Harper's Round Table, May 5, 1896
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, MAY 5, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 862.||two dollars a year.|
TOMMY TEN CANOES.
BY HEZEKIAH BUTTERWORTH.
There once lived in New York an Indian warrior by the name of PeterTwenty Canoes. Tommy Ten Canoes lived at Pokanoket, near Mount Hope, onan arm of the Mount Hope Bay.
He was not a warrior, but a runner; not a great naval hero, as hispicturesque name might suggest, but a news agent, as it were; he usedhis nimble feet and his ten canoes to bear messages to the Indians ofthe villages of Pokanoket and to the Narragansetts, and, it may be, toother friendly tribes.
Pokanoket? You may have read Irving's sketch of Philip of Pokanoket, butwe doubt if you have in mind any clear idea of this once beautifulregion, from whose clustering wigwams the curling smoke once rose fromthe giant oaks over the many waterways. The place of it on the map isnow covered by Bristol and Warren (Rhode Island) and Swansea(Massachusetts). It is a place of bays and rivers, which were once richfishing-grounds; of shores full of shells and shell-fish; of coolsprings and wild-grape vines; of bowery hills; and of meadows that wereonce yellow with maize.
Tommy Ten Canoes was a great man in his day. As a news agent in peace hewas held in high honor, but as a scout in war and a runner for the greatchiefs he became a heroic figure. There were great ospreys' nests allabout the shores of old Pokanoket on the ancient decayed trees, andTommy made a crown of osprey feathers, and crowned himself, with theapproval of the great Indian chiefs.
Once when swimming with this crown of feathers on his head, he had beenshot at by an Englishman, who thought him some new and remarkable bird.But while his crown was shattered, it was not the crown of his head. Hewas very careful of both his crowns after that alarming event.
Tommy Ten Canoes was a brave man. He was ready to face any ordinarydanger for his old chief Massasoit, and for that chief's two sons,Wamsutta (Alexander) and Pomebacen[Pg 646] (Philip). He would cross the MountHope or the Narragansett bay in tempestuous weather. He used to conveythe beautiful Queen Weetamoc from Pocassett to Mount Hope to attendPhilip's war-dances under the summer moons, and when the old Indian warbegan he offered his two swift legs and all of his ten canoes to theservice of his chief.
"Nipanset"—for this was his Indian name—"Nipanset's bosom is hischiefs, and it knows not fear. Nipanset fears not the storm or the foe,or the gun of the pale-face. Call, call, O ye chiefs; in the hour ofdanger call for Nipanset. Nipanset fears not death."
So Tommy Ten Canoes boasted at the great council under the moss-coveredcliff at Mount Hope.
He was honest; but there was one thing that Nipanset, or Tommy TenCanoes, did fear. It was enchantment. He would have faced torture ordeath without a word, but everything mysterious filled him with terror.If he had thought that a bush contained a hidden enemy and flintlock, hewould have been very brave, but had he thought that the same bush wasstirred by a spirit, or was enchanted, he would have run.
Tommy Ten Canoes had been friendly to the white people who had settledin Pokanoket. There was a family by the name of Brown, who lived onCole's River, that he especially liked, and he became a companion of oneof the sons named James. The two were so often together that the peopleused to speak of those who were very intimate as being "as thick aslittle James Brown and old Tommy Ten Canoes," or rather as "JemmieBrown" and our young hero of the many birch boats.
The two hunted and fished together; they made long journeys together; infact, they did everything in common, except work. Tommy did not work, atleast in the field, while James did at times, when he was not withTommy.
When the Indian war began, King Philip sent word to the Brown family,and also to the Cole family, who lived near them, both of whom hadtreated him justly and generously, that he would do all in his power toprotect them, but that he might not be able to restrain his braves.
Tommy Ten Canoes brought a like friendly message to Jemmie Brown.
"I will always be true to you," he said; "true as the north wind to theriver, the west wind to the sea, and the south wind to the flowers.Nipanset's heart is true to his friends. Our hearts will see each otheragain."
The Indian torch swept the settlements. One of the bravest scouts inthese dark scenes was Tommy Ten Canoes. He flew from place to place likethe wind, carrying news and spying out the enemy.
Tommy grew proud over his title of "Ten Canoes." He felt like tenTommies. He wore his crown of osprey feathers like a royal king. His tencanoes ferried the painted Indians at night, and carried the chiefshither and thither.
There was a grizzly old Boston Captain, who had done hard service on thesea, named Moseley. He wore a wig, a thing that the Indians had neverseen, and of whose use they knew nothing at all.
Tommy Ten Canoes had never feared the white man nor the latter'sdeath-dealing weapons. He had never retreated; he had always been foundin front of the stealthy bands as they pursued the forest trails. Buthis courage was at last put to a test of which he had never dreamed.
Old Captain Moseley had led a company of trained soldiers against theIndians from Boston. Tommy Ten Canoes had discovered the movement, andhad prepared the Indians to meet it. Captain Moseley's company, whichconsisted of one hundred men, had first marched to a place called MylesBridge in Swansea. Here was a garrison house in which lived Rev. JohnMyles. The church was called Baptist, but people of all faiths werewelcome to it; among the latter, Thomas Willet, who afterwards becamethe first Mayor of New York. It was the first church of the kind inMassachusetts, and it still exists in Swansea.
Over the glimmering waterways walled with dark oak woods came Tommy TenCanoes, with five of his famous boats, and landed at a place near thethrifty Baptist colony, so that his little navy might be at the readyservice of Philip. It was the last days of June. There had been aneclipse of the moon on the night that Tommy Ten Canoes had glided up theSowans River towards Myles Bridge. He thought the eclipse was meant forhim and his little boats, and he was a very proud and happy man.
"The moon went out in the clear sky when we left the bay," said he; "soshall our enemies be extinguished. The moon shone again on the calmriver. For whom did the moon shine again? For Nipanset."
Poor Tommy Ten Canoes! He was not the first hero of modern times who hasthought that the moon and stars were made for him, and shone for him onspecial occasions.
In old Captain Moseley's company was a Jamaica pilot who had visitedPokanoket and been presented to Tommy, and told that the latter was avery renowned Indian.
"What are you?" asked the Pilot.
"I am Tommy One Canoe."
"I am Tommy Two Canoes."
"I am Tommy Three Canoes."
"Oh! Ah! Indeed!"
"I am Tommy Four Canoes, and I am Tommy Five Canoes, and I am TommySix Canoes, and I am Tommy Ten Canoes."
"Well, Tommy Ten Canoes," answered the Pilot, "don't you ever get intoany trouble with the white people, because you might find yourselfmerely Tommy No Canoes."
Tommy was offended at the answer. He had no fears of such a fall frompower, however.
The old Jamaica pilot had taken a boat and drifted down the Sowans Riverone long June day, when he chanced to discover Tommy and his fivecanoes. The canoes were hauled up on the shore under the cool treeswhich over-shadowed the water. The Pilot, who had with him three men,rowed boldly to the shore and surprised Tommy Ten Canoes, who had goneinto the wood, leaving his weapons in one of his canoes.
The Pilot seized the canoe with the weapons and drew it from the shore.
Tommy Ten Canoes beheld the movement with astonishment. He called to theold Pilot, "I am Tommy Ten Canoes!"
"No, no," answered the Pilot. "You are Tommy Nine Canoes."
Presently the Pilot drew from the shore another canoe. Tommy calledagain:
"Don't you know me? I am—"
"Tommy Eight Canoes," said the Pilot.
Another boat was removed in like manner, and the Pilot shouted, "And nowyou are Tommy Seven Canoes." Another, and the Pilot called again, "Nowyou are Tommy Six Canoes." Another. "Good-by, Tommy Five Canoes," saidthe Pilot, and he and his men drew all of the light canoes after them upthe river.
Xerxes at Salamis could hardly have felt more crushed in heart thanTommy Ten Canoes. But hope revived; he was Tommy Five Canoes still. Hewas not quite so sure now, however, that the moon on that still Junenight had been eclipsed expressly for him.
The scene of the war now changed to the western border, as the towns ofHadley and Deerfield were called, for these towns in that day were the"great West," as afterwards was the Ohio Reserve. Tommy having lost fiveof his canoes, now used his swift feet as a messenger. He still hadhopes of doing great deeds, else why had the moon been eclipsed on thatbeautiful June night?
But an event followed the loss of his five canoes that quite changed hisopinion. As a messenger or runner he had hurried to the scene of thebrutal conflicts on the border, and had there discovered that CaptainMoseley, the old Jamaica pirate, was subject to some spell ofenchantment; that he had two heads.
"Ugh! ugh! him no good!" said one of the Indians to Tommy; "he take offhis head, and put him in his pocket. It is no use to fight him. Spellset on him—enchanted."
Tommy Ten Canoes' fear of the man with two heads, one of which hesometimes took off and put in his pocket, spread among the Indians. Oneday in a skirmish Tommy saw Moseley take off one of his enchanted headsand hang it on a blueberry-bush. Other Indians saw it. "No scalp him,"said they. "Run!" And run they did, not from the open foe, but from thesupposed head on the bush. Moseley did not dream at the time that it washis wig that had given him the victory.
Across the Mount Hope Bay, among the sunny headlands of Pocassett, therewas an immense cedar swamp, cool and dark, and in summer full offire-flies. Tommy Ten Canoes called it the swamp of the fire-flies. Itwas directly opposite Pokanoket, across the placid water. A band ofIndians gathered here, and covered their bodies with bushes, so thatthey might not be discovered on the shore.
One moonlight night in September Tommy went to visit these maskedIndians in four of his canoes. He rowed one of the canoes, and threesquaws the others. On reaching the fire-fly cedar swamp the party metthe masked Indians, and late at night retired to rest, the three Indiansquaws sleeping on the shore under their three canoes.
Captain Moseley had sent the old Jamaica pilot to try to discover thehiding-place of this mysterious band of Indians. The Pilot had seen thefour canoes crossing the bay from Pokanoket under the low Septembermoon, and had hurried with a dozen men to the place of landing. Hesurprised the party early the next morning, when they were disarmed andasleep.
The crack of his musket rang out