Gateway to the Classics: Peter of Amsterdam by James Otis
Peter of Amsterdam by  James Otis

The Homes of the Savages

This same Dutchman, seeing that the Indian houses excited my curiosity, offered to go with me inside one, and, on my agreeing eagerly, he led the way into the first building on our path, with no thought of asking permission, much as if entering his own dwelling.

It surprised me to see what flimsy affairs they were, and yet it was said that the savages lived in them during the winter when there is much snow on the ground. I have already told you that instead of having a roof laid on upright sides, the top was rounded like a huge log cleft in halves, and once inside I understood why they were built in such fashion.


The timbers were nothing more than small, young trees, the thicker ends of which were thrust into the ground, and the tops bent over until the whole formed an arch. On the outside of this was bark taken from the birch tree, sewed or pegged in place, and in the center of the floor, which was simply the bare earth beaten down hard, a fire could be built, the smoke finding its way out through a hole in the roof.

Why such frail buildings did not take fire from sparks, I could not understand, for it would have needed but a tiny bit of live coal to set the whole thing in a blaze.

There were no people in this house which we entered, and therefore it was that I could look about me more closely than would otherwise have been the case. I saw pots and kettles fashioned of what looked to be gourds, or baked clay; sharpened stones lashed to wooden handles, to be used, most like, as axes, and shells with an edge so sharp that one might have whittled a heavy stick into shavings, which shells, so the Dutchman told me, served the savages as knives.

There were many wooden bowls, which must have been formed by these same knives of shell, and one of them, half filled with a greasy looking mixture, was yet standing upon the embers, as if its contents had been heated in that vessel of wood over the fire.


The beds were not uninviting, save that they were far from being cleanly, and gave forth a disagreeable odor, for they were made of furs piled high upon a coarse kind of straw.

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