Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Finishing the Cure

Jethro and I were so filled with curiosity to learn how long the sick man would live after such rough treatment, that we ran after him, coming into the village just as all the boys were forming in a ring on the cleared ground where I had often seen them play ball.

The Indian whom we had followed was well wrapped in blankets by this time, and had seated himself on the earth in the middle of the ring of boys. He had on his knees what looked to be a piece of board, worn, or ground, very smooth, and two small sticks.

You can guess that by this time Jethro and I had our eyes open very wide, for it was the oddest way of taking medicine we had ever seen.

The sick man began to tap on the board with the sticks, and sing, or howl, in the most dismal manner. I suppose he called it singing, but I couldn't for the life of me make out any tune, and am certain there was no music in his voice.

When he began to make this noise, the boys ran around him, sometimes leaping high in the air, and again darting out of the circle as if about to make an attack upon the fellow because of his not singing better. Then two of them would come together, with their hands on each other's shoulders, and spin around like tops, until they became so dizzy as to fall over, when they rolled out from under the feet of their comrades, while another couple went through the same antics.


As we afterward learned, this leaping, running, and whirling around was a regular dance, and supposed to be a portion of the remedy necessary to finish the cure of him who had been so thoroughly steamed and then cooled off so suddenly.

The boys did their part until the sick man stopped howling, after which they went about their play or business, as if nothing out of common had taken place.

The sick Indian carried the board and sticks into his hut, and a few moments later we saw him walking around the village as if having entirely recovered from the illness. Then Jethro and I went slowly home, trying to make out how much the dancing and the howling had to do with working the cure.

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