The Boy Who Saved a Village
IN western pioneer days, out on the Pacific Coast, the adventurous life of the settlers was beset with many dangers. About the time the "gold fever" struck the people of the United States, a family named Goodman, started from one of the eastern states to find a home in the Northwest, somewhere along the coast. The region was inhabited only by a few Indians and hunters, engaged in trapping wild animals for their fur.
After weary months of travel overland, in slow carts drawn by oxen, suffering from hunger, thirst and sickness, and harassed by Indians,—the family at last reached a place on Puget Sound, and built themselves a home. There were two children,—a little girl, and a boy who, even though only nine years old, was quite useful in helping his father build the log cabin, and plant the garden.
As the boy grew larger, he went with his father hunting wild game, and fishing. So that, by the time he was twelve years of age, he could use his rifle with deadly aim, and could paddle a boat as well as any Indian along the coast.
After a while, other settlers came and, for protection, moved in the neighborhood; thus, after a time, quite a colony grew up. The Indians looked on with distrust and alarm. The whites were coming in such numbers that the red men feared they would be driven away, and lose their hunting- and fishing-grounds. The savages held a big meeting of all the tribes, and there was much pow-wow, before they agreed to make war on the little town, and kill all the white people in it.
The settlers heard nothing of the intention of the Indians, and went on with their planting and building and fishing, not knowing of the deadly danger that hung over them. They had been kind to the Indians, had furnished them with guns and powder, and had given them presents; they had every reason to believe that the tribes were friendly.
One day, however, word came that a body of Indians had appeared at a remote farm-house, and, after burning everything, had slain all the inhabitants. The next day, news arrived that other white men had been killed in the woods, and that the Indians had put on their war-paint. This so alarmed the settlers that they prepared for defense.
A friendly squaw brought word to Mr. Goodman that the Indians were on the way to destroy his house. It was a few miles from the village itself, so he hastily sent his wife and the girls to the hamlet, while he and his son stayed behind to discover the purpose of the savages. That very night the barking of the dogs gave warning that the Indians were near. Looking out, the father saw dusky, painted forms, and was greeted with a shower of arrows.
Closing the door, he and his son escaped through the back, leaped into a canoe, and were soon beyond the reach of their foes, though arrows fell thick about them as they paddled away. It was not long before they came to the sleeping hamlet a few miles up the coast.
"The Indians are coming. Awake and arm yourselves," they cried, as they landed.
Then commenced a great hurrying of men and women. All night long they built a big clay fort, brought water and food, loaded guns, and made ready for the attack which they knew was not far off.
About noon, the next day, a fleet of war canoes was seen approaching. They came within gun-shot of the village fort, and opened fire. The settlers replied with deadly aim. The Indians were in open boats, and the settlers behind clay walls, so that many a savage fell into the water with a bullet wound, while only a few of the settlers were hurt. Late in the afternoon, the Indians decided they had had enough for one day, and withdrew for the night.
They intended to renew the attack the next day, so they drew off about a half-mile, to a neck of land, beached their canoes, and built fires for cooking and dancing. They had a great feast of meat and corn, and then began to beat their drums, utter wild cries, and dance their war-dances.
Now, let us return to the hero of our story, young Goodman. All day long he had been firing his gun with unerring aim, causing many a savage to fall from his canoe. When night came, and the Indians retired, the boy cautiously left the fort, and crept through the bushes to see what they were doing. No one missed him, for he told no one where he was going. Slowly and carefully, he crept nearer and nearer, until he was quite close to the dancing and howling crowd. Then, he formed a bold plan of stealing all the canoes of the savages, so that they could not go back to the village. Besides which, the canoes held the guns and powder and much of the provisions owned by the savages.
He waited till nearly midnight, then undressed, and, tying his clothes around his neck, he waded into the water and swam until he rounded a point which brought him near the canoes and close to the Indian camp.
He was very quick, and swam as silently as a fish. Slowly, he crawled up to one of the canoes, and cut the thongs that held it to its moorings. He was glad to see it swing loose, and drift away from shore. Then he began to cut them all loose, one after the other, and push them from shore. He worked silently; for, if the Indians heard him, it would mean certain death.
After he had cut away about a dozen canoes, an Indian came toward the shore, but the night was dark, and the savage was tired and sleepy; so Goodman hid himself behind one of the boats and waited. The Indian took some food out of the canoe nearest him, and went back to his howling companions.
In about three hours, all the boats were cut loose and adrift. Some were far out, and all were being carried away by the tide. Goodman jumped into the last canoe, seized the paddles, and rowed away, uttering a loud yell of triumph—for now he was out of danger.
The Indians rushed to the shore, but it was too late. Day was breaking, and they could see their canoes adrift, and they realized that they were helpless. They howled in anger, and fired off their guns, and some of them even started to swim for their canoes. But Goodman was too sure a shot to miss a single swimmer; he lay flat in his canoe and fired at them one by one.
Howling with rage, they gave up the pursuit, and, by sunrise, were on their way home overland. When Goodman reached his own fort, the old men patted him on the back, while the women, with tears in their eyes, hugged and kissed him. To this day, they tell the story of how Goodman saved the village.