The Death Shout: A legend from the Pennsylvania Wilds
A friend of mine just gave me a copy of “Black Forest Souvenirs.” This book was published in 1914 by Henry Wharton Shoemaker, a Clinton County writer and folklorist. Now, it’s fair to say that Shoemaker has taken some criticism over the years, but personally I’m a big fan. Some people contend that Shoemaker faked his folklore stories, but after years of studying them, I’m of the opinion that he wrote them down the way they were told to him. He may have applied some of his own views, but I feel that if any of the stories were heavily embellished, it was his sources who did that, not Shoemaker himself.
This particular book contains a chapter entitled “The Death Shout,” which has an interesting bit of legend in it. Now, I’m going to paraphrase here, because if I told it exactly the way Shoemaker did, it would fill up the internet. The man had a tendency to be excessively wordy.
Shoemaker quotes William W. Canfield, who wrote several books about the Native American tribes. Canfield stated that when a Native American warrior was killed in battle, he would cry out a “Death Shout” which was heard in the afterlife and warned his predeceased friends that he was coming. Shoemaker wrote, “There were many strange stories clustered around the ‘Death Shout,’ some of them beautiful, others painfully sad.”
This story involved a warrior named Machatachten, who was in love with a woman named Sabelena in present-day Clearfield County. She predicted that Machatachten would become one of the greatest members of the tribe who ever lived. Before they could be married, however, Sabelena died of swamp fever, which they didn’t have a vaccine for in those days.
In his grief, Machatachten decided to enter into warfare, striking out against corruption and injustice. He became a sort of ancient superhero, and went out with a team of fierce warriors. The story says, “They travelled to distant parts of the country putting down oppression, injustice, wrong, vice, and crime.”
As they stopped one corrupt leader after another, a remaining leader expanded his territory. One evil tribe leader named Magoocagook would take over the territory of the recently deposed leader, making him more powerful. As Machatachten’s legend grew, Magoocagook became more and more fearful of him.
Magoocagook issued a proclamation that Machtachten and his team were to meet him in a ravine in the Black Forest, up in present-day Potter County. When they arrived, his men ambushed them and shot them all with poisoned arrows.
As Machatachten went down, he let loose a Death Shout. On the other side, in the afterlife, Sabelena’s spirit heard it and came to his aid.
She saw his bleeding body and, with all her “psychic strength,” she breathed onto his wound. It came together, healing through her sheer force of will. As the sun set, Machatachten woke up, evidently rising from the dead.
He saw the ghost of Sabelena and asked if she’d helped him. She nodded, and then she told him to rise and conquer Magoocagook, becoming the best leader of the tribe.
Machatachten hiked for miles, found Magoocagook, and attacked him. After a fierce battle, Machatachten won out and took over the tribe. He became the most respected leader ever, and until his death (the second one) he ruled with justice.
This old legend spans the I-80 Frontier and the Dark Skies Landscape, and it is just one of the interesting old stories in the Pennsylvania Wilds. We have a lot of these, and to some extent, we have Henry Shoemaker to thank for them.
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