Fox River Deadfall
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THE LEGEND OF DEVIL'S CAVE

Assembled from a variety of historical sources, including a newspaper article and a nature center display that summarize the legend, and biographies of Waubansee. This local legend refers to a small cave in North Aurora, Illinois. Used with permission.

In the 1820's there was a Potawatomi village on the west bank of the Fox River between what are now the towns of North Aurora and Batavia. The chief of this village was Waubansee, a man who had been a fierce warrior for much of his life. His name means "Dawn of Day," and he took it because, in his words, "When I kill an enemy he turns pale, resembling the first light of the day." But by the 1820's Waubansee was in his seventies, and he had long watched the irresistible incursions of settlers from the United States. Out of pragmatic necessity his policy had become peaceful.

Waubansee's village was in a good location. West of the village was prairie, with its berries and bison. The Fox River offered fishing and water transportation. To the east was a forest, and south of the forest was a swamp; woodland animals, nuts and fruits could be had in abundance. The most unusual landmark of this area was a small cave located on the bank of the river directly opposite the village, but it was a curiosity only, and it was well hidden by brush.

The young men of the village were anxious to prove themselves in war, as had been the tradition of their fathers and grandfathers. No doubt they were inspired by the exploits of Waubansee himself. Some of them began to go out on their horses and raid the newly arrived settlers, returning with plunder and trophies. As serious complaints began coming in from the United States government, Waubansee ordered the warriors to end their raiding or face banishment. Most agreed.

But one young man went out again in the spring, and returned with clothing and implements he had taken. Waubansee brought him before the village council and he was banished from the village. He headed north, to the Winnebagoes. As the activities of summer began to occupy the people, the incident was forgotten. Summer fishing and tending of crops gave way to the Green Corn Festival, harvest, and the beginning of the fall hunt.

The Legend of Devil's Cave
In the autumn, after the leaves had fallen, a mysterious and frightening evil came to Waubansee's people. On the darkest nights, an apparition began to haunt the village. A glowing figure would appear, on the prairie or more commonly in the forest across the Fox River. This specter had the form of a man, but glowed as though made of fire. It suddenly appeared, and just as suddenly vanished as though into the thin air.

At the same time a series of killings began. People who had gone out alone, a woman picking berries on the prairie, a fisherman down the river, a hunter in the forest, would be found murdered and scalped. Rumors of a devil, an evil spirit, began to spread through Waubansee's village.

But then some of the hunters noticed that the tracks left by this glowing "devil" looked very human. Suspiciously human. On the next dark night the hunters hid themselves in the places where the "evil spirit" had appeared. Hunters in the forest across the river from the village heard the faint sounds of moccasin-covered feet. And then the glowing figure of that devil appeared before them. It showed itself to the village, and then vanished. The hunters were close enough to see how this man (for man it was, indeed) had done it. He had obtained some fox fire, the glowing phosphorescence that appears sometimes in decaying wood, and had smeared his body with it. He accomplished his sudden appearances and disappearances by covering and uncovering himself with a blanket.

Quietly the hunters followed him. He disappeared into the brush surrounding the entrance to the little cave. So this was where the murderer was hiding! Some stayed to watch, while others returned to the village to consult with Waubansee and his council. It was decided that the killer would be smoked out. They started a fire at the entrance of the tiny cave. From above they threw down piles of brush and dry wood onto the blaze. The cave became a furnace. Nothing happened for a while. But suddenly he emerged, burst through the flames and plunged into the river, where he quickly died, from drowning or from his massive burns.

When they pulled his body from the Fox River, the people of the village discovered that they knew him. For it was the same incorrigible young man they had banished the previous spring. Ever since that night the cave has been known as Devil's Cave, and who knows? Perhaps the hate-filled spirit of that man haunts it still.

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© 2016 Fish The Fox. All Rights Reserved. | "Fox River Deadfall" artwork by Paul Turnbaugh. Used with permission.