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Life Among the Indias was written as a result of a demand for a book of facts on the character and condition of the American Indians. George Catlin (1796-1872) was an American painter, author, and traveler, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. Travelling to the American West five times during the 1830s, Catlin was the first white man to depict Plains Indians in their native territory. Contents: The Indians of America My Adventure With the First Indian I Ever Saw How the Indians Build Their Wigwams Indian Warfare — Scalps and Scalping Medicine Men — "Drawing Fire From the Sun" How the Indians Paint Themselves — The Prairies Catching Wild Horses — A Buffalo Hunt An Adventure With Bears The Mandan Indians — The Chief's Tale The Sioux Indians — A Challenge! Pipe-stone Quarry — "The Thunder's Nest" — "Stone Man Medicine" A Ride to the Camanchees — A False Alarm A Solitary Bide on "Charley" Across the Prairies A Journey Down the Orinoco — The "Handsome Dance" En Route for the Amazon — The "Medicine Gun" Rio Trombutas — Adventures With a Tiger and a Rattlesnake Still en Route for the Amazon — An Adventure With Peccaries On the Amazon The Indians of the Amazon — Poisoned Arrows Red Indians in London Red Indians in Paris
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A Sioux Village on the Upper Missouri.
On my recent return from a long and toilsome campaign amongst the Indian tribes of South and Central America, as well as those on the Pacific side of the Rocky Mountains in North America, I was requested to prepare a book of facts for youthful readers on the character and condition of the American Indians. I at once embraced the suggestion made to me, and am here entering upon the plan, the results of which will be met and judged of in the following pages.
As the youthful readers of this volume will scarcely have read my work on the North American Indians, published some years since, they may reasonably expect me to give some introduction of myself before we start together, which I will here do in a few words, and leave them to learn more of me when I may incidentally appear in scenes and scenery to be described.
The place of my nativity was Wilkesbarre, in the Valley of Wyoming, rendered historically famous by its early and disastrous warfare with the Indians whom the civilized races had driven out of it, and celebrated in lore by the popular poem by Campbell, "Gertrude of Wyoming."
In my early youth I was influenced by two predominant and inveterate propensities, those for hunting and fishing. My father and mother had great difficulty in turning my attention from these to books. But when, at the proper age, I commenced reading the law for a profession, I attended the law school of the celebrated Judges Eeeve and Gould, in Connecticut, for two years, and after reading for a couple of years longer, passed my examination, was admit ted to the Bar, and commenced the practice of the law, which I followed for several years.
During this time, fortunately or unfortunately, another and a stronger passion was getting the advantage of me, that for painting, to which all my love of pleading soon gave way; and after having covered nearly every inch of the lawyers' table (and even encroached upon the judge's bench) with penknife, pen and ink, and pencil sketches of judges, juries, and culprits, I very deliberately resolved to convert my law library into paint-pots and brushes, and to pursue painting as my future, and apparently more agree able profession.
I thus took leave of professional friends and my profession, and immediately commenced portrait-painting in the city of Philadelphia; and after a few years, in the midst of success, I again resolved to use my art, and so much of the labours of my future life as might be required, in rescuing the looks and customs of the vanishing races of native man in America from that oblivion to which I plainly saw they were hastening before the approach and certain progress of civilization.
To do this I was obliged to break, with apparent great cruelty, from friends the most dear to me, who could not appreciate the importance of my views, and who all magnified the apprehended dangers before me. With these, and many other obstacles to encounter, I started in 1832 with canvas and colours, and penetrated the vast solitudes from whence I have brought the information to be given In the following pages.
I devoted eight years of my life in visiting about fifty tribes in North America, and brought home a collection of more than six hundred oil paintings (in all cases made from nature) of portraits, landscapes, and Indian customs, and every article of their manufacture, of weapons, costumes, wigwams, etc., altogether forming an extensive museum, which was exhibited for several years in the Egyptian Hall, in London, and afterwards in the Salle du Stance, in the Louvre, in Paris, at the invitation of His Majesty, Louis Philippe, who paid it many visits, with the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family.
Not content with the collection I had thus made and shown to the world, I started again in 1853 for Venezuela, in South America, and subsequently traversed British and Dutch Guiana, the Valley of the Amazon, and other parts of Brazil, the Andes, Peru, Equador, Bolivia, California, to Kamtschatka, the Aleutian Islands, the Pacific Coast to the mouth of the Columbia, across the Rocky Mountains to Santa Fé", by the Rio de Norte to Matamoros in Mexico, to Guatemala, to Yucatan, to Cuba, and back to the starting point.
These last roamings, which have been performed in three successive campaigns, have been in some parts extremely difficult and hazardous, but full of interest, which was sufficient to enable me to overcome all obstacles j and from incidents, and people, and customs, and countries, that I have met with in these and my former campaigns, I shall endeavour, in this little work, to select and describe for the instruction and amusement of the youthful readers, such as will the most forcibly and correctly illustrate native man and his modes, on the American continent,
The native races of man, occupying every part of North and South America at the time of the first discovery of the American continent by Columbus, and still existing over great portions of those regions, have generally been denominated " Indians" from that day to the present, from the somewhat curious fact that the American continent, when first discovered, was sup posed to be a part of the coast of India, which the Spanish and Portuguese navigators were expecting to find, in steering their vessels to the west, across the Atlantic.
To an appellation so long, though erroneously applied, no exception will be taken in this work, in which these races will be spoken of as Indians, or savages, neither of which terms will be intended necessarily to imply the character generally conveyed by the term "savage!" but literally what the word signifies, wild (or wild man), and no more.
These numerous races (at that time consisting of many millions of human beings, divided into some hundreds of tribes, and speaking mostly different languages; whose past history is sunk in oblivion from want of books and records; three-fourths of whom, at least, have already perished by fire-arms, by dissipation, and pestilences introduced amongst them by civilized people; and the remainder of them from similar causes, with no better prospect than certain extinction in a short time) present to the scientific and the sympathising world, one of the most deeply interesting subjects for contemplation that can possibly come under their consideration; and I feel assured that parents will justify the inculcation of just notions of these simple and abused people, into the minds of their children, as forming a legitimate part of the foundation of their education.
Confident in this belief, my young readers, for whom I have said this book is intended, we will now start together—myself upon my task, and you for your own instruction and amusement; halting but for one impression more, which I deem it important you should start with, and never lose sight of for a moment when you are estimating the character, the thoughts, the actions, the condition, and the wrongs of these poor people to be set forth in this little book,—that they are children —like yourselves, in many senses of the word. They are without the knowledge and arts of civilized man; they are feeble; they are in the ignorance of nature, but they all acknowledge the Great Spirit. In their relationship with civilized people they are like orphans. Governments who deal with them assume a guardianship over them, always calling them their "red children;" and they, from their child-like nature, call all government officials in their country, "Fathers;" and the President of the United States, their "Great Father;" and whenever they can have the pleasure of shaking the hand of a little white boy, or a little girl (as would be the case if they could take you by the hand), the relationship is always that of "brother and sister."
The civilized races in the present enlightened age are too much in the habit of regarding all people more ignorant than themselves as anomalies (or "oddities," as they have been called), because they do not live, and act, and look like themselves. They are therefore mostly in the habit of treating the character of the American Indians—which, from the distance they are from them, is more or less wrapped in obscurity—as a profound mystery; but there, owing to their ignorance of them, they judge decidedly wrong; for, like everything else nearest to nature, they are the most simple and easy of all the human family to be appreciated and dealt with, if the right mode be adopted.
I have said that these people are like children; and from what I have seen, I am quite sure that if you were amongst them you would learn their true character and their feelings much sooner than your parents would; for with children they would throw off the mask and the reserve which their justly-founded suspicions of white men induce them to wear in their presence. I believe, therefore, that instead of the frightful impressions too often made upon the youthful mind, your early days is the time when the foundation of a lasting knowledge and just appreciation of the true character of these simple people should be formed; and with that view, from what I have learned in fourteen years of my life spent in familiarity with them, I will try in this little work to bring the condition and customs of these children of the forest in a true light before you.
Distributed over every part, and in every nook and corner of North, and South, and Central America, we find these people living in their rude huts, or "wigwams," at present numbering something like four millions, though, in all probability, their numbers were nearer twelve or fourteen millions at the time of the discovery of America by Columbus; and yet the world is left (and probably will remain) in profound ignorance of their origin, for want of historical proof to show from whence they came.
It seems to be the popular belief that the two Americas have been peopled from the Eastern continent by the way of Behring's Strait—of this there is a possibility, but no proof; and I think there is much and very strong presumptive proof against its probability. The subject has been one of great interest to me for many years past, and of so exciting a nature, that I have recently made a tedious and expensive tour to Eastern Siberia, to the Koriaks and the Kamtschatkas, the Aleutians—equidistant between the two continents—and the natives on the American coast opposite to them, and from all that I could learn, there has been a mutual intercourse across the strait, sufficiently proved by the resemblances in language and in physiological traits; but no proof of the peopling of a continent either way.
In the progressive character with which the Creator has endowed mankind, as distinguished above the brute creations, the American savages have, in several instances, made the intended uses of their reason, in advancing by themselves to a high state of civilization, but from this they have been thrown back by more than savage invaders—as seen in the histories of Mexico and Peru—and by the hand of Providence, in some way not yet explained, in the more ancient destruction of the ruined cities of Palenque and Uxmal, in Central America.
All history on the subject goes to prove (and with out an exception to the contrary) that, when first visited by civilized people, the American Indians have been found friendly and hospitable; and my own testimony, when I have visited nearly two millions of them, and most of the time unprotected, without having received any personal injury or insult, or loss of my property by theft, should go a great way to corroborate the fact, that, if properly treated, the American Indians are amongst the most honest, and honourable, and hospitable people in the world.
In their primitive and natural state they have always been found living quite independently and happily, though poor; with an abundance of animals and fish in their country for food, which seems to bound nearly all their earthly wishes. As they know nothing of commerce, and are totally ignorant of the meaning and value of money, they live and act with out those dangerous inducements to crime; and stimulated to honesty by rules of honour belonging to their society, they practise honesty without any "dread of the law;" for there is no punishment amongst them for theft or fraud, except the disgrace that attaches to their character in case they are convicted of such crimes.
If these people, under such circumstances, would guard my life and my property, as they have done, and help me in safety through their country, of which I shall give you many proofs in this little book, you, my young readers, will at once decide with me, that their hearts are good—are like your own; and that their true character and modes are worth your understanding.
The contemptuous epithets of "the poor, naked, and drunken Indians," are often habitually applied to these people by those who know but little or nothing about them. And these epithets are some times correctly applied; but only so to those classes of Indian society who, to the shame and disgrace of civilized people, have been reduced to these conditions by the iniquitous teachings of white men, who, with the aid of rum and whisky, have introduced dissipation and vices amongst them, which lead directly to poverty, and nakedness, and diseases which end in their destruction.
In their primitive state, these people are all temperate—all "teetotallers;" and sufficiently clad for the latitudes they live in; and their poverty, properly speaking, with their other misfortunes, only begins when the treacherous hand of white man's commerce and the jug are extended to them.
To estimate the Indian character properly, it should be constantly borne in mind that these people invariably have, as their first civilized neighbours, the most wicked and unprincipled part of civilized society to deal with; and these white people, using rum, and whisky, and fire-arms, in a country where they are amenable to no law; and amongst a people who have no newspapers to explain their wrongs to the world.
It should also be known that there are two classes of Indian society; the one nearest to civilization, where they have become degraded and impoverished, and their character changed by civilized teaching, and their worst passions inflamed, and jealousies excited by the abuses practised amongst them. This district being the first and most easily reached by the tourist, who fears to go farther, he too often contents himself by what he can there see, the semi-civilized and degraded condition of the savage; and too often endorses what he sees, as the true definition of the appearance and modes of the American Indians; thus doing injustice to the character of the people, and less than justice to those who read for information.
My labours have generally commenced where that state of civilization leaves off; and, as I have always believed, I have been in the greatest safety when in the primitive state of Indian society. It has been there, and there chiefly, where my ambition has led me, and there where I have laboured, as the only legitimate place to portray the true character of Indian life.
The American Indians, as a race, a great and national family, have a national character and appear ance very different from the other native races of the earth. They differ in language, in expression, and in colour; and in their native simplicity they have many high, and honourable, and humane traits of character, which will be illustrated in the following pages.
There are no people on earth more loving and kind to their friends and the poor; and yet, like all savage races, they are correctly denominated cruel: and what people are not so? There is an excuse for the cruelty of savages. Cruelty is a necessity in savage life: and who else has so good an excuse for it?
Indian society has to be maintained, and personal rights to be protected, without the aid of laws; and for those ends each individual is looked upon as the avenger of his own wrongs; and if he does not punish with cruelty and with certainty there is no security to person or property. In the exercise of this right, he not only uses a privilege, but does what the tribe compel him to do, or be subjected to a disgrace which he cannot outlive; so that cruelty is at the same time a right and a duty—the law of their land.
The Indian's "cruelty and treachery in warfare" we hear much of, but cruelty and treachery in Indian and civilized warfare are much alike.
The Creator has also endowed the North American Indians, everywhere, with a high moral and religious principle, with reason, with humanity, with courage, with ingenuity, and the other intellectual qualities bestowed on the rest of mankind.
They all worship the Great Spirit, and have a belief in a spiritual existence after death. Idolatry is nowhere practised by them, nor cannibalism, though you may read of many instances of both to the contrary.
After these brief suggestions on their general character and condition, which it has taken you but a few minutes to read, you are now prepared to fol low me through scenes and events in which I shall endeavour to show you how these interesting people live, how they look, and how they act. I have told you that they are children, that they call themselves such, and that if you were amongst them they would take you by the hand as brothers and sisters; and I believe, therefore, you are now fully prepared in estimating their character and actions, which I am to explain to you, to make those allowances which Nature prompts all kind hearts to extend to the actions of all those who are oppressed, and are ignorant and feeble, but who are doing the best they can under their peculiar circumstances.
The first Indian I ever saw was in this wise. I have before told you that I was born in the beautiful and famed Valley of Wyoming, which is on the Susquehanna River, in the State of Pennsylvania. Not a long time after the close of the Revolutionary War in that country, a settlement was formed in that fertile valley by white people, while the Indian tribes, who were pushed out, were contesting the right of the white people to settle in it. After having practised great cruelty on the Indian tribes, and been warned from year to year by the Indians to leave it, it was ascertained one day that large parties of Indians were gathered on the mountains, armed and prepared to attack the white inhabitants.
The white men in the valley immediately armed, to the number of five or six hundred, and leaving their wives and children and old men in a rude fort on the bank of the river, advanced towards the head of the valley in search of their enemies.
The Indians, watching the movements of the white men from themountain tops, descended into the valley, and at a favourable spot, where the soldiers were to pass, lay secreted in ambush on both sides of the road, and in an instant rush, at the sound of the war-whoop, sprang upon the whites with tomahawks and scalping-knives in hand, and destroyed them all, with the exception of a very few, who saved their lives by swimming the river.
Amongst the latter was my grandfather on my mother's side, from whom I have often had the most thrilling descriptions. This onslaught is called in history, the "Wyoming Massacre" Some have called it "treachery" It was strategy, not treachery; and strategy is a merit in the science of all warfare.
After this victory, the Indians marched down the valley and took possession of the fort containing the women and children, to whom not one of the hus bands returned at that time. Amongst the prisoners thus taken in the fort was my grandmother, and also my mother, who was then a child only seven years old.
These several hundreds of prisoners, though in the hands of more than a thousand fierce and savage warriors, were not put to death, but kept as prisoners for several weeks, when a reinforcement of troops arriving over the Pokona mountains for their relief, the Indian warriors left the fort, with the women and children in it, having hunted for them and supplied them with food, and painted their faces red, calling them "sisters and children," and to the honour of the Indian's character, be it for ever known (as attested by every prisoner both men and women), treating them in every sense, with the greatest propriety and kindness.
These brief facts, which happened many years before I was born, with a thousand others which could be narrated, having become startling legends of that region, will account for the marvellous and frightful impressions I had received in my child hood, of Indian massacres and Indian murders, and also for the indelible impression made on my mind and my nerves by the thrilling incident I am about to describe.
Whilst my infant mind was filled with these impressions, my father, for the relief of his health, impaired by the practice of the law, removed some forty miles from the Valley of Wyoming to a romantic valley on the banks of the Susquehanna Kiver, in the State of New York, where he had purchased a beautiful plantation, resolving to turn his attention during the remainder of his life to agricultural pursuits.
This lovely and picturesque little valley, called by its Indian name "Oc-qua-go" surrounded by high and precipitous mountains and deep ravines, being nearer to the straggling remnants of the defeated Mohawk and Oneida Indians, who had retreated before the deadly rifles of the avengers of Wyoming's misfortunes, I was in a position to increase rather than to diminish the excitements already raised in my mind relative to the Indians who had barricaded and bravely defended in their retreat, one by one, every defile and mountain pass, and whose paths and other markings were still recent.
The ploughs in my father's fields were at this time daily turning up Indian skulls or Indian beads, and Indian flint arrow-heads, which the labouring men of his farm, as well as those of the neighbour hood, were bringing to me, and with which I was enthusiastically forming a little cabinet or museum; and one day, as the most valued of its acquisitions, one of my father's ploughmen brought from his furrow the head of an Indian pipe-tomahawk, which was covered with rust, the handle of which had rotted away.
At this early age, when probably only nine or ten years old, I had become a pretty successful shot, with a light single-barrelled fowling-piece which my father had designated as especially my own, and with which my slaughter of ducks, quails, pheasants, and squirrels was considered by the neighbouring hunters to be very creditable to me.
But I began now to feel a higher ambition—that of kitting a deer —for which the rifles of my two elder brothers were the weapons requisite, and which (they being absent, and pursuing their academical studies in a distant town) I began now to lay temporary claim to.
lu my then recent visits to the "Old Saw-mill" on the "Big Creek" —a famous place, to which my co-propensity, that of trout-fishing, often called me —I had observed that the saw-mill lick was much frequented by deer, and that I soon fixed as the scene of my future and more exciting operations.
The "old saw-mill" was the shattered remains of a saw-mill which had been abandoned for many years, and consisting only of masses of thrown-down timbers and planks, converted into piles by the force of the water, under and around which I always had my greatest success in trout-fishing.
This solitary ruin, about one mile from my father's back fields, was enveloped in a dark and lonely wilderness, with an old and deserted road leading to it, following mostly along the winding banks of the creek. Near by it, in a deep and dark gorge in the mountain's side, overshadowed by dark and tall hemlocks and fir-trees, was the "lick" to which my aspiring ideas were now leaning. The paths leading to it down the mountain sides were freshly trodden, and the mud and water in the lick, still riley with their recent steps, showed me the frequency with which the deer were paying their visits to it.
A "lick" (a "deer lick"), in the phrase of the country, is a salt-spring which the deer visit in warm weather, to allay their thirst, and to obtain the salt, which seems necessary for digestion. Most; of the herbivorous animals seem to visit these places as if from necessity, and appear oftentimes under a sort of infatuation in their eagerness for them, in consequence of which they fall an easy prey to wild beasts, as well as to hunters, which lie in wait for them.
Stimulated by the proofs aboved named, and by my recollections, yet fresh, of the recitals of several of the neighbouring hunters of their great success in the old saw-mill lick, I resolved to try my first luck there.
A rifle for this enterprise was absolutely necessary—a weapon which I never had fired, and as yet was not strong enough to raise, unless it was rested upon something for its support.
For this I foresaw a remedy, and I had every confidence in my accuracy of aim. But the greater difficulty of my problem was the positive order of my father that I was not to meddle with the 'arms of my elder brothers, which were in covers and hanging against the wall. This I solved, how ever, by a manoeuvre, at a late hour of the night, by extracting one of them from the cover, and put ting my little fowling-piece in its place, and taking the rifle into the fields, where I concealed it for my next afternoon's contemplated enterprise.
The hour approaching, and finding the rifle loaded, I proceeded, with a light and palpitating heart, through the winding and lonely road, to the old saw-mill lick; creeping along through narrow defiles, between logs and rocks, until, by a fair glance, at the lick, I found there was no game in it at the moment. I then took to a precipitous ledge of rocks in the side of the hill partly enclosing the dark and lonely place where the salt-spring issued, and where the deer were in the habit of coming to lick.
The nook into which I clambered and seated my self was elevated some twenty or thirty feet above the level of the lick, and at the proper distance for a dead shot. I here found myself in a snug and sly little box, which had evidently been constructed and used for a similar purpose on former occasions by the old hunters.
Having taken this position about the middle of the afternoon, with the muzzle of my rifle resting on a little breastwork of rock before me, I remained until near nightfall without other excitement than an occasional tremor from the noise of a bird or a squirrel in the leaves, which I mistook for the footsteps of an approaching deer! The falling of a dry branch, however, which came tumbling down upon the hill side above and behind me, in the midst of this silent and listless anxiety, gave me one or two tremendous shivers, which it took me some time to get over, even after I had discovered what it was; for it brought instantly into my mind the story which I had often heard Darrow relate, of "killing the panther," which, it had not occurred tome until that moment, took place, not long before, at the old saw-mill lick!
John Darrow, a poor man living in the neighbour hood of my father, often worked for him in his fields, but was more fond of hunting, for which his success had gained him a great reputation in that vicinity. He often supplied my father with venison, and as he took a peculiar fancy to me for my hunting propensities, one can easily see how I became attached to this wonderful man, and how I came to take my first lessons in deer-stalking and bear-hunting with him.
Well, Darrow had been in the habit of "watching " a great deal in the old saw-mill lick, and of placing beyond the lick, at the height of the middle of a deer's body a small bit of phosphorescent wood (a rotten wood which often occurs in those wildernesses, and called by the inhabitants "fox fire," probably from phosphor) and which is always visible in the darkest night, looking like a small ball of fire. Then secreting himself before dark on the ground, on a level with his target, his rifle resting in a couple of crotches and aiming directly at his phosphor light, at any time of the night when he heard the stepping of the deer in the lick, and his light was obscured, to pull trigger was a certain death.
His story of the panther, which I was now revolving in my mind, he had told on arriving at my father's house one morning at an early hour from one of these nocturnal hunts, himself covered from head to foot with blood, and with a huge panther slung upon his back, with a bullet hole between its eyes, ran thus :—" I was watching last night, Squire (as he called my father), at the old saw-mill lick, and it getting on to be near midnight, I fell asleep. Seated on the ground, and my back leaning against a beech tree, I was waked by a tremendous blow, like a stroke of lightning—'twas this beast, d'ye see; he sprung upon me, and landed me some ten or twelve feet, and dropped me, and made only one jump farther himself, as I knew by the noise when he stopped. I knew it was a painter, though I could see nothing, for it was total darkness. I was badly torn, and felt the blood running in several places. My rifle was left in the crotches, and feeling my way very gradually with my feet, but keeping my eyes set upon the brute, for I knew exactly where he was lying, I at length got hold of the rifle, but it could do me no good in the dark. My knife had slipped out of the scabbard in the struggle, and I had now no hope but from knowing that the cowardly animal will never spring while you look him in the face.
"In this position, with my rifle in both hands, and cocked, I sat, not hearing even a leaf turned by him, until just the break of day (the only thing I wanted —it was but a few hours, but it seemed a long time, I assure you), when I could just begin to discover his outline, and then the wrinkles betwixt his eyes! Time moved slowly then, I can tell you, Squire; and at last I could see the head of' Old Ben:' there was no time to be lost now, and I let slip! The beast was about twenty feet from me."
One can easily imagine my juvenile susceptibilities much heightened by such reflections in such a place; and every leaf that turned behind me calculated more or less to startle me. My resolve, of course, was not to trust myself in that gloomy place in the night, nor to wait much longer for the desired gratification, which I was then believing I should have to forego for that day at least.
The woodlark was at that moment taking its favourite limb in the lofty and evergreen hemlocks for its nightly rest, and making the wooded temple of solitude ring and echo with its liquid notes, whilst all else was still as death, and I was on the eve of descending from my elevated nook and wending my way home. Just then I heard the distant sounds of footsteps in the leaves, and shortly after discovered in the distance a deer (a huge buck!), timidly and cautiously descending the hill and approaching the lick, stopping often to gaze, and sometimes looking me, apparently, full in the face, when I was afraid even to wink, lest he should dis cover me.
My young blood was too boilable, and my nerves decidedly too excitable for my business. Successive chills seemed to rise, I don't recollect where from, but they shook me, each one of them, until after actually shaking my head, they seemed to go out at the top of it.
The deer kept advancing, and my shakes increasing,—at length it entered the pool, and commenced licking; and the resolve that the moment had arrived for my grand achievement, set my teeth actually chattering. My rifle, cocked, was rested before me on the surface of the rock, and all things, save myself, were perfectly ready; after several useless attempts I got my aim, but before I could pull trigger, from another chill and a shake, I lost it again. I tried again and again, but in vain, and then more prudently resolved to lie still a few moments until I could get my nerves more steady, and at all events, until I could see more clearly the forward sight of my barrel, which, as yet, seemed to be enveloped in a sort of a mist.
Just at this moment also popped into my head another idea that gave me one or two renewed shivers. I had fired my little fowling-piece hundreds of times without harm, but I never had fired a rifle—" It may be overloaded, or so long loaded as to kick, or to explode!—but never mind, I must run those risks." After checking my latter apprehensions for a few moments, and feeling again more calmed, I was getting my aim with tolerable accuracy, when away went another of those frightful chills, like a snake running through me from my feet to the top of my head, because I was just about to pull trigger!
The deer at this time seemed to have got enough of licking, and, stepping out of the lick, disappeared in the thicket. "Oh, what a loss!—what a misfortune! What a chance is gone! What a coward, and what a poor fool am I! But if he had stopped, though, one minute longer, I am sure I could have killed him, for I don't tremble now."
Just at this cool moment the deer came gliding through the bushes and into the lick again, much nearer than before. One little chill began; but by gritting my teeth tight together I succeeded in get ting a more steady aim, when — bang ! went the crack and the flash of a rifle, a little to the left of me! and the deer, bounding a few rods from the pool on to an elevated bank, and tumbling upon the ground, quite dead, showed me that I was too late!
My head and the breech of my rifle were instantly lowered a little more behind my stone breastwork, and then — oh, horrid ! what I never had seen be fore, nor ever dreamed of seeing in that place — the tall and graceful form of a huge Indian, but half bent forward, as he pushed his red and naked shoul ders, and drew himself slowly over the logs and through the bushes. Trailing his rifle in his left hand, and drawing a large knife with the other from its sheath in the hollow of his back, he advanced to the carcase of the deer, which had fallen much nearer to me than it was when it was shot.
His rifle he leaned against a tree, and the blade of his bloody knife, which he had drawn across the neck of the deer, he clenched between his teeth, while he suspended the animal by the hind legs from the limb of a tree to let it bleed. " Oh, horrid! horrid! what — what a fate is mine! what am I to do?"
No length of life could ever erase from my recollection the impression which this singular and un expected scene made upon my infant mind, or the ease, and composure, and grace with which this phantom seated himself upon the trunk of a large and fallen tree, wiping his huge knife upon the moss and laying it by his side, and drawing from his pouch his flint, and steel, and spunk, with which he lit his pipe, and from which it seemed, in a few moments, as if he were sending up thanks to the Great Spirit in the blue clouds of smoke that were curling around him.
Who will ever imagine the thoughts that were passing through my youthful brain in these exciting moments? for here was before me, for the first time in my life, the living figure of a Red Indian! "If he sees me I'm lost; he will scalp me and devour me, and my dear mother will never know what be came of me!"
From the crack of that rifle, however, I had not another chill, nor a shiver: my feeling now was no longer the ebullition of childish anxiety, but the awfully flat and stupid one of dread and fear; and every muscle was quiet. Here was "perhaps death in a moment" before me. My eyeballs, which seemed elongated as though they were reaching half-way to him, were too tightly strained to tremble. An instant thought came to me, when his naked back and shoulders were turned towards me—" My rifle is levelled, and I am perfectly cool; a bullet would put an end to all my fears." And a better one followed when he turned gently around, and moved his piercing black eyes over and about the ledge where I was sitting, and the blue streams were curling upwards from his mouth and bis nostrils; for I saw then (though a child), in the momentary glance of that face, what infant human nature could not fail to see, and none but human nature could express. I saw humanity.
His pipe burned out; the deer, with its fore and hind legs tied together, he slung upon his back, and, taking his rifle in his hand, he silently and quietly disappeared in the dusky forest, which at this time was taking the gloom of approaching night.
My position and reflections were still like lead that could not be removed, until a doubly reasonable time had elapsed for this strange apparition to be entirely out of my way. He having seemingly, at last view, to have taken the direction of the "old road" by which I had expected to return, my attention was now turned to a different but more difficult route. By clambering the huge precipice still above me, which I did as soon as perfect safety seemed to authorise it, and by a run of more than a mile through the woods, scarcely daring to look back, I was safely lodged in my father's back fields, but without hat or rifle, and without the least know ledge of the whereabouts in which either of them had been deposited or dropped. The last of these, however, was recovered on the following day, but the other never came to light.
Such was the adventure, and such the mode of "my first seeing an Indian."
Having seen him, the next thing was to announce him, which I did without plan or reserve, but solely with youthful impulse; exclaiming as I approached the vicinity of my father's house, and as pale as a ghost, "I've seen an Indian! I've seen an Indian!"
No one believed me, as no Indian had been seen in the neighbourhood for many years. I related the whole of my adventure, and then they thought "the boy was mad." I was mad—I went to bed mad and crying; and my poor dear mother came and knelt by my bed, and at last comforted me a little by saying, "My dear George, I do believe you— I believe your story to be true—I believe you have seen an Indian." I had a restless night, however, and in the morning, when I awoke, Johnny O'Neil, a faithful farm-labourer in my father's employment, was at the door, announcing that, " Jist in the toother eend of the bag whate-field, where ye sae thit lattle smohk areesin, has kimmed thae japsies; sae ye may be lookin' oot for yer toorkies, an' yer suckin'-pigs, an' yer chahkins, for I tal ye ther'll be nae gude o' 'era."
Poor Johnny O'Neil! he was not believed either; for, said my father, "That's almost a bull, Johnny, for there are no gipsies in this country." "I bag yer parthen," said Johnny; and my father continued —"I'll be bound these are George's Indians!" and putting on his hat, and taking me by the hand, he and Johnny O'Neil and myself started off for the farther corner of the " big wheat-field," where we found my Indian warrior (poor Paddy's gipsy) seated on a bear-skin spread out upon the ground. His legs were crossed, his elbows resting on his knees, and his pipe at his lips; with his wife, and his little daughter of ten years old, with blankets wrapped around them, and their necks covered with beads, reclining by the side of him; and over them all, to screen them from the sun, a blanket, suspended by the corners from four crotchets fastened into the ground, and a small fire in front of the group, with a steak of venison cooking for their breakfast.
"There's the japsies !" said Johnny O'Neil, as we were approaching. "There is the Indian, father!" said I; and my father, who had been familiar with Indians, and had learned to sing their songs and speak somewhat of their language in his early life, said to me, "George, my boy, you were right,— these are Indians." "Yes," said I, "and that's the very man I saw."
He was smoking away, and looking us steadily in the face as we approached; and though I began to feel something of the alarm I had felt the day be fore, my father's stepping up to him and taking him by the hand with a mutual " How—how— how," and the friendly grip of his soft and delicate hand, which was extended to me also, soon dissipated all my fears, and turned my alarm to perfect admiration.
Understanding and speaking a little English, he easily explained to my father that he was an Oneida, living near Cayuga Lake, some one hundred and fifty miles distant, that his name was On-o-gong-way (a great warrior). He asked us to sit down by him, when he cleaned out his pipe, and, charging it afresh with tobacco, lighted, and gave it to my father to smoke, and then handed it to me, which, my father explained, was a pledge of his friendship.
My father then explained to him the story of my adventure the day before at the old saw-mill lick, to every sentence of which I was nodding " yes," and trembling, as the Indian was smoking his pipe, and almost, but not quite, commencing a smile, as he was earnestly looking me in the face.
The story finished, he took me by both hands, and repeated the words, "Good—good—good hunter." He laid his pipe down, and very deliberately climbing over the fence, stepped into the shade of the forest, where he had suspended a small saddle of venison, and brought it, and laying it by my side, exclaimed, as he laid his hand on my head, "Dat you, you half—very good;" meaning that I was a good hunter, and that half of the venison belonged to me.
The saddle of venison, though very small, was no doubt a part of the animal I had seen in the lick, though it had appeared to me the day before, as I had represented it at home, a "buck of the most enormous size," and the Indian a giant, though on more familiar acquaintance, to my great surprise, he proved to be no larger than an ordinary man.
This generous present added much to my growing admiration, which was increased again as I listened to his narrative, made to my father and myself, of his history and of some of his adventures, as well as the motive which had brought him some hundreds of miles over a country partly of forest and partly inhabited by a desperate set of hunters whose rifles were unerring, and whose deep-rooted hostility to all savages induced them to shoot them down whenever they met them in their hunting grounds.
His father, he said, had been one of the warriors in the battle of Wyoming, and amongst them was afterwards driven by the white soldiers, after many battles and great slaughter, up the shores of the Susquehana to the country where the remnant of his tribe now lived, between the Oneida and Cayuga Lakes.
During this disastrous retreat, he being a boy about my size, his father made him assist in carrying many heavy things which they had plundered from the white people, where they fought a great battle, at the mouth of the Tunkhannock; amongst which, and one of the most valuable, as one of the most difficult to carry, was a kettle of gold. "What!" said my father, a kettle of gold!" " Yes, father" said he,—" now listen.
"The white soldiers came through the narrows you see yonder" (pointing to a narrow gorge in the mountains, through which the river passes); "and on those very fields, which then were covered with trees" (pointing to my father s fields, lying beneath and in front of us), "was a great battle, and many were the warriors that fell on both sides; but at that time, father, another army of white men came from the north, and were entering the valley on that side, and the poor Indians had no way but to leave the river and all their canoes, and to cross these high mountains behind us, and make their way through the forests to Cayuga.
"In passing these mountains, my father, they fol lowed the banks of that creek to its head" (pointing to the creek on which the old saw-mill was built, and which passed in a serpentine course through my father's farm to the river). "On the banks of that creek many things were buried by the Indians, who were unable to carry them over the mountains; and amongst them, somewhere near that bridge, my father, where the road crosses, on the farther bank, I saw my father and my mother bury the 'kettle of gold' with other things, in the ground.
"When my father was old and infirm, I was obliged to hunt for him, and I could not come; but since he has gone to the land of his fathers, I have made the journey a great way, to dig up the 'kettle of gold'! But I see this day, from where I now sit, that there is no use in looking for it, and my heart is very sad.
"My father—we buried the 'kettle of gold' at the foot of a large pine-tree that stood on the bank; but I see the trees are all gone, and all now is covered with green grass; and where shall I go to look? This, my father, I kept a secret for many years, but I see there is no use in keeping it a secret any longer, and this makes my heart sad. I have come a great way, my father, and my road in going back I know is beset with many enemies.
"These green fields, my father, which are now so beautiful to look upon, were once covered with large and beautiful trees, and they were then the hunting grounds of my fathers, and they were many and strong; but we are now but a very few—we live a great way off, and we are your children."
My father asked him many questions about the "kettle of gold," and in answering these, he extended both arms in the form of a circle, his fingers' ends just touching each other. " There," said he, "it was about thus large, and just as much as I could lift; and must be of great value."
My father, after a study of a few minutes, turned to me, and said, "George ! run down to the house and ask your mother to give you the 'little brass kettle,' and bring it here as quick as you can." I never, perhaps, had run more nimbly (but on one occasion) in my lifetime, than I ran and scaled the fences on this errand.
While this conversation was passing about the "kettle of gold," it had occurred to my father that Buel Rowley, one of his hired men, had ploughed up a small brass kettle a few years before, on the bank of the creek, and at the identical spot designated by the forefinger of the Indian; and that kettle being brought by me from my mother's culinary collection, was now under the eyes of the child of the forest.
Whilst he was in silence gazing upon it, and turning it over and over, my father described to him the manner and place in which it was found, and that it was made of brass, which, to be sure, looked like gold, but was much harder, and of much less value. After a pause of a few minutes, and without the change of a muscle, but drawing a deep sigh, as it he recognised the long-hidden treasure, and trying his knife two or three times on the upper rim of it, he laid it down, and drawing a deep breath or two through his pipe, said to my father, that he had no doubt but it was the same kettle, but that two things troubled his mind very much—the first was, that the kettle should be so small; and the other, that he found it was not a "kettle of gold" The first error he attributed to his having carried it when he was quite a small boy, as it was then a heavy load for him; and the other, from having learned amongst the white people that a very small piece of gold was worth ten dollars; and having estimated from this standard the probable value of a " kettle of gold," not having as yet learned enough from the white people to know the difference be tween gold and brass.
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