Sunday, May 11, 2008

Does Music Truly Soothe The Savage Beast?

We have all heard the old adage "music soothes the savage beast", but just how often does this work? Or rather, how often does one have the presence of mind to pick up an instrument in the midst of an attack?
Well, in combing through those very old newspaper articles that I seem to love so much, I came across an account from the summer of 1906.

It seems John Underwood and his wife were camping in the Black Hills when a mountain lion attacked. The creature leaped onto the frightened woman, knocked her down, and kept her pinned there with its front paws on her chest.

Somehow, in her fear, she recalled that music could tame wild creatures. She began singing and, according to her, the lion seemed lulled by her voice. However, if she stopped, the big cat would growl and lunge once more. I know what you are thinking; this is worse than American Idol, right? So like a cheap Vegas act, she was forced to sing all night until she was at the brink of exhaustion.

Finally, her husband (who had apparently been elsewhere all night) returned to find her cornered by the beast. He quickly took aim and shot the cat, killing it instantly.
Fantastic tale from the dwindling days of the American frontier? Perhaps.

During the first 10 to 15 years of the 20th century, one can read scores of newspaper accounts that recall - with considerable degree of romance - the legends of 19th Century frontier life: Indian tales, stories of lost treasure, outlaw legends... I think, like the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement or the Spiritualists of this same period, Americans sensed that something special was slipping away. A change was on the wind: we were in a new century, constantly on the brink of improvements in science and industry.

I think legends of the frontier became so popular because those wild open spaces were becoming increasingly fenced in, parceled, annexed, and railed. In fact, in less than a year from publication of this story, Oklahoma Territory – one of the last strongholds of the wild frontier – would become a state. These nostalgic looks at frontier life were a way to hold onto the frontier past for just a little longer before it slipped away forever. Manifest Destiny’s last hurrah.


Ken said...

I wonder what she sang... Frankie and Johnny? Greensleeves? She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain? It would be an interesting tale to attempt... but I'll pass on getting mauled to death. Let's leave it for the Mythbusters!

From my experience, it tends to not work on humans...

It is a shame that our pioneer history and mysteries are mostly gone. Still, there are plenty of places throughout the country and the world that are still quite wild and relatively unexplored...

Buck said...

Actually, it's: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

That's bReast not beast. :) Never figured out how that got changed. It's from William Congreve's "The Mourning Bride".

Cullan Hudson said...

I did not know that. I didn't, frankly, even know where the phrase came from. Good to know. I guess it works anyway, as a play on words... It's amazing how things get mixed up like that.

Word Woman said...

It was changed in response to those wonderful Victorian mores that called a table "leg" a "limb"....image saying "breast" beast....!