A Firemaker and a Peacemaker
by Mabel Powers
In the olden times, tribes of Indians did not always live in one place
as they do now. They sometimes wandered from one valley or woodland to
another. When they came to a sheltered place, where there was pure
running water, and where plenty of game and wood were to be found, they
would build their lodges and light their council fires.
There they might camp for one moon, or for many moons. As long as their
arrows brought game on the hunting trails near, they would not break
camp. But if game grew scarce, or if for any reason they did not like
the camp ground, they would move farther on.
Sometimes they would go several days' journey, before they found a
camping place such as they liked.
The first thing that was done in making a camp was to secure fire and
light the council fire. This fire was always kept burning. It never went
out while they remained.
The Indians loved the fire. It was the gift of the Great Spirit to the
Red Children. It kept them warm and cooked their food by day, and
protected them by night.
A line of fires was kept burning around the camp. This protected the Red
Children from the wild animals, for all animals fear fire, and are
charmed by it. They might prowl and howl all night long outside the fire
ring, but never would they attempt to come within that ring. There the
Indians could sleep in peace, guarded by the spirits of the fire.
The Indian that could make fire first became a chief and leader. When it
was decided to camp at a certain place, a signal would be given. At this
the young braves would leap into the woods, to see which one first could
bring back fire. Each had his own secret way of making it. Usually a
bowstring was twisted about a fire stick, and the stick was turned
rapidly in a groove. In a few seconds, smoke would rise from the sawdust
that formed. After a little fanning a flame would leap forth.
The Indian whose brain and hand worked swiftest and surest was the
smartest and best man. He became a Firemaker, and was made a chief of
the tribe. He could do something that the rest could not,—at least he
had proved himself to be more skillful. Such a man, it was thought, had
a better understanding of all things, and therefore could tell the rest
of the tribe what ought to be done.
He no longer was just a man who ate and slept, walked and ran. He was a
man with a mind. He could think and could do things. So he became a
Firemaker chief, and he helped the tribe to think and do.
The Iroquois Red Children believe that there are three kinds of men:
those that use the body only; those that use body and mind; and those
that use body, mind, and spirit.
Now it happened that sometimes an Indian grew to be so kind and so
great, that he could not only strike the fire we see, but the fire we do
not see,—the fire of love that burns in the hearts of people.
When an Indian could strike this kind of fire, and warm the hearts not
only of his own tribe but of all tribes, so that they came to love one
another, he was a great chief, a Peacemaker chief. Such a man would go
from tribe to tribe, teaching the people how they should do, so that all
might live in peace and plenty, like brothers.
To be a Peacemaker was the highest seat an Indian could take. Few
Indians became Peacemaker chiefs, and they were the great men of the
Indian women also might become Peacemakers. At one time the Iroquois had
a Peace Wigwam, where all disputes and quarrels were settled.
The most beautiful, just, and fair-minded woman of all the tribes was
chosen to sit in this wigwam. It was her duty to tend the Peace fire,
and to see that it never went out. She also kept a pot of hominy always
steaming over the fire.
If two Indians had a dispute, it was the custom for them to run to the
Peacemaker's wigwam. They entered from opposite sides. Inside the
wigwam, a deerskin curtain separated them from each other.
The Peacemaker would listen to the grievance of the one and then to that
of the other. Then she would draw aside the curtain, get the enemies
together, and settle the dispute with justice.
The two would then eat of the hominy, and depart in peace,—no longer
enemies, but friends.
No nation could fight another nation without the consent of the
Peacemaker. Because the peacewomen were wise, and just, and kind, and
taught men to love, not fight each other, the Iroquois were for many
years at peace.
But one day, it is said, a Peacewoman proved untrue to her trust. She
thought more of her own happiness than that of the nation.
This woman was very beautiful, and the people loved her. For some time
she sat in the Peace Wigwam, and tended faithfully the Peace fire.
One day an Oneida and a Cayuga chief fell to quarreling. They sought the
Peace Wigwam. As they entered and saw the young Peacewoman tending the
fire, each thought he had never seen a woman so beautiful.
Into the heart of each there leaped the desire that she might tend his
The Peacemaker listened to the quarrel of the young chiefs and settled
it justly. Then each tried to persuade her to leave the Peace fire and
return with him to his lodge. But the Peacemaker said, "No, I must tend
the fire, it must be kept burning." The chiefs departed with heavy
But the Oneida chief could not forget the beautiful woman. When a moon
had passed, he returned to the Peace Wigwam. This time he persuaded the
Peacemaker to leave her fire and return with him to sit at his wigwam
The Peace fire flickered and went out. The Iroquois again went on the
warpath, and for many, many moons, they fought and suffered and died.