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THE SCENES OF A DAY.
The rich but scattered treasures of our own native scenery, are too often forgotten, or despised as tame and insipid. It would almost seem as though we imagined that Nature was robed in majesty and sublimity only amid the Alps—that solemn and impressive beauty dwelt alone on the banks of the “ Castellated Rhine," or that Italy had enshrined all grace and loveliness in the bosom of her vine-draped hills, under her clear, intoxicating skies. But to the lover of Nature, no land affords more rare and varied pictures of the charming and sublime, than our own. There is enough sirown on every hand to thrill the heart of the American with a fiercer, holier emotion—to leave the impress of its own grandeur and beauty upon his character. Our scenery is made up of the fugitive tracings of Nature's pencil, and must be carefully sought on a mighty canvas. Upon our far northern boundary, we find a bold, mountainous landscape, whose strange, fantastic moldings, the wild, almost superstitious imagination of the north would easily fancy its guardians. Where, too, lay those thousand scattered lakes, that gleam like gems in their dark settings of illimitable forests ; unsurpassed even by those of Switzerland, that sleep silently as painted water, in their mountain frames. While to the extreme south, nature takes the deep hue of the tropics, and in her boundless luxuriance creates floating islands, decked with every charm of flower and foliage. On our western limits, a new and original feature strikes us, that of those vast, measureless land oceans, the prairies ; where often not a tree stands out against the sky on the whole circle of the horizon, leaving the eye to rest only upon an unbroken sea of tall, waving grass, starred thickly with flowers of wondrous brilliancy.
No wonder that in so varied and wide-spread scenery, the traveler should be surprised by many a rare, bewitching landscape, reposing quietly and forgotten in some unnoticed spot; startling him like those lonely lakes we find unexpectedly, embosomed on the mountain's summit, ever reigned over by a solemn sabbath-like stillness. Such, reader, was our good fortune, not many years ago, when wandering in the “ far west,” seeking whatever novelty or adventure chance might throw in our way.
Not far from the head waters of navigation on the Illinois river, and from the very brink of the stream, towers up “ Starved Rock.” At a distance, as fou catch a glimpse of its dark, gray walls between the clambering wild vines, which seem endeavoring to veil with flowers and foliage its bare, naked sides, it looks like some half-ruined, mossgrown castle of a giant, but long-forgotten race. Making a nearer approach, you find it encircled with several broken parapets of stinted fir and cedar, frowning threateningly, as if in defiance of all attempt to gain its summit. But on the opposite side from the river, you discover a single, narrow, almost perpendicular path, that leads directly to its highest elevation.
Here, then, we found ourselves, on one of those rich, mellow autumn days, which are known only in all their rapture and glory in that far western land. A soft, trembling light seemed to descend upon forest and prairie, and bathe all in its mild, doubtful, enchanting hue.
Earth and sky seemed gently shaded into each other. On such a day, a quiet intoxicating joy comes over the soul. A dreamy sense of gladness and satisfaction suffuses your whole being, with just a sufficient tinge of melancholy upon the feelings, from sympathy with the saddened tint of the sky, to give depth and consciousness to the sensations. Something such as we imagine, must be the exquisite, half-waking dream of some old Turk, as he dwells in the delicious reverie of an opium-heaven, while his spirit floats upward with those airy, graceful, wreathing clouds of his own creation, and with them dissolving, soars away into an ideal world of strange fancies. Thus we stood, reader, on that day, gazing off upon a glowing scene, which we then thought we had never seen surpassed in richness and in beauty. Immediately in front, and at the very foot of the rock on which we stood, flowed the river ; which is here a shallow, crystal stream murmuring and dancing along over its pebbly bottom. As far as the eye could reach towards the north, it came winding onward around the base of the bold, rugged bluffs, alternately mirroring their dark forms, and glancing in the sunlight, which was poured in a golden flood through their broken tops. Far beneath us, the rock was thrown into a thousand fantastic shapes by the rippling current. While, darting out again from the dark shadow, the stream eddied around many a huge, broken fragment, and was dashed into a silver shower. Off to our right towered up “ Buffalo Rock." Gradually ascending from an extensive plain in the rear, it terminates in a losty, over-hanging cliff. The name of this rock is suggestive of the romantic sports of that noble race, who with their noble game are fast vanishing from western wilds. Unbroken, except by a smaller, dense wood immediately in front, stretched far away from the opposite side of the river, one of those beautiful, undulating prairies, which might give the impression of monotony, were it not that it constituted one of the elements of this most varied picture. But there it lay, like a sea of brilliant coloring rolling on to the very base of another series of bold bluffs that bounded the prospect; while the luxuriant and interlaced grass, vines and bowers that wrapt it in a gay carpeting, were swept by wandering gusts of wind into long, trembling lines of light and shadow; where, too, we saw the occasional traveler pursuing his lonely way, with an unbroken stillness reigning around him, except as he startled from her hiding place the native prairie hen, which whirred away with arrowy swiftness into some distant, secluded retreat. As we turned to gaze in the opposite direction, it seemed as though an enchanted land had suddenly arisen, the fabric of fairy hands. A series of gentle elevations swept away in the distance from the foot of the rock on which we stood, like great billows. A clear, open wood of giant oaks were strown thickly upon the landscape. Over which the first frost had thrown its delicately-tinted mantle, which, without robbing it of fresh
ness or verdure, had only added a deeper, richer coloring. The enchantment of the scene came from the infinite labyrinth of light and shade and thousand-hued foliage. While the gentle swell of those undulating hills and the sombre gothic arches formed by the interweaving to the dark forest branches, gave play to the fancy, and seemed to lead the enraptured gaze on and still on through those deep solitudes, into a distant land of mystic, shadowy beauty. Such, reader, is but a brief, faint picture of that bewitching landscape, as it lay flooded in the light and glory of an autumn day. The sublime and the lovely, shaded into one. The torn cliff, the gentle hill, the joyous, dancing stream and the gay prairie, blending and increasing each other's enchantment. And as we stood there upon that lonely rock, what a trembling ecstacy came over the soul, from air, earth, and heaven !-a gush of sympathy, with a mysterious, pervading spirit that seemed to throw its spell about us. Nor is it strange that with many a memento on every hand, thought should go back in reverie, and to dwell upon the days of the Indians' might and power, until imagination almost conjured up their dusky forms gliding from tree to tree, now seen for a moment and now vanishing in the tall waving grass. It seemed as though a new and melancholy interest was thrown over the scene, when we thought how lately it had been the theatre of the romantic pastimes of that noble race, who would soon exist only in poetry and song. How he had read the smile of the “Great Spirit,” in that same sun, and tracing its course till it poured a sea of golden light upon the evening horizon, thought he caught in that enrapturing spectacle, but a faint conception of the glory which should bathe eternally the unknown but happier hunting grounds of the brave and good. How he had heard the approving whisper in the same gently-breathing gales. How scenes of grandeur and loveliness, like that upon which we were gazing, had left their impress upon his character, and had seemed to infuse into his nature a proud spirit of defiance and self-conscious greatness.
Perhaps, reader, you have already asked yourself why we have called this rock by so strange a name. Know then, that it is thus commemorated in that fugitive, but beautiful history record of the Indian race, the legend. For thus they committed to the passing breeze the gravest facts of history, in song or story, painted with their own vivid fancy. “ The Legend of Starved Rock” commemorates the cruel and merciless death of an Indian chief and a few trusty warriors on its summit. The leader of a tribe which once inhabited this region, being captivated by a lovely Indian girl, the daughter of his rival, persuaded her, contrary to the stern determination of her father, to become the sharer of his wigwam. As he was hastening back with his treasure, surrounded by a small band of faithful followers, the injured chieftain raised the war-cry through his tribe and summoning his bold, fleet warriors about him, told in thrilling eloquence the base wrong he had suffered.
Night and day they pursued the fleeing enemy, guided ever by that celestial map about them. On the fourth day, the eagle gaze of the fugitives detected the waving plumes of their pursuers in the distance. Being in the region of the rock we have described, they fled to it precipitately as an inaccessible fortress,-hoping that the chieftain father would abandon his purpose, when he should see them safely gathered on its lofty summit.
But Indian revenge was not thus to be satiated. On they came, and with bold daring, attempted to scale that narrow precipitous path. But the unerring shafts of those who guarded it, pierced them one by one as they dared the bold exploit, and hurled their lifeless bodies down amid their companions.
Failing in this attempt, the desperate assailants clustered in a dark, serried rank around the base, and with fearful silence and determination, awaited the inevitable death of their victims in their desolate fortress.
Day after day the sun rose and rolled through the burning heavens, lingeringly away to the west, throwing the lengthened shadow in the back ground; but still, no relief.
Without water and without food their emaciated forms were seen wandering along the brink of the cliff like ghosts. Often that Indian maiden would stand upon the brow of the lofty precipice and with her long, dark hair streaming in the wind, more like some spirit than a human form, plead in agonizing gestures with her father whom she saw far below. But nothing less than death could appease his proud, insulted soul.
Daily that doomed band was seen to diminish. Finally all was silent and moveless upon the summit, and the avenged chieftain ascending, found only the cold, skeleton-like forms of his starved victims. The legend relates how one of the besieged warriors descended to a shelving projection of the rock not far above the river and fearlessly threw himself into the stream, where his faithful squaw had moored her slight bark canoe in the deep shade, to receive him as he arose ; and how darting across into the small, dense wood, both escaped to tell their tribe the melancholy tale.
Now, reader, we would fain present you with one of nature's caskets we found that day ; one of her own mosaics in scenery. Follow us as we did the guide off through that open forest which stretches far away from “ Starved Rock.”
Suddenly emerging upon a clear, rapid stream bounded by precipitous banks, our guide pronounced us lost, for we had mistaken the dim path that leads to this natural curiosity. But directed by the sun and knowing the “lay of the country," he finally brought us to our destination, by a wild romantic way through a tangled maze of huge, broken rocks, dense underwood and tall grass which waved above our heads. Though long familiar to the western hunter as the summer resort of deer, “ Deer Park,” the subject of our sketch, has but recently been sufficiently known to be an object of interest to the traveler. Decending an abrupt declivity which slopes from the west to the banks of the Vermillion river, a tributary of the Illinois, you discover to your left a dark, narrow gorge extending back from the stream. Passing a colossal fragment, that seems rolled directly in the entrance as if to guard all encroachment upon that mysterious land beyond, you find
yourself enclosed on either hand by wild, torn cliffs, shooting far upward in the air. Pursuing onward the winding course, those gray walls tower up still more loftily and threateningly, till they seem ready to meet above your head. On either side, are low, dusky caves extending back, from which you almost expect some dim, shadowy form will emerge. As you proceed onward, the scene grows wilder and more sublime. Yet over all, there is thrown an air of enchantment, which seems to make it the charmed home of elves and genii. Long, trailing vines, gemmed thickly with flowers of every imaginable hue, drape with their rich tapestry the bold rugged precipices. While far above, the forest almost weaves a network of its huge branches.
Silent and motionless we stood oppressed with the strange fascination of the scene. It was as though some magic word of our own had suddenly called up the fairest, wildest creation that had ever floated to us from the ideal world.
About half a mile from the entrance we came to an abrupt termination. But here in this narrow compass seemed to be collected all the ornaments with which nature decks herself through the wide world. For here was the leaping cataract, the gushing fountain, the crag, the lake, the flower. Over the high, solid rock that barred our farther progress and joined the opposite sides of the gorge, a magnificent cascade bounded during the rainy season. Here the walls on either hand formed corresponding segments of a circle, sweeping upward into vast, over-reaching domes. The whole giving the impression of some grand, old gothic temple. Towering up with opposite fronts, they create a mighty whispering gallery, where the slightest tone was caught and reverberated with a deep, solemn sound.
Two sulphur springs gushed up and formed a dark, beautiful lake under one of these vast domes. A stone plunged into its moveless water, sent a rolling echo like thunder amid the broken precipices. Constructing a simple raft of fallen boughs, a single musician is sometimes sent floating across the lake under one of those stupendous arches, which, catching the solitary strain, echoes and reechoes it in soft, thrilling cadence, until it seems as though a thousand harps, swept by unseen hands, poured forth a flood of swelling, rapturous music. Far down in the silent depths of that secluded lake, we saw all this strange, fairy creation repeated—other domes and wreathing vines and wild crags. It reminded us of those fabled grottos of the poets, where naiad and mermaid sported. No, reader, that scene will never be blotted from our memory. It seemed more like some fair fabric of the poet's thought, than a reality. Those fantastically molded cliffs and echoing arches that solitary lake creating another world in shadow—that drapery of nature worked with rarest flowers—that lofty bower of darkly woven branches, all bathed in a soft, shadowy light, made it seem as though we had indeed floated unconsciously into some fair world of the imagination, or perchance had made a daring encroachment upon the sacred homes of elves, who were peering down upon us from their secluded nooks.