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Powhatan Hunting Customs

The marsh and swamp area of tidewater Virginia is extensive. For many miles both banks of the rivers are bordered by lowlands, which are inundated by the tides. In nearly all the rivers this occurs as far as 60 to 70 miles from Chesapeake Bay. Some of these tracts are marshy flats covered with a growth of dock, rushes, and cattails. Others are overgrown with virgin forests of cypress, swamp oak, swamp gum, maple, and red birch. In the picturesque vernacular of the region such are called “low grounds.” In some places the swamps extend continuously from one to three or four miles following the windings of the river, and reach from a quarter of a mile to a mile and a half back toward the higher ground. The swamps provide cover for consider-able game, and it is in these fastnesses that the Pamunkey of today, as they did of old, pass much of the time in gaining a livelihood. The marsh flats provide feeding and roosting grounds for hosts of wild fowl which engage the attention of the Indians during the migration periods. The Virginia deer have survived as the last of the big game on the Pamunkey river, and some old deer-hunting practices have continued to the present time. The passing of the bear and beaver, however, dates back earlier than the memory of the living generations. Yet the bear lingers with surprising persistence in the Great Dismal Swamp on the line dividing Virginia from North Carolina. This imposing wilderness, however, is too far from the haunts of the Pamunkey for them to know much about it...

The Trappers

In speaking of the Indians, I have almost forgotten two bold adventurers of another race, the trappers Rouleau and Saraphin. These men were bent on a most hazardous enterprise. A day’s journey to the westward was the country over which the Arapahoes are accustomed to range, and for which the two trappers were on the point of setting out. These Arapahoes, of whom Shaw and I afterward fell in with a large village, are ferocious barbarians, of a most brutal and wolfish aspect, and of late they had declared themselves enemies to the whites, and threatened death to the first who should venture within their territory. The occasion of the declaration was as follows: In the previous spring, 1845, Colonel Kearny left Fort Leavenworth with several companies of dragoons, and marching with extraordinary celerity reached Fort Laramie, whence he passed along the foot of the mountains to Bent’s Fort and then, turning eastward again, returned to the point from whence he set out. While at Fort Larantie, he sent a part of his command as far westward as Sweetwater, while he himself remained at the fort, and dispatched messages to the surrounding Indians to meet him there in council. Then for the first time the tribes of that vicinity saw the white warriors, and, as might have been expected, they were lost in astonishment at their regular order, their gay attire, the completeness of their martial equipment, and the great size and power of their horses. Among the rest, the Arapahoes came in considerable numbers to the fort. They had lately committed numerous acts of outrage, and Colonel Kearny...

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