He was poor and found it hard to provide food enough for his family. But though needy he was kind and contented and always gave thanks to the Great Spirit for everything that he received. His eldest son, Wunzh, was likewise kind and gentle and thankful of heart, and he longed greatly to do something for his people.
The time came that Wunzh reached the age when every Indian boy fasts so that he may see in a vision the Spirit that is to be his guide through life.
Wunzh's father built him a little lodge apart, so that the boy might rest there undisturbed during his days of fasting. Then Wunzh withdrew to begin the solemn rite.
On the first day he walked alone in the woods looking at the flowers and plants and filling his mind with the beautiful images of growing things so that he might see them in his night-dreams. He saw how the flowers and herbs and berries grew. He knew that some were good for food, and that others healed wounds and cured sickness. And his heart was filled with even a greater longing to do something for his family and his tribe.
"Truly," thought he, "the Great Spirit made all things. To Him we owe our lives. But could He not make it easier for us to get our food than by hunting and catching fish? I must try to find this out in my vision."
So Wunzh returned to his lodge and fasted and slept. On the third day he became weak and faint. Soon he saw in a vision a young brave coming down from the sky and approaching the lodge. He was clad in rich garments of green and yellow colors. On his head was a tuft of nodding green plumes, and all his motions were graceful and swaying.
"I am sent to you, O Wunzh," said the sky-stranger, "by that Great Spirit who made all things in sky and earth. He has seen your fasting, and knows how you wish to do good to your people, and that you do not seek for strength in war nor for the praise of warriors. I am sent to tell you how you may do good to your kindred. Arise and wrestle with me, for only by overcoming me may you learn the secret."
Wunzh, though he was weak from fasting, felt courage grow in his heart. He arose and wrestled with the stranger. But soon he became weak and exhausted.
The stranger, seeing this, smiled gently on him and said, "My friend, this is enough for once. I will come again to-morrow." And he vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.
The next day the stranger came, and Wunzh felt himself weaker than before. Nevertheless, he rose and wrestled bravely. Then the stranger spoke a second time. "My friend," he said, "have courage! To-morrow will be your last trial."
And he disappeared from Wunzh's sight.
On the third day the stranger came as before, and the struggle was renewed. And Wunzh, though fainter in body, grew strong in mind and will, and he determined to win or perish in the attempt. He exerted all his powers, and, lo! in a while, he prevailed and overcame the stranger.
"O Wunzh, my friend," said the conquered one, "you have wrestled manfully. You have met your trial well. To-morrow I shall come again and you must wrestle with me for the last time. You will prevail. Do you then strip off my garments, throw me down, clean the earth of roots and weeds, and bury me in that spot. When you have done so, leave my body in the ground. Come often to the place and see whether I have come to life, but be careful not to let weeds or grass grow on my grave. If you do all this well, you will soon discover how to benefit your fellow creatures."
Having said this the stranger disappeared.
In the morning Wunzh's father came to him with food. "My son," he said, "you have fasted long. It is seven days since you have tasted food, and you must not sacrifice your life. The Master of Life does not require that."
"My father," replied the boy, "wait until the sun goes down to-morrow. For a certain reason I wish to fast until that hour."
"Very well," said the old man, "I shall wait until the time arrives when you feel inclined to eat." And he went away.
The next day, at the usual hour, the sky stranger came again. And, though Wunzh had fasted seven days, he felt a new power arise within him. He grasped the stranger with superhuman strength, and threw him down. He took from him his beautiful garments, and, finding him dead, buried him in the softened earth, and did all else as he had been directed.
He then returned to his father's lodge, and partook sparingly of food. There he abode for some time. But he never forgot the grave of his friend.
Daily he visited it, and pulled up the weeds and grass, and kept the earth soft and moist. Very soon, to his great wonder, he saw the tops of green plumes coming through the ground.
Weeks passed by, the summer was drawing to a close. One day Wunzh asked his father to follow him. He led him to a distant meadow. There, in the place where the stranger had been buried, stood a tall and graceful plant, with bright-colored, silken hair, and crowned by nodding green plumes. Its stalk was covered with waving leaves, and there grew from its sides clusters of milk-filled ears of corn, golden and sweet, each ear closely wrapped in its green husks.
"It is my friend!" shouted the boy joyously. "It is Mondawmin, the Indian Corn! We need no longer depend on hunting, so long as this gift is planted and cared for. The Great Spirit has heard my voice and has sent us this food."
Then the whole family feasted on the ears of corn and thanked the Great Spirit who gave it. So Indian Corn came into the world.
Note: For a more contemporary version of this legend, see Father of Indian Corn, a part of the Indigenous Peoples' Literature archive.
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