Oral History Documentation:
The Thunderbird and Old Post
From: Benjamin G. Armstrong's 'Early Life Among the Indians' Chapter 12
The Indians believe that thunder is the voice of an immense invisible bird that comes at times to warn them that the Great Spirit is displeased with something they have done, and that it always comes when the county is already storm-vexed, as the time is then opportune to add its voice to the naturally saddened feelings of the people, thereby making its presence more effective. The lightning they believe to be flashes from the eyes of this enormous bird, and when the storm is fierce and the flashes vivid it is taken as a warning that their bad deeds are many and that their retribution must be great. When one is killed by the fluid they believe it is a judgment sent by the Great Spirit through the agency of this mysterious bird. They call this bird Che-ne-me-ke. When they see distant flashes of lightning and do not hear the voice, as they believe, of this great bird, they know it is at a distance, but still believe it is teaching a lesson to distant people and will soon be with them. But should a storm pass by without the voice and flashes coming near them they are happy again, for they feel relieve, believing that the bird is not angry with them. They firmly believe this bird to be an agency of the Almighty, which is kept moving about to keep an eye on the wrong doings of the people. When a tree is stricken and set on fire, the lesson it wishes to impart has been given and the rain is sent to prevent the fire from destroying the country.
There is a point of land in this part of the country that the Indians call Pa-qua-a-wong... I have visited this place. It is now almost barren. The timber which was once upon it having been destroyed by lightening and the Indians believe that the storm bird destroyed this forest to show its wrath, that they might profit by the lesson. A hunting party of Indians were once caught on this barren in a thunderstorm and took refuge under the trunk of a fallen tree, which had been burnt sufficiently on the underside to give them shelter. One of the party, in his hurry to get out of the rain, left his gun standing against the log. The lightning struck it, running down the barrel and twisting it into many shapes and destroying it and the owner of this gun was thereafter pointed out by the whole band as the person upon whom the storm bird desired to bestow its frowns. So deep seated are their convictions upon this point that there is not enough language in the Indian tongue or words enough in the English vocabulary to convince them of their error. The quotation is a truthful one, which says, “They saw God in the clouds and heard Him in the winds.”
Since white men came among them the
Indians they have not been slow to learn. I have often heard them
remark, “The earth is the white man’s heaven and money is his god.”