little son was born to the girl.

This boy was smaller than an earth child, and in many ways, his habits differed from the habits of an ordinary boy.

Whenever a thunder storm would approach the island, the boy would become very excited. He would run out into the storm and laugh and play about.

At such times, the Thunder would seem to roar more often. Great flashes of Lightning would light the skies.

The old grandmother did not like to have the boy run out into the storm.

Whenever a Storm approached, she would try to shut the child up in the cabin, but the boy always managed to escape in spite of all she could do.

One day, at the approach of a Storm, the old Grandmother locked the boy in the cabin.

She scolded him, and forbade him to go out into the Storm. The boy became very angry. He ran about the cabin, throwing to the floor everything he could get his hands on. He was in a terrible temper.

The Grandmother told him to cease his mischief and to sit down, but the boy only stamped around more.

When the boy became angry, faint sounds as of distant thunder seemed to come from his body. The more angry he became, the louder the thunder sounded. His Grandmother told him to cease his noise. In his rage, he continued to wreck everything he could get his hands on.

The old woman lost her temper. Taking up a stick, she gave the boy a sharp blow across his legs.

Instantly, there was a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a loud roar of thunder. The room became filled with a heavy mist.

Trembling with fear, the old woman huddled in a corner of the cabin. When the mist cleared, the boy had vanished.

Far away, she could hear a rumble of thunder sounding fainter and fainter in the distance.

When the boy's mother returned to the cabin, she said, "You have struck my son. His father has taken him to live with him in the land of the Thunder People. We will never see him again."

Because the Thunder Boy is half-Indian, the Thunder People are friends of the Indian and do not bother them. In the early spring, at the coming of the first Thunder, it is said to please the Thunder People if you throw Real Tobacco on the fire.

Please do not reprint this without asking.

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