God On The Mountains

From the oldest time men have associated the mountains with visitations

of God. Their height, their vastness, their majesty made them seem worthy

to be stairs by which the Deity might descend to earth, and they stand in

religious and poetic literature to this day as symbols of the largest

mental conceptions. Scriptural history is intimately associated with

them, and the giving of the law on Sinai, amid thunder and darkness, is

one of the most tremendous pictures that imagination can paint. Ararat,

Hermon, Horeb, Pisgah, Calvary, Adam's Peak, Parnassus, Olympus! How full

of suggestion are these names! And poetic figures in sacred writings are

full of allusion to the beauty, nobility, and endurance of the hills.

It is little known that many of our own mountains are associated with

aboriginal legends of the Great Spirit. According to the Indians of

California, Mount Shasta was the first part of the earth to be made. The

Great Spirit broke a hole through the floor of heaven with a rock, and on

the spot where this rock had stopped he flung down more rocks, with earth

and snow and ice, until the mass had gained such a height that he could

step from the sky to its summit. Running his hands over its sides he

caused forests to spring up. The leaves that he plucked he breathed upon,

tossed into the air, and, lo! they were birds. Out of his own staff he

made beasts and fishes, to live on the hills and in the streams, that

began to appear as the work of worldbuilding went on. The earth became so

joyous and so fair that he resolved at last to live on it, and he

hollowed Shasta into a wigwam, where he dwelt for centuries, the smoke of

his lodge-fire (Shasta is a volcano) being often seen pouring from the

cone before the white man came.

According to the Oregon Indians the first man was created at the base of

the Cascade Range, near Wood River, by Kmukamtchiksh, the old man of the

ancients, who had already made the world. The Klamaths believe

Kmukamtchiksh a treacherous spirit, a typical beast god, yet that he

punishes the wicked by turning them into rocks on the mountain-sides or

by putting them into volcanic fires.

Sinsinawa Mound, Wisconsin, was the home of strange beings who occupied

caverns that few dared to enter. Enchanted rivers flowed through these

caves to heaven. The Catskills and Adirondacks were abodes of powerful

beings, and the Highlands of the Hudson were a wall within which Manitou

confined a host of rebellious spirits. When the river burst through this

bulwark and poured into the sea, fifty miles below, these spirits took

flight, and many succeeded in escaping. But others still haunt the

ravines and bristling woods, and when Manitou careers through the Hudson

canon on his car of cloud, crying with thunder voice, and hurling his

lightnings to right and left as he passes, the demons scream and howl in

rage and fear lest they be recaptured and shut up forever beneath the


The White Mountains were held in awe by Indians, to whom they were homes

of great and blessed spirits. Mount Washington was their Olympus and

Ararat in one, for there dwelt God, and there, when the earth was covered

with a flood, lived the chief and his wife, whom God had saved, sending

forth a hare, after the waters had subsided, to learn if it were safe to

descend. From them the whole country was peopled with red men. Yet woe

betide the intruder on this high and holy ground, for an angered deity

condemned him to wander for ages over the desolate peaks and through the

shadowy chasms rifted down their sides. The despairing cries of these

condemned ones, in winter storms, even frightened the early white

settlers in this region, and in 1784 the women of Conway petitioned three

clergymen to lay the spirits.

Other ark and deluge legends relate to the Superstition Mountains, in

Arizona, Caddoes village, on Red River, Cerro Naztarny, on the Rio

Grande, the peak of Old Zuni, in Mexico, Colhuacan, on the Pacific coast,

Mount Apaola, in upper Mixteca, and Mount Neba, in Guaymi. The

Northwestern Indians tell of a flood in which all perished save one man,

who fled to Mount Tacoma. To prevent him from being swept away a spirit

turned him into stone. When the flood had fallen the deity took one of

his ribs and made a woman of it. Then he touched the stone man back to


There were descendants of Manitou on the mountains, too, of North

Carolina, but the Cherokees believe that those heights are bare because

the devil strode over them on his way to the Devil's Court House

(Transylvania County, North Carolina), where he sat in judgment and

claimed his own. Monsters were found in the White Mountains. Devil's Den,

on the face of Mount Willard, was the lair of one of them--a strange,

winged creature that strewed the floor of its cave with brute and human

skeletons, after preying on their flesh.

The ideas of supernatural occurrences in these New Hampshire hills

obtained until a recent date, and Sunday Mountain is a monument to the

dire effects of Sabbath-breaking that was pointed out to several

generations of New Hampshire youth for their moral betterment. The story

goes that a man of the adjacent town of Oxford took a walk one Sunday,

when he should have taken himself to church; and, straying into the woods

here, he was delivered into the claws and maws of an assemblage of bears

that made an immediate and exemplary conclusion of him.

The grand portrait in rock in Profile Notch was regarded with reverence

by the few red men who ventured into that lonely defile. When white men

saw it they said it resembled Washington, and a Yankee orator is quoted

as saying, Men put out signs representing their different trades.

Jewellers hang out a monster watch, shoemakers a huge boot, and, up in

Franconia, God Almighty has hung out a sign that in New England He makes


To Echo Lake, close by, the deity was wont to repair that he might

contemplate the beauties of nature, and the clear, repeated echoes were

his voice, speaking in gentleness or anger. Moosilauke--meaning a bald

place, and wrongly called Moose Hillock--was declared by Waternomee,

chief of the Pemigewassets, to be the home of the Great Spirit, and the

first time that red men tried to gain the summit they returned in fear,

crying that Gitche Manitou was riding home in anger on a storm--which

presently, indeed, burst over the whole country. Few Indians dared to

climb the mountain after that, and the first fruits of the harvest and

first victims of the chase were offered in propitiation to the deity. At

Seven Cascades, on its eastern slope, one of Rogers's Rangers, retreating

after the Canadian foray, fell to the ground, too tired for further

motion, when a distant music of harps mingled with the cascade's plash,

and directly the waters were peopled with forms glowing with silver-white,

like the moonstone, that rose and circled, hand in hand, singing gayly as

they did so. The air then seemed to be flooded with rosy light and

thousands of sylvan genii ascended altars of rock, by steps of rainbow,

to offer incense and greet the sun with song. A dark cloud passed,

daylight faded, and a vision arose of the massacre at St. Francis, a

retreat through untried wilderness, a feast on human heads, torture, and

death; then his senses left the worn and starving man. But a trapper who

had seen his trail soon reached him and led him to a friendly settlement,

where he was told that only to those who were about to take their leave

of earth was it given to know those spirits of fountain and forest that

offered their voices, on behalf of nature, in praise of the Great Spirit.

To those of grosser sense, on whom the weight of worldliness still

rested, this halcyon was never revealed.

It was to Mount Washington that the Great Spirit summoned Passaconaway,

when his work was done, and there was his apotheosis.

The Indians account in this manner for the birth of the White Mountains:

A red hunter who had wandered for days through the forest without finding

game dropped exhausted on the snow, one night, and awaited death. But he

fell asleep and dreamed. In his vision he saw a beautiful mountain

country where birds and beasts and fruits were plenty, and, awaking from

his sleep, he found that day had come. Looking about the frozen

wilderness in despair, he cried, Great Master of Life, where is this

country that I have seen? And even as he spoke the Master appeared and

gave to him a spear and a coal. The hunter dropped the coal on the

ground, when a fire spread from it, the rocks burning with dense smoke,

out of which came the Master's voice, in thunder tones, bidding the

mountains rise. The earth heaved and through the reek the terrified man

saw hills and crags lifting--lifting--until their tops reached above the

clouds, and from the far summits sounded the promise, Here shall the

Great Spirit live and watch over his children. Water now burst from the

rocks and came laughing down the hollows in a thousand brooks and rills,

the valleys unfolded in leaf and bloom, birds sang in the branches,

butterflies-like winged flowers flitted to and fro, the faint and

cheerful noise of insect life came from the herbage, the smoke rolled

away, a genial sun blazed out, and, as the hunter looked in rapture on

the mighty peaks of the Agiochooks, God stood upon their crest.

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