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A Night With The Indians

From: Far Past The Frontier

To shut out from his thoughts the horrid memory of the bloody scalp at
Big Buffalo's belt, Ree turned and busied himself with the fire, which
had burned quite low, and soon a roaring blaze was leaping skyward,
shedding good cheer around.

The woodsman still stood leaning on his rifle, a look of sadness on his
face such as was seldom seen there. If John had noticed this he might not
have asked in the tone in which he did:

"Well, whose scalp is it?"

"It ain't your'n, kitten, an' ye can be glad o' that."

"Shucks! How can you tell whose it might have been? How could anybody
tell?" asked the boy.

Tom made no reply, and Ree deftly changed the subject by saying that one
of them had better stand guard that night. He expected no trouble with
the Indians, but he was not willing to be caught napping by the unknown
foe whose work had now cost the life of their horse.

Tom was gloomy all the evening as they sat before the fire, but he told
the boys of the great chief of the Delaware's, Hopocon, or Capt. Pipe,
and reminded them that he was one of the Indians who were responsible for
the burning of Col. Crawford at the stake eight years earlier.

That and other stories of this noted chief made the boys curious to see
him, and anxious to put themselves on friendly terms with him. It was
decided that the next day they should visit the Delaware town and make
arrangements for securing land. Without a horse they could move their
goods only with great labor, and they were desirous of knowing just where
they were taking their property, therefore, before they undertook to move
it from their present camp.

"Guess I will stay an' watch here, whilst you youngsters go to see Capt.
Pipe," said Tom, as the subject was under discussion. "I might not be as
peaceful as a little lamb--plague take their greasy skins! Not if I
clapped my eyes on that Buffalo critter ag'in!"

"Look a-here, Tom," Ree answered, earnestly. "We boys are on a peaceable
mission and we don't want to get into trouble on your account. We know
that the horrible sight of that scalp, and your belief that you know from
where it came, has made you want revenge, but John and I have had no
special trouble with the Delawares and it would be very foolish, situated
as we are, for you or any of us to start a fight with them now."

"I see all that--I ain't so blind! But--" Tom did not finish the
sentence. Instead he began talking of other things and advised the boys
to take every precaution against being treacherously dealt with when they
should find Big Buffalo at his own home--the Delaware town.

It was a windy, cloudy morning that found Ree and John tramping through
the valleys and over the hills of a fine, thickly wooded country toward
the Indian village. Early in the afternoon they came to a sloping
hillside beyond which lay a swampy tract grown up to brush and rushes.
Close by was a beautiful little lake and at the opposite side the smoke
was rising from the town of the Delaware tribe of Indians.

As the boys approached the water, planning to walk around the lake, they
were discovered by three Indians in a canoe, which seemed almost to
spring out of the water, so quickly did it appear from around a bushy
point. The savages headed directly toward the boys, without a sound.

The lads laid down their rifles as a sign of friendliness, and in another
minute a swift stroke of a paddle grounded the Indians' craft upon the
beach. The Redskins bounded ashore and with some reluctance shook hands
with the boys.

Without loss of time Ree gave them to understand that he wished them to
inform their chief, Hopocon, or Capt. Pipe, that two young Palefaces were
waiting to call on him, and tell of their friendly wish to buy some land
of the Delawares, and that they would remain where they were while he
should send a canoe to carry them over.

None of the three Indians had been in the party of the previous day, but
they seemed readily to comprehend what was desired of them and turned to

One of the Redskins, quite a young fellow, lingered behind. After the
other two had taken their places in the canoe he pushed it out into deep
water, then he made a running jump to leap, aboard. He might have done so
very nicely, had he not slipped just as he jumped. As it was, he went
sprawling in the water most ridiculously.

The other Indians grunted derisively. John laughed heartily and Ree
smiled, amused to see the proud young buck get just such a ducking as he
deserved for trying to "show off."

However, the lithe young fellow seized the canoe and was safely in it in
a very brief space of time. Soon it was far out on the lake, rocking and
dancing lightly as a feather on the fierce little waves, which a strong
wind was blowing up.

Ree and John made themselves comfortable on the grassy bank beside the
water, and waited. It seemed a long time until they saw a canoe coming
for them. The fact was, and the boys shrewdly surmised it, that Capt.
Pipe, or Hopocon, desirous of impressing the strangers with his
greatness, purposely kept them waiting awhile.

The canoe sent for the boys was manned by two of the Indians they first
met, and the lads were taken aboard. Although frail in appearance, the
light little craft was capable of carrying seven or eight persons. It was
made of the bark of a bitter-nut hickory, and was the first of the kind
in which the Connecticut lads had ever ridden. They quickly found that
they must aid in keeping the canoe balanced to prevent its upsetting, and
their efforts to do this, before they caught the knack of it, rather
amused the Indians.

In a short time, however, the canoe touched shore before the Indian town
and the Paleface visitors were conducted at once to the council house.
This was a long low building, its lower part being built of logs but its
sides and roof being of bark. It was open at one end, and at the other
end skins were hung up to shut out the wind. In the center of the rude
structure, whose floor was only the hard-trodden earth, was a fire, the
smoke escaping through a large hole in the roof.

All these things were observed by the boys in time, but first to attract
their notice as they entered, were the Indians, especially one of great
size--elderly and very dignified, seated on a bear skin spread over a mat
of bark. He shook hands with each as they stepped up, saying only "How."

Ree answered in the same fashion but John was so flustrated that he
stammered: "How do you do, sir?" in a manner which bored him a great
deal, as Ree jokingly recalled the circumstance long afterward.

But Capt. Pipe knew from the lad's tone that he spoke respectfully and it
pleased him. Other Indians seemed to feel the same, and the several minor
chiefs and medicine men who were present, shook hands with the boys with
a great show of dignity and formality. Then the young traders stated the
object of their visit and were shown to a seat opposite Capt Pipe and
pipes were brought out. They all smoked, the boys soon discovering that
it was not tobacco but "kinnikinick"--the inner bark of young willow
sprouts dried and pulverized--which was in the pipes.

Presently the great chief laid aside his pipe, a long-stemmed affair with
a curiously carved clay bowl, and all others immediately followed his
example. In another minute the speech-making began.

Capt. Pipe's was the first address, a brief preliminary statement. He
made a most imposing appearance as he stood very erect, his arms folded,
his head-dress of feathers reaching half way to the ground behind him,
the fringes of his shirt-like coat rustled by the movements of his body,
as he talked. Others followed, but the boys understood very little of
what was said. As Big Buffalo arose, however, there was a scowl on his
face which was far from pleasant. His gestures indicated hostility and
the Paleface lads knew that at heart he hated them. They wished Fishing
Bird were present to say a friendly word.

Capt. Pipe, himself, spoke a second time a little later, however, and
very earnestly Ree and John studied his grave and stern, but not unkind,
face, to learn how he felt toward them. They could scarcely believe that
he was the savage, who, only a few years before, had been a leading
spirit in the torture of Colonel Crawford.

Occasionally the chief used a few English words and the boys gathered
from the general trend of his remarks that they would be welcome if they
came only as traders; but that settlers were not welcome, and the Indians
wished no one to come among them who would clear land or do anything
which might lead to the establishing of a settlement of the whites in
their country. A reasonable number of hunters and traders might come and
go unmolested but there must be no building of permanent cabins; there
must be no different life than that led by the children of the
forest--the Indians themselves.

A long silence followed this address, and then Ree arose to speak. His
heart beat fast, and John trembled inwardly as his friend began. But
nervous as he was, there was no weakness in Ree's tones. He spoke slowly
and distinctly, using every sign which could be expressed by look or
gesture to make his meaning clear; and looking the Indians squarely in
the eyes they did not fail to understand as the boy thus told them in his
own way, that he and his friends hoped to live at peace with them; that
there was but a very small party of them, himself and one other, besides
a woodsman who was temporarily with them, and that they had journeyed to
that beautiful country of the Delawares to hunt and trade and make
themselves a home.

They had not been taught to live as the Indians lived, he said, and they
could not have a home without some cleared land about it for the crops
which they would need. For this land, Ree went on, they were willing to
pay a fair price, and they were desirous of selecting a location that
they might get their cabin built. The spot they had chosen was where the
course of the river had changed at some time, years before, leaving a
little clearing.

As Ree finished speaking he stepped up and laid his presents--two small
mirrors and a handsome hunting knife--before Capt. Pipe. John followed
his example in this, and there were grunts of approval from all the
Indians except Big Buffalo, as the boys sat down.

More speech-making followed, however, taking so much time that John
whispered: "If they don't stop soon, or ask us to stay all night, we will
have to climb a tree, somewhere."

At last a decision was reached that the boys were to have a piece of land
including the clearing to which Ree had referred, and as much of the
river valley and adjacent hillsides as they reasonably needed, in
exchange for articles to be selected from their stock of goods.

By close attention Ree had been able to understand the matter fairly
well, but as the talk of the Indians had seemed so monotonous, John had
let his thoughts run to other subjects. He had been wondering what had
become of the scalp they had seen at Big Buffalo's belt the day before,
and whether Tom Fish really knew the person whose death it signified; and
if so, who that person might be. He did not know then, all that he came
to know afterward.

With hand-shaking all around the council was concluded, and Capt. Pipe
conducted the boys to the feast which the squaws had been preparing.
There was broiled venison (without salt) and a sort of soup containing
broken corn and beans cooked together in a large kettle.

Nearly all of the Indians who had been in the council partook of these
dainties and many others did likewise. Ree and John ate heartily though
they did not exactly relish the lack of cleanliness displayed by the
savages in their manner of cooking, and in their eating.

The squaws and Indian boys and girls, and many a young brave for that
matter, watched the young Palefaces curiously, and their eyes followed
the lads closely as Capt. Pipe led them away to his own bark cabin. It
was then that John first saw Gentle Maiden, Capt. Pipe's daughter. She
was truly handsome for one of her race, but she stepped behind a screen
of skins and was gone before Ree had even noticed her.

The chief of the Delawares told the boys to make themselves comfortable,
and a squaw, who seemed to be his wife, spread skins for them to sit upon
or lie upon, as they chose. Capt. Pipe then gave his guests to understand
that they might come and go as they chose and remain with him as long as
they wished. He then withdrew and presently the boys did go for a stroll
about the queer town of the Indians. Fortunately they met Fishing Bird
and he walked all about with them then, leading the way to a fire before
which a game like dice was being played.

The seeds of wild plums, colored black on one side and scraped white on
the other, were shaken up in a box made of bark and thrown out upon a
smooth spot on the ground. The Indians endeavored to throw as many as
possible of the seeds with the white sides up, and he who did the best at
this, won the game. It seemed very dull amusement to John, but Ree
watched the game with much interest, until Fishing Bird beckoned him
away. And then something took place which made Ree quite certain that
this was the Indian whom he might have killed as they struggled alone in
the forest solitude only the second night previous.

It was a wrestling match which Fishing Bird proposed, and he called to a
strapping young savage and challenged him to undertake to put Ree down.
The brave smiled and stepped up willingly. Ree would have preferred that
such a contest had not been suggested, but as the young Indian looked at
him in a way which seemed to say, "It will not take me long to put you on
your back," he decided to throw the proud young redskin if he could.

With many manifestations of delight the Indians gathered around, as they
quickly learned what was taking place; for there was nothing in which the
forest rovers had a greater delight than trials of strength and

Ree stipulated but one thing, as he threw off his coat and made ready,
this was that the wrestling should be "catch-as-catch-can."

Ready assent was given, a space was cleared and an Indian clapped his
hands as a signal for the contest to begin. Like a panther the young
brave sprang toward his sturdy white opponent to catch him "Indian hold."
But he reckoned without knowledge of his man. Ree had not forgotten the
teachings of Peter Piper, and so cleverly did he dodge, and so quickly
seize the Indian about the legs, that in a twinkling the proud buck was
stretched upon the earth.

There were expressions of wonderment from the Indians, but in a second
the vanquished redskin was on his feet, anxious for another trial.

John, with utter disregard of good manners, was laughing heartily over
his friend's success, and as Ree declined to wrestle any more, the Indian
turned to him, and somewhat fiercely demanded that he should try
conclusions with him.

John glanced at Ree and the latter nodded for him to go ahead. In another
minute then, a match, the closeness and desperation of which delighted
the savages beyond measure, was in progress.

Tightly clasping each other's arms, the contestants strained every muscle
and struggled back and forth and round and round--now slowly, now with
movements most rapid, neither gaining an advantage. Longer and longer the
contest continued in this way, and Ree saw that John was becoming worn
out. He must act quickly or succumb to the Indian's greater weight and
power of endurance.

"You can throw him if you only say to yourself that you must and that you
will, and then do it," Ree whispered, as John was pushed near him, and
his advice was taken.

With a show of strength which surprised them all, John forced his
opponent backward, and tried again to trip the fellow, but could not.
Then he allowed the savage to try to trip him, and seizing the
opportunity, gave the redskin so sudden and violent a pull that he was
taken off his feet and fell heavily, dragging John down with him. Both
the Indian's shoulders touched the ground, however, and with savage glee
the redskins acknowledged John to be the victor. To do them justice, they
seemed not at all put out that their man was defeated. Only one who was
present scowled. He was Big Buffalo, and with an ugly look he strode away
from the campfire's light.

Ree could not help but notice the savage fellow's hostile manner. "We
better watch out for him," he said to John as they discussed the incident
sometime later, when they had sought rest for the night on the skins in
Capt. Pipe's house.

"It makes me feel--well, not exactly comfortable, Ree," John answered.
"Here we are a hundred miles from civilization sleeping in the hut of one
of the bloodiest Indians of the Northwest Territory; Indians all around
us, and Goodness knows what else in the woods, on every side!"

"Why, John," said Ree, "I believe we are safer to-night than at any time
since we left Fort Pitt. Capt. Pipe may be a bad Indian, but he would
fight for us, if need be, while we are his guests. He might scalp us
to-morrow after we have said good-bye, but when we are in his house as
friends, we will be protected."

Next: Again A Hidden Enemy

Previous: The Scalp At Big Buffalo's Belt

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