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Banshee Of The Bad Lands


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Hell, with the fires out, is what the Bad Lands of Dakota have been
called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is an
ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into
forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canons
wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but
bleak, savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills,
rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and
wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization.
It may have been the white victim of a red man's jealousy that haunts the
region of the butte called Watch Dog, or it may have been an Indian
woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose
cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a
bear or panther. By moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and
unearthly, and the noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the
ghost is seen on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing,
her arms tossing in strange gestures.

If war parties, emigrants, cowboys, hunters, any who for good or ill are
going through this country, pass the haunted butte at night, the rocks
are lighted with phosphor flashes and the banshee sweeps upon them. As if
wishing to speak, or as if waiting a question that it has occurred to
none to ask, she stands beside them in an attitude of appeal, but if
asked what she wants she flings her arms aloft and with a shriek that
echoes through the blasted gulches for a mile she disappears and an
instant later is seen wringing her hands on her hill-top. Cattle will not
graze near the haunted butte and the cowboys keep aloof from it, for the
word has never been spoken that will solve the mystery of the region or
quiet the unhappy banshee.

The creature has a companion, sometimes, in an unfleshed skeleton that
trudges about the ash and clay and haunts the camps in a search for
music. If he hears it he will sit outside the door and nod in time to it,
while a violin left within his reach is eagerly seized and will be played
on through half the night. The music is wondrous: now as soft as the stir
of wind in the sage, anon as harsh as the cry of a wolf or startling as
the stir of a rattler. As the east begins to brighten the music grows
fainter, and when it is fairly light it has ceased altogether. But he who
listens to it must on no account follow the player if the skeleton moves
away, for not only will it lead him into rocky pitfalls, whence escape is
hopeless, but when there the music will intoxicate, madden, and will
finally charm his soul from his body.

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