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Narrative of the captivity of Alexander Henry, Esq., who, in the time of Pontiac’s War, fell into the hands of the Huron Indians. Detailing a faithful account of the capture of the Garrison of Michilimacki-Nac, and the massacre of about ninety people. Written by himself.1
When I reached Michilimackinac I found several other traders, who had arrived before me, from different parts of the country, and who, in general, declared the dispositions of the Indians to be hostile to the English, and even apprehended some attack. M. Laurent Ducharme distinctly informed Major Etherington that a plan was absolutely conceived for destroying him, his garrison and all the English in the upper country; but the commandant believing this and other reports to be without foundation, proceeding only from idle or ill-disposed persons, and of a tendency to do mischief, expressed much displeasure against M. Ducharme, and threatened to send the next person who should bring a story of the same kind, a prisoner, to Detroit.
The garrison, at this time, consisted of ninety privates, two subalterns and the commandant; and the English merchants at the fort were four in number. Thus strong, few entertained anxiety concerning the Indians, who had no weapons but small arms.
Meanwhile, the Indians, from every quarter, were daily assembling, in unusual numbers, but with every appearance of friendship, frequenting the fort, and disposing of their peltries, in such a manner as to dissipate almost every one’s fears. For myself, on one occasion, I took the liberty of observing to Major Etherington that, in my judgment, no confidence ought to be placed in them, and that I was informed no less than four hundred lay around the fort.
In return the major only rallied me on my timidity; and it is to be confessed that if this officer neglected admonition, on his part, so did I on mine. Shortly after my first arrival at Michilimackinac, in the preceding year, a Chippeway, named Wawatam, began to come often to my house, betraying in his demeanor strong marks of personal regard. After this had continued some time, he came on a certain day, bringing with him his whole family, and at the same time a large present, consisting of skins, sugar and dried meat. Having laid these in a heap, he commenced a speech, in which he informed me that some years before he had observed a fast, devoting himself, according to the custom of his nation, to solitude, and to the mortification of his body, in the hope to obtain, from the Great Spirit, protection through all his days; that on this occasion he had dreamed of adopting an Englishman as his son, brother and friend; that from the moment in which he first beheld me he had recognized me as the person whom the Great Spirit had been pleased to point out to him for a brother; that he hoped that I would not refuse his present; and that he should forever regard me as one of his family.
I could do no otherwise than accept the present, and declare my willingness to have so good a man as this appeared to be for my friend and brother. I offered a present in return for that which I had received, which Wawatam accepted, and then thanking me for the favor which he said that I had rendered him, he left me, and soon after set out on his winter’s hunt.
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Twelve months had now elapsed since the occurrence of this incident, and I had almost forgotten the person of my brother, when, on the second day of June, Wawatam came again to my house, in a temper of mind visibly melancholy and thoughtful. He told me that he had just returned from his wintering ground, and I asked after his health; but without answering my question, he went on to say, that he was sorry to find me returned from the Sault; that he intended to go to that place himself, immediately after his arrival at Michilimackinac; and that he wished me to go there along with him and his family the next morning. To all this he joined an inquiry, whether or not the commandant had heard bad news, adding that during the winter he had himself been frequently disturbed with the noise of evil birds; and further suggesting that there were numerous Indians near the fort, many of whom had never shown themselves within it. Wawatam was about forty-five years of age, of an excellent character among his nation, and a chief.
Referring much of what I heard to the peculiarities of the Indian character, I did not pay all the attention which they will be found to have deserved to the entreaties and remarks of my visitor. I answered that I could not think of going to the Sault so soon as the next morning, but would follow him there after the arrival of my clerks. Finding himself unable to prevail with me, he withdrew for that day; but early the next morning he came again, bringing with him his wife, and a present of dried meat. At this interview, after stating that he had several packs of beaver, for which he intended to deal with me, he expressed a second time his apprehensions from the numerous Indians who were round the fort, and earnestly pressed me to consent to an immediate departure for the Sault. As a reason for this particular request, he assured me that all the Indians proposed to come in a body, that day, to the fort, to demand liquor of the commandant, and that he wished me to be gone before they should grow intoxicated.
I had made, at the period to which I am now referring, so much progress in the language in which Wawatam addressed me, as to be able to hold an ordinary conversation in it; but the Indian manner of speech is so extravagantly figurative that it is only for a perfect master to follow and comprehend it entirely. Had I been further advanced in this respect, I think that I should have gathered so much information, from this my friendly monitor, as would have put me into possession of the design of the enemy, and enabled me to save as well others as myself; as it was, it unfortunately happened that I turned a deaf ear to everything, leaving Wawatam and his wife, after long and patient, but ineffectual efforts, to depart alone, with dejected countenances, and not before they had each let fall some tears.
In the course of the same day, I observed that the Indians came in great numbers into the fort, purchasing tomahawks, (small axes of one pound weight,) and frequently desiring to see silver arm-bands, and other valuable ornaments, of which I had a large quantity for sale. The ornaments, however, they in no instance purchased, but, after turning them over, left them, saying that they would call again the next day. Their motive, as it afterward appeared, was no other than the very artful one of discovering, by requesting to see them, the particular places of their deposit, so that they might lay their hands on them in the moment of pillage with the greater certainty and dispatch.
At night, I turned in my mind the visits of Wawatam; but, though they were calculated to excite uneasiness, nothing induced me to believe that serious mischief was at hand. The next day, being the fourth of June, was the king’s birthday.
The morning was sultry. A Chippeway came to tell me that his nation was going to play at baggatiway, with the Sacs or Saäkies, another Indian nation, for a high wager. He invited me to witness the sport, adding that the commandant was to be there, and would bet on the side of the Chippeways. In consequence of this information, I went to the commandant, and expostulated with him a little, representing that the Indians might possibly have some sinister end in view; but the commandant only smiled at my suspicions.
Baggatiway, called by the Canadians le jeu de la crosse, is played with a bat and ball. The bat is about four feet in length, curved, and terminating in a sort of racket. Two posts are planted in the ground, at a considerable distance from each other, as a mile or more. Each party has its post, and the game consists in throwing the ball up to the post of the adversary. The ball at the beginning is placed in the middle of the course, and each party endeavors as well to throw the ball out of the direction of its own post, as into that of the adversary’s.
I did not go myself to see the match which was now to be played without the fort, because, there being a canoe prepared to depart, on the following day, for Montreal, I employed myself in writing letters to my friends; and even when a fellow trader, Mr. Tracy, happened to call upon me, saying that another canoe had just arrived from Detroit, and proposing that I should go with him to the beach, to inquire the news, it so happened that I still remained, to finish my letters; promising to follow Mr. Tracy in the course of a few minutes. Mr. Tracy had not gone more than twenty paces from the door, when I heard an Indian war cry, and a noise of general confusion.
Going instantly to my window, I saw a crowd of Indians, within the fort, furiously cutting down and scalping every Englishman they found. In particular, I witnessed the fate of Lieutenant Jemette.
I had in the room in which I was a fowling piece, loaded with swan shot. This I immediately seized, and held it for a few minutes, waiting to hear the drum beat to arms. In this dreadful interval I saw several of my countrymen fall, and more than one struggling between the knees of an Indian, who, holding him in this manner, scalped him while yet living.
At length, disappointed in the hope of seeing resistance made to the enemy and sensible of course that no effort of my own unassisted arm could avail against four hundred Indians, I thought only of seeking shelter. Amid the slaughter which was raging, I observed many of the Canadian inhabitants of the fort calmly looking on, neither opposing the Indians nor suffering injury; and from this circumstance I conceived a hope of finding security in their houses.
Between the yard-door of my own house and that of M. Langlade,2 my next neighbor, there was only a low fence, over which I easily climbed. At my entrance I found the whole family at the windows, gazing at the scene of blood before them. I addressed myself immediately to M. Langlade, begging that he would put me into some place of safety, until the heat of the affair should be over; an act of charity by which he might perhaps preserve me from the general massacre; but while I uttered my petition, M. Langlade, who had looked for a moment at me, turned again to the window, shrugging his shoulders, and intimating that he could do nothing for me: “Que voudriez-vous que j’en ferais?”
This was a moment for despair; but the next, a Pani woman,3 a slave of M. Langlade‘s, beckoned to me to follow her. She brought me to a door, which she opened, desiring me to enter, and telling me that it led to the garret, where I must go and conceal myself. I joyfully obeyed her directions; and she, having followed me up to the garret-door, locked it after me, and with great presence of mind took away the key.
This shelter obtained, if shelter I could hope to find it, I was naturally anxious to know what might still be passing without. Through an aperture, which afforded me a view of the area of the fort, I beheld, in shapes the foulest and most terrible, the ferocious triumphs of barbarian conquerors. The dead were scalped and mangled; the dying were writhing and shrieking under the unsatiated knife and tomahawk; and from the bodies of some, ripped open, their butchers were drinking the blood, scooped up in the hollow of joined hands, and quaffed amid shouts of rage and victory. I was shaken not only with horror, but with fear. The sufferings which I witnessed, I seemed on the point of experiencing. No long time elapsed before, every one being destroyed who could be found, there was a general cry of “All is finished!” At the same instant I heard some of the Indians enter the house in which I was.
The garret was separated from the room below only by a layer of single boards, at once the flooring of the one and the ceiling of the other. I could therefore hear everything that passed; and the Indians no sooner came in than they inquired whether or not any Englishman were in the house. M. Langlade replied that “he could not say; he did not know of any;” answers in which he did not exceed the truth; for the Pani woman had not only hidden me by stealth, but kept my secret and her own. M. Langlade was therefore, as I presume, as far from a wish to destroy me as he was careless about saving me, when he added to these answers, that “they might examine for themselves, and would soon be satisfied as to the object of their question.” Saying this, he brought them to the garret-door.
The state of my mind will be imagined. Arrived at the door, some delay was occasioned by the absence of the key, and a few moments were thus allowed me in which to look around for a hiding-place. In one corner of the garret was a heap of those vessels of birch-bark used in maple-sugar making, as I have recently described.
The door was unlocked and opening, and the Indians ascending the stairs, before I had completely crept into a small opening which presented itself at one end of the heap. An instant after, four Indians entered the room, all armed with tomahawks, and all besmeared with blood upon every part of their bodies.
The die appeared to be cast. I could scarcely breathe; but I thought that the throbbing of my heart occasioned a noise loud enough to betray me. The Indians walked in every direction about the garret, and one of them approached me so closely that at a particular moment, had he put forth his hand, he must have touched me. Still I remained undiscovered; a circumstance to which the dark color of my clothes, and the want of light in a room which had no window, and in the corner in which I was, must have contributed. In a word, after taking several turns in the room, during which they told M. Langlade how many they had killed, and how many scalps they had taken, they returned down stairs, and I, with sensations not to be expressed, heard the door, which was the barrier between me and my fate, locked for the second time.
There was a feather-bed on the floor; and on this, exhausted as I was by the agitation of my mind, I threw myself down and fell asleep. In this state I remained till the dusk of the evening, when I was awakened by a second opening of the door. The person that now entered was M. Langlade‘s wife, who was much surprised at finding me, but advised me not to be uneasy, observing that the Indians had killed most of the English, but that she hoped I might myself escape. A shower of rain having begun to fall, she had come to stop a hole in the roof. On her going away, I begged her to send me a little water to drink; which she did.
As night was now advancing, I continued to lie on the bed, ruminating on my condition, but unable to discover a resource from which I could hope for life. A flight to Detroit had no probable chance of success. The distance from Michilimackinac was four hundred miles; I was without provisions; and the whole length of the road lay through Indian countries, countries of an enemy in arms, where the first man whom I should meet would kill me. To stay where I was threatened nearly the same issue. As before, fatigue of mind, and not tranquility, suspended my cares, and procured me further sleep.
The game of baggatiway, as from the description above will have been perceived, is necessarily attended with much violence and noise. In the ardor of contest, the ball, as has been suggested, if it cannot be thrown to the goal desired, is struck in any direction by which it can be diverted from that designed by the adversary. At such a moment, therefore, nothing could be less liable to excite premature alarm, than that the ball should be tossed over the pickets of the fort, nor that, having fallen there, it should be followed on the instant by all engaged in the game, as well the one party as the other, all eager, all struggling, all shouting, all in the unrestrained pursuit of a rude athletic exercise. Nothing could be less fitted to excite premature alarm; nothing, therefore, could be more happily devised, under the circumstances, than a stratagem like this; and this was, in fact, the stratagem which the Indians had employed, by which they had obtained possession of the fort, and by which they had been enabled to slaughter and subdue its garrison, and such of its other inhabitants as they pleased. To be still more certain of success, they had prevailed upon as many as they could, by a pretext the least liable to suspicion, to come voluntarily without the pickets; and particularly the commandant and garrison themselves.
The respite which sleep afforded me, during the night, was put an end to by the return of morning. I was again on the rack of apprehension. At sunrise, I heard the family stirring; and presently after Indian voices, informing M. Langlade that they had not found my hapless self among the dead and that they supposed me to be somewhere concealed. M. Langlade appeared, from what followed, to be by this time acquainted with the place of my retreat, of which, no doubt, he had been informed by his wife. The poor woman, as soon as the Indians mentioned me, declared to her husband, in the French tongue, that he should no longer keep me in his house, but deliver me up to my pursuers; giving as a reason for this measure, that, should the Indians discover his instrumentality in my concealment, they might revenge it on her children, and that it was better that I should die than they. M. Langlade resisted at first this sentence of his wife’s, but soon suffered her to prevail, informing the Indians that he had been told I was in his house, that I had come there without his knowledge, and that he would put me into their hands. This was no sooner expressed than he began to ascend the stairs, the Indians following upon his heels.
I now resigned myself to the fate with which I was menaced; and regarding every attempt at concealment as vain, I arose from the bed, and presented myself full in view to the Indians who were entering the room. They were all in a state of intoxication, and entirely naked, except about the middle. One of them, named Wenniway, whom I had previously known, and who was upward of six feet in height, had his entire face and body covered with charcoal and grease, only that a white spot, of two inches in diameter, encircled either eye. This man, walking up to me, seized me with one hand by the collar of the coat, while in the other he held a large carving knife, as if to plunge it into my breast; his eyes meanwhile were fixed steadfastly on mine. At length, after some seconds of the most anxious suspense, he dropped his arm, saying, “I won’t kill you!” To this he added, that he had been frequently engaged in wars against the English, and had brought away many scalps; that on a certain occasion he had lost a brother, whose name was Musinigon, and that I should be called after him.
A reprieve upon any terms placed me among the living, and gave me back the sustaining voice of hope; but Wenniway ordered me down stairs, and there informing me that I was to be taken to his cabin, where, and indeed everywhere else, the Indians were all mad with liquor, death again was threatened, and not as possible only, but as certain. I mentioned my fears on this subject to M. Langlade, begging him to represent the danger to my master. M. Langlade, in this instance, did not withhold his compassion, and Wenniway immediately consented that I should remain where I was, until he found another opportunity to take me away.
Thus far secure, I descended my garret-stairs, in order to place myself the furthest possible out of the reach of insult from drunken Indians; but I had not remained there more than an hour, when I was called to the room below, in which was an Indian, who said that I must go with him out of the fort, Wenniway having sent him to fetch me. This man, as well as Wenniway himself, I had seen before. In the preceding year, I had allowed him to take goods on credit, for which he was still in my debt; and some short time previous to the surprise of the fort he had said, upon my upbraiding him with want of honesty, that “he would pay me before long!” This speech now came fresh into my memory, and led me to suspect that the fellow had formed a design against my life. I communicated the suspicion to M. Langlade; but he gave for answer that “I was not now my own master, and must do as I was ordered.”
The Indian, on his part, directed that before I left the house I should undress myself, declaring that my coat and shirt would become him better than they did me. His pleasure in this respect being complied with, no other alternative was left me than either to go out naked, or to put on the clothes of the Indian, which he freely gave me in exchange. His motive for thus stripping me of my own apparel was no other, as I afterward learned, than this, that it might not be stained with blood when he should kill me.
I was now told to proceed; and my driver followed me close, until I had passed the gate of the fort, when I turned toward the spot where I knew the Indians to be encamped. This, however, did not suit the purpose of my enemy, who seized me by the arm, and drew me violently in the opposite direction, to the distance of fifty yards above the fort. Here, finding that I was approaching the bushes and sand-hills, I determined to proceed no further, but told the Indian that I believed he meant to murder me and that if so he might as well strike where I was as at any greater distance. He replied, with coolness, that my suspicions were just, and that he meant to pay me in this manner for my goods. At the same time he produced a knife, and held me in a position to receive the intended blow. Both this and that which followed were necessarily the affair of a moment. By some effort, too sudden and too little dependent on thought to be explained or remembered, I was enabled to arrest his arm, and give him a sudden push, by which I turned him from me, and released myself from his grasp. This was no sooner done than I ran toward the fort, with all the swiftness in my power, the Indian following me, and I expecting every moment to feel his knife. I succeeded in my flight; and, on entering the fort, I saw Wenniway standing in the midst of the area, and to him I hastened for protection. Wenniway desired the Indian to desist; but the latter pursued me round him, making several strokes at me with his knife, and foaming at the mouth with rage at the repeated failure of his purpose. At length Wenniway drew near to M. Langlade‘s house; and the door being open, I ran into it. The Indian followed me; but on my entering the house, he voluntarily abandoned the pursuit.
Preserved so often, and so unexpectedly, as it had now been my lot to be, I returned to my garret, with a strong inclination to believe that, through the will of an overruling power, no Indian enemy could do me hurt; but new trials, as I believed, were at hand, when, at ten o’clock in the evening, I was roused from sleep, and once more desired to descend the stairs. Not less, however, to my satisfaction than surprise, I was summoned only to meet Major Etherington, Mr. Bostwick and Lieutenant Lesslie, who were in the room below.
These gentlemen had been taken prisoners, while looking at the game, without the fort, and immediately stripped of all their clothes. They were now sent into the fort, under the charge of Canadians, because, the Indians having resolved on getting drunk, the chiefs were apprehensive that they would be murdered if they continued in the camp. Lieutenant Jemette and seventy soldiers had been killed; and but twenty Englishmen, including soldiers, were still alive. These were all within the fort, together with nearly three hundred Canadians belonging to the canoes, &c.
These being our numbers, myself and others proposed to Maj. Etherington to make an effort for regaining possession of the fort, and maintaining it against the Indians. The Jesuit missionary was consulted on the project; but he discouraged us, by his representations, not only of the merciless treatment which we must expect from the Indians, should they regain their superiority, but of the little dependence which was to be placed upon our Canadian auxiliaries. Thus the fort and prisoners remained in the hands of the Indians, though, through the whole night, the prisoners and whites were in actual possession, and they were without the gates.
That whole night, or the greater part of it, was passed in mutual condolence; and my fellow prisoners shared my garret. In the morning, being again called down, I found my master Wenniway, and was desired to follow him. He led me to a small house, within the fort, where, in a narrow room, and almost dark, I found Mr. Ezekiel Solomons, an Englishman from Detroit, and a soldier, all prisoners. With these, I remained in painful suspense, as to the scene that was next to present itself, till ten o’clock in the forenoon, when an Indian arrived, and presently marched us to the lake side, where a canoe appeared ready for departure, and in which we found that we were to embark.
Our voyage, full of doubt as it was, would have commenced immediately, but that one of the Indians, who was to be of the party, was absent. His arrival was to be waited for; and this occasioned a very long delay, during which we were exposed to a keen north-east wind. An old shirt was all that covered me; I suffered much from the cold; and in this extremity, M. Langlade coming down to the beach, I asked him for a blanket, promising if I lived to pay him for it, at any price he pleased; but the answer I received was this, that he could let me have no blanket unless there were some one to be security for the payment. For myself, he observed, I had no longer any property in that country. I had no more to say to M. Langlade; but presently seeing another Canadian, named John Cuchoise, I addressed to him a similar request, and was not refused. Naked as I was and rigorous as was the weather, but for the blanket I must have perished. At noon, our party was all collected, the prisoners all embarked, and we steered for the Isles du Castor, [Beaver Island,] in Lake Michigan.
The soldier who was our companion in misfortune was made fast to a bar of the canoe, by a rope tied round his neck, as is the manner of the Indians in transporting their prisoners. The rest were left unconfined; but a paddle was put into each of our hands, and we were made to use it. The Indians in the canoe were seven in number, the prisoners four. I had left, as it will be recollected, Major Etherington, Lieutenant Lesslie and Mr. Bostwick, at M. Langlade‘s, and was now joined in misery with Mr. Ezekiel Solomons, the soldier, and the Englishman who had newly arrived from Detroit. This was on the sixth day of June. The fort was taken on the fourth; I surrendered myself to Wenniway on the fifth; and this was the third day of our distress.
We were bound, as I have said, for the Isles du Castor, which lie in the mouth of Lake Michigan; and we should have crossed the lake, but that a thick fog came on, on account of which the Indians deemed it safer to keep the shore close under their lee. We therefore approached the lands of the Ottawas, and their village of L’Arbre Croche, already mentioned as lying about twenty miles to the westward of Michilimackinac, on the opposite side of the tongue of land on which the fort is built.
Every half hour, the Indians gave their war-whoops, one for every prisoner in their canoe. This is a general custom, by the aid of which all other Indians, within hearing, are apprized of the number of prisoners they are carrying.
In this manner, we reached Wagoshense, Fox point, a long point, stretching westward into the lake, and which the Ottawas make a carrying place, to avoid going round it. It is distant eighteen miles from Michilimackinac. After the Indians had made their war-whoop, as before, an Ottawa appeared upon the beach, who made signs that we should land. In consequence, we approached. The Ottawa asked the news, and kept the Chippeways in further conversation, till we were within a few yards of the land, and in shallow water. At this moment, a hundred men rushed upon us, from among the bushes, and dragged all the prisoners out of the canoes, amid a terrifying shout.
We now believed that our last sufferings were approaching; but no sooner were we fairly on shore, and on our legs, than the chiefs of the party advanced, and gave each of us their hands, telling us that they were our friends, and Ottawas, whom the Chippeways had insulted, by destroying the English without consulting with them on the affair. They added that what they had done was for the purpose of saving our lives, the Chippeways having been carrying us to the Isles du Castor only to kill and devour us.
The reader’s imagination is here distracted by the variety of our fortunes, and he may well paint to himself the state of mind of those who sustained them, who were the sport or the victims of a series of events, more like dreams than realities, more like fiction than truth! It was not long before we were embarked again, in the canoes of the Ottawas, who, the same evening, re-landed us at Michilimackinac, where they marched us into the fort, in view of the Chippeways, confounded at beholding the Ottawas espouse a side opposite to their own.
The Ottawas, who had accompanied us in sufficient numbers, took possession of the fort. We, who had changed masters, but were still prisoners, were lodged in the house of the commandant, and strictly guarded.
Early the next morning, a general council was held, in which the Chippeways complained much of the conduct of the Ottawas in robbing them of their prisoners; alleging that all the Indians, the Ottawas alone excepted, were at war with the English; that Pontiac had taken Detroit; that the king of France had awoke, and repossessed himself of Quebec and Montreal; and that the English were meeting destruction, not only at Michilimackinac, but in every other part of the world. From all this they inferred that it became the Ottawas to restore the prisoners, and to join in the war; and the speech was followed by large presents, being part of the plunder of the fort, and which was previously heaped in the centre of the room. The Indians rarely make their answers till the day after they have heard the arguments offered. They did not depart from their custom on this occasion; and the council therefore adjourned.
We, the prisoners, whose fate was thus in controversy, were unacquainted at the time with this transaction; and therefore enjoyed a night of tolerable tranquility, not in the least suspecting the reverse which was preparing for us. Which of the arguments of the Chippeways, or whether or not all were deemed valid by the Ottawas, I cannot say; but the council was resumed at an early hour in the morning, and, after several speeches had been made in it, the prisoners were sent for, and returned to the Chippeways.
The Ottawas, who now gave us into the hands of the Chippeways, had themselves declared that the latter designed no other than to kill us, and make broth of us. The Chippeways, as soon as we were restored to them, marched us to a village of their own, situate on the point which is below the fort, and put us into a lodge, already the prison of fourteen soldiers, tied two and two, with each a rope about his neck, and made fast to a pole which might be called the supporter of the building.
I was left untied; but I passed a night sleepless and lull of wretchedness. My bed was the bare ground, and I was again reduced to an old shirt, as my entire apparel; the blanket which I had received, through the generosity of M. Cuchoise, having been taken from me among the Ottawas, when they seized upon myself and the others, at Wagoshense. I was, besides, in want of food, having for two days eaten nothing.
I confess that in the canoe with the Chippeways I was offered bread; but, bread, with what accompaniment! They had a loaf, which they cut with the same knives that they had employed in the massacre knives still covered with blood. The blood they moistened with spittle, and rubbing it on the bread, offered this for food to their prisoners, telling them to eat the blood of their countrymen.
Such was my situation on the morning of the seventh of June, in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty-three; but a few hours produced an event which gave still a new color to my lot.
Toward noon, when the great war-chief, in company with Wenniway was seated at the opposite end of the lodge, my friend and brother, Wawatam, suddenly came in. During the four days preceding, I had often wondered what had become of him. In passing by he gave me his hand, but went immediately toward the great chief, by the side of whom and Wenniway, he sat himself down. The most uninterrupted silence prevailed; each smoked his pipe; and this done, Wawatam arose, and left the lodge, saying to me, as he passed, “Take courage!”
An hour elapsed, during which several chiefs entered, and preparations appeared to be making for a council. At length, Wawatam reentered the lodge, followed by his wife, and both loaded with merchandise, which they carried up to the chiefs, and laid in a heap before them. Some moments of silence followed, at the end of which Wawatam pronounced a speech, every word of which, to me, was of extraordinary interest:
“Friends and relations,” he began, “what is it that I shall say? You know what I feel. You all have friends and brothers and children, whom as yourselves you love; and you, what would you experience, did you, like me, behold your dearest friend your brother in the condition of a slave; a slave, exposed every moment to insult, and to menaces of death? This case, as you all know, is mine. See there (pointing to myself) my friend and brother among slaves, himself a slave!
“You all well know that long before the war began I adopted him as my brother. From that moment he became one of my family, so that no change of circumstances could break the cord which fastened us together.
“He is my brother; and, because I am your relation, he is therefore your relation too: and how, being your relation, can he be your slave?
“On the day on which the war began, you were fearful, lest on this very account I should reveal your secret. You requested, therefore, that I would leave the fort, and even cross the lake. I did so, but did it with reluctance I did it with reluctance, notwithstanding that you, Menehwehna, who had the command in this enterprise, gave me your promise that you would protect my friend, delivering him from all danger, and giving him safely to me.
“The performance of this promise I now claim. I come not with empty hands to ask it. You, Menehwehna, best know whether or not, as it respects yourself, you have kept your word, but I bring these goods, to buy off every claim which any man among you all may have on my brother, as his prisoner.”
Wawatam having ceased, the pipes were again filled; and, after they were finished, a further period of silence followed. At the end of this, Menehwehna arose, and gave his reply:
“My relation and brother,” said he, “what you have spoken is the truth. We were acquainted with the friendship which subsisted between yourself and the Englishman, in whose behalf you have now addressed us. We knew the danger of having our secret discovered, and the consequences which must follow; and you say truly that we requested you to leave the fort. This we did out of regard for you and your family; for, if a discovery of our design had been made, you would have been blamed, whether guilty or not; and you would thus have been involved in difficulties from which you could not have extricated yourself.
“It is also true that I promised you to take care of your friend; and this promise I performed, by desiring my son, at the moment of assault, to seek him out, and bring him to my lodge. He went accordingly, but could not find him. The day after I sent him to Langlade‘s, when he was informed that your friend was safe; and had it not been that the Indians were then drinking the rum which had been found in the fort, he would have brought him home with him, according to my orders.
“I am very glad to find that your friend has escaped. We accept your present; and you may take him home with you.”
Wawatam thanked the assembled chiefs, and taking me by the hand, led me to his lodge, which was at the distance of a few yards only from the prison lodge. My entrance appeared to give joy to the whole family; food was immediately prepared for me; and I now ate the first hearty meal which I had made since my capture. I found myself one of the family; and but that I had still my fears, as to the other Indians, I felt as happy as the situation could allow.
In the course of the next morning, I was alarmed by a noise in the prison lodge; and looking through the openings of the lodge in which I was, I saw seven dead bodies of white men dragged forth. Upon my inquiry into the occasion, I was informed that a certain chief, called by the Canadians Le Grand Sable, had not long before arrived from his winter’s hunt; and that he, having been absent when the war begun, and being now desirous of manifesting to the Indians at large his hearty concurrence in what they had done, had gone into the prison lodge, and there with his knife put the seven men whose bodies I had seen to death.
Shortly after, two of the Indians took one of the dead bodies, which they chose as being the fattest, cut off the head, and divided the whole into five parts, one of which was put into each of five kettles, hung over as many fires kindled for this purpose, at the door of the prison lodge. Soon after things were so far prepared, a message came to our lodge, with an invitation to Wawatam to assist at the feast.
An invitation to a feast is given by him who is the master of it. Small cuttings of cedar wood, of about four inches in length, supply the place of cards; and the bearer by word of mouth states the particulars.
Wawatam obeyed the summons, taking with him, as is usual, to the place of entertainment, his dish and spoon.
After an absence of about half an hour, he returned, bringing in his dish a human hand, and a large piece of flesh. He did not appear to relish the repast, but told me that it was then, and always had been the custom among all the Indian nations, when returning from war, or on overcoming their enemies, to make a war-feast from among the slain. This he said inspired the warrior with courage in attack, and bred him to meet death with fearlessness.
In the evening of the same day, a large canoe, such as those which came from Montreal, was seen advancing to the fort. It was full of men, and I distinguished several passengers. The Indian cry was made in the village; a general muster ordered; and to the number of two hundred they marched up to the fort, where the canoe was expected to land. The canoe, suspecting nothing, came boldly to the fort, where the passengers, as being English traders, were seized, dragged through the water, beat, reviled, marched to the prison lodge, and there stripped of their clothes and confined.
Of the English traders that fell into the hands of the Indians at the capture of the fort, Mr. Tracy was the only one who lost his life. Mr. Ezekiel Solomons and Mr. Henry Bostwick were taken by the Ottawas, and after the peace carried down to Montreal, and there ransomed. Of ninety troops, about seventy were killed; the rest, together with those of the posts in the Bay des Puants, and at the river Saint Joseph, were also kept in safety by the Ottawas till the peace, and then either freely restored, or ransomed at Montreal. The Ottawas never overcame their disgust at the neglect with which they had been treated, in the beginning of the war, by those who afterward desired their assistance as allies.
In the morning of the ninth of June, a general council was held, at which it was agreed to remove to the island of Michilimackinac, as a more defensible situation in the event of an attack by the English. The Indians had begun to entertain apprehensions of want of strength. No news had reached them from the Pottawatamies, in the Bay des Puants; and they were uncertain whether or not the Monomins4 would join them. They even feared that the Sioux would take the English side.
This resolution fixed, they prepared for a speedy retreat. At noon the camp was broken up, and we embarked, taking with us the prisoners that were still indisposed of. On our passage we encountered a gale of wind, and there were some appearances of danger. To avert it, a dog, of which the legs were previously tied together, was thrown into the lake; an offering designed to soothe the angry passions of some offended Manito.
As we approached the island, two women in the canoe in which I was began to utter melancholy and hideous cries. Precarious as my condition still remained, I experienced some sensations of alarm from these dismal sounds, of which I could not then discover the occasion. Subsequently, I learned that it is customary for the women, on passing near the burial places of relations, never to omit the practice of which I was now a witness, and by which they intend to denote their grief.
By the approach of evening we reached the island in safety, and the women were not long in erecting our cabins. In the morning, there was a muster of the Indians, at which there were found three hundred and fifty fighting men.
In the course of the day there arrived a canoe from Detroit, with ambassadors, who endeavored to prevail on the Indians to repair thither to the assistance of Pontiac; but fear was now the prevailing passion. A guard was kept during the day, and a watch by night, and alarms were very frequently spread. Had an enemy appeared, all the prisoners would have been put to death; and I suspected that, as an Englishman, I should share their fate.
Several days had now passed, when one morning a contin and alarm prevailed, and I saw the Indians running in a confused manner toward the beach. In a short time I learned that two large canoes from Montreal were in sight.
All the Indian canoes were immediately manned, and those from Montreal were surrounded and seized, as they turned a point behind which the flotilla had been concealed. The goods were consigned to a Mr. Levy, and would have been saved if the canoe men had called them French property; but they were terrified and disguised nothing.
In the canoes was a large proportion of liquor, a dangerous acquisition, and which threatened disturbance among the Indians, even to the loss of their dearest friends. Wawatam, always watchful of my safety, no sooner heard the noise of drunkenness, which in the evening did not fail to begin, than he represented to me the danger of remaining in the village, and owned that he could not himself resist the temptation of joining his comrades in the debauch. That I might escape all mischief, he therefore requested that I would accompany him to the mountain, where I was to remain hidden till the liquor should be drank.
We ascended the mountain accordingly. It is this mountain which constitutes that high land in the middle of the island, of which I have spoken before, as of a figure considered as resembling a turtle, and therefore called Michilimackinac. It is thickly covered with wood, and very rocky toward the top. After walking more than half a mile, we came to a large rock, at the base of which was an opening, dark within, and appearing to be the entrance of a cave.
Here, Wawatam recommended that I should take up my lodging, and by all means remain till he returned.
On going into the cave, of which the entrance was nearly ten feet wide, I found the further end to be rounded in its shape, like that of an oven, but with a further aperture, too small, however, to be explored.
After thus looking around me, I broke small branches from the trees, and spread them for a bed; then wrapped myself m my blanket, and slept till daybreak.
On awaking I felt myself incommoded by some object upon which I lay; and removing it, found it to be a bone. This I supposed to be that of a deer, or some other animal, and what might very naturally be looked for in the place in which it was; but, when daylight visited my chamber, I discovered, with some feelings of horror, that I was lying on nothing less than a heap of human bones and skulls, which covered all the floor!
The day passed without the return of Wawatam, and without food. As night approached, I found myself unable to meet its darkness in the charnel house, which, nevertheless, I had viewed free from uneasiness during the day. I chose, therefore, an adjacent bush for this night’s lodging, and slept under it as before; but in the morning, I awoke hungry and dispirited, and almost envying the dry bones, to the view of which I returned. At length the sound of a foot reached me, and my Indian friend appeared, making many apologies for his long absence, the cause of which was an unfortunate excess in the enjoyment of his liquor.
This point being explained, I mentioned the extraordinary sight that had presented itself in the cave to which he had commended my slumbers. He had never heard of its existence before; and, upon examining the cave together, we saw reason to believe that it had been anciently filled with human bodies.
On returning to the lodge, I experienced a cordial reception from the family, which consisted of the wife of my friend, his two sons, of whom the eldest was married, and whose wife, and a daughter of thirteen years of age, completed the list.
Wawatam related to the other Indians the adventure of the bones. All of them expressed surprise at hearing it, and declared that they had never been aware of the contents of this cave before. After visiting it, which they immediately did, almost every one offered a different opinion as to its history.
Some advanced, that at a period when the waters overflowed the land, (an event which makes a distinguished figure in the history of their world,) the inhabitants of this island had fled into the cave, and been there drowned; others, that those same inhabitants, when the Hurons made war upon them, (as tradition says they did,) hid themselves in the cave, and being discovered, were there massacred. For myself, I am disposed to believe that this cave was an ancient receptacle of the bones of prisoners, sacrificed and devoured at war-feasts. I have always observed that the Indians pay particular attention to the bones of sacrifices, preserving them unbroken, and depositing them in some place kept exclusively for that purpose.
A few days after the occurrence of the incidents recorded above, Menehwehna, whom I now found to be the great chief of the village of Michilimackinac, came to the lodge of my friend; and when the usual ceremony of smoking was finished, he observed that Indians were now daily arriving from Detroit, some of whom had lost relations or friends in the war, and who would certainly retaliate on any Englishman they found; upon which account, his errand was to advise that I should be dressed like an Indian, an expedient whence I might hope to escape all future insult.
I could not but consent to the proposal, and the chief was so kind as to assist my friend and his family in effecting that very day the desired metamorphosis. My hair was cut off, and my head shaved, with the exception of a spot on the crown, of about twice the diameter of a crown-piece. My face was painted with three or four different colors; some parts of it red, and others black. A shirt was provided for me, painted with vermilion, mixed with grease. A large collar of wampum was put round my neck, and another suspended on my breast. Both my arms were decorated with large bands of silver above the elbow, besides several smaller ones on the wrists; and my legs were covered with mitases, a kind of hose, made, as is the favorite fashion, of scarlet cloth. Over all, I was to wear a scarlet blanket or mantle, and on my head a large bunch of feathers. I parted, not without some regret, with the long hair which was natural to it, and which I fancied to be ornamental; but the ladies of the family and of the village in general, appeared to think my person improved, and now condescended to call me handsome, even among Indians.
Protected, in a great measure, by this disguise, I felt myself more at liberty than before; and the season being arrived in which my clerks, from the interior, were to be expected, and some part of my property, as I had a right to hope, recovered, I begged the favor of Wawatam that he would enable me to pay a short visit to Michilimackinac. He did not fail to comply, and I succeeded in finding my clerks; but, either through the disturbed state of the country, as they represented to be the case, or through their misconduct, as I had reason to think, I obtained nothing; and nothing, or almost nothing, I now began to think would be all that I should need during the rest of my life. To fish and to hunt, to collect a few skins, and exchange them for necessaries, was all that I seemed destined to do, and to acquire, for the future.
I returned to the Indian village, where at this time much scarcity of food prevailed. We were often for twenty-four hours without eating; and when in the morning we had no victuals for the day before us, the custom was to black our faces with grease and charcoal, and exhibit, through resignation, a temper as cheerful as if in the midst of plenty.
A repetition of the evil, however, soon induced us to leave the island in search of food; and accordingly we departed for the Bay of Boutchitaouy, distant eight leagues, and where we found plenty of wild-fowl and fish.
While in the bay, my guardian’s daughter-in-law was taken in labor of her first child. She was immediately removed out of the common lodge; and a small one, for her separate accommodation, was begun and finished by the women in less than half an hour.
The next morning we heard that she was very ill, and the family began to be much alarmed on her account; the more so, no doubt, because cases of difficult labor are very rare among Indian women. In this distress. Wawatam requested me to accompany him into the woods; and on our way informed me that if he could find a snake, he should soon secure relief to his daughter-in-law.
On reaching some wet ground, we speedily obtained the object of our search, in a small snake, of the kind called the garter-snake. Wawatam seized it by the neck, and, holding it fast, while it coiled itself round his arm, he cut off its head, catching the blood in a cup that he had brought with him. This done, he threw away the snake, and carried home the blood, which he mixed with a quantity of water. Of this mixture he administered first one tablespoonful, and shortly after a second. Within an hour the patient was safely delivered of a fine child; and Wawatam subsequently declared that the remedy, to which he had resorted, was one that never failed.
On the next day, we left the Bay of Boutchitaouy; and the young mother, in high spirits, assisted in loading the canoe, barefooted, and knee-deep in the water.
The medical information, the diseases and the remedies of the Indians, often engaged my curiosity during the period through which I was familiar with these nations; and I shall take this occasion to introduce a few particulars connected with their history.
The Indians are in general free from disorders; and an instance of their being subject to dropsy, gout, or stone, never came within my knowledge. Inflammations of the lungs are among their most ordinary complaints and rheumatism still more so, especially with the aged. Their mode of life, in which they are so much exposed to the wet and cold, sleeping on the ground, and inhaling the night air, sufficiently account for their liability to these diseases. The remedies on which they most rely are emetics, cathartics, and the lancet; but especially the last. Bleeding is so favorite an operation among the women that they never lose an occasion of enjoying it, whether sick or well. I have sometimes bled a dozen women in a morning as they sat in a row, along a fallen tree, beginning with the first, opening the vein, then proceeding to the second, and so on, having three or four individuals bleeding at the same time.
In most villages, and particularly in those of the Chippeways, this service was required of me; and no persuasion of mine could ever induce a woman to dispense with it.
In all parts of the country, and among all the nations that I have seen, particular individuals arrogate to themselves the art of healing, but principally by means of pretended sorcery; and operations of this sort are always paid for by a present made before they are begun. Indeed, whatever, as an impostor, may be the demerits of the operator, his reward may generally be said to be fairly earned by dint of corporal labor.
I was once present at a performance of this kind, in which the patient was a female child of about twelve years of age. Several of the elder chiefs were invited to the scene; and the same compliment was paid to me, on account of the medical skill for which it was pleased to give me credit.
The physician (so to call him) seated himself on the ground; and before him, on a new stroud blanket, was placed a basin of water, in which were three bones, the larger ones, as it appeared to me, of a swan’s wing. In his hand he had his shishiquoi, or rattle, with which he beat time to his medicine song. The sick child lay on a blanket, near the physician. She appeared to have much fever, and a severe oppression of the lungs, breathing with difficulty, and betraying symptoms of the last stage of consumption.
After singing for some time, the physician took one of the bones out of the basin: the bone was hollow; and one end being applied to the breast of the patient, he put the other into his mouth, in order to remove the disorder by suction. Having persevered in this as long as he thought proper, he suddenly seemed to force the bone into his mouth, and swallow it. He now acted the part of one suffering severe pain; but, presently, finding relief, he made a long speech, and after this returned to singing, and to the accompaniment of his rattle. With the latter, during his song, he struck his head, breast, sides, and back; at the same time straining, as if to vomit forth the bone.
Relinquishing this attempt, he applied himself to suction a second time, and with the second of the three bones; and this also he soon seemed to swallow.
Upon its disappearance, he began to distort himself in the most frightful manner, using every gesture which could convey the idea of pain; at length he succeeded, or pretended to succeed, in throwing up one of the bones. This was handed about to the spectators, and strictly examined; but nothing remarkable could be discovered. Upon this, he went back to his song and rattle; and after some time threw up the second of the two bones. In the groove of this, the physician, upon examination, found, and displayed to all present, a small white substance, resembling a piece of the quill of a feather, It was passed round the company from one to the other; and declared, by the physician, to be the thing causing the disorder of his patient.
The multitude believe that these physicians, whom the French call jongleurs, or jugglers, can inflict as well as remove disorders. They believe that by drawing the figure of any person in sand or ashes, or on clay, or by considering any object as the figure of a person, and then pricking it with a sharp stick, or other substance, or doing, in any other manner, that which done to a living body would cause pain or injury, the individual represented, or supposed to be represented, will suffer accordingly. On the other hand, the mischief being done, another physician, of equal pretensions, can by suction remove it. Unfortunately, however, the operations which I have described were not successful in the instance referred to; for, on the day after they had taken place, the girl died.
With regard to flesh-wounds, the Indians certainly affect astonishing cures. Here, as above, much that is fantastic occurs; but the success of their practice evinces something solid.
At the Sault de Sainte-Marie I knew a man who, in the result of a quarrel, received the stroke of an axe in his side. The blow was so violent, and the axe driven so deep, that the wretch who held it could not withdraw it, but left it in the wound, and fled. Shortly after, the man was found, and brought into the fort, where several other Indians came to his assistance. Among these, one, who was a physician, immediately withdrew, in order to fetch his penegusan, or medicine bag, with which he soon returned. The eyes of the sufferer were fixed, his teeth closed, and his case apparently desperate.
The physician took from his bag a small portion of a very white substance, resembling that of a bone; this he scraped into a little water, and forcing open the jaws of the patient with a stick, he poured the mixture down his throat. What followed was, that in a very short space of time the wounded man moved his eyes; and beginning to vomit, threw up a small lump of clotted blood.
The physician now, and not before, examined the wound, from which I could see the breath escape, and from which a part of the omentum depended. This the physician did not set about to restore to its place, but, cutting it away, minced it into small pieces, and made his patient swallow it.
The man was then carried to his lodge, where I visited him daily. By the sixth day he was able to walk about; and within a month he grew quite well, except that he was troubled with a cough. Twenty years after his misfortune he was still alive.
Another man, being on his wintering ground, and from home, hunting beaver, was crossing a lake, covered with smooth ice, with two beavers on his back, when his foot slipped, and he fell. At his side, in his belt, was his axe, the blade of which came upon the joint of his wrist; and, the weight of his body coming upon the blade, his hand was completely separated from his arm, with the exception of a small piece of the skin. He had to walk three miles to his lodge, which was thus far away. The skin, which alone retained his hand to his arm, he cut through, with the same axe which had done the rest; and fortunately having on a shirt, he took it off, tore it up, and made a strong ligature above the wrist, so as in some measure to avoid the loss of blood. On reaching his lodge, he cured the wound himself, by the mere use of simples. I was a witness to its perfect healing.
I have said that these physicians, jugglers, or practitioners of pretended sorcery, are supposed to be capable of inflicting diseases; and I may add, that they are sometimes themselves sufferers on this account. In one instance I saw one of them killed, by a man who charged him with having brought his brother to death by malefic arts. The accuser, in his rage, thrust his knife into the belly of the accused, and ripped it open. The latter caught his bowels in his arms, and thus walked toward his lodge, gathering them up, from time to time, as they escaped his hold. His lodge was at no considerable distance, and he reached it alive, and died in it.
Our next encampment was on the island of Saint-Martin, off Cape Saint-Ignace, so called from the Jesuit mission of Saint Ignatius to the Hurons, formerly established there. Our object was to fish for sturgeon, which we did with great success; and here, in the enjoyment of a plentiful and excellent supply of food, we remained until the twentieth day of August. At this time, the autumn being at hand, and a sure prospect of increased security from hostile Indians afforded, Wawatam proposed going to his intended wintering ground. The removal was a subject of the greatest joy to myself, on account of the frequent insults, to which I had still to submit, from the Indians of our band or village, and to escape from which I would freely have gone almost anywhere. At our wintering ground we were to be alone; for the Indian families, in the countries of which I write, separate in the winter season, for the convenience as well of subsistence as of the chase, and re-associate in the spring and summer.
In preparation, our first business was to sail for Michilimackinac, where, being arrived, we procured from a Canadian trader, on credit, some trifling articles, together with ammunition, and two bushels of maize. This done, we steered directly for Lake Michigan. At L’Arbre Crochc we stopped one day on a visit to the Ottawas, where all the people, and particularly Okinochumaki, the chief, the same who took me from the Chippeways, behaved with great civility and kindness. The chief presented me with a bag of maize. It is the Ottawas, it will be remembered, who raise this grain for the market of Michilimackinac.
Leaving L’Arbre Croche, we proceeded direct to the mouth of the river Aux Sables, on the south side of the lake, and distant about a hundred and fifty miles from fort Michilimackinac. On our voyage, we passed several deep bays and rivers, and I found the banks of the lake to consist in mere sands, without any appearance of verdure; the sand drifting from one hill to another, like snow in winter. Hence, all the rivers, which here entered the lake, are as much entitled to the epithet of sandy as that to which we were bound. They are also distinguished by another particularity, always observable in similar situations. The current of the stream being met, when the wind is contrary, by the waves of the lake, it is driven back, and the sands of the shore are at the same time washed into its mouth. In consequence, the river is able to force a passage into the lake, broad only in proportion to its utmost strength; while it hollows for itself, behind the sand-banks, a basin of one, two, or three miles across. In these rivers we killed many wild-fowl and beaver.
To kill beaver, we used to go several miles up the rivers, before the approach of night, and after the dusk came on suffer the canoe to drift gently down the current, without noise. The beaver in this part of the evening come abroad to procure food, or materials for repairing their habitations: and as they are not alarmed by the canoe, they often pass it within gun-shot.
While we thus hunted along our way, I enjoyed a personal freedom of which I had been long deprived, and became as expert in the Indian pursuits as the Indians themselves.
On entering the river Aux Sables, Wawatam took a dog, tied its feet together, and threw it into the stream, uttering, at the same time, a long prayer, which he addressed to the Great Spirit, supplicating his blessing on the chase, and his aid in the support of the family, through the dangers of a long winter. Our lodge was fifteen miles above the mouth of the stream. The principal animals which the country afforded were the stag or red deer, the common American deer, the bear, raccoon, beaver and marten.
The beaver feeds in preference on young wood of the birch, aspen and poplar tree,5 but in defect of these on any other tree, those of the pine and fir kinds excepted. These latter it employs only for building its dams and houses. In wide meadows, where no wood is to be found, it resorts, for all its purposes, to the roots of the rush and water lily. It consumes great quantities of food, whether of roots or wood; and hence often reduces itself to the necessity of removing into a new quarter. Its house has an arched dome like roof, of an elliptical figure, and rises from three to four feet above the surface of the water. It is always entirely surrounded by water; but, in the banks adjacent, the animal provides holes or washes, of which the entrance is below the surface, and to which it retreats on the first alarm.
The female beaver usually produces two young at a time, but not unfrequently more. During the first year the young remain with their parents. In the second they occupy an adjoining apartment, and assist in building, and in procuring food. At two years old, they part, and build houses of their own; but often rove about for a considerable time, before they fix upon a spot. There are beavers, called by the Indians old bachelors, who live by themselves, build no houses, and work at no dams, but shelter themselves in holes. The usual method of taking these is by traps, formed of iron, or logs, and baited with branches of poplar.
According to the Indians, the beaver is much given to jealousy. If a strange male approaches the cabin, a battle immediately ensues. Of this the female remains an unconcerned spectator, careless to which party the law of conquest may assign her. Among the beaver which we killed, those who were with me pretended to show demonstrations of this fact; some of the skins of the males, and almost all of the older ones, bearing marks of violence, while none were ever to be seen on the skins of the females.
The Indians add, that the male is as constant as he is jealous, never attaching himself to more than one female; while the female, on her side, is always fond of strangers.
The most common way of taking the beaver is that of breaking up its house, which is done with trenching tools, during the winter, when the ice is strong enough to allow of approaching them; and when, also, the fur is in its most valuable state.
Breaking up the house, however, is only a preparatory step.
During this operation, the family make their escape to one or more of their washes. These are to be discovered by striking the ice along the bank, and where the holes are a hollow sound is returned. After discovering and searching many of these in vain, we often found the whole family together, in the same wash. I was taught occasionally to distinguish a full wash from an empty one, by the motion of the water above its entrance, occasioned by the breathing of the animals concealed in it. From the washes they must be taken out with the hands; and in doing this, the hunter sometimes receives severe wounds from their teeth. While a hunter, I thought, with the Indians, that the beaver flesh was very good; but after that of the ox was again within my reach, I could not relish it. The tail is accounted a luxurious morsel.
Beavers, say the Indians, were formerly a people endowed with speech, not less than with the other noble faculties they possess; but the Great Spirit has taken this away from them, lest they should grow superior in understanding to mankind.
The raccoon was another object of our chase. It was my practice to go out in the evening, with dogs, accompanied by the youngest son of my guardian, to hunt this animal. The raccoon never leaves its hiding-place till after sunset.
As soon as a dog falls on a fresh track of the raccoon, he gives notice by a cry, and immediately pursues. His barking enables the hunter to follow. The raccoon, which travels slowly, and is soon overtaken, makes for a tree, on which he remains till shot.
After the falling of the snow, nothing more is necessary, for taking the raccoon, than to follow the track of his feet. In this season, he seldom leaves his habitation; and he never lays up any food. I have found six at a time, in the hollow of one tree, lying upon each other, and nearly in a torpid state. In more than one instance, I have ascertained that they have lived six weeks without food. The mouse is their principal prey.
Raccoon hunting was my more particular and daily employ. I usually went out at the first dawn of day, and seldom returned till sunset, or till I had laden myself with as many animals as I could carry. By degrees I became familiarized with this kind of life; and had it not been for the idea, of which I could not divest my mind, that I was living among savages, and for the whispers of a lingering hope, that I should one day be released from it or if I could have forgotten that I had ever been otherwise than as I then was I could have enjoyed as much happiness in this as in any other situation.
One evening, on my return from hunting, I found the fire put out, and the opening in the top of the lodge covered over with skins; by this means excluding, as much as possible, external light. I further observed that the ashes were removed from the fireplace, and that dry sand was spread where they had been. Soon after, a fire was made with outside the cabin, in the open air, and a kettle hung over it to boil.
I now supposed that a feast was in preparation. I supposed so only, for it would have been indecorous to inquire into the meaning of what I saw. No person, among the Indians themselves, would use this freedom. Good breeding requires that the spectator should patiently wait the result.
As soon as the darkness of night had arrived, the family, including myself, were invited into the lodge. I was now requested not to speak, as a feast was about to be given to the dead, whose spirits delight in uninterrupted silence.
As we entered, each was presented with his wooden dish and spoon, after receiving which we seated ourselves. The door was next shut, and we remained in perfect darkness.
The master of the family was the master of the feast. Still in the dark, he asked every one, by turn, for his dish, and put into each two boiled ears of maize. The whole being served, he began to speak. In his discourse, which lasted half an hour, he called upon the manes of his deceased relations and friends, beseeching them to be present, to assist him in the chase, and to partake of the food which he had prepared for them. When he had ended, we proceeded to eat our maize, which we did without other noise than what was occasioned by our teeth. The maize was not half boiled, and it took me an hour to consume my share. I was requested not to break the spikes, [cob,] as this would be displeasing to the departed spirits of their friends.
When all was eaten, Wawatam made another speech, with which the ceremony ended. A new fire was kindled, with fresh sparks, from flint and steel; and the pipes being smoked, the spikes were carefully buried, in a hole made in the ground for that purpose, within the lodge. This done, the whole family began a dance, Wawatam singing, and beating a drum. The dance continued the greater part of the night, to the great pleasure of the lodge. The night of the feast was that of the first day of November.
On the twentieth of December, we took an account of the produce of our hunt, and found that we had a hundred beaver skins, as many raccoons, and a large quantity of dried venison; all which was secured from the wolves, by being placed upon a scaffold.
A hunting excursion, into the interior of the country, was resolved on; and early the next morning the bundles were made up by the women for each person to carry. I remarked that the bundle given to me was the lightest, and those carried by the women the largest and heaviest of the whole.
On the first day of our march, we advanced about twenty miles, and then encamped. Being somewhat fatigued, I could not hunt; but Wawatam killed a stag, not far from our encampment. The next morning we moved our lodge to the carcass. At this station we remained two days, employed in drying the meat. The method was to cut it into slices, of the thickness of a steak, and then hang it over the fire in the smoke. On the third day we removed, and marched till two o’clock in the afternoon.
While the women were busy in erecting and preparing the lodges, I took my gun and strolled away, telling Wawatam that I intended to look out for some fresh meat for supper. He answered, that he would do the same; and on this we both left the encampment, in different directions.
The sun being visible, I entertained no fear of losing my way; but in following several tracks of animals, in momentary expectation of falling in with the game, I proceeded to a considerable distance, and it was not till near sunset that I thought of returning. The sky, too, had become overcast, and I was therefore left without the sun for my guide. In this situation, I walked as fast as I could, always supposing myself to be approaching our encampment, till at length it became so dark that I ran against the trees.
I became convinced that I was lost; and I was alarmed by the reflection that I was in a country entirely strange to me and in danger from strange Indians. With the flint of my gun I made a fire, and then laid me down to sleep. In the night, it rained hard. I awoke cold and wet; and as soon as light appeared, I recommenced my journey, sometimes walking and sometimes running, unknowing where to go, bewildered, and like a madman.
Toward evening, I reached the border of a large lake, of which I could scarcely discern the opposite shore. I had never heard of a lake in this part of the country, and therefore felt myself removed further than ever from the object of my pursuit. To tread back my steps appeared to be the most likely means of delivering myself; and I accordingly determined to turn my face directly from the lake, and keep this direction as nearly as I could.
A heavy snow began to descend, and night soon afterward came on. On this, I stopped and made a fire; and stripping a tree of its sheet of bark, lay down under it to shelter me from the snow. All night, at small distances, the wolves howled around, and to me seemed to be acquainted with my misfortune.
Amid thoughts the most distracted, I was able at length to fall asleep; but it was not long before I awoke, refreshed, and wondering at the terror to which I had yielded myself. That I could really have wanted the means of recovering my way appeared to me almost incredible, and the recollection of it like a dream, or as a circumstance which must have proceeded from the loss of my senses. Had this not happened, I could never, as I now thought, have suffered so long, without calling to mind the lessons which I had received from my Indian friend, for the very purpose of being useful to me in difficulties of this kind. These were, that, generally speaking, the tops of pine trees lean toward the rising of the sun; that moss grows toward the roots of trees on the side which faces the north; and that the limbs of trees are most numerous, and largest, on that which faces the south.
Determined to direct my feet by these marks, and persuaded that I should thus, sooner or later, reach lake Michigan, which I reckoned to be distant about sixty miles, I began my march at break of day. I had not taken, nor wished to take, any nourishment since I left the encampment; I had with me my gun and ammunition, and was therefore under no anxiety in regard to food. The snow lay about half a foot in depth.
My eyes were now employed upon the trees. When their tops leaned different ways, I looked to the moss, or to the branches; and by connecting one with another, I found the means of travelling with some degree of confidence. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun, to my inexpressible joy, broke from the clouds, and I had now no further need of examining the trees.
In going down the side of a lofty hill, I saw a herd of red deer approaching. Desirous of killing one of them for food, I hid myself in the bushes, and on a large one coming near, presented my piece, which missed fire, on account of the priming having been wetted. The animals walked along, without taking the least alarm; and, having reloaded my gun, I followed them, and presented a second time. But now a disaster of the heaviest kind had befallen me; for, on attempting to fire, I found that I had lost the cock. I had previously lost the screw by which it was fastened to the lock; and to prevent this from being lost also, I had tied it in its place, with a leather string. The lock, to prevent its catching in the boughs, I had carried under my molton coat.
Of all the sufferings which I had experienced, this seemed to me the most severe. I was in a strange country, and knew not how far I had to go. I had been three days without food; I was now without the means of procuring myself either food or fire. Despair had almost overpowered me; but I soon resigned myself into the hands of that Providence, whose arm had so often saved me, and returned on my track, in search of what I had lost. My search was in vain, and I resumed my course, wet, cold and hungry, and almost without clothing.
The sun was setting fast, when I descended a hill, at the bottom of which was a small lake, entirely frozen over. On drawing near, I saw a beaver lodge in the middle, offering some faint prospect of food; but I found it already broken up. While I looked at it, it suddenly occurred to me that I had seen it before; and turning my eyes round the place, I discovered a small tree which I had myself cut down, in the autumn, when, in company with my friends, I had taken the beaver. I was no longer at a loss, but knew both the distance and the route to the encampment. The latter was only to follow the course of a small stream of water, which ran from the encampment to the lake on which I stood. An hour before, I had thought myself the most miserable of men; and now I leaped for joy, and called myself the happiest.
The whole of the night, and through all the succeeding day, I walked up the rivulet, and at sunset reached the encampment where I was received with the warmest expressions of pleasure by the family, by whom I had been given up for lost, after a long and vain search for me in the woods.
Some days elapsed, during which I rested myself, and recruited my strength; after this, I resumed the chase, secure that, as the snow had now fallen, I could always return by the way I went.
In the course of the month of January, I happened to observe that the trunk of a very large pine tree was much torn by the claws of a bear, made both in going up and down. On further examination, I saw that there was a large opening in the upper part, near which the smaller branches were broken. From these marks, and from the additional circumstance that there were no tracks on the snow, there was reason to believe that a bear lay concealed in the tree.
On returning to the lodge, I communicated my discovery; and it was agreed that all the family should go together in the morning, to assist in cutting down the tree, the girth of which was not less than three fathom. (3 fathoms = 5.4864 meters, or 18 feet; so the trees trunk was 18 feet around!)) The women at first opposed the undertaking, because our axes, being only of a pound and a half weight, were not well adapted to so heavy a labor; but the hope of finding a large bear, and obtaining from its fat a great quantity of oil, an article at the time much wanted, at length prevailed.
Accordingly, in the morning, we surrounded the tree, both men and women, as many at a time as could conveniently work at it; and here we toiled like beaver till the sun went down. This day’s work carried us about half way through the trunk; and the next morning we renewed the attack, continuing it till about two o’clock in the afternoon, when the tree fell to the ground. For a few minutes, everything remained quiet, and I feared that all our expectations were disappointed; but as I advanced to the opening, there came out, to the great satisfaction of all our party, a bear of extraordinary size, which, before she had proceeded many yards, I shot.
The bear being dead, all my assistants approached, and all, but more particularly my old mother, (as I was wont to call her,) took his head in their hands, stroking and kissing it several times; begging a thousand pardons for taking away her life; calling her their relation and grandmother; and requesting her not to lay the fault upon them, since it was truly an Englishman that had put her to death.
This ceremony was not of long duration; and if it was I that killed their grandmother, they were not themselves behind-hand in what remained to be performed. The skin being taken off, we found the fat in several places six inches deep. This, being divided into two parts, loaded two persons; and the flesh parts were as much as four persons could carry. In all, the carcass must have exceeded five hundred weight.
As soon as we reached the lodge, the bear’s head was adorned with all the trinkets in the possession of the family, such as silver arm-bands and wrist-bands, and belts of wampum, and then laid upon a scaffold, set up for its reception, within the lodge. Near the nose was placed a large quantity of tobacco.
The next morning no sooner appeared than preparations were made for a feast to the manes. The lodge was cleaned and swept; and the head of the bear lifted up, and a new stroud blanket, which had never been used before, spread under it. The pipes were now lit; and Wawatam blew tobacco smoke into the nostrils of the bear, telling me to do the same, and thus appease the anger of the bear, on account of my having killed her. I endeavored to persuade my benefactor and friendly adviser that she no longer had any life, and assured him that I was under no apprehension from her displeasure; but the first proposition obtained no credit, and the second gave but little satisfaction.
At length, the feast being ready, Wawatam commenced a speech, resembling in many things his address to the manes of his relations and departed companions; but having this peculiarity, that he here deplored the necessity under which men labored thus to destroy their friends. He represented, however, that the misfortune was unavoidable, since without doing so they could by no means subsist. The speech ended, we all ate heartily of the bear’s flesh; and even the head itself, after remaining three days on the scaffold, was put into the kettle.
It is only the female bear that makes her winter lodging in the upper parts of trees, a practice by which her young are secured from the attacks of wolves and other animals. She brings forth in the winter season; and remains in her lodge till the cubs have gained some strength.
The male always lodges in the ground, under the roots of trees. He takes to this habitation as soon as the snow falls, and remains there till it has disappeared. The Indians remark that the bear comes out in the spring with the same fat which he carried in the autumn, but after exercise of only a few days becomes lean. Excepting for a short part of the season, the male lives constantly alone.
The fat of our bear was melted down, and the oil filled six porcupine skins. A part of the meat was cut into strips and fire-dried, after which it was put into the vessels containing the oil, where it remained in perfect preservation until the middle of summer.
February, in the country and by the people where and among whom I was, is called the Moon of Hard or Crusted Snow; for now the snow can bear a man, or at least dogs, in pursuit of animals of the chase. At this season, the stag is very successfully hunted, his feet breaking through at every step, and the crust upon the snow cutting his legs with its sharp edges to the very bone. He is consequently, in this distress, an easy prey; and it frequently happened that we killed twelve in the short space of two hours. By this means we were soon put into possession of four thousand weight of dried venison, which was to be carried on our backs, along with all the rest of our wealth, for seventy miles, the distance of our encampment from that part of the lake shore at which in the autumn we left our canoes. This journey it was our next business to perform.
Our venison and furs and peltries were to be disposed of at Michilimackinac, and it was now the season for carrying them to market. The women therefore prepared our loads; and the morning of departure being come, we set off at daybreak, and continued our march till two o’clock in the afternoon
Where we stopped we erected a scaffold, on which we deposited the bundles we had brought, and returned to our encampment, which we reached in the evening. In the morning, we carried fresh loads, which being deposited with the rest, we returned a second time in the evening. This we repeated, till all was forwarded one stage. Then, removing our lodge to the place of deposit, we carried our goods, with the same patient toil, a second stage; and so on, till we were at no great distance from the shores of the lake.
Arrived here, we turned our attention to sugar-making, the management of which, as I have before related, belongs to the women, the men cutting wood for the fires, and hunting and fishing. In the midst of this, we were joined by several lodges of Indians, most of whom were of the family to which I belonged, and had wintered near us. The lands belonged to this family, and it had therefore the exclusive right to hunt on them. This is according to the custom of the people; for each family has its own lands. I was treated very civilly by all the lodges.6
Our society had been a short time enlarged by this arrival of our friends, when an accident occurred which filled all the village with anxiety and sorrow. A little child, belonging to one of our neighbors, fell into a kettle of boiling syrup. It was instantly snatched out, but with little hope of its recovery.
So long, however, as it lived, a continual feast was observed; and this was made to the Great Spirit and Master of Life, that he might be pleased to save and heal the child. At this feast I was a constant guest; and often found difficulty in eating the large quantity of food which, on such occasions as these, is put upon each man’s dish. The Indians accustom themselves both to eat much and to fast much with facility.
Several sacrifices were also offered; among which were dogs, killed and hung upon the tops of poles, with the addition of stroud blankets and other articles. These also were given to the Great Spirit, in humble hope that he would give efficacy to the medicines employed.
The child died. To preserve the body from the wolves, it was placed upon a scaffold, where it remained till we went to the lake, on the border of which was the burial-ground of the family.
On our arrival there, which happened in the beginning of April, I did not fail to attend the funeral. The grave was made of a large size, and the whole of the inside lined with birch bark. On the bark was laid the body of the child, accompanied with an axe, a pair of snow-shoes, a small kettle, several pairs of common shoes, its own strings of beads, and because it was a girl, a carrying-belt and a paddle. The kettle was filled with meat.
All this was again covered with bark; and at about two feet nearer the surface, logs were laid across, and these again covered with bark, so that the earth might by no means fall upon the corpse.
The last act before the burial performed by the mother, crying over the dead body of her child, was that of taking from it a lock of hair for a memorial. While she did this I endeavored to console her, by offering the usual arguments: that the child was happy in being released from the miseries of this present life, and that she should forbear to grieve, because it would be restored to her in another world, happy and everlasting. She answered that she knew it, and that by the lock of hair she should discover her daughter, for she would take it with her. In this she alluded to the day when some pious hand would place in her own grave, along with the carrying-belt and paddle, this little relic, hallowed by maternal tears.
I have frequently inquired into the ideas and opinions of the Indians in regard to futurity, and always found that they were somewhat different in different individuals.
Some suppose their souls to remain in this world, although invisible to human eyes; and capable, themselves, of seeing and hearing their friends, and also of assisting them, in moments of distress and danger.
Others dismiss from the mortal scene the un-embodied spirit, and send it to a distant world or country, in which it receives reward or punishment, according to the life which it has led in its prior state. Those who have lived virtuously are transported into a place abounding with every luxury, with deer and all other animals of the woods and water, and where the earth produces, in their greatest perfection, all its sweetest fruits. While, on the other hand, those who have violated or neglected the duties of this life, are removed to a barren soil, where they wander up and down, among rocks and morasses, and are stung by gnats as large as pigeons.
While we remained on the border of the lake a watch was kept every night, in the apprehension of a speedy attack from the English, who were expected to avenge the massacre of Michilimackinac. The immediate grounds of this apprehension were the constant dreams, to this effect, of the more aged women. I endeavored to persuade them that nothing of the kind would take place; but their fears were not to be subdued.
Amid these alarms, there came a report concerning a real though less formidable enemy discovered in our neighborhood. This was a panther, which one of our young men had seen and which animal sometimes attacks and carries away the Indian children. Our camp was immediately on the alert, and we set off into the woods, about twenty in number. We had not proceeded more than a mile before the dogs found the panther, and pursued him to a tree, on which he was shot. He was of a large size.
On the twenty-fifth of April we embarked for Michilimackinac. At La Grande Traverse we met a large party of Indians, who appeared to labor, like ourselves, under considerable alarm; and who dared proceed no further, lest they should be destroyed by the English. Frequent councils of the united bands were held; and interrogations were continually put to myself as to whether or not I knew of any design to attack them. I found that they believed it possible for me to have a foreknowledge of events, and to be informed by dreams of all things doing at a distance.
Protestations of my ignorance were received with but little satisfaction, and incurred the suspicion of a design to conceal my knowledge. On this account, therefore, or because I saw them tormented with fears which had nothing but imagination to rest upon, I told them, at length, that I knew there was no enemy to insult them; and that they might proceed to Michilimackinac without danger from the English. I further, and with more confidence, declared that if ever my countrymen returned to Michilimackinac I would recommend them to their favor, on account of the good treatment which I had received from them. Thus encouraged, they embarked at an early hour the next morning. In crossing the bay we experienced a storm of thunder and lightning.
Our port was the village of L’Arbre Croche, which we reached in safety, and where we staid till the following day. At this village we found several persons who had been lately at Michilimackinac, and from them we had the satisfaction of learning that all was quiet there. The remainder of our voyage was therefore performed with confidence.
In the evening of the twenty-seventh we landed at the fort, which now contained only two French traders. The Indians who had arrived before us were very few in number; and by all, who were of our party, I was used very kindly. I had the entire freedom both of the fort and camp.
Wawatam and myself settled our stock, and paid our debts; and this done, I found that my share of what was left consisted in a hundred beaver-skins, sixty raccoon-skins, and six otter, of the total value of about one hundred and sixty dollars. With these earnings of my winter’s toil I proposed to purchase clothes, of which I was much in need, having been six months without a shirt; but, on inquiring into the prices of goods, I found that all my funds would not go far. I was able, however, to buy two shirts, at ten pounds of beaver each; a pair of leggins, or pantaloons, of scarlet cloth, which, with the ribbon to garnish them fashionably, cost me fifteen pounds of beaver; a blanket, at twenty pounds of beaver; and some other articles, at proportional rates. In this manner my wealth was soon reduced; but not before I had laid in a good stock of ammunition and tobacco. To the use of the latter I had become much attached during the winter. It was my principal recreation after returning from the chase; for my companions in the lodge were unaccustomed to pass the time in conversation. Among the Indians the topics of conversation are but few, and limited, for the most part, to the transactions of the day, the number of animals which they have killed, and of those which have escaped their pursuit, and other incidents of the chase. Indeed, the causes of taciturnity among the Indians may be easily understood, if we consider how many occasions of speech, which present themselves to us, are utterly unknown to them: the records of history, the pursuits of science, the disquisitions of philosophy, the systems of politics, the business and the amusements of the day, and the transactions of the four corners of the world.
Eight days had passed in tranquility, when there arrived a band of Indians from the Bay of Saguenaum. They had assisted at the siege of Detroit, and came to muster as many recruits for that service as they could. For my own part, I was soon informed that, as I was the only Englishman in the place, they proposed to kill me, in order to give their friends a mess of English broth to raise their courage.
This intelligence was not of the most agreeable kind; and in consequence of receiving it, I requested my friend to carry me to the Sault de Sainte Marie, at which place I knew the Indians to be peaceably inclined, and that M. Cadotte enjoyed a powerful influence over their conduct. They considered M. Cadotte as their chief; and he was not only my friend, but a friend to the English. It was by him that the Chippeways of Lake Superior were prevented from joining Pontiac.
Wawatam was not slow to exert himself for my preservation, but, leaving Michilimackinac in the night, transported myself and all his lodge to Point Saint Ignace, on the opposite side of the strait. Here we remained till daylight, and then went into the Bay of Boutchitaouy, in which we spent three days in fishing and hunting, and where we found plenty of wild-fowl. Leaving the bay, we made for the Isle aux Outardes, where we were obliged to put in, on account of the wind’s coming ahead. We proposed sailing for the Sault the next morning.
But when the morning came, Wawatam’s wife complained that she was sick, adding, that she had had bad dreams, and knew that if we went to the Sault we should all be destroyed. To have argued, at this time, against the infallibility of dreams, would have been extremely unadvisable, since I should have appeared to be guilty not only of an odious want of faith, but also of a still more odious want of sensibility to the possible calamities of a family which had done so much for the alleviation of mine. I was silent; but the disappointment seemed to seal my fate. No prospect opened to console me. To return to Michilimackinac could only ensure my destruction; and to remain at the island was to brave almost equal danger, since it lay in the direct route between the fort and the Missisaki, along which the Indians from Detroit were hourly expected to pass on the business of their mission. I doubted not but, taking advantage of the solitary situation of the family, they would carry into execution their design of killing me.
Unable therefore to take any part in the direction of our course, but a prey at the same time to the most anxious thoughts as to my own condition, I passed all the day on the highest part to which I could climb of a tall tree, and whence the lake, on both sides of the island, lay open to my view. Here I might hope to learn, at the earliest possible, the approach of canoes, and by this means be warned in time to conceal myself.
On the second morning I returned, as soon as it was light, to my watch-tower, on which I had not been long before I discovered a sail coming from Michilimackinac.
The sail was a white one, and much larger than those usually employed by the Northern Indians. I therefore indulged a hope that it might be a Canadian canoe, on its voyage to Montreal; and that I might be able to prevail upon the crew to take me with them, and thus release me from all my troubles.
My hopes continued to gain ground; for I soon persuaded myself that the manner in which the paddles were used, on board the canoe, was Canadian, and not Indian. My spirits were elated; but disappointment had become so usual with me that I could not suffer myself to look to the event with any strength of confidence.
Enough, however, appeared at length to demonstrate itself to induce me to descend the tree, and repair to the lodge, with my tidings and schemes of liberty. The family congratulated me on the approach of so fair an opportunity of escape; and my father and brother (for he was alternately each of these) lit his pipe, and presented it to me, saying, ” My son, this may be the last time that ever you and I shall smoke out of the same pipe! I am sorry to part with you. You know the affection which I have always borne you, and the dangers to which I have exposed myself and family, to preserve you from your enemies; and I am happy to find that my efforts promise not to have been in vain.” At this time a boy came into the lodge, informing us that the canoe had come from Michilimackinac, and was bound to the Sault de Sainte Marie. It was manned by three Canadians, and was carrying home Madame Cadotte, the wife of M. Cadotte, already mentioned.
My hopes of going to Montreal being now dissipated, I resolved on accompanying Madame Cadotte, with her permission, to the Sault. On communicating my wishes to Madame Cadotte, she cheerfully acceded to them. Madame Cadotte, as I have already mentioned, was an Indian woman of the Chippeway nation, and she was very generally respected.
My departure fixed upon, I returned to the lodge, where I packed up my wardrobe, consisting of my two shirts, pair of leggins, and blanket. Besides these, I took a gun and ammunition, presenting what remained further to my host. I also returned the silver armbands with which the family had decorated me the year before.
We now exchanged farewells with an emotion entirely reciprocal. I did not quit the lodge without the most grateful sense of the many acts of goodness which I had experienced in it, nor without the sincerest respect for the virtues which I had witnessed among its members. All the family accompanied me to the beach; and the canoe had no sooner put off than Wawatam commenced an address to the Kichi Manito, beseeching him to take care of me, his brother, till we should next meet. This he had told me would not be long, as he intended to return to Michilimackinac for a short time only, and would then follow me to the Sault. We had proceeded to too great a distance to allow of our hearing his voice before Wawatam had ceased to offer up his prayers.
Being now no longer in the society of the Indians, I laid aside the dress, putting on that of a Canadian: a molton or blanket coat, over my shirt; and a handkerchief about my head, hats being very little worn in this country.
At daybreak, on the second morning of our voyage, we embarked, and presently perceived several canoes behind us. As they approached, we ascertained them to be the fleet, bound for the Missisaki, of which I had been so long in dread.
It amounted to twenty sail.
On coming up with us, and surrounding our canoe, and amid general inquiries concerning the news, an Indian challenged me for an Englishman, and his companions supported him, by declaring that I looked very like one; but I affected not to understand any of the questions which they asked me, and Madame Cadotte assured them that I was a Canadian, whom she had brought on his first voyage from Montreal.
The following day saw us safely landed at the Sault, where I experienced a generous welcome from M. Cadotte. There were thirty warriors at this place, restrained from joining in the war only by M. Cadotte‘s influence.
Here, for five days, I was once more in possession of tranquility; but on the sixth a young Indian came into M. Cadotte‘s, saying that a canoe full of warriors had just arrived from Michilimackinac; that they had inquired for me; and that he believed their intentions to be bad. Nearly at the same time, a message came from the good chief of the village, desiring me to conceal myself until he should discover the views and temper of the strangers.
A garret was the second time my place of refuge; and it was not long before the Indians came to M. Cadotte‘s. My friend immediately informed Mutchikiwish, their chief, who was related to his wife, of the design imputed to them, of mischief against myself. Mutchikiwish frankly acknowledged that they had had such a design; but added that if displeasing to M. Cadotte, it should be abandoned. He then further stated, that their errand was to raise a party of warriors to return with them to Detroit; and that it had been their intention to take me with them
In regard to the principal of the two objects thus disclosed, M. Cadotte proceeded to assemble all the chiefs and warriors of the village; and these, after deliberating for some time among themselves, sent for the strangers, to whom both M. Cadotte and the chief of the village addressed a speech. In these speeches, after recurring to the designs confessed to have been entertained against myself, who was now declared to be under the immediate protection of all the chiefs, by whom any insult I might sustain would be avenged, the ambassadors were peremptorily told that they might go back as they came, none of the young men of this village being foolish enough to join them.
A moment after, a report was brought, that a canoe had just arrived from Niagara. As this was a place from which everyone was anxious to hear news, a message was sent to these fresh strangers, requesting them to come to the council.
The strangers came accordingly, and being seated, a long silence ensued. At length, one of them, taking up a belt of wampum, addressed himself thus to the assembly: “My friends and brothers, I am come, with this belt, from our Great father, Sir William Johnson. He desired me to come to you as his ambassador, and tell you that he is making a great feast at fort Niagara; that his kettles are all ready, and his fires lit. He invites you to partake of the feast, in common with your friends, the Six Nations, which have all made peace with the English. He advises you to seize this opportunity of doing the same, as you cannot otherwise fail of being destroyed; for the English are on their march, with a great army, which will be joined by different nations of Indians. In a word, before the fall of the leaf, they will be at Michilimackinac, and the Six Nations with them.”
The tenor of this speech greatly alarmed the Indians of the Sault, who, after a very short consultation, agreed to send twenty deputies to Sir William Johnson, at Niagara. This was a project highly interesting to me, since it offered me the means of leaving the country. I intimated this to the chief of the village, and received his promise that I should accompany the deputation.
Very little time was proposed to be lost, in setting forward on the voyage: but the occasion was of too much magnitude not to call for more than human knowledge and discretion; and preparations were accordingly made for solemnly invoking and consulting the Great Turtle.
For invoking and consulting the Great Turtle, the first thing to be done was the building of a large house or wigwam, within which was placed a species of tent, for the use of the priest and reception of the spirit. The tent was formed of moose-skins, hung over a frame-work of wood. Five poles, or rather pillars, of five different species of timber, about ten feet in height, and eight inches in diameter, were set in a circle of about four feet in diameter. The holes made to receive them were about two feet deep; and the pillars being set, the holes were filled up again, with the earth which had been dug out. At top the pillars were bound together by a circular hoop, or girder. Over the whole of this edifice were spread the moose-skins, covering it at top and round the sides, and made fast with thongs of the same; except that on one side a part was left unfastened, to admit of the entrance of the priest.
The ceremonies did not commence but with the approach of night. To give light within the house, several fires were kindled round the tent. Nearly the whole village assembled in the house and myself among the rest. It was not long before the priest appeared, almost in a state of nakedness. As he approached the tent the skins were lifted up, as much as was necessary to allow of his creeping under them, on his hands and knees. His head was scarcely with inside, when the edifice, massy as it has been described, began to shake; and the skins were no sooner let fall, than the sounds of numerous voices were heard beneath them, some yelling, some barking as dogs, some howling like wolves, and in this horrible concert were mingled screams and sobs, as of despair, anguish and the sharpest pain. Articulate speech was also uttered, as if from human lips, but in a tongue unknown to any of the audience.
After some time, these confused and frightful noises were succeeded by a perfect silence; and now a voice, not heard before, seemed to manifest the arrival of a new character in the tent. This was a low and feeble voice, resembling the cry of a young puppy. The sound was no sooner distinguished, than all the Indians clapped their hands for joy, ex-claiming, that this was the Chief Spirit, the Turtle, the spirit that never lied! Other voices, which they had discriminated from time to time, they had previously hissed, as recognizing them to belong to evil and lying spirits, which deceive mankind.
New sounds came from the tent. During the space of half an hour, a succession of songs were heard, in which a diversity of voices met the ear. From his first entrance, till these songs were finished, we heard nothing in the proper voice of the priest; but now, he addressed the multitude, declaring the presence of the Great Turtle and the spirit’s readiness to answer such questions as should be proposed.
The questions were to come from the chief of the village, who was silent, however, till after he had put a large quantity of tobacco into the tent, introducing it at the aperture. This was a sacrifice offered to the spirit; for spirits are supposed by the Indians to be as fond of tobacco as themselves. The tobacco accepted, he desired the priest to inquire whether or not the English were preparing to make war upon the Indians; and whether or not there were at fort Niagara a large number of English troops.
These questions having been put by the priest, the tent instantly shook; and for some seconds after it continued to rock so violently that I expected to see it leveled with the ground. All this was a prelude, as I supposed, to the answers to be given; but a terrific cry announced, with sufficient intelligibility, the departure of the Turtle.
A quarter of an hour elapsed in silence, and I waited impatiently to discover what was to be the next incident in this scene of imposture. It consisted in the return of the spirit, whose voice was again heard, and who now delivered a continued speech. The language of the Great Turtle, like that which we had heard before, was wholly unintelligible to every ear, that of his priest excepted; and it was, therefore, not till the latter gave us an interpretation, which did not commence before the spirit had finished, that we learned the purport of this extraordinary communication.
The spirit, as we were now informed by the priest, had, during his short absence, crossed Lake Huron, and even proceeded as far as fort Niagara, which is at the head of Lake Ontario, and thence to Montreal. At Fort Niagara, he had seen no great number of soldiers; but on descending the St. Lawrence, as low as Montreal, he had found the river covered with boats, and the boats filled with soldiers, in number like the leaves of the trees. He had met them on their way up the river, coming to make war upon the Indians.
The chief had a third question to propose, and the spirit, without a fresh journey to fort Niagara, was able to give an instant and most favorable answer. “If,” said the chief, “the Indians visit Sir William Johnson, will they be received as friends?”
“Sir William Johnson,” said the spirit, (and after the spirit the priest,) “Sir William Johnson will fill their canoes with presents, with blankets, kettles, guns, gunpowder and shot, and large barrels of rum, such as the stoutest of the Indians will not be able to lift; and every man will return in safety to his family.”
At this, the transport was universal; and, amid the clapping of hands, a hundred voices exclaimed, “I will go, too! I will go too!”
The questions of public interest being resolved, individuals were now permitted to seize the opportunity of inquiring into the condition of their absent friends, and the fate of such as were sick. I observed that the answers, given to these questions, allowed of much latitude of interpretation.
Amid this general inquisitiveness, I yielded to the solicitations of my own anxiety for the future; and having first, like the rest, made my offering of tobacco, I inquired whether or not I should ever revisit my native country. The question being put by the priest, the tent shook as usual; after which I received this answer: “That I should take courage, and fear no danger, for that nothing would happen to hurt me; and that I should, in the end, reach my friends and country in safety.”
These assurances wrought so strongly on my gratitude, that I presented an additional and extra offering of tobacco.
The Great Turtle continued to be consulted till near midnight, when all the crowd dispersed to their respective lodges. I was on the watch, through the scene I have described, to detect the particular contrivances by which the fraud was carried on; but such was the skill displayed in the performance, or such my deficiency of penetration, that I made no discoveries, but came away as I went, with no more than those general surmises which will naturally be entertained by every reader.7
On the 10th of June, I embarked with the Indian deputation, composed of sixteen men. Twenty had been the number originally designed; and upward of fifty actually engaged themselves to the council for the undertaking; to say nothing of the general enthusiasm, at the moment of hearing the Great Turtle’s promises. But exclusively of the degree of timidity which still prevailed, we are to take into account the various domestic calls, which might supersede all others, and detain many with their families.
In the evening of the second day of our voyage, we reached the mouth of the Missisaki, where we found about forty Indians, by whom we were received with abundant kindness, and at night regaled at a great feast, held on account of our arrival. The viand was a preparation of the roe of the sturgeon, beat up, and boiled, and of the consistence of porridge.
After eating, several speeches were made to us, of which the general topic was a request that we should recommend the village to Sir William Johnson. This request was also specially addressed to me, and I promised to comply with it.
On the 14th of June, we passed the village of La Cloche, of which the greater part of the inhabitants were absent, being already on a visit to Sir William Johnson. This circumstance greatly encouraged the companions of my voyage, who now saw that they were not the first to run into danger.
The next day, about noon, the wind blowing very hard, we were obliged to put ashore at Point aux Grondines, a place of which some description has been given above. While the Indians erected a hut, I employed myself in making a fire. As I was gathering wood, an unusual sound fixed my attention for a moment; but, as it presently ceased, and as I saw nothing from which I could suppose it to proceed, I continued my employment, till, advancing further, I was alarmed by a repetition. I imagined that it came from above my head; but after looking that way in vain, I cast my eyes on the ground, and there discovered a rattlesnake, at not more than two feet from my naked legs. The reptile was coiled, and its head raised considerably above its body. Had I advanced another step before my discovery, I must have trodden upon it.
I no sooner saw the snake than I hastened to the canoe, in order to procure my gun; but the Indians, observing what I was doing, inquired the occasion, and being informed, begged me to desist. At the same time they followed me to the spot, with their pipes and tobacco pouches in their hands. On returning, I found the snake still coiled.
The Indians, on their part, surrounded it, all addressing it by turns and calling it their grandfather; but yet keeping at some distance. During this part of the ceremony they filled their pipes; and now each blew the smoke toward the snake, who, as it appeared to me, really received it with pleasure. In a word, after remaining coiled and receiving incense, for the space of half an hour, it stretched itself along the ground in visible good humor. Its length was between four and five feet. Having remained outstretched for some time, at last it moved slowly away, the Indians following it, and still addressing it by the title of grandfather, beseeching it to take care of their families during their absence, and to be pleased to open the heart of Sir William Johnson, so that he might show them charity, and fill their canoe with rum.
One of the chiefs added a petition that the snake would take no notice of the insult which had been offered him by the Englishman, who would even have put him to death but for the interference of the Indians, to whom it was hoped he would impute no part of the offense. They further requested that he would remain and inhabit their country, and not return among the English, that is, go eastward.
After the rattlesnake was gone, I learned that this was the first time that an individual of the species had been seen so far to the northward and westward of the river Des Français; a circumstance, moreover, from which my companions were disposed to infer that this manito had come or been sent on purpose to meet them; that his errand had been no other than to stop them on their way; and that consequently it would be most advisable to return to the point of departure. I was so fortunate; however, as to prevail with them to embark; and at six o’clock in the evening we again encamped. Very little was spoken of through the evening, the rattlesnake excepted.
Early the next morning we proceeded. We had a serene sky and very little wind, and the Indians therefore determined on steering across the lake to an island which just appeared in the horizon; saving, by this course, a distance of thirty miles, which would be lost in keeping the shore. At nine o’clock, A. M. we had a light breeze astern, to enjoy the benefit of which we hoisted sail. Soon after the wind increased, and the Indians, beginning to be alarmed, frequently called on the rattle-snake to come to their assistance. By degrees the waves grew high; and at eleven o’clock it blew a hurricane, and we expected every moment to be swallowed up. From prayers the Indians now preceded to sacrifices, both alike offered to the god rattlesnake, or manito kinibic. One of the chiefs took a dog, and after tying its fore legs together threw it overboard, at the same time calling on the snake to preserve us from being drowned, and desiring him to satisfy his hunger with the carcass of the dog. The snake was unpropitious, and the wind increased. Another chief sacrificed another dog, with the addition of some tobacco. In the prayer which accompanied these gifts, he besought the snake, as before, not to avenge upon the Indians the insult which he had received from myself, in the conception of a design to put him to death. He assured the snake that I was absolutely an Englishman, and of kin neither to him nor to them.
At the conclusion of this speech, an Indian who sat near me observed, that if we were drowned it would be for my fault alone, and that I ought myself to be sacrificed, to appease the angry manito; nor was I without apprehensions that in case of extremity this would be my fate; but, happily for me, the storm at length abated, and we reached the island safely.
The next day was calm, and we arrived at the entrance8 of the navigation which leads to lake Aux Claies.9 We presently passed two short carrying places, at each of which were several lodges of Indians,10 containing only women and children, the men being gone to the council at Niagara. From this, as from a former instance, my companions derived new courage.
On the 18th of June, we crossed Lake Aux Claies, which appeared to be upward of twenty miles in length. At its further end we came to the carrying place of Toranto.11 Here the Indians obliged me to carry a burden of more than a hundred pounds weight. The day was very hot, and the woods and marshes abounded with mosquitoes; but the Indians walked at a quick pace, and I could by no means see myself left behind. The whole country was a thick forest, through which our only road was a footpath, or such as in America, is exclusively termed an Indian path.
Next morning at ten o’clock we reached the shore of Lake Ontario. Here we were employed two days in making canoes out of the bark of the elm tree, in which we were to transport ourselves to Niagara. For this purpose the Indians first cut down a tree; then stripped off the bark in one entire sheet of about eighteen feet in length, the incision being lengthwise. The canoe was now complete as to its top, bottom, and sides. Its ends were next closed by sewing the bark together; and a few ribs and bars being introduced, the architecture was finished. In this manner we made two canoes, of which one carried eight men and the other nine.
On the 21st, we embarked at Toronto and encamped in the evening four miles short of fort Niagara, which the Indians would not approach till morning.
At dawn, the Indians were awake, and presently assembled in council, still doubtful as to the fate they were to encounter. I assured them of the most friendly welcome; and at length, after painting themselves with the most lively colors, in token of their own peaceable views and after singing the song which is in use among them on going into danger, they embarked, and made for point Missisaki, which is on the north side of the mouth of the river or strait of Niagara, as the fort is on the south. A few minutes after I crossed over to the fort; and here I was received by Sir William Johnson, in a manner for which I have ever been gratefully attached to his person and memory.
Thus was completed my escape from the sufferings and dangers which the capture of Fort Michilimackinac brought upon me; but the property which I had carried into the upper country was left behind. The reader will therefore be far from attributing to me any idle or unaccountable motive, when he finds me returning to the scene of my misfortunes.
- Alexander Henry’s Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776
A more extensive manuscript depicting the life of Alexander Henry while fur trading, includes his captivity and release.
Mr. Henry was an Indian trader in America for about sixteen years. He came to Canada with the army of General Amherst, and previous to his being made prisoner by the Indians experienced a variety of fortune. His narrative, as will be seen, is written with great candor as well as ability, and to the discriminating reader needs no encomium. He was living in Montreal in 1809, as appears from the date of his preface to his Travels, which he published in New York that year, with a dedication to Sir Joseph Banks. Ed. ↩
The Langlade family was quite active and prominent at Michilimackinac. We have a narrative of Angelique Langlade, a Chippewa métis daughter of Charles Langlade and Ah-quah-da. The Langlade mentioned here was Captain Charles Langlade, gr-grandfather of Angelique. ↩
Panis is a term given in French records to slave Indians, and comes from the capture of so many Pawnee when they were settled on the Missouri River, however it could denote an Indian slave of any tribe. ↩
Manomines, or Malomines, later known as Menominees. In the first syllable, the substitution of l for n, and n for i, marks one of the differences in the Chippeway and Algonquin dialects. In the mouth of an Algonquin, it is Michilimackinac in that of a Chippeway, Michilimackinac. ↩
populus nigra, called by the Canadians Hard ↩
While not exclusive to the Algonquian Indians, this was a more established tradition for them then most other Indian families. ↩
M. de Champlain has left an account of an exhibition of the nature here described, which may be seen in Charlevoix’s Histoire et Description Generale de la Nouvelle France, livre IV. This took place in the year 1609, and was performed among a party of warriors, composed of Algonquins, Montagnez and Hurons. Carver witnessed another, among the Christinaux. So as not to confuse you, Christinaux is another term for the Cree tribe. In each case, the details are somewhat different, but the outline is the same. M. de Champlain mentions that he saw the jongleur shake the stakes or pillars of the tent. I was not so fortunate; but this is the obvious explanation of that part of the mystery to which it refers. Captain Carver leaves the whole in darkness. ↩
This is the bay of Matchedash, or Matchitashk. ↩
This lake, which is now called Lake Simcoe, lies between Lakes Huron and Ontario. ↩
Toranto, or Toronto, is the name of a French trading house on Lake Ontario, built near the site of the present town of York, the capital of the province of Upper Canada. [It is one of the most important places in that province at this time. Ed ] ↩