James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

. (page 23 of 41)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 23 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


know. They think the earth is flat, but the pale-faces know
that it is round. He who travels and travels toward the
setting sun would come to this very spot, if he travelled
long enough. The distance would be great, but the end of
every straight path in this world is the place of starting."

" My brother says this. He says many curious things. I
have heard a medicine-man of his people say that the pale
faces have seen their Great Spirit, talked with him, walked
with him. It is not so with us Indians. Our Manitou
speaks to us in thunder only. We are ignorant, and wish to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 279

learn more than we now know. Has my brother ever
travelled on that path which ends where it begins? Once,
on the prairies, I lost my way. There was snow, and glad
was I to find tracks. I followed the tracks. But one
traveller had passed. After walking an hour, two had
passed. Another hour, and the three had passed. Then I
saw the tracks were my own, and that I had been walking,
as the squaws reason, round and round, but not going
ahead."

" I understand my friend, but he is wrong. It is no mat
ter which path the lost tribes travelled to get here. The
main question is, whether they came at all. I see in the
red men, in their customs, their history, their looks, and
even in their traditions, proof that they are these Jews, once
the favored people of the Great Spirit."

" If the Manitou so well loves the Indians, why has he
permitted the pale-faces to take away their hunting-grounds?
Why has he made the red man poor, and the white man rich?
Brother, I am afraid your tradition is a lying tradition, or
these things would not be so."

" It is not given to men to understand the wisdom that
cometh from above. That which seemeth so strange to us
may be right. The lost tribes had offended God; and their
scattering, and captivity, and punishment, are but so many
- proofs of his displeasure. But, if lost, we have reason to
believe that one day they will be found. Yes, my children,
it will be the pleasure of the Great Spirit, one day, to re
store you to the land of your fathers, and make you again,
what you once were, a great and glorious people! "

As the well-meaning but enthusiastic missionary spoke
with great fervor, the announcement of such an event, com
ing as it did from one whom they respected, even while they
could not understand him, did not fail to produce a deep
sensation. If their fortunes were really the care of the
Great Spirit, and justice was to be done to them by his love
and wisdom, then would the projects of Peter, and those



2 SO THE OAK OPENINGS.

who acted and felt with him, be unnecessary, and might
lead to evil instead of to good. That sagacious savage did
not fail to discover this truth; and he now believed it might
be well for him to say a word, in order to lessen the influ
ence Parson Amen might otherwise obtain among those
whom it was his design to mould in a way entirely to meet
his own wishes. So intense was the desire of this mysteri
ous leader to execute vengeance on the pale-faces, that the
redemption of the tribes from misery and poverty, unaccom
panied by this part of his own project, would have given
him pain in lieu of pleasure. His very soul had got to be
absorbed in this one notion of retribution, and of annihila
tion for the oppressors of his race; and he regarded all
things through a medium of revenge, thus created by his
feelings, much as the missionary endeavored to bend every
fact and circumstance, connected with the Indians, to the
support of his theory touching their Jewish origin.

When Peter arose, therefore, fierce and malignant pas
sions were at work in his bosom; such as a merciful and a
benignant deity never wishes to see in the breast of man,
whether civilized or savage. The self-command of the
Tribeless, however, was great, and he so far succeeded in
suppressing the volcano that was raging within, as to
speak with his usual dignity and an entire calmness of
exterior.

" My brothers have heard what the medicine-man had to
say," Peter commenced. " He has told them that which
was new to them. He has told them an Indian is not an
Indian. That a red man is a pale-face, and that we are not
what we thought we were. It is good to learn. It makes
the difference between the wise and the foolish. The pale
faces learn more than the red-skins. That is the way they
have learned how to get our hunting-grounds. That is the
way they have learned to build their villages on the spots
where our fathers killed the deer. That is the way they
have learned how to come and tell us that we are not In-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 28 1

dians, but Jews. I wish to learn. Though old, my mind
craves to know more. That I may know more, I will ask
this medicine-man questions, and my brothers can open
their ears, and learn a little, too, by what he answers. Per
haps we shall believe that we are not red-skins, but pale
faces. Perhaps we shall believe that our true hunting-
grounds are not near the great lakes of sweet water, but
under the rising sun. Perhaps we shall wish to go home,
and to leave these pleasant openings for the pale-faces to
put their cabins on them, as the small-pox that they have
also given to us, puts its sores on our bodies. Brother "
turning toward the missionary " listen. You say we are
no longer Indians, but Jews: is this true of all red men, or
only of the tribes whose chiefs are here?"

" Of all red men, as I most sincerely believe. You are
now red, but once all of your people were fairer than the
fairest of the pale-faces. It is climate, and hardships, and
sufferings that have changed your color."

" If suffering can do that" returned Peter, with emphasis,
" I wonder we are not black. When all our hunting-grounds
are covered with the farms of your people, I think we shall
be black. n

Signs of powerful disgust were now visible among the
listeners, an Indian having much of the contempt that seems
to weigh so heavily on that unfortunate class, for all of the
color mentioned. At the south, as is known, the red man
has already made a slave of the descendants of the children
of Africa, but no man has ever yet made a slave of a son of
the American forests! That is a result which no human
power has yet been able to accomplish. Early in the set
tlement of the country, attempts were indeed made, by send
ing a few individuals to the islands; but so unsuccessful
did the experiment turn out to be, that the design was soon
abandoned. Whatever may be his degradation, and poverty,
and ignorance, and savage ferocity, it would seem to be the
settled purpose of the American Indians of our own terri-



282 THE OAK OPENINGS.

tories unlike the aborigines who are to be found farther
south to live and die free men.

" My children," answered the missionary, " I pretend not
to say what will happen, except as it has been told to us in
the word of God. You know that we pale-faces have a
book, in which the Great Spirit has told us his laws, and
foretold to us many of the things that are to happen.
Some of these things have happened, while some remain to
happen. The loss of the ten tribes was foretold, and has
happened; but their being Jound again, has not yet hap
pened, unless indeed I am so blessed as to be one of those
who have been permitted to meet them in these open
ings. Here is the book it goes where I go, and is my
companion and friend, by day and by night; in good and
evil; in season and out of season. To this book I cling
as to my great anchor, that is to carry me through the
storms in safety! Every line in it is precious; every word
true!"

Perhaps half the chiefs present had seen books before,
while those who now laid eyes on one for the first time, had
heard of this art of the pale-faces, which enabled them to
set down their traditions in a way peculiar to themselves.
Even the Indians have their records, however, though resort
ing to the use of natural signs, and a species of hieroglyphics,
in lieu of the more artistical process of using words and
letters, in a systemized written language. The Bible, too,
was a book of which all had heard, more or less; though not
one of those present had ever been the subject of its influ
ence. A Christian Indian, indeed and a few of those
were to be found even at that day would hardly have at
tended a council convened for the objects which had caused
this to be convened. Still, a strong but regulated curiosity
existed, to see, and touch, and examine the great medicine-
book of the pale-faces. There was a good deal of supersti
tion blended with the Indian manner of regarding the
sacred volume; some present having their doubts about



THE OAK OPENINGS. 283

touching it, even while most excited by admiration, and a
desire to probe its secrets.

Peter took the little volume, which the missionary ex
tended as if inviting any one who might so please, to ex
amine it also. It was the first time the wary chief had ever
suffered that mysterious book to touch him. Among his
other speculations on the subject of the manner in which
the white men were encroaching, from year to year, on the
lands of the natives, it had occurred to his mind that this
extraordinary volume, which the pale-faces all seemed to
reverence, even to the drunkards of the garrisons, might
contain the great elements of their power. Perhaps he was
not very much out of the way in this supposition ; though
they who use the volume habitually, are not themselves
aware, one-half the time, why it is so.

On the present occasion, Peter saw the great importance
of not betraying apprehension, and he turned over the pages
awkwardly, as one would be apt to handle a book for the
first time, but boldly and without hesitation. Encouraged
by the impunity that accompanied this hardihood, Peter
shook the leaves open, and held the volume on high, in a
way that told his own people that he cared not for its
charms or power. There was more of seeming than of truth,
however, in this bravado; for never before had this extra
ordinary being made so heavy a draft on his courage and
self-command, as in the performance of this simple act.
He did not, could not know what were the virtues of the
book, and his imagination very readily suggested the worst.
As the great medicine-volume of the pale-faces, it was quite
likely to contain that which was hostile to the red men ; and
this fact, so probable to his eyes, rendered it likely that
some serious evil to himself might follow from the contact.
It did not, however; and a smile of grim satisfaction lighted
his swarthy countenance, as, turning to the missionary, he
said with point

" Let my brother open his eyes. I have looked into his



284 THE OAK OPENINGS.

medicine-book, but do not see that the red man is anything
but a red man. The Great Spirit made him ; and what the
Great Spirit makes, lasts. The pale-faces have made their
book, and it lies."

" No, no Peter, Peter, thou utterest wicked words. But
the Lord will pardon thee, since thou knowest not what thou
sayest. Give me the sacred volume, that I may place it
next my heart, where I humbly trust so many of its divine
precepts are already entrenched."

This was said in English, under the impulse of feeling,
but being understood by Peter, the latter quietly relin
quished the Bible, preparing to follow up the advantage he
perceived he had gained, on the spot.

" My brother has his medicine-book, again," said Peter,
" and the red men live. This hand is not withered like the
dead branch of the hemlock; yet it has held his word of the
Great Spirit! It may be that a red-skin and a pale-face book
cannot do each other harm. I looked into my brother s
great charm, but did not see or hear a tradition that tells
me we are Jews. There is a bee-hunter in these openings.
I have talked with him. He has told me who these Jews
are. He says they are people who do not go with the pale
faces, but live apart from them, like men with the small
pox. It is not right for my brother to come among the red
men, and tell them that their fathers were not good enough
to live, and eat, and go on the same paths as his fathers."

"This is all a mistake, Peter a great and dangerous
mistake. The bee-hunter has heard the Jews spoken of by
those who do not sufficiently read the good book. They
have been, and are still, the chosen people of the Great
Spirit, and will one day be received back to his favor.
Would that I were one of them, only enlightened by the
words of the New Testament! No real Christian ever can,
or does now despise a son of Israel, whatever has been done
in times past. It is an honor, and not a disgrace, to be
what I have said my friends are."



THE OAK OPENINGS. 28$

" If this be so, why do not the pale-faces let us keep our
hunting-grounds to ourselves? We are content. We do
not wish to be Jews. Our canoes are too small to cross the
great salt lake. They are hardly large enough to cross the
great lakes of sweet water. We should be tired of paddling
so far. My brother says there is a rich land under the ris
ing sun, which the Manitou gave to the red men. Is this
so?"

"Beyond all doubt. It was given to the children of
Israel, for a possession forever; and though you have been
carried away from it for a time, there the land still is, open
to receive you, and waiting the return of its ancient mas
ters. In good season that return must come; for we have
the word of God for it, in our Christian Bible."

"Let my brother open his ears very wide, and hear what
I have to say. We thank him for letting us know that we
are Jews. We believe that he thinks what he says. Still,
we think we are red men, and In j ins, and not Jews. We
never saw the place where the sun rises. We do not wish
to see it. Our hunting-grounds are nearer to the place
where he sets. If the pale-faces believe we have a right to
that distant land, which is so rich in good things, we will
give it to them, and keep these openings, and prairies, and
woods. We know the game of this country, and have found
out how to kill it. We do not know the game under the
rising sun, which may kill us. Go to your friends and say,
The In j ins will give you that land near the rising sun,
if you will let them alone on their hunting-grounds, where
they have so long been. They say that your canoes are
larger than their canoes, and that one can carry a whole
tribe. They have seen some of your big canoes on the
great lakes, and have measured them. Fill all you have
got with your squaws and pappooses, put your property in
them, and go back by the long path through which you
came. Then will the red man thank the pale-face and be
his friend. The white man is welcome to that far-off land.



286 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Let him take it, and build his villages on it, and cut down
its trees. This is all the Injins ask. If the pale-faces can
take away with them the small-pox and the fire-water, it will
be better still. They brought both into this country, it is
right that they should take them away. Will my brother
tell this to his people? "

" It would do no good. They know that the land of Judea
is reserved by God for his chosen people, and they are not
Jews. None but the children of Israel can restore that land
to its ancient fertility. It would be useless for any other
to attempt it. Armies have been there, and it was once
thought that a Christian kingdom was set up on the spot;
but neither the time nor the people had come. Jews alone
can make Judea what it was, and what it will be again. If
my people owned that land, they could not use it. There
are also too many of us now, to go away in canoes."

"Did not the fathers of the pale-faces come in canoes? "
demanded Peter, a little sternly.

"They did; but since that time their increase has been
so great, that canoes enough to hold them could not be
found. No; the Great Spirit, for his own wise ends, has
brought my people hither; and here must they remain to
the end of time. It is not easy to make the pigeons fly
south in the spring. 7

This declaration, quietly but distinctly made, as it was
the habit of the missionary to speak, had its effect. It told
Peter, and those with him, as plainly as language could tell
them, that there was no reason to expect the pale-faces
would ever willingly abandon the country, and seemed the
more distinctly, in all their uninstructed minds, to place the
issue on the armed hand. It is not improbable that some
manifestation of feeling would have escaped the circle, had
not an interruption to the proceedings occurred, which put a
stop to all other emotions but those peculiar to the lives of
savages.



THE OAK OPENINGS.



CHAPTER XVIII.

Nearer the mount stood Moses : in his hand

The rod which blasted with strange plagues the realm

Of Misraim, and from its time-worn channels

Upturned the Arabian sea. Fair was his broad

High front, and forth from his soul-piercing eye

Did legislation look ; which full he fixed

Upon the blazing panoply undazzled.

HlLLHOUSK.

IT often happens in the recesses of the wilderness, that,
in the absence of men, the animals hunt each other. The
wolves, in particular, following their instincts, are often
seen in packs, pressing upon the heels of the antelope, deer,
and other creatures of that family, which depend for safety
more on their speed than on their horns. On the present
occasion, a fine buck, with a pack of fifty wolves close after
it, came bounding through the narrow gorge that contained
the rill, and entered the amphitheatre of the bottom-land.
Its headlong career was first checked by the sight of the
fire; then arose a dark circle of men, each armed and accus
tomed to the chase. In much less time than it has taken
to record the fact, that little piece of bottom-land was
crowded with wolves, deer, and men. The headlong im
petuosity of the chase and flight had prevented the scent
from acting, and all were huddled together, for a single in
stant, in a sort of inextricable confusion. Brief as was this
melee, it sufficed to allow of a young hunter s driving his
arrow through the heart of the buck, and enabled others
among the Indians to kill several of the wolves; some with
arrows, others with knives, etc. No rifle was used, prob
ably from a wish not to give an alarm.

The wolves were quite as much astonished at this unex
pected rencontre, as the Indians. They were not a set of
hungry and formidable beasts, that famine might urge to



288 THE OAK OPENINGS.

any pass of desperation; but a pack hunting, like gentle
men, for their own amusement. Their headlong speed was
checked less by the crowd of men, than by the sight of fire.
In their impetuosity, it is probable that they would have
gone clean through five hundred men, but no wild beast will
willingly encounter fire. Three or four of the chiefs, aware
of this dread, seized brands, and throwing themselves, with
out care, into the midst of the pack, the animals went howl
ing off, scattering in all directions. Unfortunately for its
own welfare, one went directly through the circle, plunged
into the thicket beyond, and made its way quite up to the
fallen tree, on which the bee-hunter and the corporal had
taken their stations. This was altogether too much for the
training, or for the philosophy of Hive. Perceiving a rec
ognized enemy rushing toward him, that noble mastiff met
him in a small cleared spot, open-mouthed, and for a few
moments a fierce combat was the consequence. Dogs and
wolves do not fight in silence, and loud were the growls and
yells on this occasion. In vain did le Bourdon endeavor
to drag his mastiff off; the animal was on the high-road to
victory, when it is ever hard to arrest the steps of the com
batant. Almost as a matter of course, some of the chiefs
rushed toward the spot, when the presence of the two spec
tators first became known to them. At the next moment
the wolf lay dead at the feet of Hive; and the parties stood
gazing at each other, equally taken by surprise, and equally
at a loss to know what to do next.

It was perhaps fortunate for the bee-hunter, that neither
Crowsfeather, nor any other of the Pottawattamies, was
present at this first rencontre, or he might have fallen on
the spot, a victim to their disappointed hopes of drinking at
a whiskey-spring. The chiefs present were strangers to le
Bourdon, and they stared at him, in a way to show that his
person was equally unknown to them. But it was necessary,
now, to follow the Indians back to their circle, where the
whole party soon collected again, the wolves having gone



THE OAK OPENINGS. 289

off on their several routes, to put up some other animal, and
run him to death.

During the whole of that excited and tumultuous scene,
which would probably now be termed a "stampede" in the
Mexican-Americo- English of the day, Peter had not stirred.
Familiar with such occurrences, he felt the importance of
manifesting an unmoved calm, as a quality most likely to
impress the minds of his companions with a profound sense
of his dignity and self-command. While all around him
was in a tumult, he stood in his tracks, motionless as a
statue. Even the fortitude of the worthy missionary was
shaken by the wild tempest that momentarily prevailed;
and the good man forgot the Jews in his alarm at wolves,
forgot the mighty past in his apprehensions for the uncom
fortable and ill-boding present time. All this, however, was
soon over, and order, and quiet, and a dignified calm once
more reigned in the circle. Fagots were thrown on the fire;
and the two captives, or spectators, stood as near it, the
observed of all observers, as the heat rendered comfortable.
It was just then that Crowsfeather and his companions first
recognized the magician of the whiskey-spring.

Peter saw the discovery of the two spectators with some
uneasiness. The time had not come when he intended to
strike his blow; and he had seen signs among those Potta-
wattamies, when at the mouth of the river, which had told
him how little they were disposed to look with favor on one
who had so grievously trifled with their hopes. His first
care, therefore, was to interpose his authority and influence
between le Bourdon and any project of revenge, which
Crowsfeather s young men might be apt to devise, as soon
as they, too, laid eyes on the offender. This was done in a
characteristic and wily manner.

" Does my brother love honey? " asked the tribeless chief
of the leader of the Pottawattamies present, who sat near
him, gazing on le Bourdon much as the cat looks upon the
mouse, ere it makes it its prey. " Some In j ins are fond of



THE OAK OPENINGS.

that sweet food : if my brother is one of that sort, I can tell
him how to fill his wigwam with honey with little trouble."

At this suggestion, coming from such a source, Crows-
feather could not do less than express his thanks, and his
readiness to hear what further might be in reserve for him.
Peter then alluded to le Bourdon s art, describing him as
being the most skilful bee-hunter of the West. So great
was his art in that way, that no Indian had ever yet seen
his equal. It was Peter s intention to make him exercise
his craft soon, for the benefit of the chiefs and warriors
present, who might then return to their village, carrying
with them stores of honey to gladden the hearts of their
squaws and pappooses. This artifice succeeded; for the
Indians are not expert in taking this article of food, which
so much abounds in the forests, both on account of the
difficulty they find in felling the trees, and on account of
the " angle-ing " part of the process, which much exceeds
their skill in mathematics. On the other hand, the last is
just the sort of skill a common white American would be
likely to manifest, his readiness and ingenuity in all such
processes almost amounting to an instinct.

Having thus thrown his mantle around le Bourdon for
the moment, Peter then deemed it the better course to fin
ish the historical investigation in which the council had
been so much interested, when the strange interruption by
the wolves occurred. With this view, therefore, he rose
himself, and recalled the minds of all present to this inter
esting subject, by a short speech. This he did, especially
to prevent any premature attack on the person of le Bour
don.

" Brothers," said this mysterious chief, " it is good for In-
jins to learn. When they learn a thing, they know it; then
they may learn another. It is in this way that the pale
faces do; it makes them wise, and puts it in their power to
take away our hunting-grounds. A man that knows noth
ing is only a child that has grown up too fast. He may be



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 23 of 41)