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A TALE OF BECOMING HUMAN
BY GORDON CLARK
by Robert Griffing
Robert Griffing's masterful painting "Winter Trade" depicts a typical scene during the fur trade, when trading was the most common interaction between Whites and Indians. This was the period just before the great waves of colonial expansion that led to almost constant warfare and drove the Lenni Lenape from their ancestral lands.
RACER: A TALE OF BECOMING HUMAN Copyright 2011 By Gordon Clark
Table of Contents
Family Ties ............................................................................3 Introduction...........................................................................5 Prologue .................................................................................7 Chapter 1: Our Perilous Journey ........................................9 Chapter 2: A Company Of Pirates ....................................17 Chapter 3: This Grand City...............................................23 Chapter 4: A Wretched Place ............................................29 Chapter 5: Under Attack....................................................36 Chapter 6: Beached and Alone ..........................................41 Chapter 7: On The Run......................................................46 Chapter 8: Crossing The River..........................................51 Chapter 9: Caught! .............................................................59 Chapter 10: A Bloody Welcome ........................................66 Chapter 11: Life’s New Rhythm........................................73 Chapter 12: Acceptance......................................................80 Chapter 13: Murchison Again ...........................................87 Chapter 14: I Make My Choice .........................................95 Chapter 15: A Haunting Encounter................................100 Chapter 16: The Call of the Loon....................................108 Chapter 17: In Two Worlds .............................................116 Chapter 18: The Great Mystery ......................................122 Chapter 19: Becoming Human ........................................130 My Sources ........................................................................139
Benjamin’s Lenape Family English Benjamin DeCorsa Teunis DeCorsa (or DeCoursey) and Rachel VanGarden Hannah, William, Anna, and Abraham DeCorsa Abraham, Isaac, Elizabeth, Jacob, Petrus, and Helena Schoonmaker Isaac, Annatie, Teunis Jr., Jezyntje, Jacob, Elizabeth, and Philip DeCorsa Balthus VanEtten Relationship Benjamin’s White name Benjamin’s White father and mother Benjamin’s White brothers and sisters Benjamin’s White half- brothers and sisters by Jochem and Rachel (VanGarden) Schoonmaker Benjamin’s White half- brothers and sisters by Teunis and Elisabeth (Namburgh) DeCorsa Benjamin’s White cousin Benjamin’s Lenape Family Lennape Ka-tesk-aw-tin Kist-al-wa English Racer Runner of the Mountain Path Calling Owl Enita-Oneka Water Moon Spotted Eagle Naxa Sàngwe Glick-hican Three Weasel (Tall Feathers) Mud Turtle Monotawan White Antelope Smiling Beaver Chi-Wen-Dota Teedyuscung Custologa Neolin Black Wolf War Trumpet Keeper of the Wampum Enlightened One Relationship Benjamin’s Lenape name Benjamin’s Lenape father Benjamin’s Lenape mother Benjamin’s Lenape brother Lenape Elder Lenape Elder Lenape Warrior Lenape Boy Lenape Girl Lenape Boy Lenape Boy Lenape Principal chief, 1730s Lenape Principal chief, 1760s Lenape Prophet, 1760s
The Lands of the Lenni Lenape, 1760
The story of Benjamin Racer is part of my family lore. Benjamin was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. In 1964 my paternal grandmother, Edna Sheets Clark, compiled a written family history that included the following story: “Back in 1752, Benjamin DeCorsa was born in Normandy, France, the youngest son of Count DeCorsa who was killed by Indians as was an older brother when the boat in which they were riding was attacked. Young Benjamin was told by his father to lie flat in the bottom of the boat (a row boat) for protection, which he did till the boat was beached, then he leaped from the boat and ran into the woods where he evaded the Indians for several days but was finally captured. Because he was so fleet of foot Benjamin was adopted by the Indians and given the name ‘Racer’ which name he continued to use the rest of his life. The family in America used no other name. Benjamin lived with the tribe until he reached young manhood, then escaped with a white prisoner whom he liberated. Later Benjamin joined the British army and married the daughter of Major David Chestnor. Four children were born, two girls and two boys. In 1798 he moved to Marietta living in the stockade for a while, then moved north east of Marietta to a place known now as the Plummer farm, but then government property. The property is still owned by a great grandson, Val Racer.” I grew up awed and inspired by this wonderful story. However, like so much family lore orally passed down from generation to generation, I discovered in researching this book that this story probably is not historically accurate. For instance, the name ‘Racer’ may simply be the English equivalent of ‘DeCorsa.’(And at the end of the French-and-Indian War, it may not have been wise to be living in the British Colonies with a distinctly French-sounding name.) Furthermore, ‘Count Teunis DeCorsa’ was neither a count nor French, but rather of Belgian stock, descended
from one of the founders of the Dutch West India Company that originally settled New Amsterdam, later called New York City. According to existing baptismal records, Benjamin and his twin Hannah were born in Dansbury, Pennsylvania (then part of New Jersey Colony), the oldest of five children. A surviving newspaper account of the time recounts that in the Indian attack Benjamin lost his Father and three cousins, not “an older brother”. According to one early Racer family legend, Indians indeed captured Benjamin, but he may have stayed with them only a short time before being liberated by another White captive, rather than the other way around as my Grandmother wrote. We know the place names as recorded in White history, including the infamous Dansbury Massacre, but since history is written by the victors, we know little of the Indian side. Therefore I can only surmise the Lenni Lenape tribal affiliation by the location of the attack. Likewise we know the genealogy of the Whites involved such as Benjamin’s many relatives and even Crazy Palgrave, but we do not know the Lenape, so I gave them names mined from my own imagination. I also ascribed speeches to some of these made-up Lenape which actually were delivered by historical Native American characters (albeit recorded by Whites). It is true, as my Grandmother says, that Benjamin’s side of the family tree kept the name Racer, and many Racers (and Decourseys) exist today, scattered throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere. These are my distant cousins. It is also true that Benjamin had 18 siblings and half-siblings, including a twin. All these children and their parents were born in America, mostly in western New York and Pennsylvania. In his first marriage, Teunis DeCorsa and his family were members of The Old Dutch Reformed Church of Sleepy Hollow in Tarrytown, NY, the same Sleepy Hollow immortalized later by Washington Irving's classic "Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Some of my forbears are buried there in the Old Dutch Burying Ground, across from Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow, NY. All that having been said, I still prefer my Grandmother’s account. Therefore I offer this story as greatly embellished fiction based on Grandmother Clark’s life story, not as unvarnished history. I hope you will take it as such. Gordon Clark Asheville, North Carolina January, 2011
June 11, 1813
I write this journal whilst sitting on my front porch, watching the wide, brown flow of the Ohio River roiling past my farm. It is well past Spring flood but the water still surges with mud and the occasional uprooted tree. Folks around here call this the Plummer farm, after the Englishman who hand-carved it out of the foreboding forest. It is something of a hardscrabble place, and I am something of a lackluster farmer, but the place has been rich enough to raise two sons and two daughters. I have been here since 1802, and probably will die here, in this lovely spot northeast of Marietta in the new State of Ohio. I write these recollections, not for myself, but for kith and kin to follow. You need to know what happened back in those days of the French and Indian War, how I came to exchange linens for loin cloths, and why the terrible war between the Colonists and the Indians was called That Dark and Bloody Time. Most of all, you need to know the source of the proud surname you carry today. Names of recently departed friends sometimes elude me now. A word evaporates on my tongue. Events of a fortnight ago are dim. Yet I forgive these momentary lapses, for even today, the sights, sounds, the smells of the time of my youth of which I write are as immediate as if they are still happening. Now, fifty years later, my heart still hurts with emotion when words alone cannot do it justice. Today campfire smoke stings my eyes and my mind snaps back to a time when I see only darkskinned, half-clad people in the pale light. A burst of early morning sunshine through the riverside elms catches me unawares and puts me back in the place of being a child and seeing this river for the very first
time. A careless snap of a twig still causes my blood to run cold as it brings forth the terror of the chase. Some who read these notes will think me a hero, a White knight. Others will brand me a perfidious coward, turning on one or the other of my families. It matters not to me. I do not write for them and I do not write history. I write what I remember. I write my life. Benjamin Racer
Chapter 1: Our Perilous Journey
Roosters in the barnyard crowed, but their effort was futile: It was still well before daybreak but I was already awake, wide awake. I lay in bed, listening, waiting to hear Mother stoking the fire in the big kitchen stove downstairs. I listened to the weathervane changing direction on the roof ridge right over my head. I listened to the hens outside, already
scratching and clucking and pecking in the yard. Somewhere out in the fields I heard a cow lowing to be milked. Finally I heard Mother in the kitchen, so I very quietly crawled out of my bed mat in
the attic so as not to disturb my little brother William, still snoring gently next to me. I pulled a clean shirt over my head, put on fresh leggings and almost jumped into my new leather britches. I ran my fingers through my hair and tied it back with a black ribbon, then slipped on a new pair of buckle shoes, made by the cobbler just last week. They were still stiff, but I hoped they would loosen over time.
The exciting day was finally at hand. This is the day I have dreamed of for months. It is the 5th of September in the Year of Our Lord 1763. On this day five of us are to begin a grand journey by horse, sailing ship, and pole boat. This is the day we are to set out for the rugged wilderness on the remote western edge of New Jersey Colony.
It is a most exciting day for this most excitable 10-year-old youngster. Preparations had been going on for weeks. Everyone in the family was involved, and for us that means a lot of family. I have 18 siblings and half-siblings, including my twin sister Hannah, plus many aunts, uncles, and cousins near about. All were pressed into service to launch us on our grand adventure. Trunks to be packed, clothes to be cleaned and repaired, tools to be made, seed grains to be gathered, letters of introduction written, foodstuffs to be stored, weapons to be cleaned and checked.
Dawn was just breaking when I stumbled into the kitchen. Mother gave me a long hug, much more than usual. This would be the longest time we would be apart. And we did not really know how long it might be, ‘tho Father said he was sure it would be six months at the most. “My dearest Benjamin, how I will miss you,” she said as she handed me a cup of steaming black tea. I looked at her, and was surprised at how old she seemed just then, and tired. Perhaps she was; indeed she had every reason to be. Rachel Van Garden DeCorsa was then 46 years old, the mother of 12 children by two husbands, a devout Christian, a strong-willed matriarch, a learned and respected community member, and my dear Mother. “You must mind your Father and your brothers, and always be alert.” She undid my hair ribbon and combed my hair with a real tortoise-shell comb, then said, “You know the stories. You know how dangerous it is where you are going. You know how I will worry about you every moment until you come back to me. Promise you will send me word whenever you can, and read your Bible every day.” She continued to absently stroke my hair, lost in her own thoughts. Of course I knew the stories. I knew them by heart. We were going back to Dansbury, Pennsylvania, now called Stroudsburg, a place I did not remember but my parents remembered all too well. In December, 1755, when I was but 3 years old, we fled from our home there to avoid the Indians’ bloody rampage. Mother was pregnant with my brother William at the time. Hearing talk of Indian ambushes and fearing for our safety, Father and my half-brother Jacob loaded our large family and a pitiful few belongings onto pole boats. Some few of our neighbors did likewise. In a mad rush, we escaped down the Delaware River to relative safety. Two days later the Indian savages swept through our community and burned the homes of my parents, and Jacob, and most of our neighbors. The neighbors who did not escape were butchered and scalped. It utterly destroyed our fledgling community of Dansbury. Far and wide, the attack came to be known as the Dansbury Massacre, one of the worst Indian attacks of the French and Indian War. I had heard that story, and others like it, all my life. Already I had laid plans in my imagination on how I would save my family from ambush if we should be attacked. Many times I saw myself brandishing a
weapon and warding off the attacking hordes. Usually I saw myself injured in the scuffle (mildly, of course). “And you know how Hannah will worry, too,” Mother added somewhat wistfully, still stroking my hair. Yes, I knew that, too. As twins, Hannah and I were especially close. We were always together, sometimes to our parents’ dismay. ‘Tho I had many siblings and cousins around me, I usually preferred Hannah’s company. She was extremely clever, and funny, and curious. Like me, I suppose. When we were together, we would often look at each other and giggle, as if we had a secret joke. And when we weren’t together, we often knew what the other was doing or feeling, just by concentrating real hard on the other twin. Sometimes I could think real hard and sort of “see” Hannah, doing whatever she was doing. And she could see me, too. The two of us talked about this a lot, but of course we never told anyone else about this, for fear some might think it Witchcraft. And now we had another set of twins in the family, 5-month old Rachel and Abraham. At first Hannah and I watched them closely to see if they had the same kind of relationship we did, but we decided it was impossible to tell at that age. Mostly they were just squalling lumps of needs. Hannah and I were both readers, and enjoyed it. Usually she would finish a book and pass it on to me or me to her. That we were well-schooled was Mother’s responsibility. Our formal “book–learning” schooling was somewhat spotty and lessons tended toward the Biblical. But it was Mother, with her fondness of reading, who instilled in us the love of books. Among her many relatives nearby, we had a vast library of books to choose from, ‘tho many were in German or Dutch, which we could read but a little. It is to this Old World family that we owe our knowledge (‘tho little love) for languages. I speak French passably well, for Father spoke the language fluently, but Hannah and I both struggle with the Old Dutch of our grandparents. Just then I heard my Father outside talking to Jacob. I thought Mother and I were the only ones up. “Go help your Father, dear,” Mother said. “He needs your help saddling up the horses.”
Now, I knew we would not saddle the horses until after breakfast, but I went out anyway, and was anxious to go. I thought Mother was going to cry, and I was afraid that would make me cry, too, and on this day of all days, I did not want to cry in front of my parents. There were five of us making the trip: my Father, then 60 years old, my half-brothers Jacob, 30, and Isaac, 24, a cousin, Balthus VanEtten, 16, and me. I was greatly honored to be part of this expedition, ‘tho in truth I had to badger Father for months to let me go. I think he was always partly for it, but Mother was dead set against the idea. It took a great deal of persuasion to change her mind, and I don’t mind telling you I had to be on my very best behavior for months to prove I was old enough. Finally she relented and agreed that I could go. A word now about this great, sprawling family I am part of. Hannah and I are the eldest of five children of our parents, Teunis and Rachel. They both had families from previous marriages, accounting for the large number of half-siblings Father’s first wife died after bearing eight children, including Jacob. Mother’s first husband died at sea after fathering seven children, including Isaac. So Jacob and Isaac, ‘tho half-brothers to me, were much older and more like uncles. Of the five of us making the journey, I was closest to Balthus. I had many cousins here about, but I was fondest of Balthus. He always finished his chores quickly, to give him more time to “play the lay of the land,” as he said it. Often we roamed the countryside together, hunting fowl and squirrel, exploring the many limestone caves, or swimming in a nearby spring-fed pond. Balthus was an avid swimmer, unusual for the times, and he taught me well. But of all the traits of Balthus, I think I most enjoyed his boundless curiosity. It led us off on many adventures together. Jacob was a great deal like Father, inheriting from him the sturdy, serious, hard-working attitude of our Dutch lineage. He was short and stocky, with powerful arms, dark eyes, and comic shaggy eyebrows. Isaac, on the other hand, was tall and fair, with long sandy-colored hair and a quick smile. I suppose I was something between the two of them, tall for my age like Isaac, but with Jacob’s dark eyes and hair. Just now Father and Jacob were standing next to the corral, eyeing the horses we would take. The first leg of our trip would be by horse and wagon from our temporary home here in Harford County, Maryland, to Baltimore. From there we would catch a sloop to New
Amsterdam [now called New York City], then a boat up the Hudson River to Tarrrytown, then overland by horseback to Ft. Decker, New Jersey, then down the Delaware River by pole boat to whatever was left of our former homes in Dansbury. At the time I thought myself a good horseman. I had been riding for several years, ever since Father first put me on the back of an old, slow sorrel and taught me to ride. But I had never been on a sailing ship before, and I had heard many stories of the dreaded sea-sickness. “Hey, there, boy,” Jacob said when I first walked out. “Did ye sleep well?” He winked when he said it. “In truth I think I but barely slept, as excited as I was,” I replied. “Where is Balthus?” “I think the old slug is still in bed,” said Jacob. “Go roust him out, will ye? It is past time he’s up and ready.” I trotted back to the house. After fleeing the Indians eight years ago, we had moved in with my Mother’s cousins, the VanEttens, here in the Maryland countryside. Our stay was always intended to be temporary; therefore the sleeping arrangements were a bit haphazard. There were always more children than beds, even two to a bed, so the last few children to bed at night would end up on the floor with other late-nighters. Balthus was always one of these. But when I got to the room he shared with several others, he was already up and clothed. “Come on, Balthus, let’s go,” I urged. I knew he was excited as me. “Jacob wants you at the corral.” We raced outside. It seemed whenever we were together, we raced. Although Balthus was older than me, I was usually faster, a fact I never let him forget. I easily beat him to the corral. “Well, lads, glad to see ye’ve got so much spunk,” Father grinned at us. “Let’s see you use that energy to some advantage. Start loading the wagon there. Jacob will direct you. Put the boxes in first and the bags on top. I’ll tend to the horses.” “Yes, sir,” Balthus and I said together. We picked up the tongue of the 4-wheel wagon to pull it over to the porch where the boxes and bags were stacked. Even this became a game as we pretended we were horses harnessed to the wagon, competing to see who would be the most powerful. Laughing at the game, Jacob jumped on the back of the wagon and we carried him across the foreyard to the porch.
The three of us made short work of the loading, just finishing when my half-sister Helena called us for breakfast. With so many people, mealtime was a loud and raucous affair, but this morning outdid them all. Everyone talked at once as we sat down at the long family table. At the head of the table, Father quietly cleared his throat and the tableside noise hushed instantly. He bent his head and offered the morning prayer. “Dear Lord, we humbly ask your blessings on this house and everyone in it. We ask for your protection as we embark on a perilous journey. We ask you to watch over those who are staying behind. Give us comfort and aid as you see fit. Help each of us to be the equal of the task you have set before us. When you are ready, receive us into your loving arms. Amen.” Amen. Then with a rush, the noise and excitement started all over again. After a tumultuous breakfast, everyone scrambled out in front of the house. Father brought out two horses and harnessed them to the wagon; my half-brothers Phillip and Petrus (or Peter, as the girls called him) brought out three riding horses, saddled and ready. Everyone else stood around us in an excited, anxious circle. Cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and of course Mother. It made quite a noisy crowd. I saw Father talking to one of the neighbors who came over to wish us God-speed. I was able to pick up part of the conversation, ‘tho they spoke with hushed voices. “Now Teunis, ye’ve no doubt heard about that murderous rascal Chief Pontiac laying siege to the northern British forts?” It was Thomas MacGregor talking, one of the few Scots in this area settled largely by Dutch and Germans. I always had great fondness for Mr. MacGregor. He spoke with a thick Scottish brogue that was unfamiliar to me yet fascinating, saying things like ‘aboot’ instead of ‘about’. I pretended not to listen, but listened anyway. “Yes, Thomas,” replied Father, quietly. “We heard the reports, but he’s not runnin’ anywhere near to where we will be traveling.” “Aye, friend, but I’ve heard the Indians along th’ Delaware are on th’ rampage as well,” MacGregor said and he leaned in closer to Father. “Ye just don’t know what they’ll do, ‘tho for certain they’ll be up to naw good. I am heartily concerned fer yer safety out there. Those
Indians are steamin’ mad that the French lost the War and gave all the Western lands to the Brits, lands that the Indians say belong to them.” “Yes, yes, MacGregor, we’ll be watching for trouble,” Father said. “The boys are all good shots and noble lads. And if Dansbury is still too treacherous to live in, why, we’ll just keep on going down the river and end up back here directly.” Here one of Mother’s cousins chimed in. “Listen, Teunis, that surrender by the French leaves the Indians with no allies, and they don’t ken to having us take over their lands. Trouble is brewing for sure out there. Why not wait for Spring?” Father replied, “Because the rivers are low now and travel will be easy. Spring floods are over and the winter rains have not started. We dare not travel down the Delaware in flood.” MacGregor nodded, then added, “Of course we will all be watching out fer yer family here. Ye know that, Teunis. Do not worry for yer loved ones here. Worry most about the Indian ye cannot see.” The three men nodded gravely, and Father turned to say his goodbyes. We were all saying goodbye when I noticed Hannah off to one side. I slid over to her and she put out her hand. In it was a small carved figure about six inches long. She handed it to me. “This is so you won’t forget me,” she said. “I just know I’m going to miss you. But all you have to do is think real hard on me, and I will do the same on you, and we’ll know how things are with us.” I knew the truth of that, just as I knew I could never forget Hannah. I looked down at the figure in my hand. It was her! Her same long reddish-brown hair, her little pointy nose, and the same gingham dress she was wearing now. She had carved the figure herself, and painted it with colors from the root garden. I slipped it into my britches pocket and kissed her on the forehead. Next to Mother, I was sorriest to leave Hannah. We always had been inseparable, and now we were separating ourselves. I had been telling myself it was time for me to grow up and not be so dependent on her, but deep down I was a little afraid, too.
I hardly remember the rest of the goodbyes; there were many tears, hugs, and well-wishes. Mother kissed me and hugged me gently, but not overmuch in front of the crowd. For that I was grateful. I did not cry. For the 25-mile trail ride to Baltimore, Father, Jacob, and Isaac would ride their horses. Phillip and Petrus would handle the wagon, and Balthus and I would ride on top of the load. Then Phillip and Petrus would return home from Baltimore with the empty wagon and all the horses; the rest of us would sail on to New Amsterdam. At long last it was time to take our leave. We all mounted up. With a “Heeyah,” Father led the way out of the barnyard, with Petrus handling the reins on the wagon and Phillip on the seat beside him, then Isaac and Jacob riding along behind. From our perch on top of the wagon, Balthus and I faced backward and waved to the crowd as it got smaller and smaller in the distance. At last we turned a corner onto the main track and we could see them no more. A sudden silence overwhelmed me, broken by the sounds of the horses, the creaking and grinding of the wagon, and birds chirping in the trees. This was the day I had longed for with mounting excitement, but now that we were actually on the move, my sense of excitement was mixed with dread and fear. As I lost sight of my family in the distance, I wondered how soon I would see them again. Little did I know it would be years before I saw any of them again, and some would be lost to me forever.
Chapter 2: A Company Of Pirates
“Whoa, will that boat manage to stay afloat?” Balthus whispered incredulously to me as we gazed at the ship that was supposed to take us from Baltimore to New Amsterdam, 175 miles and four days distant. The ship was the Warwick, a single-masted sloop that looked far too small for my comfort. We stared at her riding gently at the dock. I had never been on a boat before, discounting the frightful ride down the Delaware River when I was just three years old. Father, Jacob, and Isaac were onboard talking with the captain, a grizzled-looking gent with long, wild grey hair. The rest of us sat on the wagon, waiting. “I say, Benjamin, I’d sooner trust this wagon in the water than that boat,” Petrus said, none too helpfully. “Aye, and we might make it, too, if the horses could pull us along as they swim,” I replied. “Are we to sleep on deck then?” asked Balthus. “I doubt there’s room for beds anywhere.” “I hear they put the youngest to work manning the oars when the wind dies out,” Petrus said, in mock seriousness. “And it’s dying down right now! You’ll be well advised to make yourselves scarce, if that is possible on this rowboat. On the other hand, maybe that’s the only way you’ll come back with a set of manly arms like me.” He punched me in the shoulder, hard. I yelped and hit him back. Now Phillip chimed in: “Not to worry, Benjamin. You are a good swimmer. I taught you well. Remember, it’s only 175 miles to New Amsterdam. When your boat sinks, as I’m sure it will, you should be able to swim that distance in, oh, let me see [here he pretended to do some intense figuring] 47 days . . . more or less.” Phillip and Petrus laughed heartily at this; Balthus and I did not.
Finally Father disembarked and came over to the wagon. “Well, lads, it’s all taken care of then,” he announced. “We’ll be sailing with the outbound tide, about three hours hence. That gives us time to inspect our accommodations and load our cargo. Come aboard and meet Captain VanOblinis.” We clambered off the wagon and walked the gangplank onto the slightly heaving deck. Father made introductions all around, then told the Captain that Phillip and Petrus would not be sailing with us. “Glad ter have ye aboard, men,” Captain VanOblinis said in a thick Dutch accent, sounding very much like my relatives from upcountry New York Colony. “This is m’ship, I am the cap’n. You will address me as Cap’n. You have but one task while onboard the Warwick: to look sharp, stay out of the way of m’men, and do exactly what yer told. Any questions?” “Yessir,” Balthus said nervously. “Where are our beds?” At this the old captain laughed loudly. “Oh, yer lookin’ fer a nap already, then, are ye lad? Firstly, we call ‘em bunks, not beds. They’re below, down through the aft hatch there. There’s a galley down there, too. It’s what yer mama might call the kitchen. And in the center, down below, is my quarters, down this center hatch here. That is not for you. Unnerstand? Now, any more questions?” I said, “Yes sir. How many people will be on this boat?” The captain leaned over close to my face and squinted in mock rage. I blushed a deep red. “Boat? A boat, ye called her? What ‘ave I got onboard, then, a cursed squallin’ landlubber? A boat’s what we got hangin’ off the stern, what we lower down when we want to go trollin’ for lobster. The Warwick’s a ship, sir, and this ship is always a she, make you no mistake about that.” He straightened up again and continued, “Listen, lads, she may not look it but this is a good ship. She’s seen plenty of hard water, and so have I, and both of us always come out of it right-side up. The voyage from here to New Amsterdam [here he used the old Dutch name, like my relatives do] is a sweet ride. We’ll be carried along on the northbound currents, j’st like a walk in the park. As for people on board, why there’s you five, and m’ three able seamen, and me, makin’ nine in all. A full complement. Plus a full load of cargo below decks. Now then, take some
time to look around, then let’s get yer goods loaded on board. We’ll be settin’ sail in under two hours.” With that release, Balthus and I began scampering up and down the ladders (or gangways, as we later learned) exploring what would be our home for the next few days. The elders stayed topside talking to the captain. Soon enough we had brought all our gear onboard and the sailors had tightly stowed it all below deck so it would not roll about. The tide was turning and the activity level was picking up. Two seamen manned the lines to raise the sails; another stood by the lines securing the ship to the dock. We said our goodbyes to Petrus and Phillip, who by now had hitched the extra horses to the back of the wagon. It was still early in the day, so they were likely to make it back to the homestead before nightfall. “Ready on th’ throat?” the Captain barked. “Ready on th’ peak?” The seamen stood poised and ready at their stations. “Haul away the throat! Haul away the peak!” Arms straining, the sailors surged into action, pulling on the lines in unison. Slowly the sail rose, curling and snapping in the wind. At another command from the Captain, the sailor let go the dock lines and the Warwick slipped gently out into the river current, headed for the open ocean. As she slowly eased away from the wharf the wind caught her sails. They billowed out in a great white flare and we picked up speed down the channel. Balthus and I were exhilarated. We ran forward to the bow, both of us leaning far out over the water while hanging on to the pole that sticks out in front. As the ship picked up speed, we laughed and shouted to each other, letting the cold salt spray drench us. Looking back to the stern, I saw Captain VanOblinis watching us with amusement. I’ve often thought since then that maybe he saw himself in us, the first time he went aboard a ship. Over the next four days we learned a lot about sailing and about the Warwick. On the morning of the second day, under clear skies and a following wind, the Captain spoke to Balthus, Isaac, and me: “Gen’lemen, it be time fer some sea schoolin’ now. I’m gonna learn ye a lil’ somethin’ about ships. Ye be onboard a sloop, a one-masted ship carrying four sails: the mainsail, the topsail, and two jibs out front. We
can put up nearly four thousand square feet of canvas to show to the wind, with the mast well forward to allow better navigation in close waters.” Over the next three days, Captain VanOblinis taught us about ships, rigging, tides, sails, and navigation. I learned the difference between crosstrees and gaffs, jibs and topsails, and a little about weather prediction, ‘tho the weather all the way to New Amsterdam never got squally. He told us stories of his days at sea and sea captains he had known. On the last evening, running smoothly in open water with the New Jersey highlands disappearing off to the West, we were just starting to cross the great bay leading to Long Island. We would be in New Amsterdam in the morning. One of the seamen was on the helm, and the rest of us sat with the Captain on the forecastle admiring the unseasonably warm weather. I ventured a question. “Captain, it is said in our family that we are related to Palgrave the Pirate. Have you heard of him, sir?” The Captain rolled back his head and laughed long and hard. “Oh, that’s rich, laddie,” the Captain roared. “Crazy Palgrave? Aye, I knew him. Indeed I did, sir. He sailed out of Rhode Island. So yer related? That’s a hoot. [He leaned in close to me and winked.] As pirate’s kin, ye best keep yer thievin’ hands off m’dubloons.” He leaned back and laughed again, his whole wrinkled face rippling into one enormous smile. He pulled a long straight clay pipe from his frock, filled it with a goodly plug of tobacco, and lit it with a flint. For some time he pulled on his pipe while staring off into the distance, seemingly lost in recollection and swirls of smoke. Finally he looked directly at me and leaned over a bit. In a low, somber voice, Capt. VanOblinis said, “Yes I knew Palgrave Williams, or Crazy Palgrave as we called him, ‘tho never to his face. He commanded the privateer Mary Anne, part of the fleet of the pirate Black Sam Bellamy. [Here he straightened up again, took a quick look around, then hunched over and continued in a conspiratorial voice.] In fact the Mary Anne was a sloop not unlike the Warwick here. I was just a young’n when I met him back in the year of Our Lord seventeenfifteen or -sixteen in a certain nefarious pub on an island on the Outer
Banks of North Carolina, the very same place where Cap’n Teach, the pirate Blackbeard, met his bloody end. Now, it seems Williams had a good life up in Rhode Island before he turned to the ‘sweet trade’ of piracy. They say he was a well-heeled goldsmith until he hooked up with Bellamy. Their story was that they intended to go treasure huntin’ for Spanish ships sunk by storms in the Bahaman Islands. Trouble is, they found none, so they turned to piracy.” “Now, when Black Sam’s fleet sailed north from the Bahamans in the spring of the year seventeen-seventeen, Williams took a detour to visit his mother and sisters in Rhode Island. He stopped, and by doin’ so he escaped the storm that sank Black Sam’s ship the Whydah.” “Back home in Rhode Island, Williams retired from piracy. But he got bored, y’see, so he returned to piracy. Finally, as an old man, he retired a final time from piracy. I’m told he changed his name and started a new family. Maybe you’re one of those, then?” Balthus and I were entranced with his story. We had heard often enough that we might be related to pirates, but no adult ever wanted to speak the details. I spoke up. “Sir, I do not know for sure, but we were always told we were related. I never heard his story until now.” The Captain leaned back and thought for a long moment, then squinted at us and said, “So ye say yer name is DeCorsa, eh? Well, I seem to recall Crazy Palgrave had a daughter late in life who married a Dutchman with a name sumpin’ like yours. DaCorsa, Decoursey, DeCorci, somat like that. So mebbe ye are related, as ye say. Just don’t get any strange notions of what ye might do while yer onboard m’ship here. Remember, that’s the flag of The Royal Colony of New York we fly off the topmast, not the Jolly Roger.” Isaac, who had been quiet through the whole story, now spoke up. “I know a little about those very same Outer Banks, Captain,” he said quietly. “I lost my Father at sea in ‘fifty-one. He was a merchant, sailing down to Savanah, Georgia. His ship was caught in a storm off the Banks and went down with all hands.” “Aye, many good men and good ships have been lost on those devilish banks, that’s certain,” the Captain said, exhaling a blue cloud of tobacco smoke. “I’m right sorry for your loss. D’ye know the name of the ship then?
“Yes, sir. It was the Georgian Star.” Another cloud of smoke and an even longer pause. “A schooner, wer’nt it?” the Captain said at last. “Two masted, runnin’ out of Boston? A coaster, carryin’ freight mostly?” “Well, I know my father boarded in Boston,” Isaac said. “I don’t know about ships, so I do not recollect the masting.” “Well I am familiar with the ship,” Captain replied. “Can’t recall the name of the skipper, but I heard tell the ship went down off the Banks in a nor’easter a dozen years back. She was a right smart ship, too, with a good captain. But y’know, when the Lord say’s it’s yer time, why then, it’s yer time, and they’s nothin’ ye can do about it.” I watched Isaac throughout this discussion. Not once before that day had I ever heard him talk about his father, Joachim Schoonmaker. Just now I felt great compassion for him, losing his Father like that. Later that night, in my cramped bunk below decks, I stared into the dark spaces around me and imagined living the life of a sailor. I clearly saw myself fighting to keep the wheel steady in the most ferocious of storms, the ship heeling into the wind, every square inch of her canvas straining to hold as the winds bore us along at a frightful pace. The storm was so tumultuous that only I was brave enough to stay above decks, manning my post. Only when the winds died down did I relinquish my post before the mast. And only then did I fall into a deep sleep.
Chapter 3: This Grand City
New Amsterdam, 1767 (Manhatten, 2011)
New Amsterdam was a grand city even then. As we sailed up the Hudson River heading toward the wharves of the island called Manhattan, I was astonished at how big the place was. The Captain told us that 7,000 citizens lived there! From the water, I certainly could believe it. The island was filled with row upon row of houses, shops, commercial buildings, even a few farms on the farthest end. People and horses seemed to fill every square foot of the muddy streets. Every wharf bustled with activity. We sailed past two enormous British warships anchored in the Roads off the Island and dozens of tall-masted sailing ships of all sizes moored at the docks. I sat on the forecastle entranced with the changing scene.
“Look sharp, there, lad.” Startled, I looked up at my Father. He was watching me closely, grinning slightly. I was day-dreaming again. “Yes, sir,” I replied, trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing just then. Oh, yes, I was supposed to be down below, packing my belongings and getting ready to disembark. I dashed down the galleyway. Quickly finishing that task, I returned topside once more. The mainsail and the jibs were down; we were coming in with just the topsail up. The Captain had the helm and the crew manned the lines as we angled in to an open wharf. All too soon, I thought, we were dockside. On the Captain’s command, two sailors dropped the topsail and the other jumped to the pier with the bow and stern lines and tied us off to cleats on the pier. Our sea voyage was over. But what a voyage it had been! Later, as we were taking our leave of the Captain, he leaned over to Father and said in a very loud whisper that we could all plainly hear, “Well, mate, ah’m heartily glad to get those young pirates off m’ship, before they steal all my diamonds and brooches and silver treasure I’ve got stashed below.” Then he roared with laughter, slapping his thigh with one hand while holding on to the rigging with the other. Father, who had not been part of the pirate conversation last night, looked befuddled. Finally the able seamen had our luggage and boxes unloaded and stacked on the dock. Father had already gone off to obtain a wagon and wagoneer to transport us to the tavern where we were to spend the next several days. Shortly we were in our new lodgings, the Province Arms on Broadway Street, Edward Willet, proprietor. By then it was dinner time, and I for one was heartily hungry. Shipboard food was plentiful, but it was not much to our liking. I think we ate it as much to please the Captain as to please our stomachs, but our stomachs were none too pleased with the fare. At the Province Arms it was altogether different. The richness of the food and the ales were a wonderful change from the austerity of the ship.
After dinner, Father, Isaac and Jacob settled in with other patrons to smoke and gather the latest news and gossip. Balthus and I, on the other hand, were free to roam the city, as long as we returned by nightfall. And roam we did, for four free days. I loved nothing more than to spend the day running up and down the docks, watching sweating stevedores unloading supplies, red-coated British soldiers marching in formation, or shopkeepers hawking their wares. New Amsterdam was an exciting place for a youngster. In the morning we would explore the busy wharfs and bustling shop districts, then take advantage of the warm afternoons to dive and swim in the backbay. And everywhere we heard the talk of war. Just three months earlier, the French surrendered the frontier lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to His Majesty King George of England, ending The French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War as the French called it). And now the Indians were raging against all Whites, trying to keep out the flood of settlers. But we also heard talk of another war brewing, a war of words between some of the Colonialists and Britain. Many in the colonies were unhappy to be subjects of the British king, arguing instead for a break with the Crowne. They were clamoring for an independent country, where the colonies would be called states. At the end of our last day in New Amsterdam, Balthus and I returned to the Province Arms fairly exhausted from our explorations. We discovered Father deep in conversation with a gentleman not known to us. “Eh, lads, come here,” father said when he espied us at the door to the pub. “I have a grand gentleman for you to meet.” We stepped over to where they were seated. “Captain Peter Harris, may I present my son Benjamin and my brother-in-law’s son Balthus,” Father said. We both doffed our hats, bowed to the gentlemen, and took a seat. “Lads, Captain Harris was my commanding officer during my service with the Dutchess County Volunteers, 2nd New York Regiment. And a fine officer he was, too, a great service to the Crowne.” Father had spent a year as a lieutenant in His Majesty’s Service, in the great battle to defeat the French at Fort Ticonderoga in ‘59. Many an evening we children would pester him until he would finally regale us
with stories of his wartime exploits. I had heard then the name Harris, but of course had not met the man until now. “Well, lads, I be mighty pleased to meet you both,” Capt. Harris said. “Benjamin, your father was a right fine officer to work with, always sharp, always on the lookout, always a man to be counted on. It was no easy task, I’ll tell you, to march from here to Lake Oswego to Fort Ticonderoga, throw out the French, and then get back here all in one piece. It took a great many brave men like Lt. DeCorsa here to accomplish that mission.” “Aye, Captain, about 10,000 of us, as I recall,” Father interjected proudly. “The greatest army every assembled on this continent.” I looked over at Balthus and winked at him over our pints of ale and dinners of cold pork pie. We settled in for a long evening of stories of derring-do and glorious exploits. Capt. Harris was just warming up to his subject: “Let me tell you, lads, that ‘tho the fight against the French was grueling, it was nothing compared to what we might have encountered had our regiment been sent to Cuba, as the generals intended.” Father jumped in. “Did you know, Captain, that’s why I received the commission of lieutenant from the Governor? It was to entice me to join the Provincials against the Spanish in Havana, but we ended up being sent to Montreal instead. And I’m plenty glad of that, I’ll say.” “Yes,” Captain Harris agreed, “that was a good switch, considering how many of those fine lads never made it back from Cuba. Even the Royal Highland Regiment was laid low by the tropical sickness. They say more men lost their lives from malarial mosquitoes than from Spanish lead shot.” And on into the evening went the stories and remembrances, back and forth. “Captain, do you remember Major Chestnor at the Battle of Ticonderoga?” Father asked at one point. “He did a right fine job of leading his men, right into the water.” They both laughed at the recollection. This was a story I had not heard before. “True enough, DeCorsa,” Harris chuckled. “Lads, I’ll tell ye the story. Chestnor’s men were loaded into twelve or fourteen bateux [flatbottomed boats] and they came down the river past sundown of the day we marched in. But it seems he did not know where to put ashore. They
passed our encampment in the dark, then saw us and tried to turn around, but the current had them tight. Most of the boats pitched and yawed on the turn so bad they launched those men right into the water. I tell you it was a soggy crew that finally dragged themselves up on the beach that night. It gave us a good reason to pass around the rum, though, to warm them up and ourselves, too, of course. As I recall we all got fairly warm and fairly tight.” “Yes, and the next day Major Chestnor ordered those same men out to drag the boats back, most of which had fetched up in the marsh nearby,” Father added. “Headaches they had a-plenty, but they managed to save most of their munitions and supplies, I’ll warrant.” “Of course,” Harris continued, “the Frenchies did us the favor of blowing up their fort before we had the chance to do it for them. Just when we had our siege batteries set up to do the job, they slipped out during the night and torched the place. Oh, what a sight that was, remember? Night turned to day when the powder magazine blew skyhigh, taking the whole eastern wall of the fort with it. Whoa, what a blast!” Father chimed in with “But it was a damnable shame they didn’t let their horses loose. A terrible waste to turn 50 good steeds to smoke.” “Aye, and we could have used those horses, no doubt,” Harris said, wagging his head. “But it was a good thing the French knew they were outgunned, and saved us from having to slaughter them all.” About this time Isaac and Jacob returned to the Inn after an evening of carousing around the town. The hour was late, Balthus and I were nodding off in our seats, so the four of us younger ones retired to our room upstairs. We left the two veterans seated by the fire to reminisce long into the night. Their good-natured laughter and friendly conversation escorted us up the stairs. For Father, it was to be a particularly short night, for very early the next morning we embarked on another sloop for the one-day run up the Hudson River to Tarrytown, New York. That’s where Father was born, and where we would stay with his relatives before heading by horseback to the far Western end of the Colony. I was not much looking forward to spending nearly two weeks with these relations. I had met some of them before. They were quiet, serious, hard-working, church-going Old Dutch folk. They spoke mostly
Dutch, only grudgingly going to English when it was clear we could not follow them. They were not much fun for this 10-year-old. But I was decidedly looking forward to the trek into the heart of the wilderness frontier, as soon as we left Tarrytown. Little did I know just how exciting this trip would be.
Chapter 4: A Wretched Place
Fort Decker, they called it. In my mind I called it something far worse. When I first saw the place, it was dirty, smelly, cold, and tough. The area was crowded with Colonial settlers, British soldiers, Indians of many tribes, a few leftover French traders, a lost-looking Dutchman who claimed he was a Jesuit priest, and bums and scoundrels of many colors. They called it a fort, but it was not. At best it was a trading house hard on the banks of the Delaware River, made of stone but a story and a half high, a secure place to gather in case of attack to be sure, but certainly not a stockade. Never was there a more rough and tumble place. And never was there a place that excited this 10-year-old’s imagination more than Fort Decker. At wretched Fort Decker, I was certain I was as far from the orderly, cosmopolitan New Amsterdam as I could get. This outpost was on the far frontier between the British Colonies and the unexplored Indian lands. We had arrived yesterday, using what’s known as The Old Mine Road. All of our goods were stacked on a rather rickety looking freight wagon drawn by two horses. The adults took turns driving the wagon while the rest of us walked and watched. It had taken eight days of rough toil, for in truth the road was one more of imagination than fact. At times the wagon wheels locked on rocks and roots, and at other times the horses strained to pull the load up the hills or through mud holes. Whenever this happened, we all put our shoulders to the wagon to free it up again. Fort Decker was just a way-stop, a place where we could rest and trade the horses and wagon for a boat before heading down the Delaware River. From here Father knew the way back downriver to our
old home in Dansbury, what we hoped would be a much more congenial place for us to live. Fort Decker certainly was not congenial, though it surely fired my imagination. Back in Maryland, Hannah and I had read the new Robinson Crusoe novel. I had imagined my life here in the wilds would be very much like that. I thought we even might find a friendly wandering Indian who would want to be our manservant, like the charming character named Friday in the Crusoe book. Here in Fort Decker I quickly realized the error of my thinking. “Eh there, lad, watch where yer going.” A man’s low, grumbly voice next to me startled me out of my wandering daydreams. He carried a heavy gunny sack slung over each shoulder as he pushed past me. He dropped the bags into the back of a small horse-drawn cart nearby, then turned back to speak to me. “Well, then, laddie, yer new to this place, aintcha?” His appearance was rough and shaggy, all black hair and buckskins. “Where are ye from?” “We just came in from Tarrytown, sir,” I replied in my best formal English. “I hear ol’ Chief Pontiac is raiding up in these parts and has laid siege to Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt,” the man said. “And ‘course they’re all upset over the way Colonel Bouquet beat ‘em at Bushy Run. Did ye meet up with any of those knaves on the road, then?” “No, sir,” I responded. I had heard all about the Ottawa Chief, Pontiac, leading the Ottawa and Seneca tribes of the Great lakes into war against the British. His forces had already taken over or destroyed many of the British Army posts. “We were warned by the British in New Amsterdam to stay away from that area. I have not heard much since then. How did the battle go?” “Well, I am told that wily general passed out smallpox-infested blankets that the Injins picked up, and many died within a few days. It seems they can fight off the British, but they can’t fight off the pox. Or at least, that’s the story I heard.” He fell silent a moment, then took out a filthy handkerchief and mopped his brow. I could not tell whether he felt sorry for the Indians or not. “A question, Sir,” I said. “What of the Indians here. Are they Ottowas?”
“Nah, they are Lenni Lenapes, what we call Delawares, and a fairly ragtag bunch at that,” he said. “Chief Pontiac and his thievin’ Ottawa clan are far to the north of us here. These Indians here [he jabbed a finger toward a group near the river] are not really a tribe of their own, rather they are bits of various tribes from up and down the river. Think of them as loners and losers rejected by their tribes. Not a bad bunch, but keep yer eyes open around them just the same. They are thievin’ rascals for certain.” Instinctively I put my hand in my pocket and fingered my Hannah doll. On the outbound trip I had done this often. It comforted me. “So then, lad, what do ye think of this fair town, then?” The man’s eyes twinkled when he said this. “Well, sir, it is not quite what I expected,” I replied. “For certain this place is not a town, and it surely is far removed from Baltimore or New Amsterdam.” The man threw back his head and laughed a long, throaty laugh. “Oh, that’s good,” he wheezed. “What might our Fort Decker be missing then, laddie? A library, perhaps? An opera house, or fine stores selling linens to the ladies and kerchiefs to the fops? Or how about those eating houses where the rich swells hang about?” He wiped his brow again, then continued: “I will tell you We have many things that Baltimore don’t. Why, we’ve got more than they have, and more flies, and more Indians. We’ve got wandering through town, and mosquitoes the size of black birds. you’ll likely never see a moose in Baltimore, nor a beaver.” this. mud bear And
I could tell he was just getting warmed up to his subject. I thought to head him off by asking, “How long have you been here, sir?” “Oh, lessee, the better part of a year now, I reckon,” he replied. “In and out, you know. Sometimes I stay here, sometimes I’m on the river, and sometimes I go out with the Brits to help them out.” He winked when he said this, but I did not know what to make of it. He certainly was not a regular British soldier from any garrison. Maybe he is a spy, I thought. The idea somehow thrilled me. Fort Decker was not regularly garrisoned with British troops, ‘tho a squad was now bivouacked nearby. The building was part of a farm that extended for several hundred acres down to the Delaware
River. To the east lay the Shawangunk Ridge, to the north the edge of the Appalachian plateau. The property had a wide view of the flatland surrounding it. Just then a double column of British regulars slumped by, looking weary and dejected. Looked like they’d been out chasing Indians, or maybe French loyalists. Folks nearby paid them little attention. “Well, lad, I’ll be off then,” the man said. “The name’s Murchison. And yours?” “I am Benjamin DeCorsa, sir.” “Well, Master DeCorsa, fare thee well.” Mr. Murchison nodded, then turned and mounted his wagon. With a snap of his whip, he guided his sleepy-looking horse down the rough road leading away from the stockade. Somehow I knew I’d see him again. Father, Jacob, and Balthus were in the small trading post nearby, buying goods for the next leg of our journey; Isaac was watching over our campsite at the river. I sat down on a stump in front of the trading post and watched the movement of people around me. At the river’s edge a group of Indians and Whites smoked from long pipes. The Lenni Lenapes call the river Mam-e-ko-ting, while the English call it the Delaware, after Lord de la Ware, the first Colonial governor. Indians have lived along this river forever. Now the colonists were coming in by trail and by river to carve farms out of the wilderness that the Indians claimed as theirs. The Indians were not happy about this. Some distance away from the main building, a few dozen rough wooden huts and log cabins were inhabited by traders, settlers, and bums. Beyond the huts, partly hidden amongst the trees, were several large Indian lodges covered with skins and rush mats, with wisps of smoke curling out the smoke holes on top. Several small Indian children scampered around one lodge, bedeviling a sorry-looking mongrel dog. Suddenly I saw three Indians walking straight toward me. I was terrified, and tried my best to disappear into the stump. Two of them had long flowing black hair and wore rough leather garments rather like long coats. But I was most fascinated and terrified by the tall one dressed in warrior gear: moccasins, leather leggings and breechclout, a beaded pouch, and an elegant French powder horn over one shoulder. He wore a shiny bracelet on one arm and had a ring in each ear. His head was shaved except for a long knot of black hair braided with colorful beads. He cradled a flintlock rifle in one arm. Nor could I take my eyes off the
tattoos on his arms and shoulders. I had seen tattoos only once before, on sailors debarking from ships in New Amsterdam harbor. As the three approached, I sensed their black, piercing eyes watching me without appearing to see me at all. The closer they got the stronger they smelled, a wild mixture of wood smoke, bear grease, and sweat. I sat very still on my stump as they moved silently into the trading post behind me. I exhaled at last. This was the closest I had ever been to real Indians. A few moments later Balthus scampered out of the post. His eyes were huge. “Did you see them?” he whispered to me, nodding toward the three Lenni Lenapes who had gone inside. Balthus’s arms were filled with bags of foodstuffs. “I do believe they intend to buy liquor.” I knew what he meant. We had heard many stories of how Indians behave when they get drunk. It was said nobody was safe around them until they finally fell asleep. “Did you see the powder horn the tall one carried?” I asked. “He must have got that from a French soldier. Did you see the fleur de lies decorations on it? That is standard soldier issue. Do you think he killed for it?” Balthus put his packages on the ground and rubbed his arm muscles. “I do not know. But I do know this for certain: They better not try to get the better of me or they will be truly sorry.” That was Balthus: always trying to pretend he was stronger and fiercer than he really was. I think he was just as scared as me. Just then Father came out the post door, carrying an exceedingly large bag of dried beans, which he handed to me. “Well, lads, let’s gather up our goods and get along.” I staggered under the load. Father ducked back inside, then he and Jacob appeared with several bags of flour, seed, and foodstuffs over their shoulders. Together the four of us were weighted down with bags, boxes, and sacks. Struggling under the load, we didn’t speak at all while we walked the short trail back to our campsite along the river. We were using the hollow trunk of a giant cottonwood tree for shelter. Gratefully
we unloaded our goods inside the tree and plopped down against a log in the warm sand in front. Isaac arranged the bags in a neat row. “From now until we leave, we will not leave this spot unguarded,” Father said quietly. I always loved the way he used English, smooth and rhythmic, with barely a hint of his native French accent. “I have arranged to purchase a boat tomorrow. I expect that we shall be able to push on tomorrow afternoon, once we have everything secured onboard.” “What kind of boat will you get, Father?” I asked. “It’s called a bateaux, a flat-bottomed boat with high gunnels, about 20 feet long. It will take all our gear. It takes two men to pole her and one to steer from the rear, so we’ll all take turns. Anyone who’s not working will be watching. At night we will tie up to the shore but stay on the boat. It should give us good cover from hard going.” By ‘hard going’, we knew he meant Indian attacks, although he did not say it outright. Balthus asked, “Uncle, do you think those Indians in the post were buying spirits?” “No, Balthus, they were trading furs, beaver furs. As nearly as I could understand, they were trading the furs their people caught during the Spring. I have a mind to buy a few myself. We will need good fur clothing when winter comes upon us. I will talk with the trader tomorrow, when I arrange for the boat.” While we were talking, Jacob used his flint to start a small fire in the fire ring. He was very handy with the flint, much faster than I. In less than a minute, he always had a good little fire going. He set a pot of water to boil for Father’s tea, while Father opened one of the boxes and pulled out jerky, dried fruits, and some special sweet biscuits. Earlier in the day he had shot, skinned, and quartered a raccoon. In the Provincial Army he was known as a skilled marksman who could always be counted on to bring back food for his fellow soldiers. He now put pieces of ‘coon meat on skewers over the fire. Soon the warm sizzling smell of the meat made us all very hungry. When it was cooked, we contentedly feasted while watching the wide, slow sweep of the mighty river before us. Soon, we knew, we should be out on that river, floating downstream, heading for our new home, somewhere out there.
The sun was dipping low above the trees on the opposite side of the river when we finished our meal. I was grateful when Father told us to spread out our bedrolls. It had been a long, strange, exciting day for me and I was exhausted. I knew Father and the others were just as exhausted as I, but I also knew they would take turns through the night standing guard over our little encampment. Father, as usual, would take the first watch. He settled into a comfortable position with his back to the river and his beautiful English Brown Bess flintlock rifle resting over his knees, primed and ready, with the powder horn next to him. Jacob sat next to him, smoking from a long clay pipe. Isaac, Balthus, and I snuggled into our bedrolls and almost immediately we were asleep. I was vaguely aware when Father awoke Isaac sometime during the night, and plied him with hot black tea to help him stay awake. Next thing I knew it was morning, with the sun just peeking through the trees. Father and Jacob were already awake, stirring the fire to get our morning tea going. Isaac was back in his bedroll and Balthus was just waking up. I rolled out of my blankets and put on my stiff boots and jacket. This was to be a big day. This was the day we would take to the river, and leave the stockade behind forever. At least, I hoped so.
Chapter 5: Under Attack
At first, I didn’t realize we were being attacked. I was lying against the gunwale of the pole boat, daydreaming and watching the opposite riverbank streaming by in the warm midday sun. One hand played in the water as the boat glided gently downstream, carried along by the current and guided by the long pole held in my father’s sturdy grip. An eagle flew high overhead, and kingfishers swooped and chattered, startled by a lone moose ambling along the river’s edge. What a gigantic animal, I marveled. Surely it was as high as a standing man and half as long as the boat. I reckoned I could throw my whole bedroll into the magnificent beast’s crown of antlers. The mighty Delaware flowed almost due south here. When we began this morning, Father consulted his map and told us we would be passing through the Walpack Bend today, where the river turns back on itself before coursing once more due south. Already we had passed two or three small islands. I inspected them as we passed, thinking they would make a fine places to explore. Now ridges and mountains began squeezing the river on both sides, creating a faster water flow and some mighty rapids which Father and Jacob negotiated with skill and a certain amount of cursing. Looking downstream, I could see a mountain apparently blocking our way. Suddenly this rock wall disappeared and the river rushed through the breech, turning eastward and then northeastward, completely reversing directions. Now the rock ledge that was originally the left bank appeared on the right. The river hugged the right bank in the shade of this imposing cliff wall and the water was dark and scary. Looking into the deep waters below us I could see occasional huge boulders broken off ages ago from the cliffs above us, some reaching up to within inches of our boat.
This was Walpack Bend. After that, the river widened somewhat and became less deep. This made our way much easier, for which we were all thankful. Suddenly Isaac cried out and pointed to the near shore. Father hissed at me, “Quick, into the bow, son.” It snapped me out of my daydreams. We had gone through this drill before, but I knew this time was different. I dropped to the floor of the boat and tucked my head into the bow, pulling an old, gray woolen blanket over my legs for cover. For several long minutes I couldn’t see or hear anything. Quietly I turned my head to watch Father. Father crouched in the stern, five yards away, hiding behind two large boxes of household goods stacked amidships. He swore quietly as he scanned the trees, only a few dozen yards distant. His rifle was loaded and at the ready across the boxes. Suddenly he stiffened and ducked his head, then very slowly rose up to peek over the boxes. What did he see? Indians? The thought frightened me. Of course I had seen a quite a few at Fort Decker, three days back up river. They were dark, quiet, strange. Mostly they came to trade with the settlers, doing their business then disappearing back into the forest or their lodges nearby. The settlers seemed to accept them, but certainly not as friends. With my head stuck under the gunwale at the bow, I could only see backwards. I heard only the sounds of water against the skin of the boat, a few birds overhead, and the heavy breathing of my kin. Very slowly, Father took aim and fired. The gun belched a cloud of flame and noise. Immediately he dropped behind the box and reloaded, and as he did so, Jacob rose up and fired off two shots, followed by Isaac. Now a long, piercing scream came from the riverbank, then a loud whoop, then another. Did Father hit one of them? How many were there? My head hurt with fear and confusion. The shouts of the Indians grew louder. I heard splashing in the water now. Were they launching canoes? Or swimming out to the boat? Can Indians even swim? I did not know.
An arrow whistled over the bow, just a few inches from my head and definitely too close for comfort. My legs shook with terror. I couldn’t see the action along the riverbank, and I longed to peek over the side of the boat. Yes, I wanted to fight, but also to see the savages closeup. My heart raced. While the three adults fought off the attackers, Balthus frantically tried to pole the boat to the other side of the river. Not of strong build, he was having a tough time of it. Here the river made a wide sweeping turn to the east, forcing the boat toward the western shore close to a grove of tall willows. Another deafening report from Father’s flintlock, more whoops from the shore, but louder this time. It sounded like dozens and dozens to me. I was still covered by the blanket; I pulled a large coil of rope to cover my legs, but I could not cover the clatter of my shaking knees and I was certain the attacking Indians could hear it. Over the shouts, over the rushing of water against the boat, I heard Father and Jacob cursing the Indians and shouting encouragement to Balthus, all the while pouring powder and ball down their rifle barrels and packing it. Once Father’s eye flicked over to the bow. I met his determined glance with a frightened one of my own. “Stay down,” he whispered. I nodded, then saw an arrow flash past my hat, nearly catching the feather plume pinned to it. Father bobbed down and back up, swung the rifle up onto the boxes, squinted, aimed, and fired, all in one skillful, fluid motion. Suddenly the current caught the boat. Balthus pushed on the pole, guiding the boat away from the shore. The boat picked up a little speed, but the sounds from the bank grew louder still. I heard arrows thumping into the side of the boat and falling into the water; several hit the boxes. I didn’t dare breathe. Isaac fired a round and ducked down to reload. Balthus dropped the pole in the boat and ducked, too. More arrows flew overhead, and then quiet from the shore. What was happening? Did the Indians give up? Flat on his stomach, Father looked around the end of the nearest box. I watched him intently, while straining to hear any sounds above the lapping water. He rose up on one knee and looked over the box, rifle at the ready. Balthus sat up slowly, his back against the gunwale. He placed the pole in his lap.
“Hold off,” Father said very quietly. “Stay low. Those savages are not done with us yet.” He continued to search the bank. We all felt a gentle nudge at the bow. Father and Balthus glanced forward. The boat was coming to rest on a sandbar in the middle of the turn. The Indians saw it, too, and renewed their attack. “Push us off, quickly,” Father whispered urgently, reloading the gun. Balthus squatted up on his knees and leaned over the side away from the Indians, straining hard with the pole. Isaac grabbed another pole and pushed even harder. At first the poles sank deep into the sand and the boat stayed put. A wave of new terror swept over me. Finally, sweating and heaving, they were able to back the boat off the sand and the current caught us. We were moving again. In that moment of small jubilation, an arrow caught Balthus high in the back. I saw the tip push through the front of his shirt, just below his throat. Balthus looked down, and I have never seen such a look of surprise and pain. He reached up with both hands to grab the tip, gasping and crying out as he did so. Another arrow knocked him forward. He pitched into the bottom of the boat and crumpled sideways, so I could see his face. His eyes stayed open, but a cloud came across them. I shivered. Father’s rifle roared again. As he ducked down, he saw Balthus lying on his side. “Mon Dieu,” Father gasped. He leaned over my cousin, saw the arrow through the windpipe, and let out a gut-wrenching moan. Then with a mighty shout he swung back up. He aimed and fired. At that instant two arrows thudded into him. One hit him full in the chest, another pierced his right arm. Stunned, Father’s head snapped backward and he tumbled to the bottom of the boat next to Balthus. He pulled the rifle toward himself, poured out a quick measure of powder and dropped in a ball. Ramming it in quickly, he hoisted the rifle onto the box with his left arm. His eyes were nearly shut, but he pulled the trigger anyway. The ball exploded in the chest of an Indian just hoisting himself up onto the gunwale. The savage let out an awful scream and fell off into the water with a loud splash. Father turned toward me and opened his eyes just a slit. “Stay low, son, stay low. They may not know you’re on board.” His eyes shut. He sagged back against the gunwale, just as another arrow slammed into his chest. Now he gave a low groan; his head flopped to one side.
Jacob looked over at Father just in time to see him draw his last breath. Jacob quickly reloaded and fired from the stern just as Isaac fired off a shot from the gunwale. But still the arrows rained down onto the boat. I could not see Jacob now behind the boxes, but all at once I heard his unmistakable cry, a cry like I hope never to hear again. I knew an arrow had found its mark. That left just Isaac and me. I could clearly see him backed up against the gunwale opposite from the Indian attack, partly hidden from their view by the boxes amidships. Isaac leaned over and grabbed Jacob’s rifle, loaded it, and laid it across the box to take careful aim. By this time the boat had entered a bit of turbulence, rocking from side to side. Apparently the Indians could see this, too, for they seemed to perfectly time their next volley of arrows. As the boat rocked toward the Indian’s side, it exposed Isaac behind the box. Several arrows slammed into his chest, neck, and arms all at once. The force of the impact knocked his body clean out of the boat. He was dead in an instant. Now I could hear the whooping again from the shore. It sounded like the Indians were celebrating! I listened closely. Were they still chasing the boat? No, the sounds seemed to be falling behind as the current continued to carry the rudderless boat down the river. I looked at Father, then Balthus, then Jacob. I crawled over to them. I took my father’s hand. Father squeezed gently, then dropped my hand to the deck. Then nothing more. Balthus, the same. I peeked over the side of the boat. I could see several Indians, hopping around in a loose circle on the beach. They were about fifty yards behind now. It seemed they had lost interest in the boat, at least for now. I let the boat drift with the current. I couldn’t think and did not dare to look out again, huddled between Father and Balthus. I wondered why they didn’t get up. I whispered their names: “Father? Balthus? Jacob?” Nothing. “The Indians are gone now,” I whispered to them. Still nothing. I nudged Father gently with my foot. “Father?” And then I knew: They would not rise again.
Chapter 6: Beached and Alone
The bow of the boat caught a log jutting into the river, then swung around slowly, the stern imbedding itself on a small sandy beach nearly covered by a stand of willows. The movement startled me. I suppose I had fallen into an exhausted sleep. I looked up, fully expecting to see Indians swarming the boat. I had no idea how far the boat had drifted. Lying low in the bow of the boat, I peered into the thicket of short bushes and taller trees behind them further up the bank. The sun was dropping behind the hills. I strained my eyes and ears to see any movement, hear any sound. I heard birds chirping, the gurgling sound of the river. Crickets. But nothing else. I stared at the still forms of my father, half-brother, and cousin. They lay there, crumpled like broken dolls on the bottom of the boat. I knew they were dead. I had seen this before, when a cousin had died in infancy. Then I was surrounded by family and friends. Now, I was alone. I turned my face into the blanket and broke into long, pitiful sobs. No other sound broke the steady sloshing of the river around the beached boat. The sun settled further, now lighting only the tops of the far hills. I tried to think, to make a plan. I couldn’t. Slowly I raised myself and for the longest time scanned the woods again. Still no movement, no signs of Indians. At this moment I knew only one thing for certain: somehow, some way, I must get back to Fort Decker. We hadn’t seen any signs of civilization since leaving it, and I had no idea what was downriver. Father’s plan was to get to the tiny settlement of Smithfield, which he said was at least six days downriver from Fort Decker. The fort was three days back up the river. That is,
three days by boat, traveling with the current. How far on foot? Dejectedly, I slumped back down into the boat. I could see only one thing to do. I must walk back to the stockade. It would be terribly difficult. For one thing, the stockade was on the other side of the river. I would have to swim across somewhere. But worse, the Indians were on this side of the river. Somehow I would have to circle around them. That is, if they were still where I last saw them, along the riverbank. And I had no idea how far the boat had drifted while I was in my exhausted sleep. I looked dumbly at the large wooden packing crates containing our meager goods. Everything we planned to use to start life over again was in these few boxes. It wasn’t much, I knew. When we left home, we were accompanied by several traveling trunks and quite a number of crates. But first in Baltimore then again in New Amsterdam, Father had to sell off much of our belongings, both to pay for the next part of the trip and to lighten the load. We even left a trunk full of clothes at the Fort Decker stockade. “There is no fancy Court where we are going, lads,” Father had said. “We can leave the ruffles for somebody else.” What was left? Kitchen supplies, gardening tools, bedding, some clothes, the family Bible. And foodstuffs to last until the first crops came in. With the butt of the rifle, I knocked open the latch on the box containing the food and rummaged through it. Several small barrels of flour, salt, and sugar. Tins of sweet French crackers. Many strips of dried deer meat. Two large sacks of dried fruits, traded at the stockade for a box of blankets. A few bags of dried beans and a gunnysack of seed potatoes. A bushel of hard corn. Carefully labeled bags of crop seeds. Not much more. Father was an expert marksman and usually bagged fresh meat for dinner. “What should I take with me?” I spoke it aloud, a wail more than a question, desperately wanting an answer from Father or Balthus. I laid the old gray blanket on top of the other box. On it I piled some of the dried meat and fruits. I emptied a tin of crackers onto the pile, mostly because I liked them so. When the load was as heavy as I figured I could carry, I tied the blanket ends together to form a makeshift pack. Now I stared at Father’s rifle. Should I take it? I never was a good shot with it and it was terribly cumbersome for me, as it was
almost as long as I was tall. I picked it up and rested it in the crook of my arm. As heavy as it was, it felt good to hold it in my hands. I felt braver. Yes, I should take it, too. I stuffed the bag of gunpowder and another of shot into my overcoat pockets. I had a skinning knife strapped to my waist; so did Balthus. Father had given them to us the day we arrived in Baltimore. Never before had I seen such a beautiful knife. It had a shiny 8-inch blade and bone handle that perfectly fit my hand. I felt like a man when I first strapped it on, hanging low around my waist. From that day forward, I rarely took it off. Just to be reassured, I felt my knife again, as I had a thousand times before. My knife, my father’s gun, my Hannah doll, and my backpack. I hoped it was enough. I glanced over to my dead family, and I panicked. I knew I needed to go before the Indians found me here, but what about the bodies? Should I bury them or hide their bodies? Suddenly a half-remembered remark from Father interrupted my grieving. Something he said during the attack. What was it? I tried to remember, but couldn’t. It was a warning, I was sure of that. Slowly I looked around the boat, at the bodies, at the boxes, one with the cover open, at the arrows lodged in the sides of the boat. The tears forced their way out as I looked for anything else that would be helpful, even as I tried to remember those words of caution. One thing more I needed: Father’s hat. Gently I picked it up from where it had fallen, straightened it out, and placed it on my head. It was a tad too big, but Father won’t mind, I told myself. Finally, unable to delay any longer, I shouldered the rough pack and the gun. Gingerly I stepped out of the boat onto the sandy beach and began pushing my way through the foliage. As I was about to lose sight of the beach, I turned to look at the boat one last time. I recoiled in surprise. My footprints, pointing right toward me! And at that moment I remembered what Father had said: “They may not know you’re on board, son.”
I stepped back through the brush to the beach. My mind was racing. If the Indians really did not know I was on board, I must cover all trace of me being here. First I stepped back onto the boat and looked around. What would an Indian look for here? The answer was immediate: the guns. They were too heavy for me to carry anyway, I decided. I placed one gun next to Father. But just to be safe, I threw all the shot as far out into the river as I could, then I emptied all the gunpowder over the side and threw the bags after it. I repacked the foodstuffs box, trying to make it look like nothing was missing. I knew I must leave the bodies, too. I touched each of them gently on the forehead, saying a tearful goodbye. My heart was torn asunder. I stepped off the boat and back onto dry land. I knew I needed to shove the boat back off the sand so that Indians would not know I had come ashore here. Trying not to look at the bodies of my family, I grabbed a pole and shoved the boat with all of my might. At first it did not move and I began to panic. Then, ever so slowly, a bit of river current caught the boat’s stern and it began to move of it’s own accord. I was knee deep in water now, still not wanting to look into the boat, just pushing on the pole. The boat moved a little quicker now, until the river took hold and carried it off. Now, what about my footprints? I reached down and picked up a fallen oak branch. With the bough, I raked the sandy area clean of any footprints, walking backward into the brush. Surveying my work with some satisfaction, I threw away the branch and began walking again, angling away from the river. The going was not hard at first. Willows slapped at my face as I walked, and the ground was a tangle of fallen trees and thickets of ferns and blackberries. But I could see a good distance ahead through the darkening afternoon. The river valley here was wide and low, although a mile or more upriver I could see hills rising a few hundred feet into the sky. I was certain that from that hill I could see much further, perhaps as far as the stockade. I aimed for the nearest hill, hoping to reach it before it got completely dark. Walking became easier as I left the low-growing willows behind and entered a forest of tall elm and birch trees on the flanks of the hills. The blanket roll bounced on my back as I climbed up the sloping terrain toward the crest of the hill. At last I came out on a cliff top, with a wide
view of the valley below and the river in the distance, twisting and turning like a huge snake gleaming in the last rays of the dying day. I sat down heavily, a wave of tiredness washing over me. In truth it was much further from the river to this hill top than I first figured. I opened up the blanket and pulled out a piece of dried meat. I was also very hungry, I realized as I determinedly chewed on the jerky. Wrapping my arms around my legs, I stared out over the river valley. It was now completely dark. I pondered my next moves. Yes, in daylight I might see several miles upriver, but certainly not as far as the stockade. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I could find where the Indians had attacked the boat. Dejected, exhausted, and hopeless, I lay down on the smooth rock, pulling a piece of the blanket over me for warmth. Soon I was fast asleep.
Chapter 7: On The Run
A shaft of morning sunlight over the far hills woke me from a deep sleep. I was dreaming of my home in Maryland, after the families had fled from Dansbury in ’55. I was once again in the old family home, with brothers and sisters and cousins all over the place. Before my Father had to go to the Army, before we made this miserable trip. In my dream, I was a little boy again, laughing and playing in the garden with my two dogs. I rubbed my eyes, yawned, and stretched my arms wide. Dejected and crying quietly, I stared out at the river, just now coming out of the early morning shadows. A light mist hung over the river. Birds chirped out their welcome to the sun. I studied the river for any signs of movement. There! A mile or so downriver! Four, now five canoes, drifting silently in and out of the mist, staying near the shore. I could see them clearly now, but not enough to see how many Indians were in them. My heart began to pound, my tears vanished, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I watched intently, until the canoes passed around a bend and were lost from view. Where had I come ashore? I couldn’t be certain, but I thought it was beyond that bend. Would they find my boat? Would it have beached itself again? What to do, what to do? In a panic, I started to run. I had gone only a few paces when I stopped. How crazy of me! In my haste I had forgotten all my supplies. Returning to my sleeping spot, I stuffed a piece of jerky in my pocket for later, then retied the blanket as a rucksack that I could carry over my shoulder. Carefully I scraped away my footprints around the smooth rock, then grabbed up my hat and shouldered the rucksack while looking for a better escape route.
I was sure the Indians were after me. If they found the boat, I was afraid they would eventually find me. My only escape was to keep running along the ridge until I could spot the stockade on the other side of the river. I guessed I had at least five days of travel. I headed into the underbrush, sometimes walking, sometimes running, and sometimes just barely crawling along the cliff tops above the river. As long as I held to the cliffs, it was easy to keep the river to my right. But soon enough, the cliffs flattened out into rolling, treecovered hills and brush-filled valleys. I had to cross many streams large and small. The marshes along the river were the worst; here I had to cut inland, leaving the river behind and running the risk that I might get lost entirely. By midafternoon I was exhausted. I had been running since daybreak. I cried from the pain: my face was scratched and swollen from slashing tree branches, my hands bled from scrambling up rock faces. At one point my rucksack came undone and all my rations fell into the forest underbrush. I scooped up as much dried food as I could carry in my pockets, then put the rest of my food into the blanket and re-tied it more securely. I took off again at a loping run. I was beyond tired, but I pushed on. I kept my bearings by scanning the horizon every time I crested a knoll. Once in a while I caught sight of the wide, surging river to the east. I needed to keep it in view. No telling what was off the other side of the ridge. And still I could not tell whether I was being chased or not. I was always looking behind me, but rarely could I see more than a few dozen yards through the trees and the underbrush. Every snap of a twig caused my heart to stop. Bird calls startled me; I was sure they were Indian calls. Toward sundown I reached the top of another high bluff overlooking the river. I collapsed into a small clearing, perhaps used by animals as a resting spot. From here I had a good view for a league or two up and down the river. I lay on my stomach, scanning the river below me. I could see nothing unusual. No canoes, no boats, no campfire smoke. Watching the slowly flowing river, perhaps a quarter mile wide here, I realized I was going to have a hard time crossing it to get to the stockade on the other side . . . whenever I finally found it. I was going to
have to make some sort of raft, unless I could find a boatman who could take me across. Thinking about rafts, I fell into an exhausted sleep, too tired even to eat, lulled to sleep by the sounds of night birds and crickets. It was a restless night, full of strange night sounds. I awoke before daylight. Night was still fast upon me, but a faint glow in the eastern sky across the river gave a hint of the coming dawn. A good moon was up tonight, although fast-moving clouds kept it largely hidden. Quietly, I looked around me. Nothing moved, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I saw nothing, I heard nothing. I crawled over to the edge of the bluff and looked down at the river just as the clouds parted. The riverbank was wide and sandy here, with a few thickets of cottonwood trees at the base of the bluff. For a moment I thought I saw movement among the trees. I stared intently at the spot, until finally I had to rest my eyes. It was then that I realized I was famished. I scooted backward to my kit so I could retrieve some crackers, dried fruit, and jerky. Yesterday I was so scared and so tired that today I could not remember whether I had eaten anything all day. The food tasted so good now. I wished I had some water to wash it down with, but that would have to wait until I climbed down from the bluff and crossed one of the many feeder streams. I finished off my jerky and settled back into my spot for a little more sleep before the sun fully came up. When I awoke again, the sun was just clearing the bluff on the other side of the river. I crawled back to my lookout spot. I stared again at the trees near the river, and what I saw froze me solid. Two tracks, from the trees to the river, obviously made by dragging canoes to the water’s edge. I stared at the twin marks in the sand. A million questions raced through my mind. How old were the tracks? How many canoes? How many Indians, and where are they now? Could they have seen me up here? (No, I decided.) I studied the marks and the surrounding area as best I could from this distance above it. I could see a few footprints around the canoe marks, but could not see whether they led toward or away from the river. I scanned up and down the river but saw nothing else of interest. I thought about what it all meant. I lay on my stomach watching the river and pondering what to do.
Finally I arrived at a plan. I decided I must know whether the Indian sign was new or old. Scanning the bluff, I saw a way to climb down to the river’s edge. It appeared to be safe enough if I was careful, and it provided me with cover so I could not be seen from the riverbank. I gathered up my blanket rucksack, checked the knife against my thigh, and crept sideways along the top of the bluff until I could begin descending. It was steeper than I thought, and I had to keep fighting back my fear of falling. At least if I fell I wouldn’t go far because the bushes and small trees that blocked the view from below would also stop my fall from above. Slowly, gently, I moved down the steep slope. Most of the time I had my back to the slope, but sometimes it was so steep I had to turn around and go down hand over hand. Every now and then I paused to listen. I heard nothing from below. Still I was careful not to dislodge any rocks. If there were Indians down there, I certainly did not want a landslide to announce my presence. Eventually I came out on the riverbank, several hundred paces upriver from where I saw the canoe tracks. By keeping close to the foot of the bluff, I could stay hidden in the trees. Silently I crept forward. Now I really was afraid. I stopped at every snap, every bird call, and every swish of the river. Back home my brother and I used to hide from each other in the forest, and I always enjoyed the thrill of the game. But this was no game. I was sweating though it was still early morning. Suddenly, a branch snapped to one side of me. I froze. Looking through the thicket toward the river, I saw something move just 30 feet away from me. Silently I stepped back behind a larger tree, while scanning the area to my right. Another snap, then another, though not as loud. In the early morning shade of the thicket, I had trouble picking out the movement again, but then I saw it, brown against brown. It was a doe, stepping gently among the downed branches. She seemed not to see me as she ambled away. I breathed a big sigh of relief, then began moving forward again. After a few paces I could see the sandy riverbank, and could plainly see the canoe tracks. Looking into the thicket, I could see nothing but small trees and low-growing vines among the rock outcroppings. I crept forward, stepping from one tree to another, until I reached the small clearing in the thicket.
This had been an encampment, of that I was sure. I could see where two canoes had been dragged out of the water, and where men had slept on the ground around the clearing. In the middle of the cleared area was a small mound. A fire pit? I sifted the sand through my fingers. Yes, it was still warm, probably from last night. I searched around but found nothing useful. I sat down to think. I was moving upriver, but I was pretty sure these Indians had gone downriver, possibly this morning. I did not know if these were the same as the ones who attacked my family, or the ones I saw yesterday morning, but I guessed not. That probably means these Indians were not looking for me, but I could not know for certain. I checked my pack. Still enough food for three or four more days, if I didn’t lose any more and didn’t eat too much. My muscles ached but I knew I had to get moving again. Until I got back to the stockade, I was not safe. Fighting back exhaustion and tears, I shouldered my pack and began moving through the thicket, retracing my steps from an hour before. This time I was not so afraid, and not so careful. Having just come through here, I knew the way was clear. The way was easy enough along the riverbank. By staying close to the foot of the bluffs, I could stay well hidden and still make good progress. The sun was fully up now and the day was warm. As I stepped over a small stream, I paused to drink in my fill of cold, fresh water. For the first time since I stepped ashore, I felt hopeful.
Chapter 8: Crossing The River
I should have been more careful, I realized later. I got cocky. It was midday. I was hungry and definitely tired from my quick pace all morning. I had been walking rapidly through the brush when I made a sharp turn to climb a low bluff at the river’s edge. I figured that would be a good place to take a break and get a view upriver. I dropped my pack and sat down beside it, pulling out some jerky to chew on. The river was a few hundred feet wide here, making a long sweeping curve to the opposite side. Still no sign of the stockade, of course, but I thought I recognized the white limestone formation on the opposite bank from when we came downriver in the pole boat. Except that I couldn’t remember which day we saw it. Was it the second day out from the stockade, or the third day? I couldn’t say for sure. Munching on the dried meat, I rested in the shade of a large fallen oak tree. The tree stuck out over the bluff. Just a couple feet closer to the edge and it would have toppled right over, I thought. as I glanced over at the root ball, and that’s when I saw them. I froze. There, in the woods, not fifty yards from where I sat, three Indians glided silently through the trees, moving from the direction I had just come. They were not running, exactly, but they were moving quickly. I sensed they were tracking me. I was terrified. I tried to make myself as small and as invisible as possible behind the fallen tree. I was afraid to pull my pack in for fear they would hear me. I prayed they could not see it for all the downed tree branches. I dared not look to see their progress. I just waited in agony, waited for them to find me, waited for them to snatch me, as I was sure they would. Though they moved quietly, I could still hear some movement as they came closer to the little summit where I lay hidden. It seemed they
must surely hear the pounding of my heart, I thought. Even more I tried to fold myself into a smaller little packet. Now I could distinctly hear the moccasins of the nearest Indian. He was passing the foot of the old oak, less than ten feet away. A moment later I heard a bird call. It was so close I nearly jumped. But it was no bird, I realized, it was the Indian. Another call answered, a little further away down the hill. Slowly I turned my head toward the first sound. For just an instant I got a clear view of the Indian through all the branches and trees. I saw the glint of an earring and the shadow of a tattoo on his arm as he went quickly by. My heart pounded again. This was the Indian who had scared me so at the stockade, the one with the leather leggings and the elegant French powder horn. He was still carrying the flintlock rifle. And it looked as though he meant to use it, on ME! I figured he would come around the end of the tree and see my pack, then see me. I shut my eyes tightly and waited. Several seconds went by, then a minute, then another. I was sure a savage was just about to grab for me. Not able to stand the suspense, I opened my eyes. Nothing. I looked around. At first I saw no one, and then at last I saw the back of the tall Indian, moving slower now through the trees some distance away. He joined up with his two partners and they were walking away from me, down the incline and toward the river. I dared not believe my good fortune. I stayed hidden in a little ball. Perhaps they mean to double back and catch me unawares, I thought. Or maybe they are going to get the rest of their tribe. I knew not what they planned to do, but I planned to stay right here until my pounding heart returned to normal. After what seemed like forever, I peered around. I searched the forest and the riverbank, yet saw nothing. I let me eyes take in my entire surroundings, and still I saw no Indians. Slowly, carefully, I pulled my pack toward me and repacked my foodstuffs. I felt for my knife on my thigh, just to reassure myself that it was still there. I stretched out my legs. It seemed I had been curled up in a ball for days. My legs and back
ached, my mouth was dry. Ever so slowly I got up on all fours and looked around. I wasn’t sure it was safe to move on yet. Why had the Indians passed by me? I wondered. Did they not see my tracks where I walked up the bluff, just before I sat down here. I looked for my track, and was surprised not to see any footprints. Of course! The bluff was stony; flakes of loose limestone littered the mound where I had hidden. Apparently I did not leave any signs when I had turned to climb the bluff. That meant the Indians probably thought I was still ahead of them. That would put the Indians in front of me, between me and the stockade. I pondered this new thought for a while. What to do? If the Indians were behind me, I reasoned I had but a slim chance to outrun them. But if they are in front, then all they have to do is sit down and wait for me to come by. And sooner or later I would have to come by . . . unless . . . unless I crossed the river now. That would put me on the same side as the stockade and across from the Indians. The more I thought about my predicament, the more I realized that crossing the river here was my best escape. But how? I surely could not swim it. Though I swam very well, yet I could not swim this river, for the river was wide and the current strong, too strong and capricious for me. I would have to build some sort of raft. I figured it would be best to do it at night, to prevent the Indians from seeing me. Lying on my stomach, I scanned the riverbank, looking for anything that I could use as a raft. And I watched closely at the way the river moved here. I realized that if I went upstream a quarter mile to start my crossing, the flow through the turn would carry me close to the opposite bank. But I could also see that the current was swift there, and dangerous. And to do it in the dark would make it even more dangerous. The only thing I could see that worked in my favor was that the opposite bank was sandy. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about tree branches hanging into the water or steep cliffs to climb. I longed so for Father and Balthus. For three days I had been running so hard and been scared so often that I hadn’t had time to really miss them. But now I missed them dearly. And I missed our boat. How I wished we had never left the stockade, never left Baltimore. Most of all I wished we were all together again. I began to cry. I sobbed quietly, forlornly, days of anguish seeping out in a weepy rush. I wept for those
of my family killed on this cursed river, and for those still alive back home in Delaware. I wept for them because I could imagine them warm and well-fed, enjoying each other’s company. I wept because it was beginning to dawn on me that I might that never see them again. I wept because I was tired and hungry and terrified and feeling pretty hopeless. I wept for myself, in spite of myself. Finally, still snuffling, I wiped my nose and eyes on my sleeve. Looking around with tear-filled eyes, I guessed I had less than two hours of daylight left. I better get busy. Slowly and carefully I gathered up my belongings and moved down the bluff to the riverbank. I paid close attention to where and how I walked, trying to make the least visible track. I searched upstream through low bushes and past rock outcroppings, looking for any logs or large branches that I could use to fashion a raft. Finally I found a backwash where a small stream joined the river. Several logs had washed down the side channel. I inspected each of these. A few were too long or too heavy to drag down to the river’s edge, 30 feet away. Another was too short; some were clearly not strong enough. I bent over and swept away the sand and weeds to get a better look at the others. Three looked workable; I placed them side by side, then searched for one or two more. Finally I had five logs of roughly equal size. I was well hidden by the rushes on the riverbank, so I figured I could build the raft right here. Now I looked around for something to tie them together. At first I could not think of how to do this. But wait! I remembered from the Robinson Crusoe book that he used vines for rope. And I had seen some vines on my way down the bank. I ran back, pulled out my knife, and sliced off some of the thinner vines hanging from the trees. They were like ropes, I thought gratefully. Working quickly and quietly, I lashed the five logs together, using knots Balthus had shown to me. The sun was now setting over the hills behind me. For the first time since I had seen the Indians on the bluff, I felt a pang of hunger. I looked with some satisfaction on my handiwork while I ate a few crackers and some dried fruit. I scanned the river; still I saw no one. Then a startling thought entered my mind: how am I to get this raft into the river? I tried to lift it, but once it was all lashed together, it was too heavy by far. I tied a vine to one end, and using it as a lead, I tried to drag the raft across the sand. It was still too heavy; I could not budge it.
In desperation, I looked around for anything that might work. Finally I had an idea. I would use two or three of the discarded logs as rollers. With luck I would be able to roll the raft to the river’s edge. Quickly I gathered up three useable logs. With a lot of sweating and grunting I managed to lift one end of the raft and prop it up with a stout stick. Then I slid the logs under the raft and lowered it down. On my hands and knees now in the sand and with more sweating and with enough cursing to make the Parson blush, I managed to shove the raft a few feet down the sand, until one log rolled out from under it on the back side. I pulled the free log out and placed it under the front of the raft and pushed some more. Slowly, and with a great deal of effort, I made headway across the 30 feet of sand, replacing the rollers on the front each time they rolled out the back. By the time I got the raft to the water, the night was full upon me and a half moon was up. A light wind rippled across the river surface; I shivered in the cold. I retrieved my pack and lashed it to the front of the raft. I made sure my Hannah doll was still in my pocket. Now I had one more important thing to do before I struck out across the river. I walked back up to where I had constructed the raft. Grabbing a stout, leafy branch of a dead willow, I walked backward down the beach, scraping clean all marks left from dragging the raft. Then, just to be sure, I walked back up and did it again. Then I broke off all the smaller branches and threw them into the river, leaving myself with a pole somewhat longer than me, suitable for steering and poling. Now, at last, I was ready to launch my craft. I figurted it was the middle of the night. I waded into the river, then pulled and pushed the raft so one end was in the water. The water was frighteningly cold. The river flowed dark and fast. I was fairly certain I could not be seen from either riverbank, but on the other hand I could see very little myself. The moon popped in and out of the clouds, giving barely enough light to see a few feet in front of me. I was cold, wet, nervous, and afraid. Awkwardly I climbed onto the raft and shoved off with my pole. Immediately the raft rolled and plunged in the water. I had thought it would provide a solid platform, but it was more like straddling five plunging horses. I dropped onto my chest and was soaked to the skin at once. The raft plunged and bucked in the river, and I fought just to hang
on. The river roared around exposed boulders, creating dangerous rapids. Icy waves splashed across me; my long wet hair hanging across my face made it impossible to see. I dared not release my grip to sweep the hair back. My pack was drenched, and all the foodstuffs in it. All I could do was hang on in the darkness. I was sure I would drown. Gradually I realized the plunging was beginning to slow as the raft eased toward the middle of the river. Carefully I wiggled into a slightly more comfortable sitting position with my legs out in front but still holding tightly to the logs. At times I was facing backwards as the raft swirled and twisted in the current, getting flung about by the eddies and ripples like a runaway buggy. I felt in danger of overturning at every instant. I could neither see nor steer. I could only hope that somehow I would get to the opposite riverbank and not end up following the river its entire length. Now the moon came out from behind the clouds, just enough to see both sides of the river. I figured I was about in the middle. As I watched, it seemed the current was carrying me ever closer to the far shore. This is what I had hoped for, knowing that the current flows to the outside in any turn. But I also remembered, from being in the boat with Father, that the closer the current carried me to the shore, the faster it would carry me past it. The inside of the turn – the side I had just left – always was the safest side. I used the pole to try to touch the bottom, but it was still no use. I just had to hang on and hope for the best. I was still being constantly soaked by the waves, but I judged I could get no wetter and no colder. I tried to keep facing downriver, but much of the time I was spinning in circles or going sideways. Although it seemed like all night, I guessed I must have been on the river but half an hour by now. The raft was slowly moving toward the opposite shore, but it was moving downriver much faster, away from the stockade. The river was in charge now. Cold and miserable, I held on tight. In the dim moonlight I saw the near shore approaching rapidly. At least it was sandy along here, if I could get close enough to make a landing. Suddenly, shouts from across the river. I jerked around. In the moonlight I saw several Indians jumping along the riverbank, near where I had launched the raft. They were quite agitated, shouting at me. Looking closely in the scattered moonlight, I thought I
could see the tall Indian who was tracking me earlier in the day. He did not seem to be jumping or shouting. I thought I could make out his rifle. When I saw the muzzle flash, I knew it for sure. The ball landed somewhere in the river far short of me, then I heard the loud report. I hoped I was beyond reach of the muzzleloader. He took another shot with the same result. I felt safe enough, though heartbroken that I had been discovered. I turned around and checked out the near shore. The raft was just yards away from the bank now, but moving swiftly. I did not know how I would beach it. I scanned the bank ahead of me. Up ahead I spotted a downed tree lying on the beach, with the top 20 feet bobbing in the river. Quickly I unlashed my pack and slung it over my shoulder. I knew I would have to jump into the river and pull myself along the tree to get to shore. And I needed to make sure the raft did not beach itself, in case any Indians were about. I wanted them to think I had continued downriver. Now the raft seemed to be heading right into the outermost branches. I watched closely for my chance to jump. At the last moment the raft caught on a branch and spun around. Suddenly I was facing the opposite bank again. I had to act fast or the current would carry the raft past – or under – the tree. I stuffed my hat into my trousers then jumped backward, hoping it was toward the shore. Immediately I got tangled in the branches underwater. The current was surprisingly strong here. I kicked wildly to get clear of the tree, but the fast-running current dragged me further into the thicket of waving underwater branches. I was running out of air. With all my strength I pulled my way through the branches and clawed my way to the surface on the downriver side of the tree. Finally I popped to the surface. Gasping for breath, I held tightly to a major limb. I looked through the trees and saw the raft still hung up on a branch. This was not good. I shook the branches as hard as I could without dislodging myself. Finally I was able to pull the main limb up enough for the raft to slide under it. The current caught it and carried it away. I watched it go, with thanks. Then I turned to the task of getting myself in to the shore. With a lot of scrambling and diving I managed to finally get to the beach. I collapsed on the sand, soaked and exhausted. I was so happy to finally be off the river. I lay there for several minutes, too tired to make a move. But I knew that my presence here was no longer a secret. I had to
hide myself. And I was shivering from the chill wind on my wet clothes. I looked around to get my bearings. Not far from me a giant oak tree rested on its side, torn asunder I suppose by lightning. Great branches grew out of the massive trunk. The crumpled branches appeared to provide a shelter of sorts. I picked up my pack and half walked, half crawled to the tree. Even in the dark I could see that it could make a decent place to spend what was left of the night. Grabbing a loose branch, I went back to the water’s edge and carefully scratched out all my footprints, working backward to the tree. Then I crawled into the mass of branches and leaves. As I hoped, there was room for me to stretch out and be completely invisible to the outside world. My blanket was too wet to use, so I unrolled it and hung it over a branch, hopefully to dry out by morning. The wet food tumbled out in a soggy mess. I scooped up some jerky and found it was easier to eat when it was wet, but the sand did not add much flavor. I also discovered mounds of loose leaves under the branches. I cleared a sleeping spot in the sand, then lay down in it and piled the leaves over me to provide some comfort from the chill wind. Almost immediately I fell into a cold, restless, shivering sleep. It seemed like no time had passed when I was awakened by the sound of dripping water. It was barely daylight, and a gentle rain sifted through the branches and leaves. Too bad, I thought. I had not dried out much during the night, and now I was sure to be soaked again. I stirred and shook off the leaves that had provided some comfort during the short night. My body ached, and wet sand caked my clothes. Still, I knew it was time to get going. Perhaps today I could reach Fort Decker, I thought hopefully. I crawled out of my hiding place and over to the river to splash some water on my face. With my back to the forest, I did not see the Indian come up behind me.
Chapter 9: Caught!
The savage caught me as I squatted at the water’s edge, my hands just about to splash water on my face. I did not see him there. In one swift motion, he grabbed me by the back of my jacket and yanked me clean upright and off the ground. One moment I’m looking at the water; the next moment I’m looking directly into the face of a wild Indian. Even today I can remember so clearly every feature of this heathen’s face, and he terrified me. He held me at arm’s length without saying or doing anything. We stared at each other for what seemed like forever. Then slowly he lowered me back to a standing position, without once letting go. I could feel my legs buckle, but he did not let go and I did not fall. I realized with horror that this was the same brave who was tracking me the day before, the same one I had seen trading at the stockade. When seen this close, his eyes just inches from mine, this Indian seemed even bigger than I first thought. His face was strong, fierce, almost explosive. He looked at me as if he was looking through me, or into my soul. A chill flashed up and down my back. And then . . . And then, for just an instant, I thought I saw a look of curiosity across that fierce face. A question, perhaps. Two other Indians came up, the same two I had seen earlier. None spoke. They just looked at me for the longest time. I was sure they meant to kill me on the spot. One of them reached forward and poked at me a little, like one might stab a piece of meat to see if it was cooked enough. He handled the buttons on my rough jacket, looked at my shabby leggings, my tattered boots, my father’s hat. He saw my knife still strapped to my
waist and with one clean jerk ripped it off me and gave it to the first brave. With a few guttural sounds, the first brave nodded toward the woods. One of the other Indians disappeared, and then returned a few minutes later with a length of vine, the same as I had used to lash together my raft. This the first brave tied around my waist like a lead for a dog or a horse, while he held the other end. Without a word and without looking back at me, the savage led the way into the forest. He set a fast pace. I stumbled along a few feet behind him, pulled by the lead yet tripping over logs and fumbling with branches in my face. He never relaxed his hold on the leash, nor did he slow down. Eventually I picked up a rhythm to his running and managed to keep from falling. The other two ran behind, watching closely. I had no idea where we were going, but I was sure it was no good. I had heard many stories of Indians in battle, how they scalped their victims, or burned them at the stake. I even heard whispers that some Indians ate their prisoners. I wondered which of these fates would be mine. We ran on, rarely stopping. These Indians seemed to know exactly where they were going, ‘tho I could see no trail. At times we paused for water; once we stopped for some moldy biscuits that one of the pagans pulled from a small knapsack affair I had not even seen. And always it was in silence. They wasted little effort talking to each other. Toward sundown the lead Indian slowed the pace somewhat, apparently looking for something. Quickly he found what he was looking for, a small, shallow cave in a hillside, nearly hidden by a low copse of elm trees. We ducked in. Roughly he pushed me to the back of the indentation while the three of them sat at the entrance, looking out toward the forest. He still had the leash around my waist. It was remarkably warm in there, and the day’s pace had tired me out. I sat with my arms around my legs, chin on my knees, looking at the backs of these three wild men. They were talking quietly among themselves, with long pauses from one to the next. I imagined they were deciding how to kill me. If so, the prospect must have amused them, for every now and again they would all chuckle. Never once did they look back at me. But I watched them, or at least their backs. I had no doubt these three were ferocious and cruel when excited in savage battle. In the
dying sunset I studied their tattoos and dress. I decided I would call the fearsome one “Tall Feathers”, because he was tall and he wore three eagle feathers stuck into his one remaining lock of hair on the back of his head. Eventually I curled up in a ball and pretended to sleep. Whether they were intended to kill me this night or wait until the morrow I could not know. I only knew I must be watchful for a chance to escape. That chance never came. Nobody held my lead through the night, but it did not matter, as I could not have crawled past them without waking them up. Eventually I drifted off to sleep, my fingers clutched around my Hannah doll, ‘tho they continued to sit upright at the mouth of the small cave. In the morning I awoke with a start when I felt a sharp tug on the lead still wrapped around my waist. The Indians were stirring. Two moved away from the cave a short distance, and soon returned with an abundance of hickory nuts and roots or herbs. These they piled at the mouth of the cave and began to eat. Tall Feathers said something to me in his native speech, which of course I did not understand. But he made motions for me to eat with my hands, which I understood well enough, as I was sorely hungry. I crawled up to the food pile and began to help myself to nuts and roots, of which I knew little. One root had an especially bitter taste, and I swallowed it quickly. At this I must have made a peculiar face, as the savages all laughed. Tall Feathers took one of the same roots, put it into his mouth, and began to chew, and chew, for the longest time until he spit out the remains. He indicated I should do the same. In this way I discovered the root had a certain taste not unlike anise, but one had to chew it thoroughly to release that flavor. Today I believe an Indian could flourish in these woods with only a knife and tomahawk, and would fatten where a wolf would starve. On that day so long ago, I saw no real food and no way to stave off real hunger. Now I shall tell you a discovery that may seem rude to you, but you may forgive my childish curiosity. When we finished eating, one brave stuffed the remaining food into his little knapsack. Then he stood, walked a short distance from the cave, and squatted down. I watched him, and was surprised to see that he was urinating. It seems that the White man’s practice of standing to urinate is not universal; at least among these uncivilized Indians, all men squat. As I also had to urinate, I made a sign to Tall Feathers, who released the lead. I removed myself
from the cave a distance, turned my back to the men, and peed standing up. As I turned around and returned to the group, they all were watching me with some curiosity. Soon enough Tall Feathers picked up my lead and the four of us started off once more, at the same fast pace as the day before. In fact, this day was much the same as the one before. The Indians seemed to know or sense a trail where I could see none. I could tell from the angle of the rising sun that we were moving away from the river, in a northwesterly direction, but I knew not what might lie ahead. All day we rushed along, stopping at small stream crossings to scoop up fresh water, and twice stopping for nuts and bread from the knapsack. Little was said among the braves as we moved, and in this way I could observe them closely while still working to keep my balance and to keep the stray branches from slapping my face. I noticed that ‘tho Tall Feathers seemed to know where he was going, all the time he kept moving his head from side to side, watching. Was he watching to see if we were being followed, or was he looking for others from his tribe? I was still sure of my imminent death, but in a strange way I was grateful I was with them, for they provided a certain comfort in this strange, rough country. We traveled thus for three more days, these beastly savages always on the alert, always moving quickly, and me always tied about my waist. Now on the fifth night, we made camp much as before, but this time in a huge hollowed tree with a hole on one side where we could enter. All four of us could easily stand upright inside the trunk, and it was closed to the elements above, providing a nice shelter. As before, roots and nuts were gathered, though this time we had the added feast of a groundhog. Tall Feathers shot it during the day and roasted it over a small fire in front of the hollow tree, over a fire he started with a flint. The groundhog, being small (about the size of a beaver), gave us a taste of warm meat, but the Indians seemed pleased, almost jolly. They talked and laughed into the night, in a manner of a small celebration. I wondered whether they were celebrating how they might kill me. Early the next morning I awakened just at sunrise. ‘Tho I still wore a shirt and heavy jacket, I shivered in the early morning chill. The two braves wore rough buckskin jackets, but Tall Feathers, lacking shirt or jacket, seemed more comfortable than any of us in the cold. Again the
heathen seemed happier than I had yet seen them. There was much talking amongst them now as we ate and prepared to move on. I was never made a part of the discussion, even if I could have understood them, and this deepened my apprehension. It seemed they were preparing for some grievous big thing today, which caused me great worry. We again started walking, but this time the pace was considerably slower, more of a normal walk. And the Indians seemed less watchful, less cautious today. We had walked but a few hours when Tall Feathers stopped and gave out a loud bird call. The call was familiar to me, ‘tho I did not know the type of bird. At once his call was answered by another from a nearby ridge. We turned, and I saw an Indian running down the hill, followed soon by several others. There were a dozen more or less, including women and a few children. They ran down the slope toward us, with much hallooing and activity. As they approached us, they all stared at me. A shiver ran down my spine. Now, surrounded by what I assumed was the braves’ tribe, Tall Feathers undid the lead around my waist and threw it away. I was free to run, I suppose, but I was also surrounded by 15 or so men, women, and children, and I would not have made it far. The ferocious crowd escorted us up the slope they had just descended. From the ridge top I could see down into the next valley. A goodly sized stream or small river ran through it, and an Indian village was set up on the near side of the river. I saw ten or twelve longhouses, with smoke drifting up from the holes in the roofs. I saw a small corral of horses near the end of the village. And I saw Indians. Many Indians. Too many to count. And they all looked up at us expectantly. We walked quickly down from the ridge and into the middle of the village, where the entire tribe turned out to welcome back the three braves and to stare at me. A large number of bloodthirsty Indian braves were painted in a hideous manner in shades of red, black, brown, and blue, the men wearing nothing but a small apron-like affair, which I later learned is called a breechcloth. The women, chattering excitedly, pressed close. They wore long dresses made of buckskins and fringed with beads and feathers. Children, too, scampered about, many of them completely naked. A few of the older children came close to me. They put their
hands in my hair, on my jacket, even my leggings, now tattered and torn. One grabbed my hat away, and they all thought that was great sport. Several ran their fingers through my long auburn hair, which had long ago come untied. And always they poked and prodded me, to my great alarm and annoyance. Finally Tall Feathers shooed them away. He motioned me to follow him and we walked together to the largest house in the village. Five elderly men and two old women squatted in the dirt in front of the longhouse. To me, then but a youngster, they appeared impossibly old, with heavy lines and creases on their faces. Tall Feathers spoke at length to the assembled elders. I supposed he was describing my kidnapping and our journey, and he used his arms and hands with great animation as he talked. The old ones said nothing, but listened intently and watched me. Then Tall Feathers fell silent. By now the rest of the tribe had come over to listen, creating a large, silent half-circle behind us, facing the elders. The old ones continued to look at me for several minutes in silence, then one of the men rose stiffly. He began talking slowly, quietly, but as he continued he gradually became livelier and louder, pointing to me, then to the assembled tribe behind us, then to the hills surrounding the valley, and then back to me. The other Indians listened quietly, looking at him, then me, then him again. It was a long speech, perhaps an hour, yet I could understand not a single word. At times the assembled Indians would nod their heads as in agreement. The chief seemed to speak directly to Tall Feathers at one point, who, ‘tho he did not say anything, looked displeased. In time the elder finished his oration. Calmly, almost majestically, he sat down again in the fashion of the other elders. Everyone was quiet for a time, then another man rose and began speaking, slowly, with many pauses, and in a great, deep voice, the most resonant voice I had ever heard. It reminded me very much of hearing the old squire in my church back home, speaking from his high pulpit, yet I could not comprehend this Indian’s meaning. Again there was much nodding of heads and looking around the circle. When he finished, this one walked to one of the women seated and placed a hand on her shoulder. I thought I saw a tear in her eye when he did this.
The chieftess (for that is what I assumed she was) rose and took a few steps to stand in front of me. She raised both arms in the air, closed her eyes, put her head back, and began a chant, almost a song really, that sounded to my young ears to be a prayer to the Heavens above. I was mesmerized by the cadence of the chant even though I had no idea what it meant. Then the old woman took me by the hand and led me over to three Indian women much younger than she. These women walked me over to the river bank, with the crowd following. The women removed my jacket and shirt then walked me into the river until I was in running water up to my waist. Suddenly, without warning, they pushed my head under water and as soon as I came back up, pushed me under again, over and over. I sputtered and gasped and was terrified all over again, certain now that they intended me to die by drowning. You never saw such a struggle as I tried to free myself, hitting the women as hard as I could, and yelling, but they held me close. Suddenly, above the tumult I was astonished to hear someone shout in English, “No hurt, no hurt.” Scanning the crowd to find the source, I saw a young brave calling out to me. Hearing that, I relaxed just a bit. I stopped fighting, and stood in the water while the maidens washed and rubbed me severely. Finally they led me out of the water to a long flat field in front of the council house, while the rest of the tribe followed. The second elder rose again and began speaking to the tribe. He said something to Tall Feathers, who handed him my precious knife, still in its leather sheath. The elder began speaking again, and this time the brave who could speak English translated for me. I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. The chief said that the ceremony at the river and the council house was the Indian way of washing the white blood from my veins. He and his wife, the old chieftess, were adopting me to replace a son who was killed in battle. He said I was now considered one of them and I had nothing to fear. The tribe was obliged to love, support, and defend me. From that day on, they were never to make any distinction between me (the White man) and themselves. And now, he announced, the tribe would welcome me with the gauntlet.
Chapter 10: A Bloody Welcome
The gauntlet! Instantly my blood froze. I had heard of the gauntlet before. Indeed, everyone in the Colonies had heard stories of the gauntlet, horrible stories of butchery and death. The gauntlet is the barbarous Indian custom where they form two parallel lines and force their prisoner to run between them. Each savage carries a stick, a tomahawk, a club or stone, and uses it to bash the person running the line. I had heard that men often died of their injuries before they made it to the end of the line. Of those who survived, many were then burned at the stake. Now I knew the real reason why they had dressed me up. It was not to adopt me, but to kill me. Several young men rudely shoved me to a flat area near the river, where almost the whole tribe – I guessed a hundred or so men, women, and children -- formed two long lines about six feet apart. Most of them carried some sort of switch or stick; I even saw one or two brandishing long heavy squashes or gourds. I saw no tomahawks or rocks, but that gave me small comfort. When I appeared at the head of the line, one of the men ripped off my jacket and shirt, leaving my upper body exposed. The whole tribe began a thunderous roar of hallooing and calls directed at me. Never in my life have I felt such a wall of hate and animosity directed at me. I was horrified. Near me stood the Indian who spoke some English. Over the roar of the crowd, I could barely hear him when he said, “Run fast. No stop.” Looking down the double lines of Indians, I saw the chieftess quietly waiting for me at the far end. All the other Indians were also looking at me, but they were yelling in a most hideous and uncivilized manner, beating their sticks up and down in the dirt, calling me to start running. Their shouts thundered in my ears.
Could I make it the length of the line without being killed? I was petrified. I did not move until one of the squaws finally gave a great shove on my back, nearly knocking me over. I had no choice now. The nearest Indian took a swing with his stick and just barely missed me. I stumbled, ducked, and began running as fast as I had ever run before in my life. This time it was truly life or death. I ran without thinking, without looking up. All I could see were two rows of feet and legs, and two rows of sticks swinging down all around me. The blows rained down on my head and back. The pain felt like a million knives slicing through me. I kept my head down to protect my face. I pumped my arms and tried to ward off the blows, but that did not help. I ran with but one thought: to survive. Somehow as I ran, the yelling faded away in my consciousness. I lost all awareness of the pain; I was only aware of my tortured breathing. The lines of legs seemed to stretch out forever in front of me. Many times a blow to my bare back or head would cause me to stumble, but each time I would catch my balance and continue running. Blood poured from cuts above my eyes and about my head and back, but I kept running. After a time I could barely see through the blood, but still I drove myself forward. I was still running at full speed when I burst past the end of the lines, ‘tho I did not know it until Tall Feathers grabbed me from the side and stopped me in my tracks. I looked up, and only then did I realize I had run the entire gauntlet. The sound of the yelling changed. Now they were cheering me. I was still alive! Tall Feathers turned me around and pushed me brusquely toward the chieftess, who seemed genuinely pleased that I had finished the gauntlet. She alone was smiling. She took hold of my shoulder and walked me inside the council house, all the time stroking me and talking to me and to the others gathering around us. One of the young maidens was already waiting for me inside the house. She took a handful of wet moss and gently wiped the blood from my face, head, and back. Together they removed my boots, britches, and under things. Now I stood before the two women, naked and embarrassed, feeling very White indeed. Quietly the older women dressed me in a new ruffled shirt, a pair of buckskin leggings decorated with ribbons and beads, and moccasins
and garters dressed with beads, porcupine quills, and red hair. Then she dipped two fingers in a small bowl of gray paint and painted the top half of my face, in a line from the bottom of each ear to the top of my nose. She tied back my hair with an amulet of beads, and then tied a bunch of red feathers into the amulet. She did all these things with great tenderness, not like the rough treatment I had experienced so far from these savages. When I was sufficiently clean and cared for, she brought me outside again to stand on a bear skin in front of the lodge, facing the elders. She launched into a long speech to the elders, and everyone crowded around to listen. From the brave who could speak my language, I learned she was telling them that I was now a member of their tribe and their clan. She paused, then began again. She told everyone assembled there that my adoption was to replace her son Yellow Snake, the very same Indian who my Father had killed when he tried to climb up on our boat! One of the old men nodded, then gave my wonderful knife to a maiden who bent over and strapped it to my new leggings. I was so surprised and so happy. Then the elder opened his other hand; in it he held my Hannah doll. He looked at the doll, then at me, with a questioning look on his face. He handed me the doll; I nearly cried as I took it from him and stuck in my waistband. The one who spoke English stepped between me and the chieftess. He said something in Indian to the rest of the tribe, and then said to me in English, “You run fast. Good.” At this the tribe erupted into a kind of festive dance, with much shouting and merriment, not at all like the blood-curdling screams I had just passed through. I collapsed from pain, weariness, and relief. Vaguely I become aware of people carrying me into a longhouse and putting me down on a soft fur. I was aware of no more than that until the next morning. I do not know how long I slept, but I know how mightily I hurt when I finally woke up. Every muscle, every joint ached. My backside felt as though it were on fire. I sat up and a great pain pounded in my head. With both hands I felt around my head. I had so many bumps and gashes. I fell back onto the furs and lay there with my eyes closed but now fully awake. What strange situation had I now fallen into?
I did not trust these savages. Yes, they were caring for me now, and dressing me, and seeing to my wounds, yet these were the same savages who murdered my Father, brothers, and cousin, and nearly murdered me during the gauntlet. What style of person can do both those things, I wondered. Why would they kill part of my family then propose to adopt me as part of their family? And why me? I looked down at myself. I very much liked my handsome new buckskin clothing, with the beads and the fringe. I was grateful to have my knife and my Hannah doll back, most of all. I suppose I looked like an Indian, except for my very white skin and my auburn hair. But I certainly did not feel like an Indian. Mostly I just felt pain. With great effort I sat up and studied my surroundings in the dim light. The longhouse appeared to be made of large sheets of bark, tied over a pole frame. It was about 40 paces long. I was sitting on a bearskin fur along one side, one of many beds running down both sides of the structure. Smoke holes at the top let out the smoke from three small fires inside. A door at each end and one in the middle let in some daylight. A few Indians were in the longhouse now, but they paid little attention to me. Two or three were sleeping; others appeared to be mending clothing. One woman suckled a baby while another fed a few sticks to the fires. Dried foodstuffs hung from many rafters, and shelves above the beds held a great number of folded blankets, baskets, rough tools, and clothing. Clearly 20 or 30 people must share this space, I thought as I lay back down. Soon I heard a movement near me and opened one eye. The English-speaking Indian boy sat down next to me, along with one of the maidens who had washed me the day before. Slowly, ever so stiffly, I sat up. She had a large bowl of fruits and nuts which she fed to me. I was grateful for the food, and ate enthusiastically. The brave watched me curiously, and I him. He seemed to me about the size and age of my cousin Balthus. That would make him 16. Finally the brave said something that sounded like “Shay-cone”, and then said “Hel-lo” in English. He pointed to himself and said “EnitaOneka.” He repeated it, so I guessed it was his name. He said it again, and pointed to himself again. Obviously he wanted me to say it, too, so I did. Then he said in English, “Water Moon”, and pointed first at the sky then at himself.
I realized he was the very first Indian to ever introduce himself to me. For that I was grateful. “Benjamin,” I said and pointed to myself. “Benjamin.” Water Moon said my name a few times, tentatively at first. It appeared he had trouble with the ‘J’ sound in my name. It sounded more like “Ben-men.” “Does just one family live in this house?” I asked. He looked puzzled at this. Perhaps he did not speak much English. I tried again. I held up one finger and said “One family?” then pointing around the longhouse. He repeated the word “Family,” pointed around the longhouse, and then said, “Kah-wa-tsi-re. Kah-wa-tsi-re. Family. Yes, family.” I understood. I asked him, “Are you part of my family?” Again he looked blank, so I pointed at both of us and said, “Brothers?” “Yes,” he nodded. “Brothers. Rak-tsi-‘a.” I said this word over and over. Rak-tsi-‘a. Brothers. He was my new older brother. I was not at all sure I liked this idea. I terribly missed my own brothers William and Abraham and my half brothers Isaac and Jacob (‘tho Abraham was but a few months old at this time). I pointed to him and said, “Mingo?” “No,” he replied fiercely. “Lenni-Len-apè. Original People. White man says Del-a-ware. Bad name. We are Munsee. Wolf People. Mother is Calling Owl. Father is . . . is . . . [he fumbled for the English words] . . . Racer of the Mountain Path. Kist-al-wa. I already knew that White men had given these people the name Delaware. Now I knew they did not like the name much. I also knew that the Munsee, whose totem was the wolf, were the most warlike of the Lenape. This was the tribe which had attacked my family at Dansbury several years earlier. Oh, I had heard about them alright. They had killed our neighbors back then, and killed my Father and cousins a few days ago, and now . . . they were adopting me? It was just too confusing. My heart felt numb.
Now I looked closely at Water Moon, maybe for the first time. His long black hair hung down beyond his shoulders, and his brown eyes seemed to hide a secret. He was skinnier than many of the young people, with long, slender fingers and toes. For some reason this Indian did not frighten me as much as the others. I was drawn to him, perhaps because he spoke rudimentary English. In some strange way he felt like an ally. Water Moon rose and motioned me to follow. We went outside into a bright sunny morning, especially so after being in the dim light of the longhouse all night. Off to the left, my attention was drawn to a noisy group of boys playing a game I had never seen before. In the same place where I had run the gauntlet the day before, a dozen boys were now chasing a small ball of some sort, using three-foot-long sticks that ended with webbing that formed a sort of pocket. It appeared to be a team sport, and the young people played with obvious energy, excitement, even ruthlessness. The play was rough. Many times the boys slammed into each other almost to the point of injury. One particular young man drew my attention, a young man who was tall and angular and very dark skinned. He appeared to have a limp, and seemed to be a bit older than Water Moon, for he had already shaved his head to leave just a topknot. “What is this game?” I asked Water Moon. “Te-hon-tsi-kwaks-eks,” he replied, and laughed at my obvious confusion. It was, I learned much later, the game that the French call LaCrosse. Here, dear reader, I should tell you a bit about the Lenape language. In the beginning I knew no Indian words. I could not even tell what was a word nor could I discern the difference between a syllable and a sentence. Water Moon was a great help to me, for he knew a few simple English words, just enough to help match my English with his Lenape. As far as I could tell at this time, no others in the tribe spoke any English at all. At first I learned his language by comparing it to mine. I suppose I was translating at the time. Eventually, though, I no longer thought or spoke in English, or French. I began learning the Lenape language the way an Indian baby does from his parents, naming objects by pointing at them, then progressing to speaking simple sentences. In this way I learned that the Indians speak in a very different manner than my own languages. I learned Indian words for which I could think of no English or French equivalent. For example, ake'nistenha means ‘my mother’, but another word entirely means ‘your mother’ and
another means ‘a mother’. So as I write these remembrances, I will use mostly the English words, because even to this day I do not know how to spell many of the Lenni Lenape words, though I still speak them fluently. At any rate, Water Moon led me over to where sat my new adopted parents. The old man was the one who gave me back my favorite knife, and the woman was the one who had dressed me the day before. Water Moon spoke to them for a moment, then kind of pushed me forward. They both looked pleased to see me. The old man spoke first. I can not tell you what he said even though he spoke slowly, but he seemed to be describing my new family, or my place in it. He pointed to Water Moon (and here I recognized his Lenape name, Enita-Oneka), then to the longhouse, and made a sweeping gesture to take in the entire village. Water Moon tried to translate for me, but the old man held up one finger, which I understood to mean ‘No’. After a bit more, the old one became silent. Then the old woman put her hands in her lap, closed her eyes, and began rocking slowly back and forth. She seemed to be in a trance. Finally she opened her eyes and looked directly at me. She spoke to me for some time, but I was still dumb to her meaning. Then she pointed to me and said, “Ka-tesk-aw-tin,” twice, and nodded and pointed to me. She looked at me expectantly. I was confused. Obviously she was talking to me, or about me, but I could not think the meaning of it all. Water Moon gently prodded me, repeated “Ka-tesk-aw-tin”, and pointed to me. Was she giving me a new name? I pointed to myself and said “Ka-tesk-aw-tin?” She smiled and nodded and said it again. Those gathered nearby began to repeat it to themselves, as if trying out the sound of it. Ka-tesk-aw-tin. It did appear I had a new name, ‘tho I had always been quite happy with the name my Father gave me, Benjamin. Now, apparently, I was Ka-tesk-aw-tin I turned and asked my new brother, “What means Ka-tesk-awtin?” Water Moon thought hard for several moments, wrinkling his face as he did so, and then smiled, nodded, and said forcefully, “Racer.”
Chapter 11: Life’s New Rhythm
That whole first full day with the Indians I can remember so clearly even now, these many years later. Back then I really felt like a little child, with everything new and strange to me. And I was strange to them, I suppose, for everyone in the tribe stopped by to visit. Singly or in twos and threes, each would come close, with clear respect for my new parents. Some would stand; others would sit cross-legged as is their fashion. (By the by, it took me a long time to learn to sit comfortably in that position, ‘tho learn it I did, because everyone else sat in that manner.) By the end of that first day, most of the tribe had come to pay their respects to the elders and to look at me. At first I resented their staring, but soon enough my curiosity got the better of me and I began to genuinely pay attention to the people as they came by. I began to notice how each person dressed a little differently from every other. Some had more bows and ribbons, others had more intricate sewing on their garments, and not all the garments were of the same length or coverage. Most people were as curious of me as I was of them, while a few were haughty and distant. But among the Indians there seemed mostly genuine affection. The children intrigued me especially. Shyness did not seem to be part of them. In fact many would come up close to touch me, especially my hair. Now, I should tell you that all Indians have black hair, but once a boy reaches young manhood all but a topknot is plucked out. My own hair was reddish-brown, or auburn, which by Colonial custom was down to my shoulders and now by Indian custom was tied back with an amulet and feathers. The different color seemed to fascinate the youngsters. One young boy, perhaps my same age, sat next to me for quite a few minutes. Then quickly, slyly, he pulled up one of my leggings. Apparently he wanted to see my white skin, for he pointed to it and laughed nervously. I believe I was the first White person he had ever
seen. He pointed to himself and said something in Lenape that I did not understand. He said it again, seemingly confused that I did not respond. The old woman repeated what he had said, then shooed him away, fussing at him. But I did not take this examination poorly, for I was just as interested in him. I believe he was telling me his name. It sounded to me that he said “Chee When Tota.” Black Wolf, I learned later. During the day many visitors brought small gifts which they laid before my parents (for that is how I eventually began to see them). Sometimes it was a piece of jerked meat, or a small bundle of fruits or ears of corn, and once a large, beautiful yellow squash. One time a brave and his squaw presented me with a fine bow and five arrows in a beaded leather quiver, all sized just right for me. Whenever the gift was food, mother accepted it with a nod and passed it around for all to enjoy. After each gift father and mother would thank them in Lenape, then father would begin talking. After many times of listening to this same ritual, I began to pick out similarities in the words from one telling to the next. I was not sure exactly what he was saying, so I began to apply meaning to certain sounds based on his movements and actions. By the end of the day I began to understand that he was retelling the story that Tall Feathers had told him the day before, of tracking and discovering me, and of the journey back to the village. As night fell, Water Moon rejoined the circle around the campfire, periodically rising to add wood to the fire. Others wandered in and sat down. The conversation became more and more lively. Eventually all seven elders were gathered around the fire, along with most of the tribe. Young boys and girls scampered in and out between the legs of adults, just the same as if they were Colonial children gathered for a town hall meeting. I was sitting between my new “parents”, with Water Moon next to me. Older people were talking in turn, around the fire. After some time father rose slowly and began talking. The oration now was already beginning to sound familiar, but this time he did it with great sweeping movements of his arms and wild, theatrical looks back over his shoulder. By his gestures alone I was able to recognize my own story. As father continued on, people listened with quiet intensity or laughed and hooted and stomped. Even I laughed at his antics. Especially was I pleased when father described how Tall Feathers had grabbed me at the water’s edge, for he accurately displayed my look
of surprise and fear, as if he had been there himself. I joined the others in laughing at this scene. Then I noticed something strange. I was seated comfortably next to my new mother and Water Moon, relaxing in the warmth of the fire, with my new father orating to the assembled tribe. With surprise, I discovered that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. At that moment, for the first time since I left my dead kin by the river, I was not afraid. I looked around then at these strange people, their dark savage faces lit by the jumping flames. They looked so different from everything I was familiar with, everything I had grown up with. These were heathen by their style, but not by their looks now in the firelight. At that instant they looked more like family. I felt myself relax as I had not relaxed in many days. My new mother looked over at me and smiled and put her arm around my shoulders. Slowly I relaxed into her ample breasts. More people stood up to speak, and then Tall Feathers entered the firelight. Everyone became quiet, waiting for his story. In the firelight, he looked more handsome and less ferocious than I remembered from our first meeting at Fort Decker. With great pantomiming, he told the whole story of how he and the others attacked our boat on the river and how Yellow Snake swam out to the boat but was shot and killed as he tried to get onboard. He told how the Indians killed one adult and two young men, and how they celebrated their feat, not knowing there was another still onboard. (I learned all this from Water Moon, who translated for me.) Two days later they discovered my footprints in the woods by accident. They tracked my prints back to the boat landing but it was not easy as I had covered my tracks very well. At this, my new father beamed at me and mother patted my shoulder. Then Tall Feathers described how I built a raft and crossed the river, much to their consternation, for they thought they were just about to capture me. When he told of how fiercely I fought when he finally grabbed me at the river’s edge, everyone hooted with acknowledgement. He continued the story right up until we entered the village. When he sat down there was great merriment and talk amongst the Indians, then others rose to tell their stories.
Sometime during one of these I fell asleep in my new mother’s arms. Later she woke me and we walked to our beds in the longhouse. She steered me to the bed where I was the night before. I lay down and mother and father gently placed the bear skin over me, and then lay next to me and Water Moon in their own bed. All around us people were lying down, or talking quietly among themselves. It was warm inside the longhouse, and the fires burned brightly, and I was quickly asleep. The next morning was rainy and cold. I awoke with the others and wandered outside. I was quite warm in my new Indian clothing, but my mood was very cold. I missed my real family. Quietly I walked down to the river, sat down on a log next to the water, and cried. I cried for my Father, for my brothers and cousins, and especially for my twin sister Hanna. And I cried for me. I missed them all so much. I missed Balthus’s playfulness, and the way he watched out for me. I missed Isaac’s jokes and those snappy little songs he sang when he was happy. I missed my Father’s soft, reassuring voice and his strong arms. I even missed the way his hair stood up on the back of his head before he brushed it every morning. I cried for my Mother, for those quiet moments we had together, often around the stove in the farmhouse kitchen. I cried and snuffled into my sleeve as I thought of them. I cried until I had no tears left. Then I just sat quietly on the log, letting my thoughts turn to this new family I had inherited. They seemed like good people, but they were Indians, and I was not. I knew little about them, and their ways were strange to me. After a time I realized I was hungry, so I stood up to go. As I turned, I looked straight into the face of Calling Owl, my new mother, sitting on the riverbank a dozen paces away. She stood, too, and waited for me to come to her. I walked over, embarrassed at having been caught crying, but she just wrapped me in her warm brown arms. I think she knew why I was crying. She comforted me without words, just by holding me. Saying nothing, we walked slowly back to the longhouse. To this day I remember so clearly my feelings as we walked. I felt a deep sense of loss for my old family, and anger at these Indians for the killings, yet a confusing sense of wonder and gratefulness for my new family. At that moment we both knew that my life had changed forever.
I was to cry many more times after that, ‘tho I tried better to hide it, but I knew she understood my sorrow, and never tried to take that away from me. At the longhouse we sat down next to father and Water Moon (who looked at my sad face with great curiosity) where she had prepared breakfast for us. With the rain coming down a bit harder, father pulled a blanket over us so we could stay dry as we ate. Mother quietly said something to father; he just nodded. I watched the rain dripping off the edge of the blanket, feeling very strange. Now I was warm, and fed, and well-clothed, surrounded by people who appeared to love me already. Four days ago I was running for my life through a dark and unknown wood, feeling all alone and very scared. Strange indeed. Strange, too, was the food these Indians ate. Much of the time we dined on edible roots and herbs gathered by the womenfolk. I learned to like acorn, hickory, and chinquapin nuts. Mother showed me how to pound hickory nuts into small pieces and put them into boiling water, which made a type of hickory milk with a sweet, oily taste. In our longhouse were at least two dozen bushels of these nuts. At other times we feasted on venison and green corn, eaten from a large wooden bowl. Sometimes we had bread made of Indian corn meal, pounded on a hominy block and mixed with boiled beans, then baked in cakes under the ashes. We also ate a kind of rough brown potato. When peeled and dipped in raccoon's fat, it tasted vaguely like the sweet potatoes I used to eat with my White family. I never learned to like raccoon fat, which I thought revolting by itself, ‘tho the Indians would dip their fingers into a bowl of it and lick their fingers with great gusto. From that day onward, my new family and all the others in the tribe proceeded to teach me how to be an Indian. I learned rapidly, I suppose because I was so young and so curious. Whenever Water Moon and I were together, we would compare English and Indian names for things. Eventually we moved past just naming things, and actually began having simple conversations in the Lenape tongue. “I learned Yangwe at trading post,” he told me soon after I arrived. “Must learn more.”
In his own tongue, English was ‘Yangwe’. I came to understand that when he said ‘English’ he meant the people, Colonials and Redcoats alike, not just the language. He wanted to know the people who were already invading his tribal grounds. He wanted to know his enemy. But because I was adopted by his family, he appeared not to regard me as enemy, nor indeed even as White. “Must learn good ways of Yangwe, no bad ways,” he said. “Yangwe take Indian land. We fight, they fight, they burn our lodges, kill our women.” I was stunned. For my entire time on the frontier up to this very moment I considered Indians to be vermin, not human, to be hunted down and extinguished. I never considered that they were people with families, with hopes and fears and laughter, with a natural right to live in these beautiful places where they had lived for thousands of years. “I did not know,” I said quietly to Water Moon. He looked at me gravely and nodded. “Yes. You learn Lenape, I learn Yangwe. Brothers then.” Then he asked, “You have Yangwe brother?” “Yes,” I replied. “I have ten brothers and eight sisters.” At that moment, in a rush of pain and grief I remembered the attack on the boat. I realized the numbers were no longer true. “Well, now I have eight brothers,” I added slowly. Water Moon did not understand. He looked puzzled. “Eight?” I held up eight fingers. “Yes, eight brothers and eight sisters.” He counted my fingers in Indian. “Eight. Xash.” Still looking puzzled, he asked, “One family?” “No, three families,” I said. Many times had I had heard this same reaction among Whites. Even in those days of large families, 19 siblings was quite unusual. “One sister is my twin,” I added. Again Water Moon shook his head, not understanding. He repeated my English word ‘twin’ with a question. Now I was stumped. How could I explain a twin to someone who probably had no concept of it. I held up two fingers and pointed to one: “Me. Benjamin.” Then I pointed to the other finger: “Sister. Hannah.” Then I closed the two fingers and held them tightly. “Twins.
Born same time.” And from my pocket I extracted my doll. “This is Hannah.” I held my Hannah close to me. Water Moon nodded. Now he understood. He said, “Twins” in English then “Kah-pes” in Lenape. Then he said, “Hannah means river” and smiled. “Lenapehannah is the river where we find you.” Imagine that, I thought. My beloved sister’s name actually has a meaning in this strange Indian tongue. We looked at each other, then we slowly, sort of shyly, smiled at each other. Each of us had learned a new word in the other’s language. And now we each knew something about the other. Quickly Water Moon grew serious again as he announced: “Now you hunt.” With that he gathered up my new bow and arrows and we ran for the edge of the clearing, laughing. The race was on between us! ‘Tho I had just turned eleven years old, I was always a quick runner; I usually beat Balthus whenever we raced. Now, I chased after Water Moon but did not catch him before he reached the tree line. He hunkered down in the tall grass and I dropped down next to him. He pointed to a squirrel watching us inquisitively from a branch on a tree a few dozen paces away. Placing an arrow into position, he drew back on the bowstring, aimed, and let the arrow fly. He missed, ‘tho just by a finger width. The squirrel skittered off in fright, and we both laughed. Water Moon handed me the bow and showed how to hold it securely and aim the arrow true. I shot at leaves and grasses and once at a blackbird, which I missed by a country yard. Always he was encouraging, and always I had to chase after the arrows. Much later I became a very good shot among the young men, but in those early days I often felt awkward and foolish. With my new father and mother it was very different. None of us could speak the other’s language, but that did not stop them from speaking to me at length in Lenape. I did not attempt to teach them English, after trying it once or twice. My most helpful efforts were met with disdainful looks. Still I learned their language quickly, with Water Moon’s help.
Chapter 12: Acceptance
One morning Mother told me we were going to make some containers to hold the last of the fat fried from a bear killed a few days before. She showed me how to make a container by pulling the skin from a deer's neck without ripping it, then sewing up one end of it. Each container would hold four or five gallons of bear oil, I guessed. “Put these in the longhouse,” she said after we had filled three containers. I bent over to grab up the first container, but I can tell you that five gallons of bear oil in a deer-skin vessel is a heavy and awkward load. Mother laughed at my contortions to manage my load, and together we moved the oil into the lodge. The warm days of early fall gave way to the chill days of early winter. Each day I felt more accepted by the tribe, and somewhat more accepting of them, too. Quickly I was learning their language and their customs, yet still I longed for my White family. Always I carried my Hannah doll with me. Indian leggings held no pockets, a function the Lenape seemed not to appreciate, so I carved a small hole in the top of the doll and hung her around my neck on a thin leather thong. One by one the other children would see the doll and ask me about it; I explained that it represented my spirit family. Only Water Moon and my Indian Mother knew it was really my sister Hannah. Early on I learned that since the day the tribe adopted me into their family, they believed I had no further connection with my White family. Any mention of them was considered disrespectful to my new Indian family. Over time Mother taught me to take care of myself like an Indian: to gather, store, and cook our meals, to repair my clothing and make new as I needed it. But I quickly discovered that this was work only for squaws and children like me. Not even Water Moon participated in this. I longed for the day when I, too, would be taken off with the men to learn the ways of the braves.
When the men went off to hunt, they often stayed away for many days at a time. Finally they would return with a wondrous assortment of wild animal carcasses. These we roasted or dried and stored alongside the grains in the longhouse. After one such trip, Smiling Beaver suggested we do a hunting trip of our own. He was the boy who laughed at my white legs on my first day in camp. I had taken an instant liking to him. I enjoyed his curiosity and enthusiasm. He was not at all a serious boy like some. “Racer. I will take you to Kit-a-tinny Mountain. We will hunt and fish for three days. Then we will come back here. It will be good. I will teach you the ways of hunting small game.” I was excited, partly because I knew that this was a break from the “women’s work” I was supposed to engage in as a youngster, but partly, too, because this was the first time Smiling Beaver had made such a generous overture to me. Besides Water Moon, he was my favorite of the Lenape children. “We must talk with Mother and Father,” I replied, trying to contain my excitement. “They must agree.” “Yes,” Smiling Beaver said, unsmilingly. Two days later, Smiling Beaver and I found ourselves in a wide, green valley coming down from the heights of Kit-a-tinny Mountain. A quick stream danced down through the middle of the valley. The unmistakable signs of beaver – trees nearly or completely chewed through – were everywhere. With his simple tools, Smiling Beaver built a beaver trap at a likely spot in the stream. We figured to catch a beaver, skin it, eat it, and take the hide back to the village. In the afternoon, we traversed up to the top of the ridge, looking for other small game. With our bows, we killed three squirrels which we skinned and ate raw. Late in the day, feeling flush, we backtracked down to the stream where we had placed the trap. Suddenly Smiling Beaver dropped to the ground behind a small yew tree and motioned me to do likewise. Even from a distance we both sensed something was off. Something – or someone – had disturbed our hunting site. I followed his stare and saw in the distance a White man examining our trap. We watched as this furtive little man glanced around. Satisfied, he squatted down, pried open the trap with his foot, and removed the beaver that we had caught. He stuffed the beaver
carcass into a bag slung over his shoulder, grabbed his rifle leaning against a tree trunk, and stood up to go. Smiling Beaver jumped up. “VOUS PETIT CHIEN FILTY!” he yelled in his loudest youngster voice. With an astonished glance in our direction, the man began running at a terrific speed through the woods and out of sight, taking our beaver with him while leaving the trap behind. But I was so astonished at what I had just heard I did not care about the beaver or the trap. In my confusion I nearly tripped and fell into the creek. After all, I spoke French well enough. I knew I was not mistaken. Smiling Beaver had yelled nearly flawless French at the retreating figure of the little man. But how could that be? And how did he know if the thief was French? I stared intently at Smiling Beaver. He lowered his eyes and dropped his arms to his sides, slumping to the ground; I sat next to him. “Smiling Beaver?” I didn’t quite know what to say. “You speak French?” I asked in Lenape. “I did not know . . .” He looked at me sharply. “You understood what I said?” he asked sheepishly. “Yes. I also speak French. My Father . . .” Here I corrected myself: “My White Father spoke French. I learned it from him. But where did you learn it?” For quite some time Smiling Beaver was silent. I could see he was engaged in some fierce internal struggle. Finally, haltingly, he began to tell me his story. “I am like you. I was adopted into the Munsee tribe. My father was French, a trapper man. My mother was Ottowa Indian. We lived with the Ottowa near Big Lake [Lake Superior]. I spent much time with my father when he was not trapping. I learned his language and my mother’s language. He was killed by the Yangwe soldiers three or four winters ago, at the same time that the Iroquois captured my mother and me. They kept my mother and sold me to the Lenape. Black Grouse and Towassink adopted me after their son was killed in battle. I never saw my real mother again.” I was stunned. I had so many questions I did not know where to start.
“But . . . but you look Lenape,” I sputtered. He smiled a crooked little smile. “I look Ottowa more than Lenape. And I look a little like you, maybe? Some French?” Now I realized he spoke the truth. Black hair, brown eyes, brown skin, yes, but he did not have the high cheekbones of other Lenape, or their wide feet and short fingers. I just shook my head, then asked, “Do you speak French often?” “No, never,” he replied forcefully. “Do you know what you said in French?” I asked. “No, not really.” “You called that thief a dirty little dog,” I said, smiling Smiling Beaver laughed out loud. “Good. That is what he is. Only a dog steals another man’s traps.” Then, blushing, he added, “I do not know where those words came from. I must have heard my father say them. I do not know.” “So, you can talk French if you want to?” I asked. “Maybe,” he answered slowly. “I remember very little of it.” He paused, then said even more forcefully than before, “But I do not want to talk it. I talk only Lenape now.” I was still curious. “Did you know that man? How did you know he was French?” “Yes, I have seen him at the trading post. And I know him to be French by the gun he carried and that odd little hat he wore.” Smiling Beaver thought a moment, then chuckled and looked at me sideways. “Anyway, I could not call him a dirty dog in Yangwe because I do not know that language as you do.” I was a little surprised at this remark, since we had never discussed the fact that I could speak English. With that, Smiling Beaver stood up and began a quick pace downstream. We never spoke of that incident again. But now I had a new understanding of my young friend, and felt a new closeness to him. Could this be part of the connection I felt with him when I first saw him after the gauntlet? Perhaps.
The two of us ran back to the village in great spirits. A game of Te-hon-tsi-kwaks-eks, or LaCrosse, was underway in the flat area near the river. The game was played with a stick about three feet long that ended in a sort of crook with a large, flat triangular surface of webbing; the ball was a fist-sized lump of deer hide sewn together. The object of the game was to grab the ball with the stick and fling the ball at your own goal. Sometimes the game was played with two opposing teams, but this time it was a free-for-all. Smiling Beaver and I rushed to join in. As usual, the action was fast and hard. The young man with a limp was in the middle of it all, ferociously swinging his game stick while attempting to capture the ball from his opponents. He was one of the toughest players in the village. He was very good at scooping up a loose ball with his stick, then doing a complete circle on his good leg while using all his strength to fling the ball toward his goal. This was Mud Turtle, whom I had noticed playing the game on my first day with the tribe. When I first heard his name, I thought it appropriate, for he reminded me of a slow-moving, dim-witted mud turtle. He seemed always to be on the verge of open hostility. He was indeed a member of the Turtle clan who called themselves Unami, or the People Down the River, as were many in our village, ‘tho his fellow Turtles were as friendly as any in my own Wolf clan. Most of the Lenape chiefs came from his clan. Mud Turtle’s bad leg slowed him down when running, but it certainly did not slow him at all in this game. Smiling Beaver had grabbed up a stick and was charging after the ball with Mud Turtle right behind him. I swung in to try to deflect Mud Turtle and the others. The ball got loose from one of the boys and Smiling Beaver grabbed for it with his stick but Mud Turtle beat him to it, scooping up the ball with one fast, clean motion. I was running fast at him to try to kick the ball loose. Mud Turtle began his turn and I tried to duck out of the way, but to no avail. I was already off center when Mud Turtle’s stick hit me on the side of my head with a thundering blow. It threw me face-down in the dirt. Dazed and confused, I struggled to get up and out of the way, for the play did not stop. I lurched to my knees, then collapsed. Smiling Beaver glanced over, saw what was happening, and ran over to help me to my feet. Blood gushed from the left side of my face. I felt weak. With Smiling Beaver’s help I staggered off the field of play. As we left the area I saw Mud Turtle glance over at me with a triumphant smirk on his face. My blood ran hot.
That was not to be my last run-in with Mud Turtle. “Racer, I believe you are practicing magic.” It was now many moons after the ball game. Monotowan and I were just returning to the village after a day trip hunting for nuts. Monotowan, which means White Antelope, was a light-hearted soul who seemed always to be laughing and dancing. I believe she was two or three winters older than I, very pretty. In many ways she reminded me of my twin sister Hannah and I very much enjoyed her company. Mud Turtle was watching for us, standing astride the trail, looking fearful and blocking our way. “We do not allow children to do magic,” he said with a sneer. “Only the shamen can do magic.” I was dumbfounded. What on earth could he mean? And what was he hiding in his fist? “You have been doing Yangwe magic against us. Now I have proof.” “Mud Turtle, what proof could you possibly have?” White Antelope asked. She did not seem to be frightened of him in the least, ‘tho to tell the truth I was. “I have his magic doll,” Mud Turtle replied slyly, opening his fist. My Hannah doll! He had my Hannah doll! I was so angry I began to sputter: “Give me that doll,” I shouted. “That belongs to me. It was given to me by my sister.” I tried to snatch it way from him but he was too quick for me. He just danced backwards, laughing. “You do not have a sister,” Mud Turtle snapped. “You have only a brother, Water Moon. That is why I know you are doing Yangwe magic. You are not to be trusted.” Now, I knew that the Lenape firmly believe that when they washed away all the Whiteness from me on the day of the gauntlet, they also washed away all my former White family. Even White Antelope seemed a little surprised by my statement about my White sister. Water Moon and my Lenape parents were the only ones who knew the truth about my Hannah doll.
As I fought down a sense of rage, I suddenly remembered something Kistalwa had once told me: “The Fox is physically and mentally quick and can teach you ways to respond to situations by using the power of inner instincts and knowing.” From somewhere deep inside me I felt a quietness pervade my entire being. I took a deep breath and the rage slowly left me with the exhale. I looked directly into Mud Turtle’s eyes. Quietly said to him, “You are right, Mud Turtle. This doll is magic. But you are wrong when you say it is magic to be used against you or my Lenape family. This doll is magic because it is something the Yangwe have that we do not have. We have no way to remember what our great ones looked like. But the Yangwe do. They have dolls like this. Truly it is like magic. But it is not black magic. It is magic we Lenape must one day have if we are to defeat the Yangwe.” Mud Turtle was surprised by my statement. He looked at me for a moment, then turned on his heel and limped back to the village. But he did not give me my Hannah doll. As Mud Turtle ran off, White Antelope turned to me and said, “Racer, I did not know about your Yangwe family. I see that your sister was very important to you. But you are important to us now, your Lenape family.” With that she gave me the sweetest smile, a smile that seemed to light up the space between us. Several days later, I found my Hannah doll placed on my bearskin rug in the longhouse. Mud Turtle had obviously put it there, but we never spoke of that incident. I heard later that Monotowan had mentioned the incident to her parents, who mentioned it to Mud Turtles parents, who forced the issue with their son. Thievery within the tribe was a taboo, strictly unacceptable.
Chapter 13: Murchison Again
Perhaps, dear reader, I should now tell you a bit about the Lenape way of tracking the seasons. You see, they didn’t. They did not celebrate – or even note – such things as birthdays. Usually, intervals of time were counted independently of one another. The Lenape recognized a day as a basic unit, but without a written calendar we had no way of recording the days. We counted periods of time by moons (28 days) and our “season” began with the New Planting Moon, what you would call the new moon of May. We divided a year into four seasons, so when we say a certain event happened 10 winters ago you would say it happened 10 years ago. I say all this to explain why I so quickly lost track of the days and the months, or important events. For some time I tried to remember the English months at least, then the years at least, but lacking a written reference, I could not. Except this much: I always remembered that I became a Lenape one moon (Falling Leaf Moon) before my 11th birthday. Only in this manner could I roughly track my years. I know, for example, that it was two winters after my adoption that I again met the trader Murchison. The first time I saw the man was outside the trading post at Fort Decker, just before my White family and I embarked on that fateful trip down the Delaware River to see what was left of our old family home in Dansbury. Of course, we never made it to Dansbury, and my father, brother, and cousin never even made it off the river. At the Fort I had seen my first Indian, and I was terrified. Now here it was two winters later, and I was one. I dressed in the Lenape style. I had a Lenape family. I spoke only Lenape. My hair was cut like a Lenape boy, ‘tho auburn colored instead of black. I hunted and ate and played like a Lenape. But under my leggings and under my summer tan, I was still white.
“Ayah, Racer. Help us gather corn, you lazy dog,” Monotowan called to me as she ran by with several other young people. “You are such a lazy boy.” Happily I dashed after the her and the others, quickly catching up. Falling Leaf Moon was upon us again, the season of greatest reward for the Lenape, the time to pick the crops and store the dried goods in stout vessels in the longhouses. After the crops were brought in, we would always celebrate with a great feast. And tonight we were to have a very special feast. The Lenape chief was coming to our village, along with other clan members and some Yangwe traders. There would be wonderful food, and council fires with dancing and music and speeches, and the children would play games, and our hunters would trade their animal pelts for the hard goods that would carry the tribe through another season. Our job, the children’s job, was to gather the nuts and vegetables and firewood for the banquets. It was all very exciting. We made a game of it. “Monotowan, I will race you to the corn field,” I shouted as I caught up to her. She laughed and we all took off as fast as we could. Whenever I raced Water Moon, we raced in earnest. But with the girls, I raced for fun. We arrived at the nearby field in a great laughing mob, out of breath, fueled by excitement and anticipation. “So maybe you are not so lazy after all,” she taunted me. “We will see how much you can carry back to the village.” Of course, I could not let that challenge go unanswered. I grabbed three large baskets lying about and filled them with maize. Their combined weight was almost more than I could handle, but I would never let the girls see me struggle. I made a great show of hoisting the baskets to my shoulders as if they were filled with nothing but air. “So, Monotowan, you carry one basket and I carry three,” I said, trying hard not to wheeze or groan. “So maybe you will have a little feast and I will have a big feast, eh?” The others, too, had filled their baskets and we slowly began walking back to the village. “Little Racer, you know that Custologa is coming to our village for the feast”? Monotowan asked. “You know that he is my uncle?” Of course, everyone knew that Custologa was Monotowan’s uncle, her Mother’s brother. It was a matter of great pride in our village
that the Principal Chief of all the Lenape was a Munsee related to one of our own. Custologa lived in a village called Venango, several day’s journey toward the setting sun. “Yes, but do not call me Little Racer,” I replied, perhaps too tartly. “I am as tall as you now.” “I am sorry then, Big Racer. Indeed you are as tall as me now, but you were not when you came to live with us.” We walked a little in silence. I was embarrassed by this little incident, ‘tho I must say embarrassment is a rare emotion among Lenape for they seldom mean to cause shame or embarrassment to others. For that I was always grateful. And then I chanced to see the trader. And I remembered him. Custologa and his Lenape party were just arriving at our village, but my eye was immediately drawn to the lone White man among them. With a panic-filled jolt to my stomach, I recognized Murchison, whom I had first met at Fort Decker so long ago. He was as I remembered him: roughly dressed in deerskin leggings and jacket, shaggy and hatless, leading a sorry looking pack horse. And I noticed something else: he definitely seemed out of place here among all us Indians. Seeing him frightened me. This was the first White man I had seen since that terrible day I said goodbye to my dead Father, brother, and cousin. An unwelcome rush of conflicted emotions washed through me. My eyes filled with tears and I almost lost my breath. Monotowan looked curiously at me, but did not say anything, as was the Lenape custom. I was thankful for that. How could I possibly explain that the sight of this strange-looking man stabbed my heart simply because he was White and reminded me of my long-gone White family? I left the others and turned toward my longhouse to set down my loaded baskets. Water Moon popped out of the longhouse door as I came up. “Racer, the gathering has begun…” he started, then stopped, looking closely at me. “What has upset you? Are you hurt?” I replied slowly, trying hard to not show my emotions. “No, Enita-Oneka, my brother, I am not hurt. I have just seen the Yangwe trader over there. I know him. I do not think he saw me, and I do not
know if he would remember me if he does see me, but I think it would be unwise for him to know that I am here. I must talk with Father about this.” Water Moon nodded and pointed toward the circle of elders. Father sat there with the others, smoking the pipe. I would have to find another time to talk with him privately. I badly needed his advice. In the meantime I stayed away from the main group, instead helping the women prepare the maize for dinner. It was a welcome relief, ‘tho I think they were curious as to why I did not seek out the company of the older boys and men. Kitalwa, Racer of the Mountain Path, my Lenape Father, always had an uncanny knack for knowing what other people are thinking and feeling. Somehow he knew I was bothered by my thoughts. I do not know if someone told him, or he sensed it, but before long he sought me out where I had taken refuge in the company of the younger children. “Ka-tesk-aw-tin. Ngat-usëm-wi,” he said quietly in my ear. Racer. I am thirsty Surprised, I glanced up. I was not even aware he had approached me. He was looking at the council fire, not at me. Quickly I got up and fetched a water gourd. He drank a small sip, then said, “We will go now.” He did not look at me. With great quiet dignity he walked toward the river. I followed. I had learned to read him. Sometimes when he walked about the village, he strolled in a way that invited conversation. At other times he walked with a purposefulness that brooked no interaction. He was walking in that manner now. When we reached the river bank he sat down; so did I. We both looked into the water. “You are troubled, Racer,” Father said at length. “Is it about the Yangwe trader? How could he possibly know that, I wondered. Had Water Moon told him? Nobody else knew. “Yes, Father. It is about the trader called Murchison.” I used his English name. I was uncertain what to say next. In truth I was not at all sure why I was so upset. It was not only that Murchison reminded me of my
dead family. It was also that he reminded me so clearly that I had ‘changed sides’. I struggled to sort out my thoughts so I could find the right words. Father did not hurry me; he just stared at the water before us. “Father, the trader is Yangwe. I once was Yangwe. When I was Yangwe I thought like a Yangwe, that all Original People [the Lenape name for themselves] are evil. Now I think like a Lenape, that all Yangwe are evil.” I paused to gather my thoughts, then continued. “But they are not all evil. That man Murchison is not evil. He may even be a good man. And others among them are, too. So not all Yangwe and not all Lenape are evil or bad. But some surely are.” I stopped again, confused. This idea had been taking shape in my mind for some time now, but never so clearly as just now, sitting here on the river bank, talking with Father. “It is as you say, my son. The Great Spirit first created the land and water, trees and plants, birds and fishes, animals and insects; in the last place, he created the first Lenape. That Lenape married the Beaver’s daughter. Together they created the first family. From them all families grew. You know these stories. But, we do not know where the Yangwe came from, or when. We only know they are from the Great Spirit, as we are. And yes, some of them are bad people, as some of us are.” Father paused a few moments before he continued: “Racer, it is not important where you came from. What is important is where you are going. You must be prudent in your council, intrepid and courageous as a warrior, a tireless hunter, and a kind and hospitable man. That is what is important. That is what pleases Waka-Tanka, the Great Spirit.” Another pause. In front of us the water continued to roll past as it had since time immemorial. In back of us was the happy sound of a Lenape village in full festival, with occasional laughter, drumming, women talking, children playing, men visiting. Leaves rustled overhead in a gathering breeze. Father spoke again: “We believe there is a place of horrors for the wicked, for the forked tongues, or liars; for the slothful and indolent. We call that place Yoon-i-un-guch, the devouring and insatiable gulf which never gives up its prey. You will do well to avoid this place, my beloved son.”
A long pause. Then he said, as if a question: “I have heard the Yangwe believe in a similar place.” “Yes, Father. They call it Hell. I heard of it often in the Yangwe churches.” Father nodded slowly. “Perhaps we are not so different, the Lenape and the Yangwe. [After a pause, a chuckle, and another pause, he continued.] Except that the Lenape knows the frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. The Yangwe has not learned that yet.” Not immediately catching his meaning, I asked, “Father, do you think it wise if the trader knows I am here?” “Racer, he already knows you are here. He saw you when you came in from the corn field. He mentioned it to me when we smoked the pipe. He says the Yangwe demand that we turn over all Yangwe captives to them. He asked about you. I told him we have no captives, only family here. He asked if you are a prisoner and I said no, you are my son. He asked if you are White, and I said you used to be, but we washed all the White blood out of you. You are Lenape now.” Tears spurted from my eyes; just as quickly I tried to stop them. I felt so relieved; my sense of impending dread was immediately replaced by a serene sense of belonging. To try to divert Father’s attention from my emtoions, I purposefully watched a tree branch get caught in an eddy near the river bank and spin for a moment before drifting loose and moving on. Father watched it, too, paused a while, then said, “We will go to the council lodge now. Together.” We rose and returned to the council circle with the other men and older boys. I never felt as close to Father as I did at that moment. Even today as I write this I feel his warmth and acceptance. That will stay with me until I draw my last breath. During the evening’s festivities, I often noticed Murchison looking at me in a peculiar way. But now I could ignore him and not be afraid. I knew that he was not going to take me away from my Lenape family. As the sun lowered over the hills rimming our valley and shadows began creeping out from the forest, the women and girls at last brought out food for the feast. And what a feast it was! Never have I seen such a spread. We feasted upon venison, bear, and dried shad, green corn boiled in large brass kettles and eaten from a large bowl with a
wooden spoon, rough brown potatoes peeled and dipped in raccoon’s fat (tasting very much like the sweet potatoes I remember from my childhood), a kind of hominy made of dried green corn and beans mixed together, and an abundance of hickory and chinquapin nuts. They also served acorns, which I knew from my boyhood. I took a handful and roasted them on a hot rock next to the cooking fire, resulting in a sweet, warm treat. I suppose it was a practice the Lenape were not familiar with, because after that I often saw them roasting their acorns just as I had as a youngster. After the feasting came the speech making. Many elders stood to speak to the tribe and to Custologa and his party. Finally Tall Feathers rose to talk. Tall Feathers (who’s real name was Glick-hican, ‘tho I always called him Tall Feathers in my mind) was a powerful speaker. He had a deep, booming voice that easily carried across the circle gathered about. From my very first sighting I had never liked him. Indeed, he was something of a renegade even among the Lenape. But he commanded respect, if not grudging friendship. He was the one brave who could always be counted on to go to war, even though he was not the Lenape War Chief. Tonight he was laying out his new strategy to drive Whites from our home in Wayomick [Wyoming Valley in modern-day Pennsylvania] for all time. Cleverly he weaved in the speeches of other orators, such as Chief Pontiac of the northern Ottowa, the Lenape prophet Neolin, and our own great statesman Teedyuscung. “Hear what the Great Spirit has ordered me to tell you,” he thundered. “You are to make sacrifices, to put off entirely from yourselves the customs which you have adopted since the White people came among us; you are to return to that former happy state in which we lived in peace and plenty, before these strangers came to disturb us, and above all, you must abstain from drinking their deadly liquor, which they forced upon us for the sake of increasing their gains and diminishing our numbers.” That last point, ‘tho it was greeted with nods of approval from many listeners, must have confused others, since Tall Feathers himself was known to have a liking for the White man’s rum. Nevertheless, he plowed on. His voice boomed over the sound of the roaring fire: “I thought that the Great Spirit who made this land never intended one man
should have so much of it as never to see it all, and another man not have enough to plant corn for his children. I think the Great Spirit never meant it should be so.” It was a familiar argument, one that many around the circle could easily agree with. Tall Feathers urged his listeners to use force to drive out the Yangwe from our homeland, to cause them to never return again. Finally Tall Feathers finished his oration with a simple plea: “I sit here as a bird on a bow; I look about and do not know where to go; let me therefore come down upon the ground and make my own by a good deed, and I shall then have a home forever.” Tall Feathers looked about, satisfied; the dancing fire lit up his stern face. In the custom or the Lenape, there was no clapping or applause. He simply sat down. I was frightened. For the first time I began to understand what was at stake here. My plight, of the White boy who’s family is killed by Indians and then is adopted by them, was just a small piece of this complex picture. This story, with its warring and killing and pain, was going to happen over and over again. Would we, White or Indian, ever again feel safe and warm, free from attack? I began to doubt it for the first time. I began to worry.
Chapter 14: I Make My Choice
The second day of the great feast was a day of games and gambling and clan visits. It was a grand day of good food and good friends. Of course, I did not know any of those who had accompanied Chief Custologa, but everyone else in my village seemed to know them, so there was much “catching up” for them to do. They had brought several children with them, so we had new playmates to attend to. My favorite game was the Kokol (Rabbit Tail) game. In it we used a sharp stick with string tied to the base and some cone-shaped pieces on the string with a rabbit tail tied on the end of the string to keep the cones from coming off. The object is to catch the cones on the stick. As I was new to it, I was not very good at it. Another game was Selahtik, not unlike Jackstraws that I used to play with Hannah. Pieces of reed were decorated with various lines and dots for scoring purposes. We would drop these onto a flat surface and then try to pick them up one at a time without disturbing any others. My hand was steady and I did well at this game. Meanwhile the adults played a dice game they called Mamandin. The player places dice made of bone or deer antler in a wooden bowl. Then he quickly brings the bowl down on a folded blanket to make the dice jump in the bowl. Since the men were keeping score and betting on the outcome, these games were loud and raucous, ‘tho always friendly. It was while I was observing the Mamandin game that I became aware of Murchison observing me. “Hey, Delaware boy,” he said in English, just loud enough so I could hear him but no one else could. I froze. I knew without turning around that he was speaking to me. And I knew I must not respond to the English greeting, so I ignored him.
“Delaware boy,” he repeated in English. Still I ignored him. Then he tried it in Lenape. “Lenape boy, I want to talk with you.” I was surprised that his Indian talk was pretty good. I turned around to look at him. In Lenape, he said, “I remember you. At the Fort. You were going down the river with your family. I heard you were all killed. But I guess not you. Here you are.” I nodded to let him know that I understood. “Kistalwa says you are his adopted son.” Again I nodded. “Have you forgotten your mother tongue?” Murchison inquired in English. In English, I replied, “No, but I have no reason to speak it now. I am Lenape. I can speak Lenape. I have no one to speak English to.” I looked closely at him, wondering what he wanted of me. It felt odd speaking my native tongue again. Except for saying some simple words and sentences with Water Moon, I was now quite unaccustomed to speaking it. Murchison continued, this time in Lenape: “Kistalwa says your name is Ka-tesk-aw-tin. Would you like me to call you Ka-tesk-aw-tin, or your English name?” “Ka-tesk-aw-tin,” I replied. “It is my name now, the name I am comfortable with.” “Ka-tesk-aw-tin?” He tried out the sound of my name. “Ka-teskaw-tin? I do not know that word.” “It means Racer,” I said in English. “Ah. Very well then, Master Racer,” he said, switching back to English. It began to feel as if we were playing a game, switching back and forth between the languages. “Are you happy here among these people? Do you ever think about your White family, the family you must have left behind?”
I was startled by his question. “Yes, I think about them sometimes,” I replied slowly, instinctively grasping the Hannah doll I always carried as a necklace. Murchison saw my quick hand movement. “Might I ask, Master Racer, what it is you carry around your neck?” I pulled out the necklace with the doll for him to see. He red hair was long gone and her eyes and mouth were rubbed off but I still was quite fond of my Hannah doll. “My sister gave me this doll the last day I saw her,” I explained. “Her name is Hannah. I think about her, and the rest of my family in Delaware. But I am happy to be here now.” “You know, Racer, the British have ordered all captives to be returned to their White families. Your Lenni Lenape chiefs already agreed to this. I could arrange for that to happen if you so desire it.” Murchison cocked his head and looked at me curiously, awaiting my reaction. I was stunned. I did not so desire it, of that I was certain. And yet . . . and yet, sometimes I did wonder what had happened to my Mother, brothers, and sisters, especially Hannah, and all those aunts and uncles and cousins. Sometimes, at odd moments, I would have quick, delightful memories of that big house in Delaware and so much family living in it. And I really did wonder if I would ever see them again. Those thoughts often caught me unawares, I looked around us. The fact that we were talking English had attracted some notice, particularly from Mud Turtle who seemed to be watching us intently while pretending not to notice us at all. Others of the tribe watched from a respectful distance. I was sure none could hear us, or understand us even if they could hear. As far as I knew, none spoke English except Water Moon. Murchison waited a moment, then continued: “Perhaps, it is . . . a question of money? If you need to buy your freedom, I could help . . .” The question hung in the air between us, like a gentle night moth. I shook my head, slowly at first then more resolutely. It was not a question of money, and certainly not of freedom. In truth, I felt as free at that moment as I ever did in my former White world. And why would this man, whom I did not really know (and who did not really know me), make such an offer? I thought long and hard, then responded.
“Mister Murchison, this is not a new thought to me, returning to your Yangwe world [here I used my word, not his]. But I have made my peace with these Lenape people. Yes these are the same people who killed my father and cousins on the river. Perhaps these are the same people who burned my village and killed my neighbors when I was but three years old. I do not know. But I do know this: In the three winters I have lived with them, I have received nothing but love and acceptance from them. It is not that I do not miss my White family. It is that now I love my Lenape family more.” A look of surprise crossed the trader’s face when I said this. He nodded thoughtfully while I continued: “When I lived among the Whites, I heard many stories, horrible stories, of Indians killing White settlers and burning White villages. My village. Now I live among the Lenape. Now I hear of Whites killing my Lenape brothers and sisters and uncles and burning Lenape villages. My village. I myself have witnessed British troops burn enough maize to feed our village for a year. We are all watching the Lenape being pushed ever toward the setting sun, out of sacred lands we have used since the beginning of time.” The trader did not respond immediately, so I kept going: “Sir, I am Lenape now. I choose to stay that way.” We looked at each other, a White boy dressed in Indian clothing and a White man dressed nearly the same, speaking both Indian and English. He nodded and said gravely, “Master Racer, you are learning a great deal here among the Lenape. You are growing up wisely. I wish you long life and good health.” And then, in Lenape, he added with a twinkle, “Làpìch knewël”. I will see you again. He offered to shake my hand, a custom completely foreign to the Lenape. I shook my head slightly. We were done; we parted company. I did see Murchison half a dozen times in later years. To this day we each maintain a great respect for the other, and when we address each other it is always in the cordial, stately cadence of the old language of the Lenni Lenape.
It is a beautiful night. There is a large gathering of people who have come together for the ceremonial. Now the sun has set. Inside the dance area attendants have brought in the fire. People are sitting around visiting, and waiting. Then, the deep, resonant sound of the water drum begins. A steady beat is soon followed by the singing of the drummer. He is singing a song for the women to come out and dance. On either side of him sit other singers. They have gourd rattles, or other types of rattles, and they too sing along. The singing and dancing goes on most of the night.
Chapter 15: A Haunting Encounter
“In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Waka-Tanka, the Great Spirit, did not speak directly to man.” Father spoke slowly and clearly, gazing at the campfire but speaking to the assembled clan. It was the night of the full Grass Moon, one winter following my meeting with Murchison. “Waka-Tanka sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon, should man learn. All things tell of Waka-Tanka. Now if you talk to animals they will talk to you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear, and what you fear, you will destroy.” I dearly loved listening to Father tell the old stories. In some ways it reminded me of those far-off times sitting in a back pew of the Dutch Reformed Church with the many members of my White family, listening to the parson read stories from the Bible. But Father’s telling was much more animated. He spoke in a deep, rolling, sonorous voice. In the Lenape custom, no one interrupted. All listened in silence. “A long time ago, we Original People were created to be caretakers of Mother Earth. Since that day we have respected Mother Earth as part of the Great Circle that includes all life: the people, the animals, the dancing waters, the great trees and the tiny grasses, the birds and snakes and fish, even the rocks beneath our feet and the clouds above our heads. We know that all these things are equal and no animal, including humans, holds dominion over any other part of creation.” This, I decided, was one of the essential differences between the Indian faith and the White man’s faith. The Lenape believed that God created all things to be of equal value. Whites, on the other hand, thought they ruled all things.
“If we humans try to conquer Mother Earth, we will bring great suffering upon ourselves. That is why we give special recognition to the power of the animal spirits. We wear their skins and feathers in ceremony and dance. We paint them on our bodies and carry parts of them in our medicine bags. We paint the animals on our homes and wear animal fetishes. We do this to remain connected to our animal guides so they may teach us their powers and give as lessons of life. These acts remind us that all things in creation are our brothers, sisters, cousins, and more importantly, our teachers and friends. As humans, we too are animal spirits.” That last thought always affected me. How could we be humans and animals at the same time? The next day I asked Smiling Beaver that question. He and I, along with several other children, were planting corn in the open field near the village. Each of us had a long stick that we used to poke a hole in the ground, then we would drop two or three corn kernels into each hole. “Smiling Beaver, are you an animal?” I asked. He looked at me quizzically. “Last night Kistalwa said we are animal spirits as well as humans,” I said. “How can that be? Do you think I am an animal spirit? Is your spirit the Beaver?” “Yes, Racer, my spirit is the Beaver,” he replied. “My parents saw the Beaver enter my body the day I was born. That is why I know I carry the spirit of the Beaver.” I persisted: “Smiling Beaver, what is the Beaver spirit that you carry? Do I have an animal spirit? How can I know?” Smiling Beaver was a little older than I. He knew of things I did not, Lenape things. He straightened up and looked at me for a moment, then said, “Little brother, you do not choose an animal as your personal spirit guide. The animal chooses you. They decide who they will reveal themselves to and make their friend.” This short answer did not satisfy my long curiosity. “How will I know if an animal has made me its friend?” I persisted. Smiling Beaver replied, “Each animal has its own Medicine. To discover who your animal guide is, pay attention to the spirits around
you and follow the signs. You must develop your inner knowledge and spiritual understanding.” We worked on in silence now, poking holes and dropping kernels. I had a lot to think about. Are spirit guides and spirit animals the same thing? Does every person have a spirit animal? And my biggest question of all: how will I even know if an animal is trying to contact me? For many days afterward these questions, and many more, rolled through my mind. But I knew better than go to Father with a list of questions. He preferred to impart his wisdom at his pace, not mine. Not long after, the perfect opportunity presented itself. It occurred on a beautiful day in the middle of Heat Moon, what you would call July. Water Moon and I had taken our bows and arrows and were on a little hunting expedition in the next valley over from the village. It was an expedition more of fun than purpose; the arrows were but our excuse to get away from the others. We were tracking a small family of coyotes, stalking their tracks and watching for signs. Water Moon was a superior tracker for his age, and could quickly figure the age, health, sex, size, and weight of whatever animal he was following. To him, every disturbance and irregularity on the landscape had a story to tell. I was still mostly deaf to these stories, so it was with great enthusiasm that I watched and learned from him. “Do you see how the mother coyote turned here, then turned back to her trail?” he asked. “She picked up a scent, then dropped it. And do you see how Old Mother’s track is lighter there? That shows she has an injured left rear leg.” No, I didn’t see that. In fact, ‘tho Water Moon said we were following three animals, I could only occasionally see one track. My brother was now down on all fours, scanning the track. We were in a thicket of scrub oak and tall grasses with gravel underfoot. I found it a terrible place to track an animal, but Water Moon seemed to be able to read even the animals’ thoughts, as well as I might read a Yangwe book of my childhood. “The cubs are still very young. Maybe five moons old. Old Mother leads, the cubs follow. Look, bent grass shows they came through here just ahead of us. We are downwind; they do not yet know we are behind them.” He was getting quietly excited now, and his excitement rubbed off on me. Now we both were on our hands and knees, creeping silently
through the grass and looking at everything. Only with his patient guidance could I sometimes see what he spotted – a tiny broken twig, a partial paw print in a patch of sand, fresh spoor, one loose coyote hair hanging from a leaf. Slowly Water Moon stood upright, scanning the grass ahead of us for their track. He pointed to it, and I could see it too, ever so faintly. Actually, I did not see the presence of the trail so much as I saw the absence of a unbroken grassy field. I whispered this to my brother, and he smiled and nodded. “Yes, Racer, you are beginning to see,” he whispered back. “To know the animal you must be able to see the world as he does.” Water Moon began trotting along the coyote’s trail, following every stop and turn. I followed closely behind, both of us in complete silence. After a considerable time, we cleared the trees and were now in open grassland. The tracking was now easier, but then we could more easily be seen by our prey. Suddenly Water Moon stopped stock still; I did the same, while noticing something amazing about my brother. The manner in which he stood, it was as if he was making himself invisible even while standing visibly in the open. It is the mark of a good hunter. We looked ahead to a slight rise several dozen paces ahead of us, and there saw the three coyotes. Old Mother was standing still and alert, ears up, sniffing the wind. The cubs, too, were still. They still had not picked up our scent. We watched in fascination until Old Mother finally dropped her gaze and sprang forward into the grass at a fast trot. The cubs bounded after her. “We will let them go now,” Water Moon said. “Old Mother has work to do. She must find a safe spot for the cubs to rest while she goes out to hunt food for them.” We had had a good morning and I was pleased. Also a little tired from the hunt. We sat and rested on the same rise where the coyotes had been moments before. As was my custom, I had my Hannah doll on its leather thong around my neck. I stuck one of my arrows into the ground, took the Hannah necklace off, and hung it on the upturned end of the arrow. “Now my sister can see where we are,” I said to Water Moon. “Sometimes I can see her, you know, in my mind” I added quietly. Water
Moon was the only person I ever talked to about Hannah. I think he understood my singular connection to her. We were still resting quietly in the grass when my brother made the slightest of movements. I followed his look and saw the grass move ever so gently, like a puff of wind. In fact, I thought it was just the breeze at first, until I saw two little eyes staring at me through the grass. Slowly the eyes came forward so I could see the small head and pointed ears. It was òkwës, the Kit Fox. Water Moon and I were frozen to our spot; only our eyes moved. For one breathtaking moment, the little fox stared at us from a distance, then quietly and almost serenely walked right up to us. It walked in a circle around both of us, sniffing the coyote scent and ours, then walked over to the arrow stuck in the ground. Standing on its powerful rear legs, it put his forelegs up along the arrow shaft and sniffed the Hannah doll hanging there. I drank in the sight. She had a slender, slightly flattened skull, pointed muzzle, large ears, and a long, bushy tail. After a moment, she dropped to the ground again and looked straight at me. My heart stopped. I dared not breathe. Momentarily the fox flicked his attention to Water Moon, then stared again at me, with what appeared to be an inquisitive look. Was she asking me a question? The fox glanced again at the Hannah doll, looked back at me, winked, then half-walked, half-trotted nonchalantly past me and my brother. Quickly she disappeared into the grass, returning the way she had come. Twice I saw tufts of grass move as she trotted on, then nothing at all. I inhaled a sweet breath of air. Water Moon did the same. “Well,” Water Moon said. “Òkwës has paid you a visit, little brother. That is a very good sign. She mostly comes out at night, so she must have had something important to say to you today. Òkwës carries much good medicine and good teaching.” Water moon was clearly impressed; I was elated. I had never had such an encounter with any wild animal before. “It seemed she was asking me a question, Water Moon,” I said excitedly. “Is this my spirit animal, then?”
“I cannot tell you that,” Water Moon replied. “Only you can answer that question for yourself. But I can tell you this: Fox lives between the light and the darkness, so she can look into both worlds.” My mind was a jumble of questions, but Water Moon continued thoughtfully, “I think Òkwës is much like you. You live between the Lenape and the Yangwe worlds, so you can look into both worlds, like she does.” My brother watched me intently as he said this. I have often thought since then that Water Moon is one of the most insightful people I have ever met, Indian or White. For a long time I pondered what he said about the two worlds. This was something new to think about. And my connection, if any, to the fox. Clearly I would need to talk to Father about this strange, exciting, haunting encounter. My time with Father came the next day. As we sat eating in front of our lodge, Water Moon and I regaled him and Calling Owl with the story of our encounter with the Fox. The two of them said nothing as we talked rather excitedly; they merely nodded and chewed. When at last we finished the tale, I asked the same question I had posed to Water Moon. And he gave the same answer as Water Moon had. Of course, I was fairly bursting with questions, but I knew better than to ask just now. That would be rude. Instead I waited for Father. After a long and thoughtful pause, he began to tell me about spirit guides. “There are four types of animal guides, representing the four sacred directions, the four seasons, and the four colors of man,” he began. “The Messenger Guide comes quickly into your life but leaves once you understand his message. The Shadow Guide invades you with fear, to teach you a lesson you have not yet learned because of your anger, avarice, greed, insecurity, or negative thoughts. The Journey Guide appears at a fork in your life, guides you along the way, and remains at your side until your life has changed. The Spirit Guide remains with you throughout your life. He reflects your inner spiritual self. Its powers are always there for you. They are a constant reminder of your inner powers and oneness with nature.” I listened intently. Even today I clearly remember every word he spoke to me that evening so long ago. It is not hard because what he said made so much sense to me that night when I first heard it, and it makes
so much more sense to me today. Perhaps Father was speaking to me then as fathers have spoken to their sons for countless generations upon generations. He said, “All things in creation have spiritual energy.” He said, “All things are connected and worthy of our respect and reverence.” He said, “We seek balance and harmony within the Great Circle of Life.” Father looked directly at me for what seemed like several minutes, but probably was several seconds. I can still feel his warm brown eyes looking deep within me, deep into my soul. He said, “My son, I cannot tell you if The Fox is your Spirit Guide. However, I can tell you that Fox represents cunning, slyness, stealth, observation, and wisdom. Knowing Fox and its ways will help you maintain balance and harmony in your life. Watch for him again. If he is to be your Spirit Guide, he alone will tell you.” This last part filled me with excitement and anticipation. Father must have noticed this, for he smiled knowingly and added, “You must be patient, little man. If Fox comes to you, he will do it on his time, not yours.” From that day on, I tried to learn everything I could about the elusive and fun-loving fox. Water Moon taught me a great deal about tracking, and always I wanted to track Fox (except when we were hunting for food). Slowly I began to understand Mister Fox not as prey, but as equal. One of the first lessons Fox taught me was about good eating habits - not from what he eats, but from the way he eats. By observing his hunting pattern I discovered he eats small amounts frequently. By checking his scat I found Fox is not a picky eater and readily accepts whatever is available. Fox is very quiet and blends into its surroundings, becoming almost invisible. I worked hard to do the same, to be in harmony with my surroundings. With Water Moon’s patient guidance, I learned to be very quiet and blend in without notice, as I had seen him do. Now the days were growing shorter and colder; the Falling Leaf Moon was upon us. A full season had passed since I last saw Murchison the trader. I suppose I was in my 15th year by now, ‘tho I could not tell you for certain.
With the harvest in and the festivals over, it was time for a final hunting trip before the winter snows set in and most animals burrow away for the Season. I was elated when Father told me to prepare to go, along with two of my favorite companions, Water Moon and Black Wolf [Chi-wen-dota]. By this time I was a fairly good hunter, well able to provide for my family. Father was getting too feeble to participate in the big hunts, although in good times he still ventured out during the day to bring back small game. This Hunting Moon hunt was essential to keep us from starving later. Our supply of corn, nuts, and other vegetables would not last through a long winter, and snow hunting late in the season is always tricky. The hunter will ever-so gently walk onto the hardened snow crust, careful not to scare away the game. But in spite of all his best precautions, the game usually slips away. To ensure success for this hunt, the elders offered up gifts of tobacco and food to the gods, and all hunters performed a purification ritual in the sweat lodge. Dawn was just beginning as we gathered one by one from our longhouses. No long good byes, we just left in a long single file following the Hunting Chief. In two days we reached what was known as the Shamokin trail, leading us toward the headwaters of the Lenapehanna, what is called the Delaware River today. We spent nearly a full moon hunting, eating, skinning, and drying meat for the winter. But in truth, ‘tho I have fond feelings for the expedition, I can remember but a few of the details. The awful memory of our return from the hunt has eclipsed the hunt itself.
Chapter 16: The Call of the Loon
Our hunting party was returning triumphant. It was a good hunt. The village would not starve this winter. While still four days out from the village, the Hunting Chief dispatched our two fastest warriors to deliver the news. One of them was Glick-hican. Tall Feathers. A day and a half later they were back, having run both ways. I saw them running toward us on the trail. Everyone saw them. Something dreadful had clearly happened. Dropping our loads, we gathered around the Hunting Chief and the two runners. He gave them each a gourd of fresh water. They nodded their thanks but did not drink. Instead they looked at the Chief and told him the news. “The Yangwe have burned our village and destroyed the food,” Tall Feathers began. He was angry. “Four of our elders are dead. They are Elk Stream, The Wanderer, Three Weasel, and Calling Owl.” He stopped to let the news sink in. I felt as though someone had kicked me hard in the stomach. Calling Owl dead? How was that possible? Did I hear it wrong? At that moment I was standing toward the outside of the circle, straining to hear every word. The Hunting Chief turned to me and nodded a doleful nod, then looked around the gathering and nodded to each close family member of the dead. “What of the others?” Hunting Chief asked Tall Feathers. “Four are badly hurt. Two are children,” he replied. “Most of the others hid in the forest when the Yangwe came through. They are now tending the injured and building shelter, away from the village.” “When did this happen?”
The second runner answered. “We came upon the village while it was still burning. We first saw the smoke from Kit-a-tinny mountain. We watched the Yangwe run off. When we got to the village, we gathered the dead and the injured and carried them away, to Mahonhanne.” Around the gathering of men and boys, there was only silence. Every one of us was related to those dead and wounded. “Where did the Yangwe go?” the Hunting Chief asked. “Toward the rising sun. I followed them for some distance. I counted thirty men,” Tall Feathers responded, using the Lenape finger counting system to give the number. “They were going very fast. Five in back were on horses. The rest were running. By now they are inside the Yangwe fort.” The Hunting Chief heard all this with little change in his expression, as was his custom. But also as was his custom, he was making a plan. “You have done well, my warriors,” he told the two men. “Drink quickly. Then return with us to the village.” Slowly he turned a complete circle, looking at each of us in turn. We young men were on the outer circle. The men closest to him were the sub-chiefs and the best hunters. They began talking among themselves. Not quietly, but quickly. Plans were made in the blink of an eye. With a fierce nod, Hunting Chief dropped his food bundle. Most of the hunters and warriors did the same. Thus lightened of their loads, they began a fast, deliberate pace down the trail in the direction of our damaged village. A few sub-chiefs and all of us younger hunters gathered up the dropped loads. The decision had been made for us to bring along the foodstuffs as fast as we could. The food was too valuable – and necessary -- to leave behind. What before was a reasonable load was now a heavy load for each of us. No matter; we hoisted our loads and began a quick pace behind the first group, which had already disappeared through the woods. For me, neither the load nor the pace could blot out the grief I felt for Crying Owl. Or the anger I felt toward those Whites who could destroy so many lives. I slipped in right behind Water Moon. Often we had run together in this fashion, but never before with such urgency. As I ran, my resolve began to strengthen. The tiredness drained from my body. I ran with an increasing awareness of every thing around
me: clouds overhead, tree spirits, a frightened mouse running along a branch above, the determined sounds of others running, the feel of the ground through my moccasins, a flash of Blackbird far in the distance through the trees, my own quick breath. Long before we reached the village we saw smoke blackening the sky. When at last I caught sight of the village, it was more dreadful than I had imagined. Every one of the longhouses, our homes, were burned and blackened. Flames still jumped from the embers and acrid black smoke rolled skyward. I saw in a glance that our winter food supply in the longhouses was gone. Our winter clothing and extra blankets, gone. A breeze picked up and my nostrils were filled with the awful stench of burned flesh, burned blankets, and burned provisions. Pools of blood dotted the campsite. A ripped blouse waved from a still-standing pole, one of the stray dogs was nosing through the ruins of the medicine lodge. Keening wails of family members filled the air, a high-pitched, haunting cry I had never heard before. I stopped and dropped my load. My grief was so intense I could barely breathe. My friends, my family, had been hacked and butchered and burned right here. Blood and tattered clothing in front of the remains of the longhouse that I called Home told where Calling Owl died. Water Moon came up beside me; we both looked forlornly at the gruesome scene. Some of the tribe were poking through the remains looking for anything left undamaged. I looked for Father but did not see him at first. “Kistalwa?” I asked one of the warriors as he ran by The warrior nodded his head toward the ridge and said, “Mahonhanne. He is badly hurt. The women are tending to him. You should go to him now. Go quickly.” Mahon-hanne, or Saltlick Creek, was less than an hour’s run up and over the ridge and into the valley beyond. Several others already were heading off in that direction at a fast run, with Mud Turtle running after them as fast as he was able. I joined them, having gathered up my load of dried meat. No one spoke as we ran. There would be time enough for that later. Water Moon was already catching up with the front runners. With great effort I slipped back in behind him. It was really
tough scrambling up to the ridge top. Cresting the ridge, the group of us spread out while going down the rocky slope to minimize our tracks and avoid sending rocks down onto those below. We ran into the valley, jumping over small streams and under low-hanging trees. Finally I realized where we were headed. We were running straight into a dense stand of loblolly pines. Well into the trees we would find the entrance to a steep-walled side canyon. Smiling Beaver and I once discovered this place on a hunting trip. We found it quite by accident when the badger we were chasing ran into these woods. Even back then we thought the canyon would make a good hide-out: hard to find, easy to defend, with fresh (albeit somewhat salty) water, and game nearby. Without so much as a pause, Water Moon sent out the call of the Raven. Lookouts hidden on the hillsides answered his call, telling us to come on in. And suddenly, there before us, a hastily built camp materialized out of the trees. Injury and death were everywhere. Possessions were scattered about; tents had not yet been raised. An eerie quietness settled over the camp, not silence so much as focused attention. Immediately I spotted Kistalwa, lying on a blanket with several people attending him. His eyes were open. Water Moon and I ran up to him, dropped down on our knees and gently took his hands. He looked at us both. “He is not well, your father,” one of the attending women said somberly. “A Yangwe soldier shot him in the leg. We carried him here.” Another women applied a poultice of some type to Father’s leg just above his right knee. I saw the blood he had already lost, darkening the ground beneath him. Water Moon saw it, too. “Oh, I am well now, my sons,” Kistalwa said slowly. He was in great pain. “I believe I will soon cross over the bridge to the Sky World. I think I have lived well. Now I think I will die well. My journey is almost over.” Father lapsed into silence. He closed his eyes and leaned back into the blankets. I saw sadness there, a great, knowing sadness. In that instant I realized that he knew Calling Owl, his wife of many years, had already crossed the great sky bridge ahead of him. Instantly grief stabbed my gut. I doubled over, trying to breathe, trying not to cry. In that I was unsuccessful; I burst into tears. It was very un-Lenape-like.
Father opened his eyes and motioned for water. Immediately the woman closest handed him of gourd of fresh water. He took a small sip, then closed his eyes and learned back again . Even as he kept his eyes closed, he began talking slowly and clearly, pausing frequently to catch his breath. Everyone close by strained to hear his weakening voice. “Water Moon, you will soon . . . have a great vision . . . and become a leader . . . of this tribe . . . And you, Racer . . . the longest road . . . you will have to walk . . . is from here [weakly, he pointed to his head] . . . to here [pointing to his heart] . . . but you cannot speak to the people . . . as a leader . . . unless you have made the return journey . . . from the heart back to the head . . . and I know you will.” There was an audible gasp around the circle, not the least by Water Moon and me. Kistalwa was widely known for seeing into the future. He often foretold illness and large events, and was usually right. (Although not always. We all remember when he predicted an early winter and heavy snow, but it turned out to be one of the latest, mildest winters anyone could recall.) I did not fully understand at the time what he said to me, but I fully realized what he said to my brother, Water Moon. He would become a leader, a chief. My first thought was, of course he will be a chief. Perhaps I had always known it. My second thought was, he will be a good chief. But, dear reader, to my everlasting grief, I did not get to see that happen. I watched Father breathe slowly and laboriously. I raised my view and looked around the circle of family and friends pressed in about us. Chiwendota, Smiling Beaver, Two Faces, Blue Raven, and many others, all well known to me. I raised my view further. I looked to the tops of the stately green pine trees, the steep hills beyond, a covey of jays wheeling overhead. Then, somewhere in the distance, I heard a loon call out, sounding like the wild laughter of a demented person. Father heard the loon, too. Everyone did. Among the Lenape, the loon is a respected friend who calls out the name of those about to cross over the great bridge in the sky. Father smiled, as if he was greeting an old friend. He breathed his last soon after.
For a long time, Water Moon and I sat holding Father’s hand. I was reluctant to let him go. In a moment of panic, my mind flashed back to that time, so many winters ago, when I held another dying father’s hand. I did not cry this time. Perhaps I was empty of tears. The men and women around us sat silently also, a few rocking gently back and forth, lost in their own thoughts. I sensed that Water Moon, though outwardly unmoved, was just as deeply affected as I, maybe more so. Kistalwa and Calling Owl. Teunis DeCorsa and Petrus and Balthus. All dead now. My mind drifted back and forth, from that time when I looked upon the dead body of my first Father, to now, looking at the dead body of my second father. So many deaths. So much hurt. So much misunderstanding. I wondered, as I had many times before and many times since, how the Great Spirit can permit such things to happen. How is it, if He loves us so much, that He can let us die such heavy deaths? How can we who survive stand the loss? What are we to learn from this? Such questions were interrupted by a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Racer and Water Moon, will you help prepare your Father for his journey?” It was Spotted Eagle, one of the village elders. It was not really a question. Of course we would help. It would be an honor. And it was required. The soul does not quit the body immediately after death, but descends with the body into the grave, where they remain together for some time. With Spotted Eagle’s guidance, we laid Kistalwa out on a blanket under a nearby tree. Carefully we undressed him, then thoroughly washed his body with soft wet ferns and sweet grasses provided by the women. Spotted Eagle worked with an amazing gentleness. His every movement was deliberate, loving, and prayerful. While he worked, he spoke softly, almost silently to Kistalwa. I could not make out many words, but I knew he was praying for a peaceful journey for his old friend. “He seems to be just sleeping,” Water Moon noted as we worked. And it was true. Father’s eyes were shut, his body still retained some of its softness. “I will miss him.”
“Your Father has faithfully accomplished all his obligations here on earth,” Spotted Eagle said at length. “Now it is our obligation to paint him and adorn his body for his journey.” We all knew the journey could be a dangerous one, traversing the long bridge which leads to the island of happiness. Kistalwa would need all the protection we could provide to ease his passage. Spotted Eagle motioned me to paint Father’s face and Water Moon to paint his chest. This was a great honor for each of us. Using damp red euchre, black coal, and blue river clay, I created a special design on my father’s face. I let the two middle fingers of my right hand do the painting for me. I did not design it, so much as I simply let it come out of me. It was truly a loving caress of my Father’s face, my last goodbye to him. Somehow the very act of painting him eased my pain a little. When we were finished, Spotted Eagle laid a blanket over Father. “Now we will prepare Calling Owl,” Spotted Eagle announced. Now that startled me. I assumed her body had already been prepared for the hereafter. I was wrong. Water Moon and I followed Spotted Eagle over to a group of women huddled on the ground. In the center lay the body of Calling Owl. They had lovingly cleaned and anointed her body. The many gashes and wounds were clearly visible; I gasped when I saw how badly mauled she was. Her arms, especially, showed the angry marks of a hatchet, perhaps as she tried to protect herself from the onslaught. Spotted Eagle must have seen me blanch, for he said, “She has no need of this damaged body now. We will adorn it with paint and feathers, for Waka-Tanka has called for her. Water Moon and Racer, bring us fresh paints.” While we watched, Spotted Eagle and four women decorated Calling Owl’s entire body. Their’s was a loving gift to the Old Mother, an elder revered by all. When they were done, the women gently laid a blanket over my Mother, lifted her up, and laid her next to her husband, over by the tree. That evening, as the sun slowly descended beyond the canyon wall, the tribe performed the death ceremony for our four fallen family members. We laid them into the ground in a ritual of condolence the Lenape call the Cry Ceremony. I had seen this ritual a few times before, but never felt so connected to it as I did this night. Sitting in a half circle before a large fire, six drummers began a mournful cadence on their
water drums. This ushered in the Cry Singers, who gracefully danced into the space between the drummers and the fire. The Cry Singers sang and danced the story of the lives of the four who had died. Between songs, people would stand and tell stories about the dead. The power, the beauty, the solemnity of the ritual spoke to the hurt I felt so deeply. On an impulse, I stood and danced with the Cry Singers. Now I must tell you that young people did not generally participate in these dances, but this time I felt I needed to. I needed to dance away my own grief and at the same time celebrate the lives of my Lenape Mother and Father and the two others so well known to me now. For the rest of the night we danced and sang and told stories. This was the story I told: “When I was a boy I was torn from the only world I knew and loved, the world of the Yangwe. I passed through a period of great fear and solitude before being brought here, where I was taken in by you, Calling Owl and Runner of the Mountain Path. I did not know Lenape talk; you taught me. I did not know Lenape ways; you showed me. I did not know Lenape songs; you sang to me. Now I sing to you, to send you on your journey.” And this is the song I sang to them, a song they had taught me early on:
“The Wolf band comes from children, Whom a she-wolf nursed with care, And thus restored the children Who were giv’n up in despair. Her wailing brought the hunters To the babies where they lay; So a band among the people Is the Wolf Clan of today.”
Chapter 17: In Two Worlds
The mood in the village is dark and angry, with loud talk of revenge for our losses. Tall Feathers is on the warpath. Several days ago he left the village with a score of warriors, bent on rounding up a raiding party from other Lenape villages. That raiding trip is on everyone’s mind. I fear Tall Feathers will do great mischief to any Yangwe he finds, but the grief of losing four of our family, and nursing several others back to health, still weighs heavily on the hearts of everyone here. Every able person in our new village at Mahon-hanne works feverishly to prepare for the bleak times ahead. We don’t have much time; winter is nearly upon us. In haste we build four new longhouses. Since the Yangwe burned most of our grain and maize, we must now gather enough meat, fish, and nuts to exist on until the warmer days of the Grass Moon. Every day Chiwendota leads a group of youngsters out in search of edible acorns, hickory, and chinquapin nuts. Some of the men are on the river two days distant, fishing for shad which they will hang up in the longhouses to dry. Shamen seek out the edible roots and herbs and medicinal plants they will need. The older women, those not tending to the injured, are busy mending clothing and making new moccasins and leggings. The younger and more energetic women collect maple sap, which they cook into maple sugar that they will mix with bear fat. Smiling Beaver is out with some of the younger men setting traps for foxes, raccoons, and wild cats near our village. With the longhouses finished, Water Moon and I go out hunting every day before the snows will make that nearly impossible. On this day Water Moon and I had been particularly successful, returning to the village with the prize of two foxes, a ground hog, several squirrels, and a rather large, slow badger. We were feeling quite pleased with ourselves. As usual with us, it had been a competition to see who was the better hunter. Today it was Water Moon, a fact which he goodnaturedly capitalized on. We were trotting at half-speed down the trail, the day’s catch slung over our shoulders. It seemed we never walked
when we could run. Normally the Lenape do not talk much while they are out in the forest, but Water Moon and I were young and spirited and in familiar territory. We laughed and challenged each other, as brothers do. “Racer, you should go back to gathering nuts while I hunt,” he boasted while he ran. “Perhaps you will find an acorn or two.” I countered with, “You were lucky today, Water Moon. We will sing your song around the fire tonight. But truly I am the mighty hunter, and we will sing my song from this day onward for all time.” We were still laughing over this when we arrived back in the village. Tall Feathers and his crew of warriors had arrived just before us. Everyone looked very serious. There was no laughter. Their raid apparently had been successful. I counted six white captives among the crowd of warriors, with many more bloody scalps hanging from the warriors’ war clubs and belts. The half dozen were a bedraggled lot: blood bespotted, heavily injured, clothing torn asunder, bound about the waist and arms. There was great uproar among the tribe, a great deal of hallooing and catcalls. Youngsters ran amongst the captives, striking them with sticks and clubs and inflicting more grievous bodily damage. Night was fast approaching. The tribe formed a noisome circle around the terrified Yangwe captives. Our warriors firmly lashed the prisoners to posts stuck in the ground while women piled mounds of fir and pine boughs around their feet. I watched the preparations in shock, knowing what was to come but not ready to accept it. Presently Tall Feathers himself lit the fire at the captives’ feet. As flames leaped quickly through the dry roots and branches, I had to summon all the fortitude I was master of to watch the gruesome proceedings. Fire consumed the prisoners in a slow and lingering manner lasting the better part of an hour, during which time the tribe danced and skipped about them, using the most insulting gesticulation and frequently striking tomahawks into their skulls. When at last the six were dead and consumed by flames, the tribe fell to celebrating with great festivity throughout the rest of the night. I was too stunned, too grief-filled to participate in these celebrations. Quietly I removed myself from the others and retreated to the door of my longhouse.
I was frightened, terrified. It was the same fear I experienced that night many moons ago when I first heard Tall Feathers talk about killing Yangwe and driving them from our homeland. Would we ever again feel safe and free from attack? Did more attacks on the Yangwe mean we would be safer from their attacks? I strongly doubted it. As I sat silently pondering these things, Water Moon detached himself from the celebration and walked over to the longhouse. He sat down next to me, sitting cross-legged as I was. For a long time neither of us spoke. I could not read his feelings, ‘tho I had some guesses. Finally he said, “Little brother, I see how this night has caused pain for you. I think this must be the most difficult part of living between two worlds, the Lenape and the Yangwe. Like Òkwës the Fox, you deeply feel pain from both worlds. Yet you must also feel joy and beauty from both worlds. This is your journey. It will not be easy for you, but you must be strong.” I thought back to that magical moment when Òkwës first paid us a visit while we were hunting. Water Moon told me then that I lived between the Lenape and the Yangwe worlds, an unwelcome concept I was now grappling with again. “My brother, I am sick of the killing,” I replied. “I do not know where it will stop. I fear we will end up hurting the ones we love.” We sat in silence for many minutes, both of us deep in our own private thoughts. Over at the fire, the celebration began to wind down. One by one people straggled back to their longhouses, exhausted and spent. After a while, I said, “Water Moon, we Original People care for little because we want but little, and we are content with little. But the Yangwe want much – this I know to be true because I have seen both worlds, as you say. They want what we have, and everything else besides. I fear it will not stop until they are sufficiently revenged on us.” The picture forming in my mind was one of great hurt and difficulty, like a spreading wildfire consuming everything before it. I believe Water Moon saw it as well as I. That thought would come to haunt me throughout the ensuing bitterly cold winter.
Crow Moon comes at last, the awakening moon or warm moon, what you would call March. The snows finally stopped falling, the goldenrod and black walnut began blossoming, and the days turned noticeably warmer and longer. Smaller animals emerged from their winter warrens, slow and hungry and easy to hunt. The ice left the streams so we could again go fishing. Like a bear emerging from hibernation, the tribe slowly came to life again. But I feel especially restless. I am tired of spending long winter days and nights in the longhouse. I have a strong sense that I must leave this familiar circle to find myself. I resolve to speak to Spotted Eagle about this. Soon I find an opportunity, while he is sitting outside his longhouse carving the bowl for a new water drum. Sitting next to him, I wait patiently until he nods his head slightly to acknowledge me, then I begin to tell him my concerns. I tell him of my restlessness, that I feel something vital is missing. I tell him my heart is like an emptiness that needs to be filled. He hears me out in silence, then says thoughtfully, “My son, it is always so. Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. It is time for you to take the journey all seekers must take.” “Grandfather, what journey are you talking of?” I asked. “Where would I go?” This bothered me. Was he suggesting I had to back to the Yangwe world, to seek something there? “Knowledge is inherent in all things,” he replied. “The world around us is the teacher, and it teaches with its stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that share, alike with us, the storms and blessings of the earth. We learn to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that is to feel beauty.” Now I thought that last statement about beauty was a bit odd. Not that the Lenape do not have a sense of beauty, for they most certainly do, but they seldom speak of it. Yet here it was again, in much the same way as Water Moon had spoken of it a few moons back. “Prepare yourself well, Racer. Let your animal spirits guide you.” My mind was racing.
“Grandfather, must I leave our village to find this beauty?” I asked. “All true wisdom is to be found far from the dwellings of men,” Spotted Eagle responded. Then he nodded, and smiled ever so slightly, perhaps remembering a similar journey he had once taken. “You must embark on the journey that will introduce you to your animal spirit. You must go on your quest. It is time, my son.” A quest! I was so excited I could hardly wait to tell Water Moon. When I found him, I blurted out my news. “My brother, Spotted Eagle says it is time for me to take a journey of discovery. I am to embark soon upon this journey. He says I must prepare well for the trip. Have you done such a trip?” Water Moon laughed at my obvious enthusiasm and said, “Yes, Racer, I have done such a quest, and now it is your time. My journey took me far up Kit-a-tinny mountain. Your spirits will guide you on your own path. But first you must prepare your body and your mind. This trip of yours will not be easy.” I began to understand that this would not be just a fun little adventure like Water Moon and I had had many times before. I realized that in addition to the familiar physical preparations, I would need to prepare my mind and my heart for this trip. I would need to purify myself in the sweat lodge. I would arrange the sweat with Spotted Eagle, and ask him to lead it. Water Moon helped me prepare my hunting bow and arrows, medicine bag, knife, clothing, blanket, a bit of dried food, and other essentials for a trip of unknown length. He told me it would be a solo journey that could last anywhere from several days to several moons. I sensed it would be the supreme test of all that I had learned among the Lenape. Water Moon, my brother and confidant, would not accompany me this time. The whole village participated in the preparations for the sweat lodge two evenings later. Around the sacred fire, the elders danced the Lenape myths to life, wearing richly adorned costumes and masks. I had seen other young men being prepared for their journeys; now it was my turn. They danced for me. When it was time to enter the lodge, we rubbed ourselves with sweet sage and incense of sweet cedar. The sweat
was a familiar ritual to me, one that I cherished above all others. The purification process, the singing of the ancient songs, the physical discomfort of the intense heat and sweat and steam always answered a deep yearning in my soul. This night’s sweat would be no exception. Following the sweat, Spotted Eagle spoke to everyone gathered around the fire, but mostly he spoke to me. He said, “All knowledge is handed down from the creation time by our ancestors and the spirits. We do not expand it, invent it, or even discover it. It just is. But as humans we forget and lose our way, and we must be reminded. This journey that Ka-tesk-aw-tin is about to take will allow him to remember what he has forgotten. When he returns, he will remind us all of what we have forgotten. That is the way it is, the way it has always been, and will always be.” The dancing and singing of the sacred songs lasted far into the night. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. I did not see Spotted Eagle or anyone else give a sign or signal, it was just over. As I left the comforting circle I was so energized and excited I was positive I wouldn’t go to sleep, but I went anyway with everyone else to the longhouses. Once I lay down on my bearskin, though, I promptly fell into a deep and dream-filled sleep. For me the night was short. Anxious to start my trek, I awoke long before the sun did. I did not think anyone else was awake until I looked over at Water Moon, who was watching me and smiling. He nodded to me, whispered “Safe journey”, and closed his eyes again. I gathered up my things and crept out of the longhouse. Taking a last look around the village, I headed for the trail that would lead me out of my familiar little valley, across the river, away from the rising sun, and away from the only family I had known for many seasons.
Chapter 18: The Great Mystery
I lay on my stomach, straining my eyes to see the movement far below me. I had been on my journey half a moon or more (about two weeks), heading always toward the setting sun. I knew if I continued in this direction I would eventually reach the great lake that was far too big to walk around. But right now my immediate concern was the movement I had spotted in the glade of trees half a league in front and below me. In these woods, in this countryside, one never knew who one would encounter. It was always prudent to be careful and stay hidden. It was the Lenape way. Of course, it was everybody else’s way, too (except the Yangwe soldiers who marched in great noisy columns). Flat on my stomach on a high butte, I peered over a rock to watch the valley below. After a time I saw movement again. By the way they kept hidden among the trees, I knew they were Indians, not Yangwe. I strained my eyes to make out their affiliation. There, crossing a small meadow, three, no, five warriers. Mohawk! I could tell by their topknots and leggings. Nature had endowed them with a height, strength, and symmetry of person which distinguished them, at a glance, from the individuals of other tribes. They were as brave as they were strong; but ferocious and cruel when excited in savage warfare; crafty, treacherous, and overreaching, when these qualities best suited their purposes. I was observing a hunting party, lightly armed and already weighed down with meat. That means their village is not too far from this spot. I would have to be very careful. Mohawk and Lenape had been uneasy neighbors since the beginning, for the Mohawk are the Guardians of the Eastern Gate of the Six Nations of the Iroquois League. Lenape would always prefer to keep their distance from the Mohawk. If we had to interact, we could usually do it without
bloodshed, but as a lone, white-skinned Lenape, I was at a distinct disadvantage. Better they did not know I was here. I decided to spend the night on the butte, far enough from their hunting trails so they would not become aware of my presence. Besides, I needed a rest. I had been travelling constantly since I left my own village, stopping only at night. Two nights and a day to rest, on this butte with a sweeping view of the forests below, might be a good thing. I would build a small, hidden fire to roast a squirrel I had caught earlier. Besides, I needed to refigure what I was doing. What quest was this? How was I to find my spirit animal? ‘Tho I constantly listened and watched, I saw none but game to eat. And what about this seeking of knowledge? So far, it was many days of walking, with few pauses, little food, and no great thoughts or illuminating visions. I began to doubt myself. Perhaps I was not ready for this quest. Perhaps . . . perhaps . . . My mind was a blur of unanswered questions. This, I knew, would not work. Somehow I needed to calm myself so I could truly listen. I lay back down, my mind exhausted. Rolling over onto my stomach, I lay my head down on my folded arms and . . closed my eyes and fell asleep. It was late in the afternoon; the air was calm, the day was warm, and it seemed a perfect time to rest. I do not know how long I slept there. After a time, I felt something light on my cheek. I opened my eyes without otherwise stirring. Somewhat groggily, I forced my eyes to focus on a string of ants working on the ground a few inches from my face. Two or three had broken off from the pack and were exploring my face. I brushed them off, then watched, utterly fascinated, as they righted themselves and quickly joined their friends moving tiny grains of grass toward their underground nest several paces distant. A thought seared into my brain: Why do I think I am greater or better or more industrious than these ants in front of me? Who am I to presume I have more worth to the Great Spirit than the ant I just flicked off my face? “We know that all these things are equal and no animal, including humans, holds dominion over any other part of creation.”
I heard Kistalwa’s voice again, speaking to me as if from the grave. “All things in creation are our brothers, sisters, cousins, and more importantly, our teachers and friends.” Truly, this is what he spoke of! I did not understand it at the time. When I first heard these words spoken around the lodge fire, I thought they were were fine-sounding words, expressing a noble thought, but not really true. Now, watching these ants just a hand-width from my face, I finally understood in some deep place within me what Father was actually saying. And I knew that he knew the absolute truth of the words he spoke. I suddenly felt deflated, humbled. Clearly I had missed this lesson that Father tried to teach me. What other lessons, I wondered, had I also missed. At that moment, lying on the ground watching the ants, I felt myself die a little. It was a strange, unwelcome feeling, that of seeing some part of my strength and bravado slip away. As I studied the ants, another of Father’s sayings came to mind: “All things in creation have spiritual energy.” Yes to that, I said to myself. Then this thought: Strange, isn’t it, how even the smallest and most humble of the Great Spirit’s creatures have so much to teach us? I lay still, watching the column of ants, wondering what I must do to ensure a true vision. I had purified myself in the sweat. I had offered up gifts to Waka-Tanka for my success. I had carefully prepared the essentials for the journey. I had sung the songs to prove my readiness. What more must I do to have a vision? And what must I do to find my spirit guide? The questions haunted me as I prepared myself for sleep. Sometime later I awoke suddenly. I do not know whether I was dreaming or not, but a clear thought had come to me: I needed to sacrifice something of great value in order to achieve a vision. But what could I possibly sacrifice? I had practically nothing with me, just a knife, a bow and arrow, a small blanket, my Hanna doll, fire starter, and my medicine kit. What? The thought churned away in my mind, keeping me awake for much of the night. When the first glimmer of sun touched my eyes, I awoke suddenly. I did not feel refreshed, having turned and tossed all night, but I awoke with a clear understanding of what I needed to sacrifice.
My hair. I must tell you, I was very proud of my hair, overly proud. Unique among the Lenape, it was auburn colored, not black. That was a source of great pride to me, because it made me different, special. I liked being “Indian”, but I liked being different, too. In many areas of life I was not as accomplished as other Lenape children my age. I was not as good a hunter or tracker; I did not play LaCrosse as well as they, I did not know all the songs. I could not recite the family lineage as others could, nor could I yet tell all the birds merely by their calls. But everyone admired my reddish-black hair hanging down past my shoulders, which I usually tied in a tail. This was the sacrifice I would make to ensure a successful vision. I spent the morning preparing myself. First I had to search out the mosses and grasses that I would use to cleanse my bloody head after I shaved off the hair. Then I searched the area around until I found a good, sharp flint I could use for a shaver. Dressed only in a loin cloth and moccasins, I sat with my back to a large rock and offered many prayers to Waka-Tanka to call for a vision. Finally there was nothing left to do but start shaving my head. I grabbed a small clump of hair with one hand and cut it off with the knife in my other hand. Carefully I laid the hair on the ground in front of me, then repeated the process, over and over and over again. I purposely left a topknot sprouting from just below the crown of my head. It took quite a while to cut off the rest of my hair in clumps. I laid each clump on the ground in front of me, then felt my head with both hands. Of course I had no mirror, so I used my hands to “feel” what I looked like. It was stubble. Short and poorly cut, it felt like a field of maize after the autumn picking. It certainly was not the shiny smooth surface that warriors were so proud of. Clearly this was going to take much more effort than I first supposed . Using the flint, I began shaving the stubble from my head. It was not easy. It took the better part of the morning to get a completely cleanshaven head, leaving only the topknot hanging down to my shoulders. Now my head was smooth . . . and scarred and bloody and hurting mightily. I dampened a handful of moss and used it to sponge off the blood. It was cool and soothing.
My scalp hurt ferociously even as the scrapes and cuts started to scab over, but I felt strong. I had made a true sacrifice. Now I was ready. I had begun my vision quest. Such a quest always is undertaken without food and with only enough water to maintain conciousness. It is like dying, a little at a time. Sitting in the hot afternoon sun, I wondered if I would be able to sit still here until I had a vision. I even began to wonder if, instead, I might die here, on the mountain top, far from my own village. At first the hours seemed to stretch on forever, slowly, ponderously. That first day ended and night descended and still I sat with my back against the rock. Initially I was intimately aware of everything in my surroundings: the chill of the night air, my growing hunger, a Great Horned Owl calling from another ridge, the distant rush of the river far below, plus the quieter sounds of the night around me, and the sounds in between all those sounds, the sound of no sound at all. Sometime during that first night I began to lose all relation to my body and my exterior surroundings. I had consciously torn myself away from the living, separated and stripped from my mundane existence and identity, without a name and social conventions. By the end of the second day I felt I was floating somewhere nearby, but not within that body there, sitting with its back to the rock. It seemed that my very skeleton -- every bone in my body -- was being revealed. I suppose it was the morning of the third day when I witnessed my own dismemberment by spirit beings. They placed my head on a plank in the longhouse and as I watched, they chopped up my body into small pieces. Then the spirit beings cleaned my limbs to the bone and scattered my flesh in all directions, so the wood spirits could eat it and become nourished. Except that it was no longer “my” flesh. I no longer had any claim over it. That flesh no longer “belonged” to me. Now I could see my own skeleton, but that did not belong to me either. I studied the skeleton for the longest time! I looked at every bone, every body part. I noticed how the bones connected with each other and how muscles made them move. In that instant I understood what Kistalwa had tried to tell me so many moons ago: “All things tell of Waka-Tanka.”
I heard his deep, clear voice speaking to me from everywhere at once. At the same time I felt myself consecrated, rendering my being sacred. Then I watched with interest as my disjointed bones became my body parts again, then my body parts became my body, then my body became me, lying there on the plank. That was the third day. By the fourth day I knew I had exposed my very essence, my soul. And it all made perfect sense to me. So it still made perfect sense when I heard a high, sweet voice calling me to dive into the lake and go down as deep as I could. The voice urged me to jump in, so I did. I swam as hard as I could for the bottom. The voice calmly urged me on even as I clawed my way deeper and deeper. Finally the water became too murky to see through, and I was running out of air. I had to get back up to the surface, quickly. I fought my way upward until, with a choke and a gasp, I broke the surface and desperately sucked in some air. But what place was this? It was certainly not the place where I was on the plank. Now I was in a high mountain lake, surrounded by beautiful tree-covered hills and flowers everywhere. And there, at the edge of the lake, òkwës the Fox was jumping up and down and clapping her forepaws and shouting gleefully. “We are so glad you finally got here,” she called to me. “We knew you would come. I told them you would accept my invitation.” She was so excited to see me that she pranced and cantered about, smiling at me, and urging me to come to shore. I was equally excited to see her. Yes, of course, I knew this was the same Fox who had visited me and Water Moon. I now realized she had asked me a question that time. She had asked me to come here, today. Back then I could not understand what she was saying; now I could. I walked out of the water and shook myself dry while she continued to jump about in happiness. “I knew you would come,” she said again. Her pure, loving, foxlike voice will haunt me forever. Settling down somewhat, she looked steadily at me and said, “You now have the opportunity to remember what has been forgotten.”
I had heard this before! This was exactly what Kistalwa once told me. She waited for me while I thought for a moment, then I asked, “What have I forgotten, òkwës?” “You have forgotten that Fox comes out of hiding at dusk and often hunts under the cover of darkness,” she replied. “My keen eyesight is my gift to you. Use it to teach yourself to see beyond your present situation and to see Spirit.” I was stunned at the simplicity of it. “What else have I forgotten, òkwës?” I asked again. And she said, “Fox has super-sensitive hearing, so you may hear Spirit. Listening is often more important than speaking. That is a good lesson to remember.” This, too, I thought was stunning in its simple gracefulness. So I asked a third time, “What else have I forgotten, òkwës?” “Fox has a highly developed sense of smell,” she responded, laughing. “As an animal spirit guide, I will help you recognize the subtle things in life and make you alert to unpleasant situations.” I was humbled by her gift and awed by the responsibility she placed on me. She was standing up and I was sitting down and our eyes met at the same level. Mine filled up with tears; I don’t know if hers did or not. “Is there anything else I have forgotten, teacher?” I said after a pause. “Oh, yes. You have forgotten the most important thing of all. You have forgotten that bright days and dark days are both expressions of the Great Mystery.” Fox pranced around, laughing and smiling, then got serious again. She said, “Racer, now you begin a new journey. It will be the longest road you will ever have to walk. You already know the road I refer to. When you walk that road in both directions, you will be ready.” Here she did the most amazing thing. Standing on her hind legs, she reached out a forepaw and gently tapped my head, then my chest, then my head again. She had the lightest, sweetest touch, and her foot
pads were warm! She winked, laughed, and danced a little trot away from me. “Good bye Racer,” Okwës said brightly. “I am with you always. Look for me. We shall see each other again.” Then she was gone. For some time after she left, I sat there next to the lake, my knees drawn up in front of me. Ever so slowly I faded back into the world I had left earlier, before I jumped into the lake, before there even was a lake, before I heard the voice telling me to dive into it. Once again I was sitting with my bare back against the rock outcropping, looking out from the mountaintop. I do not know how that happened, but it did. Nor did I know how long I had been there. Was this still the fourth day? I could not tell. Perhaps it had been just a few minutes, or perhaps it had been a few days. It did not matter. I was filled with the spirit of òkwës. And I was filled with Kistalwa’s love for me and my love for him.
Chapter 19: Becoming Human
For many days after my meeting with Fox, I wandered the hills and woods. I was in no hurry to return to the village. I had a lot to process in my mind. Fox actually had said very little to me, but what she said was bursting with meaning. It was my job to figure out what she meant. Kistalwa once said to me, “We seek balance and harmony within the Great Circle of Life.” It seemed Fox was saying the same thing. How I wished Father was here with me now to help me sort through it all. One thought above all kept rolling through my head: How, in a world gone mad with war and violence, can we truly say we seek balance and harmony? Could this be the great mystery Fox spoke of? I struggled with this thought and many others for several days. Finally I decided to try to talk with Fox again. I picked a nice secluded glade near a quick-running stream in a natural depression nestled between two hills. I had eaten only lightly since my visit with Fox, so it was not hard to prepare myself for another vision this time. In the center of a small clearing I drew a circle with a forked stick, then stuck the stick into the dirt in the middle of the circle and hung my Hannah doll from the top of the stick. I had no drum or flute with me but I wanted to dance, so I began singing the songs I knew while dancing around the outside of the circle. Since I do not know any songs for Fox, I danced and sang the Raccoon Dance and the Duck Dance. Then I danced the Bean Dance and the Corn Dance. Finally I sang the the Cherokee Dance and the Quapaw Dance (‘tho for that last one I mostly made up the words). I danced and sang and sang and danced until I was so exhausted I could dance no more and my voice failed me.
Late afternoon had long since turned to dusk, which had turned to a dark, half-moon night. I sat down on the ground facing the circle, weary and exhalted, my arms wrapped around my bare legs. “Fox, now I can use your help to figure things out,” I said out loud. “My head is swimming with questions. I don’t know how to ask for your assistance. I don’t know if you are listening to my words. If you are listening, please come to me now.” Then I waited in silence, my eyes focused on the Hannah doll but all my other senses stretched to include everything around me. And I waited. And waited. Much later, I awoke with a jerk. Obviously I had fallen asleep. It was still dark, but in the half light I could see the Hannah doll still hanging on the stick in front of me. Nothing appeared to have changed. Except this: Everything out there was still the same, but inside I was a different person. I felt triumphant, full of purpose and resolve, finally able to return to my ordinary world, no longer feeling the “aloneness” of being a child and losing my parents. I felt like a new human being. And those questions I had been struggling with? I now had a new knowledge of the ancestors and a new way of holding the questions. I saw the questions no longer as an impediment of my moving forward but as an affirmation of the vision I had experienced. I also knew what I needed to say to my Lenape family, to help them remember what has been forgotten. Now I was ready to return to Mahon-hanne, my village.
Travelling quickly and quietly for three days, I arrived late one afternoon at the steep-walled side canyon that Smiling Beaver and I had discovered so long ago. Pausing in my headlong rush, I sent out the call of the Raven. I could not do it nearly as well as Water Moon, but it was passable. After a moment, someone answered me in return, and I continued in toward the village. Water Moon practically knocked me over when he came rushing down the trail to greet me. He had recognized my ersatz call and did not
bother waiting for me to show up. Indeed he was the first person I hoped to see (followed soon, I hoped, by Monotowan). “Brother, welcome back,” he called out as he ran up to me. And then, espying my newly shaven head, he shouted, “Oh, you must have had a good vision, brother. We will welcome you back tonight at the council fire.” “I have much to tell you, Water Moon, but for now tell me what happened in my absence,” I said joyfully . “Many changes, that is certain,” he began. “The Ottowa chief Pontiac was killed by an Illini Indian; we are all greatly disturbed by news. Tall Feathers says he had a dream where he assumed the role of Pontiac. He wants to be made War Chief of our tribe. He has been turned down by the elders, but he still argues for it. I think we will hear more tonight at the council fire.” “And what of our village?” I asked. “Is everyone well? “Yes, the Yangwe have left us alone. We do not think they know where the village is now. Spotted Owl crossed the great bridge in the sky and we did a Cry Ceremony for him.” That news saddened me greatly. Spotted Owl was the oldest person in the village. He was born near present-day Trenton, New Jersey, the son of a broom-maker. He often told the story of being a small child and seeing his first White man, and thinking him a god. Now I was so happy to see my brother Water Moon again. As we walked slowly into the village, I excitedly told him of my visit from Fox and my days and nights wandering. Everywhere we walked in the village, people greeted me or waved a welcome. Monotowan heard the commotion and came running out of her longhouse to see me. What a delight it was to see her again. As dusk descended the villagers began assembling for the council fire, coming in by ones and twos. Monotowan and her parents and I together walked over to the fire. I was ecstatic being surrounded by friends and family sharing the news. Two or three of the few remaining elders spoke on general subjects, but it seemed we were all waiting for the main event. Finally, as Water Moon had predicted, Tall Feathers rose to speak. I always enjoyed hearing him speak in his stately oratorical voice, but this time I disliked intensely what he said with it.
“One moon ago I received a vision,” he began. “In this vision I was given the name Tenskwatawa (the Open Door). In the vision I was instructed to re-form the alliance with our old friends the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw. Together we will stop all further Yangwe expansion. We will drive them out of our sacred lands. We will drive them out of our sacred hunting grounds. No longer will they be free to hunt our game, kill our women, or destroy our villages. No longer will they be free to crush our sacred ceremonies.” Tall Feathers’ message was similar to what the prophet Neolin's had been in 1763. But now he added a new and ugly twist, dropping his voice almost to a whisper for dramatic effect. Nobody listening missed the threat. “Now I say to you, whoever disagrees with us is a witch and a traitor.” “To be successful, we must win the support of the Wyandot, keepers of the council fire of the western alliance,” Tall Feathers concluded. He left unsaid the most important requirement of all: to be successful, he was going to need the complete support of all us Lenape. I was appalled. Looking around the circle, it appeared to me that many of us felt uneasy at the idea, although some were certainly agreeing with him. One of those was Mud Turtle. This did not surprise me. Mud Turtle always seemed ready for a fight. Now his eyes shone brightly, possibly envisioning the fight he would love to join. Others, too, seemed ready to take up Tall Feathers’ call, among them some of the subchiefs and quite a few of the young warriors. ‘Tho village women attended the council fire, in matters of this nature they had no direct voice. This was strictly a man’s discussion. However, having watched Calling Owl and Runner of the Mountain Path for many seasons, I can tell you honestly that ‘tho they had no voice at the council fire, women made their feelings abundantly clear to their men in the relative privacy of the longhouse. The tribe could never embark on a course of action unless the women agreed, particularly the elders. I looked around again, this time at the older women. None offered encouragement to Tall Feathers. There was a rustle of low conversation as he sat down, followed by an expectant pause. Water
Moon looked directly at me and nodded encouragingly, as if he expected me to do something. So I stood. Never before had I risen to speak to the council fire. But then, never before had I been able to address the council as an adult and a warrior. I knew from my vision that this was the time. I needed to tell my village of what they had forgotten and what they never knew. I took a deep breath and began: "Npetalogalgun", I began slowly. "I have something to say." “Though you may hear birds singing on this side and that side, you must not take notice of them, but hear me when I speak to you and take it to heart, for you may always depend that what I say will be true." “Tho he speaks well and from the heart, I urge you to put aside the ideas of Glick-hican and to follow the example of Waka-Tanka, the Good Spirit.” “Our elders tell us that when the first Yangwe came here they wanted to know how many Lenape we were. Of course the elders did not understand their question. The elders told them the deer are part of our Nation as are the birds, trees, and hills. Even the stones beneath our feet are a part of our people. We cannot give you a number.” I saw the old ones nod in agreement. “Now my brothers and sisters, believe me when I say I cannot give you a number for the Yangwe. You know I was born of the Yangwe. But you do not know how many more of them there are than of us. We count the birds in the sky and the deer in the woods among our number. But the Yangwe need only to count themselves to get a much bigger number. I have seen their largest village, at the shore of the great sea that lies toward the sunrise. It stretches over many hills and islands. It once took me half a day to run from one side of that village to the other. And they have many more villages besides, many more villages than I could ever count. And every one of those villages has more human beings than you or I can count.” Silence greeted my words. No one stirred. Slowly I turned to look around the entire circle. Every face was familiar; every person was my relative, and everyone was expectantly watching me. Tension hung in the air like a deep wool blanket. I looked at Water Moon. He appeared stunned. He dropped his gaze to the ground then to the fire. Slowly I saw
a small smile of understanding creep across his face. He looked up again; we locked eyes for a moment. Yes! he told me with his eyes. Now tell us what we have forgotten. I nodded slightly, took another deep breath, and continued with confidence. “We Lenape have forgotten this: we do not rail at the storms, the furious winds, or the biting frosts and snows. To do so only intensifies our human frailty. Instead we adjust ourselves to whatever comes, by more effort and energy if necessary but without complaint.” I let people think about that a moment while I gathered my thoughts. It was critical that I accurately convey the next important part of Fox’s teaching. “We have forgotten that bright days and dark days are both expressions of the Great Mystery. We must remember this in order to survive and flourish. And remember, too, my dear friends. This is not me telling you this for the first time. I am only the hole, the channel through which the medicine comes. If I thought that I was the owner, it would close up and I would die.” I sat down. I knew would have to wait at least a day to hear the consensus of the tribe. These matters were too weighty to be decided hurriedly. The council broke up quietly, everyone returning to their longhouses to discuss the issue privately. Water Moon beamed, Monotowan was impressed, and Tall Feathers was clearly incensed. He glared at me with undisguised hatred. Suddenly I realized that my days with the Lenape were now numbered. Tall Feathers would see to it. Whether the village supported him or me did not matter now, for I had challenged him in a very public way. ‘Tho he was not a chief, he certainly was an honored warrior and I was but a “new man”. Still I felt strong about about my stand. I did what I knew needed to be done. I was certain this was the logical conclusion of all that I had learned among the Lenape. As the council fire began to break up, Smiling Beaver quietly sided up to me and said, nodding in the direction of Talls Feathers, “It appears you have made a powerful enemy, Racer,” Just as quietly he slipped away into the dark.
Next Water Moon joined me. I wanted to ask him if I should be afraid of Tall Feathers, but I held my counsel. I did not want to let him know just how afraid I really was. Instead he said, “Brother, you speak the truth. From this I know you have made the journey that our father told you about. You have traveled from your head to your heart and back to your head. But Racer, I know you well. I know you gave us only part of your vision. I know this because I know you would not antagonize Glick-hican (he used the Lenape name) as you did tonight unless you already had a plan to deal with him. Am I correct?” Now it was my turn to be stunned. How could Water Moon possibly know what I myself had discovered just a moment before? “Yes, my brother,” I said simply. “Walk with me,” he replied, and we headed for the nearby river, avoiding both the longhouses and their occupants. Once alone by the water’s edge, we sat cross-legged facing each other. “Racer, in your vision, did the Yangwe world sing to you?” The question startled me. I had to think about that for a moment before replying. “No, Water Moon. Only the Lenape world sings a powerful, beautiful song to me, I think the most beautiful I have ever seen or felt. Also Òkwës sings to me. She sings of love and purity and compassion. She sings of purpose and power. She sings of Waka-Tanka. She even sings of me . . .” I paused, confused. Indeed I had heard her song, but what were the words again? What was she trying to tell me? Then softly on the night wind I heard the answer, her pure, sweet voice singing to me:
“Racer, borne of one world; Ka-tesk-aw-tin, borne of another world; Òkwës, borne of the light and the darkness. As Fox, Racer looks into both worlds. As Racer, Fox lives in both worlds. Now take your separate ways To teach your different days And always come together to sing.”
Water Moon looked intently at me; I looked at him. Had he heard the song of the Fox just now, or did she sing only for me? He smiled a sad smile and said, “Racer, I believe you have a new song to sing. I think you just heard it. I suppose you must go away from us to sing it.” In the resulting silence we continued to look at each other. I desperately wanted to tell him he was all wrong, but I knew deep down that he spoke the truth. He knew it, too. At last I said, “Tall Feathers may take some of the warriors out against the Yangwe. They may win some battles. One day Lenape may sing heroic songs about those battles. But they will not win what they want most, because they cannot look into both worlds. “Water Moon, you too have a new song to sing. I believe your task is to teach that song to the tribe. You will be their leader. Our people will look to you for guidance. Long have we both known that. Certainly Kistalwa knew it. “My beloved brother, together we learned how to be human. I am deeply grateful for all that you have given to me. You are now as much a part of me as my foot or my ear. We truly are Rak-tsi-‘a.” Brothers.
He smiled and nodded, then said in his best English, “Yes, we are Racer and Water Moon. We are brothers. We will be together again.” I left Mahon-hanne soon thereafter. Never again did I return to that sweet, lovely village hidden in a side valley near the foot of Kittatinny Mountain. Soon after, the Lenape were forced to abandon it, too, as I knew they would.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the following writers, teachers, and historians. Without their original works, I would have been lost. Foremost among these teacher/historians is my distant cousin Bill Decoursey of New Brighton, MN. Only with Bill’s help was I able to get Benjamin’s geneology correct. Bill introduced himself to me in an email, thusly: “I'm 75 years old, and genealogy has been my hobby and avocation for over 50 years. During that time, I've done a lot of research on the various branches of this family; including the CORSAs, de) CORSAWs, RACERS, RESERs, SCHOONMAKERs and DECOURSEYs.” And he traced my lineage back 15 generations!
My other sources: Adams, Richard C.: Legends of the Delaware Indians and Picture Writing; Syracuse University Press; Syracuse, NY; 1997 Ballantine, Betty and Ian, ed.: The Native Americans: An Illustrated History; Turner Publishing, Inc.; Atlanta, GA; 1993 Blaisdell, Bob, ed.: Great Speeches by Native Americans; Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, NY; 2000 Bragdon, Kathleen J.: The Columbia Guide To American Indians of the Northeast; Columbia University Press; New York, NY; 2001 Brumwell, Stephen: White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery, and Vengeance in Colonial America; DeCapo Press; Cambridge, MA; 2004 De Smet, Father Peter John, S.J.; Letters to the Précis Historiques, Brussels, March 15, 1855; published on the Web site http://users.skynet.be/pater.de.smet maintained by Victor Driessens
Eckert, Allan W.: That Dark and Bloody River: Chronicle of the Ohio River Valley; Bantam Books; New York, NY; 1995 Forbes, Esther: Johny Tremain; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA; 1943 Foster, Emily, ed.: The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings; The University Press of Kentucky; Lexington, KY; 1996 Frey, Rodney, Professor of American Indian Studies and Anthropology: American Indian Studies Program (online course); The University of Idaho, 2008 Harrington, Mark Raymond, Ed.: The Indians of New Jersey: Dickon Among the Lenape, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1963 Hillman, Ralf Ridgway: The Dansbury Diaries and Old Dansbury and the Moravian Mission; Picton Press; Camden, ME; 1994 Kavasch, E. Barrie, and Barr, Karen: American Indian Healing Arts; Bantam Books; New York, NY; 1999 Lenski, Lois: Indian Captive; HarperCollins; New York, NY; 1941 McCulloch, Ian, and Todish, Timothy, eds: Through So Many Dangers: The Memoirs and Adventures of Robert Kirk, Late of the Royal Highland Regiment; Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmans, New York; 2003 (orig. 1775) Nelson, Larry L., ed.: A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians; University of Akron Press; Akron, OH; 2002 Parkman, Francis: The Conspiracy of Pontiac (Volume 2); University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE; 2004 (orig. 1851) Redish, Laura, and Lewis, Orrin: http://www.nativelanguages.org/languages.htm; updated 2007 Richter, Conrad: The Light in the Forest; Fawcett Juniper; New York, NY; 1953
Speare, Elizabeth George: Calico Captive; Bantam Doubleday Dell; New York, NY; 1957 Taylor, Colin, ed.: The Native Americans: The Indigenous People of North America; Smithmark Publishers, Inc.; New York, NY; 1991 Wallace, A.: New Religious Beliefs Among Delaware Indians, 16001900; Southwestern Journal of Anthropology