Gateway to the Classics: Indian History for Young Folks by Francis S. Drake
Indian History for Young Folks by  Francis S. Drake

Story of a Captive

Indian domestic life and manners are well described in the interesting narrative of Colonel James Smith, a native of Pennsylvania, who in his youth was for nearly five years a captive among the Caughnawagas. Late in life he settled near Paris, Kentucky, and was a member of the convention that framed the Constitution of the State, and afterwards had a seat in its legislature.

At the age of eighteen, young Smith, while engaged with a party in opening a wagon road for the army of General Braddock, then on its march to Fort Duquesne, was captured by the Indians and taken to that place. The circumstances attending his capture and his experiences among them he thus relates:

"About four or five miles above Bedford, three Indians had made a blind of bushes stuck in the ground, as though they grew naturally. Here they concealed themselves, about fifteen yards from the road. I had been sent back, in company with one Arnold Vigores, to hurry up some provision wagons. When we came opposite the ambush they fired, and killed my companion. My horse started instantly and threw me, and the Indians immediately ran up and took me prisoner.


An Indian Ambush.

"On approaching the fort, through large numbers of naked, painted savages who were formed into two long ranks, I was obliged to run the gauntlet. I was told that if I ran quick it would be so much the better, as they would quit when I got to the end of the ranks. I started in the race with all the vigor and resolution I was capable of exerting. When I had got near the end of the lines I was struck to the ground with a stick or the handle of a tomahawk.

"On recovering my senses I endeavored to renew the race, but as I rose some one threw sand in my eyes, which blinded me so that I could not see where to run. They continued beating me until I was insensible; but before I lost consciousness I remember wishing they would strike the final blow, for I thought they intended killing me, and that they were too long about it. I was sent to the hospital, and carefully tended by a French doctor, and recovered quicker than I expected.

"I asked a Delaware Indian who could speak some English, if I had done anything to offend them which caused them to beat me so unmercifully? 'No,' he replied, 'it was only an old custom the Indians had, and was like "how do you do?" After this,' said he, 'you will be well used.'" Smith must have thought this "a pretty how do you do" to greet strangers with. The humor of it was certainly very striking. "This Indian also told me," continues Smith, "that as soon as I recovered, I must go with the party and be made an Indian myself. This is their mode of adoption:

"The day after my arrival at Tullihas, an Indian town on the Muskingum, a number of Indians collected about me, and one of them began to pull the hair out of my head. He went on as if he had been plucking a turkey, until he had all the hair out except a small tuft three or four inches square on my crown; this they cut off with a pair of scissors, excepting three locks which they dressed in their own mode.

"After this they bored my nose and ears, and fixed me off with earrings and nose jewels. Then they ordered me to strip off my clothes and put on a breech-clout. which I did They then painted me in various colors. They put a large belt of wampum on my neck, silver bands on my hands and right arm, and so an old chief led me into the street and gave the alarm halloo, which was several times quickly repeated. On this, all came running out and stood around us.

"Holding me by the hand, the old chief then made a long speech, and when he had done he handed me over to three young squaws, who led me by the hand down the bank into the river, until the water was up to my middle. The squaws then made signs to me to plunge myself into the water, but I did not understand them; I thought I was to be drowned, and that these young women were to be my executioners.

"All three then laid violent hands on me, but I for some time opposed them with all my might, which occasioned loud laughter by the multitude on the bank of the river. At length one of the squaws made out to speak a little English, and said, 'No hurt you;' on this I gave myself up to their ladyships, who were as good as their word, for though they plunged me under the water, and washed and rubbed me severely, yet I could not say that they hurt me much.

"These young women then led me up to the council-house, where I was new clothed. They gave me a new ruffled shirt, which I put on, also a pair of leggings ornamented with ribbons and beads, a pair of moccasins and garters dressed with beads, porcupine quills, and hair. They again painted my head and face with various colors, and tied a bunch of red feathers to one of the locks they had left on the crown of my head, which stood up five or six inches.

"Seating me on a buckskin they gave me a pipe, a tomahawk, and a pouch containing tobacco, also spunk, flint, and steel. The Indians then came in dressed and painted, seated themselves, and for a long time smoked in profound silence. At length one of the chiefs spoke as follows:

"'My son, you are now flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. By the ceremony just performed every drop of white blood was washed out of your veins; you are taken into the Caughnawaga nation and initiated into a warlike tribe. You are adopted into a great family, and now received with great seriousness and solemnity in the room and place of a great man. My son, you have now nothing to fear; we are now under the same obligation to love, support, and defend you, that we are to love and defend one another, therefore you are to consider yourself as one of our people.' From that day I never knew them to make any distinction between me and themselves, in any respect whatever, until I left them.

"That evening, after being introduced to my new kin, I was bid to a feast As their custom was, they gave me a bowl and a wooden spoon. Each one advanced to the place where stood a number of large brass kettles, full of boiled venison and green corn, and had his share given him. One of the chiefs made a short speech, and then we began to eat.

"Next day a war party started for Virginia, and they had their usual war-dance and songs. At the former they had both vocal and instrumental music. They had a short, hollow gum, closed at one end, with water in it, and parchment stretched over the open end, which they beat with a stick, making a sound nearly like a muffled drum, to collect those who were going on the expedition.

"An old Indian then began to sing, and timed the music by beating on this drum. On this the warriors began to advance, or move forward in concert, as well-disciplined troops would march to the fife and drum. Each warrior had a tomahawk, spear, or war-club in his hand, and they all moved regularly towards the east, the way they intended going to war. At length they all stretched their tomahawks towards the Potomac, and giving a hideous shout or yell, wheeled quick about, and in the same manner danced back.

"In performing the war-song only one sung at a time, in a moving posture, with a tomahawk in his hand, while all the other warriors were calling aloud, 'He-uh! he-uh!'  which they constantly repeated. When his song was ended the warrior struck a war-post with his tomahawk, and with a loud voice told what warlike exploits he had performed and intended to perform, and was answered by the others with loud shouts of applause.

"Some who had not intended to join were so excited by this performance that they, too, took up the tomahawk and sung the war-song, calling forth shouts of joy as they were received into the war party. Next morning they all assembled, with their heads and faces painted with various colors, and packs on their backs, marching off silently, excepting the leader, who in front sung the travelling song. Just as the rear passed the end of the town they began to fire slowly from front to rear, shouting and yelling at the same time.

"At another dance which I attended, the young men stood in one rank and the young women in another, about a rod apart, facing each other. The one that started the tune held a small gourd or dry shell of a squash, which contained beads or small stones which rattled. He timed his song to this rattle; the men and women danced and sung together, advancing towards each other, stooping until their heads would touch each other, and then stopping, with loud shouts retreated and formed again, repeating this over and over four or five times without intermission.

"In this song, which I at first thought insipid, I found they could intermix sentences with their notes, and say what they pleased to each other, carrying on their tune in concert. It was a kind of wooing or courting dance, and as they approached, stooping their heads towards each other until they met, they could talk together without disturbing the rude music, and yet so that those near could not hear what they said.

"Some time afterwards a gun was given me, and I went to hunt with a Mohawk named Solomon. As we were following some fresh buffalo tracks, Solomon, who had told me that there had been war between the Delawares and the southern nations, went forward very cautiously, frequently pausing to listen. 'Surely,' said I, 'these are buffalo tracks.'

"'Hush,' said he, 'you know nothing. Maybe buffalo, maybe Catawba.' He then related some striking instances of the subtlety of this tribe. He told me that formerly the Catawbas placed an ambush near one of our camps, and, in order to decoy us out, two or three of them in the night passed by with buffalo hoofs fixed on their feet, so as to make artificial tracks. In the morning our people followed these tracks, thinking they were buffalo, until they were fired on by the Catawbas and several of them killed. The others fled, collected a party, and pursued the Catawbas.

"The latter, however, had with them some rattlesnake poison, also sharp canes or reeds about the size of a rye-straw, which they sharpened at the end, dipped them in the poison, and stuck them in the ground in the grass along their track. By this means a number of the pursuers were so lamed that they turned back, and being pursued in turn by the Catawbas were all killed. Solomon ended by saying, 'You don't know Catawba; velly bad Indian; Catawba all one devil.'

"The next winter I went bear-hunting with Tontileango, my adopted brother. Starting early one morning, we found a tree which seemed to be the winter-quarters of one of these animals. A small sapling was usually felled against or near the bear's hole, so as to climb up and drive the bear out. This was my business. In this instance there was no tree suitable to lodge against the hole, which was forty feet from the ground.

"Tontileango got a long pole and some dry, rotten wood, climbed a neighboring tree, and with the pole thrust some of the dry wood, which he had lighted, into the hole. Soon he heard the bear snuff. He then descended, and waited for the bear to come out. He had to wait some time. When bruin did appear, as it was too dark to take a sight with his rifle, he shot an arrow into him just behind the shoulder, bringing him to the ground.

"In February we began to make maple-sugar. The squaws cut down a dry tree, and with a crooked stick, broad and sharp at the end, took off the bark, and made of it, in a skilful manner, more than a hundred vessels that would hold about two gallons each.

In the sugar-tree they cut a notch sloping down, and at the end of the notch, into which they made an aperture, they drove a long chip to carry the sap from the tree, and under this they set their vessel to receive it. They made vessels of bark for carrying the water that held about four gallons each. They had two brass kettles that held about fifteen gallons each, and other smaller ones in which the sap was boiled.

"The way we commonly used our sugar while in camp was by putting it in bear's fat until the fat was nearly as sweet as the sugar itself, and in this we dipped our roasted venison. About this time some of the Indian lads and myself were employed in making and tending traps for raccoons, foxes, wild-cats, etc.

"As the raccoon is a kind of water animal, we made our traps on the runs or small watercourses; by laying one small sapling on another, and driving in posts to keep them from rolling. The under-sapling we raised about eighteen inches, and set so that on a raccoon's touching a string, or a small piece of bark, the sapling would fall and kill it, and lest he should pass by we laid brush on both sides of the run, leaving only the channel open.

"The fox-traps we made in nearly the same manner. At the end of a hollow log, or opposite a hole at the root of a hollow tree, we put venison on a stick for bait, so set that when the fox took hold of the meat the trap fell. While the squaws were occupied in making sugar, the boys and men were engaged in hunting and trapping.

"While we were encamped at the mouth of a small creek, in the absence of Tontileango, a Wyandot carne to the camp. I gave him a shoulder of venison which I had by the fire well roasted, which he received gladly, telling me he was hungry, and thanked me for my kindness. When Tontileango came home I told him of the visit, and what I had done. He said that was very well.

"'I suppose,' said he, 'you also gave him sugar and bear's fat to eat with his venison?'

";No,' said I, 'I did not; as the sugar and fat were down in the canoe, I did not go for it.'

"'You have behaved just like a Dutchman,' was his reply. 'Do you not know that when strangers come to our camp we ought always to give them the best that we have?'

"I acknowledged that I was wrong. He said the could excuse this, as I was young, but I must learn to behave like a warrior, and do great things, and never be found in any such little actions.

"Our furs and skins we disposed of to some French traders at Sunyoudeaud, a Wyandot town, and here we supplied ourselves with new clothes, paint, tobacco, etc.

"After I had got my new clothes on, and my head done off like a red-headed woodpecker, I, in company with a number of young Indians, went down to the corn-fields to see the squaws at work. The squaws asked me to take a hoe, which I did, and hoed for some time. They applauded me, but when I returned to the town, the old men, hearing what I had done, chid me, telling me that I was adopted in the place of a great man, and must not hoe corn like a squaw. They never again had occasion to reprove me on this score, as I was not over-fond of work.

"All the hunters and warriors remained in the town some weeks, spending their time in eating and drinking, visiting, painting, smoking, and playing a game resembling dice. This game is played with plumstones, painted white on one side and black on the other. Placing these in a small bowl they shake it, calling the color they desire to have turn up. The bowl is then turned, and the count of the color determines the result.

"Some were beating their kind of drum and singing, others played on a kind of flute wade of a hollow cane, and others on the jews-harp. Part of the time was spent in attending at the council-house, where the chiefs, and as many others as chose, were present, and at night there was singing and dancing. At the end of this sojourn (June, 1756) they were all preparing to go to war against the frontiers of Virginia. When they finally marched, none were left in the town but squaws and children, except myself and the very old men, one of whom was lame.

"The Indians had great hopes that they would drive all the Virginians over the lake, as they called the ocean. The two old Indians asked me if I did not think that the Indians and French would subdue all America except New England, which they had tried in old times. I told them I thought not, for, said I, though unsuccessful at present, they will soon learn your mode of war, and overcome you by the superiority of their arms and numbers. I found that they themselves did not believe they could conquer America, yet they were willing to propagate the idea in order to encourage the young men to go to war.

At the close of that winter's hunt the party visited the Wyandot town, opposite Detroit. Here they found a trader with some French brandy, and kept up a drunken carouse until the trader, having got all their beaver, moved off to another town.

"A council was held, which determined who were to get drunk and who were to remain sober. As I refused to drink, I had to assist in taking care of the others. Our duty was to conceal the arms and other weapons, and prevent their killing each other—a very difficult matter. Several times our own lives were in danger, and we received some severe injuries in the performance of our task. When the liquor was gone, and the drunkards sobered, they were greatly dejected; some were crippled, others badly wounded, and their clothes were torn or burned. In the Ottawa village, close by, the carouse ended much worse—five were killed and many injured.

"As cold weather was approaching, we began to feel the baleful effects of our folly and extravagance in dissipating the proceeds of the large quantity of beaver we had taken. Nearly all were in the same destitute condition. Scarcely one had a shirt to his back, but each had an old blanket, which we belted around us during the day and slept in at night, with a deerskin or bearskin under us for a bed.

"Though slovenly in their habits, the Indians have the essentials of good manners, and are polite in their way. They have few compliments, and use few titles of honor, their usual mode of address being, 'my friend,' 'brother,' 'cousin,' 'mother,' 'sister,' etc. They pay great respect to age. All who come to their house or camp are invited to eat while there is any food left, and it is bad manners to refuse such an invitation.

"Instead of 'How do you do?' the common Indian salutation is, 'You are my friend.' The reply is, 'Truly, my friend, I am your friend;' or, 'Cousin, you yet exist?' 'Certainly I do,' is the reply. As their children are disciplined by ducking them in cold water, it necessarily follows that they are much more obedient in winter than in summer.

"In the spring of 1759 I went with my adopted brother to an Indian town near Montreal. Hearing in that town of a ship in which were some English prisoners who were to be exchanged, I left the Indians and went on board, but on the approach of General Wolfe we were all put in prison. I was exchanged in the following November, and early in the year 1760 returned home, much to the surprise of my people, who did not know whether I was living or dead. They were also astonished to see me looking so much like an Indian, and resembling them both in my gait and gestures.

"Joyful as was this reunion," says Smith, in closing his interesting narrative, "its happiness was marred by one disagreeable circumstance—I found that my sweetheart had been married only a few days before I arrived."

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