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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 201





THE SPELL OF CREVE CIUR LAKE

Not far west of St. Louis the Lake of Creve Coeur dimples in the breezes that bend into its basin of hills, and there, in summer, swains and maidens go to confirm their vows, for the lake has an influence to strengthen love and reunite contentious pairs. One reason ascribed for the presence of this spell concerns a turbulent Peoria, ambitious of leadership and hungry for conquest, who fell upon the Chawanons at this place, albeit he was affianced to the daughter of their chief. The girl herself, enraged at the treachery of the youngster, put herself at the head of her band—a dusky Joan of Arc,—and the fight waged so furiously that the combatants, what were left of them, were glad when night fell that they might crawl away to rest their exhausted bodies and nurse their wounds. Neither tribe daring to invite a battle after that, hostilities were stopped, but some time later the young captain met the girl of his heart on the shore, and before the amazon could prepare for either fight or flight he had caught her in his arms. They renewed their oaths of fidelity, and at the wedding the chief proclaimed eternal peace and blessed the waters they had met beside, the blessing being potent to this day.

Another reason for the enchantments that are worked here may be that the lake is occupied by a demon-fish or serpent that crawls, slimy and dripping, through the underbrush, whenever it sees two lovers together, and listens to their words. If the man prove faithless he would best beware of returning to this place, for the demon is lurking there to destroy him. This monster imprisons the soul of an Ozark princess who flung herself into the lake when she learned that the son of the Spanish governor, who had vowed his love to her, had married a woman of his own rank and race in New Orleans. So they call the lake Creve Coeur, or Broken Heart. On the day after the suicide the Ozark chief gathered his men about him and paddled to the middle of the water, where he solemnly cursed his daughter in her death, and asked the Great Spirit to confine her there as a punishment for giving her heart to the treacherous white man, the enemy of his people. The Great Spirit gave her the form in which she is occasionally seen, to warn and punish faithless lovers.





HOW THE CRIME WAS REVEALED

In 1853 a Hebrew peddler, whose pack was light and his purse was full, asked leave to pass the night at the house of Daniel Baker, near Lebanon, Missouri. The favor was granted, and that was the last seen of Samuel Moritz; although, when some neighbors shook their heads and wondered how it was that Baker was so well in funds, there were others who replied that it was impossible to keep track of peddlers, and that if Moritz wanted to start on his travels early in the morning, or to return to St. Louis for goods, it mattered to nobody. On an evening in 1860 when there was a mist in the gullies and a new moon hung in the west, Rev. Mr. Cummings, a clergyman of that region, was driving home, and as he came to a bridge near "old man" Baker's farm he saw a man standing on it, with a pack on his back and a stick in his hand, who was staring intently at something beneath the bridge. The clergyman greeted him cheerily and asked him if he would like to ride, whereat the man looked him in the face and pointed to the edge of the bridge. Mr. Cummings glanced down, saw nothing, and when he looked up again the man with the pack had disappeared. His horse at the same moment gave a snort and plunged forward at a run, so that the clergyman's attention was fully occupied until he had brought the animal under control again; when he glanced back and saw that the man was still standing in the bridge and looking over the edge of it. The minister told his neighbors of this adventure, and on returning with two of them to the spot next morning they found the body of old man Baker swinging by the neck from a beam of the bridge exactly beneath where the apparition had stood—for it must have been an apparition, inasmuch as the dust, damped though it had been with dew, showed no trace of footprint. In taking down the body the men loosened the earth on a shelving bank, and the gravel rolling away disclosed a skeleton with some bits of clothing on it that were identified as belongings of Samuel Moritz. Was it conscience, craziness, or fate that led old man Baker to hang himself above the grave of his victim?





BANSHEE OF THE BAD LANDS

"Hell, with the fires out," is what the Bad Lands of Dakota have been called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is an ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canons wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but bleak, savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills, rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization. It may have been the white victim of a red man's jealousy that haunts the region of the butte called "Watch Dog," or it may have been an Indian woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a bear or panther. By moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and unearthly, and the noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the ghost is seen on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing, her arms tossing in strange gestures.


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