James Fenimore Cooper.

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hurt the Son of the Great Spirit. It tells us that the red
men have always lived on these hunting-grounds, and did not
come from toward the rising sun. It tells us that pale-faces
are not fit to live. They are too wicked. Let them die."

" I would ask a question," put in Peter. " This tradi
tion is not new. I have heard it before. It entered but a
little way into my ears. I did not think of it. It has now
entered deeper, and I wish to hear more. Why did not the



THE OAK OPENINGS. 403

Son of the Great Spirit kill the Jews? why did he let the
Jews kill him? Will my brother say? "

" He came on earth to die for man, whose wickedness
was so deep that the Great Spirit s justice could not be
satisfied with less. Why this is so no one knows. It is
enough that it should be so. Instead of thinking of doing
harm to his tormentors and murderers, he died for them, and
died asking for benefits on them, and on their wives and
children, for all time to come. It was he who commanded
us to do good to them that do harm to us."

Peter gave the utmost attention to this answer, and when
he had received it, he walked apart, musing profoundly.
It is worthy of being observed that not one of these savages
raised any hollow objections to the incarnation of the Son
of the Great Spirit, as would have been the case with so
many civilized men. To them this appeared no more
difficult and incomprehensible than most of that which they
saw around them. It is when we begin to assume the airs
of philosophy, and to fancy, because we know a little, that
the whole book of knowledge is within our grasp, that men
become sceptics. There is not a human being now in ex
istence who does not daily, hourly see that which is just as
much beyond his powers of comprehension as this account
of the incarnation of the Deity, and the whole doctrine of
the Trinity; and yet he acquiesces in that which is before
his eyes, because it is familiar and he sees it, while he cavils
at all else, though the same unknown and inexplicable cause
lies behind everything. The deepest philosophy is soon
lost in this general mystery, and, to the eye of a meek rea
son, all around us is a species of miracle, which must be
referred to the power of the Deity.

While thus disposed to receive the pale-face traditions
with respect, however, the red men did not lose sight of
their own policy and purposes. The principal chiefs now
stepped aside, and held a brief council. Though invited to
do so, Peter did not join them; leaving to Bough of the



404 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Oak, Ungque, and Bear s Meat the control of the result.
The question was whether the original intention of includ
ing this medicine-priest among those to be cut off should,
or should not, be adhered to. One or two of the chiefs had
their doubts, but the opinion of the council was adverse.

" If the pale-faces killed the Son of their Great Spirit,
why should we hesitate about killing them?" The Weasel
asked, with malicious point, for he saw that Peter was now
sorely troubled at the probability of his own design being
fully carried out. "There is no difference. This is a
medicine-priest in the wigwam is a medicine-bee-hunter,
and that warrior may be a medicine-warrior. We do not
know. We are poor In j ins that know but little. It is not
so with the pale-faces; they talk with the conjurer s bees,
and know much. We shall not have ground enough to take
even a muskrat, soon, unless we cut off the strangers. The
Manitou has given us these; let us kill them."

As no one very strenuously opposed the scheme, the ques
tion was soon decided, and Ungque was commissioned to
communicate the result to the captives. One exception,
however, was to be made in favor of the missionary. His
object appeared to be peaceful, and it was determined that
he should be led a short distance into the surrounding
thicket, and be there put to death, without any attempt to
torture, or aggravate his sufferings. As a mark of singular
respect, it was also decided not to scalp him.

As Ungque, and those associated with him, led the mis
sionary to the place of execution, the former artfully invited
Peter to follow. This was done simply because the Weasel
saw that it would now be unpleasant to the man he hated -
hated merely because he possessed an influence that he cov
eted for himself.

" My father will see a pleasant sight," said the wily Wea
sel, as he walked at Peter s side, toward the indicated spot;
" he will see a pale-face die, and know that his foot has been
put upon another worm."



THE OAK OPENINGS. 405

No answer was made to this ironical remark, but Peter
walked in silence to the place where the missionary was
stationed, surrounded by a guard. Ungque now advanced
and spoke.

" It is time for the medicine-priest of the pale-faces to
start after the spirits of his people who have gone before
him," he said. " The path is long, and unless he walks
fast, and starts soon, he may not overtake them. I hope he
will see some of them that helped to kill the Son of his
Great Spirit, starving, and foot-sore, on the way."

" I understand you," returned the missionary, after a few
moments passed in recovering from the shock of this com
munication. " My hour is come. I have held my life in
my hand ever since I first put foot in this heathen region,
and if it be the Creator s will that I am now to die, I bow
to the decree. Grant me a few minutes for prayer to my
God."

Ungque signed that the delay should be granted. The
missionary uncovered his head, knelt, and again lifted up
his voice in prayer. At first the tones were a little tremu
lous; but they grew firmer as he proceeded. Soon they be
came as serene as usual. He first asked mercy for himself,
threw all his hopes on the great atonement, and confessed
how far he was from that holiness which alone could fit
him to see God. When this duty was performed, he prayed
for his enemies. The language used was his mother tongue,
but Peter comprehended most of that which was said. He
heard his own people prayed for; he heard his own name
mentioned, as the condemned man asked the mercy of the
Manitou in his behalf. Never before was the soul of this
extraordinary savage so shaken. The past seemed like a
dream to him, while the future possessed a light that was
still obscured by clouds. Here was an exemplification in
practice of that divine spirit of love and benevolence
which had struck him, already, as so very wonderful.
There could be no mistake. There was the kneeling cap-



406 THE OAK OPENINGS.

tive, and his words, clear, distinct, and imploring, ascended
through the cover of the bushes to the throne of God.

As soon as the voice of the missionary was mute, the
mysterious chief bowed his head and moved away. He was
then powerless. No authority of his could save the captive,
and the sight that so lately would have cheered his eyes
was now too painful to bear. He heard the single blow of
the tomahawk which brained the victim, and he shuddered
from head to foot. It was the first time such a weakness
had ever come over him. As for the missionary, in defer
ence to his pursuits, his executioners dug him a grave, and
buried him unmutilated on the spot where he had fallen.



CHAPTER XXV.

Brutal alike in deed and word,

With callous heart and hand of strife,
How like a fiend may man be made,
Plying the foul and monstrous trade

Whose harvest-field is human life.

WHITTIER.

A VEIL like that of oblivion dropped before the form of the
missionary. The pious persons who had sent him forth to
preach to the heathen, never knew his fate ; a disappearance
that was so common to that class of devoted men, as to pro
duce regret rather than surprise. Even those who took his
life Jelt a respect for him; and, strange as it may seem, it
was to the eloquence of the man who now would have died
to save him, that his death was alone to be attributed.
Peter had awakened fires that he could not quench, and
aroused a spirit that he could not quell. In this respect,
he resembled most of those who, under the guise of reform,
or revolution, in moments of doubt, set in motion a machine
that is found impossible to control, when it is deemed ex
pedient to check exaggeration by reason. Such is often the
case with even well-intentioned leaders, who constantly are



THE OAK OPENINGS. 407

made to feel how much easier it is to light a conflagration,
than to stay its flames when raging.

Corporal Flint was left seated on the log, while the
bloody scene of the missionary s death was occurring. He
was fully alive to all the horrors of his own situation, and
comprehended the nature of his companion s movements.
The savages usually manifested so much respect for mis
sionaries, that he was in no degree surprised. Parson
Amen had been taken apart for his execution, and when
those who had caused his removal returned, the corporal
looked anxiously for the usual but revolting token of his
late companion s death. As has been said, however, the
missionary was suffered to lie in his wild grave, without
suffering a mutilation of his remains.

Notwithstanding this moderation, the Indians were get
ting to be incited by this taste of blood. The principal
chiefs became sterner in their aspects, and the young men
began to manifest some such impatience as that which the
still untried pup betrays, when he first scents his game. All
these were ominous symptoms, and were well understood by
the captive.

Perhaps it would not have been possible, in the whole
range of human feelings, to find two men under influences
more widely opposed to each other than were the mission
ary and the corporal, in this, their last scene on earth. The
manner of Parson Amen s death has been described. He
died in humble imitation of his Divine Master, asking for
blessings on those who were about to destroy him, with a
heart softened by Christian graces, and a meekness that
had its origin in the consciousness of his own demerits.
On the other hand, the corporal thought only of vengeance.
Escape he knew to be impossible, and he would fain take
his departure like a soldier, or as he conceived a soldier
should die, in the midst of fallen foes.

Corporal Flint had a salutary love of life, and would very
gladly escape, did the means offer; but, failing of these, all



408 THE OAK OPENINGS.

his thoughts turned toward revenge. Some small impulses
of ambition, or what it is usual to dignify with that term,
showed themselves even at that serious moment. He had
heard around the camp-fires, and in the garrisons, so many
tales of heroism and of fortitude manifested by soldiers who
had fallen into the hands of the Indians, that a faint desire
to enroll his own name on the list of these worthies was be
ginning to arise in his breast. But truth compels us to
add that the predominant feeling was the wish to revenge
his own fate, by immolating as many of his foes as possible.
To this last purpose, therefore, his thoughts were mainly
directed, during that interval which his late companion had
employed in prayers for those under whose blows he was
about to fall. Such is the difference in man, with his heart
touched, or untouched, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was, however, much easier for the corporal to entertain
designs of the nature mentioned than to carry them out:
unarmed, surrounded by watchful enemies, and totally with
out support of any sort, the chances of effecting his purpose
were small indeed. Once, for a minute only, the veteran
seriously turned his thoughts to escape. It occurred to him,
that he might possibly reach the castle, could he get a little
start; and should the Indians compel him to run the gaunt
let, as was often their practice, he determined to make an
effort for life in that mode. Agreeably to the code of fron
tier warfare, a successful flight of this nature was scarcely
less creditable than a victory in the field.

Half an hour passed after the execution of the mission
ary before the chiefs commenced their proceedings with the
corporal. The delay was owing to a consultation, in which
The Weasel had proposed despatching a party to the castle,
to bring in the family, and thus make a common destruction
of the remaining pale-faces known to be in that part of the
Openings. Peter did not dare to oppose this scheme, him
self; but he so managed as to get Crowsfeather to do it,
without bringing himself into the foreground. The influ-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 4OQ

ence of the Pottawattamie prevailed, and it was decided to
torture this one captive, and to secure his scalp, before they
proceeded to work their will on the others. Ungque, who
had gained ground rapidly by his late success, was once
more commissioned to state to the captive the intentions
of his captors.

" Brother," commenced The Weasel, placing himself di
rectly in front of the corporal, " I am about to speak to you.
A wise warrior opens his ears, when he hears the voice of
his enemy. He may learn something it will be good for
him to know. It will be good for you to know what I am
about to say.

" Brother, you are a pale-face, and we are In j ins. You
wish to get our hunting-grounds, and we wish to keep them.
To keep them, it has become necessary to take your scalp.
I hope you are ready to let us have it."

The corporal had but an indifferent knowledge of the In
dian language, but he comprehended all that was uttered on
this occasion. Interest quickened his faculties, and no part
of what was said was lost. The gentle, slow, deliberate
manner in which The Weasel delivered himself, contributed
to his means of understanding. He was fortunately pre
pared for what he heard, and the announcement of his ap
proaching fate did not disturb him to the degree of betray
ing weakness. This last was a triumph in which the In
dians delighted, though they ever showed the most profound
respect for such of their victims as manifested a manly
fortitude. It was necessary to reply, which the corporal
did in English, knowing that several present could interpret
his words. With a view to render this the more easy, he
spoke in fragments of sentences, and with great delibera
tion.

" In jins," returned the corporal, " you surrounded me, and
I have been taken prisoner had there been a platoon on
us, you mightn t have made out quite so well. It s no
great victory for three hundred warriors to overcome a sin-



4IO THE OAK OPENINGS.

gle man. I count Parson Amen as worse than nothing, for
he looked to r.either rear nor flank. If I could have half
an hour s work upon you, with only half of our late com
pany, I think we should lower your conceit. But that is
impossible, and so you may do just what you please with
me. I ask no favors. 7

Although this answer was very imperfectly translated, it
awakened a good deal of admiration. A man who could
look death so closely in the face, with so much steadiness,
became a sort of hero in Indian eyes; and with the North
American savage, fortitude is a virtue not inferior to cour
age. Murmurs of approbation were heard, and Ungque
was privately requested to urge the captive further, in order
to see how far present appearances were likely to be main
tained.

" Brother, I have said that we are Injins," resumed The
Weasel, with an air so humble, and a voice so meek, that a
stranger might have supposed he was consoling, instead of
endeavoring to intimidate, the prisoner. " It is true. We
are nothing but poor, ignorant In j ins. We can only tor
ment our prisoners after Injin fashion. If we were pale
faces, we might do better. We did not torment the medi
cine-priest. We were afraid he would laugh at our mis
takes. He knew a great deal. We know but little. We
do as well as we know how.

" Brother, when Injins do as well as they know how, a
warrior should forget their mistakes. We wish to torment
you, in a way to prove that you are all over man. We wish
so to torment you that you will stand up under the pain in
such a way that it will make our young men think your
mother was not a squaw that there is no woman in you.
We do this for our own honor, as well as for yours. It will
be an honor to us to have such a captive; it will be an
honor to you to be such a captive. We shall do as well as
we know how.

" Brother, it is most time to begin. The tormenting will



THE OAK OPENINGS. 411

last a long time. We must not let the medicine- priest get
too great a start on the path to the happy hunting-grounds
of your

Here, a most unexpected interruption occurred, that effec
tually put a stop to the eloquence of Ungque. In his desire
to make an impression, the savage approached within reach
of the captive s arm, while his own mind was intent on the
words that he hoped would make the prisoner quail. The
corporal kept his eye on that of the speaker, charming him,
as it were, into a riveted gaze, in return. Watching his
opportunity, he caught the tomahawk from The Weasel s
belt, and by a single blow, felled him dead at his feet.
Not content with this, the old soldier now bounded forward,
striking right and left, inflicting six or eight wounds on
others, before he could be again arrested, disarmed, and
bound. While the last was doing, Peter withdrew, unob
served.

Many were the " hughs " and other exclamations of ad
miration that succeeded this display of desperate manhood!
The body of The Weasel was removed, and interred, while
the wounded withdrew to attend to their hurts; leaving the
arena to the rest assembled there. As for the corporal, he
was pretty well blown, and, in addition to being now bound
hand and foot, his recent exertions, which were terrific while
they lasted, effectually incapacitated him from making any
move, so long as he was thus exhausted and confined.

A council was now held by the principal chiefs. Ungque
had few friends. In this, he shared the fate of most dema
gogues, who are commonly despised even by those they lead
and deceive. No one regretted him much, and some were
actually glad of his fate. But the dignity of the conquerors
must be vindicated. It would never do to allow a pale-face
to obtain so great an advantage, and not take a signal ven
geance for his deeds. After a long consultation, it was de
termined to subject the captive to the trial by saplings, and
thus see if he could bear the torture without complaining.



412 THE OAK OPENINGS.

As some of our readers may not understand what this fell
mode of tormenting is, it may be necessary to explain.

There is scarcely a method of inflicting pain, that comes
within the compass of their means, that the North Ameri
can Indians have not essayed on their enemies. When the
infernal ingenuity that is exercised on these occasions
fails of its effect, the captives themselves have been heard
to suggest other means of torturing that they have known
practised successfully by their own people. There is often
a strange strife between the tormentors and the tormented;
the one to manifest skill in inflicting pain, and the other to
manifest fortitude in enduring it. As has just been said,
quite as much renown is often acquired by the warrior, in
setting all the devices of his conquerors at defiance, while
subject to their hellish attempts, as in deeds of arms. It
might be more true to say that such was the practice among
the Indians, than to say, at the present time, that such is;
for it is certain that civilization in its approaches, while it
has in many particulars even degraded the red man, has had
a silent effect in changing and mitigating many of his fiercer
customs this, perhaps, among the rest. It is probable that
the more distant tribes still resort to all these ancient usages;
but it is both hoped and believed that those nearer to the
whites do not.

The "torture by saplings" is one of those modes of in
flicting pain that would naturally suggest themselves to
savages. Young trees that do not stand far apart are
trimmed of their branches, and brought nearer to each other
by bending their bodies; the victim is then attached to both
trunks, sometimes by his extended arms, at others by his
legs, or by whatever part of the frame cruelty can suggest,
when the saplings are released, and permitted to resume
their upright positions. Of course, the sufferer is lifted
from the earth, and hangs suspended by his limbs, with a
strain on them that soon produces the most intense anguish.
The celebrated punishment of the "knout" partakes a good



THE OAK OPENINGS. 413

deal of this same character of suffering. Bough of the Oak
now approached the corporal, to let him know how high an
honor was in reserve for him.

"Brother," said this ambitious orator, "you are a brave
warrior. You have done well. Not only have you killed
one of our chiefs, but you have wounded several of our
young men. No one but a brave could have done this.
You have forced us to bind you, lest you might kill some
more. It is not often that captives do this. Your courage
has caused us to consult how we might best torture you, in
a way most to manifest your manhood. After talking to
gether, the chiefs have decided that a man of your firmness
ought to be hung between two young trees. We have found
the trees, and have cut off their branches. You can see
them. If they were a little larger their force would be
greater, and they would give you more pain would be
more worthy of you; but these are the largest saplings we
could find. Had there been any larger, we would ha^e let
you have them. We wish to do you honor, for you are a
bold warrior, and worthy to be well tormented.

"Brother, look at these saplings! They are tall and
straight. When they are bent by many hands, they will
come together. Take away the hands, and they will be
come straight again. Your arms must then keep them to
gether. We wish we had some pappooses here, that they
might shoot arrows into your flesh. That would help much
to torment you. You cannot have this honor, for we have
no pappooses. We are afraid to let our young men shoot
arrows into your flesh. They are strong, and might kill
you. We wish you to die between the saplings, as is your
right, being so great a brave.

" Brother, we think much better of you since you killed
The Weasel, and hurt our young men. If all your warriors
at Chicago had been as bold as you, Black-Bird would not
have taken that fort. You would have saved many scalps.
This encourages us. It makes us think the Great Spirit



414 THE OAK OPENINGS.

means to heip us, and that we shall kill all the pale-faces.
When we get further into your settlements, we do not expect
to meet many such braves as you. They tell us we shall
then find men who will run, and screech like women. It
will not be a pleasure to torment such men. We had rather
torment a bold warrior, like you, who makes us admire him
for his manliness. We love our squaws, but not in the war
path. They are best in the lodges; here we want nothing
but men. You are a man a brave we honor you. We
think, notwithstanding, we shall yet make you weak. It
will not be easy, yet we hope to do it. We shall try. We
may not think quite so well of you, if we do it; but we
shall always call you a brave. A man is not a stone. We
can all feel, and when we have done all that is in our
power, no one can do more. It is so with Injins; we think
it must be so with pale-faces. We mean to try and see how
it is."

The corporal understood very little of this harangue,
though he perfectly comprehended the preparations of the
saplings, and Bough of the Oak s allusions to them. He
was in a cold sweat at the thought, for resolute as he was,
he foresaw sufferings that human fortitude could hardly en
dure. In this state of the case, and in the frame of mind
he was in, he had recourse to an expedient of which he had
often heard, and which he thought might now be practised
to some advantage. It was to open upon the savages with
abuse, and to exasperate them, by taunts and sarcasm, to
such a degree as might induce some of the weaker members
of the tribe to dispatch him on the spot. As the corporal,
with the perspective of the saplings before his eyes, mani
fested a good deal of ingenuity on this occasion, we shall
record some of his efforts.

"D ye call yourselves chiefs and warriors?" he began,
upon a pretty high key. "I call ye squaws! There is not
a man among ye. Dogs would be the best name. You are
poor Injins. A long time ago, the pale-faces came here in



THE OAK OPENINGS. 41$

two or three little canoes. They were but a handful, and
you were pientier than prairie wolves. Your bark could be
heard throughout the land. Well, what did this handful of
pale-faces? It drove your fathers before them, until they



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 33 of 41)