Gateway to the Classics: A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston
A First Book in American History by  Edward Eggleston

Myles Standish and the Indians

The Indians, having got one taste of the firearms of the white men, were afraid to attack Plymouth. But they thought that they might get rid of the white men by witchcraft. So they held what they called a "powwow" in a big swamp, to persuade the spirits to kill or drive away the newcomers. Sometimes the Pilgrims would see some Indians on a hill-top near Plymouth. But the savages always ran away as soon as they were discovered. Perhaps they came to see whether the Plymouth people had all been killed by the spirits.


Dancing Medicine Man

But in the spring a chief from a place farther east came to visit the Indians near Plymouth. He had met English fishermen and learned a little English. He was not afraid to visit the white men. Walking boldly into the little town, he said, "Welcome, Englishmen." The Pilgrims were surprised to hear two English words from the mouth of an Indian.


Indian Bow and Arrow

They treated this Indian well, and he came again bringing an Indian named Squanto [squon'-to] who could speak more English. Squanto, who had lived at Plymouth, was one of the Indians carried away to Spain by Captain Hunt. From Spain he had been taken to England, and then brought back to America. When he got home to Plymouth he found that all the people of his village had died of the pestilence.

Squanto now came again to the old home of his people at Plymouth and lived with the Pilgrims. He showed the English a way to catch eels by treading them out of the mud with his feet. He knew the woods and waters well, and he showed them how to hunt and fish. He taught them how to plant Indian corn as the Indians did, putting a fish or two in every hill for manure, and then watching the fields for a while to keep the wolves from digging up the buried fish. Without the seed corn and the help of Squanto the whole colony would have starved.


Squanto Catching Eels

Squanto liked to make himself important among the Indians by boasting of the power of his friends the white men. He talked about the dreadful gunpowder kept in the cellar at Plymouth. He also told them that the horrid pestilence was kept in the same cellar with the powder.

Massasoit [mas'-sa-soit], the chief of Squanto's tribe, came to see the Pilgrims, bringing some other Indians with him. They were taken into the largest house in Plymouth and seated on a green mat and some cushions. The Governor of the colony was then brought in while the trumpets were blowing and the drums beating. This parade pleased the Indians, but they were much afraid of the Plymouth people. Afterwards the Pilgrims sent Massasoit a red cotton coat and a copper chain, and by degrees a firm friendship was made between him and the white men.

Captain Standish was a little man, and one of his enemies once nicknamed him "Captain Shrimp." But the Indians soon learned to be afraid of him. When a chief near by threatened to trouble the Pilgrims and kill Squanto, Standish marched to the spot and surrounded his wigwam. Having fired on the Indians and frightened them, he took three whom he had wounded back to Plymouth with him. The white people cured their wounds and sent them home again.

The Nar-ra-gan'-sett Indians were enemies of Massasoit. None of their people had died of the pestilence, and they were therefore stronger than Massasoit's tribe. The Narragansetts sent a bundle of arrows to Plymouth tied up in a snake's skin. Squanto told the English that this meant to say that they would come and make war on Plymouth. The Pilgrims filled the snake's skin with bullets, and sent it back. This was to say, "Shoot your arrows at us and we will kill you with our bullets." The Narragansetts were so afraid of the bullets that they sent them back to Plymouth, and there was no war.


When the Pilgrims had been settled at Plymouth more than a year, a ship brought them news of the dreadful massacre that had taken place in Virginia. The Pilgrims were afraid something of the kind might happen to them. So Captain Standish trained the Plymouth men, and they kept guard every night. They put cannon on the roof of their meetinghouse and carried their guns to church.

A company of people from England made a settlement at Weymouth [way'-muth], not very far from Plymouth. They were rude and familiar, and the Indians soon despised them. Some Indian warriors made a plan to kill them all. They intended to kill the Plymouth people at the same time. But Massasoit told the Pilgrims about it, and said they must go and kill the leaders before they had a chance to kill the white men.

Captain Standish set out for the colony at Weymouth. He took but few men, so that the Indians might not guess what he came for. But they saw that the little captain was very "angry in his heart," as they said. Seeing how few his men were, they tried to frighten him.

One of these Indians named Wittamut sharpened the knife which he wore hanging about his neck. While sharpening it he said to Captain Standish: "This is a good knife. On the handle is the picture of a woman's face. But I have another knife at home with which I have killed both Frenchmen and Englishmen. That knife has a man's face on it. After a while these two will get married."

A large Indian named Pecksuot said: "You are a captain, but you are a little man. I am not a chief, but I am strong and brave."

It was now a question whether Standish would attack the Indians or wait for them to begin. One day when Wittamut, Pecksuot, and two other Indians were in the room with Standish and some of his men, the captain made a signal, and himself snatched the knife that hung on Pecksuot's neck and stabbed him to death after a terrible struggle. His men killed the other Indians in the same way. The rest of their tribe fled to the woods for fear, and after that the English were called "stabbers" in the Indian language.

The Pilgrims were often very near to starvation during the first years after they settled at Plymouth. At one time they lived on clams and lobsters and such fish as they could catch. Standish made many voyages along the coast, trading with the Indians for furs, which were sent to England and exchanged for whatever the settlers might need.


A Plymouth Settler catching his Dinner

A few years after the Pilgrims settled Plymouth people began to settle near them, and in 1630 there came over a large number of people, who founded Boston and other Massachusetts towns. Captain Standish lived to be more than seventy years old and to see many thousands of people in New England. He owned a place at Duxbury, just across the bay from Plymouth. He died there in 1656. The hill which he owned is still called "Captain's Hill."

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