James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

. (page 24 of 41)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 24 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE OAK OPENINGS.

big may take long steps may be strong enough to carry
burdens may love venison and buffaloes humps; but his
size is only in the way; his steps he does not know where
to direct; his burdens he does not know how to choose; and
he has to beg food of the squaws, instead of carrying it him
self to their wigwams. He has not learned how to take
game. We must all learn. It is right. When we have
learned how to take game, and how to strike the enemy, and
how to keep the wigwam filled, then we may learn tradi
tions. Traditions tell us of our fathers. We have many
traditions. Some are talked of, even to the squaws. Some
are told around the fires of the tribes. Some are known
only to the aged chiefs. This is right, too. Injins ought
not to say too much, nor too little. They should say what
is wise what is best. But my brother, the medicine-man
of the pale-faces, says that our traditions have not told us
everything. Something has been kept back. If so, it is
best to learn that too. If we are Jews, and not Injins, we
ought to know it. If we are Injins, and not Jews, our
brother ought to know it, and not call us by a wrong name.
Let him speak. We listen."

Here Peter slowly resumed his seat. As the missionary
understood all that had been said, he next arose, and pro
ceeded to make good, as far as he was able, and in such
language as his knowledge of Indian habits suggested, his
theory of the lost tribes.

"I wish my children to understand," resumed the mis
sionary, " that it is an honor to be a Jew. I have not come
here to lessen the red men in their own eyes, but to do them
honor. I see that Bear s Meat wishes to say something; my
ears are open, and my tongue is still."

" I thank my brother for the opportunity to say what is on
my mind," returned the chief mentioned. " It is true I have
something to say ; it is this : I wish to ask the medicine-man
if the pale-faces honor and show respect to the Jews? "

This was rather an awkward question for the missionary,



THE OAK OPENINGS.

but he was much too honest to dissemble. With a rever
ence for truth that proceeded from his reverence for the
Father of all that is true, he replied honestly, though not
altogether without betraying how much he regretted the
necessity of answering at all. Both remained standing
while the dialogue proceeded; or in parliamentary lan
guage, each may be said to have had the floor at the same
time.

" My brother wishes to know if the pale-faces honor the
Jews," returned the missionary. " I wish I could answer
* yes ; but the truth forces me to say * no. The pale-faces
have traditions that make against the Jews, and the judg
ments of God weigh heavy on the children of Israel. But
all good Christians, now, look with friendly eyes on this
dispersed and persecuted people, and wish them well. It
will give the white men very great pleasure to learn that I
have found the lost tribes of Israel in the red men of
America."

"Will my brother tell us why this will give his people
pleasure? Is it because they will be glad to find old ene
mies, poor, living on narrow hunting-grounds, off which the
villages and farms of the pale-faces begin to push them still
nearer to the setting sun; and toward whom the small-pox
has found a path to go, but none to come from ? "

" Nay, nay, Bear s Meat, think not so unkindly of us of
the white race! In crossing the great salt lake, and in
coming to this quarter of the world, our fathers were led by
the finger of God. We do but obey the will of the Great
Spirit, in pressing forward into this wilderness, directed by
his wisdom how to spread the knowledge of his name among
those who, as yet, have never heard it; or, having heard,
have not regarded it. In all this, the wisest men are but
babes; not being able to say whither they are to go, or what
is to be done."

"This is strange," returned the unmoved Indian. "It is
not so with the red men. Our squaws and pappooses do



THE OAK OPENINGS. 2Q3

know the hunting-ground of one tribe from the hunting-
ground of another. When they put their feet on strange
hunting-grounds, it is because they intended to go there,
and to steal game. This is sometimes right. If it is
right to take the scalp of an enemy, it is right to get his
deer and his buffalo, too. But we never do this without
knowing it. If we did, we should be unfit to go at large,
unfit to sit in council. This is the first time I have heard
that the pale-faces are so weak, and they have such feeble
minds, too, that they do not know where they go."

" My brother does not understand me. No man can see
into the future no man can say what will happen to-mor
row. The Great Spirit only can tell. It is for him, then,
to guide his children in their wanderings. When our
fathers first came out of their canoes upon the land, on this
side of the great salt lake, not one among them knew any
thing of this country between the great lakes of sweet water.
They did not know that red men lived here. The Great
Spirit did know, and intended then, that I should this night
stand up in this council, and speak of his power and of his
name, and do him reverence. It was the Great Spirit that
put it into my mind to come among the Indians; and it is
the Great Spirit who has led me, step by step, as warriors
move toward the graves of their fathers, to make the dis
covery, that the Indians are, in truth, the children of Israel,
a part of his own chosen and once much-favored people.
Let me ask my friends one or two questions. Do not your
traditions say that your fathers once came from a far-off
land?"

Bear s Meat now took his seat, not choosing to answer a
question of this nature, in the presence of a chief so much
respected as Peter. He preferred to let the last take up the
dialogue where he now saw fit to abandon it. As the other
very well understood the reason of this sudden movement,
he quietly assumed the office of spokesman ; the whole
affair proceeding much as if there had been no change.



294 THE OAK OPENINGS.

" Our traditions do tell us that our fathers came from a
far-off land," answered Peter, without rising.

"I thought so! I thought so!" exclaimed the simple-
minded and confiding missionary. " How wonderful are
the ways of God ! Yes, my brother, Judea is a far-off land,
and your traditions say that your fathers came from such a
distance! This, then, is something proved. Do not your
traditions say, that once your tribes were more in favor with
the Great Spirit than they are now? "

" Our traditions do say this : once our tribes did not see
the face of the Manitou looking dark upon them, as it now
does. That was before the pale-faces came in their big
canoes, across the great salt lake, to drive the Indians from
their hunting-grounds. It was when the small-pox had not
found the path to their villages. When fire-water was un
known to them, and no Indian had ever burned his throat
with it."

" Oh, but I speak of a time much more distant than that.
Of a time when your prophets stood face to face with God,
and talked with the Creator. Since that day a great change
has come over your people. Then your color was light, like
that of the fairest and handsomest of the Circassian race;
now, it has become red. When even the color is changed,
it is not wonderful that men should no longer be the same
in other particulars. Yes; once all the races of men were
of the same color and origin."

" This is not what our traditions say. We have heard
from our fathers that the Great Spirit made men of different
colors; some he made light, like the pale-faces; some red,
like the Injins; some black, like the pale-faces slaves. To
some he gave high noses; to some low noses: to some flat
noses. To the pale-faces he gave eyes of many colors.
This is the reason why they see so many things, and in so
many different ways. To the red men he gave eyes of the
same color, and they always see things of the same color.
To a red man there is no change. Our fathers have always



THE OAK OPENINGS. 2Q5

been red. This we know. If them Jews, of whom my
brother speaks, were ever white, they have not been our
fathers. We tell this to the medicine-man, that he may
know it, too. We do not wish to lead him on a crooked
path, or to speak to him with a forked tongue. What we
have said, is so. Now, the road is open to the wigwam of
the pale-faces, and we wish them safe on their journey
home. We In j ins have a council to hold around this fire,
and will stay longer."

At this plain intimation that their presence was no longer
desirable, it became necessary for them to depart. - The
missionary, filled with zeal, was reluctant to go, for, in his
eyes, the present communications with the savages promised
him not only the conversion of pagans, but the restoration
of the Jews! Nevertheless, he was compelled to comply;
and when le Bourdon and the corporal took their departure,
he turned, and pronounced in solemn tone the Christian
benediction on the assembly. The meaning of this last
impressive office was understood by most of the chiefs, and
they rose as one man, in acknowledgment.

The three white men, on retiring from the circle, held
their way toward Castle Meal. Hive followed his master,
having come out of the combat but little injured. As they
got to a point where a last look could be had of the bottom
land of the council, each turned to see what was now in the
course of proceeding. The fire glimmered just enough to
show the circlet of dark faces, but not an Indian spoke or
moved. There they all sat, patiently waiting for the mo
ment when the " strangers " might " withdraw " to a suffi
cient distance, to permit them to proceed with their own
private affairs without fear of interruption.

"This has been to me a most trying scene," observed the
missionary, as the three pursued their way toward the garri
son. " How hard it is to convince men against their wishes.
Now, I am as certain as a man can be, that every one of
these In j ins is in fact a Jew; and yet, you have seen how



296 THE OAK OPENINGS.

small has been my success in persuading them to be of the
right way of thinking, on this subject."

" I have always noticed that men stick even to their de
fects, when they re nat ral," returned the bee-hunter.
" Even a nigger will stand up for his color, and why should
n t an Injin? You began wrong, parson. Had you just
told these chiefs that they were Jews, they might have stood
that, poor creatures, for they hardly know how mankind
looks upon a Jew; but you went to work to skin them, in a
lump, making so many poor, wishy-washy pale-faces of all
the red-skins, in a body. You and I may fancy a white face
better than one of any other color; but nature colors the eye
when it colors the body, and there s not a nigger in America
who doesn t think black the pink of beauty."

" Perhaps it was proceeding too fast to say anything about
the change of color, Bourdon. But what can a Christian
minister do, unless he tell the truth? Adam could have
been but of one color; and all the races on earth, one ex-
cepted, must have changed from that one color."

"Aye, and my life on it, that all the races on arth believe
that one color to have been just that which has fallen to the
luck of each partic lar shade. Hang me if I should like
to be persuaded out of my color, any more than these In j ins.
In America, color goes for a great deal ; and it may count
for as much with an Injin as among us whites. No, no,
parson ; you should have begun with persuading these sav
ages into the notion that they re Jews; if you could get
along with that, the rest might be all the easier."

"You speak of the Jews, not as if you considered them a
chosen people of the Lord, but as a despised and hateful
race. This is not right, Bourdon. I know that Christians
are thus apt to regard them; but it does not tell well for
their charity or their knowledge."

v " I know very little about them, Parson Amen ; not being
certain of ever having seen a Jew in my life. Still, I will
own that I have a sort of grudge against them, though I can



THE OAK OPENINGS.

hardly tell you why. Of one thing I feel certain no man
breathing should ever persuade me into the notion that I m
a Jew, lost or found; ten tribes or twenty. What say you,
corporal, to this idea? "

" Just as you say, Bourdon. Jews, Turks, and infidels, I
despise: so was I brought up, and so I shall remain."

" Can either of you tell me why you look in this unchari
table light, on so many of your fellow-creatures? It cannot
be Christianity, for such are not its teachings or feelings.
Nor is either of you very remarkable for his observance of
the laws of God, as they have been revealed to Christian
people. My heart yearns toward these Injins, who are in
fidels, instead of entertaining any of the feelings that the
corporal has just expressed."

" I wish there were fewer of them, and that them few were
farther from Castle Meal," put in le Bourdon, with point.
" I have known all along that Peter meant to have a great
council ; but will own, now that I have seen something of
it, I do not find it quite as much to my mind as I had ex
pected it would be."

"There s a strong force on em," said the corporal, "and
a hard set be they to look at. When a man s a young sol
dier, all this paint, and shaving of heads, and rings in noses
and ears, makes some impression; but a campaign or two
ag in the fellows soon brings all down to one color and one
uniform, if their naked hides can be so called. I told em
off, Bourdon, and reconn itred em pretty well, while they
was a making speeches; and, in my judgment, we can hold
good the garrison ag in em all, if so be we do not run
short of water. Provisions and water is what a body may
call fundamentals, in a siege."

" I hope we shall have no need of force nay, I feel per
suaded there will not be," said Parson Amen. "Peter is
our friend; and his command over these savages is wonder
ful ! Never before have I seen red men so completely un
der the control of a chief. Your men at Fort Dearborn,



298 THE OAK OPENINGS.

corporal, were scarcely more under the orders of their offi
cers, than these red-skins are under the orders of this chief! "

"I will not go to compare rig lars with Injins, Mr. Par
son," answered the corporal, a little stiffly. " They be not of
the same natur at all, and ought not to be put on a footing,
in any partic lar. These savages may obey their orders,
after a fashion of their own; but I should like to see them
manoeuvre under fire. I ve fit Injins fourteen times, in my
day, and have never seen a decent line, or a good, honest,
manly, stand-up charge, made by the best among em, in any
field, far or near. Trees and covers is necessary to their
constitutions, just as sartain as a deer chased will take to
water to throw off the scent. Put em up with the baggonet,
and they ll not stand a minute."

"How should they, corporal," interrupted le Bourdon
laughing, " when they ve no baggonets of their own to make
a stand with? You put one in mind of what my father used
to say. He was a soldier in revolution times, and sarved
his seven years with Washington. The English used to
boast that the Americans wouldn t * stand up to the rack, if
the baggonet was set to work ; * but this was before we got
our own toothpicks, said the old man. * As soon as they
gave us baggonets, too, there was no want of standing up
to the work. It seems to me, corporal, you overlook the
fact that Injins carry no baggonets."

"Every army uses its own weapons. If an Injin prefers
his knife and his tomahawk to a baggonet, it is no affair of
mine. I speak of a charge as I see it; and the soldier
who relies on a tomahawk instead of a baggonet, should
stand in his tracks, and give tomahawk play. No, no,
Bourdon, seeing is believing. These red-skins can do noth
ing with our people, when our people is properly regi
mented, well officered, and thoroughly drilled. They re
skeary to new beginners that I must acknowledge but
beyond that I set them down as nothing remarkable as mili
tary men."



THE OAK OPENINGS.

" Good or bad, I wish there were fewer of them, and that
they were farther off. This man Peter is a mystery to me:
sometimes he seems quite friendly; then, ag in, he appears
just ready to take all our scalps. Do you know much of
his past history, Mr. Amen ? "

"Not as much as I wish I did," the missionary replied.
"No one can tell me aught concerning Peter, beyond the
fact of his being a sort of a prophet, and a chief of com
manding influence. Even his tribe is unknown ; a circum
stance that points us to the ancient history of the Jews for
the explanation. It is my own opinion that Peter is of the
race of Aaron, and that he is designed by Divine Provi
dence to play an important part in the great events on
which we touch. All that is wanting is, to persuade him
into this belief, himself. Once persuade a man that he is
intended to be something, and your work is half done to
your hands. But the world is so full of ill-digested and
random theories, that truth has as much as it can do to ob
tain a sober and patient hearing! "

Thus is it with poor human nature. Let a man get a
crotchet into his head however improbable it may be,
however little supported by reason or fact, however ridicu
lous, indeed and he becomes indisposed to receive any
evidence but that which favors his theory; to see any truths
but such as he fancies will harmonize with his truths; or to
allow of any disturbing causes in the great workings of his
particular philosophy. This notion of Parson Amen s con
cerning the origin of the North American savage, did not
originate with that simple-minded enthusiast, by any means.
In this way are notions formed and nurtured. The mis
sionary had read somewhat concerning the probability that
the American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel ; and
possessed with the idea, everything he saw was tortured
into evidence in support of his theory. There is just as
much reason for supposing that any, and all, of the heathen
savages that are scattered up and down the earth have this



3OO THE OAK OPENINGS.

origin, as to ascribe it to our immediate tribes; but to this
truth the good parson was indifferent, simply because it did
not come within the circle of his particular belief.

Thus, too, was it with the corporal. Unless courage, and
other military qualities, were manifested precisely in the
way in which he had been trained, they were not courage
and military qualities at all. Every virtue has its especial
and conventional accessories, according to this school of
morals; nothing of the sort remaining as it came from
above, in the simple abstract qualities of right and wrong.
On such feelings and principles as these, do men get to be
dogmatical, narrow-minded, and conceited !

Our three white men pursued their way back to the " gar
rison," conversing as they went, much in the manner they
did in the dialogue we have just recorded. Neither Parson
Amen nor the corporal seemed to apprehend anything, not
withstanding the extraordinary scene in which one had been
an actor, and of which the other had been a witness. Their
wonder and apprehensions, no doubt, were much mitigated
by the fact, that it was understood Peter was to meet a large
collection of the chiefs in the Openings, and the minds of
all were, more or less, prepared to see some such assem
blage as had that night got together. The free manner in
which the mysterious chief led the missionary to the circle,
was, of itself, some proof that he did not desire conceal
ment; and even le Bourdon admitted, when they came to
discuss the details, that this was a circumstance that told
materially in favor of the friendliness of his intentions.
Still, the bee-hunter had his doubts; and most sincerely
did he wish that all in Castle Meal, Blossom in particular,
were safe within the limits of civilized settlements.

On reaching the "garrison," all was safe. Whiskey
Centre watched the gate a sober man, now, perforce, if not
by inclination; for being in the Openings, in this respect,
is like being at sea with an empty spirit-room. He was
aware that several had passed out, but was surprised to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 30 1

learn that Peter was of the number. That gate Peter had
not passed, of a certainty; and how else he could quit the
palisades was not easily understood. It was possible to
climb over them, it is true; but the feat would be attended
with so great an exertion, and would be so likely to lead to
a noise which would expose the effort, that all had great
difficulty in believing a man so dignified and reserved in
manner as this mysterious chief would be apt to resort to
such means of quitting the place.

As for the Chippewa, Gershom reported his return a few
minutes before; and the bee-hunter entered, to look for that
tried friend, as soon as he learned the fact. He found
Pigeonswing laying aside his accoutrements, previously to
lying down to take his rest. ,

"So, Chippewa, you have come back, have you?" ex
claimed le Bourdon. " So many of your red-skin brethren
are about, that I didn t expect to see you again for these
two or three days."

"No want to eat, den, eh? How you all eat, if hunter
don t do he duty ? S pose squaw don t cook vittles, you no
like it, eh? Juss so wid hunter no >/// vittles, don t like
it nudder."

"This is true enough. Still, so many of your people are
about, just now, that I thought it probable you might wish
to remain outside with them for a day or two."

"How know red man about, eh? You see him you
count him, eh? "

" I have seen something like fifty, and may say I counted
that many. They were chiefs, however, and I take it for
granted, a goodly number of common warriors are not far
off. Am I right, Pigeonswing? "

" S pose don t know den, can t tell. Only tell what he
know."

"Sometimes an Injin guesses, and comes as near the
truth as a white man who has seen the thing with his own
eyes."



3O2 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Pigeonswing made no answer; though le Bourdon fancied,
from his manner, that he had really something on his mind,
and that, too, of importance, which he wished to communicate.

" I think you might tell me some news that I should like
to hear, Chippewa, if you was so minded."

"Why you stay here, eh?" demanded the Indian,
abruptly. " Got plenty honey bess go home, now. Al
ways bess go home, when hunt up. Home good place,
when hunter well tired."

" My home is here, in the Openings, Pigeonswing. When
I go into the settlements, I do little but loaf about among
the farm-houses on the Detroit River, having neither squaw
nor wigwam of my own to go to. I like this place well
enough, if your red brethren will let me keep it in peace."

" Dis bad place for pale-face, juss now. Better go home,
dan stay in Openin . If don t know short path to Detroit,
I show you. Bess go, soon as can ; and bess go alone. No
good to be trouble wid squaw, when in hurry."

The countenance of le Bourdon changed at this last in
timation; though the Indian might not have observed it in
the darkness. After a brief pause, the first answered in a
very determined way.

" I believe I understand you, Chippewa," he said. " I
shall do nothing of the sort, however. If the squaws can t
go, too, I shall not quit them. Would you desert your
squaws because you thought them in trouble ? "

" An t your squaw yet. Bess not have squaw at all, when
Openin so full of Injin. Where you t ink is two buck I
shoot dis mornin , eh? Skin em, cut em up, hang em on
tree, where wolf can t get em. Well, go on arter anudder;
kill him, too. Dere he is, inside of palisade, but no tudder
two. He bot gone, when I get back to tree. Two good
buck as ever see! How you like dat, eh? "

" I care very little about it, since we have food enough,
and are not likely to want. So the wolves got your venison
from the trees, after all your care; ha! Pigeonswing."



THE OAK OPENINGS. 303

"Wolf don t touch him wolf can t touch him. Mocca
sin been under tree. See him mark. Bess do as I tell
you; go home, soon as ever can. Short path to Detroit;
an t two hundred pale-face mile."

" I see how it is, Pigeonswing; I see how it is, and thank
you for this hint, while I honor your good faith to your own
people. But I cannot go to Detroit, in the first place, for
that town and fort have fallen into the hands of the British.
It might be possible for a canoe to get past in the night,
and to work its way through into Lake Erie ; but I cannot
quit my friends. If you can put us all in the way of getting
away from this spot, I shall be ready to enter into the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 24 of 41)