Nawadaha Falls and the Sweet Singer of Hiawatha

Nawadaha Falls

Nawadaha Falls, photo by Jason W Lacey

Should you ask me, whence these stories, whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest, with the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams, with the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions, and their wild reverberations,
As of thunder in the mountains.

I should answer, I should tell you: “From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland, from the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs, from the mountains, moors, and fenlands,
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,  feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them.
From the lips of Nawadaha, the musician, the sweet singer.”

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha

You may already be aware that one of the main purposes of this blog is to allow me to indulge in my passion for Michigan and its history. Names of the first people who dwelt in Michigan are of particular interest to me, and I was very gratified to discover not only that nawadjiwan is an Ojibway word meaning in the midst of the rapids, but also that it was the name of the singer who taught Longfellow The Song of Hiawatha.

I almost had to leave it there, but then I found a reference in Michael Witgen’s book An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America.

Longfellow acknowledges Schoolcraft’s influence on veiled fashion, when he tells the reader he learned Hiawatha’s story “from the lips of Nawadaha.”  Few readers would realize that this was the Indian agent’s Ojibwe name. Logfellow asserts that Nawadaha had merely repeated these stories, not unlike himself and not unlike an Indian sitting in his lodge on long winter nights telling stories to amuse the children.

You can read on for the author’s puzzlement that Michigan Indian agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft – himself married to a native woman Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Oshauguscodawaquat) – would tell tales that are in large part false. As the Wikipedia entry on the Song of Hiawatha notes however,  Longfellow was far more concerned with excitement over accuracy and made numerous editorial decisions in the construction of his epic poem. says that Nawadaha Falls is the upper most of the three falls along the Presque Isle Rivers final stretch.

This is a low, wide waterfall. Its width varies greatly depending on the water levels. Nawadaha Falls is similar to but a little higher than Manido Falls. The steepest part of the falls is on the eastern side, and when the river is low, most of the water flows there. There is a nice natural overlook out in front of this drop easily reached from the trail on the east side of the river.

South Boundary Road is not to far beyond Nawadaha Falls. You can cross river here and hike down the other side to make a loop around all the Presque Isle Falls. The eastern side is much wilder, but the whole hike is very enjoyable.

They add that Manabezho Falls is the larger and most interesting but that the whole hike is well worth it. To bring this full circle, the figure that Hiawatha is modeled on is the trickster god and emissary of the Great Spirit, Manabezho.

Check this out background bigtacular and see more in Jason’s great Michigan slideshow.

Many more Michigan waterfalls on Michigan in Pictures!

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