By Ira Briggs
Everyone referred to Jim Reed as Uncle Jimmy. Uncle Jimmy was married but had no children of his own; he’s the uncle a person never had. He weighed in at 251 pounds, just a shade over an eighth of a ton, wore size 13 triple-E L.L. Bean boots and carried an Iroquois Indian-shaped skull on top of his shoulders. New York’s change of climate was irrelevant to Uncle Jimmy’s choice of wardrobe; his ever-present black and green plaid Malone wool pants were accented by a flannel shirt year round.
Uncle Jimmy’s hands were huge, each finger the diameter of a quarter. In a feat of strength, he would fold a plastic six-pack ring into one ring of six. One by one, he’d place three fingers from each hand into each side of the ring, raise his massive arms behind his head and effortlessly rip the rings apart. His enormous stature and his love for telling tales of hunting, fishing and local folklore made him an instant hit with the children.
The neighboring children of Purcell Road in Hemlock especially enjoyed Uncle Jimmy’s tale of the beautiful Indian maiden Onnolee, the young bride of the peaceful Munsee tribe Indian Chief. The Munsee tribe had inhabited Hemlock Lake’s Bald Hill to the east. According to Munsee legend, their ancestors killed an enormous snake. It rolled down the hill, leveling all the trees in its path.
The surrounding country was occupied by the evil Mengwees tribe. In the still of the night, the Mengwees attacked the peaceful Munsees and massacred the entire tribe, except for Onnolee who was taken by the Mengwees’ chief for his prize.
On the return trip to their village, the evil chief and his captive stopped to rest on that moonlit night. Onnolee drew the knife from the sheath of the chief’s belt and plunged it into his heart, killing him and avenging the deaths of her beloved tribe and the chief she had loved.
At this point in the story, Uncle Jimmy would grab one of the children and re-enact the plunging of the knife into the chest of the evil chief. Clenching the fictitious knife in his hand, he would thump the chest of the child with the bottom of his clenched fist. The children would crowd in front of each other in hopes of becoming the next victim, each one screaming in delight as they took turns being killed.
Uncle Jimmy would then resume his tale.
The Indian maiden fled on foot in the night, dodging the many arrows of the Mengwees tribe. Realizing that there was no escape, she climbed to the top of Echo Rock, looked to the heavens, then dove in to the black mystic water below, never to be seen again. To this day, her body in spirit can be seen on moonlit nights floating above Echo Rock of Hemlock Lake.
At the conclusion of the story, the children would join in with Uncle Jimmy and sing the song of Onnolee, the beautiful Indian maiden:
THE BALLAD OF ONNOLEE
Oh, Death in whizzing arrows, around her form they passed,
She ran through her beloved woods, on moccasined feet fast,
On hill and forest looked her last, a low, mournful hymn she sang,
One glance upon the water cast, from Echo Rock she sprang.
Drawing of Onnolee by J. Briggsy
Ira Briggs is a well digger, writer and ARC Living Skills Assistant who hails from Hemlock.