Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 190


The promise of the return to earth of various benign spirits has caused much trouble among the red men, and incidentally to the white men who are the objects of their fanatic dislike. The New Mexicans believed that when the Emperor Montezuma was about to leave the earth he planted a tree and bade them watch it, for when it fell he would come back in glory and lead them to victory, wealth, and power. The watch was kept in secret on account of the determination of the Spaniards to breakup all fealty to tribal heroes and traditions. As late as 1781 they executed a sentence of death on a descendant of the Peruvian Incas for declaring his royal origin. When Montezuma's tree fell the people gathered on the house-tops to watch the east-in vain, for the white man was there. In 1883 the Sanpoels, a small tribe in Washington, were stirred by the teaching of an old chief, who told them that the wicked would soon be destroyed, and that the Great Spirit had ordered him to build an ark for his people. The remains of this vessel, two hundred and eighty-eight feet long, are still to be seen near one of the tributaries of the Columbia.

A frenzy swept over the West in 1890, inspiring the Indians by promise of the coming of one of superhuman power, who was generally believed to be Hiawatha, to threaten the destruction of the white population, since it had been foretold that the Messiah would drive the white men from their land. Early in the summer of that year it was reported that the Messiah had appeared in the north, and the chiefs of many tribes went to Dakota, as the magi did to Bethlehem, to learn if this were true. Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief, told them, in assembly, that it was so, and declared that he had seen the new Christ while hunting in the Shoshone Mountains. One evening he lost his way and was impelled by a strange feeling to follow a star that moved before him. At daybreak it paused over a beautiful valley, and, weary with his walk, he sank on a bed of moss. As he sat there throngs of Indian warriors appeared and began a spirit dance, led by chiefs who had long been dead. Presently a voice spoke in his ear, and turning he saw a strange man dressed in white. The man said he was the same Christ who had come into the world nineteen hundred years before to save white men, and that now he would save the red men by driving out the whites. The Indians were to dance the ghost-dance, or spirit dance, until the new moon, when the globe would shiver, the wind would glow, and the white soldiers and their horses would sink into the earth. The Messiah showed to Sitting Bull the nail-wounds in his hands and feet and the spear-stab in his side. When night came on the form in white had disappeared—and, returning, the old chief taught the ghost-dance to his people.


Surmounting Red Banks, twelve miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin, on the eastern shore, and one hundred feet above the water, stands an earthwork that the first settlers found there when they went into that country. It was built by the Sauks and Outagamies, a family that ruled the land for many years, rousing the jealousy of neighboring tribes by their wealth and power. The time came, as it did in the concerns of nearly every band of Indians, when war was declared against this family, and the enemy came upon them in the darkness, their canoes patroling the shore while the main body formed a line about the fort. So silently was this done that but one person discovered it—a squaw, who cried, "We are all dead!"

There was nothing to see or hear, and she was rated for alarming the camp with foolish dreams; but dawn revealed the beleaguering line, and at the lifting of the sun a battle began that lasted for days, those within the earthworks sometimes fighting while ankle-deep in the blood of their fellows. The greatest lack of the besieged was that of water, and they let down earthen jars to the lake to get it, but the cords were cut ere they could be drawn up, the enemy shouting, derisively, "Come down and drink!" Several times they tried to do so, but were beaten back at every sally, and it seemed at last as if extermination was to be their fate.

When matters were at their darkest one of the young men who had been fasting for ten days—the Indian custom when divine direction was sought addressed his companions to this effect: "Last night there stood by me the form of a young man, clothed in white, who said, 'I was once alive, but I died, and now I live forever. Trust me and I will deliver you. Be fearless. At midnight I will cast a sleep on your enemies. Go forth boldly and you shall escape.'" The condition was too desperate to question any means of freedom, and that night all but a handful of disbelievers left the fort, while the enemy was in a slumber of exhaustion, and got away in safety. When the besiegers, in the morning, found that the fort had been almost deserted, they fell on the few that remained to repent their folly, and put them to the knife and axe, for their fury was excessive at the failure of the siege.


Any of the noble rivers and secluded lakes of Wisconsin were held in esteem or fear by the northern tribes, and it was the now-forgotten events and superstitions connected with them, not less than the frontier tendency for strong names, that gave a lurid and diabolical nomenclature to parts of this region. Devils, witches, magicians, and manitous were perpetuated, and Indians whose prowess was thought to be supernatural left dim records of themselves here and there—as near the dells of the Wisconsin, where a chasm fifty feet wide is shown as the ravine leaped by chief Black Hawk when flying from the whites. Devil's Lake was the home of a manitou who does not seem to have been a particularly evil genius, though he had unusual power. The lake fills what is locally regarded as the crater of an extinct volcano, and the coldness and purity kept by the water, in spite of its lacking visible inlets or outlets, was one cause for thinking it uncanny.