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The Devil's Dance-chamber






Category: THE HUDSON AND ITS HILLS

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Most storied of our New World rivers is the Hudson. Historic scenes have
been enacted on its shores, and Indian, Dutchman, Briton, and American
have invested it with romance. It had its source, in the red man's fancy,
in a spring of eternal youth; giants and spirits dwelt in its woods and
hills, and before the river-Shatemuc, king of streams, the red men called
it--had broken through the highlands, those mountains were a pent for
spirits who had rebelled against the Manitou. After the waters had forced
a passage to the sea these evil ones sought shelter in the glens and
valleys that open to right and left along its course, but in time of
tempest, when they hear Manitou riding down the ravine on wings of storm,
dashing thunderbolts against the cliffs, it is the fear that he will
recapture them and force them into lightless caverns to expiate their
revolt, that sends them huddling among the rocks and makes the hills
resound with roars and howls.

At the Devil's Dance-Chamber, a slight plateau on the west bank, between
Newburg and Crom Elbow, the red men performed semi-religious rites as a
preface to their hunting and fishing trips or ventures on the war-path.
They built a fire, painted themselves, and in that frenzy into which
savages are so readily lashed, and that is so like to the action of mobs
in trousers, they tumbled, leaped, danced, yelled, sang, grimaced, and
gesticulated until the Manitou disclosed himself, either as a harmless
animal or a beast of prey. If he came in the former shape the augury was
favorable, but if he showed himself as a bear or panther, it was a
warning of evil that they seldom dared to disregard.

The crew of Hudson's ship, the Half Moon, having chanced on one of these
orgies, were so impressed by the fantastic spectacle that they gave the
name Duyvels Dans-Kamer to the spot. Years afterwards, when Stuyvesant
ascended the river, his doughty retainers were horrified, on landing
below the Dans-Kamer, to discover hundreds of painted figures frisking
there in the fire-light. A few surmised that they were but a new
generation of savages holding a powwow, but most of the sailors fancied
that the assemblage was demoniac, and that the figures were spirits of
bad Indians repeating a scalp-dance and revelling in the mysterious
fire-water that they had brought down from the river source in jars and
skins. The spot was at least once profaned with blood, for a young
Dutchman and his wife, of Albany, were captured here by an angry Indian,
and although the young man succeeded in stabbing his captor to death, he
was burned alive on the rock by the friends of the Indian whose wrath he
had provoked. The wife, after being kept in captivity for a time, was
ransomed.





Next: The Culprit Fay

Previous: The Baker's Dozen



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