The Ancient Religion of the Delaware Indians and Observations and Reflections



By Richard C. Adams

Copyright 1904 by Richard C. Adams, Washington, D.C.

Presented by the Harding Foundation to Moffett Library Midwestern University


Author’s Statement.


The reluctance of the Indian to give the world a full view of his religion and faith is, perhaps, the chief reason why he is greatly misunderstood. He holds these things so sacred that he will say but little about them outside of his place of worship, and less to one not of his own blood.

Were it not for the fact that the blood of my race is fast disappearing, and that if these things are not recorded now, they may be lost forever, and for the further reason that I believe they are worthy of careful consideration, I would not attempt to write this book.

The Delaware Indians have kept no written records, but have from time immemorial trained certain young men as teachers, who are to succeed the older man as they die, and at the annual meetings these young men assist in conducting the ceremonies, and finally take their places as leaders themselves.

I have been collecting the data for this book for a number of years. I have talked with many of the old people, who are now dead, and have had some of them review my manuscript. I have attended their meetings, and have taken notes while they were going on, and, try as hard as I may, I feel that I cannot do them justice in my effort to translate their orations and songs, for it is almost impossible for me to find words in the English language to convey to you the beautiful thoughts our orators express in their native tongue.

One of our teachers of this faith, after being persuaded to assist me in this work, said: “Yes, I will help, because I am afraid there are so few of us that our meetings will soon be a thing of the past. Our people are becoming too much like the white men now; interested in making money, so much so, that even brothers and sisters today do not take as much interest in each other as members of different clans did years ago. This is the result of the teaching of the white man, which appeals more to the selfish interest of the individual, and suits many of our young people better. In following the white man’s faith you can do as you please until you are ready to die, then, by repenting, can escape all responsibility for your acts, and go to Heaven without any efforts of your own. According to our faith you must follow the dictates of your guardian spirit, or conscience, which is the connecting link with the Great Spirit, and thus improve yourself in each sphere you pass through until you have finally reached the Happy Hunting Ground, and have in some manner merited a reward yourself.”

There are now living in the Cherokee Nation about 1,150 Delaware Indians. Perhaps two-thirds of them can read and write. About 200 are full bloods, one-half of whom adhere to the old faith, while about one-third of the tribe profess the Christian faith; which to me is a most remarkable thing, considering the massacre of the Christian Indians in Gnadenhutten, Pa., and Gnadenhutten, Ohio, and the further persecution of them after that, at the hands of the race who taught them that faith.

At some future time I may attempt to publish the twelve opening orations, and as many of the others as I can obtain.


Thanksgiving Dance


Traditions of our people as far back as the memories of our tribe are that we always had a Thanksgiving Dance. That many, many generations ago we came from a far-off country in the northwest; came across a land of ice and snow, until we reached the Great Fish River, or Mississippi River, where we found many people living in that valley who fiercely opposed our progress, but, after a long war, we completely overcame them, and proceeded on our journey until we finally settled in that country watered by the Susquehanna and the Delaware Rivers, our territory extending from the mountains to the tide water. Here all the Algonquin tribes lived near them, and they became powerful and rich, so much so that they forgot to give thanks to the Great Spirit.

About that time there was a great famine or drouth. Following this, great earthquakes came, rivers went dry, streams and springs started up in places where water had scarcely been seen before. Mountains came and disappeared and great fear prevailed among the people.

About this time there came to the head chief, or sachem, of the Delawares a little boy, who told the chief that his people had treated him very badly; that they would make him do more work than he was able to do and would give him but little to eat; that he had felt very badly about the way he was treated, but had put up with it. Finally, one day his people told him to go out and gather some wild sweet potatoes, which were considered a great delicacy. he went, and, to show that he was industrious, and thinking to get a little praise, or if not that, at least, to escape blame by bringing home a bountiful supply, he worked hard and got all he could carry.

He reached home as early as possible, and his people put the potatoes on to cook in a large kettle at noon. They cooked them until the evening star went down, but before this time they made the little boy go to bed without any supper. After he had been in bed some time they began to eat the potatoes and other food. They called the boy, and he answered, and jumped quickly from the bed, thinking he was invited to take part in the feast. He was only abused, however, called a glutton and told to go away. So, heart-broken and in despair, he left the house and wandered aimlessly until he was utterly exhausted. He then went to sleep. Before this he was moaning to himself over his unfortunate lot. He cried out to the Great Spirit to give him relief. He began his supplication with O-oo and heard twelve voices with the same sound.

When he went to sleep there came to him a man with his face painted red, and as he emerged from the darkness only half of his face showed. This man talked to him and told of the great things there were in the world beyond; that his people were wicked, not only his own family but all his tribe; that they had forgotten the Great Spirit, which was the reason why the earthquakes and other trouble had been visited upon them, and that more would follow, if they did not repent. The boy asked why he heard twelve voices answer his prayer, and the spirit to whom he was talking replied that he would have to pass through twelve worlds or spheres before he could get to the home of the Great Spirit; that in each sphere there was a Manitou ruling, and that no prayer could reach the Great Spirit that did not come through the twelve spheres; that his cry had reached the first, who transmitted it to the second, and he in turn to the third, and so on until the twelfth delivered it to the Great Spirit himself.

He was told to go to the head chief or sachem and tell him that the people should return thanks each autumn to the Great Spirit, and when the people all met he should say that the Great Spirit sent him to talk to them; that he was a medicine man, made so this night; that he had received the gift of the Great Medicine from the Great Spirit himself. He was to tell the people they should never be discouraged when trials and tribulations came to them, for it was under those circumstances, and when in that condition, that the Great Spirit took compassion upon mortals, and made them superior and possessed of great influence over their fellow men; that none of the tribe had gone through as great trials as he had.

The chief or sachem called the people together, and they renewed the Thanksgiving Dance of the Delawares. The little boy told what he had seen. He told them that they were to prepare a long, large, house, and inside this house were to be twelve posts, each with a face carved on it, half the face to be painted red and the other half black. There should also be a center post with four faces carved on it. These posts were to represent the twelve Manitous who guarded the twelve spheres through which the people should pass to reach the Happy Hunting Ground. The center post represented the Great Spirit, who saw and knew all things.

Every year after that they were to return thanks to the Great Spirit in the time of the autumn full moon, when nature had painted the forest in brilliant hues and the harvest was over. The dance was to last twelve days, which was the time it would take the twelve Manitous to convey their thanks and prayers to the Great Spirit.

All the people are to enter at the east and retire the same way. When they come in they are to pass to the right of the fire and each clan takes its place, sitting on the ground (skins or robes are thrown down for them to sit on) next to the wall.

The Turtle clan on the south, the Turkey on the west, and the Wolf on the north, and, in no case, shall any one pass between the center post and the east door, but must go around the center post to go to the north side of the dance house. The medicine man shall lead the dance. A tortoise shell, dried and polished, and containing several pebbles, is to be placed in the southeast corner, near the door, in front of the first person, known as the orator. If he has anything to say, he will take the shell and rattle it, and an answer shall come from the south of the dance house from the singers who hit on a dry deer hide. then the parties who had the tortoise shell shall make a talk to the people, and thank the Great Spirit for their blessings, and then proceed to dance, going to the right and around the fire, followed by all who wished to dance, and, finally, coming to the center post, stop there. All the people shall shake hands with him, and return to their seats. Then the shell should be passed to the next person, who shall either pass it on or rattle it, as he chooses. They shall have a doorkeeper and a leader, and twelve oshkosh n to sweep the ground with turkey wings, make fires, and serve as messengers. The ashes should always be taken out of the west door. In front of the east door, outside, should be a high pole, on which venison should hang. The oshkosh shall distribute food among the people. The officers and oshkosh are to be paid in wampum for their services. In no case shall they allow a dog to enter the dance house, and no one should laugh inside or in any way be rude. The orators repeat the traditions, but each party is allowed to speak and tell his dream or give advice. Every one has a guardian spirit. Sometimes representations of it come in the form of some bird, animal, or anything; at times we see it in dreams, and at other times by impression; and it tells us what to do or what will happen, etc. The guardian spirit is sent from the Great Spirit. It is the inward voice.

The last thing, when the dance is over, all the people are to go out and stand in a line east and west, with their faces south, and bow down and thank the Great Spirit, and then go home.

Some of the Delaware Indians still keep up this dance, but the dance house is not so large as it used to be, and the attendance now is not more than one hundred. Any Indian of any tribe can participate in the dance.

At the dance all who take part repeat what the leader says, both the song and the exhortation. The leader often repeats the story of the little boy, comparing our trials to that of the little boy who had met with disappointments, but telling that after a while the Great Spirit sent him gifts, by which he was enabled to overcome these disappointments, or be strong enough to bear them.

Sometimes in their dreams or visions they see men, sometimes birds or animals, and in telling of them they do not say they had a dream, but say: “There came to me this,” etc.

These dreams and impressions are sometimes used as illustrations by the orator before repeating the orations that have been handed down from memory. There are quite a number of these orations. On the following pages are some expressed as nearly as can well be translated.

The historical or opening oration gives one a fair idea of what their faith is. Each night the orations are different, and each night several dances take place; and preceding the dance will be an oration of instructions, an oration of thanks, an oration of praise and encouragement, or an address in which the speaker gives his impressions, and speaks generally for the good of the assembly.

Before the dance closes each night, hominy is passed around, and all partake of it and say: “For this we are thankful.”

Fire is made with the use of fire sticks by friction, which they call pure fire. Smoking is permissible in the dance house, but the smoker must use the fire that is burning in the center, and made by the oshkosh, which is called pure fire. No matches are allowed to be used.

When the Manitou appeared to the little boy, his face was painted red, but as he emerged from utter darkness only one-half of his face showed, and he was singing—


Ah nah adee loo- hol la na pa

Nah an dee loo hol la na pe


1.      Wan nee la na pa wee ta Wa na la ---

2.      U het mah no la loma coop u het mah –


na – pe wee ta Kat tunah Ka-

ho – la lom a coop Wan e ka Sha


lum muck a Kat tum ah Ka lum muck a

lum oh kung Wan e ka Sha lum oh kung.


            The above, translated in English, means:

            “These Delawares are my own people, and here is where I bring them in their days of tribulation that they make supplications to my Maker, the Creator.”


Song of Thanksgiving Dance


A hu mah too mah Kan nee na

op A hu mah too mah Kanneena op Yuh pa mee

ton uk nun nee Yuh pa mee

ton uk nun nee A lung goo mung

wa nee la na pa A lung goo mungwa

nee la na pa


            There are many songs they sing at this dance, and the following is the English translation of the words with music above:*


            “There’s a highway over there,

            There’s a highway over there,

            Flowing fast towards us,

            Flowing fast towards us,

            Calling to the Delawares,

            Calling to the Delawares.”


*This song refers to the Milky Way, which is supposed to be the road to the Happy Hunting Ground.


Historical or Opening Oration of the Thanksgiving Dance of the Delawares.


Long before our great grandfathers

Heard the story I now tell you,

We were once a nation great,

Who from out the west of north came

Through a land of ice and snow.

Came unto the great fish river,

Where fierce warriors there did meet us

And quite vainly did oppose us,

In the course we did pursue.

When at last we settled firmly,

In a country rich with game,

And began to grow and prosper,

We forgot them to be grateful

For the blessings that came to us.


Then there was a little boy,

Who with sorrow deep was burdened;

For his father and his mother

From this life had both departed.

He with strangers was then living,

Who abused him without mercy;

He was forced to many hardships,

And with hunger did he suffer.

But the Manitou who rules us

With compassion looked upon him,

And at night he came unto him,

For he heard his cry of sorrow.


Thus the Manitou spoke to him,

To the chieftain of the nation,

Do proceed when comes the morning;

Say to him that I have called you

For my people, the Lenape;

And unless they harken to me,

Mighty earthquakes will I send them –

Then will follow other troubles

Fast to make them feel their weakness.


Say to them to build a long house,

Lengthwise from the east to westward,

And when the moon is bright in autumn,

All the clans should there assemble.

From the east door they shall enter,

To the right must they pass forward,

‘Round the fire that’s in the center

‘Till the clans all take their places.

There shall be twelve oshkosh ready,

Six of men and six of women,

Who shall keep the fires burning

And the dust sweep from the dance ground.

They shall be paid well in wampum

For their service to the people.


As the oshkosh makes the fire,

With the fire sticks in his hand,

Bu the constant, tireless rubbing,

‘Till the burning embers come,

So must we have so much friction

And must suffer so much pain,

That our spirits glow more brightly,

By the test of each ordeal.


When the clans are well assembled

On the south shall sit the singers;

On the north shall sit the speaker,

And a tortoise shell with pebbles

Shall be placed before the speaker.

He who feels it is his duty

To address his fellow creatures

And give thanks to the Great Spirit

May attract them with the rattle,

As from left to right it passes.


And when all are well assembled

They should send their thanks with pleasures

To the greatest of the spirits

By the Manitou who greets him;

For twelve Manitous are ruling,

One in each sphere you must pass through

Ere you reach the great hereafter,

Where abides the Great, Great Spirit.


On the wall of the long dance house

Shall twelve faces there be carven,

And the post that’s in the center

Carve four faces there upon it;

This reminds you as you see them

That e’en Manitous look to him,

But the Spirit who is greater

Watches each and all together,

So to Him you must be thankful

For each blessing you’re receiving;

And to Him, when you’re in trouble,

Send a cry of tribulation,

For, the best of all the greetings,

Said he this, “they are my people.”

And if we will but remember

The Great Spirit hears our cry,

As with the right hand thus extended,

Twelve times call we forth Oh-o-o;

And no other message send Him,

Save a cry of sore distress.

Who would dare presume to mention

To his Maker what is needed?

What to you would be most pleasing,

May your brother greatly grieve.


Thus in singing, dance, and feasting,

For twelve nights and days assembled,

Show him you are glad and happy,

That you thus have been remembered,

And are promised greater blessings

In the lives that come hereafter;

‘Till at last you’ve reached the station

Where the Great Spirit abideth

And you’ll hear the best of greetings,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


You must always help each other

And respect the older people;

You must always teach your children

To be grateful to their Maker,

And to try always to please Him

Daily by their thoughts and actions;

That at last when they have passed through

All the lives that are before them,

They will fear not then to meet Him,

And will know that he will greet them

With the best of all the greetings,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


Why should we have been created

If our existence here is ended?

Why have we ambition here, then,

If no progress is beyond this?

Who is here contented fully,

Be his station high or low?

This to you should be convincing.

There is much we have to gather

In the life we now are living,

And much more to be accomplished

In the lives that come hereafter,

E’er we pass the last divide,

And shall hear the best of greetings,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


There’s no person who’s so humble,

There’s no person who’s so low,

But who yet may freely enter

In that chamber where now dwells

Those who speak to the Great Spirit;

But he long may go astray,

And in darkness may he wander,

‘Til at last he finds the way there.

Thus we are now here assembled

In obedience to the call,

While I now repeat the teachings

You have often heard before,

How to hear the best of greetings,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


On the twelfth day of the meeting,

Just before you do disband,

All shall march in single file

To the eastward from the door,

And when all are well outside

To the south must you look forth,

And while standing thus in line

Twelve times then with reverence bow

To acknowledge your dependence,

On the Spirit who is greatest,

Who, we’re promised, yet will greet us

With the best of all the greetings,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


You should never shirk a danger,

You should never shun a duty;

But should always move with caution

And defend yourselves with vigor.

Your Creator hates a coward;

Your Creator hates a liar,

And he does not love a boaster

Or a person seeking quarrels.

If you follow well these teachings

All the nations will respect you,

And when you’ve passed the twelve divisions

That the future has before you,

And have reached the final station,

Where the past and where the future

Have been blended all together,

And where mystery can not baffle

Those who hear the best of greetings

From the greatest of the spirits,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”


There you’ll move with perfect freedom,

Space and time no more a barrier,

And the distant starry highway

You will know and travel often,

Helping weaker kindred spirits

To the limit of the journey

‘Till they reach the height of knowledge,

‘Till they hear the best of greetings

By the greatest of the spirits,

“Welcome here, you are my people.”