Iagoo Chippewa

: The Myth Of Hiawatha

Iagoo is the name of a personage noted in Indian lore for having given

extravagant narrations of whatever he had seen, heard, or accomplished.

It seems that he always saw extraordinary things, made extraordinary

journeys, and performed extraordinary feats. He could not look out of

his lodge and see things as other men did. If he described a bird, it

had a most singular variety of brilliant plumage. The animals he met

th were all of the monstrous kind; they had eyes like orbs of fire,

and claws like hooks of steel, and could step over the top of an Indian

lodge. He told of a serpent he had seen, which had hair on its neck

like a mane, and feet resembling a quadruped; and if one were to take

his own account of his exploits and observations, it would be difficult

to decide whether his strength, his activity, or his wisdom should be

most admired.

Iagoo did not appear to have been endowed with the ordinary faculties

of other men. His eyes appeared to be magnifiers, and the tympanum of

his ears so constructed that what appeared to common observers to be

but the sound of a zephyr, to him had a far closer resemblance to the

noise of thunder. His imagination appeared to be of so exuberant a

character, that he scarcely required more than a drop of water to

construct an ocean, or a grain of sand to form the earth. And he had so

happy an exemption from both the restraints of judgment and moral

accountability, that he never found the slightest difficulty in

accommodating his facts to the most enlarged credulity. Nor was his

ample thirst for the marvellous ever quenched by attempts to reconcile

statements the most strange, unaccountable, and preposterous.

Such was Iagoo, the Indian story-teller, whose name is associated with

all that is extravagant and marvellous, and has long been established

in the hunter's vocabulary as a perfect synonym for liar, and is

bandied about as a familiar proverb. If a hunter or warrior, in telling

his exploits, undertakes to embellish them; to overrate his merits, or

in any other way to excite the incredulity of his hearers, he is liable

to be rebuked with the remark, "So here we have Iagoo come again." And

he seems to hold the relative rank in oral narration which our written

literature awards to Baron Munchausen, Jack Falstaff, and Captain

Lemuel Gulliver.

Notwithstanding all this, there are but a few scraps of his actual

stories to be found. He first attracted notice by giving an account of

a water lily, a single leaf of which, he averred, was sufficient to

make a petticoat and upper garments for his wife and daughter. One

evening he was sitting in his lodge, on the banks of a river, and

hearing the quacking of ducks on the stream, he fired through the lodge

door at a venture. He killed a swan that happened to be flying by, and

twenty brace of ducks in the stream. But this did not check the force

of his shot; they passed on, and struck the heads of two loons, at the

moment they were coming up from beneath the water, and even went beyond

and killed a most extraordinary large fish called Moshkeenozha.[44] On

another occasion he had killed a deer, and after skinning it, was

carrying the carcass on his shoulders, when he spied some stately elks

on the plain before him. He immediately gave them chase, and had run,

over hill and dale, a distance of half a day's travel, before he

recollected that he had the deer's carcass on his shoulders.

One day, as he was passing over a tract of mushkeeg or bog-land, he

saw musquitoes of such enormous size, that he staked his reputation on

the fact that a single wing of one of the insects was sufficient for a

sail to his canoe, and the proboscis as big as his wife's shovel. But

he was favored with a still more extraordinary sight, in a gigantic

ant, which passed him, as he was watching a beaver's lodge, dragging

the entire carcass of a hare.

At another time, for he was ever seeing or doing something wonderful,

he got out of smoking weed, and in going into the woods in search of

some, he discovered a bunch of the red willow, or maple bush, of such a

luxuriant growth, that he was industriously occupied half a day walking

round it.