Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

September 5, 1887. Omaha Morning Bee 17(79): 12.

One Day in the Country.

The Pretty Legend of the Indian Plume.

A Visit to Horseshoe Lake.

A Picturesque Place—An Attractive Retreat for Rest and Recreation—Duck Hunting and Fishing.

  • Written for the Omaha Bee by Sandy Griswold.

There is not much of romance to the every day man in a trip from this city to Horseshoe lake, the nearest hunting and fishing grounds of any considerable notoriety. Still, there are some pretty, picturesque views, too, that even a dolt must notice. Long, sinuous reaches of the river, with their background of emerald bluffs, strike the eye and enliven the scene between here and the ancient Mormon settlement of Florence. That is about all, save to lovers of nature, who, like Thor, see beauty in everything, the solitary old snag, the barren rock, the naked plain. Otherwise, the country is one unbroken stretch of rolling land—fields of wild sunflowers, which, with a mingling of other vegetation, and a towering oak or a graceful elm thrown in here and there, with an old tumble-down rail fence, would be most exquisite, indeed—fields of ripening corn and brown stubble and jungles of noxious weeds, reticulated vines and bramble and briar at every whipstick, with once in a while a sluggish, intermittent rivulet, unworthy of the name, and the painting is sketched before you for criticism.

No grand old woods, no charming farmsteads with fields and fences, drive and walks, and everything as cleanly, neat and methodical as a model household, such as are to be seen in the older eastern states, are here to stimulate the fancy and engage the mind. But they are coming. Nebraska is a grand state, and her farmers, intelligent, thrifty and imitative. However, once through Florence and off to the northwest, then east over the prodigious backbone of a line of gigantic bluffs that follows the majestic Missouri for hundreds of miles, and the scenery, while it grows hardly more startling, is more varied, more engaging and entrancing.

I made the trip recently in company with a gentleman with whom I have spent many glorious days upon all the best ducking grounds between Koshkonong and the Chesapeake. We went upon a sort of an excursion of exploration to overlook the prospects for fall duck-shooting in Nebraska, and returned with convictions that they are great.

It was a pleasant morning, only Sunday last, just after the furious thunder storm of the night before. The blue vault was of that tender transparent tint through which we seem to penetrate into unbounded depths, and over it the waning summer breeze wreathed its graceful cloud paintings. Now a turreted castle, now a pillared palace, next a fleets bears up, than a long cavalcade of knights on snowy steeds, a troop of Spanish muleteers, a caravan of Arabs and their undulating camels, palm trees, banyans, rugged masses of cotton and then a superb Himalayan peak.

The landscape, too, was full of revivifying animation. A vagrant breeze set the tall grass in graceful motion; the red-headed woodpecker, the same, bright, shy, saucy bird the country over, with an upward slide clutched the bark of some old dead tree and rattled with his flinty beak until echo laughed again; the hair winnowed his sable shape far overhead; the ground squirrel made a brown streak across the soggy road, and the rabbit, jerking his long ears, bounded athwart our winding way. Infrequently a farm house was passed, a welcome relief at any time, even with their straggling out-buildings, unkempt fields, scrawny orchards and barbed wire fences. But just a mile or so north of Florence, nestling midst a very crypt of seemingly impenetrable undergrowth, perched upon the apex of the loftiest of all hills, and off a quarter of a mile or more from the road, and the vision was greeted with a magnificent picture, indeed; the romantic suggestion of old world baronical life given by beautiful brown residence, with unique angles and pointed turrets, and belonging to whom I know not. But we were soon by and over the bluff, the horse laboring through several inches of sand as we passed down an avenue that had been cut some years before by brawny arms from out a very concrete of wild plum, sumac, hazel, grape, boxwood, scrub-oak, gnarled cottonwood and pig-hickory. Here and there, on either hand, was an expanse of wild meadow with wooded acclivities. The sunlight breaking through the scurrying clouds, lay like a golden mantle on the distant stubble fields, embroidered at the edges by the shadows of the hazel and the oak. On we rustled; the newness, the picturesqueness, the romance of the strange scene delighting us. The uncertain light tinged and the adder's tongue into deeper purple and made a scarlet intaglio of the Indian plump, fitting in some cranny of the bank along the narrow road.

The Indian Plume!

It is a lovely flower, rising in a slender spire of superb scarlet, nearly a foot high, its delicate petals like the geranium's. While the crimson of the sumack and the russet of the hazel burr glowed, the Indian plume seemed to almost blaze in the fervid sunshine and to kindle into ruby light the green nooks where it nestled. I have always admired the flower, and once, ten years ago, when hunting deer up on the Thunder Bay river in north Michigan, I heard from an old Chippewa Indian the legend of its birth.

Many, many moons agone, Oonomo was the sachem of the Chippewas dwelling by the river of the Thunder Bay. One daughter was

The Light of His Lodge.

She was called the Indian Plume. Beautiful as a star and pure as a snowflake on the wintry summit of Michilinack, She was betrothed to Monowayno, who was as fleet as the wind on trail of deer or foe. All went happily and the life of the sachem's daughter was like the days that the Indian summer smiling in the sullen face of winter, breathes in purple mist through dingle and dale. But at last a dark cloud swept over the Chippewas, and the white-haired old sagamore, the frolicsome boy, the strong warrior and the blossoming maiden fell alike beneath it. The nation cowered before this resistless foe. Oonomoo bowed his aged head and died, and Monowayno, the fleet and the brave, was sent upon the shadowy trail. The tribe veiled their faces in dread. The great Manitou was angry with his children. In vain the calumet sent its smoke from the lips of the prophet toward His dwelling place. In vain was the wolf-dog slaughtered to drag away the sins of an unhappy race. One day the prophet declared the Manitou had appeared to him. He came in a night of storm, of lightning, of tempest and death, but in wondrous splendor that shone over the turbulent waters of the Thunder bay. And thus he said:

Not the smoke of the calumet nor the blood of the wolf-dog will soften my wrath. The warm blood of the human heart will alone appease it. That spilled, again will my smile beam upon my children!"

The old prophet ceased, and a deep silence hushed the crouching nation. And then like a waif from an unknown realm, the slender Indian Plume glided within the cordon of grim warriors encircling the Prophet on the banks of the Thunder Bay.

"The Indian plume is a beautiful flower," said she, in her tones of music, but now as sad as the wail of the wind in the time of the falling leaves, "let the blood of her heart wash away the sins of her father's people!"

And grasping a knife from the belt of one of the braves she rushed close to the stream on which she and Monowayno had skimmed together in their birch canoe, and plunged it into her bosom!

The red blood spurted upon the earth, the keen blade had cleft her heart!

Reverently and sorrowfully did the warriors lift her in their arms, and silently and solemnly did they lay her slender form beside that of her dead lover.

When the next morning trod through the forest, his golden fingers dallied with the spot that had been stained with the blood of the slender Indian Plume. No blood was there, but instead, a slender flower, red as the flush that kindles the cheek of the sunset as it sinks in the gloom of the night.

The death cloud vanished like the leaf of May before the breath of October, and soon its presence darkened no more the hearts of the nation. And ever after was this flower worshipped by the Chippewas, Ottawas and the Pottawattamies. The warriors twined its blossoms in their scalp-locks, the maiden spangled its glowing sparks over their tresses of darkness. When the chill breath of autumn blighted it they mourned; when the late summer warmed it into bloom they were happy. To this day it glows in the heart of the remnant of the nation as an emblem of love and unselfish devotion.

Horse Shoe Lake.

But I am forgetting Horse Shoe Lake and the outlook for canvas-back, red head, mallard and widgeon?

Along about noon, after innumberable mishaps, and losing our course several times, we reached the lake country, and the road narrowed and grew more execrable as we approached, with thickets and broad tufts of wild grass in the center until it diminished into a mere trail, doubling and twisting like a water snake in the herbage of the meadow. Side cul de-sacs enticed the wheels of our phæton, whence we were frequently obliged to back to get upon the road and through which, now and then, the sturdy steed forced them by main strength, over sand and rocks and a film of agglutinative mud and water.

A thunder-pump rose from her seat in the wild rice at the road side, and fanned heavily away with a hoarse cry, the light glittering on her brown shape; that feathered buffoon, and peculiarly American bird, the blue jay, scolded from every clump of pucker brush like an old woman, while the crow cawed mockingly as he flew across as if delighted at our plight.

Finally, however, after paying an admission fee of 10 cents each and 10 cents for the horses, at Neal's corner, we drove down a lane bordered with scraggy willows and odorous weeds, and the lake lay before us!

The view now changed as suddenly as the scenes in a theater. The banks of the lake are low, with a sparse woods along the shores, which frequently yield to broad spaces of natural grass, wild rice, reeds and Lilliputian cane, called indifferently by the man who presides over the only domicile within view, parks and wild meadows. They were skirted next the limpid waters, either with thickets or swamp maples, the green of the opposite shore being seen through the loops and vistas of the foliage. Sometimes these bayous wind like bays into the recesses of the background woods, beckoning the fancy to distant nooks of beauty. Here and there, in the forked head of a dry tree, was the nest of the fish-hawk, a rounded mass of gray, withered sticks. From the abundance of water in these woods, the bird haunts almost every scene, and his graceful shape and wild scream, gives a savage charm to the place. Spread over the shallow waters was a broad floor of lily-pads, glistening as if in green varnish, while rice and reeds and moss choke what might in some seasons be a passable channel.

After feeding the horses and gormandizing on our own lunch, we learned from the man that runs the place the ins and outs of the puddle, then took a boat for exploration. We skimmed over the shadows in the water, where some jagged branch was so accurately depicted, it seemed that the skiff must be rent in gliding over it. Black soaking logs, almost buried in the water weeds lay along or pointed from the banks, whence the king-fisher and the grey plover vanished at our approach, while from among the rice and rushes, every one in a while, a startled teal would whiz, or an old hen mallard, with her resounding quack—quack-quack q-u-a-c-k! q-u-a-c-k! would rise and quarter away.

It did not require any great length of time to convince us that Horseshoe lake is a famous ground for ducks, and guessing from the numbers already in, the shooting this fall is wonderfully promising, but still we rowed on. We at least reached a big bend to the left, and round this we went and a broader sheet of water, dotted with many fields of reeds and rice, expanded at our prow.

The view was surprisingly beautiful. On each side the lake curved gracefully away, at the left in an uninterrupted line, and at the right blending to all appearances with a network of small islands, and, on the point of the nearest one stood a tall crane, like a post, evidently waiting for a chance to drive his long beak through some unwary bass or perch. Then as far as the eye could reach were headlands, crescent bays, island edges and liquid vistas that extended outward until swallowed up in the flags and rice and weeds of the shores.

We stopped and gazed upon the lake in its wild beauty, with playful breezes darting over its gloss and the sunlight kissing it into radiant smiles, and then, with a sigh of regret, turned our boat and were on our downward way to the landing. The dash of the oars echoed pleasantly and the ripple of the wake made hollow angles and pulsated among the lilies and rushes of the margin.

Here I thought once I would live; here, in this free wilderness, this tranquil realm of content, where honor is not measured by success, where pretension does not trample upon merit, where genius is not a jest, goodness not a seaming and devotion not a sham. Here where the light of day is undarkened by wrong, where solitude is the parent of meditation and eloquent of God. Here would I live, listening to the loon's strange bravura and communing with all those teachings that guide the insight, soften the heart, and purify, while they expand, the soul.

Ten o'clock, however found me snug in bed, but threatened with a chill, at my hotel in Omaha.

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