The Devil's Dance-chamber





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.





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