James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

. (page 40 of 41)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 40 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

course. Le Bourdon gave him his own rifle, plenty of am
munition, and various other small articles that were of value
to an Indian, accepting the Chippewa s arms in return.
The exchange, however, was greatly to the advantage of the
savage. As for Peter, he declined all presents. He carried
weapons now, indeed, merely for the purpose of hunting;
but the dignity of his character and station would have
placed him above such compensations, had the fact been



Come to the land of peace !
Come where the tempest hath no longer sway.
The shadow passes from the soul away

The sounds of weeping cease.

Fear hath no dwelling there !
Come to the mingling of repose and love,
Breathed by the silent spirit of the dove,

Through the celestial air.


IT is now more than thirty-three years since the last war
with the English terminated, and about thirty-six to the
summer in which the events recorded in this legend oc
curred. This third of a century has been a period of
mighty changes in America. Ages have not often brought
about as many in other portions of the earth, as this short
period of time has given birth to among ourselves. We
had written, thus far, on the evidence of documents sent to
us, when an occasion offered to verify the truth of some of
our pictures, at least, by means of personal observation.

Quitting our own quiet and and secluded abode in the
mountains, in the pleasant month of June, and in this cur
rent year of 1848, we descended into the valley of the Mo
hawk, got into the cars, and went flying by rails toward the
setting sun. Well could we remember the time when an
entire day was required to pass between that point on the
Mohawk where we got on the rails, and the little village of
Utica. On the present occasion, we flew over the space in
less than three hours, and dined in a town of some fifteen
thousand souls.

We reached Buffalo, at the foot of Lake Erie, in about
twenty hours after we had entered the cars. This journey
would have been the labor of more than a week, at the time
in which the scene of this tale occurred. Now, the whole
of the beautiful region, teeming with its towns and villages,
and rich with the fruits of a bountiful season, was almost


brought into a single landscape by the rapidity of our pas

At Buffalo, we turned aside to visit the cataract. Thither,
too, we went on rails. Thirty-eight years had passed away
since we had laid eyes on this wonderful fall of water. In
the intervening time we had travelled much, and had visited
many of the renowned falls of the old world, to say nothing
of the great number which are to be found in other parts of
our* own land. Did this visit, then, produce disappoint
ment? Did time, and advancing years, and feelings that
had become deadened by experience, contribute to render
the view less striking, less grand, in any way less pleasing
than we had hoped to find it? So far from this, all our ex
pectations were much more than realized. In one particu
lar, touching which we do not remember ever to have seen
anything said, we were actually astonished at the surpass
ing glory of Niagara. It was the character of sweetness, if
we can so express it, that glowed over the entire aspect of
the scene. We were less struck with the grandeur of this
cataract, than with its sublime softness and gentleness. To
water in agitation, use had so long accustomed us, perhaps,
as in some slight degree to lessen the feeling of awe that is
apt to come over the novice in such scenes ; but we at once
felt ourselves attracted by the surpassing loveliness of
Niagara. The gulf below was more imposing than we had
expected to see it, but it was Italian in hue and softness,
amid its wildness and grandeur. Not a drop of the water
that fell down that precipice inspired terror; for everything
appeared to us to be filled with attraction and love. Like
Italy itself, notwithstanding so much that is grand and im
posing, the character of softness, and the witchery of the
gentler properties, is the power we should ascribe to Ni
agara, in preference to that of its majesty. We think this
feeling, too, is more general than is commonly supposed, for
we find those who dwell near the cataract playing around it,
even to the very verge of its greatest fall, with a species of


affection, as if they had the fullest confidence in its rolling
waters. Thus it is that we see the little steamer, the Maid
of the Mist, paddling up quite near to the green sheet of the
Horse-Shoe itself, and gliding down in the current of the
vortex, as it is compelled to quit the eddies, and come more
in a line with the main course of the stream. Wires, too,
are suspended across the gulf below, and men pass it in
baskets. It is said that one of these inventions is to carry
human beings over the main fall, so that the adventurer
may hang suspended in the air, directly above the vortex.
In this way do men, and even women, prove their love for
the place, all of which we impute to its pervading character
of sweetness and attraction.

At Buffalo we embarked in a boat under the English flag,
which is called the Canada. This shortened our passage to
Detroit, by avoiding all the stops at lateral ports, and we
had every reason to be satisfied with our selection. Boat,
commander, and the attendance were such as would have
done credit to any portion of the civilized world. There
were many passengers, a motley collection, as usual, from
all parts of the country.

Our attention was early drawn to one party, by the singu
lar beauty of its females. They seemed to us to be a grand
mother, in a well-preserved, green old age; a daughter, but
a matron of little less than forty; and two exceedingly pretty
girls of about eighteen and sixteen, whom we took to be
children of the last. The strong family likeness between
these persons led us early to make this classification, which
we afterward found was correct.

By occasional remarks, I gathered that the girls had been
to an " Eastern " boarding-school, that particular feature in
civilization not yet flourishing in the Northwestern States.
It seemed to us that we could trace in the dialect of the sev
eral members of this family, the gradations and peculiarities
that denote the origin and habits of individuals. Thus, the
grandmother was not quite as Western in her forms of speech


as her matronly daughter, while the grandchildren evidently
spoke under the influence of boarding-school correction, or
like girls who had been often lectured on the subject.
" First rate," and " Yes, sir," and " That s a /off," were
often in the mouth of the pleasing mother, and even the
grandmother used them all, though not as often as her
daughter, while the young people looked a little concerned
and surprised, whenever they came out of the mouth of their
frank-speaking mother. That these persons were not of a
very high social class was evident enough, even in their
language. There was much occasion to mention New York,
we found, and they uniformly called it "the city." By no
accident did either of them happen to use the expression
that she had been " in town," as one of us would be apt to
say. " He s gone to the city" or " She s in the city" are
awkward phrases, and tant soit peu vulgar; but even our
pretty young boarding-school Sieves would use them. We
have a horror of the expression " city," and are a little fas
tidious, perhaps, touching its use.

But these little peculiarities were spots on the sun. The
entire family, taken as a whole, was really charming; and
long before the hour for retiring came, we had become
much interested in them all. We found there was a fifth
person belonging to this party, who did not make his ap
pearance that night. From the discourse of these females,
however, it was easy to glean the following leading facts:
This fifth person was a male ; he was indisposed, and kept
his berth; and he was quite aged. Several nice little dishes
were carried from the table into his state-room that evening,
by one or the other of the young sisters, and each of the party
appeared anxious to contribute to the invalid s comfort.
All this sympathy excited our interest, and we had some
curiosity to see this old man, long ere it was time to retire.
As for the females, no name was mentioned among them
but that of a Mrs. Osborne, who was once or twice alluded
to in full. It was "grandma," and "ma," and "Dolly,"


and "sis." We should have liked it better had it been
"mother," and "grandmother," and that the "sis * had been
called Betsey or Molly; but we do not wish to be under
stood as exhibiting these amiable and good-looking stran
gers as models of refinement. " Ma " and " sis " did well
enough, all things considered, though " mamma " would
have been better if they were not sufficiently polished to
say "mother."

We had a pleasant night of it, and all the passengers
appeared next morning with smiling faces. It often blows
heavily on that lake, but light airs off the land were all the
bree/es we encountered. We were among the first to turn
out, and on the upper deck forward, a place where the pas
sengers are fond of collecting, as it enables them to look
ahead, we found a single individual who immediately drew
all of our attention to himself. It was an aged man, with
hair already as white as snow. Still there was that in his
gait, attitudes, and all his movements which indicated phys
ical vigor, not to say the remains, at least, of great elastic
ity and sinewy activity. Aged as he was, and he must have
long since passed his fourscore years, his form was erect
as that of a youth. In stature he was of rather more than
middle height, and in movements deliberate and dignified.
His dress was quite plain, being black, and according to
the customs of the day: The color of his face and hands,
however, as well as the bold outlines of his countenance,
and the still keen, restless, black eye, indicated the In

Here, then, was a civilized red man, and it struck us at
once, that he was an ancient child of the forest, who had
been made to feel the truths of the gospel. One seldom
hesitates about addressing an Indian, and we commenced a
discourse with our venerable fellow-passenger, with very
little circumlocution or ceremony.

"Good-morning, sir," we observed "a charming time
we have of it, on the lake."


" Yes good time " returned my red neighbor, speaking
short and clipped, like an Indian, but pronouncing his
words as if long accustomed to the language.

" These steamboats are great inventions for the western
lakes, as are the railroads for this vast inland region. I
dare say you can remember Lake Erie when it was an un
usual thing to see a sail of any sort on it; and now, I
should think, we might count fifty."

"Yes great change great change, friend! all change
from ole time."

" The traditions of your people, no doubt, give you reason
to see and feel all this? "

The predominant expression of this red man s counte
nance was that of love. On everything, on every human
being toward whom he turned his still expressive eyes, the
looks he gave them would seem to indicate interest and
affection. This expression was so decided and peculiar,
that we early remarked it, and it drew us closer and closer
to the old chief, the longer we remained in his company.
That expression, however, slightly changed when we made
this allusion to the traditions of his people, and a cloud
passed before his countenance. This change, nevertheless,
was as transient as it was sudden, the benevolent and gen
tle look returning almost as soon as it had disappeared.
He seemed anxious to atone for this involuntary expression
of regrets for the past, by making his communications to me
as free as they could be.

" My tradition say a great deal," was the answer. " It
say some good, some bad."

" May I ask of what tribe you are? "

The red man turned his eyes on us kindly, as if to lessen
anything ungracious there might be in his refusal to answer,
and with an expression of benevolence that we scarcely re
member ever to have seen equalled. Indeed, we might say
with truth, that the love which shone out of this old man s
countenance habitually, surpassed that which we can recall


as belonging to any other human face. He seemed to be
at peace with himself, and with all the other children of

" Tribe make no difference," he answered. " All children
of same Great Spirit."

" Red men and pale-faces? " I asked, not a little surprised
with his reply.

"Red man and pale-face. Christ die for all, and his
Fadder make all. No difference, excep in color. Color
only skin deep."

" Do you, then, look on us pale-faces as having a right
here? Do you not regard us as invaders, as enemies who
have come to take away your lands? "

"Injin don t own arth. Arth belong to God, and he
send whom he like to live on it. One time he send Injin;
now he send pale-face. His arth, and he do what he please
wid it. Nobody any right to complain. Bad to find fault
wid Great Spirit. All he do, right; nebber do anyt ing
bad. His blessed Son die for all color, and all color muss
bow down at his holy name. Datwhat dis good book say,"
showing a small pocket Bible, "and what dis good book say
come from Great Spirit, himself."

" You read the Holy Scriptures, then you are an edu
cated Indian?"

"No; can t read at all. Don t know how. Try hard,
but too ole to begin. Got young eyes, however, to help
me," he added, with one of the fondest smiles I ever saw
light a human face, as he turned to meet the pretty Dolly s
"Good-morning, Peter," and to shake the hand of the elder
sister. "She read good book for old Injin, when he want
her; and when she off at school, in * city, den her mudder
or her gran mudder read for him. Fuss begin wid gran -
mudder; now get down to gran da ghter. But good book
all de same, let who will read it."

This, then, was " Scalping Peter," the very man I was
travelling into Michigan to see, but how wonderfully


changed! The Spirit of the Most High God had been shed
freely upon his moral being, and in lieu of the revengeful
and vindictive savage, he now lived a subdued, benevolent
Christian ! In every human being he beheld a brother, and
no longer thought of destroying races, in order to secure to
his own people the quiet possession of their hunting-
grounds. His very soul was love; and no doubt he felt
himself strong enough to " bless those who cursed him,"
and to give up his spirit, like the good missionary whose
death had first turned him toward the worship of the one
true God, praying for those who took his life.

The ways of Divine Providence are past the investiga
tions of human reason. How often, in turning over the
pages of history, do we find civilization, the arts, moral im
provement, nay, Christianity itself, following the bloody
train left by the conqueror s car, and good pouring in upon
a nation by avenues that at first were teeming only with the
approaches of seeming evils! In this way, there is now
reason to hope that America is about to pay the debt she
owes to Africa ; and in this way will the invasion of the
forests, and prairies and "openings," of the red man be
made to atone for itself by carrying with it the blessings of
the Gospel, and a juster view of the relations which man
bears to his Creator. Possibly Mexico may derive lasting
benefits from the hard lesson that she has so recently been
made to endure.

This, then, was Peter, changed into a civilized man and
a Christian! I have found, subsequently, that glimmerings
of the former being existed in his character; but they
showed themselves only at long intervals, and under very
peculiar circumstances. The study of these traits became
a subject of great interest with us, for we now travelled in
company the rest of our journey. The elder lady, or
"grandma," was the Margery of our tale; still handsome,
spirited, and kind. The younger matron was her daughter
and only child, and " sis," another Margery, and Dorothy,


were her grandchildren. There was also a son, or a grand
son rather, Ben, who was on Prairie Round, " with the gen
eral." The "general " was our old friend, le Bourdon, who
was still as often called "General Bourdon," as "General
Boden." This matter of " generals " at the West is a little
overdone, as all ranks and titles are somewhat apt to be in
new countries. It causes one often to smile, at the East;
and no wonder that an Eastern habit should go down in all
its glory, beneath the " setting sun." In after-days, gen
erals will not be quite as " plenty as blackberries."

No sooner did Mrs. Boden, or Margery, to use her familiar
name, learn that we were the very individual to whom the
"general" had sent the notes relative to his early adven
tures, which had been prepared by the " Rev. Mr. Varse,"
of Kalamazoo, than she became as friendly and communi
cative as we could possibly desire.

Her own life had been prosperous, and her marriage
happy. Her brother, however, had fallen back into his old
habits, and died ere the war of 1812 was ended. Dorothy
had returned to her friends in Massachusetts, and was still
living, in a comfortable condition, owing to a legacy from
an uncle. The bee-hunter had taken the field in that war,
and had seen some sharp fighting on the banks of the
Niagara. No sooner was peace made, however, than he
returned to his beloved Openings, where he had remained,
"growing with the country," as it is termed, until he was
now what is deemed a rich man in Michigan. He has a
plenty of land, and that which is good; a respectable
dwelling, and is out of debt. He meets his obligations to
an Eastern man just as promptly as he meets those con
tracted at home, and regards the United States, and not
Michigan, as his country. All these were good traits, and
we were glad to learn that they existed in one who already
possessed so much of our esteem. At Detroit we found a
fine flourishing town, of a healthful and natural growth, and
with a population that was fast approaching twenty thou-


sand. The shores of the beautiful strait on which it stands,
and which, by a strange blending of significations and lan
guages, is popularly called the " Detroit River," were alive
with men and their appliances, and we scarce know where
to turn to find a more agreeable landscape than that which
was presented to us, after passing the island of " Bobolo "
(Bois Blanc), near Maiden. Altogether, it resembled a
miniature picture of Constantinople, without its Eastern

At Detroit commenced our surprise at the rapid progress
of Western civilization. It will be remembered that at the
period of our tale, the environs of Detroit excepted, the
whole peninsula of Michigan lay in a state of nature. Nor
did the process of settlement commence actively until about
twenty years since ; but, owing to the character of the coun
try, it already possesses many of the better features of a
long- inhabited region. There are stumps, of course, for
new fields are constantly coming into cultivation ; but on
the whole, the appearance is that of a middle-aged, rather
than that of a new region.

We left Detroit on a railroad, rattling away toward the
setting sun, at a good speed even for that mode of convey
ance. It seemed to us that our route was well garnished
with large villages, of which we must have passed through
a dozen, in the course of a few hours "railing." These
are places varying in size from one to three thousand in
habitants. The vegetation certainly surpassed that of even
West New York, the trees alone excepted. The whole coun
try was a wheat-field, and we now began to understand how
America could feed the world. Our road lay among the
" Openings " much of the way, and we found them under
going the changes which are incident to the passage of
civilized men. As the periodical fires had now ceased for
many years, underbrush was growing in lieu of the natural
grass, and in so much those groves are less attractive than
formerly ; but one easily comprehends the reason, and can


picture to himself the aspect that these pleasant woods must
have worn in times of old.

We left the railroad at Kalamazoo an unusually pretty
village, on the banks of the stream of that name. Those
who laid out this place, some fifteen years since, had the
taste to preserve most of its trees; and the houses and
grounds that stand a little apart from the busiest streets -
and they are numerous for a place of rather more than two
thousand souls are particularly pleasant to the eye, on ac
count of the shade, and the rural pictures they present.
Here Mrs. Boden told us we were within a mile or two of
the very spot where once had stood Castle Meal (Chateau au
Miel), though the "general" had finally established himself
at Schoolcraft, on Prairie Ronde.

The first prairie we had ever seen was on the road be
tween Detroit and Kalamazoo; distant from the latter place
only some eight or nine miles. The axe had laid the coun
try open in its neighborhood ; but the spot was easily to be
recognized by the air of cultivation and age that pervaded
it. There was not a stump on it, and the fields were as
smooth as any on the plains of Lombardy, and far more fer
tile, rich as the last are known to be. In a word, the beau
tiful perfection of that little natural meadow became appar
ent at once, though seated amid a landscape that was by no
means wanting in interest of its own.

We passed the night at the village of Kalamazoo; but
the party of females, with old Peter, proceeded on to Prairie
Round, as that particular part of the country is called in
the dialect of Michigan, it being a corruption of the old
French name of la prairie ronde. The Round Meadow
does not sound as well as Prairie Round, and the last being
quite as clear a term as the other, though a mixture of the
two languages, we prefer to use it. Indeed, the word
"prairie" may now be said to be adopted into the English;
meaning merely a natural instead of an artificial meadow,
though one of peculiar and local characteristics. We wrote


a note to General Boden, as I found our old acquaintance
Ben Boden was universally termed, letting him know I
should visit Schoolcraft next day ; not wishing to intrude
at the moment when that charming family was just reunited
after so long a separation.

The next day, accordingly, we got into a " buggy " and
went our way. The road was slightly sandy a good part of
the twelve miles we had to travel, though it became less so
as we drew near to the celebrated prairie. And celebrated,
and that by an abler pen than ours, does this remarkable
place deserve to be! We found all our expectations con
cerning it fully realized, and drove through the scene of
abundance it presented with an admiration that was not en
tirely free from awe.

To get an idea of Prairie Round, the reader must imagine
an oval plain of some five-and-twenty or thirty thousand
acres in extent, of the most surpassing fertility, without an
eminence of any sort almost without an inequality. There
are a few small cavities, however, in which there are springs
that form large pools of water that the cattle will drink.
This plain, so far as we saw it, is now entirely fenced and
cultivated. The fields are large, many containing eighty
acres, and some one hundred and sixty; most of them being
in wheat. We saw several of this size in that grain.
Farm-houses dotted the surface, with barns, and the other
accessories of rural life. In the centre of the prairie is an
"island" of forest, containing some five or six hundred
acres of the noblest native trees we remember ever to have
seen. In the centre of this wood is a little lake, circular
in shape, and exceeding a quarter of a mile in diameter.
The walk in this wood which is not an Opening, but an
old-fashioned virgin forest we found delightful of a warm
summer s day. One thing that we saw in it was character
istic of the country. Some of the nearest farmers had drawn
their manure into it, where it lay in large piles, in order to
get it out of the way of doing any mischief. Its effect on


the land, it was thought, would be to bring too much straw !

On one side of this island of wood lies the little village
or large hamlet of Schoolcraft. Here we were most cor

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 40 of 41)