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Like the ancient Greeks, the Siwash of the Northwest invest the unseen world with spiritual intelligence. Every tree has a soul; the forests were peopled with good and evil genii, the latter receiving oblation at the devil-dances, for it was not worth while to appease those already good; and the mountains are the home of tamanouses, or guardian spirits, that sometimes fight together—as, when the spirits of Mount Tacoma engaged with those of Mount Hood, fire and melted stone burst from their peaks, their bellowing was heard afar, and some of the rocks flung by Tacoma fell short, blocking the Columbia about the Dalles.
Across these fantastic reports of older time there come echoes of a later instruction, adapted and blended into native legend so that the point of division cannot be indicated. Such is that of the mysterious voyager of the Whulge—the Siwash name for the sound that takes the name of Puget from one of Vancouver's officers. Across this body of water the stranger came in a copper canoe that borrowed the glories of the morning. When he had landed and sent for all the red men, far and near, he addressed to them a doctrine that provoked expressions of contempt—a doctrine of love.
To fight and steal no more, to give of their goods to men in need, to forgive their enemies,—they could not understand such things. He promised—this radiant stranger—to those who lived right, eternal life on seas and hills more fair than these of earth, but they did not heed him. At last, wearying of his talk, they dragged him to a tree and nailed him fast to it, with pegs through his hands and feet, and jeered and danced about him, as they did about their victims in the devil-dance, until his head fell on his breast and his life went out.
A great storm, with thunderings and earthquakes! They took the body down and would have buried it, but, to! it arose to its feet, as the sun burst forth, and resumed its preaching. Then they took the voyager's word for truth and never harmed him more, while they grew less warlike as each year went by until, of all Indians, they were most peaceable.
Mount Tacoma has always been a place of superstitious regard among the Siwash (Sauvage) of the Northwest. In their myths it was the place of refuge for the last man when the Whulge was so swollen after long rain that its waters covered the earth. All other men were drowned. The waves pursued the one man as he climbed, rising higher and higher until they came to his knees, his waist, his breast. Hope was almost gone, and he felt that the next wave would launch him into the black ocean that raged about him, when one of the tamanouses of the peak, taking pity on him, turned his feet to stone. The storm ceased, and the waters fell away. The man still stood there, his feet a part of the peak, and he mourned that he could not descend to where the air was balmy and the flowers were opening. The Spirit of all Things came and bade him sleep, and, after his eyes were closed, tore out one of his ribs and changed it to a woman. When lifted out of the rock the man awoke, and, turning with delight to the woman, he led her to the sea-shore, and there in a forest bower they made their home. There the human race was recreated.
On the shore of the Whulge in after years lived an Indian miser—rare personage—who dried salmon and jerked the meat that he did not use, and sold it to his fellow-men for hiaqua—the wampum of the Pacific tribes. The more of this treasure he got, the more he wanted—even as if it were dollars. One day, while hunting on the slopes of Mount Tacoma, he looked along its snow-fields, climbing to the sky, and, instead of doing homage to the tamanous, or divinity of the mountain, he only sighed, "If I could only get more hiaqua!"
Sounded a voice in his ear: "Dare you go to my treasure caves?"
"I dare!" cried the miser.
The rocks and snows and woods roared back the words so quick in echoes that the noise was like that of a mountain laughing. The wind came up again to whisper the secret in the man's ear, and with an elk-horn for pick and spade he began the ascent of the peak. Next morning he had reached the crater's rim, and, hurrying down the declivity, he passed a rock shaped like a salmon, next, one in the form of a kamas-root, and presently a third in likeness of an elk's head. "'Tis a tamanous has spoken!" he exclaimed, as he looked at them.
At the foot of the elk's head he began to dig. Under the snow he came to crusts of rock that gave a hollow sound, and presently he lifted a scale of stone that covered a cavity brimful of shells more beautiful, more precious, more abundant than his wildest hopes had pictured. He plunged his arms among them to the shoulder—he laughed and fondled them, winding the strings of them about his arms and waist and neck and filling his hands. Then, heavily burdened, he started homeward.
In his eagerness to take away his treasure he made no offerings of hiaqua strings to the stone tamanouses in the crater, and hardly had he begun the descent of the mountain's western face before he began to be buffeted with winds. The angry god wrapped himself in a whirling tower of cloud and fell upon him, drawing darkness after. Hands seemed to clutch at him out of the storm: they tore at his treasure, and, in despair, he cast away a cord of it in sacrifice. The storm paused for a moment, and when it returned upon him with scream and flash and roar he parted with another. So, going down in the lulls, he reached timber just as the last handful of his wealth was wrenched from his grasp and flung upon the winds. Sick in heart and body, he fell upon a moss-heap, senseless. He awoke and arose stiffly, after a time, and resumed his journey.
In his sleep a change had come to the man. His hair was matted and reached to his knees; his joints creaked; his food supply was gone; but he picked kamas bulbs and broke his fast, and the world seemed fresh and good to him. He looked back at Tacoma and admired the splendor of its snows and the beauty of its form, and had never a care for the riches in its crater. The wood was strange to him as he descended, but at sunset he reached his wigwam, where an aged woman was cooking salmon. Wife and husband recognized each other, though he had been asleep and she a-sorrowing for years. In his joy to be at home the miser dug up all his treasure that he had secreted and gave of his wealth and wisdom to whoso needed them. Life, love, and nature were enough, he found, and he never braved the tamanous again.
In days when volcanoes were playing in the Northwest and the sternly beautiful valley of the Columbia was a hell of ash and lava, the fiend men of the land met at intervals on the heated rocks to guzzle and riot together. It was at one of these meetings in the third summer after Tacoma had stopped spouting that the devil urged a lesson from the growing peace and joy of nature, and prayed the fiend men to desist from killing and eating each other and live in love.
With a howl of rage at such a proposal they set upon him, tossing their tails in such a threatening manner that he deemed it best to be off, and as his hoofs clattered over the country his brain was busy in devising an escape. Nearing the mountain bulwarks of an inland sea, whose breakers' rhythmic roar he heard above the yells of his pursuers, a hope came into his head, and new vigor into his tail, though you might have thought the latter accession was not needed, for his tail was of prodigious length and strength. He whirled this limb aloft and beat it on the earth. A chasm opened at the stroke, and the devil skipped across to the safe side of it.
Safe? No; for the fiend men in advance took the leap and came beside him. The tormented one could thrash any two of them at once, but he was not equal to a thousand. He brandished his weapon once more and it fell with a crash. Earth shook, dust arose in clouds, and a deeper cleft than before yawned through the valley. Again the fiend men tried to reach him, and, though the gap was bigger and many fell into it, hundreds made the jump and overtook him. He must make one more attempt. The tail revolved for a third time, and with the energy of despair he flailed the ground with it.
A third ravine was split through the rock, and this time the earth's crust cracked away to the eastward, giving outlet to the sea, which came pouring through the canon, breaking rocks from mountains and grinding them to powder in its terrific progress. Gasping with fatigue, the unhappy one toiled up a hill and surveyed his work with satisfaction, for the flood engulfed the fiend men and they left no member of their race behind them.
When they had all been happily smashed or drowned, the devil skipped lightly over the channels he had cut and sought his family, though with a subdued expression of countenance, for his tail—his strength and pride—was bruised and broken beyond repair, and all the little imps that he fathered to the world afterward had little dangling tails like monkeys' instead of megatheriums', and in time these appendages disappeared. But what was the use of them? The fiend men they had fought against were dead and the rising race they could circumvent by subtler means. The inland sea drained off. Its bed is now the prairie, and the three strokes of the devil's tail are indelibly recorded in the bed of the Columbia at the Dalles. And the devil never tried to be good again.
When the Siwash, as the Northwestern Indians called themselves, were few, Mount Hood was kept by the Spirit of Storms, who when he shook his robe caused rain or snow to fall over the land, while the Fire Spirit flashed his lightnings from Mount Adams. Across the vale between them stretched a mighty bridge of stone, joining peak to peak, and on this the Siwash laid his offering of salmon and dressed skins. Here, too, the tribal festivals were kept. The priestess of the arch-Mentonee, who fed the fire on the tribal altar "unimpassioned by a mortal throb"—had won the love of the wild tamanouses of the mountains, but she was careless alike of coaxing and threats, and her heart was as marble to them.
Jealous of each other, these two spirits fell to fighting, and, appalled by the whirl of fire and cloud, of splintering trees and crumbling rocks, the Indians fled in terror toward the lowlands, but she, unhurt and undaunted, kept in her place, and still offered praise to the one god. Yet she was not alone, for watchful in the shadow of a rock stood a warrior who had loved her so long, without the hope of lovers, that he, too, had outgrown fear. Though she had given him but passing words and never a smile, his own heart was the warmer and the heavier with its freight, and it was his way to be ever watching her in some place where she might not be troubled by the sight of him.
The war waxed fiercer, and at last the spirits met at the centre of the arch, and in roar and quake and deluge the great bridge swayed and cracked. The young man sprang forward. He seized Mentonee in his arms. There was time for one embrace that cheated death of sorrow. Then, with a thunder like a bursting world, the miles of masonry crashed down and buried the two forever. The Columbia leaps the ruins of the bridge in the rapids that they call the Cascades, and the waters still brawl on, while the sulky tamanouses watch the whitened floods from their mountain-tops, knowing that never again will they see so fair a creature as Mentonee.
Umatilla, chief of the Indians at the Cascades of the Columbia, was one of the few red men of his time who favored peace with the white settlers and lent no countenance to the fierce revels of the "potlatch." In these "feasts of gifts" the savages, believing themselves to be "possessed by the spirit," lashed themselves into a frenzy that on several occasions was only quieted by the shedding of blood. Black Eagle's Feather—or Benjamin, as he was called by the settlers—was the only one of the children of the old chief who survived a summer of plague, and on this boy Umatilla had put all his hopes and affections.
The lad had formed a great trust in his white teacher, a college-bred man from the East, who had built a little school-house beside the Columbia and was teaching the Indian idea how to shoot something beside white people. This boy and his teacher had hunted together; they had journeyed in the same canoe; had tramped over the same trail to the great falls of the Missouri; and at the Giant Spring had seen the Piegans cast in their gifts, in the belief that the manitou of the place would deliver them in the hereafter to the sun-god, whom they worshipped. One day Benjamin fell ill, and the schoolmaster saw that he, too, was to die of the plague. Old Umatilla received the news with Indian stoicism, but he went into the forest to be alone for a time.
When he returned day was breaking and a flock of wild-geese trumpeted overhead. The boy heard them, and said, "Boston tilicum" (white man), "does the Great Father tell the geese where to go?"
"Then he will tell me, too?"
"We shall never go back to the Missouri together. My father—"
"We will watch over him."
"That is well." And, in a few hours, he had intrusted the guidance of his soul through the world of shadows to the white man's unseen father.
Umatilla sat beside the body through the night, and in the morning he called his people together. He told them that he was prepared to follow his boy out of the world, but that first he wanted to have their promise that they would no longer war on the whites, but look to them for friendship and guidance. There was some murmuring at this, for the ruder fellows were already plotting a descent on the settlers, but Umatilla had given them great store of goods at the last potlatch, and they reluctantly consented. The venerable chief ordered them to make a grave for Benjamin like the white man's, and, when it had been dug, four warriors laid the body of his son within it. Then, standing at the brink, the chief said, "My heart is growing cold, for it is in the grave there with my son. When I take three steps to the side of him, I, too, shall die. Be good to the white men, as you have said, and bury us both together. Great Spirit, I come." And, sinking to the ground, the old man's life ebbed in a breath. They buried him and his son in a single grave, and next day they went to the teacher and asked him to lead and instruct them. And with that year ended all trouble between red and white men along the Columbia.
East of San Francisco is a narrow valley opening to the bay of San Pablo. In spite of its pleasant situation and fruitful possibilities, it had no inhabitants until 1820, when Miguel Zamacona and his wife Emilia strayed into it, while on a journey, and, being delighted with its scenery, determined to make it their home. In playful mockery of its abundance they gave to it the name El Hambre [Hunger] valley.
After some weeks of such hardship as comes to a Mexican from work, Miguel had built an adobe cabin and got a garden started, while he caught a fish or shot a deer now and then, and they got on pretty well. At last it became necessary that he should go to Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was then called, for goods. His burros were fat and strong, and there should be no danger. Emilia cried at being left behind, but the garden had to be tended, and he was to be back in exactly three weeks. She waited for twenty-two days; then, her anxiety becoming unendurable, she packed an outfit on a burro and started on the trail. From time to time she called his name, and "Miguel!" echoed sweetly from hills and groves, but there was no other answer, save when an owl would hoot. Rolled in a blanket she slept on lupin boughs, but was off at peep of day again, calling—calling—high and clear among the solitudes.
During the second day her burro gave a rasping bray, and a hee-haw answered from the bush. It was Miguel's burro. He had come at last! Leaping to her feet, in her impatience, she ran to meet him, and found him lying on the earth, staring silently at the sky. All that day she sat beside him, caressing his hand, talking, crying, bathing his face with water from the marsh—the poison marsh—and it was not until sunset that she could bring herself to admit that he was dead—had been dead for at least two days.
She put the blanket over him, weighted it with stones, and heaped reeds upon it; then she started for home. A wandering trader heard her story, but years elapsed before any other settler entered Hunger valley. They found her skeleton then in the weedy garden. The adobe stands tenantless in the new village of Martinez, and the people have so often heard that the ghosts of the Zamaconas haunt the place that they have begun to disbelieve it.
The county called Kern, in California, lies mostly in a circular valley, and long, long before the evil one had created the pale face it was the home of a nation advanced in arts, who worshipped the Great Spirit in a building with a lofty dome. But the bravery and wisdom of one of their own people made them forget the Manitou and idolize the man who seemed the most like him. They brought him to the temple and prayed and sang to him, and held their sacred dances there, so angering God that he rent the earth and swallowed them. Nothing was seen of this people for years after, but their stone tools were left on neighboring hill-sides. Manitou even poured water into the valley, and great creatures sported in the inland sea.
But, ere long, he repented his anger, and, in a fit of impatience at what he had done, he threw up quantities of earth that smoked with heat, and thus created the Sierra Nevada, while he broke away the hills at the foot of the lake, and the waters drained into the sea at the Golden Gate. This again made dry land of the valley, and, opening the earth once more, he released the captive tribe. The imprisoned people had not forgotten their arts nor their boldness; they made the place blossom again; they conquered other tribes, and Manitou declared them his chosen ones, from whom alone he would accept sacrifice. But their chief became so ambitious that he wanted to supplant the Manitou in the worship of the people, and finally, in a lunacy of self-conceit, he challenged the god to single combat.
Under pretence of accepting the challenge, the Great Spirit set the offenders to wander through the desert until they reached a valley in the Sierras, opposite Tehachapi, where he caused them to be exterminated by a horde of savages from the Mojave desert. Then, in a fit of disgust at refractory humanity, he evoked a whirlwind and stripped away every living thing from the country of the savages, declaring that it should be empty of human beings from that time forward. And it was so.
Tom Bowers, who mined on Misery Hill, near Pike City, California, never had a partner, and he never took kindly to the rough crowd about the place. One day he was missing. They traced his steps through the snow from his cabin to the brink of a great slope where he had been prospecting, but there they vanished, for a landslide had blotted them out. His body was exhumed far below and decently buried, yet it was said that it was so often seen walking about the mouth of his old shaft that other men avoided the spot.
Thriftless Jim Brandon, in a spasm of industry, began work on the abandoned mine, and for a while he made it pay, for he got money and squared accounts with his creditors; but after a time it appeared that somebody else was working on the claim, for every morning he found that the sluice had been tampered with and the water turned on. He searched for the trespasser in vain, and told "the boys" that if they called that joking it had grown tiresome.
One night he loaded his rifle, and, from a convenient nook, he watched for the intruder. The tamaracks crooned in the wind, the Yuba mumbled in the canon, the Sierras lay in a line of white against the stars. As he crept along to a point of better vantage he came to a tree with something tacked on it—something that shone in the dark like a match. In its own light he read, "Notice! I, Thomas Bowers, claim this ground for placer mining." Raising his hand to tear off the paper, he was amazed to feel a thrill pass through it, and his arm fell palsied at his side. But the notice was gone.
Now came the sound of water flowing, and, as he angrily caught his gun and turned toward the sluice, the letters shone again in phosphorescence on the tree. There was the sound of a pick in the gravel now, and, crawling stealthily towards the sluice, he saw, at work there, Tom Bowers—dead, lank, his head and face covered with white hair, his eyes glowing from black sockets. Half unconsciously Jim brought his rifle to his shoulder and fired. A yell followed the report, then the dead man came running at him like the wind, with pick and shovel in either hand.
Away went Brandon, and the spectre followed, up hill, in and out of woods, over ditches, through scrub, on toward Pike City. The miners were celebrating a new find with liberal potations and a dance in the saloon when, high above the crash of boots, the shouted jokes, the laughter, and the clink of glasses, came a sound of falling, a scream-then silence. They hurried into the road. There lay Brandon's rifle, and a pick and shovel with "T. B." cut in the handles. Jim returned no more, and the sluice is running every night on Misery Hill.
In the southern part of California, near the Arizona line, is the famous Death Valley—a tract of arid, alkaline plain hemmed in by steep mountains and lying below the level of the sea. For years it was believed that no human being could cross that desert and live, for horses sink to their knees in drifts of soda dust; there is no water, though the traveller requires much drink; and the heat is terrific. Animals that die in the neighborhood mummify, but do not decay, and it is surmised that the remains of many a thoughtless or ignorant prospector lie bleached in the plain. On the east side of Dead Mountain are points of whitened rock that at a distance look like sheeted figures, and these, the Indians say, are the ghosts of their brethren.
In the heart of this desert is said to be the ruin of a pueblo, or village, though the shape and size of it suggest that it was made for a few persons rather than for a tribe or family. Long ago, the tale runs, this place of horrors was a fair and fertile kingdom, ruled by a beautiful but capricious queen. She ordered her subjects to build her a mansion that should surpass those of her neighbors, the Aztecs, and they worked for years to make one worthy of her, dragging the stones and timbers for miles. Fearing lest age, accident, or illness should forbid her to see the ending of her dream, she ordered so many of her subjects to assist that her tribe was reduced to practical slavery.
In her haste and heartlessness she commanded her own daughter to join the bearers of burdens, and when the toilers flagged in step in the noonday heat she strode among them and lashed their naked backs. As royalty was sacred, they did not complain, but when she struck her daughter the girl turned, threw down her load of stone, and solemnly cursed her mother and her kingdom; then, overcome by heat and weariness, she sank to the earth and died. Vain the regrets and lamentations of the queen. The sun came out with blinding heat and light, vegetation withered, animals disappeared, streams and wells dried up, and at last the wretched woman gave up her life on a bed of fever, with no hand to soothe her dying moments, for her people, too, were dead. The palace, half-completed, stands in the midst of this desolation, and sometimes it seems to lift into view of those at a distance in the shifting mirage that plays along the horizon.
The vast ravine of Yo Semite (Grizzly Bear), formed by tearing apart the solid Sierras, is graced by many water-falls raining down the mile-high cliffs. The one called Bridal Veil has this tale attached to it. Centuries ago, in the shelter of this valley, lived Tutokanula and his tribe—a good hunter, he, a thoughtful saver of crops and game for winter, a wise chief, trusted and loved by his people. While hunting, one day, the tutelary spirit of the valley—the lovely Tisayac—revealed herself to him, and from that moment he knew no peace, nor did he care for the well-being of his people; for she was not as they were: her skin was white, her hair was golden, and her eyes like heaven; her speech was as a thrush-song and led him to her, but when he opened his arms she rose lighter than any bird and vanished in the sky.
Lacking his direction Yo Semite became a desert, and when Tisayac returned she wept to see the corn lands grown with bushes and bears rooting where the huts had been. On a mighty dome of rock she knelt and begged the Great Spirit to restore its virtue to the land. He did so, for, stooping from the sky, he spread new life of green on all the valley floor, and smiting the mountains he broke a channel for the pent-up meltings of the snows, and the water ran and leaped far down, pooling in a lake below and flowing off to gladden other land. The birds returned, the flowers sprang up, corn swayed in the breeze, and the people, coming back, gave the name of Tisayac to South Dome, where she had knelt.
Then came the chief home again, and, hearing that the spirit had appeared, was smitten with love more strong than ever. Climbing to the crest of a rock that spires three thousand feet above the valley, he carved his likeness there with his hunting-knife, so that his memory might live among his tribe. As he sat, tired with his work, at the foot of the Bridal Veil, he saw, with a rainbow arching around her, the form of Tisayac shining from the water. She smiled on him and beckoned. His quest was at an end. With a cry of joy he sprang into the fall and disappeared with Tisayac. Two rainbows quivered on the falling water, and the sun went down.
Old Governor Hermenegildo Salvatierra, of Presidio, California, sported only one eye—the left—because the other had been shot out by an Indian arrow. With his sound one he was gazing into the fire, on a windy afternoon in the rainy season, when a chunky man in a sou'wester was-ushered into his presence, and after announcing that he was no other than Captain Peleg Scudder, of the schooner General Court, from Salem, he was made welcome in a manner quite out of proportion in its warmth to the importance that such a disclosure would have for the every-day citizen.
He was hailed with wassail and even with wine. The joy of the commandant was so great that at the third bowl he sang a love ballad, in a voice somewhat cracked, and got on the table to teach the Yankee how to dance the cachuca. The law forbade any extended stay of Americans in Spanish waters, and the General Court took herself off that very night—for this, mind you, was in 1797, when the Spaniard ruled the farther coast.
Next day Salvatierra appeared before his astonished people with a right eye. The priests attached to the fort gave a special service of praise, and told the miracle to the red men of their neighborhood as an illustration of the effect of goodness, prayer, and faith. People came from far and near that they might go to church and see this marvel for themselves. But, alas, for the governor's repute for piety! It soon began to be whispered around that the new eye was an evil one; that it read the deepest thoughts of men with its inflexible, cold stare; that under its influence some of the fathers had been betrayed into confessing things that the commandant had never supposed a clergyman to be guilty of. The people feared that eye, and ascribed such rogueries to the old man as had been entirely foreign to his nature hitherto.
This common fear and suspicion reacted, inevitably, and Salvatierra began, unconsciously, to exhibit some of the traits that his subjects said he possessed. He changed slowly from the indulgent parent to the stern and exacting law-giver. He did not know, however, what the people had been saying about him, and never suspected that his eye was likely to get him into trouble.
It was a warm night and he had gone to bed with his windows open—windows that opened from his garden, and were level, at the bottom, with the floor. A shadowy form stole along the gravel path and entered one of these windows. It was that of a mission Indian. He had gathered from the talk of the faithful that it would be a service to the deity as well as to men to destroy the power of that evil eye. He came beside the bed and looked attentively at the governor, sleeping there in the light of a candle. Then he howled with fright—howled so loudly that the old man sprang to his feet—for while the left eye had been fast asleep the evil one was broad awake and looking at him with a ghostly glare.
In another second the commandant was at the window whirling his trusty Toledo about his head, lopping ears and noses from the red renegades who had followed in the track of the first. In the scrimmage he received another jab in the right eye with a fist. When day dawned it was discovered, with joy, that the evil eye was darkened—and forever. The people trusted him once more. Finding that he was no longer an object of dread, his voice became kinder, his manner more gentle. A heavy and unusual rain, that had been falling, passed off that very day, so that the destruction from flood, which had been prophesied at the missions, was stayed, and the clergy sang "Te Deum" in the church. The old commandant never, to his dying day, had the heart to confess that the evil eye was only a glass one.
An Indian seldom forgets an injury or omits to revenge it, be it a real or a fancied one. A young native of the New Almaden district, in California, fell in love with a girl of the same race, and supposed that he was prospering in his suit, for he was ardent and the girl was, seemingly, not averse to him; but suddenly she became cold, avoided him, and answered his greetings, if they met, in single words. He affected to care not greatly for this change, but he took no rest until he had discovered the cause of it. Her parents had conceived a dislike to him that later events proved to be well founded, and had ordered or persuaded her to deny his suit.
His retaliation was prompt and Indian-like. He killed the father and mother at the first opportunity, seized the girl when she was at a distance from the village, and carried her to the deserted quicksilver mine near Spanish Camp. In a tunnel that branched from American Shaft he had fashioned a rude cell of stone and wood, and into that he forced and fastened her. He had stocked it with water and provisions, and for some weeks he held the wretched girl a captive in total darkness, visiting her whenever he felt moved to do so until, his passion sated, he resolved to leave the country.
As an act of partial atonement for the wrong he had done, he hung a leather coat at the mouth of the tunnel, on which, in picture writing, he indicated the whereabouts of the girl. Search parties had been out from the time of her disappearance, and one of them chanced on this clue and rescued her as she was on the point of death. The savage who had exacted so brutal and excessive a revenge fled afar, and his whereabouts were never known.