The Origin of Tobacco

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Long ago, when the Potawatomi still lived on the ocean in the east and close to their grandfathers, the Delaware, a old man had a dream that something extraordinary would grow in his garden which was in a clearing he had made nearby.

In his dream, he was warned never to let any women approach his farm, so he cut down trees so they fell down over the stumps and made a natural fence. The people of his village grew to suspect that something was going on, but they could see nothing.

His uncles and nephews teased him about his garden and asked him how he expected a crop of anything when he had planted no seed. They teased him so much that he became angry, and when everyone else went on the summer hunt in July, the old man stayed at home to tend to his field.

At length, plants sprang up in his garden even though he had not planted anything. The old man did not know what to call the plant, but he hoed it well, and it grew up strong and thick. At last a neighboring Delaware came to visit him, and he showed his friend what he had and explained that it had come as the result of a vision sent by the Great Spirit.

“Why,” said the Delaware, “My people have this sacred herb also. One of our number also dreamed of it, the same as you did.” “How do you use it?” asked the Potawatomi.

The Delaware answered, “My grandson, if this was a gift to you from the Great Spirit, you ought to know. You should be shown by the Great Spirit how to use it. But if that doesn’t happen by fall, come to me and I will show you how we use ours.”

The old man was more puzzled than ever, so he decided to fast and see if the Great Spirit would tell him what he wanted to know. When he had gone without food for two days, the Great Spirit appeared to him and told him to gather the leaves and dry them to pray with, to burn in the fire as incense, and to smoke in his pipe. He was told that tobacco should be the main offering at every feast and sacrifice.

After he had had this dream. the old man went to a place near the sea where there was a hill of soft black stone. He broke off a long rectangular piece, and started to make a pipe. It was very hard to make and he went to his Delaware friend for help. Then they made a pipe stem out of wood. By this time the Delaware saw that his Potawatomi friend had learned the use of tobacco, so he took out his own pipe, filled it with tobacco from his pouch, lighted it and passed it to his Potawatomi friend.

The Potawatomi man laughed and said: “I intend to smoke, but I certainly did not understand before.” The Potawatomi man had his wife sew a buckskin wrapper around the stem and make him a tobacco pouch. Then he harvested and dried his tobacco.

When the hunters returned from the hunt, the people all went over to see what had grown in the mysterious garden. They were surprised at the peculiar appearance and the strong taste of the broad leaves. No one knew what to call it. The old man soon saw that the people had been taking the leaves from the garden, and he asked the chief to keep them out. So the chief walked all around the village himself, announcing that the people must keep out of that garden and respect its owner on account of his age. “Wait until he is ready to tell us about it,” he ordered.

One day the old man gave a feast, and seated the chief on his left. He said, “I am glad that you all have been quiet about my garden, and have listened to my wishes. You all know that it was impossible for me to make this herb, and that it is a gift from the Creator because I did not plant it. We all believe what is given to us in our dreams, and this was given to me in a dream.”

“I dreamed that something was going to grow where I had burned and cleared the earth for a garden, so I fenced it off as though something sacred was there. That was to keep the women away from it, because you know they usually tend the gardens. I fasted for another vision to know how to use this plant and then the Great Spirit appeared and told me how to use this herb in sacrifices, and to place it in the fire and smoke it. I give this feast in honor of the new blessing that is to be with us now for all our lives.”

The chief now stood upon his feet and thanked the old man for being so faithful to his dreams. He said, “My people, always think of this man, Wakusha the Fox of the Fox clan, who got this for us. Now I will burn the tobacco, and we will all pray for him. He brought it here, and he will divide it among you all. I want you all to take it and use it when you are hunting. Put it in the fire and tell Our Grandfather the fire where you are going, and for how long. Never leave without telling Our Grandfather these things, and pray to the Great Spirit.”

The assembled people all rejoiced and thanked the old man, Fox. Everyone had heard that the Delaware had such a sacred herb, but no one knew what it was until now, when it was given to Fox to pass it on to all Indians. Fox rose once more and said that he would distribute the seeds to everyone, and they were to plant it far off where the women would not come. They were also to set up a pole with leaves left at the top in the middle of the tobacco patch as a sign and a warning to the women to keep away from it.

Cedar leaves were burned and food was blessed by the chief, and all ate the feast thanking the Great Spirit that tobacco had come to them. When they had finished, a man stood up and said that he thanked the Great Spirit, and each person went over and squatted by the fire and burned tobacco and prayed to the Great Spirit. When this was over, they all thanked Fox again and rejoiced over the coming of the tobacco.

Then Fox took his tobacco bag and filled and lighted his stone pipe and said: “This stone pipe I copied from that used by our Grandfather, the Delaware. I have mixed the tobacco with dried sumac leaves, just as he does.” He passed the pipe for all to see and smoke, and it was only a few days before everyone had made a similar one of stone or wood.

From that time on, the Indians smoked as part of their prayers. When Whites came, they took up smoking tobacco, but never used it as part of their prayers, which is definitely not what it was intended for when it was given to the Indian people by the Great Spirit.