Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 168


When the Chatas looked into the still depths of Bayou Lacombe, Louisiana, they said that the reflection of the sky was the empyrean of the Under Land, whither all good souls were sure to go after death. Their chief, Opaleeta, having fallen into this bayou, was so long beneath the water that he was dead when his fellows found him, but by working over him for hours, and through resort to prayers and incantations of medicine men, his life returned and he stood on his feet once more. Then he grieved that his friends had brought him back, for he had been at the gates of the Under Land, where the air is blithe and balmy, and so nourishing that people live on it; where it is never winter; where the sun shines brightly, but never withers and parches; and where stars dance to the swing of the breezes. There no white man comes to rob the Indian and teach him to do wrong. Gorgeous birds fly through changing skies that borrow the tints of flowers, the fields are spangled with blossoms of red and blue and gold that load each wind with perfume, the grass is as fine as the hair of deer, and the streams are thick with honey.

At sunset those who loved each other in life are gathered to their lodges, and raise songs of joy and thankfulness. Their voices are soft and musical, their faces are young again and beam with smiles, and there is no death. It was only the chiefs who heard his story, for, had all the tribe known it, many who were old and ill and weary would have gone to the bayou, and leaped in, to find that restful, happy Under Land. Those who had gone before they sometimes tried to see, when the lake was still and dappled with pictures of sunset clouds, but the dead never came back—they kept away from the margin of the water lest they should be called again to a life of toil and sorrow. And Opaleeta lived for many years and ruled his tribe with wisdom, yet he shared in few of the merry-makings of his people, and when, at last, his lodge was ready in the Under Land, he gave up his life without a sigh.



In 1786 a little building stood at North Bend, Ohio, near the junction of the Miami and Ohio Rivers, from which building the stars and stripes were flying. It was one of a series of blockhouses built for the protecting of cleared land while the settlers were coming in, yet it was a trading station rather than a fort, for the attitude of government toward the red men was pacific. The French of the Mississippi Valley were not reconciled, however, to the extension of power by a Saxon people, and the English in Canada were equally jealous of the prosperity of those provinces they had so lately lost. Both French and English had emissaries among the Shawnees when it had become known that the United States intended to negotiate a treaty with them.

It was the mild weather that comes for a time in October, when Cantantowit blesses the land from his home in the southwest with rich colors, plaintive perfumes of decay, soft airs, and tender lights a time for peace; but the garrison at the fort realized that the situation was precarious. The Shawnees had camped about them, and the air was filled with the neighing of their ponies and the barking of their dogs. To let them into the fort was to invite massacre; to keep them out after they had been summoned was to declare war.

Colonel George Rogers Clarke, of Virginia, who was in command, scoffed at the fears of his men, and would not give ear to their appeals for an adjournment of the meeting or a change of the place of it. At the appointed hour the doors were opened and the Indians came in. The pipe of peace was smoked in the usual form, but the red men were sullen and insolent, and seemed to be seeking a cause of quarrel. Clarke explained that the whites desired only peace, and he asked the wise men to speak for their tribe. A stalwart chief arose, glanced contemptuously at the officer and his little guard, and, striding to the table where Clarke was seated, threw upon it two girdles of wampum—the peace-belt and the war-belt. "We offer you these belts," he said. "You know what they mean. Take which you like."

It was a deliberate insult and defiance. Both sides knew it, and many of the men held their breath. Clarke carelessly picked up the war-belt on the point of his cane and flung it among the assembled chiefs. Every man in the room sprang to his feet and clutched his weapon. Then, with a sternness that was almost ferocious, Clarke pointed to the door with an imperative action, and cried, "Dogs, you may go!"

The Indians were foiled in their ill intent by his self-possession and seeming confidence, which made them believe that he had forces in the vicinity that they were not prepared to meet. They had already had a bitter experience of his strength and craft, and in the fear that a trap had been set for them they fled tumultuously. The treaty was ratified soon after.


When the new First Regiment of United States Infantry paused at Marietta, Ohio, on its way to garrison Vincennes, its officers made a gay little court there for a time. The young Major Hamtramck—contemptuously called by the Indians "the frog on horseback," because of his round shoulders—found especial pleasure in the society of Marianne Navarre, who was a guest at the house of General Arthur St. Clair; but the old general viewed this predilection with disfavor, because he had hoped that his own daughter would make a match with the major. But Louisa longed for the freedom of the woods. She was a horsewoman and a hunter, and she had a sentimental fondness for Indians.

When Joseph Brandt (Thayendanegea) camped with his dreaded band near the town, it was she who—without her father's knowledge, and in the disguise of an Indian girl—took the message that had been entrusted to a soldier asking the tribe to send delegates to a peace council at the fort. Louisa and Brandt had met in Philadelphia some years before, when both were students in that city, and he was rejoiced to meet her again, for he had made no secret of his liking for her, and in view of the bravery she had shown in thus riding into a hostile camp his fondness increased to admiration. After she had delivered the message she said, "Noble warrior, I have risked my life to obtain this interview. You must send some one back with me." Brandt replied, "It is fitting that I alone should guard so courageous a maiden," and he rode with her through the lines, under the eyes of a wondering and frowning people, straight to the general's door. Soon after, Brandt made a formal demand for the hand of this dashing maid, but the stubborn general refused to consider it. He was determined that she ought to love Major Hamtramck, and he told her so in tones so loud that they reached the ears of Marianne, as she sat reading in her room. Stung by this disclosure of the general's wishes, and doubting whether the major had been true to her—fearful, too, that she might be regarded as an interloper—she made a pretext to return as quickly as possible to her home in Detroit, and left no adieus for her lover.

It was not long after that war broke out between the settlers and the Indians, for Brandt now had a personal as well as a race grudge to gratify, though when he defeated St. Clair he spared his life in the hope that the general would reward his generosity by resigning to him his daughter. At all events, he resolved that the "frog on horseback," whom he conceived to be his rival, should not win her. The poor major, who cared nothing for Louisa, and who was unable to account for the flight of Marianne, mourned her absence until it was rumored that she had been married, when, as much in spite as in love, he took to himself a mate. After he had been for some time a widower he met Marianne again, and learned that she was still a maiden. He renewed his court with ardor, but the woman's love for him had died when she learned of his marriage. Affecting to make light of this second disappointment, he said, "Since I cannot be united to you in life, I shall be near you in death."