| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Handsome Lake (Seneca)
Handsome Lake, who related the original version of this narrative,
was a chief in the League of the Iroquois and a half-brother of Cornplanter. He
had a vision in the spring of 1799 in which three messengers of the Creator
appeared to him in traditional Iroquoian dress and told him that he and the people
must abandon alcohol, that witches were corrupting them, and that the people
must repent their corruption and ensure that the traditional Strawberry
Festival, which celebrated their relationship to the Earth, would be held every
year. The other visions that followed apocalyptically predicted the destruction
of the world by fire if the return to the old ways was not thorough and
immediate. The prophet also rejected any further ceding of Indian lands to
whites. Thus began one of the best-documented responses, which anthropologists
call revitalization or nativist movements, to European impacts. Handsome Lake’s
Longhouse Religion prospered to good effect among Iroquois people; seventy-five
years later, another revitalization movement, the Ghost Dance of the Great
Basin and Plains Indians, would lead to the tragedy at Wounded Knee.
In its re-evaluation
of Christian elements and its negative evaluation of the motives and influence
of Europeans, this narrative represents an Iroquoian vision of what are today called
Columbian consequences. It might be read in conjunction with the earlier Samuel
de Champlain selection, and it complements well the works by Samson Occom and
Hendrick Aupaumut later in this section.
The narrative was
recorded by Arthur C. Parker, himself a Seneca from a distinguished family, who
was among the many Native Americans at the turn of the twentieth century who
worked singly or with Anglo-American ethnographers to preserve traditions they
felt were disappearing under the reservation and allotment systems.
Andrew O. Wiget|
New Mexico State University
In the Heath Anthology
How America Was Discovered
[n.b., First published 1923]
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The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet
Complete text of Arthur C. Parker's 1913 book on Handsome Lake.
Thomas Jefferson's Address to Handsome Lake, 1802
Digital version of Jefferson's letter and some links.
A.F.C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca, 1969.