Wilderness Tales: First Falling Thunder and the Little Bird

This is a retelling of a folktale from the Colorado foothills collected by  Charles M. Skinner called Riders of the Desert, published in his book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land  (1896).

Ta-in-ga-ro and Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro, which means First Falling Thunder, built his lodge in the Colorado foothills among the towering sandstone columns.  Although he was brave in battle and swift in the chase he preferred to spend his time in the company of Zecana, which means Little Bird, who was his wife, rarely joining in with the forays of the men of his tribe.

He trapped beaver and hunted the wild sheep and would take them to a trading post on the Mexican border.  He would take his beloved Zecana along with him as he could not bear to be parted from her.  It was on one such outing when a Spanish trader saw Zecana and became enamored with her.  He dreamed about her day and night to the point where he became consumed by his own lust for her and craved for his fill of her body.  To satisfy his hunger he plotted to separate her from Ta-in-ga-ro who rarely left her side.

To achieve this aim while keeping his feelings for Zecana secret he persuaded Ta-in-ga-ro to undertake a journey to a distant mountain, promising him that Zecana could remain in safety and comfort at the trading post until he returned.  Ta-in-ga-ro was an honest man who would never knowingly hurt anyone and could not envisage that everyone was not like himself and  he agreed and began the journey.

A Bad Omen

Along the way, he stopped at a spring to rest and refresh himself.  He saw how the blue sky and clouds reflected in the cool clear waters and after he had drunk his fill he cast some beads and wampum into the water as was customary to thank the spirit.  Throwing his offering into the spring he was most shocked to see a bad omen manifest within the water.  Instead of reflecting the sky to his horror and fear he saw the agonized and anguished face of his beloved wife appear.

As fear washed over him he jumped to his feet and jumped upon his horse and galloped back to the trading post without stopping for rest or food.  When he arrived at he jumped from his horse and ran into the building looking for his wife.  Neither she or the Spaniard were there and not knowing what else to do he returned to his lodge.

Zecana

It was a long and lonely journey and both he and his horse were exhausted, but he rode day and night and one morning as the dawn was breaking he saw the sun coming up over his lodge.  There to his absolute joy as entered his home was his beloved wife Zecana.  She was happily singing as she went about the care of the home just as she always had done.  Joyfully he greeted her holding arms out to embrace.  She turned her head to look at him and then casually returned to her singing.   He turned her towards him and looked into her eyes.  what had once been dark and mysterious pools that shone with inner beauty were now dead.  She looked at him through dead eyes and she did not know who he was.  Her mind and reason were  no longer there.

The Madness of Zecana

Ta-in-ga-ro cried out in shock and stepped back and then gently sat her down and cradled her lovingly in his arms.  Slowly with his gentleness and patience, he learned from her babble the terrible ordeal the Spaniard had inflicted upon her.  When she had finally managed to tell her story a fleeting look of remembrance came into her dark eyes and in her tortured mind she briefly saw her husband and remembered her love for him.  Then, pain came into her eyes and tears flooded down her face.  Suddenly, her hand snaked out and grasped the dagger he always carried at his side.  Stepping back she raised it with both hands and plunged it into her heart falling dead at her shocked husband’s feet.

Ta-in-ga-ro watched this all happen as if it was in slow motion and as the blade entered her heart he let out a cry and reached forward but was too late to stop her.  He stood frozen to the spot for hours overcome by the horror of his wife’s suicide.  Eventually, the strength of his forefathers came to his rescue and he knew she had passed on.  Setting his house in order he wrapped his wife’s body in buffalo skin and laid her in what he thought was a comfortable position for her to sleep, though he knew the body was not her and her soul had flown.   Then he lay down beside her and slept for his body was exhausted and his emotions numb.

The Spaniard

Two nights later the Spaniard lay sleeping in his bed at the trading post.  Ta-in-ga-ro had passed the guards unseen like a shadow and now stood over the sleeping man looking down upon him.  In the darkest hours the Spaniard awoke with a start by strange feeling as his mouth was gagged by his belt.  Although he tried he could not cry out and his teeth bit into leather.  He felt fear as a noose tightened around his throat and struggled to free himself but to no avail.  In seconds he found himself bound hand and foot and flung over someone’s shoulder.  Struggle though he did he could not break free and could not even make a sound as he was carried stealthily out of the house.

Ta-in-ga-ro placed him across a horse tying him to the beast’s body firmly.  He then wrapped an arrow in cotton and set it a light firing it into a nearby haystack to create a diversion.  While everyone was busy dousing the flaming haystack he mounted his own horse bound Spaniard into the desert concealed by the smoke.

Ta-in-ga-ro took his captive back to his home lodge where his dead wife lay.  Arriving back Ta-in-ga-ro he ungagged him and loosened his bonds enough for him to eat.  The Spaniard ate and when he had finished Ta-in-ga-ro led a horse he had placed a wooden saddle upon to the door way.  He then cut off the clothes of the Spaniard  and placed him upon the horse ignoring his terrified pleas to stop.  Ta-in-ga-ro then tied the man firmly to the horse.  He then went inside and carried out his dead wife and lifted her corpse upon the horse so that she sat face to face with the Spaniard.  He then freed the burdened  horse  and mounting his own set it free in into the desert.  The horse wandered off carrying the Spaniard and the corpse.  The more the Spaniard struggled the closer his face came to the face of the dead woman.

Into the Desert

The horse carried them both further into the desert.  The Spaniard slipped in and out of consciousness and each came time came to face to face with his victim.  Slowly and surely the horse continued ever deeper into the endless desert.  In the fierceness of the desert heat, the Spaniard sweat profusely and his bonds cut him into his skin and blood dripped from him.  At night the cold desert air froze his bones and although he nodded into sleep each time he did Ta-in-ga-ro yelled at him.  With a jolt, he would awaken to face the corpse whose dead eyes stared into his own.  And so this living nightmare  continued and occasionally, Ta-in-ga-ro gave him a mouth full ,of water to keep him alive but never any food and the Spaniard’s hunger grew.  This nightmare continued for many days and all the time the Spaniard sat face to face with the corpse of Zecana.  He had eaten nothing for days and hunger gnawed at him as he looked into the dead of eyes of the woman he had once so hungered for.

The Madman and the Corpse

At last the Spaniard could bear the hunger no longer and though he hated what he did he sank his teeth into the face of the woman who he had so lusted after.  Ta-in-ga-ro looked on grimly each time hunger took the Spaniard but still continued taking them further and further into the desert.  At last, he heard the Spaniard sobbing and gibbering and knew that madness had come upon him.  Only then did he rein in his own horse and watch as the horse bearing the babbling Spaniard and the corpse wandered deeper into the desert.  Not until he had seen them disappear into the wilderness did he turn his own horse around and ride off.  He never went home but went to join Zecana.

The madman and the corpse were carried into the wilderness that is the  abode of lost and wandering souls.    Few people willingly go to that barren and empty wasteland and fewer return but those who do have an eerie tale to tell.  They say when the little bird stops singing and the first falling thunder is heard the phantom riders appear.  The ghost of the babbling madman staring into the dead eyes of  the woman that he had so hungered for doomed to forever feast upon her flesh on an endless journey through the wilderness.

© 12/10/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright October 12th, zteve t evans

 

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North American Legends: Johnny Appleseed

In North American folklore apples are strongly associated with the legendary Johnny Appleseed who is affectionately remembered for his wandering lifestyle planting apple tree nurseries across the great American frontier.  His real name was John Chapman and he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774.

His father, Nathanial Chapman, had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  Sadly, he lost his mother to tuberculosis during that war. When he was old enough to work he became apprenticed as an orchardist to a local orchard where he learnt the trade that made that him a legend in his own lifetime.

Johnny Appleseed – Author: H. S. Knapp – Public Domain Image

Legend

Folklore paints a picture of him dressed in rags with a tin pot on his head striding across the land with a pocketful of apple seeds.  These he planted on his way, for all to enjoy out of his sheer generosity.  In fact the planting of orchards, or more accurately apple tree nurseries, was his business and he grew apples trees as a business enterprise.  His plan was to plant nurseries along the frontier where ever he thought settlers would build new communities.  When his trees were between one and two years old he would sell them to the settlers for six cents each.  He travelled and planted apple tree nurseries in many places along the Ohio Valley with bases in Western Pennsylvania and in Ohio, in Richland County.

One of the folk stories about Johnny Appleseed tells how during the War of 1812 many Indians took the British side looking to avenge themselves against the settlers who they believed had done injury to them.  Although they attacked many settlements they did not threaten or interfere with Johnny Appleseed.   However, he would often warn the settlements of imminent Indian attacks.

A legend tells of how he made a desperate run of 26 miles through the wilderness from Mansfield, Ohio to Mount Vernon in a bid to bring help to the beleaguered settlers besieged by Indians.  It is said that as he ran he blew a horn to warn other settlers of the danger along the way.  Thanks to his desperate run and courage the settlers at Mansfield were reinforced and saved.

Religion

Chapman followed the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and was a member of the Church of New Jerusalem, which was based on Christian teachings and followed Pacifist principles and advocated individualism and simple living.

As he travelled he would spread the message of his church to those he visited and would tell stories to the children in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep on the floor of the house.

Love of Animals

Despite his rather rough and rustic appearance and his eccentricities Johnny Appleseed was a gentle and kind man with great intelligence and charisma and a heart of gold.  Indeed, he was also a rarity for his time as he was a vegetarian; not wishing animals should suffer for him.  His kindness and concern for animals was legendary.

One story is told of how he extinguished his campfire when he saw mosquitoes flying to their deaths into it. He believed that none of God’s creatures, no matter how small, should have to suffer to alleviate his discomfort.  Another story tells of the time he set up camp in one end of a hollow log and built a fire for warmth. On discovering the log was already inhabited by a bear with her cubs, rather than disturb them, he moved his camp to the other end, sleeping unsheltered in the snow.

Folktales tell how he would buy a horse that was about to be put down and purchase some grassland for the animal to recuperate on.  When the horse had recovered he would give the horse to a poor settler on the sole condition that it was to be treated properly and with kindness.

Entering into Folklore

One can well imagine how this rather wild, raggedy man, may appear as a larger than life figure to the settlers along the frontier as he came and went about his business growing apple nurseries.  He may have been regarded as eccentric but he was well received and seen as a welcome relief by the isolated settlers bringing news and helping out where he could.  On 18th of March, 1845, John Chapman died of pneumonia and was buried near Fort Wayne, Indiana, entering into American folklore.

References and Attributions
Image - File:Johnny Appleseed 1.jpg From Wikimedia Commons - Johnny Appleseed - Author: H. S. Knapp - Public Domain Image

The Mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit

Photo Author: Rod Bacon

Versions of the Green Children of Woolpit

Woolpit is a village in Suffolk that has a history that goes back 2,000 years or more. It has seen many events in its long history, but perhaps one of the strangest must be the appearance of two mysterious green children.  Their story was recorded by two chroniclers; Ralph of Coggershall and William of Newburgh.  There are also a number of other versions, some set in the neighbouring county of Norfolk, but it is the Suffolk version that is dealt with here.

Harvest Time

The story begins on a clear, bright, day during harvest time when the villagers were out reaping their crops. As they worked they became aware of the sound of someone weeping and crying.  The cries, although sad, were strange and seemed to be in words that they could not understand.

With growing concern that someone might be in trouble the villagers began searching the area.  Following the weeping sounds they found two small children; a young boy and a young girl.  Nearby, was the opening to a wolf-pit which they appeared to have come out of.  They were very frightened and cried bitterly.

Even though the villagers meant them no harm the children were frightened and tried to escape.  Although the villagers were very poor, they were kind and caring people and wanted to help the children.  They caught the children and looked to see how they could assist them. There was no sign of any adults accompanying them so they tried to calm them down and tried to ask them where they were from.

The villagers were astonished to find that although the children were very much the same physically as any other children; they had some very strange differences.  For a start the two children were wearing clothes of a style the villagers had never seen before and they spoke in a language that they could not understand. It was certainly not any form of English that the villagers knew. Stranger still, the villagers saw the children’s skin was a shade of green on all parts of their body.

Sir Richard de Caine Offers Them Food

The children were fearful of the villagers and held on to each other crying bitterly. The villagers felt terribly sorry for the children and refused to let them go, wanting to help them and keep them safe.  They took the children to Sir Richard de Caine, a knight, who they thought might know who they were and how to help them.

The children were still terrified and continued their crying and weeping. Despite being starved with hunger the children would not eat anything Sir Richard and his servants offered them.  No matter how gently Sir Richard coaxed or what his servants put before them they still refused to eat.

Fresh Green Beans

Having offered all the contents of his pantry and the children still refusing to eat Sir Richard had his servants go and look in the garden to see if there was anything there he could tempt them with.  The servants came back with fresh green beans and out of desperation Sir Richard offered them to the children.  On seeing the beans the children immediately showed interest.  Using gestures they indicated they wanted to try them.

However, when Sir Richard offered the bean pods and stalks on a plate to the children they picked up the stalks and opened them expecting to find beans inside.  Finding nothing in the hollow stalks the children were so upset they began crying again. Sir Richard and his servants on seeing this then showed them how to open the pods and get the beans out. On seeing the children cheered up and heartily began eating the beans straight from the pod.  For many months after the children would only eat green beans and nothing else.

The Green Children stay with Sir Richard

Sir Richard allowed the children to stay in his household as they had no where else to go.  Sadly, the boy, who was often low of spirit and of a despondent manner fell sick and passed away within a short while.  His sister, however, grew strong and full of vitality and began to eat other types of food other than green beans.  As she grew stronger and older her skin slowly lost its green tinge.

A Far, Far Country

The girl thrived and gradually learnt how to speak English.  Sir Richard was still curious as to where she and her brother had come from and asked her about her past.  She told him she and her brother had come from another country far, far away and that everyone who lived there had green skin.  The girl said that in that country there was no sun.  She told him that the light there was similar to twilight in England just after sunset but the light was green and so was everything else.

How the Green Children Came to England

Sir Richard asked how she and her brother had got to England. She told him that she and her brother had been tending their family’s flock of sheep which had strayed into a large cavern.  As they were tasked to guard the sheep they had followed them into the cave with the intention of driving them back out.

When they entered the cavern they heard the sound of bells ringing. They both thought this was the most wonderful and delight sound they had ever heard and they were enchanted by their ringing.

As if in a spell, the two children forgot all about their sheep and followed the sound of the bells down along a passage until at last they stumbled out of the cave into the bright sunlight.  The children’s eyes were not accustomed to such light. Temporarily blinded and disorientated they began crying.  That is when the villagers first heard them by the wolf-pit.  They had tried to find the cave entrance hoping to escape the villagers and return home.  However, in the bright light they became lost and could not find their way back.

Even though Sir Richard may have found her tale strange and far fetched he let her stay in his household for many years and had her baptized into the Christian church.  There were times he noted her behaviour to be immoderate and free now and then, but he was a kindly and tolerant man and let it be.

The Account of Sir William of Newbridge

In the account of Sir William of Newbridge this all happened during the reign of King Stephen between the years 1135-54 He claimed the children had been discovered during harvest time.  They had been found near the entrance to the Wolf-pits around 5 miles from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. He said that they had both eventually lost the green tinge to their skin, been baptized and named Agnes and learned how to speak English.  Sadly, the boy had always been weak and sickly and had died.

St. Martin’s Land

According to Sir William the girl had flourished and eventually she married and had children.  She always claimed she came from a country called St Martin’s Land where everyone revered St Martin and everyone was a Christian and there were many churches.  The girl insisted that in that country there was no sun and everything was lit by a green light. There was a very wide river and on the opposite bank they could see a very bright country.

Fairies and Fullers

To some people the legend is the meeting of the fairy world with the human world. They argue that green is the traditional colour associated with fairies and the often immoderate and free behaviour of the girl were typical traits of the fairies.

Other people take the view that there may be parts of the legend that were based on fact but became exaggerated or distorted over time.  For example, it is known that about the time when it is thought to have happened there were immigrants from Belgium living and working in the area.  These were Flemish fullers and merchants.  The fullers made their living by processing and possibly dying wool different colours.  They also spoke their own language of Flemish.

Tensions arose between the Flemish and local people and the Flemish were massacred.  Some people think it possible the children escaped into the forest. Their green skin may have been dyed deliberately by their parents or themselves as camouflage.  Being of Flemish origin would also explain their language and their different clothes.

Although this is plausible it does not take into account what the girl is alleged to have told Sir Richard.  Another problem with this idea is that Sir Richard was almost certainly one of the most eminent people in the area.  As such he would probably have had some knowledge or direct involvement in such an attack.  It is also quite possible he may have had business dealings with the Flemish and would probably have realised that the language the children were speaking was Flemish.  Some accounts also say that it was not the Flemish fullers, but Flemish merchants who were massacred.

Chlorosis – The Green Sickness

Another theory is that the children were suffering from a type of anaemia known as chlorosis, sometimes called “green sickness”.  They may have acquired this through wandering starving and undernourished through the woods.  However, even though there are many accounts of girls, especially around the age of puberty being afflicted with green sickness, it is very much rarer in boys.

Continuing Intrigue

It is an interesting story and one that arouses the curiosity in people for many centuries. We will probably never know the truth now but no doubt it will continue to intrigue future generations just as much as today.

References and Attributions
Image - File:WoolpitSign.jpg From Wikipedia -   Author: Rod Bacon - 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
History mysteries: The Green children of Woolpit 
Green children of Woolpit - From Wikipedia 
BBC Radio 4 The Green Children of Woolpit
chlorosis, 
Mysterious Britain & Ireland 
Mysterious People