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A Trapper's Ghastly Vengeance






Category: THE HUDSON AND ITS HILLS

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

About a mile back from the Hudson, at Coxsackie, stood the cabin of Nick
Wolsey, who, in the last century, was known to the river settlements as a
hunter and trapper of correct aim, shrewdness, endurance, and taciturn
habit. For many years he lived in this cabin alone, except for the
company of his dog; but while visiting a camp of Indians in the
wilderness he was struck with the engaging manner of one of the girls of
the tribe; he repeated the visit; he found cause to go to the camp
frequently; he made presents to the father of the maid, and at length won
her consent to be his wife. The simple marriage ceremony of the tribe was
performed, and Wolsey led Minamee to his home; but the wedding was
interrupted in an almost tragic manner, for a surly fellow who had loved
the girl, yet who never had found courage to declare himself, was wrought
to such a jealous fury at the discovery of Wolsey's good fortune that he
sprang at him with a knife, and would have despatched him on the spot had
not the white man's faithful hound leaped at his throat and borne him to
the ground.

Wolsey disarmed the fellow and kicked and cuffed him to the edge of the
wood, while the whole company shouted with laughter at this ignominious
punishment, and approved it. A year or more passed. Wolsey and his Indian
wife were happy in their free and simple life; happy, too, in their
little babe. Wolsey was seldom absent from his cabin for any considerable
length of time, and usually returned to it before the night set in. One
evening he noticed that the grass and twigs were bent near his house by
some passing foot that, with the keen eye of the woodman, he saw was not
his wife's.

Some hunter, he said, saw the house when he passed here, and as,
belike, he never saw one before, he stopped to look in. For the trail
led to his window, and diverged thence to the forest again. A few days
later, as he was returning, he came on the footprints that were freshly
made, and a shadow crossed his face. On nearing the door he stumbled on
the body of his dog, lying rigid on the ground. How did this happen,
Minamee? he cried, as he flung open the door. The wife answered, in a
low voice, O Hush! you'll wake the child.

Nick Wolsey entered the cabin and stood as one turned to marble. Minamee,
his wife, sat on the gold hearth, her face and hands cut and blackened,
her dress torn, her eyes glassy, a meaningless smile on her lips. In her
arms she pressed the body of her infant, its dress soaked with blood, and
the head of the little creature lay on the floor beside her. She crooned
softly over the cold clay as if hushing it to sleep, and when Wolsey at
length found words, she only whispered, Hush! you will wake him. The
night went heavily on; day dawned, and the crooning became lower and
lower; still, through all that day the bereft woman rocked to and fro
upon the floor, and the agonized husband hung about her, trying in vain
to give comfort, to bind her wounds, to get some explanation of the
mystery that confronted him. The second night set in, and it was evident
that it would be the last for Minamee. Her strength failed until she
allowed herself to be placed on a couch of skins, while the body of her
child was gently lifted from her arms. Then, for a few brief minutes, her
reason was restored, and she found words to tell her husband how the
Indian whose murderous attack he had thwarted at the wedding had come to
the cabin, shot the dog that had rushed out to defend the place, beat the
woman back from the door, tore the baby from its bed, slashed its head
off with a knife, and, flinging the little body into her lap, departed
with the words, This is my revenge. I am satisfied. Before the sun was
in the east again Minamee was with her baby.

Wolsey sat for hours in the ruin of his happiness, his breathing alone
proving that he was alive, and when at last he arose and went out of the
house, there were neither tears nor outcry; he saddled his horse and rode
off to the westward. At nightfall he came to the Indian village where he
had won his wife, and relating to the assembled tribe what had happened,
he demanded that the murderer be given up to him. His demand was readily
granted, whereupon the white man advanced on the cowering wretch, who had
confidently expected the protection of his people, and with the quick
fling and jerk of a raw-hide rope bound his arms to his side. Then
casting a noose about his neck and tying the end of it to his saddle-bow,
he set off for the Hudson. All that night he rode, the Indian walking and
running at the horse's heels, and next day he reached his cabin. Tying
his prisoner to a tree, the trapper cut a quantity of young willows, from
which he fashioned a large cradle-like receptacle; in this he placed the
culprit, face upward, and tied so stoutly that he could not move a
finger; then going into his house, he emerged with the body of Minamee,
and laid it, face downward, on the wretch, who could not repress a groan
of horror as the awful burden sank on his breast. Wolsey bound together
the living and the dead, and with a swing of his powerful arms he flung
them on his horse's back, securing them there with so many turns of rope
that nothing could displace them. Now he began to lash his horse until
the poor beast trembled with anger and pain, when, flinging off the
halter, he gave it a final lash, and the animal plunged, foaming and
snorting, into the wilderness. When it had vanished and the hoof-beats
were no longer heard, Nick Wolsey took his rifle on his arm and left his
home forever. And tradition says that the horse never stopped in its mad
career, but that on still nights it can be heard sweeping through the
woods along the Hudson and along the Mohawk like a whirlwind, and that as
the sound goes by a smothered voice breaks out in cursing, in appeal,
then in harsh and dreadful laughter.





Next: The Vanderdecken Of Tappan Zee

Previous: Moodua Creek



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