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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 196

In 1840 a number of desperate fellows had settled along Cedar River, near its confluence with the Iowa, who subsisted by means of theft from the frugal and industrious. Some of these men applied themselves especially to horse-stealing, and in thinly settled countries, where a man has often to go twenty or thirty miles for supplies, or his mail, or medical attendance, it is thought to be a calamity to be without a horse.

At last the people organized themselves into a vigilance committee and ran down the thieves. As the latter were a conscienceless gang of rascals, it was resolved that the only effectual way of reforming them would be by hanging. One man of the nine, it is true, was supposed before his arrest to be a respectable citizen, but his evil communications closed the ears of his neighbors to his appeals, and it was resolved that he, too, should hang.

Not far away stood an oak with nine stout branches, and to this natural gallows the rogues were taken. As a squall was coming up the ceremonies were short, and presently every limb was weighted with the form of a captive. The formerly respectable citizen was the last one to be drawn up, and hardly had his halter been secured before the storm burst and a bolt of lightning ripped off the limb on which he hung. During the delay caused by this accident the unhappy man pleaded so earnestly for a rehearing that it was decided to give it to him, and when he had secured it he conclusively proved his innocence and was set free. The tree is still standing. To the ruffians it was a warning and they went away. Even the providential saving of one man did not detract from the value of the lesson to avoid bad company.





THE KILLING OF CLOUDY SKY

In the Dakota camp on the bank of Spirit Lake, or Lake Calhoun, Iowa, lived Cloudy Sky, a medicine-man, who had been made repellent by age and accident, but who was feared because of his magic power. At eighty years of age he looked for a third wife, and chose the daughter of a warrior, his presents of blankets and calicoes to the parents winning their consent. The girl, Harpstenah (a common name for a third daughter among the Sioux), dreaded and hated this man, for it was rumored that he had killed his first wife and basely sold his second. When she learned what had been decided for her she rushed from the camp in tears and sat in a lonely spot near the lake to curse and lament unseen. As she sat there the waters were troubled. There was no wind, yet great waves were thrown up, and tumbled hissing on the shore. Presently came a wave higher than the rest, and a graceful form leaped from it, half shrouded in its own long hair.

"Do not tremble," said the visitant, for Harpstenah had hidden her face. "I am the daughter of Unktahe, the water god. In four days your parents will give you to Cloudy Sky, as his wife, though you love Red Deer. It is with you to wed the man you hate or the man you love. Cloudy Sky has offended the water spirits and we have resolved upon his death. If you will be our agent in destroying him, you shall marry Red Deer and live long and happily. The medicine-man wandered for years through the air with the thunder birds, flinging his deadly fire-spears at us, and it was for killing the son of Unktahe that he was last sent to earth, where he has already lived twice before. Kill him while he sleeps and we will reward you."


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