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Margaret B. Pumphrey

Massasoit and the Medicine Men

O NE cold March day another Indian messenger appeared at the gate of Plymouth. He had been running many miles, and his body was wet and his veins were swollen.

"English friends come quick!" he cried. "Chief Massasoit much sick! Soon die!"

This was sad news to the Pilgrims, for Massasoit was their best friend among the Indians.

It was decided that Edward Winslow should be one of those to go with the messenger, for he was a good nurse, and he knew something of the Indian language.

The messenger was in too great a hurry to eat the food they gave him. He could hardly wait for Edward Winslow to prepare the medicines and food he wished to take Massasoit. "Great chief die soon!" he moaned. "Not see, not eat, for four days."

Soon the basket was ready and Winslow and another Englishman followed the guide into the forest. Faster and faster went the Indian, until the men could hardly keep up. Often the guide was so far ahead that he was almost lost to sight.

He must have thought the Englishmen very slow. He feared Massasoit would not live until they reached the village.

Indians do not usually say much about their joys or sorrows, but Edward Winslow has told us how deeply this guide grieved for his beloved chief. Often he would cry in his own language, "Oh, my chief! My loving chief! I have known many brave warriors, but none so brave, so kind, so just as Massasoit!"

Sometimes he would say, "Oh, Master Winslow, what friend will your people have among the Indians when Massasoit is gone?"

On and on they hurried, hardly stopping to eat or rest. It was now two days since they left Plymouth. The sun had gone down in a bank of clouds, and already the shadows were black and deep in the forest.

The wind whistled through the tree tops, and soon a fine, sharp sleet began to fall. It was a bad night to be in the woods, but the guide told them that the village was not far off.

Above the voice of the storm came a distant moaning. At first Winslow thought it was the sound of a great waterfall.

"It sounds more like owls, or the cry of some animal," said his companion.

But the guide knew the sound came from the wigwam of Massasoit, and again he moaned, "Oh, my chief! My chief!"

Now and then a gleam of light could be seen among the trees. Presently, in a little clearing, they came upon the Indian village. A great camp fire threw its unsteady light upon the wigwams about it.

The lodge of Massasoit was larger than the others. There were pictures painted upon its sides, telling of the great deeds of Massasoit and his people.

Before the door of the wigwam hung a curtain of fine fur. Winslow pushed aside the curtain, but the room was so full of visitors that he could hardly enter.

The poor old chief lay on his cot. His eyes were closed. He could no longer see the friends about him. "He is dying," said an Indian who stood near, rubbing the chief's cold hands.

In a circle about the cot were five or six Indian medicine men. Their half-naked bodies were painted in many colors; upon their heads they wore the horns and skins of beasts. They danced about the chief, leaping, yelling, and waving their arms to frighten the sickness away.


They danced about the chief . . . to frighten the sickness away.

Poor Massasoit! No wonder he was dying.

When the Indians saw the white men, they told Massasoit that his English friends had come to help him. The great chief loved Winslow, and put out his hand to welcome him.

"Your friends at Plymouth are all grieved to hear of your illness," said Edward Winslow, in the Indian language. "Our governor has sent you some things which will help to make you well."

But Massasoit only shook his head. He did not think he could get well. His mouth and throat were so sore he could scarcely swallow, so he had eaten nothing for days.

Winslow opened his basket and took out two little jars of food which he had brought, the Indians crowding around to see. But, alas, the bottle of medicine he needed was broken. There was not a drop left.

He mixed the food with a little warm water and put some of it into the chief's mouth. Massasoit seemed to enjoy the dainty food which Winslow fed him, and whispered, "More."

The Indians had not forgotten the broth they had at the Feast of Thanksgiving. "Massasoit will get better if you give him white-man's broth," said one of them.

Only Priscilla knew what was needed to make and flavor that soup. There was nothing here of which to make it, even if Winslow had known how.

So he wrote a note asking Doctor Fuller to send such medicine as Massasoit needed, and, also, a pair of chickens and whatever else was necessary to make a good broth. A fresh messenger sped swiftly toward Plymouth with the note.

There was no fresh meat in the lodge, but Winslow must make a broth of some kind. In a large earthen bowl he saw some corn. He asked one of the squaws to pound it into meal, and when this had been done he made a thin soup of it.

In the woods near the wigwam he found some sweet roots and some fresh, young strawberry leaves. When he had flavored the soup with these, it was very good, and the chief drank it eagerly. He was getting better. He was soon so much better that he was able to see again.

Then Winslow bathed his face and hands, gave him a drink of cool water, and bade the Indians go away and leave him in quiet.

This was just what Massasoit needed, and he soon fell asleep. When the messenger returned, the chief was so much better that he did not need the medicine.

Of course Massasoit now loved the English more than ever. He told all his friends what had been done for him. After that many Indians came to Plymouth to get help for their sick friends.

The Englishmen taught them to make broth. They taught them that good food, fresh air, and pure water would help them more than all the noise and dances of medicine men.