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Title: Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians
Author: Elias Johnson
Release Date: April, 2005 [EBook #7978]
[This file was first posted on June 8, 2003]
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LEGENDS, TRADITIONS, AND LAWS OF THE
IROQUOIS, OR SIX NATIONS
HISTORY OF THE TUSCARORA INDIANS
A NATIVE TUSCARORA CHIEF.
"A book about Indians!"--who cares anything about them?
This will probably be the exclamation of many who glance on my little page. To those who know nothing concerning them, a whole book about Indians will seem a very prosy affair, to whom I can answer nothing, for they wil not proceed as far as my Preface to see what reasons I can render for the seeming fol y.
But to those who are wil ing to listen, I can say that the Indians are a very interesting people, whether I have made an interesting book about them or not.
The Antiquarian, the Historian, and the Scholar, have been a long time studying Indian character, and have given plenty of information concerning the Indian, but it is al in ponderous volumes for State and Col ege libraries, and quite inaccessible to the multitude--those who only take up such book as may be held in the hand, sitting by the fire,--stil remain very ignorant of the Children of Nature who inhabited the forests before the Saxon set his foot upon our shores.
There is also a great deal of prejudice, the consequence of this ignorance, and the consequence of the representations of your forefathers who were brought into contact with the Indians, under circumstances that made it impossible to judge impartial y and correctly.
The Histories which are in the schools, and from which the first impressions are obtained, are still very deficient in what they relate of Indian History, and most of them are still fil ing the minds of children and youth, with imperfect ideas. I have read many of the Histories, and have longed to see refuted the slanders, and blot out the dark pictures which the historians have wont to spread abroad concerning us. May I live to see the day when it may be done, for most deeply have I learned to blush for my people.
I thought, at first, of only giving a series of Indian Biographies, but without some knowledge of the government and religion of the Iroquois, the character of the Indians could not be understood or appreciated.
I enter upon the task with much distrust. It is a difficult task at al times to speak and to write in foreign language, and I fear I shall not succeed to the satisfaction of myself, or to my readers.
My title wil not be so attractive to the American ears, as if it related to any other unknown people. A tour in Arabia, or Spain, or in India, or some other foreign country, with far less important and interesting material, would secure a greater number of readers, as we are always more curious about things afar off.
I might have covered many pages with "Indian Atrocities," but these have been detailed in other histories, til they are familiar to every ear, and I had neither room nor inclination for even a glance at war and its dark records.
To animate a kinder feeling between the white people and the Indians, established by a truer knowledge of our civil and domestic life, and of our capabilities for future elevation, is the motive for which this work is founded.
The present Tuscarora Indians, the once powerful and gifted nation, after their expulsion from the South, came North, and were initiated in the confederacy of the Iroquois, and who formerly held under their jurisdiction the largest portion of the Eastern States, now dwel within your bounds, as dependent nations, subject to the guardianship and supervision of a people who displaced their forefathers. Our numbers, the circumstances of our past history and present condition, and more especially the relation in which we stand to the people of the State, suggest many important questions concerning our future destiny.
Being born to an inauspicious fate, which makes us the _inheritors of many wrongs_, we have been unable, of ourselves, to escape from the complicated difficulties which accelerate our decline. To make worse these adverse influences, the public estimation of the Indian, resting, as it does, upon the imperfect knowledge of their character, and infused, as it ever has been, with the prejudice, is universal y unjust.
The time has come in which it is no more than right to cast away al ancient antipathies, al inherited opinions, and to take a nearer view of our social life, condition and wants, and to learn anew your duty concerning the Indians. Nevertheless, the embarrassments that have obstructed our progress, in the obscurity which we have lived, and the prevailing indifference to our welfare, we have gradual y overcame many of the evils inherent in our social system, and raised ourselves to a degree of prosperity. Our present condition, if considered in connection with the ordeal through which we have passed, shows that there is the presence of an element in our character which must eventual y lead to important results.
As I do not profess that this work is based upon authorities, a question might arise in the breast of some reader, where these materials were derived, or what reliance is to be placed upon its contents. The credibility of a witness is known to depend chiefly upon his means of knowledge. For this reason, I deem it important to state, that I was born and brought up by Tuscarora Indian parents on their Reservation in the Town of Lewiston, N.Y. From my childhood up was natural y inquisitive and delighted in thrilling stories, which led me to frequent the old people of my childhood's days, and solicited them to relate the old Legends and their Traditions, which they always delighted to do. I have sat by their fireside and heard them, and thus they were instil ed upon my young mind.
I also owe much of my information to our Chief, JOHN MT. PLEASANT. I have also read much of Indian history, and compared them with our LEGENDS and TRADITIONS.
NATIONAL TRAITS OF CHARACTER.
In al the early histories of the American Colonies, in the stories of Indian life and the delineations of Indian character, these children of nature are represented as savages and barbarians, and in the mind of a large portion of the community the sentiment still prevails that they were blood-thirsty, revengeful, and merciless, justly a terror to both friends and foes. Children are impressed with the idea that an Indian is scarcely human, and as much to be feared as the most ferocious animal of the forest.
Novelists have now and then clothed a few with a garb which excites your imagination, but seldom has one been invested with qualities which you would love, unless it were also said that through some captive taken in distant war, he inherited a whiter skin and a paler blood.
But I am inclined to think that Indians are not alone in being savage--not alone barbarous, heartless, and merciless.
It is said they were exterminating each other by aggressive and devastating wars, before the white people came among them. But wars, aggressive and exterminating wars, certainly, are not proofs of barbarity. The bravest warrior was the most honored, and this has been ever true of Christian nations, and those who cal themselves christians have not yet ceased to look upon him who could plan most successful y the wholesale slaughter of human beings, as the most deserving his king's or his country's laurels. How long since the pean died away in praise of the Duke of Wel ington? What have been the wars in which al Europe, or of America, has been engaged, That there has been no records of her history?
For what are civilized and christian nations drenching their fields with blood?
It is said the Indian was cruel to the captives, and inflicted unspeakable torture upon his enemy taken in battle. But from what we know of them, it is not to be inferred that Indian Chiefs were ever guilty of filling dungeons with innocent victims, or slaughtering hundreds and thousands of their own people, whose only sin was a quiet dissent from some religious dogma. Towards their enemies they were often relentless, and they had good reason to look upon the white man as their enemy. They slew them in battle, plotted against them secretly, and in a few instances comparatively, subjected individuals to torture, burned them at the stake, and, perhaps, flayed them alive. But who knows anything of the precepts and practices of the Roman Catholic Christendom, and quote these things as proofs of unmitigated barbarity.
At the very time that the Indians were using the tomahawk and scalping-knife to avenge their wrongs, peaceful citizens in every country of Europe, where the Pope was the man of authority, were incarcerated for no crime whatever, and such refinement of torture invented and practiced, as never entered in the heart of the fiercest Indian warrior that roamed the wilderness to inflict upon man or beast.
We know very little of the secrets of the inquisition, and this little chil s our blood with horror. Yet these things were done in the name of Christ, the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, and not savage, but civilized. Christian men looked on, not coldly, but rejoicingly, while women and children writhed in flames and weltered in blood. Were the atrocities committed in the vale of Wyoming and Cherry Val ey unprecedented among the Waldensian fastnesses and the mountains of Aurvergne? Who has read Fox's book of Martyrs, and found anything to parallel it in all the records of Indian warfare? The slaughter of St.
Bartholomew's days, the destruction of the Jews in Spain, and the Scotch Covenanters, were in obedience to the mandates of Christian princes,--
aye, and some of them devised by Christian women who professed to be serving God, and to make the Bible the man of their counsel.
It is said also that the Indians were treacherous, and more, no compliance with the conditions of any treaty, was ever to be trusted. But the Puritan fathers cannot be wholly exonerated from the charge of faithlessness; and who does not blush to talk of Indian traitors when he remembers the Spanish invasion and the fall of the princely and magnanimous Montezuma?
Indians believed in witches, and burned them, too. And did not the sainted Baxter, with the Bible in his hand, pronounce it right, and was not the Indian permitted to be present, when the quiet unoffending woman was cast into the fire, by the decree of a Puritan council?
To come down to the more decidedly Christian times, it is not so very long since, in Protestant England, hanging was the punishment of a petty thief, long and hopeless imprisonment of a slight misdemeanor, when men were set up to be stoned and spit upon by those who claimed the exclusive right to be called humane and merciful.
Again, it is said, the Indian mode of warfare is, without exception, the most inhuman and revolting. But I do not know that those who die by the barbed and poisoned arrow linger in any more unendurable torment than those who are mangled with powder and lead bal s, and the custom of scalping among Christian murderers would save thousands from groaning days, and perhaps weeks, among heaps that cover victorious fields and fill hospitals with the wounded and dying. But scalping is not an invention exclusively Indian. "It claims," says Prescott, "high authority, or, at least, antiquity." And, further history, Herodotus, gives an account of it among the Scythians, showing that they performed the operation, and wore the scalp of their enemies taken in battle, as trophies, in the same manner as the North American Indian. Traces of the custom are also found in the laws of the Visigaths, among the Franks, and even the Anglo Saxons. The Northern Indians did not scalp, but they had a system of slavery, of which there are no traces to be found among the customs, laws, or legends of the Iroquois.
Again, it is said, "They carried away women and children captive, and in their long journey through the wilderness, they were subjected to heartrending trials."
The wars of Christian men throw hundreds and thousands of women and children helpless upon the cold world, to toil, to beg, and to starve.
This is not so bright a picture as is usually given of people who have written laws and have stores of learning, but people cannot see in any place that the coloring is too dark! There is no danger of painting Indians so they wil become attractive to the civilized people.
There is a bright and pleasing side to the Indian character, and thinking that there has been enough written of their wars and cruelties, of the hunter's and fisherman's life, I have sat down at their fireside, listened to their legends, and am acquainted with their domestic habits, understand their finer feelings and the truly noble traits of their character.
It is so long now since they were the lords of this country, and formidable as your enemies, and they are so utterly wasted away and melted like snow under the meridian sun, and helpless, that you can sit down and afford to listen to the truth, and to believe that even your enemies had their virtues. Man was created in the image of God, and it cannot be that anything human is utterly vile and contemptible.
Those who have thought of Indians as roaming about in the forests hunting and fishing, or at war, will laugh, perhaps, at the idea of Indian homes, and domestic happiness. Yet there are no people of which we have any knowledge, among whom, in their primitive state, family ties and relationship were more distinctly defined, or more religiously respected than the Iroquois.
The treatment which they received from the white people, whom they always considered as intruders, aroused, and kept in exercise all their ferocious passions, so that none except those who associated with them as missionaries, or as captives, saw them in their true character, as they were to each other.
Almost any portrait that we see of an Indian, he is represented with tomahawk and scalping knife in hand, as if they possessed no other but a barbarous nature. Christian nations might with equal justice be always represented with cannon and bal s, swords and pistols, as the emblems of their employment and their prevailing tastes.
The details of war are from far to great a portion of every History of civilized and barbarous nations, to conquer and to slay has been to long the glory of the christian people; he who has been most successful in subjugating and oppressing, in mowing down human beings, has too long wore the laural crown, been too long an object for the admiration of men and the love of women.
It seems you might be weary of the pomp and circumstance of war, of princely banquets, and gay cavalcades. The time and space you bestow upon King and courts, and the homage you pay to empty titles, are unworthy your professed republican spirit and preferences, let us turn aside from the war path, and sit down by the hearth-stone of peace.
In the picture which I have given, I have confined myself principal y to the Iroquois, or Six Nations, a people who no more deserve the term savage, than the whites do that of heathen, because they have still lingering among them heathen superstitions, and many opinions and practices which deserves no better name.
The cannibals of some of the west Indies Islands, and the Islands of the Pacific, may with justice be termed savage, but a people like the Iroquois who had a goverment, established offices, a system of religion eminently pure and Spiritual, a code of honor and laws of hospitality, excelling those of al other nations, should be considered something better than savage, or utterly barbarous.
The terrible torture they inflicted upon their enemies, have made their name a terror, and yet there were not so many burnt, hung, and starved by them, as perished among Christian nations by these means. The miseries they inflicted were light, in comparison, with those they suffered. If individuals should have come among you to expose the barbarities of savage white men, the deeds they relate would quite equal anything known of Indian cruelty. The picture an Indian gives of civilized barbarism leaves the revolting custom of the wilderness quite in the back-ground.
You experienced their revenge when you had put their souls and bodies at a stake, with your fire-water that maddened their brains. There was a pure and beautiful spirituality in their faith, and their conduct was much more influenced by it, as are any people, Christian or Pagan.
Is there anything more barbaric in the annals of Indian warfare, than the narrative of the Pequod Indians? In one place we read of the surprise of an Indian fort by night, when the inmates were slumbering, unconscious of any danger. When they awoke they were wrapped in flames, and when they Attempted to flee, were shot down like beasts. From vil age to village, from wigwam to wigwam, the murderers proceeded, "being resolved," as your historian piously remarks, "by God's assistance, to make a final destruction of them," until final y a small but gallant band took refuge in a swamp. Burning with indignation, and made sul en by dispair, with hearts bursting with grief at the destruction of their nation, and spirits galled and sore at the fancied ignominy of their defeat, they refused to ask life at the hands of an insulting foe, and preferred death to submission. As the night drew on, they were surrounded in their dismal retreat, vol eys of musketry poured into their midst, until nearly al were kil ed or buried in the mire. In the darkness of a thick fog which preceded the dawn of day, a few broke through the ranks of the beseigers and escaped to the woods.
Again, the same historian tel s us that the few that remained, "stood like sul en dogs to be kil ed rather than to implore mercy, and the soldiers on entering the swamp, found many sitting together in groups, when they approached, and resting their guns on the boughs of trees, within a few yards of them, literal y fil ed their bodies with bullets."
But they were Indians, and it was pronounnced a pious work. But when the Gauls invaded Italy, and the Roman Senators, in their purple robes and chairs of State, sat unmoved in the presence of barbarian conquerors, disdaining to flee, and equal y disdaining to supplicate for mercy, it is applauded as noble, as dying like statesmen and philosophers. But the Indians with far more to lose and infinitely greater provocation, sits upon his mother earth upon the green mound, beneath the canopy of Heaven, and refuses to ask mercy of civilized fiends, he is stigmatized as dogs, spiritless, and sul en. What a different name has greatness, clothed in the garb of christian princes and sitting beneath spacious domes, gorgeous with men's device, and the greatness, in the simple garb of nature, destitute and alone in the wilderness.
There is nothing in the character of Alexander of Macedon who "conquered the world, and wept that he had no more to conquer," to compare with the noble qualities of king Philip of Mt. Hope, and among his warriors are a long list of brave men unrival ed in deeds of heroism, by any of ancient or modern story. But in what country, and by whom were they hunted, tortured, and slain, and who was it that met together to rejoice and give thanks at every species of cruelty inflicted upon those who were fighting for their wives, their children, their homes, their altars and their God.
When it is recorded that "men, women and children, indiscriminately, were hewn down and lay in heaps upon the snow," it is spoken of as doing God's service, because they were nominal y heathen. "Before the fight was finished, the wigwams were set on fire, and into those, hundreds of innocent women and children had crowded themselves, and perished in the general conflagration." And for those thanksgivings were sent up to heaven, the head of Philip is strung upon a pole, and exposed to the public. But this was not done by savage warriors, and the crowd that huzzaed at the revolting spectacle, assembled on the Sabbath day, in a Puritan church, to listen to the Gospel that proclaims peace and love to all men. His body was literally cut in slices to be distributed among the conquerors, and a christian city rings with acclamation.
In speaking of this bloody contest, one who is most eminent among the fathers, says: "Nor could they cease praying unto the Lord against Philip, until they had prayed the bul et through his heart." "Two and twenty Indian captives were slain, and brought down to hel in one day."
"A bul et took him in the head, and sent his cursed soul in a moment amongst the devils and blasphemers in hell forever."
Masasoit, the father of Philip, was the true friend to the English, and when he was about to die, took his two sons, Alexander and Philip, and fondly commended them to the kindness of the new settlers, praying them the same peace and good wil might be between them, that had existed between him and his white friends. Upon mere suspicion only a short time afterwards, the elder, who succeeded his father as ruler, among his people, was hunted in his forest home, and dragged before the court, the nature and object of which he could not understand. But the indignity which was offered him, and the treachery of those who insulted him, so chafed his proud spirit that a fever was the consequence, of which he died. And that is not all. The son and wife of Philip were sold into slavery, (as were also about eight hundred persons of the Tuscaroras, and also many others of the Indians that were taken captive during the Colonial wars.) "Yes," says a distinguished orator, (Everett,) "they were sold into slavery, West Indian slavery. An Indian princess and her child, sold from the cold breezes of Mount Hope, from a wild freedom of New England forest, to drop under the lash, beneath the blazing sun of the tropics."
Bitter as death, aye, bitter as hel ! Is there anything--I do not think in the range of humanity--is there any animal that would not struggle against this? Nor is this indeed al . A kinswoman of theirs, a Princess in her own right, Wetamore Pocasset, was pursued and harrassed till she fel exhausted in the wilderness, and died of cold and starvation. There she was found by men professing to be shocked at Indian barbarity, her head severed from her body, and carried bleeding upon a pole to be exposed in the public highways of the country, ruled by men who have been honored as saints and martyrs.
"Let me die among my kindred," "Bury me with my fathers," is the prayer of every Indian's heart; and the most delicate and reverential kindness in the treatment of the bodies of the dead, was considered a religious duty. There was nothing in al their customs that indicated a barbarism so gross and revolting as these acts, which are recorded by New England historians without a censure, while the Indian's protests in his grief at seeing his kindred dishonored and his religion reviled, are stigmatized as savage and fiendish.
If all, or even a few who ministered among them in holy things, had been like Eliot, who is called "the Apostle to the Indians," and deserved to be ranked with the Apostle of old, or Kirkland, who is endeared to the memory of every Iroquois who heard his name, it could not have become a proverb or a truth that civilization and christianity wasted them away.
They were, not by one, but many, unscrupulously cal ed "dogs, wolves, bloodhounds, demons, devils incarnate, hel hounds, fiends, monsters, beasts," always considering them inferior beings, and scarcely al owing them to be human, yet one, who was at that time a captive among them, represents them as "kind and loving and generous;" and concerning this same monster--Philip--records nothing that should have condemned him in the eyes of those who believed in wars aggressive and defensive, and awarded honors to heroes and martyrs and conquerors.
By the Governor of Jamestown a hand was severed from the arm of a peaceful, unoffending Indian, that he might be sent back a terror to his people; and through the magnanimity of a daughter and king of that same people, that colony was saved from destruction. It was through their love and trust alone that Powhatan and Pocahontas lost their forest dominions.
Hospitality was one of the Indians' distinguishing virtues, and there was no such thing among them as individual starvation or want. As long as there was a cup of soup, it was divided. If a friend or a stranger made a call he was welcome to al their wigwams would furnish, and to offer him food was not merely a custom, for it was a breach of politeness for him to refuse to eat however ful he might be.
Because their system not being like the white people's, it does not fol ow that it was not a system. You might have looked into the wigwam or lodge and thought everything in confusion, while to the occupants, there was a place for everything, and everything in its place: each had a couch which answered for bed by night and seat by day. The ceremonies at their festivals were as regular as in the churches, their rules of war as wel defined as those of christian nations, and in their games and athletic sports there was a code of honor which it was disgraceful to violate: their marriage vows were as wel understood, and courtesy as formally practiced at their dances.
The nature of the Indian is in all respects like the nature of any other nation; placed in the same circumstances, he exhibits the same passions and vices. But in his forest home there was not the same temptation to great crimes, or what is termed the lesser ones, that of slander, scandal, and gossip, as exists among civilized nations.
They knew nothing of the desire of gain, and therefore were not made selfish by the love of hoarding; and there was no temptation to steal, where they had everything in common, and their reverence for truth and fidelity to promises, may wel put al the nations of christendom to shame.
I have written in somewhat of the spirit which will characterize a History, by an Indian, yet it does not deserve to be cal ed Indian partiality, but only justice and the spirit of humanity; or, if I may be allowed to say it, the spirit with which any christian should be able to consider the character and deeds of his foe. I would not detract from the virtues of your forefathers. They were at that time unrivalled, but bigotry and superstition of the dark ages stil lingered among them, and their own perils blinded them to the wickedness and cruelty of the means they took for defence.
Four, and perhaps two centuries hence, I doubt not, some of your dogmas wil seem unchristian, as the Indians seem to you, and I truly hope, ere then, al wars wil seem as barbarous, and the fantastic dress of the soldiers as ridiculous, as you have been in the habit of representing the wars and the wild drapery of the Indians of the forest.
How long were the Saxon and Celt in becoming a civilized and Christian people? How long since the helmet, the coat of mail, and the battle axe, were laid aside?
To make himself more terrific, the Briton of the days of Henry II drew the skin of a wild beast over his armor with the head and ears standing upright, and mounted his war-horse to go forth crying, "To arms! Death to the invader!" The paint and the Eagle plume of the Indian warrior were scarcely a more barbarous invention, nor his war-cry more terrible.
It is not just to compare the Indian of the fifteenth, with the christian of the fifteenth century. But compare them with the barbarian of Britain, of Russia, of Lapland, and Tartary, and represent them as truly as these nations have been represented, and they will not suffer by the comparison.
* * * * *CAPTIVE'S LIFE AMONG INDIANS.
ILLUSTRATED BY THE LIFE OF THE "WHITE WOMAN."
* * * * *
To be taken captive by the Indians, was, among the early colonists, considered the most terrible of al calamities, and it was indeed a fearful thing to become the victim of their revenge. But those who were enduring the actual sufferings of captivity, or suffering stil more from terror of uncertain evils, thought little of the provocation given by the white people. The innocent suffered for the guilty, and however persevering--I suppose the efforts of the government to be just--in its infancy, in a wild unknown country it was impossible to control unprincipled marauders. Some atrocious act was first committed by white men, which drove the Indian to retaliation, and thinking pale faces were all alike, he did not wait til the real offender fel into his hands.
When the white men first came, the Indian looked upon them as superior beings. They were ready to worship Columbus and his little party, and all others along the coast, until their simple trust was outraged beyond endurance, they welcomed the strangers, gave them food when they were hungry, and sheltered them when they were cold. It was not till their encroachments became alarming, that the Indians asserted their rights, and if in all cases they had been as justly and kindly dealt with as by the Quakers of Pennsylvania, there would not have been so dark a record of sins, wrongs and tortures. If none but men of principle had made treaties with them, and al whose duty it was to observe them, had kept their faith, revenge had not come out so prominently in Indian character.
But it was not in obedience to national policy that those who were taken in battle, were put to the torture, burned, and flayed. The Six Nations had never found it necessary to build prisons, and dig dungeons for their own people. If any man committed murder, they sometimes decided that he should die, and sometimes bade him flee far away where none who knew him could look upon his face. But crimes were so rare that they had no criminal code, and when they overcame their enemies, they either adopted them and treated them as brethren, or put them immediately to death.
White people have often put Indians to death, and oftener put them in dungeons to waste and starve, but it was not part of their practice to adopt them and cal them brethren. Had they sometimes done this, or sent them freely back to their friends unharmed, they might have conciliated where they were only made more desperate.
When families are bereaved, they sought to be revenged on those who had bereaved them, and when warriors returned from battle, the prisoners were given up to the friends of the afflicted. With them alone it remained to decide the fate of those who fel into their hands. If they chose, they adopt them in place of the husbands, or brothers, who were slain; and if they so decided they were put to death, and in any way they decreed. If the manner in which their friend had been killed was aggravating and greatly enraged them, they were very likely to decide upon torture, and inflicted it in a manner to produce the greatest suffering. But in such cases, they sometimes showed great magnanimity, and "returned good for evil."
Children were often adopted, and by a solemn ceremony received into a particular tribe, and evermore treated as one of their own people. You have been in the habit of listening to heart-rending stories of cruelties to captives, but captives who were adopted were never cruel y treated.
Those who were immediately put to death experienced great suffering for a few hours, and those who were preserved were subjected to hardships which seemed to them unspeakable, but they were such as are necessarily incident to Indian life. They left no written chronicles to tel to al future generations the wrongs and tortures to which they were subjected, but one who sits with them by their firesides, may have his blood frozen with horror at the recitals of civilized barbarity.
And there was one species of wrong of which no captive woman of any nation had to complain when she was thrown upon the tender mercies of Indian warriors. Not among al the dark and terrible records which their enemies have delighted to magnify, is there a single instance of the outrage of that delicacy which a pure minded woman cherishes at the expense of life, and sacrifices not to any species of mere animal suffering. Of what other nation can it thus be written, that their soldiers were not more terrible at the firesides of their enemies than on the battle-field, with al the fierce engines of war at their command. To whatever motive it is to be ascribed, let this at least stand out on the pages of Indian history as an ever enduring monument to their honor.
A little book which professes to have been written for the sole purpose of recording and perpetuating Indian atrocities, and dwells upon them with infinite delight, alludes to this redeeming trait in Indian character, but attempts to ascribe it to the influence of superstition, as it were necessary to find some evil or deteriorating motive for everything noble, or pleasing in Indian character. Their treatment of captives from among Indian nations were the same. And I know not that there has been any satisfactory solution of a characteristic which has been found among only one other civilized christian or barbarous nation.
A wanderer among the Indian tribes once asked an Indian why they thus honored their women, and he said "The Great Spirit taught, and would punish us if we did not." Among the Germans I believed there existed the same respect for woman, till they became civilized. They may have been some superstitious fears mingled with a strong governing and control ing principle, but it is not on this account the less marvelous that whole nations, consisting of millions, should have been so trained, religiously or domestically, that degree of beauty or fascination placed under their care, though hundreds of miles in the solitudes of the wilderness, should have tempted them from the strictest honor and the most delicate kindness. MARY JANISON was eighty years a resident among the Senecas, and in the early part of the time the forests had few clearings, and the comforts and the vices of white men prevailed but little among them. She was born on the ocean, with the bil owy sea for her cradle, and the tempest for her lul aby. Her parents emigrated from England to this country in 1742, and settled in the unfortunate vale of Wyoming, where date her first remembrances, which were all the woes that fell upon her family, the wail of the sorrow-stricken and breaking of heart-strings.
The last meal they took together was a breakfast, after which the father and eldest three sons went into the field, and Mary with the other little children was playing not far from the house. They were suddenly startled by a shriek, and knew it must be from their mother. On running in they saw her in the hands of two Indians, who were holding her fast. A little boy ran to call his father, and found him also bound by another of the party, and his eldest brother lying dead upon the earth; the other two fled to Virginia, where they had an uncle, as Mary afterward learned, and those who remained were made captives and hurried into the woods. All day they were obliged to march in single file over the rough, cold soil.
Night found them in the heart of the wilderness, surrounded by their strange captors, and al the horrors of Indian life or Indian death staring them in the face. They had no hope of mercy, whether permitted to live or condemned to die. The mother said to Mary, "My daughter, you, I think wil be permitted to live, but they wil deprive you of your father and mother, and perhaps of your brothers and sisters, so that you wil be alone. But endeavor in al things to please the Indians, and they wil be more kind to you. Do not forget your own language, and never fail to repeat your catechism and the Lord's prayer every morning and evening while you live." This she promised to do, and having kissed her child, the mother was removed from her sight.
Mary must at this time have been ten years of age. She was afterwards told, when she could understand the Indian language, that they would not have kil ed her parents if the captors had not been pursued, and that a little boy, who was the son of a neighbor, and was also taken, was given to the French, two of whom were of the party.
In the marches of the Indians it was the custom for one to linger behind, and poke up the grass with a stick after a party had passed along, to conceal all traces of their footsteps, so a pursuit was seldom successful. In deviating from a direct course in order not to get lost, they noticed the moss upon the trees, which always grows thickest upon the north side, as the south side being most exposed to the sun, became soonest dry. They also had some knowledge of the stars, and knew from the position of certain clusters that were to be seen at certain seasons, which was east and which west.
Mary was adopted in place of two brothers who had fallen in battle, and for whom the lamentations had not died away. The ceremony of adoption is very solemn, requiring the deliberations of a council and the formal bestowing of a name, as a sort of baptism, from which time the captive is not al owed to speak any other language but the Indian, and must in all things conform to Indian habits and tastes.
It is customary among them to give children a name which corresponds with the sports and dependence of childhood, and when they arrive at maturity to change it for one that corresponds with the duties and employments of manhood and womanhood. The first name is given by the relatives and afterwards publicly announced in council. The second is bestowed in the same way; and by this they are ever afterward called, except on becoming a Sachem, and, sometimes, on becoming a Chief or warrior another name is taken, and each denotes definitely the new position. Each clan, too, had its peculiar names, so that when a person's name was mentioned it was immediately known to what clan he belonged.
A curious feature in the Indian code of etiquette is that it is exceedingly impolite to ask a person's name, or to speak it in his presence. In the social circle and al private conversation the person spoken of is described if it is necessary to al ude to him, as the person who sits there, or who lives in that house, or wears such a dress. If I ask a woman, whose husband is present if that is Mr. B-- she blushes, and stammers, and replies, "He is my child's father," in order to avoid speaking his name in his presence, which would offend him. On asking a man his name he remained silent, not understanding the reason the question was repeated, when he indignantly replied, "Do you think that I am an owl to go about hooting my name everywhere?" The name of the owl in Indian corresponding exactly to the note he utters.
When Mary Jemmison had been formal y named De-he-wa-mis, they cal ed her daughter and sister, and treated her in all respects as if she had been born among them and the same blood flowed in her veins, or rather, they were accustomed to be more kind to captives than to their own children, because they had not been inured to the same hardships. There was no difference in the cares bestowed, no allusion was ever made to the child as if it belonged to a hated race, and it never felt the want of affection.
Mary said her tasks were always light, and everything was done to win her love and make her happy. She now and then longed for the comforts of her cottage home, and wept at the thought of her mother's cruel death, but gradual y learned to love the freedom of the forest, and to gambol freely and gaily with her Indian play-mates. When she was named they threw her dress away, and clothed her in deer skins and moccasins, and painted her face in true Indian style. She never spoke English in their presence, as they did not al ow it, but when alone, did not forget her mother's injunction, and repeated her prayers and all the words she could remember, thus retaining enough of the language to enable her easily to recall it when she should again return to civilized society, as she constantly indulged the hope of doing, by an exchange of captives.
But when she was fourteen years of age, her mother selected for her a husband, to whom she was married according to Indian custom. His name was Sheningee, and though she was not acquainted with him previously, and of course had no affection for him, but proved not only an amiable and excellent man but a congenial companion, whom she loved devotedly. He had all the noble qualities of an Indian, being handsome and brave, and generous, and kind, and to her very gentle and affectionate.
Now she became thoroughly reconciled to Indian life, her greatest sorrow being the necessary absence of her husband on the war-path and hunting excursions. She fol owed the occupation of a woman, tilled the fields, dressed the meats and skins, and gathered the fuel for the winter's fire, and although this seems to the whites as unfeminine labor, it was performed at their leisure, and occupied very little of their time.
When the hunters returned they were weary and passive, and seldom were guilty of fault-finding, and so well did an Indian woman know her duty, that her husband was not obliged to make his wants known. Obedience was required in al respects, and where there was harmony and affection, cheerfully yielded, and knowing as they did that separation would be the consequence of neglect of duty and unkindness, there was real y more self-control, and about little things, than those who are bound for life. They did not agree to live together through good and through evil reports, but only while they loved and confided in each other, and they were therefore careful not to throw lightly away this love and affection.
The labor of the field was performed in so systematic a manner, and by so thorough and wisely divisioned labor, that there were none of the jealousies and enjoyings which exist among those who wish to hoard, and ambitious to excel in style and equipage. And before the fire-water came among them, dissentions of any kind were almost unknown. This has been the fruitful source of all their woes. It was not till Mary became a mother that she gave up al longing for civilized society, and relinquished all hope of again returning to the abodes of the white man.
Now she had a tie to bind her which could not be broken. If she should find her white friends they would not recognize her Indian husband, or consider her lawful y married: they would not care to be connected by ties of blood to a people whom they despised: her child would not be happy among those who looked upon her as inferior, and she herself had no education to fit her for the companionship of the white people. She looked upon her little daughter and thought, it is Sheningee's--it is dearer to me than al things else--I could not endure to see her treated with aversion or neglect.
But only a little while was she permitted this happiness, her daughter died while yet an infant, and when Sheningee was away. Again the feeling of desolation came over her young spirit, but al around her ministered in every way to her comfort, and became more than ever endeared to her heart. After a long absence. Sheningee returned. She afterwards had a son, and named him after her father, to which no objection was made by her Indian friends, and her love for her husband became idolatry. In her eyes he seemed everything noble and good: she mourned his departure and longed for his return, for his affection prompted him to treat her with gentle and winning kindness which is the spirit of true love alone.
But again the separation, and she must pass another winter alone. For hunting was the Indian's toil, and though they delighted in it, the pangs of parting from his wife and little one, made it a sacrifice, and spread a dark cloud over a long period of his life. And now it became dark indeed to Mary, for she waited long and Sheningee came not. She put everything in order in his little dwel ing. She dressed new skins for his couch, and smoked venison to please his taste. She made the fire bright to welcome him, hoping every evening when she lay down with her baby upon her bosom, that ere the morning sun the husband and father would gladden them by his smiles, but in vain; winter had passed away, and the spring, and then came the sad tidings that he was dead, she became a widow and her child fatherless.
Very long did she mourn Sheningee, for it seemed to her there was none like him. But again the sympathies of his people created a new link to bind her to them, and she said she could not have loved a mother or sisters more dearly than she did those who stood in this relationship to her, and soothed her with their loving words.
Not for four years was she again urged to marry, and during this time there was an exchange of prisoners and she had an opportunity to return to her kindred; she was left to do as she chose. They told her she might go, but if she preferred to remain she should stil be their daughter and sister, and they would give her land for her own where she might always dwel . Again she thought of the prejudice she would everywhere meet, and that she could never patiently listen to reproaches concerning her husband's people. It would not be believed that he was noble, because he was an Indian; and she would have no near relatives and those she had might reject her if she should seek them, so she came to the final conclusion and never more sighed for the advantages or pleasures of civilized life. She came with the brothers of Sheningee to the banks of the Genesee, where she resided the remaining seventy-two years of her life.
Her second husband--Hiokatoo--she never learned to love. He was a Chief and a warrior brave and fearless; but though he was always kind to her, he was a man of blood. He delighted in deeds of cruelty and delighted to relate them. And now the fire water had become common, and the good were bad and the bad worse, so that dissensions arose in families and in neighborhoods, and the happiness which had been almost without al oy was no longer known among these simple people.
She adds her testimony to that of al travelers and historians concerning the purity of their lives, having never herself received the slightest insult from an Indian and scarcely knowing an instance of infidelity or immorality. But when once they had tasted of the maddening draught the thirst was insatiable, and all they had would be given for a glass of something to destroy their reason. Now they were indeed converted into fiends and furies and sold themselves to swift destruction.
Hiokatoo hesitated at no crime and took pleasure in everything dark and terrible, but this was a smal trial compared to those which Mrs.
Jemmison was cal ed upon to endure from the intoxication and recklessness of her son. Her eldest, the son of Sheningee, was murdered by John, the son of Hiokatoo, who afterward murdered his own brother Jesse, and came to the same violent death himself at the hands of others. When they came to be in the midst of temptation there was no restraining principle, and, even after they grew up her house was the scene of quarrels and confusion in consequence of their intemperance, and she knew no rest from fear of some calamity from the indulgence of their unbridled passions. The Chief of the Seneca nation, to which her second husband belonged, gave her a large tract of land, and when it became necessary that it should be secured to her by treaty, she plead her own case. The commissioners without inquiring particularly concerning the dimensions of her lots, allowed her to make her own boundaries, and when the document was signed and she was in firm possession it was found that she was the owner of nearly four thousand acres, of which only a deed in her own hand-writing could deprive her. But though she was rich she toiled not the less dil igently and forsook not the sphere of woman in attending to the ways of her household, and also, true to her Indian education, she planted and hoed and harvested, retaining her Indian dress and habits til the day of her death. During the revolutionary war her house was made the rendevous and headquarters of British officers and Indian Chiefs, as her sympathies were entirely with her red brethren, and the cause they espoused was the one she preferred to aid. It was in her power to sympathize with many a lone captive, she always remembered her own anguish at the prospect of spending her life in the wilderness. The companion of Indians, and though she had learned to love instead of fearing them, and knew they were, as a people, deserving of respect and the highest honor, she understood the feelings of those who knew them not.
Her supplication procured the release of many from torture, and her generous kindness clothed the naked and fed the starving.
Lot after lot, acre after acre the Indians sold their lands, and at length the beautiful val ey of the Genesee fel into the hands of the white people, except the dominion of "the white woman," as she was always called, which couldn't be given up without her consent. She refused, at the time of the sale, to part with her portion, but after the Indians removed to Buffalo reservation and she was left alone, though a lady in the manor and surrounded by white people, she preferred to take her abode with those whom she now called her own people. Most emphatical y did she adopt the language of Ruth in the days of old, "Entreat me not to leave thee, or return from fol owing after thee, for whither thou goest I wil go, and where thou lodgest I wil lodge, thy people will be my people, and thy God my God, where thou diest will I die, and there wil I be buried."
She as as thoroughly pagan as the veriest Indian who had never heard of God, and she exclaimed with him that their religion was good enough and she desired no change.
She was ninety years of age--eighty years she had been an exile from the land of her birth. She had forgotten the prayer her mother taught her, and knew nothing of the worship of her father, when one morning she sent a messenger to tel the missionaries she wished to see them. She had ever before refused to listen to them if they came to her dwel ing, but they hastened to obey the summons, glad to feel that they should be welcomed, though quite uncertain concerning the nature of the interview she proposed. She was literal y withered away, her face was scarcely larger than an infant's and completely checkered with fine wrinkles, her teeth were entirely gone and her mouth so sunken that her nose and chin almost met, her hair not silvery, but snowy white, except a little lock by each ear which stil retained the sandy hue of childhood, her form which was always slender, was bent, and her limbs could not longer support her. She had revived the knowledge of her language since she had dwelled among the white people but, "Oh," said she, as the ladies entered, "I have forgotten how to pray; my mother taught me and told me never to forget this, though I remembered nothing else," and then she exclaimed, "Oh, God! have mercy upon me." This expression she had heard in her old age, and now uttered it in the ful ness of her heart. There had come a gleam of light through al the darkness and superstitions of Paganism, and this spark was kindled at the fireside of that little cottage home, and fell upon her heart from a mother's lips, and now revived at the remembrance of a mother's love and her dying blessing. It was eighty years since she had seen that mother's face, as she breathed out her soul in anguish, bending over her in the silent depths of the wilderness, eighty years since she listened to "Our Father who art in Heaven," from Christian lips, and now the still smal voice which had so long been silent, spoke aloud, and startled her as if an angel cal ed. She tried to stifle it, and for many days after it awoke in her bosom, she heeded it not, but it gave her no rest. No earthly voice had since reminded her that her heart was sinful, and needed to be "washed in the blood of the lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world," in order to be clean. The seed which had been sown in it when she was a little child, had just sprung up; the snows of eighty winters had not chil ed it, the mildew of nearly a century had not blighted it, and the heavy hand of hundreds of calamities had left it unharmed. She had not been in the midst of corruptions, therefore it had not been destroyed. The little germ was stil alive, and proving that it had not been in vain.
The aged woman sat pil owed up in bed with her children, and children's children of three generations around her, and lifting her withered hands and sunken eyes to Heaven, once more repeated, "Our Father, who art in Heaven," while a new light, like a halo, overspread her face, the tears flowed in floods down her cheeks, and in the dark eyes of every listener there glistened tears of sympathy in her new found happiness.
When she was asked if she regretted that she had not consented to be exchanged, she still said, "No. I love the Indians; I love them better than the white people. Because they had been kind to me, and provided generously for my youth and old age, and my children would inherit an abundance from the avails of the lands, and herds, and flocks."
A few days after the new light dawned upon her spirit, in the year 1833, Mary was numbered with the dead. She had embraced the faith which makes no difference between those who come at the first or the eleventh hour, and those who were present at the dissolution of her soul and body, doubted not that Jesus had whispered to her the same consolation that fel upon the heart of the thief upon the Cross, "This day shal thou be with me in Paradise"