The Salt Witch





A pillar of snowy salt once stood on the Nebraska plain, about forty

miles above the point where the Saline flows into the Platte, and white

men used to hear of it as the Salt Witch. An Indian tribe was for a long

time quartered at the junction of the rivers, its chief a man of blood

and muscle in whom his people gloried, but so fierce, withal, that nobody

made a companion of him except his wife, who alone could check his

tigerish rages.



In sooth, he loved her so well that on her death he became a recluse and

shut himself within his lodge, refusing to see anybody. This mood endured

with him so long that mutterings were heard in the tribe and there was

talk of choosing another chief. Some of this talk he must have heard, for

one morning he emerged in war-dress, and without a word to any one strode

across the plain to westward. On returning a full month later he was more

communicative and had something unusual to relate. He also proved his

prowess by brandishing a belt of fresh scalps before the eyes of his

warriors, and he had also brought a lump of salt.



He told them that after travelling far over the prairie he had thrown

himself on the earth to sleep, when he was aroused by a wailing sound

close by. In the light of a new moon he saw a hideous old woman

brandishing a tomahawk over the head of a younger one, who was kneeling,

begging for mercy, and trying to shake off the grip from her throat. The

sight of the women, forty miles from the village, so surprised the chief

that he ran toward them. The younger woman made a desperate effort to

free herself, but in vain, as it seemed, for the hag wound her left hand

in her hair while with the other she raised the axe and was about to

strike.



At that moment the chief gained a view of the face of the younger

woman-it was that of his dead wife. With a snarl of wrath he leaped upon

the hag and buried his own hatchet in her brain, but before he could

catch his wife in his arms the earth had opened and both women

disappeared, but a pillar of salt stood where he had seen this thing. For

years the Indians maintained that the column was under the custody of the

Salt Witch, and when they went there to gather salt they would beat the

ground with clubs, believing that each blow fell upon her person and kept

her from working other evil.





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