Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 229


Umatilla, chief of the Indians at the Cascades of the Columbia, was one of the few red men of his time who favored peace with the white settlers and lent no countenance to the fierce revels of the "potlatch." In these "feasts of gifts" the savages, believing themselves to be "possessed by the spirit," lashed themselves into a frenzy that on several occasions was only quieted by the shedding of blood. Black Eagle's Feather—or Benjamin, as he was called by the settlers—was the only one of the children of the old chief who survived a summer of plague, and on this boy Umatilla had put all his hopes and affections.

The lad had formed a great trust in his white teacher, a college-bred man from the East, who had built a little school-house beside the Columbia and was teaching the Indian idea how to shoot something beside white people. This boy and his teacher had hunted together; they had journeyed in the same canoe; had tramped over the same trail to the great falls of the Missouri; and at the Giant Spring had seen the Piegans cast in their gifts, in the belief that the manitou of the place would deliver them in the hereafter to the sun-god, whom they worshipped. One day Benjamin fell ill, and the schoolmaster saw that he, too, was to die of the plague. Old Umatilla received the news with Indian stoicism, but he went into the forest to be alone for a time.

When he returned day was breaking and a flock of wild-geese trumpeted overhead. The boy heard them, and said, "Boston tilicum" (white man), "does the Great Father tell the geese where to go?"


"Then he will tell me, too?"


"We shall never go back to the Missouri together. My father—"

"We will watch over him."

"That is well." And, in a few hours, he had intrusted the guidance of his soul through the world of shadows to the white man's unseen father.

Umatilla sat beside the body through the night, and in the morning he called his people together. He told them that he was prepared to follow his boy out of the world, but that first he wanted to have their promise that they would no longer war on the whites, but look to them for friendship and guidance. There was some murmuring at this, for the ruder fellows were already plotting a descent on the settlers, but Umatilla had given them great store of goods at the last potlatch, and they reluctantly consented. The venerable chief ordered them to make a grave for Benjamin like the white man's, and, when it had been dug, four warriors laid the body of his son within it. Then, standing at the brink, the chief said, "My heart is growing cold, for it is in the grave there with my son. When I take three steps to the side of him, I, too, shall die. Be good to the white men, as you have said, and bury us both together. Great Spirit, I come." And, sinking to the ground, the old man's life ebbed in a breath. They buried him and his son in a single grave, and next day they went to the teacher and asked him to lead and instruct them. And with that year ended all trouble between red and white men along the Columbia.


East of San Francisco is a narrow valley opening to the bay of San Pablo. In spite of its pleasant situation and fruitful possibilities, it had no inhabitants until 1820, when Miguel Zamacona and his wife Emilia strayed into it, while on a journey, and, being delighted with its scenery, determined to make it their home. In playful mockery of its abundance they gave to it the name El Hambre [Hunger] valley.

After some weeks of such hardship as comes to a Mexican from work, Miguel had built an adobe cabin and got a garden started, while he caught a fish or shot a deer now and then, and they got on pretty well. At last it became necessary that he should go to Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was then called, for goods. His burros were fat and strong, and there should be no danger. Emilia cried at being left behind, but the garden had to be tended, and he was to be back in exactly three weeks. She waited for twenty-two days; then, her anxiety becoming unendurable, she packed an outfit on a burro and started on the trail. From time to time she called his name, and "Miguel!" echoed sweetly from hills and groves, but there was no other answer, save when an owl would hoot. Rolled in a blanket she slept on lupin boughs, but was off at peep of day again, calling—calling—high and clear among the solitudes.

During the second day her burro gave a rasping bray, and a hee-haw answered from the bush. It was Miguel's burro. He had come at last! Leaping to her feet, in her impatience, she ran to meet him, and found him lying on the earth, staring silently at the sky. All that day she sat beside him, caressing his hand, talking, crying, bathing his face with water from the marsh—the poison marsh—and it was not until sunset that she could bring herself to admit that he was dead—had been dead for at least two days.

She put the blanket over him, weighted it with stones, and heaped reeds upon it; then she started for home. A wandering trader heard her story, but years elapsed before any other settler entered Hunger valley. They found her skeleton then in the weedy garden. The adobe stands tenantless in the new village of Martinez, and the people have so often heard that the ghosts of the Zamaconas haunt the place that they have begun to disbelieve it.


The county called Kern, in California, lies mostly in a circular valley, and long, long before the evil one had created the pale face it was the home of a nation advanced in arts, who worshipped the Great Spirit in a building with a lofty dome. But the bravery and wisdom of one of their own people made them forget the Manitou and idolize the man who seemed the most like him. They brought him to the temple and prayed and sang to him, and held their sacred dances there, so angering God that he rent the earth and swallowed them. Nothing was seen of this people for years after, but their stone tools were left on neighboring hill-sides. Manitou even poured water into the valley, and great creatures sported in the inland sea.