CAPTIVE'S LIFE AMONG INDIANS.
ILLUSTRATED BY THE LIFE OF THE "WHITE WOMAN."
To be taken captive by the Indians, was, among the early colonists, considered the most terrible of all calamities, and it was indeed a fearful thing to become the victim of their revenge. But those who were enduring the actual sufferings of captivity, or suffering still more from terror of uncertain evils, thought little of the provocation given by the white people. The innocent suffered for the guilty, and however persevering--I suppose the efforts of the government to be just--in its infancy, in a wild unknown country it was impossible to control unprincipled marauders. Some atrocious act was first committed by white men, which drove the Indian to retaliation, and thinking pale faces were all alike, he did not wait till the real offender fell into his hands.
When the white men first came, the Indian looked upon them as superior beings. They were ready to worship Columbus and his little party, and all others along the coast, until their simple trust was outraged beyond endurance, they welcomed the strangers, gave them food when they were hungry, and sheltered them when they were cold. It was not till their encroachments became alarming, that the Indians asserted their rights, and if in all cases they had been as justly and kindly dealt with as by the Quakers of Pennsylvania, there would not have been so dark a record of sins, wrongs and tortures. If none but men of principle had made treaties with them, and all whose duty it was to observe them, had kept their faith, revenge had not come out so prominently in Indian character.
But it was not in obedience to national policy that those who were taken in battle, were put to the torture, burned, and flayed. The Six Nations had never found it necessary to build prisons, and dig dungeons for their own people. If any man committed murder, they sometimes decided that he should die, and sometimes bade him flee far away where none who knew him could look upon his face. But crimes were so rare that they had no criminal code, and when they overcame their enemies, they either adopted them and treated them as brethren, or put them immediately to death.
White people have often put Indians to death, and oftener put them in dungeons to waste and starve, but it was not part of their practice to adopt them and call them brethren. Had they sometimes done this, or sent them freely back to their friends unharmed, they might have conciliated where they were only made more desperate.
When families are bereaved, they sought to be revenged on those who had bereaved them, and when warriors returned from battle, the prisoners were given up to the friends of the afflicted. With them alone it remained to decide the fate of those who fell into their hands. If they chose, they adopt them in place of the husbands, or brothers, who were slain; and if they so decided they were put to death, and in any way they decreed. If the manner in which their friend had been killed was aggravating and greatly enraged them, they were very likely to decide upon torture, and inflicted it in a manner to produce the greatest suffering. But in such cases, they sometimes showed great magnanimity, and "returned good for evil."
Children were often adopted, and by a solemn ceremony received into a particular tribe, and evermore treated as one of their own people. You have been in the habit of listening to heart-rending stories of cruelties to captives, but captives who were adopted were never cruelly treated. Those who were immediately put to death experienced great suffering for a few hours, and those who were preserved were subjected to hardships which seemed to them unspeakable, but they were such as are necessarily incident to Indian life. They left no written chronicles to tell to all future generations the wrongs and tortures to which they were subjected, but one who sits with them by their firesides, may have his blood frozen with horror at the recitals of civilized barbarity.
And there was one species of wrong of which no captive woman of any nation had to complain when she was thrown upon the tender mercies of Indian warriors. Not among all the dark and terrible records which their enemies have delighted to magnify, is there a single instance of the outrage of that delicacy which a pure minded woman cherishes at the expense of life, and sacrifices not to any species of mere animal suffering. Of what other nation can it thus be written, that their soldiers were not more terrible at the firesides of their enemies than on the battle-field, with all the fierce engines of war at their command. To whatever motive it is to be ascribed, let this at least stand out on the pages of Indian history as an ever enduring monument to their honor.
A little book which professes to have been written for the sole purpose of recording and perpetuating Indian atrocities, and dwells upon them with infinite delight, alludes to this redeeming trait in Indian character, but attempts to ascribe it to the influence of superstition, as it were necessary to find some evil or deteriorating motive for everything noble, or pleasing in Indian character. Their treatment of captives from among Indian nations were the same. And I know not that there has been any satisfactory solution of a characteristic which has been found among only one other civilized christian or barbarous nation. A wanderer among the Indian tribes once asked an Indian why they thus honored their women, and he said "The Great Spirit taught, and would punish us if we did not." Among the Germans I believed there existed the same respect for woman, till they became civilized. They may have been some superstitious fears mingled with a strong governing and controlling principle, but it is not on this account the less marvelous that whole nations, consisting of millions, should have been so trained, religiously or domestically, that degree of beauty or fascination placed under their care, though hundreds of miles in the solitudes of the wilderness, should have tempted them from the strictest honor and the most delicate kindness. MARY JANISON was eighty years a resident among the Senecas, and in the early part of the time the forests had few clearings, and the comforts and the vices of white men prevailed but little among them. She was born on the ocean, with the billowy sea for her cradle, and the tempest for her lullaby. Her parents emigrated from England to this country in 1742, and settled in the unfortunate vale of Wyoming, where date her first remembrances, which were all the woes that fell upon her family, the wail of the sorrow-stricken and breaking of heart-strings. The last meal they took together was a breakfast, after which the father and eldest three sons went into the field, and Mary with the other little children was playing not far from the house. They were suddenly startled by a shriek, and knew it must be from their mother. On running in they saw her in the hands of two Indians, who were holding her fast. A little boy ran to call his father, and found him also bound by another of the party, and his eldest brother lying dead upon the earth; the other two fled to Virginia, where they had an uncle, as Mary afterward learned, and those who remained were made captives and hurried into the woods. All day they were obliged to march in single file over the rough, cold soil. Night found them in the heart of the wilderness, surrounded by their strange captors, and all the horrors of Indian life or Indian death staring them in the face. They had no hope of mercy, whether permitted to live or condemned to die. The mother said to Mary, "My daughter, you, I think will be permitted to live, but they will deprive you of your father and mother, and perhaps of your brothers and sisters, so that you will be alone. But endeavor in all things to please the Indians, and they will be more kind to you. Do not forget your own language, and never fail to repeat your catechism and the Lord's prayer every morning and evening while you live." This she promised to do, and having kissed her child, the mother was removed from her sight.
Mary must at this time have been ten years of age. She was afterwards told, when she could understand the Indian language, that they would not have killed her parents if the captors had not been pursued, and that a little boy, who was the son of a neighbor, and was also taken, was given to the French, two of whom were of the party.
In the marches of the Indians it was the custom for one to linger behind, and poke up the grass with a stick after a party had passed along, to conceal all traces of their footsteps, so a pursuit was seldom successful. In deviating from a direct course in order not to get lost, they noticed the moss upon the trees, which always grows thickest upon the north side, as the south side being most exposed to the sun, became soonest dry. They also had some knowledge of the stars, and knew from the position of certain clusters that were to be seen at certain seasons, which was east and which west.
Mary was adopted in place of two brothers who had fallen in battle, and for whom the lamentations had not died away. The ceremony of adoption is very solemn, requiring the deliberations of a council and the formal bestowing of a name, as a sort of baptism, from which time the captive is not allowed to speak any other language but the Indian, and must in all things conform to Indian habits and tastes.
It is customary among them to give children a name which corresponds with the sports and dependence of childhood, and when they arrive at maturity to change it for one that corresponds with the duties and employments of manhood and womanhood. The first name is given by the relatives and afterwards publicly announced in council. The second is bestowed in the same way; and by this they are ever afterward called, except on becoming a Sachem, and, sometimes, on becoming a Chief or warrior another name is taken, and each denotes definitely the new position. Each clan, too, had its peculiar names, so that when a person's name was mentioned it was immediately known to what clan he belonged.
A curious feature in the Indian code of etiquette is that it is exceedingly impolite to ask a person's name, or to speak it in his presence. In the social circle and all private conversation the person spoken of is described if it is necessary to allude to him, as the person who sits there, or who lives in that house, or wears such a dress. If I ask a woman, whose husband is present if that is Mr. B-- she blushes, and stammers, and replies, "He is my child's father," in order to avoid speaking his name in his presence, which would offend him. On asking a man his name he remained silent, not understanding the reason the question was repeated, when he indignantly replied, "Do you think that I am an owl to go about hooting my name everywhere?" The name of the owl in Indian corresponding exactly to the note he utters.
When Mary Jemmison had been formally named De-he-wa-mis, they called her daughter and sister, and treated her in all respects as if she had been born among them and the same blood flowed in her veins, or rather, they were accustomed to be more kind to captives than to their own children, because they had not been inured to the same hardships. There was no difference in the cares bestowed, no allusion was ever made to the child as if it belonged to a hated race, and it never felt the want of affection.
Mary said her tasks were always light, and everything was done to win her love and make her happy. She now and then longed for the comforts of her cottage home, and wept at the thought of her mother's cruel death, but gradually learned to love the freedom of the forest, and to gambol freely and gaily with her Indian play-mates. When she was named they threw her dress away, and clothed her in deer skins and moccasins, and painted her face in true Indian style. She never spoke English in their presence, as they did not allow it, but when alone, did not forget her mother's injunction, and repeated her prayers and all the words she could remember, thus retaining enough of the language to enable her easily to recall it when she should again return to civilized society, as she constantly indulged the hope of doing, by an exchange of captives.
But when she was fourteen years of age, her mother selected for her a husband, to whom she was married according to Indian custom. His name was Sheningee, and though she was not acquainted with him previously, and of course had no affection for him, but proved not only an amiable and excellent man but a congenial companion, whom she loved devotedly. He had all the noble qualities of an Indian, being handsome and brave, and generous, and kind, and to her very gentle and affectionate.
Now she became thoroughly reconciled to Indian life, her greatest sorrow being the necessary absence of her husband on the war-path and hunting excursions. She followed the occupation of a woman, tilled the fields, dressed the meats and skins, and gathered the fuel for the winter's fire, and although this seems to the whites as unfeminine labor, it was performed at their leisure, and occupied very little of their time.