Curse of the lost tribe brings mountain lions and T-shirts

ROGER SIMON

October 21, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

News item: "Wild mountain lions haven't roamed Maryland for almost 200 years, but Baltimore County police and state wildlife officials were beating the bushes in a Randallstown field last night in search of one.

"At least three people claimed they saw a mountain lion in a field in the 3700 block of Burmont Avenue -- a residential area where deer and squirrels might be found, but certainly not lions or tigers or bears."

The separate bands of the tribe would come together at the fall harvest to take council. Dressed in the pelts of the animals they had slain, they carried stone axes and flint arrowheads tied to the ash arrow shafts with sinew.

They were a proud people, industrious and conscientious during the week, but given to wild exuberance and exotic behavior on weekends. They were known as the "Hammerjacks." The reason why remains a mystery to this day.

News item: "Laugh all you want, but Agnes Muhl has no doubts about what she, her husband and her mother saw in the front yard of their Thurmont vacation home eight years ago.

"It was a cougar," insists the 57-year-old Catonsville woman. "It was sitting there looking at the smoke coming out of our chimney."

The bands communed in the council tent, sharing their collective wisdom and planning for the future.

The council tent was erected on the bluffs overlooking the harbor, and from that vantage point the verdant land stretched as far as could be seen in all directions.

There were no permanent structures blotting the landscape. The Hammerjacks did not build. They believed that to build upon nature rather than to live in harmony with it violated the teachings of the Great Spirit.

News item: "Over the past 25 years, dozens of Marylan residents have reported cougar encounters, even though wildlife officials insist that mountain lions haven't roamed the state for at least a century."

It was not a happy time for the Hammerjacks. They had once been nomads and uncounted centuries before they had migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia, down through the tropical rain forests of the central continent and then across the towering mountain range that would some day weather down to the smallish peaks of the Appalachians. Now, they had reached the land that bordered the Great Shining Water and they knew they could go no farther.

Here, for better or worse, they would have to make their stand.

News item: "Wildlife experts said cougars haven't roamed wild in Maryland for almost 200 years. But John Lutz, an amateur cougar buffwho runs a Baltimore-based organization called the Eastern Puma Research Network, said there have been 11 sightings of mountainlions in Maryland this year and scores more in Pennsylvania and Virginia."

The bad news came from the Hammerjack band whose territory included the beaches, the pearl beds and the fisheries. They had seen wooden vessels, bigger than that of the biggest trees, carrying strangely clad men.

The men wore soft fibers covered by hard pelts that glinted in the sun, and they carried sticks that spat fire.

"We must deal with these invaders and deal with them quickly," the leader of the Eastern band said.

"And what would you do with them?" asked the leader of the mountain band.

"I would put them into large pots and cook them," the Eastern leader said.

You would cook them without a hearing?" said the mountain leader.

"I would cook them with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme," said the Eastern leader.

News item: "A wild mountain lion weighs between 90 and 160 pounds, depending on its sex, and ranges over a 15- to 35-square-mile territory for food."

From the back of the council tent, a small unprepossessinfigure rose to speak. He was from the Hammerjack band that traded goods with other tribes.

"I don't think cooking them would be a good idea," he said. "Instead, I think we should build two pavilions down by the harbor. I think we should fill the pavilions with gew-gaws, gimcracks, fast food and T-shirts. And I think we should sell all this stuff to these new tourists and really clean up."

The rest of the Hammerjacks were stunned. When they regained their power of speech, one rose. He was vibrating with anger.

"Gew-gaws?" he said. "Gimcracks? Fast food?"

"And T-shirts," said the Hammerjack with vision. "Don't forget the T-shirts."

The members of the council grabbed him, bound him hand and foot and dragged him to the sacred hilltop, where some day there would be a statue atop a tall column of stone. There they tied him to a stake and left him.

That night they knew the cougars, which roamed the hills and valleys in great abundance, would come and eat him.

"OK, for you guys," the Hammerjack said as they left him at the stake. "But I'm going to put a curse on all of you and some day you're going to be really, really sorry."

News item: "A regional wildlife biologist with the Department oNatural Resources' Forest, Park and Wildlife Service, says mountain lions were hunted into extinction by the people who settled Maryland."

The Hammerjacks soon died out. Unable to keep the strangvisitors from their shores, unable to either defeat them or assimilate them into their culture, the tribe recoiled and retreated into oblivion.

We know precious little about them. But the last words of the Hammerjack at the stake are still repeated and the legend of the Hammerjack Curse lives on:

"In times of great crisis, the cougars will return to descend upon you as they soon will descend upon me. And if you choose wrong, if you choose the path of pettiness and hatred instead of the path of brotherhood and vision, the cougars will consume you."

And today it is said that when the wind is high and the clouds race across the sky at night, the voice of the dying Hammerjack can still be heard speaking to the generations of the future.

"The T-shirts!" it says. "Don't forget to push the T-shirts!"

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