Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The Curious Tale of the Burton Stone
It is my purpose to commit the tale of an enigmatic heirloom to paper in order that the record may be passed to succeeding generations with the full appreciation of its history. What has come to be known as the “Burton Stone” has had an extraordinary and yet mysterious passage on its way to my possession and care. This stone is not to be confused with the celebrated plague icon from the Middle Ages titled the Burton Stone which resides in York, in the United Kingdom, rather it takes its name by coming into the possession of Sir Richard Francis Burton in 1860.
North American Shawnee Indians believed that a crystal stone descended from the firmament cradled inside a suspended light – In February, 1759 near a place in the Ohio Valley where the Shawnee War Chief Puckshinwa had taken up residence. This stone’s sudden appearance was construed by Puckshinwa’s mother Methotase to be a sign of some indecipherable significance. In consultation with her British husband, a trapper named Rogers, she kept the peculiar stone securely concealed, passing it on to Puckshinwa upon her death. His mother’s cryptic gift became Puckshinwa’s constant companion and oracle. It was the focus of his meditation, which at times, would proliferate into a dark prophetic vision. He named the crystal stone; “The Feline” in honour of his tribe, The Kispoko (meaning the dancing tail of a great cat). After years of contemplation Puckshinwa came to appreciate the icon’s purpose as a gateway through which he gained inner peace and the force of will to thrive and endure disquieting circumstance.
For Puckshinwa war was a constant menace upon his people - Be it first the Iroquois and their French allies, then the westward expansion of the British Empire, he felt they were constantly under threat of annihilation. It is said that Puckshinwa contemplated the oracle of the Feline Stone before going into battle. But, before a great confrontation he rejected his introspection, being overcome with rage before a battle in 1774. He left the crystal with his son Tenskwatawa and was never seen again.
Tenskwatawa was devastated by the loss of his father and sought to sooth his sorrow with opiates and drink. At the very moment of despair it is said that Tenskwatawa began to contemplate the Feline stone and his life was renewed.
Tenskwatawa adopted the Lenape philosophy of self-reliance as revealed by their prophets and credited the crystal/stone for his rebirth. He was able to entice a large following of diverse tribesman with his beliefs and soon was regarded as a foremost spiritual leader.
The War of American Independence removed many of the official restraints, imposed by British foreign policy, to westward expansion of the colonists. This brought conflict with indigenous people wherever their interests overlapped. Tenskwatawa rejected the ways of the colonists and promoted a traditional Indian lifestyle. He eventually founded his headquarters in a new village he called Prophetstown.
Hatred slowly infused itself into Tenskwatawa’s creed. He soon became the prophet of an apocalypse that would descend upon his enemies. It was at this time that his hubris took control of him and he discarded the Feline Crystal - giving it to his older brother Tecumseh.
Tenskwatawa encouraged resistance to the new American Nation by attacking settlers and building a defensive confederacy of Indian tribes based in Prophetstown. Rage began to guide his actions and he rejected council from his brother who himself had begun to contemplate upon the Feline Stone. The Governor of the Indiana Territory, Willian Henry Harrison, was convinced that the status quo was intolerable. He organized a military force and in 1811 advanced on Prophetstown with the intention of destroying the village and the confederacy.
Tecumseh counselled Tenskwatawa to leave the village as Harrison approached, but Tenskwatawa in a fit of rage rejected his brother’s council and ordered a preemptive attack on Harrison’s force. The Indians took Harrison by surprise but were soon defeated leaving the way open to Prophetstown. Harrison completed his mission by burning Prophetstown to the ground and returned home. The Shawnee, now lead by their chief Black Hoof rejected Tenskwatawa and banished him.
It is said that Tecumseh thereafter consulted the Feline Crystal and proposed that independent Indian lands, echoing the great Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, were to be considered commons for all to use. But Indian elders were not in agreement and some of them, in the name of all, signed a treaty that sold their lands for the exclusive use of the settlers. Tecumseh was enraged, but he kept his composure and went from village to village espousing his vision with rhetoric and scintillating logic. He went so far as to meet with Harrison on a number of occasions to make his case for lasting peace. His nascent appreciation that his dream of an independent Indian state had swiftly become a forlorn hope led him into the depths of despair.
The tides of history soon transformed everything. Tecumseh was swept up in the World War that came to North America in 1812. He found a kindred spirit in Sir Isaac Brock, the British commander in Upper Canada, and soon his idealism was revived. After contemplating the Feline Stone he engineered one of the greatest bloodless victories of all time. Tecumseh and Sir Isaac bluffed the commander of Fort Detroit, Brigadier General William Hull into surrendering without a fight.
Sadly Sir Isaac Brock was killed shortly after while leading his men at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Sir Isaac was replaced by Major-General Henry Procter whom Tecumseh held in low esteem. Procter’s strategy was rejected by Tecumseh who wanted a more aggressive campaign against the Americans. Tecumseh became despondent after a number of defeats where he had not coordinated his actions with the British commander. It is at this time at the Fork of the Thames River, in October, 1813 that he gave the Feline Stone to a member of the British liaison contingent, Lieutenant Andrew Bulger. That very day Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames.
Andrew Bulger had immense respect for Tecumseh and had accepted the stone with great reverence. Tecumseh had discussed the history of the stone with Bulger in great detail and it became a prized possession. Much of what is known about the Feline Stone was preserved by this British officer.
Fatefully Bulger settled in Western New York State after the war. He came in contact with a man by the name of Joseph Smith who espoused a doctrine he named the "Latter Day Saint" movement. Smith had transcribed something he called the “Book of Mormon” which had been written by American Indian Profits. Knowing the story of the Feline Stone Bulger informed Smith of the story of Tenskwatawa and his conversion to Lenape philosophy and prophecy.
Smith immediately appreciated the significance of the stone and convinced Bulger to release the stone into his custody as an icon of his movement. It is unclear what the movements of the stone were from that point in 1830 and its subsequent rediscovery in Salt Lake City some 30 years later.
In 1860 Richard Francis Burton, the prolific writer, remarkable linguist, pilgrim to Mecca and world famous explorer embarked on a trip to North America. He had a keen interest in religious and sexual practices of exotic cultures. Predictably the Mormons of Salt Lake City were a prodigious curiosity for him.
He arrived in Salt Lake on August 28 and spent 3 weeks observing them. Burton met with Brigham Young and proposed that Young make him a Mormon. Knowing Burton’s history of religious insincerity, Young politely declined. Not to be thwarted Burton is said to have befriended certain young Mormon women, who incidentally were to ask him to marry them before he left. He was able to persuade them to reveal where he could gain access to the deepest secrets and icons of the Mormon Tabernacle. It is at this time that the Feline Stone somehow came into his possession. Brigham Young had given Burton a historical overview of the many stones that were brought to the Tabernacle, but of all the "seeing stones" the Feline Crystal struck him as having the most meticulous lineage and an odd emission akin to a vibration.
Why or how the Crystal/Stone left on a stagecoach for San Francisco with Richard Burton no one knows. Suffice to say Richard left town quietly without fanfare while oddly no one at the Tabernacle has ever publicly wondered where it went. Perhaps they were glad to be rid of it since those who had come into possession of the Feline Stone had sooner or later rejected its meditative enlightenment and paid a heavy price.
Upon returning to England by December of 1860, Richard Francis Burton married his devoted sweetheart Isabel Arundell and then embarked on a somewhat lackluster diplomatic career. It is unclear if Richard ever used the Stone as a tool of contemplation or even where the Feline Stone was kept until Richard’s death on October 19, 1890. Burton's temperament did not seem to allow for patient introspection. Certainly Isabel was eager to discard it along with anything else she felt might reflect badly on Richard’s legacy.
My father Fredrick W. Burton, who fancied himself as somewhat of an impresario, upon hearing of Sir Richard’s death immediately contacted Lady Isabel via the post to request a memento for a distant relative.
Now of course Fredrick had no idea if he was related to Sir Richard or not – it was just an instinctive grasp for what he perceived as an opportunity for profit. I am told that when a parcel arrived from Lady Burton, without an explanation of any kind, he could hardly conceal his amazement. Mother said it was quite comical to see him open the package only to find a rock in a threadbare purple velvet sack and a few pages of brown note paper with scarcely readable details written hastily upon them. Fredrick called it the “Burton Stone” and regarded it as an emblem of the folly of unrealistic hope (a hope he would maintain throughout his life). The Stone languished among Fredrick's forgotten possessions for 51 years until on a spring day in 1941 I came upon it and asked my father what it was and where it came from. He said it was a family heirloom given to him by Lady Isabel Burton in 1890, but of course it wasn’t worth anything. I don't believe he had ever taken the time to study the notes Richard had enclosed in the sack.
I painstakingly copied the notes to preserve the story the best I could - they were disintegrating in my hands. I have tried to contemplate upon the Crystal to no effect and I am filled with apprehension that the dereliction my life has become is in some way a fable to this folly. This account is all that is left of the tale which I hope will be passed down to successive generations of the Burton family so they can touch an icon from the mists of time. It might have easily been lost and I regard my contribution to saving it as my imprint upon immortality. PAB December 31, 1963
This account along with the "Burton Stone" were passed to me by my Great Uncle that New Year's Eve in 1963. I was only seven years old. I still remember sitting in my Grand Father's parlor watching the Red Skelton Show when Percy asked me to keep something of great value safe and secure for all time. Percy was a lost soul but was someone I had developed an affinity for. Passing on the Burton Stone may well have been the major accomplishment of his life. I fully intend to fulfill my promise to do the same. Christopher J. Burton July 8, 1983