The Legend of Diamond Rock
“He that sounds them has pierced the heart’s hollows,
The place where tears are and sleep,
For the foam flakes that dance in life’s shallows
Are wrung from life’s deep.”
The village of Lansingburgh is pleasantly situated upon the east bank of the Hudson directly opposite the point where the Mohawk, coming in from the westward and striking the valley of the Hudson, separates into three or four “sprouts,” and soon mingling its troubled waters with the more placid tide of the larger river, rests from its labors
The valley of the Hudson at this point, along its easterly bank, is not more than half a mile in width, and terminates in a range of hills running parallel with the river, which rise somewhat abruptly to the height of two or three hundred feet. Between this range of high hills and the river our village nestles in a complete forest of shade trees. Troy, its younger sister, but three miles below it, swelling into the pomp and pride of a city, long since absorbed the business growth of our village, and left it a retreat for quiet homes. The city has drawn away from the village its counting-houses, its warehouses,—in a word its more sordid interests, but has left to the village its schools, its churches, its firesides, around which cluster, after all, life’s dearest hopes and most enduring joys.
High up on the brow of the hill overlooking the village, a huge mass of calciferous sand rock of the Quebec group crops out near the bordering strata of Hudson River slate and shale, and terminates in a peak rising some sixty feet above the surrounding surface, with jagged, sloping sides, extending over an area of half an acre or more of ground. This rock, throughout its whole structure, is filled with beautiful shining quartzose crystals, and its surface glitters in the sunlight as if it were covered all over with sparkling gems. Hence it is known far and near as the Diamond Rock.
This rock can be seen from every part of the village, rising up against the eastern sky like a miniature mountain peak, and is often pointed out by the villagers to the tourist and stranger as an object of interest well worthy of a visit. From its summit can be seen the whole upper valley of the Hudson, from the Catskills on the south to the Adirondacks on the north—a sweep of view extending more than a hundred miles along the river. No fairer scene anywhere on earth greets the human vision.
While this valley was under the dominion of the red man, so prominent a natural object as this rock was, of course, regarded as a land-mark. Situated as it was, overlooking the confluence of two important rivers, which then, as well as now, marked out the great highways of travel westward to the great lakes, and northward to the great river leading from them to the ocean, this rock was a beacon to the wanderer. From its top could be seen far off in the distance the camp-fire of the northern invader, as well as the welcome signal of the western ally coming to the rescue.
In the summer of 1858, while spending a few weeks in the great northern wilderness of New York, in company with some friends,* [* Prof. Samuel W. Johnson, of New Haven, Rev. William H. Lockwood of Eau Claire, Wis., Leonard C. Davenport and W. Hudson Stephens of Lowville, were of this party, with Amos Spofford and Al. Higby as guides. While at the Raquette we encamped on Osprey Island, since then the camping ground of Rev. Mr. Murray, of Adirondack fame. While we were there, Prof. Agassiz, Prof. Benedict, Mr. Longfellow, and Mr. Thoreau were occupying the “Philosopher’s Camp,” on the Saranac.] I heard from the lips of an old Indian, a legend of this Diamond Rock. We were encamped upon a little island on the northern shore of the Raquette Lake, opposite the mouth of the Marian River. From this point it was our practice to make excursions to the different points of interest around the lake. Upon a sultry day in August we all started upon a trip to the summit of the Blue Mountain, which lies twenty miles to the eastward, and can be seen from all parts of the lake, looming grandly up against the sky.
Our course was up the Marian River, and through the Eckford chain of lakes, the last one of which, its waters clear as crystal, sleeps at the mountain’s base. We expected to be absent from our camp two or three days, so we proceeded leisurely upon our journey. In the skiff with myself were two others of the party, and our little craft, for some reason or other, was far in advance of all the rest. Toward night-fall we entered a small lake, and while paddling slowly along so that the others might the more readily overtake us, we saw a deer at the distance of a mile ahead of us, standing in the edge of the water, quietly feeding among the lily-pads. Bright visions of venison steaks steaming hot from the embers of our camp-fire for supper «and breakfast instantly arose before us, and we at once determined to secure the game if it were possible, and thus be able to realize our ideal in that particular.
My companions soon landed me upon the shore, which was covered with a dense mass of evergreens reaching almost down to the water’s edge. With rifle in hand I walked noiselessly along the bank to the point directly opposite the place where we had seen the deer standing. Carefully separating the overhanging boughs so as to obtain a view of the lake, much to my disappointment I discovered that the deer was no longer visible.
Those visions of venison steaks began to appear wonderfully like dissolving views. Determined, however, to investigate the matter further, I stepped down the bank into the lake, and waded out a little distance in the shallow water. Turning toward the shore, I saw the deer skulking just above the water’s edge, partially hidden by the foliage, not ten rods distant from where I stood. In another instant the sharp crack of my rifle reverberated round the shores of the peaceful lake, and a splendid doe lay sprawling before me upon the bright sandy beach. As I approached the dying deer, she raised her head with a piteous, pleading look, that stung me with remorse for the ruin I had wrought.
The dying deer sheds tears. Soon those pleading eyes began to fill with tears, and the bright drops to trickle down upon the sand. They seemed to me like human eyes, like those deep spiritual eyes sometimes seen in woman that haunt our dreams forever after.
While I stood half entranced by those tearful eyes, I was startled from ray reverie by a slight movement of the bushes on the bank. In a moment they parted, and an aged Indian emerged from the forest. Giving me a grunt of recognition, he stopped short, and stood for a moment gazing at the dying deer. Then shrugging his shoulders, he broke the silence, saying in broken English: “White man, you good shot. Deer very much plenty round here. Me Indian kill two yesterday. Deer always cry so like squaw when me kill um.”*
* Hark! the hunter’s piercing cry!
See the shafts unerring fly!
Ah! the dappled fool is stricken—
See him tremble—see him sicken.
All his worldly comrades flying,
See him bleeding, panting, dying;
From his eye-lids wan and hollow,
How the big tears follow—follow
Down his face in piteous chase:
How they follow—follow, follow
Without stop, drop by drop,
How they follow drop by drop.
Gen. John Burgoyne.
As the tears were falling fast upon the beach, the old Indian stooped down and gathered a handful of the coarse sand wet with their flow. Pointing out to me some crystals that were brightened by the moisture of the tears, he again spoke:
“Pale face, look here. See how tears make pretty stones to shine very much. White man, come to Indian’s wigwam to-night. Me tell white man good story.”
Our whole party soon came up to where we stood, and as it was already time to look out for a camping ground for the night, we concluded to accept the Indian’s kindly proffered hospitality.
He said his wigwam was half a mile further up the lake, and we took our deer into the skiff, and proceeded thither. As we paddled quietly along, the sun was setting behind us. We saw before us the departing sunlight, followed by the evening shadows, crawl gradually up the mountain side, and disappear on its summit. Then the soft blue haze that all day long had lingered round the mountain, soon assumed purple and golden hues, until the whole atmosphere in which we moved seemed saturated with a thousand nameless tints of wondrous beauty. Not a breath of wind ruffled the surface of the lake. All the glowing splendors of the firmament above the waters were reflected in the firmament beneath the waters. It seemed as if we had at last found the charmed spot where the rainbow touches the earth. But the shadows of evening soon obscured the radiant picture.
In a short time we reached the Indian’s shanty. It was situated at the head of a small bay or cove that indented the shore, and in the valley of a little brook that there runs into the lake. It was a rude, frail structure, made after the fashion of the wilderness. There were two upright posts, some six feet in height and ten apart, with crotches at the top, across which a pole was laid. From this pole others extended, upon one side only, in a slanting direction to the ground, some eight feet distant. This frame-work was covered with large pieces of spruce bark, peeled from some neighboring trees, upon the slanting roof and ends only, leaving the front side open to the weather. The earth under the shanty was thickly strewn with freshly-cut hemlock boughs to the depth of a foot or more. These fragrant boughs, with a couple of bear-skins for a covering, served for a bed.
Directly in front of the shanty a cheerful fire was burning when we arrived. Over the fire a steaming pot was hanging, sustained by a small pole resting upon two upright crotched sticks. The Indian was cooking a venison stew for his supper, and while thus engaged had heard the report of my rifle.
With our hatchets we soon added to his scanty supply of wood sufficient for the night, and, dressing the deer, soon had our own savory steaks smoking over the bright coals of the fire. One of our party had shot a pair of young black ducks, and these, whizzing away in a frying-pan, promised no mean addition to our fare. To these we added some brook trout, cooked in true backwoods style—a fish that is so exquisitely delicate, that, like the ripe strawberry, it will bear neither keeping nor transportation, but, to be enjoyed in its perfection, must be cooked and eaten when but just dripping from its native element. The old Indian’s mess of pottage and some potatoes roasted in the ashes, completed our sumptuous repast.
After supper we piled brush and huge logs upon the fire, and, lighting our pipes, reclined upon the fragrant bed of boughs to rest our limbs, weary with the day’s tramp and excitement.
The flames lit up the forest around us, the nearer trees standing out in bright relief against the somber shadows beyond. Above the trees, the stars looked down from out their awful depths. The night winds sighing through the pines filled the air with gentle murmurs, the brook answering with its prattle, gurgling over its stony bed. We were within the great heart of Nature. Her pulses were throbbing all around us. We could hear the perpetual hum of her myriad voices. We could feel the magnetism of her all-pervading presence.
Thus engaged, and with such surroundings, we were in just the mood to hear and enjoy the old Indian’s tale. I will not trouble the reader with his broken English, but give the substance of it in my own words. Taking three or four strong whiffs from his pipe, he began:
You must know that I belong to the Mohawks, one of the Five Nations. Our tribe, in ancient days, built its lodges along the valley of the Mohawk, and upon both sides of the Hudson, near the junction of the two rivers. It is a tradition of our fathers that the Five Nations first came out of the ground from their subterranean home at some place south-easterly of the Oswego River, in the Lesser Wilderness, and from thence spread out into the different parts of the country they afterward inhabited. The Five Nations called themselves Ho-de-no-sau-nee, which means, in the Indian tongue, “The People of the Long House.” The Mohawks guarded the eastern door of the long house, and the Senecas the western door; while the Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas took care of the interior, the great central council fire being always kept brightly burning in the country of the Onondagas.
Before the union of the nations was accomplished by the exertions of the great sachem Hi-a-wat-ha, the Mohawks wandered away up the Hudson into the valley of the St. Lawrence, and built their lodges and planted their cornfields, near where Montreal now stands. To the north and west of them dwelt a powerful nation called by our people Adirondacks, and afterward named by the French Algonquins. The Adirondacks soon became jealous of our growing strength, and seeking a pretence for war, drove our people back again to the valley of the Mohawk. Our tribe not long after united their fortunes with their sister tribes, and became a part of the mighty people called by the English the Five Nations, by the French the Iroquois, and by themselves the Ho-de-no-sau-nee.
While our people were in the land of the Adirondacks they were governed by an old sachem named Ho-ha-do-ra. His wife, Mo-ne-ta, was young, and one of the most beautiful women of her tribe. She bore him two sons, whom he called Ta-en-da-ra and O-nos-qua.
It so happened that in an attack upon their village, before our people were overpowered and driven from the St. Lawrence, a band of Adirondack warriors took O-nos-qua, the sachem’s youngest son, captive and hurried him off into their own country, where he was saved from torture by being adopted by an Adirondack woman who had lost her own son upon the war-path. Ho-ha-do-ra made many attempts to recapture O-nos-qua, but they all proved unavailing.
With a heavy heart the old sachem, with his wife and remaining son, led his people back to their former home upon the Mohawk and Hudson, leaving his darling boy in hopeless captivity in the land of his enemies. The old sachem soon sank beneath the heavy blow, and when near his end, called his son Ta-en-da-ra to his side and said:
“Ta-en-da-ra, my son, your father will soon go to the happy hunting grounds, while your brother O-nos-qua is still a slave in the land of the Adirondacks. Swear by the Great Spirit that O-nos-qua’s bones shall rest by the side of Ho-ha-do-ra’s, Mo-ne-ta’s and Ta-en-da-ra’s on the banks of the Mohawk.”
“I swear !” said Ta-en-da-ra, “but who will take care of Mo-ne-ta, my mother, while I am gone for my brother?”
“My people shall do it,” replied the dying sachem, ” Mone-ta shall be their queen until her sons come back.”
In a little while the old sachem died, and Mo-ne-ta, after the custom of her people, sat up four nights by a fire lighted upon the river bank to guide his soul into the spirit world. As she sat and mourned by the fire through the dismal nights, she sang a low, sweet dirge for the dead, and the soft cadences of her melodious voice rose and fell through the recesses of the tangled forest like the wail of some wild bird mourning for its lost mate.
After the days of her mourning were ended she called her son to her. “Ta-en-da-ra,” she said, “your father’s bones cannot rest alone. His soul cannot be happy while O-nos-qua is a slave. Go and find your brother in the land of the Adirondacks. Mo-ne-ta will kindle a fire upon the beacon rock and watch until her sons come to her. When you are coming back with your brother from toward the setting sun, or from under the moveless star, you will see the light of my beacon fire from afar, and will know that Mo-ne-ta is still waiting for her children. Go.”
Ta-en-da-ra then went to a lonely spot in the forest and fasted seven days to -invoke his guardian spirit. He then painted his face, struck his tomahawk into the war-post, and put on his plumes for the war-path. With his quiver full of arrows and his trusty bow, he set out in his bark canoe up the Hudson. When he came to the end of his first day’s journey, he looked back toward his home and saw the faint glimmer of Mo-ne-ta’s beacon light appearing like a rising star upon the horizon.
It was long, weary years before he saw it again. He went away a youthful, valiant brave. He came back after many sufferings had bowed his frame, an old man, tottering beneath the weight of his brother’s bones, which he bore with him in solemn triumph, as his life’s great trophy.
Of his journeys, of his bold exploits, of his captivity, of his adoption by the Adirondacks, his meeting with his long lost brother, his brother’s death, of his escape at last and his journey home from the St. Lawrence, I shall not now speak. My story is of Mo-ne-ta.
The clan to which Mo-ne-ta belonged had its lodges on the plain which lies on the east bank of the Hudson, directly opposite the mouths of the Mohawk. In the rear of the plain was a tangled swamp. Beyond the swamp was a high hill, upon the top of which was the beacon rock, overlooking a vast country up and down the river. From the wigwams near the river a trail led through the swamp and up the hill to the beacon rock.
When the shades of night were falling, upon the day of Ta-en-da-ra’s departure, Mo-ne-ta wended her way through the swamp and up the hill to the beacon rock. She gathered some sticks, and rubbing two dry ones together, kindled a fire upon the highest point of the rock and sat down beside it. She was then just in the first sweet prime of womanhood, and scarcely forty summers had passed over her faultless form and features. Her raven tresses hung loosely down her shoulders and rested on the rock around her. Thus she sat and mourned. Her heart was far away in the wilderness with her wandering son and his captive brother, —in the great wilderness that lies beneath the moveless star.
Moon after moon waxed and waned, and still they came not. Then summer after summer tipped the fir trees with fresh green, and called back the birds, but Ta-en-da-ra and O-nos-qua, where were they? Still she lighted the fire upon the beacon rock, and sat and mourned. Her people did not forget the words of their dying chief. They filled her wigwam with venison and corn.
As the seasons glided by she grew old, and was no longer able to find sticks sufficient for her beacon fire, and the young women of her clan gathered them for her, and kept her signal fire brightly burning.
It is said that the Indian never weeps. This is true of him while upon the war-path—while enduring torture and while in the presence of the stranger. But by the side of his dying kindred and his own fire, his tears come out of their pent-up fountains like those of other men.
Each night, just before Mo-ne-ta left the rock to return to sleep in her wigwam, she would repeat her low sweet funeral dirge, and then tears would come to her relief, and save her heart from breaking. Thus tears, blessed tears, dropped upon the beacon rock night after night for year after year. At length Mo-ne-ta’s mind began to wander—began to give way beneath the constant strain. Her people then had to lead her up to her place upon the rock and light her fire for her. Yet each night the dirge was sung and the rock watered with her tears. Thus passed five hundred moons and Ta-en-da-ra had not come.
At last, upon a sultry evening of the green corn moon, Mo-ne-ta had been led to the rock and her fire lighted. There she sat just as she did forty years before, but now she was old and gray, and crazed with ceaseless watching.
As the sun went down, long banks of heavy clouds in the south-west betokened a coming storm. As the evening advanced, the sky became overcast, the wind came up in sudden gusts, and the lightning began to play vividly with that incessant glare that sometimes accompanies such storms in the valley of the Hudson.
From the lodges near the river, the beacon light could be seen faintly glowing in the darkness between the flashes. When the flashes came, the beacon rock, with Mo-ne-ta sitting on its summit, stood out in sharp relief against the dark clouds beyond.
Moved by some strange impulse, Mo-ne-ta struck up an Indian song, wild and sweet, that floated out upon the troubled elements, and while the wind would lull, filled the valley with its strange melodies. Had the wild tokens of the coming tempest stirred up the latent fires in Mo-ne-ta’s bosom and brought back her wandering reason? Or had some spirit-bird fanned her face with its wings and warned the mother’s heart of the coming of her returning son? It was the spirit-bird.
Weary and worn with travel, Ta-en-da-ra was even then going up the trail to the beacon rock. He catches the wild snatches of his mother’s song, and in an instant the vigor of youth returns to his limbs. In a moment more he is standing by her side. A wild shriek of tumultous joy from Mo-ne-ta rings through the valley high above the voices of the storm, and awakens the very echoes of the forest.
The people rushed out from their wigwams. In the bright glare of the lightning they beheld in tableau vivant upon the beacon rock, Ta-en-da-ra standing upon its summit, with Mo-ne-ta bowing her head upon his bosom—mother and son in loving embrace. But such unutterable rapture is not for mortals. In an instant more a bolt came down from heaven jarring the earth with its violence, and shaking the beacon rock to its very foundations. The people, trembling, saw in the lightning the manifest presence of the Great Spirit. They heard His terrible voice in the thunder, and struck with unutterable awe they shrank back to their wigwams.
In the morning the people gathered again around the beacon rock. Its surface was riven and shattered by the bolt. O-nos-qua’s scattered bones were there, but no trace of Mo-ne-ta nor of Ta-en-da-ra was to be seen. Then it was that the people believed that that mother and her son had so consecrated their souls by a life-long sacrifice upon the altar of true affection that in the moment of their supreme felicity they had become too pure for earth and were absorbed—translated into the presence of the Great Spirit by the power of His lightnings, which they thought were but sparks struck with awful thunderings from the eternal fire of His glory. And while they stood gazing upon this strange scene in awe and wonder, the sun came up over the eastern hills and shed his beams upon it, when lo! they for the first time saw that the rock was glittering all over with sparkling gems.
“See, see !” they cried with one accord, “See Mo-ne-ta’s tears,” “Mo-ne-ta’s tears.”
So free from earthly dross had been that mother’s tears shed for her children, that the Great Spirit, by the refining fire of His glory, had changed them into crystals—into glittering immortelles such as cover forever the shining trees in the hunting grounds of the blessed, and to this day those crystalized tears are still to be seen imbedded in the solid rock, there to remain while the earth shall last as bright mementoes of a mother’s changeless love.
When the pale-face came across the big water and saw them he exclaimed, “See! see! a diamond rock! a diamond rock!”
Sylvester, Nathan Bartlett. “The Legend of the Diamond Rock.” Historical Sketches of Northern New York and the Adirondack Wilderness. Troy, NY: William H. Young, 1877. 206-220. https://books.google.com/books?id=VtTBRQDryXoC&pg=PA206
Sylvester, N. B. “Tradition of the Forest; Legend of the Diamond Rock: An Indian Tale.” Lewis County Democrat [Lowville, NY]. March 11, 1868: 1 cols 3-7.