Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Original Source of the John Willis Tale

Chrispy understands that HPL used Skinner's book for his reference on John Willis. However, there were versions of Skinner's source circulating in Myths and Legends of Our Own Land. Skinner's original source has been located, or at least a reasonable version of it. It is below. In addition, a digest of this story circulated in wire services for some time, as it was found in "A Battle of Phantoms In The Valley of Death", Ellesmere Gauradian (NZ), Vol XII, Issue 1151, 24 May 1893, page 4. (Not reproduced here).

A few of Skinner's phrases are lifted whole cloth, and Lovecraft adds the enhancemens of an invisible army to set up an element of armored cavalry. This is not in either of the two renditions.

What is odd is that "part two" of that Mound paragraph contains some elements that seem not to be in Skinner, but in the original article.

First we will show Skinner, and then Lovecraft, and then the entire article.

Myths and Legends of Our Own Land
By Charles M. Skinner

A Battle in the Air

In the country about Tishomingo, Indian Territory, troubles are foretold by a battle of unseen men in the air. Whenever the sound of conflict is heard it is an indication that many dead will lie in the fields, for it heralds battle, starvation, or pestilence. The powerful nation that lived here once was completely annihilated by an opposing tribe, and in the valley in the western part of the Territory there are mounds where hundreds of men lie buried. Spirits occupy the valley, and to the eyes of the red men they are still seen, at times, continuing the fight.

In May, 1892, the last demonstration was made in the hearing of John Willis, a U.S. Deputy Marshal, who was hunting horse-thieves. He was belated one night and entered the vale of mounds, for he had no scruples against sleeping there. He had not, in fact, ever heard that the region was haunted. The snorting of his horse in the middle of the night awoke him and he sprang to his feet, thinking that savages, outlaws, or, at least, coyotes had disturbed the animal. Although there was a good moon, he could see nothing moving on the plain. Yet the sounds that filled the air were like the noise of an army, only a trifle subdued, as if they were borne on the passing of a wind. The rush of hoofs and of feet, the striking of blows, the fall of bodies could be heard, and for nearly an hour these fell rumors went across the earth. At last the horse became so frantic that Willis saddled him and rode away, and as he reached the edge of the valley the sounds were heard going into the distance. Not until he reached a settlement did he learn of the spell that rested on the place.


Lovecraft, for Zealia Bishop, in The Mound

The commonest, and among the oldest, became quite famous in 1892, when a government marshal named John Willis went into the mound region after horse-thieves and came out with a wild yarn of nocturnal cavalry horses in the air between great armies of invisible spectres — battles that involved the rush of hooves and feet, the thud of blows, the clank of metal on metal, the muffled cries of warriors, and the fall of human and equine bodies. These things happened by moonlight, and frightened his horse as well as himself. The sounds persisted an hour at a time; vivid, but subdued as if brought from a distance by a wind, and unaccompanied by any glimpse of the armies themselves.

{CP added Paragraph >}Later on Willis learned that the seat of the sounds was a notoriously haunted spot, shunned by settlers and Indians alike. Many had seen, or half seen, the warring horsemen in the sky, and had furnished dim, ambiguous descriptions. The settlers described the ghostly fighters as Indians, though of no familiar tribe, and having the most singular costumes and weapons. They even went so far as to say that they could not be sure the horses were really horses.


The Muncie Daily News
19 July 1892
Page 4, Col 2

. An Indian Scare

. Disaster Feared by Tribes in Indian Territory

. Traditions Which Presage Dire Trouble – Visions of Phantom Warriors in Deadly Combat Produce Consternation

Indians in the neighborhood of Tishomingo, I. T., are predicting a disaster of some kind. They say that something terrible is about to happen to their tribes or to the invading white men. The phantom tribe has been seen and heard in deadly conflict, and this is a sure indication that many dead men will lie on the fields. For years there has been a legend among the Indians of this territory of a phantom tribe which was supposed to be the ghostly remnant of a once powerful nation that was completely annihilated by an opposing tribe. This occurrence was so far back that it is now one of the traditions that has grown misty with age, and the Philadelphia Press says it has been many years since there has been any indication that there was a foundation of truth for the legend which attaches to a certain valley in the western part of the territory. In this valley, which is always shunned by the Indians of all the tribes, are many mounds, indicating where hundreds of people lie buried. In this valley, long ages ago, a great battle is said to have been fought, and in this battle one whole nation of red men was wiped from the face of the earth by a victorious invader, who thereafter possessed the land.

The traditions of the Indians are so strong that ages do not wipe out the legends, and where one or more Indians have seen uncanny things and tell of it, it becomes a part of the nation's history, and where a spot is found to be possessed of spirits the Indians never afterward question the truth of the story, but forever abandon the place. Such is the history of the little valley where it is said the great fight occurred long years ago.

In this valley, full of those little mounds, the Indians claim they have, on several occasions, seen the warring tribes in deadly combat, and closely following the ghostly battle came trouble to the Indians. Either pestilence, famine or war has invariably followed the apparition, and while the Indians have not heard of the phantom tribe for many years the legend is vivid in their minds, and now they believe they are again to be visited with trouble.

John Willis, a deputy United States marshal, is now responsible for the scare among the Indians, for he is the man who heard the deadly conflict between the phantom tribes. Willis did not know it at the time, and, while he is a brave man, he heard such sounds one night recently that he lay perfectly still. Willis was on the trail of a band of horse thieves, and was belated one night just as he entered into a little valley covered with small mounds. He had never heard of the phantom tribe nr of the battle which was fought in the valley. He was far from a house and picketed his horse and made his camp. He had been asleep for some time when he was aroused by his horse, which was snorting and jumping about in terror. Willis jumped to his feet, thinking he was attacked by a band of outlaws from the noise which was made. It was bright moonlight, but he could see nothing.

All around him there seemed to be an invisible host of men, some on horseback and some on foot, and these men appeared to be in deadly conflict. The noise of the trampling hoofs and rushing men could be plainly distinguished, while blows were struck so forcibly that the sound could be distinctly heard. Backward and forward the battle of ghosts seemed to rage for over an hour, yet all the while not a thing could be seen in the valley and Willis was almost convinced that the sounds were the results of a dream. His horse continued its frantic efforts to escape and at last Willis was compelled to saddle the animal and get away from the valley. Just as he got beyond the confines of the valley all the sounds ceased and he was tempted to turn back, but just as he entered the valley the war began again. He told his story to the Indians and then the story of the phantom tribe came out, and the Indians told of the disaster which was sure to follow the appearance of the phantom warring red men.

1 comment:

Magister said...

Extremely cool!


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