Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

King Philip's War

IN 1675, war broke out once more between the Massachusetts settlers and the Indians. This was called King Philip's War.

King Philip was the chief of the Wampanoag tribe. His father, Massasoit, had been very friendly to the English. Philip, however, did not inherit his love for the settlers. Far from it.

There were three main reasons why King Philip looked with suspicion on the white men. The first was because of what befell his brother Alexander. On the death of Massasoit, Alexander had been made chief of the tribe. For some offense, the English had arrested, imprisoned, and tried him. And while in their prison, Alexander had taken a sickness which caused his death. This was hard to forgive. Why should the Englishmen interfere in the affairs of an Indian chief?

Philip's second grudge against the settlers arose from jealousy. He saw them rapidly becoming powerful and occupying large tracts of land. The land had been paid for, it is true. Yet no Indian could enjoy being shut out of his old hunting grounds that they might be turned into fields for the crops and cattle of strangers.

In the third place, certain of these Englishmen were teaching the Indians a new religion. Many Indians had accepted the Christian faith. They were living in Christian towns and wearing the white man's clothes. "Praying Indians," they were called. What possible reason could the white man have for converting the savages unless it was to add to his own power through their friendship?

King Philip felt all these things very keenly, and yet it is doubtful if he would have gone to war over them had it not been for the urging of his warriors.

These warriors loved the warpath. For many years they had been living peacefully. Now they craved the excitement of lying in ambush and springing out on their foes; or of creeping unseen, nearer and nearer a sleeping village, and in an hour's time, turning it into a mass of flames.

So, urged on by his braves and his own inclinations, King Philip began sending messengers to friendly tribes, inviting them to join in a mighty war on "the palefaces."

The English did not know that Philip was preparing for war till an Indian told the Governor of Plymouth. For doing so, this Indian was murdered by some of Philip's men. And these, in their turn, were hanged by the English.

This was the crisis. The Indian chief's patience was at an end. These English must not hang his braves. Philip was very angry and vented his wrath on the town of Swanzey. The war that followed was a terrible one. The settlers were in constant fear and danger. Hiding behind bushes and trees, the Indians let fly their death-dealing arrows. Many of the Indians used guns, which they had secured in trade from the white men.

Oftentimes King Philip's braves, coming upon a house where a mother and her children were alone, would kill them and then burn the house. Imagine how the father must have felt when he came home from the fields and found that his whole family had been murdered! Imagine how the children must have trembled in their beds when they heard the war whoops of the approaching Indians! These savages often danced like fiends around their victims' houses, yelling and waving their tomahawks. Often a whole village would be burned to the ground, and the inhabitants killed or made captives.

First, the settlements in southern Massachusetts were attacked. Then the Indians' fury was turned on those along the western frontier. On Sunday, the 1st of September, the greater part of Deerfield was burned, only a large storehouse being saved.

During services on that same Sunday, the people of Hadley were startled to hear the yells of Indians. Seizing their guns, which were always near them, the men rushed from the church. The village seemed fairly to swarm with painted savages. For a moment all was confusion. Suddenly a man with white hair and a long white beard rushed among the terrified English. Rallying them, he led a charge against the Indians and soon put them to flight. Then the brave old fighter disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

Who was he and where did he come from? Many thought an angel had come down to deliver them from their hated foe. But the old man was merely an Englishman named William Goffe. When King Charles I of England was beheaded, this William Goffe had had a hand in the affair. He had fled to New England for protection and was at this time being secreted in the neighborhood of Hadley.

As the cold weather drew near, King Philip gathered his warriors and joined the Narragansett tribe that they might camp together during the winter. The winter was not favorable to the Indians' mode of attack. The leafless trees did not provide a good screen. So these two Indian tribes chose a piece of rising ground in the middle of a great cedar swamp, and here they fortified themselves. Around their camp they built a thick wall of logs. Inside the wall they set up their wigwams, and then nearly three thousand Indians settled down for the winter in what seemed to them perfect safety.

Now was the white men's chance to strike a blow that the Indians would feel. The different settlements sent men, until a goodly army was ready to march against the Indian encampment.

On the 19th of December, this army arrived at the cedar swamp. There was but one entrance to the fort, and but one way to reach the entrance. This was by crossing a brook on a fallen tree. The danger of such a crossing was plain. Still there was no hesitation. The soldiers rushed toward the log.

In an instant the walls of the fort were alive, and the front rank fell before the first blaze of the Indian guns. Others sprang to take their places and were met by another volley. But nothing stopped the forward rush of the colonists. On they went, faster than the Indians could reload their guns. Crossing the log in spite of the firing, they rushed through the entrance into the fort.

A hand-to-hand fight followed. Thinking of their murdered wives and children, the white men fought like tigers. The confusion was terrible.

About sunset a blinding snowstorm filled the air; and under its protection, King Philip, the Narragansett chief, and many warriors, climbed the fortifications and fled into the forests. Then the wigwams were set on fire; and the white men retreated with their wounded and captives, leaving the Indian women and children to die in the flames with the wounded braves.

In this battle over a thousand Indians perished, and the power of the mighty Narragansett tribe was completely broken.

Still, the sad fate of so many braves only added to the hate of those warriors who had escaped. The war went on as savagely as ever all through the next summer. At last King Philip's wife and son were taken prisoners. This was a hard blow for the poor chief. "Now my heart breaks," he said, "and I am ready to die."

But though he may have been ready to die, he certainly was not ready to make peace. When one of his warriors, discouraged by their small numbers, suggested peace to him, Philip promptly struck the man dead.

Near by stood the brother of the murdered man. In an instant, all his loyalty to his chief was turned to hate. He would be revenged. At the first opportunity he slipped away and going to the English told them that they would find King Philip at his old home, Mount Hope.

And there on August 12th the avenger led a company of English soldiers, who surrounded the Indian chief before he suspected their presence. Suddenly hearing footsteps, Philip sprang to his feet and dashed for the woods. As he was fleeing past his betrayer, he received full in his heart the shot of the angry Indian. He fell on his face with his gun under him. Then his slayer sprang upon the body and chopping off the head carried it in triumph to the English colony at Plymouth. And this was the end of King Philip's War, and of the great tribe of the Wampanoag Indians.