Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 203


The stone that juts from one of the high banks of the Missouri, in South Dakota, gives its name to the Standing Rock Agency, which, by reason of many councils, treaties, fights, feasts, and dances held there, is the best known of the frontier posts. It was a favorite gathering place of the Sioux before the advent of the white man. The rock itself is only twenty-eight inches high and fifteen inches wide, and could be plucked up and carried away without difficulty, but no red man is brave enough to do that, for this is the transformed body of a squaw who was struck into stone by Manitou for falsely suspecting her husband of unfaithfulness.

After her transformation she not only remained sentient but acquired supernatural powers that the Sioux propitiated by offerings of beads, tobacco, and ribbons, paint, fur, and game—a practice that was not abandoned until the teachings of missionaries began to have effect among them. Soldiers and trappers think the story an ingenious device to prevent too close inquiry into the lives of some of the nobility of the tribe. The Arickarees, however, regard this stone as the wife of one of their braves, who was so pained and mortified when her husband took a second wife that she went out into the prairie and neither ate nor drank until she died, when the Great Spirit turned her into the Standing Stone. The squaws still resort to it in times of domestic trouble.


A pillar of snowy salt once stood on the Nebraska plain, about forty miles above the point where the Saline flows into the Platte, and white men used to hear of it as the Salt Witch. An Indian tribe was for a long time quartered at the junction of the rivers, its chief a man of blood and muscle in whom his people gloried, but so fierce, withal, that nobody made a companion of him except his wife, who alone could check his tigerish rages.

In sooth, he loved her so well that on her death he became a recluse and shut himself within his lodge, refusing to see anybody. This mood endured with him so long that mutterings were heard in the tribe and there was talk of choosing another chief. Some of this talk he must have heard, for one morning he emerged in war-dress, and without a word to any one strode across the plain to westward. On returning a full month later he was more communicative and had something unusual to relate. He also proved his prowess by brandishing a belt of fresh scalps before the eyes of his warriors, and he had also brought a lump of salt.

He told them that after travelling far over the prairie he had thrown himself on the earth to sleep, when he was aroused by a wailing sound close by. In the light of a new moon he saw a hideous old woman brandishing a tomahawk over the head of a younger one, who was kneeling, begging for mercy, and trying to shake off the grip from her throat. The sight of the women, forty miles from the village, so surprised the chief that he ran toward them. The younger woman made a desperate effort to free herself, but in vain, as it seemed, for the hag wound her left hand in her hair while with the other she raised the axe and was about to strike.

At that moment the chief gained a view of the face of the younger woman-it was that of his dead wife. With a snarl of wrath he leaped upon the hag and buried his own hatchet in her brain, but before he could catch his wife in his arms the earth had opened and both women disappeared, but a pillar of salt stood where he had seen this thing. For years the Indians maintained that the column was under the custody of the Salt Witch, and when they went there to gather salt they would beat the ground with clubs, believing that each blow fell upon her person and kept her from working other evil.



The hope of finding El Dorado, that animated the adventurous Spaniards who made the earlier recorded voyages to America, lived in the souls of Western mountaineers as late as the first half of this century. Ample discoveries of gold in California and Colorado gave color to the belief in this land of riches, and hunger, illness, privation, the persecutions of savages, and death itself were braved in the effort to reach and unlock the treasure caves of earth. Until mining became a systematic business, prospectors were dissatisfied with the smaller deposits of precious metal and dreamed of golden hills farther away. The unknown regions beyond the Rocky Mountains were filled by imagination with magnificent possibilities, and it was the hope of the miner to penetrate the wilderness, "strike it rich," and "make his pile."