Captain Miles Standish was an English soldier who, in his wanderings, came across the Pilgrim settlement in Holland. He liked the courage of these brave countrymen of his, and attached himself to their community, though he would not join their Church. When they began to discuss a plan for coming to America, he spoke up heartily in favor of it.
He was fond of adventure, and knew there were Indians and bears and wild creatures of all kinds in America to fight; and, since fighting was his main business and pleasure, he resolved to be among the very first to go over with the Puritans.
Accordingly, Miles Standish was among the colonial passengers on the Mayflower. For nine weeks, the little ship battled with wind and waves. It was a trying voyage, but Miles Standish was among those who did not lose courage. He strode the deck in the worst weather, and helped the sailors manage the ship. He had a cheerful voice and a kindly manner with his fear-smitten companions,—all of which aided many a discouraged soul in standing the long voyage.
When the ship reached Cape Cod, Standish, with a few followers, went on shore, looking for a place to establish a settlement. Such a. place was found almost at the very end of Cape Cod. The men went in single file for about a mile, when they saw five or six Indians, with a dog, coming towards them. When the savages caught sight of the white men, they ran into the wood and whistled for the dog to follow.
Standish and his men pursued the Indians, but could not overtake them. When night came, they built a fire, set three men to act as sentinels, and slept on the ground until morning. By daybreak they were up and after the Indians, but found no trace of them nor of any houses.
They next discovered some mounds of sand that looked like graves. These they dug into, and came upon bows and arrows. But they covered them over again, knowing the Indians did not like their dead to be disturbed. Other mounds contained baskets of corn, which the men very promptly carried away, since they were much in need of it for bread.
As they went through the woods, they came upon a deer-trap, which was such a curious contrivance that William Bradford examined it with much curiosity. Stepping upon the hidden spring, the trap closed on his leg so tightly that he called lustily for his companions to hasten and relieve him.
After wandering through the woods all day, they came to the shore, shot off their guns as a signal to the ship, and then were taken on board the vessel. This ended the first adventure of Miles Standish at Cape Cod.
After exploring the land several times for a place to found their colony, and locating none to suit them, the company spent about a month in the Mayflower, making the best of a very uncomfortable situation. At last, toward the end of December, they came to a place which John Smith, of Virginia, in one of his voyages along this coast, had named Plymouth. Here they landed and founded their colony.
An Indian tribe had lived among the Plymouth hills, but a plague had swept the entire tribe away. The stubble in the fields was several years old, and the rude shelters of the Indians were rotting. There was no one to dispute the rights of the settlers to claim the soil for their own.
Rough houses of logs were soon built, the spaces between the cracks of the logs being daubed with mud. Oiled paper was used instead of glass for the windows. The weather was now very cold, the snow covered the ground, and almost blocked the people in their homes. There was little fuel and scant food. The colonists suffered dreadfully.
Many of them died, including Rose Standish, the beautiful young wife of the brave Captain. But the Captain himself kept up staunchly, and went among the sick and dying, doing all he could to help them. At one time he and six others were the only well ones in the place. These well ones brought all the wood, made all the fires, cooked all the food, attended to all the beds, and even washed the clothes for the entire colony. When spring came, only fifty of the company were left alive. It was a dreadful winter, but the Pilgrims were not dismayed by this bad beginning.
For fear the Indians would discover the weakness of the whites, and attack them in their sick and helpless condition, the graves of those who had died were ploughed over and sown with seed.
During the spring they made friends with some of the Indians, particularly with Massasoit, an Indian Chief, and with Squanto, another chieftain who knew how to speak English. Squanto was very helpful to the colonists. He taught them how to catch fish and how to tread eels out of the mud. He told them to plant corn when the oak leaf was as big as a mouse's ear, and to drop a dead herring in each hill for fertilizer. He informed the unfriendly Indians that the white settlers kept the plague in their cellars, beside the black thunder powder, and could let it loose whenever they chose. In fact, he saved the little colony from utter destruction at the hands of the unfriendly savages.
At one time, Captain Standish had gone in a boat to buy corn from a tribe of Indians down the coast. When he arrived, the Indians formed a plot to kill him. One of them invited him to spend the night in his house. The wary Captain did not close his eyes. He could not understand what they said, but their actions were suspicious. Pacing to and fro, keeping his gun always ready, he watched through the long night for any sign of attack. "Why do you not sleep?" asked an Indian. "I have no desire to sleep in the house of a stranger," replied Standish. In the morning, Standish backed out of the house, making the Indian follow him to his boat, and even back to Plymouth.
The Massachusetts Indians formed a plot to destroy all the English at Plymouth. Massasoit sent word to the colonists that, if they would save their lives, they must kill the Massachusetts Chiefs. Standish, with eight men, undertook the mission. He went to their village, and pretended to trade for furs. The trade was very smooth, for smiling and fair words were spoken. But the Indians said, "The Captain's eyes are watchful, and there is anger in his heart."
Then came a Chief, whetting his knife. He said boastfully, "By and by it shall see, and by and by it shall eat, but not speak." Then, turning to Standish, he said, "You are a great Captain, if you are a little man. I am not a Chief, but I have great strength."
Then Standish gave a signal, and sprang upon the boasting Indian. Snatching the knife from the hands of the astonished savage, he drove it through his heart, laying him dead on the floor. The companions of the Captain made an onslaught on the other Indians, whereupon they all fled shrieking to the woods. This ended the combat and the conspiracy. From that time on the name of Standish was enough to make the Indians tremble with fear.
In this way, Captain Standish kept down the Indians, inspired hope and courage among the colonists, and secured peace and prosperity for Plymouth.