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



[illustration - A raven, sitting high up on a limb, had a fine piece of cheese. He was just going to enjoy it, when along came Mr. Pox. Now the fox wanted the cheese, and he knew he could not catch the raven. So he began to flatter the raven's croaking voice, and to bet; the raven for one of his sweet songs At last the poor raven, silly with flattery, opened his mouth to sing-when To ! the cheese dropped to the ground, and off ran the wily fox with the stolen treasure in his mouth. The raven flew away,' and never was heard of again.]

Donee was a king's daughter. She had heard her father talk of the battles into which he had led his mighty warriors, and of how all the world that she knew had once been his, from the hills behind which the sun rose to the broad rushing river where it set. Now all of this account was strictly true.

But the king, as he talked, wore no clothes but a muddy pair of cotton trousers, and sat on a log in the sun, a pig rooting about his bare feet. Black Joe, going by, called him a lazy old red-skin; and that was true, too. But these differing accounts naturally confused Donee's mind. When the old chief was dead, however, there was an end of all talk of his warriors or battles. A large part of the land was left, though; a long stretch of river bot- tom and forests, with but very little swamp. Donee's brother, Oostogah, when he was in a good humor, planted and hoed a field of corn (as he had no wife to do it for him), and with a little fish and game, they managed to find enough to eat. Oosto- gah and the little girl lived in a hut built of logs and mud, and, as the floor of it never had been Scrubbed, the grass actually began to grow out of the dirt in the corners. There was a log smoulder- ing on the hearth, where Donee baked cakes of pounded corn and beans in the ashes, and on the other side of the dark room was the heap of straw where she slept. Besides this, there were two hacked stumps of trees which served for chairs, and an iron pot out of which they ate; and there you have the royal plenishing of that palace.

All the other Indians had long ago gone West. Donee had nothing and nobody to play with. She was as easily scared as a rabbit; yet sometimes, when Oostogah was gone for days together, site was so lonely that she would venture down through the swamp to peep out at the water-mill and the two or three houses which the white people had built. The miller, of all the white people, was the one that she liked best to watch, he was so big and round, and jolly; and one day, when he had met her in the path, he did not call her "Injun," or "red nigger," as the others did, but had said: "Where's your brother, my dear?" just as if she were white. She saw, sometimes, his two little girls and boy playing about the mill-door, and they were round and fat, and jolly, just like their father.


At last, one day Oostogah went down to the mill, and Donee plucked up her courage and followed him. When she was there hiding close behind the trough in which the horses were watered, so that nobody could see her, she heard the miller say to her brother: "You ought to go to work to clear your land, my lad. In two years there will be hundreds of people moving in here, and you own the best part of the valley."

Oostogah nodded. "The whole country once belonged to my people."

" That neither here nor there," said the miller. "Dead chickens don't count for hatching. You go to work now and clear your land, and you can sell it for enough to give you and this little girl behind the trough an education. Enough to give you both a (chance equal to any white children."

Oostogah nodded again, but said nothing. Lie was shrewd enough, and could work, too, when he was in the) humor. "Come, Donee," he said.

But the miller's little Thad. and Jenny had found Donee behind the trough, and the three were making a nettle basket together, and were very well acquainted already.

" Let the child stay till you come back from fishing, Oostotgah," said the miller.

So Donee staid all the afternoon. Jenny and Betty rolled and shouted, and could not talk fast enough with delight because they had this new little girl tact play with, and Thad. climbed all the trees, as Jenny said, to "show off," and Betty tumbled into the trough head over heels and was taken out dripping.

Donee was very quiet, but it was to her as if the end of the world had come, all this was so happy and wonderful. She never had had any body to play with before.

Then, when Betty was carried in to be dried and dressed, those was, too, the bright, cheerful room, with a lovely blue carpet on the floor, and a white spread on the bed with fringe, and red dahlias that shone an the sun, putting their heads in at the window. Betty's mother did not scold when she took her weft clothes off, lint said some funny things which mark them laugh. She looked at Donee now and them, standing with her little hands clasped behind her back.

"Does your mother never wash or dress you, Donee ?" said Betty.

"She is dead," said Donee.

Betty's mother did not say any more funny things after that. When she had finished dressing Betty, to the tying, of her shoes, she called the little Indian girl up to her.

" What can you do ?" she said. ï sew ? Make moccasins. "

She had the pleasantest voice Donee was not at all afraid. " I can sew. I can make baskets," she said. " I am going to make a basket for every one of you."

" Very well. You can have a tea-party, Jenny, out of doors." Then she opened a cupboard.

"Here are the dishes," taking out a little box. "And bread, jam, milk, sugar, and candy."

" Candy!" cried Betty, rushing out to tell Thad."

"Candy? Hooray!" shouted Thad.

For there are no shops out in that wild country where a boy can run for a stick of lemon or gumdrops every time he gets a penny. It was very seldom that Thad. or Betty could have a taste of those red and white "bull's eyes" which their mother now took out of the jar in the locked cupboard. They knew she brought it out to please the little Indian girl, whose own mother was dead.

Jenny set the table for the tea-party under a big oak. There was a flat place on one of the round roots that rose out of the moss, which was the very thing for a table. So there she spread the little white and gold plates and cups and saucers, with the meat dish (every bit as large as your hand), in the middle, full of candy. The milk, of course, was put in the pot for coffee, and set on three dead leaves to boil; and Jenny allowed Donee to till the jam dishes herself, with her own hands. Donee could hardly get her breath as she did it.

When they were all ready they sat down. The sun shone, and the wind was blowing, and the water of the mill-race flashed and gurgled as it went by, and a song-sparrow perched himself on the fence close to them and sang, and sang, just as if he knew what was going on.

" He wants to come to the party!" said Betty, and then they all laughed. Donee laughed too.

The shining plates just fitted into the moss, and there was a little pitcher, the round-bellied part of which was covered with sand, while the handle and top were, Jenny said, of solid gold ; that was put in the middle of all.

Donee did not think it was like fairy-land or heaven, because she had never in her life heard of fairy-land or heaven. She had never seen any thing but her own filthy hut, with its iron pot and wooden spoons.

When it was all over, the children's mother (Donee felt as if she was her mother too) called her in, and took out of that same cupboard a roll of the loveliest red calico.

"Now, Donee," she said, "if you can make yourself a dress of this I will give you this box," and she opened a box, just like Jenny's. Inside, packed in thin slips of paper, was a set of dishes! pure white, with the tiniest rose-bud in the middle of each! cups, saucers, meat-dish, coffee-pot, and


all; and, below all, a pitcher, with sand on the brown bottom, but the top and handle of solid gold!

Donee went back to the hut, trotting along beside Oostogah, her roll of calico under her arm. The next day she cut it out into a slip and began to sew. Oostogah was at work all day cutting down dead trees. When he came in at night, Donee said: "If you sold the land for much money, could we have a home like the miller's ?"

Oostogah was as much astonished as if a chicken had asked him a question, but he said "Yes."

" Would I be like Jenny and Betty?"

"You're a chief's daughter," grunted Oostogah.

One day in the next week she went down to the river far in the woods, and took a bath, combing her long straight black hair down her shoulders. Then she put on her new dress, and went down to the miller's house. It was all very quiet, for the children were not there, but their mother came to the door. She laughed out loud with pleasure when she saw Donee. The red dress was just the right color for her to wear with her dark skin and black hair. Her eyes were soft and shy, and her bare feet and arms (like most Indian women's) pretty enough to be copied in marble.

" You are a good child—you 're a very good child! Here are the dishes. I wish the children were at home. Sit right down on the step now and eat a piece of pie."

But Donee could not eat the pie, her heart was so full.

" Why, what a nice girl you are to-day, Dony ! Your brother's hard at work, eh ? It will all come right, then."

Donee stood around for a long time, afraid to say what she wanted.

" What is it?" asked the miller's wife.

Donee managed to whisper, if she were to have a party the next day, could the children come to it? and their mother said: "Certainly, in the evening."

When the little girl ran down the hill, the miller said: "Seems as if 't would be easy to make Christians out of them two."

" I'm going to do what I can for Donee," said the miller's wife.

It was not so easy for the little red-skinned girl to have a party, for she had neither jam nor bread, nor butter, not to mention candy. But she was up very early the next morning, and made tiny little cakes of corn, no bigger than your thumb-nail, and she went to a hollow tree she knew of and got a cupful of honey, and brought some red haws, and heaps of nuts, hickory and chestnuts. When Oostogah had gone, she set out her little dishes under a big oak, and dressed herself in her lovely frock, though she knew the party could not begin for hours and hours. The brown cakes and honey, and scarlet haws, were in the white dishes, and the gold pitcher, with a big purple flower, was in the middle. Donee sat down and looked at it all. In a year or two Oostogah would build a house like the miller's, and she should have a blue carpet on the floor, and a white bed, and wear red frocks every day, like Betty.

Just then she heard voices talking. Oostogah had come back; he sat upon a log; and the trader, who came around once a year, stood beside him, a pack open at his feet. It was this peddler, Hawk, who was talking.

" I tell you, Oostogy, the miller's a fool. Ther 's no new settlers coming here, and nobody wants your land. Ther's hundreds and thousands of acres beyond better than this. You 'd better take my offer. Look at that suit!"

He held up short trousers of blue cloth worked with colored porcupine quills, and a scarlet mantle glittering with beads and gold fringe.

" I don't want it," grunted Oostogah. " Sell my land for big pile money."

" Oh, very well. I don't want to buy your land. There 's thousands of acres to be had for the asking, but there's not such a dress as that in the United States. I had that dress made on purpose for you, Oostogy. I said: ' Make me a dress for the son of a great chief. The handsomest man'" (eyeing the lad from head to foot) "'that lives this side of the great water.' "

Oostogah grunted, but his eyes began to sparkle.

"Here now, Oostogy, just try it on to please me. I'd like to see you dressed like a chief for once."

Oostogah, nothing loth, dropped his dirty blanket, and was soon rigged in the glittering finery, while Hawk nodded in rapt admiration.

" There's not a man in the country, red-skin or pale-face, but would know you for the son of the great Denomah. Go look down in the creek, Oostogy."

Oostogah went, and came back, walking more slowly. He began to take off the mantle.

"There's a deputation from these Northern tribes going this winter to see the Great Father at Washington. If Oostogah had a proper dress he could go. But shall the son of Denomah come before the Great Father in a torn horse- blanket?"

" Your words are too many," said Oostogah. "1 have made up my mind. I will sell you the land for the clothes.

Donee came up then, and stood directly before him, looking up at him. But she said nothing. It


is not the habit of Indian women and children to speak concerning matters of importance.

Oostogah pushed her out of the way, and, with the trader, went into the hut to finish their bargain.

In an hour or two her brother came to Donee. He had his new clothes in a pack on his back. Come," he said, pointing beyond the great river to the dark woods.

"We will come back here again, Oostogah?"

No; we will never come back."

Donee went to the tree and looked down at the party she had made; at the little dishes with the rose on each. But she did not lift one of them up. She took off her pretty dress and laid it beside them, and, going to the hut, put on her old rags again. Then she came out and followed her brother, whose face was turned toward the great dark woods in the west.

When the miller's children came to the party lt afternoon, a pig was lying on Donee's red Qress and the dishes were scattered and broken. But the hut was empty.

A year afterward, the miller came back from a long journey. After he had kissed and hugged his wife and little ones, he said: "You remember, wife, how Hawk cheated that poor Indian lad out of his land?"

"Yes; I always said it was the old story of the fox and the foolish raven over again."

"It was the old story of the white and the red man over again. But out in an Indian village I found Donee sick and starving."

The miller's wife jumped to her feet. The tears rushed to her eyes. "What did you do? What did you do ?"

" Well, there was n't but one thing to do, and I did that." He went out to the wagon and carried in the little Indian girl, and laid her on the bed.

"Poor child! Poor child! Where is Oosto- gah?"

The miller shook his head. "Don't ask any questions about him. The raven flew away to the woods, and was never heard of again. Better if that were the end of Oostogah."

Donee, opening her tired eyes, saw the blue carpet and the white bed where she lay, and the red dahlias shining in the sun and looking in at the window, and beside her were the children, and the children's mother smiling down on her with tears in her eyes.