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Storied Springs


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Like the Greeks, the red men endowed the woods and waters with tutelary
sprites, and many of the springs that are now resorted to as fountains of
healing were known long before the settlement of Europeans here, the
gains from drinking of them being ascribed to the beneficence of spirit
guardians. The earliest comers to these shores--or, rather, the earliest
of those who entertained such beliefs--fancied that the fabled fountain
of eternal youth would be found among the other blessings of the land. To
the Spaniards Florida was a land of promise and mystery. Somewhere in its
interior was fabled to stand a golden city ruled by a king whose robes
sparkled with precious dust, and this city was named for the
adventurer--El Dorado, or the Place of the Gilded One. Here, they said,
would be found the elixir of life. The beautiful Silver Spring, near the
head of the Ocklawaha, with its sandy bottom plainly visible at the depth
of eighty feet, was thought to be the source of the life-giving waters,
but, though Ponce de Leon heard of this, he never succeeded in fighting
his way to it through the jungle.

In Georgia, in the reputed land of Chicora, were a sacred stream that
made all young again who bathed there, and a spring so delectable that a
band of red men, chancing on it in a journey, could not leave it, and are
there forever.

In the island of Bimini, one of the Lucayos (Bahamas), was another such
a fountain.

Between the Flint and Ocmulgee Rivers the Creeks declared was a spring of
life, on an island in a marsh, defended from approach by almost
impenetrable labyrinths,--a heaven where the women were fairer than any
other on earth.

The romantic and superstitious Spaniards believed these legends, and
spent years and treasure in searching for these springs. And, surely, if
the new and striking scenes of this Western world caused Columbus to
boast that he had found the seat of paradise, it will not appear strange
that Ponce de Leon should dream of discovering the fountain of youth.

The Yuma Apaches had been warned by one of their oracles never to enter a
certain canon in Castle Dome range, Arizona, but a company of them forgot
this caution while in chase of deer, and found themselves between walls
of pink and white fluorite with a spring bubbling at the head of the
ravine. Tired and heated, they fell on their faces to drink, when they
found that the crumbling quartz that formed the basin of the spring was
filled with golden nuggets. Eagerly gathering up this precious substance,
for they knew what treasure of beads, knives, arrows, and blankets the
Mexicans would exchange for it, they attempted to make their way out of
the canon; but a cloudburst came, and on the swiftly rising tide all were
swept away but one, who survived to tell the story. White men have
frequently but vainly tried to find that spring.

In Southwestern Kansas, on a hill a quarter-mile from Solomon River, is
the Sacred Water, pooled in a basin thirty feet across. When many stand
about the brink it slowly rises. Here two Panis stopped on their return
from a buffalo hunt, and one of them unwittingly stepped on a turtle a
yard long. Instantly he felt his feet glued to the monster's back, for,
try as he might, he could not disengage himself, and the creature
lumbered away to the pool, where it sank with him. There the turtle god
remains, and beads, arrows, ear-rings, and pipes that are dropped in, it
swallows greedily. The Indians use the water to mix their paint with, but
never for drinking.

The mail rider, crossing the hot desert of Arizona, through the cacti and
over holes where scorpions hide, makes for Devil's Well, under El
Diablo--a dark pool surrounded with gaunt rocks. Here, coming when the
night is on, he lies down, and the wind swishing in the sage--brush puts
him to sleep. At dawn he wakens with the frightened whinny of his horse
in his ears and, all awake, looks about him. A stranger, wrapped in a
tattered blanket, is huddled in a recess of the stones, arrived there,
like himself, at night, perhaps. Poising his rifle on his knee, the rider
challenges him, but never a sign the other makes. Then, striding over to
him, he pulls away the blanket and sees a shrivelled corpse with a face
that he knows--his brother. Hardly is this meeting made when a hail of
arrows falls around. His horse is gone. The Apaches, who know no
gentleness and have no mercy, have manned every gap and sheltering rock.
With his rifle he picks them off, as they rise in sight with arrows at
the string, and sends them tumbling into the dust; but, when his last
bullet has sped into a red man's heart, they rise in a body and with
knives and hatchets hew him to death. And that is why the Devil's Well
still tastes of blood.

Among the Balsam Mountains of Western North Carolina is a large spring
that promises refreshment, but, directly that the wayfarer bends over the
water, a grinning face appears at the bottom and as he stoops it rises to
meet his. So hideous is this demon that few of the mountaineers have
courage to drink here, and they refuse to believe that the apparition is
caused by the shape of the basin, or aberrated reflection of their own
faces. They say it is the visage of a haunt, for a Cherokee girl, who
had uncommon beauty, once lived hard by, and took delight in luring
lovers from less favored maidens. The braves were jealous of each other,
and the women were jealous of her, while she--the flirt!--rejoiced in the
trouble that she made. A day fell for a wedding--that of a hunter with a
damsel of his tribe, but at the hour appointed the man was missing.
Mortified and hurt, the bride stole away from the village and began a
search of the wood, and she carried bow and arrows in her hand. Presently
she came on the hunter, lying at the feet of the coquette, who was
listening to his words with encouraging smiles. Without warning the
deserted girl drew an arrow to the head and shot her lover through the
heart--then, beside his lifeless body, she begged Manitou to make her
rival's face so hideous that all would be frightened who looked at it. At
the words the beautiful creature felt her face convulse and shrivel, and,
rushing to the mirror of the spring, she looked in, only to start back in
loathing. When she realized that the frightful visage that glared up at
her was her own, she uttered a cry of despair and flung herself into the
water, where she drowned.

It is her face--so altered as to disclose the evil once hid behind
it--that peers up at the hardy one who passes there and knows it as the
Haunted Spring.

The medicinal properties of the mineral springs at Ballston and Saratoga
were familiar to the Indians, and High Rock Spring, to which Sir William
Johnson was carried by the Mohawks in 1767 to be cured of a wound, was
called the medicine spring of the Great Spirit, for it was believed
that the leaping and bubbling of the water came from its agitation by
hands not human, and red men regarded it with reverence.

The springs at Manitou, Colorado (see Division of Two Tribes), were
always approached with gifts for the manitou that lived in them.

The lithia springs of Londonderry, New Hampshire, used to be visited by
Indians from the Merrimack region, who performed incantations and dances
to ingratiate themselves with the healing spirit that lived in the water.
Their stone implements and arrow-heads are often found in adjacent

The curative properties of Milford Springs, New Hampshire, were revealed
in the dream of a dying boy.

A miracle spring flowed in the old days near the statue of the Virgin at
White Marsh, Maryland.

Biddeford Pool, Maine, was a miracle pond once a year, for whoso bathed
there on the 26th of June would be restored to health if he were ill,
because that day was the joint festival of Saints Anthelm and Maxentius.

There was a wise and peaceable chief of the Ute tribe who always
counselled his people to refrain from war, but when he grew old the fiery
spirits deposed him and went down to the plains to give battle to the
Arapahoe. News came that they had been defeated in consequence of their
rashness. Then the old man's sorrow was so keen that his heart broke. But
even in death he was beneficent, for his spirit entered the earth and
forthwith came a gush of water that has never ceased to flow--the Hot
Sulphur Springs of Colorado. The Utes often used to go to those springs
to bathe--and be cured of rheumatism--before they were driven away.

Spring River, Arkansas, is nearly as large at its source as at its mouth,
for Mammoth Spring, in the Ozark Mountains, where it has its rise, has a
yield of ninety thousand gallons a minute, so that it is, perhaps, the
largest in the world. Here, three hundred years ago, the Indians
had gathered for a month's feast, for chief Wampahseesah's
daughter--Nitilita--was to wed a brave of many ponies, a hundred of which
he had given in earnest of his love. For weeks no rain had fallen, and,
while the revel was at its height, news came that all the rivers had gone
dry. Several young men set off with jars, to fill them at the
Mississippi, and, confident that relief would come, the song and dance
went on until the men and women faltered from exhaustion. At last,
Nitilita died, and, in the wildness of his grief, the husband smote his
head upon a rock and perished too. Next day the hunters came with water,
but, incensed by their delay, the chief ordered them to be slain in
sacrifice to the manes of the dead. A large grave was dug and the last
solemnities were begun when there was a roaring and a shaking in the
earth--it parted, and the corpses disappeared in the abyss. Then from the
pit arose a flood of water that went foaming down the valley. Crazed with
grief, remorse, and fear, Wampahseesah flung himself into the torrent and
was borne to his death. The red men built a dam there later, and often
used to sit before it in the twilight, watching, as they declared, the
faces of the dead peering at them through the foam.

During the rush for the California gold-fields in the '50's a party took
the route by Gila River, and set across the desert. The noon temperature
was 120, the way was strewn with skeletons of wagons, horses, and men,
and on the second night after crossing the Colorado the water had given
out. The party had gathered on the sands below Yuma, the men discussing
the advisability of returning, the women full of apprehension, the young
ones crying, the horses panting; but presently the talk fell low, for in
one of the wagons a child's voice was heard in prayer: Oh, good heavenly
Father, I know I have been a naughty girl, but I am so thirsty, and mamma
and papa and baby all want a drink so much! Do, good God, give us water,
and I never will be naughty again. One of the men said, earnestly, May
God grant it! In a few moments the child cried, Mother, get me water.
Get some for baby and me. I can hear it running. The horses and mules
nearly broke from the traces, for almost at their feet a spring had burst
from the sand-warm, but pure. Their sufferings were over. The water
continued to flow, running north for twenty miles, and at one point
spreading into a lake two miles wide and twenty feet deep. When
emigration was diverted, two years later, to the northern route and to
the isthmus, New River Spring dried up. Its mission was over.

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