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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Handsome†Lake (Seneca)
(fl. 1799)

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 Lakeís 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 (1923) †[n.b., First published 1923]

Other Works

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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.

Secondary Sources

A.F.C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca, 1969.