Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 37


The shores of Lakes George and Champlain were ravaged by war. Up and down those lovely waters swept the barges of French and English, and the green hills rang to the shrill of bugles, the boom of cannon, and the yell of savages. Fiction and history have been weft across the woods and the memory of deeds still echoes among the heights. It was at Glen's Falls, in the cave on the rock in the middle of the river, that the brave Uncas held the watch with Hawkeye. Bloody Defile and Bloody Pond, between there and Lake George, take their names from the "Bloody morning scout" sent out by Sir William Johnson on a September day in 1755 to check Dieskau until Fort William Henry could be completed. In the action that ensued, Colonel Williams, founder of Williams College, and Captain Grant, of the Connecticut line, great-grandfather of the President who bore that name, were killed. The victims, dead and wounded alike, having been flung into Bloody Pond, it was thick and red for days, and tradition said that in after years it resumed its hue of crimson at sunset and held it until dawn. The captured, who were delivered to the Indians, had little to hope, for their white allies could not stay their savagery. Blind Rock was so called because the Indians brought a white man there, and tearing his eyes out, flung them into embers at the foot of the stone. Captives were habitually tortured, blazing splinters of pine being thrust into their flesh, their nails torn out, and their bodies slashed with knives before they went to the stake. An English prisoner was allowed to run the gauntlet here. They had already begun to strike at him as he sped between the lines, when he seized a pappoose, flung it on a fire, and, in the instant of confusion that followed, snatched an axe, cut the bonds of a comrade who had been doomed to die, and both escaped.

But the best-known history of this region is that of Rogers's Rock, or Rogers's Slide, a lofty precipice at the lower end of Lake George. Major Rogers did not toboggan down this rock in leather trousers, but his escape was no less remarkable than if he had. On March 13, 1758, while reconnoitring near Ticonderoga with two hundred rangers, he was surprised by a force of French and Indians. But seventeen of his men escaped death or capture, and he was pursued nearly to the brink of this cliff. During a brief delay among the red men, arising from the loss of his trail, he had time to throw his pack down the slide, reverse his snow-shoes, and go back over his own track to the head of a ravine before they emerged from the woods, and, seeing that his shoe-marks led to the rock, while none pointed back, they concluded that he had flung himself off and committed suicide to avoid capture. Great was their disappointment when they saw the major on the frozen surface of the lake beneath going at a lively rate toward Fort William Henry. He had gained the ice by way of the cleft in the rocks, but the savages, believing that he had leaped over the precipice, attributed his preservation to the Great Spirit and forbore to fire on him. Unconsciously, he had chosen the best possible place to disappear from, for the Indians held it in superstitious regard, believing that spirits haunted the wood and hurled bad souls down the cliff, drowning them in the lake, instead of allowing them to go to the happy hunting grounds. The major reached his quarters in safety, and lived to take up arms against the land of his birth when the colonies revolted, seventeen years later.


When Occuna, a young Seneca, fell in love with a girl whose cabin was near the present town of Cohoes, he behaved very much as Americans of a later date have done. He picked wild flowers for her; he played on the bone pipe and sang sentimental songs in the twilight; he roamed the hills with her, gathering the loose quartz crystals that the Indians believed to be the tears of stricken deer, save on Diamond Rock, in Lansingburgh, where they are the tears of Moneta, a bereaved mother and wife; and in fine weather they went boating on the Mohawk above the rapids. They liked to drift idly on the current, because it gave them time to gaze into each other's eyes, and to build air castles that they would live in in the future. They were suddenly called to a realization of danger one evening, for the stream had been subtly drawing them on and on until it had them in its power. The stroke of the paddle failed and the air castles fell in dismal ruin. Sitting erect they began their death-song in this wise:

Occuna: "Daughter of a mighty warrior, the Manitou calls me hence. I hear the roaring of his voice; I see the lightning of his glance along the river; he walks in clouds and spray upon the waters."

The Maiden: "Thou art thyself a warrior, O Occuna. Hath not thine axe been often bathed in blood? Hath the deer ever escaped thine arrow or the beaver avoided thy chase? Thou wilt not fear to go into the presence of Manitou."

Occuna: "Manitou, indeed, respects the strong. When I chose thee from the women of our tribe I promised that we should live and die together. The Thunderer calls us now. Welcome, O ghost of Oriska, chief of the invincible Senecas! A warrior and the daughter of a warrior come to join you in the feast of the blessed!"

The boat leaped over the falls, and Occuna, striking on the rocks below, was killed at once; but, as by a miracle, the girl fell clear of them and was whirled on the seething current to shoal water, where she made her escape. For his strength and his virtues the dead man was canonized. His tribe raised him above the regions of the moon, whence he looked down on the scenes of his youth with pleasure, and in times of war gave pleasant dreams and promises to his friends, while he confused the enemy with evil omens. Whenever his tribe passed the falls they halted and with brief ceremonials commemorated the death of Occuna.


In Copake, New York, among the Berkshire Hills, less than a century ago, lived Francis Woolcott, a dark, tall man, with protruding teeth, whose sinister laugh used to give his neighbors a creep along their spines. He had no obvious trade or calling, but the farmers feared him so that he had no trouble in making levies: pork, flour, meal, cider, he could have what he chose for the asking, for had he not halted horses at the plow so that neither blows nor commands could move them for two hours? Had he not set farmer Raught's pigs to walking on their hind legs and trying to talk? When he shouted "Hup! hup! hup!" to farmer Williams's children, had they not leaped to the moulding of the parlor wainscot,—a yard above the floor and only an inch wide,—and walked around it, afterward skipping like birds from chair-back to chair-back, while the furniture stood as if nailed to the floor? And was he not the chief of thirteen night-riders, whose faces no man had seen, nor wanted to see, and whom he sent about the country on errands of mischief every night when the moon was growing old? As to moons, had he not found a mystic message from our satellite on Mount Riga, graven on a meteor?