James Fenimore Cooper.

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a real oracle. Peter, however, was less credulous even than
the chiefs. He had his superstitious notions, like all un
educated men, but a clear head and quick intellect placed
him far above the weaknesses of the red man in general.
On receiving a description of the person of the unknown
"medicine-man," he at once recognized the bee-hunter.
With an Indian to describe, and an Indian to interpret or
apply, escape from discovery was next to impossible.

Although Onoah, or the "Tribeless," as he was also fre
quently called by the red men, from the circumstance of no
one s knowing to what particular section of the great Indian


family he belonged, perfectly understood that the bee-hunter
he had seen on the other shore was the individual who had
been playing the part of a conjurer among these Pottawat-
tamies, he was very careful not to reveal the fact to Crows-
feather. He had his own policy, and was fully aware of all
the virtue there is in mystery and reserve. With an Indian,
these qualities go farther even than with a white man; and
we of the Caucasian race are riot entirely exempt from the
folly of being deceived by appearances. On the present
occasion Peter kept his knowledge to himself, still leaving
his red brethren in doubt and uncertainty; but he took care
to be right in his own opinions by putting as many ques
tions as were necessary for that purpose. Once assured of
this fact, he turned to other subjects of even greater interest
to himself and his companions.

The conference which now took place between the " Tribe-
less " and Crowsfeather was held apart, both being chiefs of
too much importance to be intruded on at a moment like
that. The two chiefs exhibited a very characteristic picture
while engaged in this conference. They seated themselves
on a bank, and drawing their legs partially under them, sat
face to face, with their heads less than two feet asunder,
occasionally gesticulating with dignity, but each speaking
in his turn with studied decorum. Crowsfeather was highly
painted, and looked fierce and warlike, but Onoah had noth
ing extraordinary about him, with the exception of the deco
rations and dress already described, unless it might be his
remarkable countenance. The face of this Indian ordina
rily wore a thoughtful cast, an expression which it is not
unusual to meet with in a savage; though at times it lighted
up, as it might be with the heat of inward fires, like the
crater giving out its occasional flames beneath the hues of a
saddened atmosphere. One accustomed to study the human
face, and to analyze its expressions, would possibly have
discovered in that countenance lines of deep artifice, to
gether with the traces of a profound and constitutional en-


thusiasm. He was bent, at that very moment, on a scheme
worthy of the loftiest spirit living; the regeneration and
union of the people of his race, with a view to recover the
possessions they had yielded to the pale-faces; but it was a
project blended with the ferocity and revenge of a savage
noble while ferocious.

Not idly had the whites, scattered along that frontier,
given the sobriquet of " Scalping " to Peter. As his pole
now showed, it had been earned in a hundred scenes of
bloody vengeance; and so great had been his success, that
the warrior, prophet, and councillor, for all these characters
were united in his single person, began to think the attain
ment of his wishes possible. As a matter of course, much
ignorance of the power of the Anglo-Saxon race on this con
tinent was blended with these opinions and hopes; but it
was scarcely an ignorance exceeding that of certain persons
of far higher pretensions in knowledge, who live in another
hemisphere, and who often set themselves up as infallible
judges of all things connected with man and his attributes.
Peter, the " Tribeless," was not more in fault than those
who fancied they saw the power of this great republic in the
gallant little band collected at Corpus Christi, under its in
domitable chief, and who, march by march, nay, foot by
foot, as it might be, have perseveringly predicted the halt,
the defeat, the disasters, and final discomfiture, which it has
not yet pleased Divine Providence to inflict on this slight
effort of the young Hercules, as he merely moves in his cra
dle. Alas, the enemy that most menaces the overthrow of
this new and otherwise invincible exhibition of human force,
is within; seated in the citadel itself; and must be nar
rowly watched, or he will act his malignant purpose, and
destroy the fairest hopes that ever yet dawned on the for
tunes of the human race!

The conference between the chiefs lasted fully an hour.
Crowsfeather possessed much of the confidence of Peter,
and, as for Onoah, neither Tecumseh, nor his brother the


Prophet, commanded as much of the respect of Crowsfeather
as he did himself. Some even whispered that the " Tribe-
less " was the individual who lay behind all, and that the
others named merely acted as he suggested, or advised.
The reader will obtain all the insight into the future that it
is necessary now to give him, by getting a few of the re
marks made by the two colloquists, just before they joined
the rest of the party.

" My father, then, intends to lead his pale-faces on a
crooked path, and take their scalps when he has done with
them," said Crowsfeather, who had been gravely listening
to Peter s plans of future proceeding; "but who is to get
the scalp of the Chippewa? "

" One of my Pottawattamie young men ; but not until I
have made use of him. I have a medicine-priest of the
pale-faces and a warrior with me, but shall not put their
scalps on my pole until they have paddled me further. The
council is to be first held in the Oak Openings" we trans
late this term freely, that used by Peter meaning rather " the
open woods of the prairies" "and I wish to show my pris
oners to the chiefs, that they may see how easy it is to cut
off all the Yankees. I have now four men of that people,
and two squaws, in my power ; let every red man destroy as
many, and the land will soon be clear of them all! "

This was uttered with gleamings of ferocity in the speak
er s face, that rendered his countenance terrible. Even
Crowsfeather quailed a little before that fierce aspect; but
the whole passed away almost as soon as betrayed, and was
succeeded by a friendly and deceptive smile, that was char
acteristic of the wily Asiatic rather than of the aboriginal

"They cannot be counted," returned the Pottawattamie
chief, as soon as his restraint was a little removed by this
less terrific aspect of his companion, " if all I hear is true.
Blackbird says that even the squaws of the pale-faces are
numerous enough to overcome all the red men that remain."


" There will be two less, when I fasten to my pole the
scalps of those on the other side of the river," answered
Peter, with another of his transient, but startling gleams of
intense revenge. " But no matter, now : my brother knows
all I wish him to do. Not a hair of the head of any of
these pale-faces must be touched by any hand but mine.
When the time comes, the knife of Onoah is sure. The
Pottawattamies shall have their canoes, and can follow us
up the river. They will find us in the Openings, and near
the Prairie Round. They know the spot; for the red men
love to hunt the deer in that region. Now, go and tell this
to your young men; and tell them that corn will not grow,
nor the deer wait to be killed by any of your people, if they
forget to do as I have said. Vengeance shall come, when it
is time."

Crowsfeather communicated all this to his warriors, who
received it as the ancients received the words of their oracles.
Each member of the party endeavored to get an accurate
notion of his duty, in order that he might comply to the
very letter with the injunctions received. So profound was
the impression made among all the red men of the north
west by the previous labors of the " Tribeless " to awaken
a national spirit, and so great was their dread of the conse
quences of disobedience, that every warrior present felt as
if his life were the threatened penalty of neglect or disin
clination to obey.

No sooner, however, had Crowsfeather got through with
his communication, than a general request was made that
the problem of the whiskey-spring might be referred to
Onoah for solution. The young men had strong hopes, not
withstanding all that had passed, that this spring might yet
turn out to be a reality. The scent was still there, strong
and fragrant, and they could not get rid of the notion that
" fire-water " grew on that spot. It is true, their faith had
been somewhat disturbed by the manner in which the medi
cine-man had left them, and by his failure to draw forth the


gushing stream which he had impliedly promised, and in a
small degree performed; nevertheless little pools of whis
key had been found on the rock, and several had tasted and
satisfied themselves of the quality of the liquor. As is
usual, that taste had created a desire for more, a desire that
seldom slumbered on an Indian palate when strong drinks
were connected with its gratification.

Peter heard the request with gravity, and consented to
look into the matter with a due regard to his popularity and
influence. He had his own superstitious views, but among
them there did not happen to be one which admitted the
possibility of whiskey s running in a stream from the living
rock. Still he was willing to examine the charmed spot,
scent the fragrant odor, and make up his own estimate of
the artifices by which the bee-hunter had been practising on
the untutored beings into whose hand chance had thrown

While the young men eagerly pointed out the precise spots
where the scent was the strongest, Peter maintained the most
unmoved gravity. He did not kneel to smell the rocks, like
the other chiefs, for this an innate sense of propriety told
him would be undignified; but he made his observations
closely, and with a keen Indian-like attention to every little
circumstance that might aid him in arriving at the truth.
All this time, great was the awe and deep the admiration of
the lookers-on. Onoah had succeeded in creating a moral
power for himself among the Indians of the northwest which
much exceeded that of any other red man of that region.
The whites scarcely heard of him, knew but little of his ca
reer, and less of his true character, for both were shrouded
in mystery. There is nothing remarkable in this ignorance
of the pale-faces of the time. They did not understand
their own leaders; much less the leaders of the children of
the openings, the prairies, and the forest. At this hour,
what is really known by the mass of the American people of
the true characters of their public men? No nation that


has any claim to civilization and publicity knows less, and
for several very obvious reasons. The want of a capital in
which the intelligence of the nation periodically assembles
and whence a corrected public opinion en all such matters
ought constantly to flow, as truth emanates from the colli
sions of minds, is one of these reasons. The extent of the
country, which separates men by distances that no fact can
travel over without incurring the dangers of being perverted
on the road, is another. But the most fatal of all the influ
ences that tend to mislead the judgment of the American
citizen, is to be found in the abuse of a machinery that was
intended to produce an exactly contrary effect. If the tongue
was given to man to communicate ideas to his fellows, so
has philosophy described it as "a gift to conceal his
thoughts." If the press was devised to circulate truth, so
has it been changed into a means of circulating lies. One
is easily, nay, more easily, sent abroad on the four winds of
the heavens than the other. Truth requires candor, impar
tiality, honesty, research, and industry; but a falsehood,
whether designed or not, stands in need of neither. Of that
which is the most easily produced, the country gets the most;
and it were idle to imagine that a people who blindly and
unresistingly submit to be put, as it might be, under the
feet of falsehood, as respects all their own public men, can
ever get very accurate notions of those of other nations.

Thus was it with Onoah. His name was unknown to the
whites, except as a terrible and much-dreaded avenger of the
wrongs of his race. With the red men it was very different.
They had no "forked tongues" to make falsehood take the
place of truth; or if such existed they were not believed.
The Pottawattamies now present knew all about Tecumseh,*
of whom the whites had also various and ample accounts.
This Shawanee chief had long been active among them, and
his influence was extended far and near. He was a bold,
restless, and ingenious warrior; one, perhaps, who better

* A " tiger stooping for his prey."


understood the art of war, as it was practised among red
men, than any Indian then living. They knew the name
and person, also, of his brother Elkswatawa,* or the Proph
et, whose name has also become incorporated with the his
tories of the times. These two chiefs were very powerful,
though scarce dwelling regularly in any tribe; but their ori
gin, their careers, and their characters were known to all, as
were those of their common father, Pukeesheno,t and their
mother, Meethetaske.$ But with Onoah it was very differ
ent. With him the past was as much of a mystery as the
future. No Indian could say even of what tribe he was
born. The totem that he bore on his person belonged to
no people then existing on the continent, and all connected
wtth him, his history, nation, and family, was conjecture
and fancy.

It is said that the Indians have traditions which are com
municated only to a favored few, and which by them have
been transmitted from generation to generation. An en
lightened and educated red man has quite recently told us
in person, that he had been made the repository of some of
these traditions, and that he had thus obtained enough of
the history of his race to be satisfied that they were not de
rived from the lost tribes of Israel, though he declined com
municating any more. It is so natural to resort to secrecy
in order to extend influence, that we can have no difficulty
in believing the existence of the practice; there probably
being no other reason why Free Masonry or Odd Fellowship
should have recourse to such an expedient, but to rule
through the imagination in preference to the judgment.
Now Peter enjoyed all the advantages of mystery. It was
said that even his real name was unknown, that of Onoah
having been given in token of the many scalps he took, and
that of Wa-wa-nosh, which he also sometimes bore, having
been bestowed on him by adoption in consequence of an act

* "A door opened." t " I light from flying."

t" A turtle laying her e^fts in the sand."


of favor extended to him from an Ojebway of some note,
while that of Peter was clearly derived from the whites.
Some of his greatest admirers whispered that when the true
name of the u Tribeless " should get to be known, his origin,
early career, and all relating to him would at once become
familiar to every red man. At present, the Indians must
rest content with what they saw and understood. The wis
dom of Wa-wa-nosh made itself felt in the councils; his
eloquence no speaker has equalled for ages; as for his ven
geance on the enemies of his race, that was to be estimated
by the scalps he had taken. More than this no Indian was
to be permitted to know, until the mission of this oracle
and chief was completed.

Had one enlightened by the education of a civilized man
been there, to watch the movements and countenance of
Peter as he scented the whiskey, and looked in vain for the
cause of the odor, and for a clew to the mystery which so
much perplexed the Pottawattamies, he would probably have
discovered some reason to distrust the sincerity of this re
markable savage s doubts. If ever Peter was an actor, it
was on that occasion. He did not, in the least, fall into
any of the errors of his companions; but the scent a good
deal confounded him at first. At length he came to the
natural conclusion, that this unusual odor was in some way
connected with the family he had left on the other shore;
and from that moment his mind was at ease.

It did not suit the views of Peter, however, to explain to
the Pottawattamies that which was now getting to be so ob
vious to himself. On the contrary, he rather threw dust into
the eyes of the chiefs, with a view to bring them also under
the influence of superstition. After making his observa
tions with unmoved gravity, he promised a solution of the
whole affair when they should again meet in the Openings,
and proposed >to recross the river. Before quitting the
shore Peter and Crowsfeather had a clear understanding on
the subject of their respective movements; and, as soon as


the former began to paddle up against the wind, the latter
called his young men together, made a short address, and
led them into the woods, as if about to proceed on a march
of length. The party, notwithstanding, did not proceed
more than a mile and a half, when it came to a halt, and
lighted a fire in order to cook some venison taken on the

When Peter reached the south shore, he found the whole
group assembled to receive him. His tale was soon told.
He had talked with the Pottawattamies, and they were
gone. The canoes, however, must be carried to the other
shore and left there, in order that their owners might re
cover their property when they returned. This much had
Peter promised, and his pale-face friends must help him to
keep his word. Then he pointed to the Openings as to their
place of present safety. There they would be removed from
all immediate danger, and he would accompany them and
give them the countenance and protection of his name and
presence. As for going south on the the lake, that was im
possible, so long as the wind lasted, and it was useless
even could it be done. The troops had all left Chicago,
and the fort was destroyed.

Parson Amen and Corporal Flint, both of whom were
completely deluded by Peter, fancying him a secret friend
of the whites, in consequence of his own protestations to
that effect and the service he had already rendered them,
in appearance at least, instantly acquiesced in this wily sav
age s proposal. It was the best, the wisest, nay, the only
thing that now could be done. Mackinaw was gone, as
well as Chicago, and Detroit must be reached by crossing
the peninsula, instead of taking the easier but far more cir
cuitous route of the lakes. Gershom was easily enough
persuaded into the belief of the feasibility, as well as of
the necessity, of this deviation from his original road, and
he soon agreed to accompany the party.

With le Bourdon the case was different. He understood


himself and the wilderness. For him the wind was fair,
and there was no necessity for his touching at Mackinaw at
all. It is true, he usually passed several days on that
pleasant and salubrious island, and frequently disposed of
lots of honey there; but he could dispense with the visit
and the sales. There was certainly danger now to be ap
prehended from the Ottawas, who would be very apt to be
out on the lake after this maritime excursion against the
fort; but it was possible even to elude their vigilance. In
a word, the bee-hunter did not believe in the prudence of
returning to the Openings, but thought it by far the wisest
for the whole party to make the best of its way by water to
the settlements. All this he urged warmly on his white
companions, taking them aside for that purpose, and leav
ing Peter and Pigeonswing together while he did so.

But Parson Amen would as soon have believed that his
old congregation in Connecticut was composed of Philis
tines, as not to believe that the red men were the lost
tribes, and that Peter, in particular, was not especially and
elaborately described in the Old Testament. He had be
come so thoroughly possessed by this crotchet as to pervert
everything that he saw, read, or heard, into evidence, of
some sort or other, of the truth of his notions. In this re
spect there was nothing peculiar in the good missionary s
weakness, it being a failing common to partisans of a
theory, to discover proofs of its truths in a thousand things
in which indifferent persons can find even no connection
with the subject at all. In this frame of mind the mission
ary would as soon think of letting go his hold on the Bible
itself, as think of separating from an Indian who might
turn out any day to be a direct representative of Abraham,
and Isaac, and Jacob. Not to speak irreverently, but to
use language that must be familiar to all, the well-meaning
missionary wished to be in at the death.

Corporal Flint, too, had great faith in Peter. It was a
part of the scheme of the savage to make this straightfor-


ward soldier an instrument in placing many scalps in his
power ; and though he had designed from the first to exe
cute his bloody office on the corporal himself, he did not
intend to do so until he had made the most of him as a
stool-pigeon. Here were four more pale-faces thrown in
his power, principally by means of the confidence he had
awakened in the minds of the missionary and the soldier;
and that same confidence might be made instrumental in
adding still more to the number. Peter was a sagacious,
even a far-seeing savage, but he labored under the curse of
ignorance. Had his information been of a more extended
nature, he would have seen the utter fallacy of his project
to destroy the pale-faces altogether, and most probably
would have abandoned it.

It is a singular fact that, while such men as Tecumseh,
his brother the Prophet, and Peter, were looking forward to
the downfall of the republic on the side of the forest, so
many, who ought to have been better informed on such a
subject, were anxiously expecting, nay confidently predict
ing it, from beyond the Atlantic. Notwithstanding these
sinister soothsayers, the progress of the nation has, by a
beneficent Providence, been onward and onward, until it is
scarcely presumptuous to suppose that even England has
abandoned the expectation of classing this country again
among her dependencies. The fortunes of America, under
God, depend only on herself. America may destroy Amer
ica; of that there is danger; but it is pretty certain that
Europe united could make no serious impression on her.
Favored by position, and filled with a population that we
have ever maintained was one of the most military in exist
ence, a truth that recent events are hourly proving to be
true, it much exceeds the power of all the enemies of her in
stitutions to make any serious impression on her. There is
an enemy who may prove too much for her; it exists in her
bosom ; and God alone can keep him in subjection, and re
press his desolation.


These were facts, however, of which Wa-wa-nosh, or
Onoah, was as ignorant as if he were an English or French
minister of state, and had got his notions of the country
from English or French travellers, who wished for what
they predicted. He had heard of the towns and population
of the republic; but one gets a very imperfect notion of any
fact of this sort by report, unless previous experience has
prepared the mind to make the necessary comparisons,
and fitted it to receive the images intended to be conveyed.
No wonder, then, that Peter fell into a mistake common to
those who had so many better opportunities of forming just
opinions, and of arriving at truths that were sufficiently
obvious to all who did not wilfully shut their eyes to their


Hearest thou voices on the shore
That our ears perceive no more,
Deafened by the cataract s roar ?

Bear, through sorrow, wrong, and ruth.
In thy heart the dew of youth,
On thy lips the smile of truth.


FROM all that has been stated, the reader will, probably,
be prepared to learn that Boden did not succeed in his
effort to persuade Gershom, and the other Christians, to
accompany him on his voyage round by Lake Huron. Cor
poral Flint was obdurate, and Parson Amen confiding. As
for Gershom, he did not like the thought of retracing his

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 16 of 41)