The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


An Indian Story

The Bishop children— Ned, Frank, Susie— had gone Indian mad. Ned and Frank, the two oldest, were just beginning United States History, and their imaginations were fired with the Indian stories there found, and they set the fashion among the children at school, until playing Indian became the rage. At recess and noon, divided into parties and painted with poke-berries and huckleberries, they made attacks upon each other with wild war-whoops, hideous enough to make any old Indian, if such there was buried near, turn over in his grave. Susie had a doll with a wig; but in the raids made by adverse Indians upon the party to which she belonged, that doll was always taken and scalped; she got the wig back during the peace times of study-hour, only to have it carried off in the next skirmish. The poor doll was as bald as a glass bottle most of the time. Ned and Frank built wigwams of the most approved pattern, making them to look just like the pictures of Indian towns; and learning that succotash and bear-meat were the principal articles of Indian diet, they lived on those things as much as possible, always calling pork bear-meat, as there was a difficulty about getting the real article.

They became panifully expert with bows and arrows, as was evidenced one day by Ned's sending an arrow rattling through the kitchen windowpane; while Frank, a few days after, making a line-shot at a calf escaped from the stable, which he called a bear, took the hired man ping! through his straw-hat crown, making two additional holes to the ventilators already there, and startling the men a good deal.

Susie did her hair a la Indian,—with cocks' plumes and beads,—and dressed the scalped doll like an Indian princess. But their crowning delight was to get their grandfather, who, although eighty years old, was so erect and hearty that he looked much younger, to tell them Indian stories.

Grandfather Bishop, when a boy, lived with an uncle, then an old man of ninety; and the father of this uncle had been one of the first settlers, and a fighter of Indians in his day. So the stories came down to the Bishop children with an additional freshness, in that their grandfather knew the man who knew the hero.

Late in August, Mr. Bishop, the father of Ned, and Frank, and Susie, began to think of the patch of salt meadow he owned seven miles away by the sea, and planned to go down the next day in the
wagon with scythes, and mow it. This was done, and after letting it lie a day or two to dry, there was a grand muster of all the men to go down, shake it, rake it, and finally bring it home.

The big wagon was to go to bring the hay home, and the common wagon to bring the men back. Frank and Ned were to go; and when Susie found that they were saving up their best arrows for it, and had resolved to consider themselves as a party of warriors, on an expedition into the country of another tribe, and that a general rose-colored atmosphere encircled the whole thing, she laid siege to her father that she might go too.

It was an old story to him of a hard day's work, and not an atom of rose-color lay about it. He could not see why she wanted to go. But Susie hung round him, and begged.

"Why, father," said she, "I am six years old, and I haven't been out of North Guilford in my life."

Father and grandfather laughed at the energy with which this was said.

"It's too bad!" said grandfather. "Lived among the hills and the huckleberry-bushes all her life, and never seen the sea nor the Great Plain! Guess she must go, father."

Susie knew it was decided then, and rushed out to tell her brothers with nearly as wild a yell as they themselves might have given.

The next morning there was racing and chasing under the roof of the Bishops. The boys were so afraid they should not wake up early enough, that they slept on the edge of the bed with their arrows and tomahawks on the floor by the side, and fell out once or twice during the night, which had the desired effect of keeping them lively.

So it was still very early, when, after much packing away of dinner, and pitchforks, and rakes, and jugs of water, they at last rattled off in the warm, red sunlight of a dry August morning.

The boys gave their mother a farewell whoop as they went out of sight, to which Susie added some extra treble squeals. How very jolly it was! Mr. Bishop, and grandfather, and the children, were all in the hay-wagon, the two hired men driving the other wagon behind them.

"There, children!" said grandfather, as they came to the top of Long Hill, "there is the sea and the town."

Susie stared with both her eyes wide open, and wondered whether the sea ran into the sky, or the sky into the sea; for both were so clear and blue, it was hard to trace the dividing line.

A mile or two farther on, they began to get into the little town of Guilford, which is one of those solemn New England towns that dot the shores of Long Island Sound, each one with its white houses close shut, and a white church, also shut.

"There," said grandfather, as they drove through one of the side-streets, and pointing to a rather low but nice-looking farm-house built on a side-hill, with a good deal of the cellar wall visible on the down-hill side, "in that house is the cellar where the regicides were hid."

"Regicides!" said Ned; "what are they? That is a tribe I never heard of before."

Grandfather's eyes twinkled.

"It was not a very large tribe," said he; "there were not two hundred of them, and they never killed but one man."

"Couldn't have been very good Indians," said Ned, with great contempt.

"They were not; I never said they were Indians at all."

"What were they, then?" said Frank— Ned being a little confused.

"Nothing but white men, who thought they [illustration - The old stone house at Guilford.] had better kill a certain King of others, who whould lie and steal in spite of everything they could do to stop him."

"Oh, do tell us about it!" cried all the children.

"Not now," said grandfather, "I want to tell you something else, and you can read all about it in English history. Do you see that house over there?"

The children all looked as he pointed, and saw a house on a slight hill, about a mile away, with the chimney built at one end, on the outside, and with very small, deeply set windows. They all looked at it, and then at their grandfather.

"That was built in 1640," said he, "just twenty years after the first people landed from the 'Mayflower.' You can see how thick the walls are from the way the windows are set in. They meant
to have them strong, so as to keep out Indian arrows."

The children bristled with interest at the word Indian, and almost fell out of the wagon, trying to crowd round their grandfather.

"Did they have any fights?" said Susie; "did the Indians chase them into the house, and whoop, and pound on the door, and shoot arrows into the windows?"

"They had a good many frights said grandfather, "but the only real fight was three miles away from here, near where we are going to-day, at Sachem's Head."

"What was it? what was it? what was it?" cried Ned, and Frank, and Susie. "Tell us about it, grandpa."

Susie got so excited she stuck her head among the reins, and nearly made the horses go into a ditch.

"Gently, gently," said grandpa; "don't upset us, Susie, and I'll tell you all about it. Uncle Jabez, you see, was in the fight, and he used to tell my Uncle Ebenezer about it, and he told me."

The children felt as though Uncle Jabez himself, fresh from the battle, was talking to them; it brought it so near, to be looking at the very places, and getting the story at third hand.

"You see they had been having a great fight over east, with the Pequots—"

"I know them," put in Frank; "they lived over by New London, and killed lots of people."

"Yes, they killed a great many people, until the English,— you know we were all English then—"

"Oh, yes," said Ned, "we had not been long enough in this country to be Americans."

"The English," grandpa went on, "had to set to work at last, to kill the Indians, or the Indians would kill them. So there was this great battle at a fort near New London, and a great many hundred Indians were killed. The rest tried to run away. Some of the English soldiers, Uncle Jabez among them, with some Mohegan Indians who hated the Pequots worse than they did white men, followed them on land, and the rest of the English went along in boats on the Sound close to the shore, meaning to land wherever the Indians stopped, and have another fight. Uncle Jabez said they chased the Pequots through Clinton, where there was not a house then, and over the Great Plain of Guilford here, where even that old stone house was not built then, until they got down here to Sachem's Head, where we are coming, pretty soon. The Englishmen and the Indians came across the creeks, and over the hills, covered with big trees, then, until they came out by that long tongue of land. There it is. You can see from this hill how long and narrow it is, and how it runs out into the water; you see it makes a headland on one side of the bay. Well, the Pequots went down on that point, hoping the Mohegans and the English would go by and not notice it. But Uncle Jabez said that Uncas (he was the Mohegan chief) was too crafty to be fooled that way. He called one or two of his men and said something to them in their language, and they went off down the Point. Pretty soon they gave a yell. Then Uncas knew they had found the tracks of the Pequots, and, just as quick as they could, they divided into two parties. Some more of the Indians and the Englishmen hurried down the Point, and Uncas and the rest went round as fast as they could to the other side of the bay. As soon as the Pequots knew they were followed, they ran down to the shore, jumped into the water, and swam across. You see the harbor is not very wide there; but the minute they struck the other shore, Uncas and his men jumped out from behind the trees, and then Uncas drew his bow clear to the arrowhead, and the arrow struck the Pequot sachem in the breast, and he fell over dead; and then Uncas cut off his head, and put it up in a tree."

Susie began to cry a little, and the boys looked a good deal disturbed. But this did not last long.

"Here we are at the meadow," said grandpa, and Mr. Bishop stopped the horses at a fence by the side of the road, and the children sprang out with great delight. They could see the waters of the Sound at the end of the long reach of flat meadow, with headlands of gray rock rising on each side, and wanted to go at once down to the shore. But Ned and Frank had to work a little first, with the promise of play afterward. So, while they tossed the short brown hay in showers into the air, Susie climbed among the rocks of the low ledge which walled the meadow on each side, and made discoveries of new insects and flowers, until dinner time. After dinner, the desired permission was given, and away the children streamed, grandfather Bishop leading, and rested not until they had verified the spot where the Pequot sachem had been killed, and thought they found, at least, the stump of the tree in which his head was put, and had made their grandfather give them the right and wrong, or the moral side of the whole affair, which he did in a very few words.

"The Indians should not have fought the English, for they always bought the Indians' land— did not steal it from them. Perhaps the English were sometimes unjust in other matters, but is it not better, after all, that a people like them should have the country, who could grow to be a great nation, than a few Indians, who were only a little above the bears they killed and ate?"


The children did not understand this very clearly, but they thought grandpa was always right, and so agreed with him.

Then they acted over the story from the fight at the fort to the final scene at the Bloody Cove, and by the time their father called them to go home, if Frank's head had really been cut off as many times as it had in the character of the Pequot chieftain, he would not have been more than an inch high.