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



NEVER was a day brighter, or a sky bluer, or life jollier, than on the morning when little Ellen's papa and mama took her to visit the Indians,—real, live Indians that did nothing but weave baskets and sell baskets and sing strange songs all the day through. Never was a little girl happier, for that matter, than was Ellen's own sweet little self, all spick-and-span and dainty in her pretty little frock, from the crown of her curly head to the tips of her little black shoes. And never was a ride over the sunlit hills and between the meadows of gold buttercups and white daisies more beautiful.

At last the white tents of the Indians came in sight, and Big Jim got down to hold the horses' heads; papa got down to lift his girlie out, and mama stood by to kiss her when she was lifted down; and Ellen's little feet kicked with impatience to be set upon the ground, while Big Jim smiled and smiled, and showed all his shining rows of ivory teeth. Then some folks came up to talk with her papa and mama; Big Jim unhitched the horses and led them to a neighboring brook to drink; and Ellen was left alone, with the caution not to wander far, for papa and mama would be back in a minute and show their baby everything. But Ellen waited and waited and waited—oh, ever and ever so long! as she thought—until she could n't wait any longer, and scampered away to the first big tent just to peep in.

Oh, it was a regular fairyland for Ellen in that big tent! Arranged in a great circle there were long, clean boards covered with dingy shawls and set on barrels. On the boards were baskets—heaps of baskets, of every size and shape and color that Ellen had ever dreamed of in all her life. Now, Ellen was partial to baskets—why, even then, as she peeped in the door, Ellen held a basket clutched tightly in her little dimpled hands, and in that basket there were big, square soda-crackers, of course! So, being interested in baskets, Ellen timidly entered to look about.

There were more baskets on the ground under the counter, and more still in the back of the tent! There were carved Indian boy dollies and girl dollies, and canoes, and bows and arrows, and—oh, everything! But back of the counter her eyes caught sight of something still more interesting. There were great heaps of sweet-grass of every color of the rainbow, and in the midst of it Ulla-Ulla, the squaw, sat and sang Indian ballads, and wove the baskets for her husband to sell. Ellen looked up into the dusky face of the Indian who was selling a bow and arrow to a tall gentleman for his little boy, but the Indian did not see her, and, within, Ulla-Ulla sat and wove on and on.

Ellen could not resist the temptation any longer: she darted under the counter, and in an instant was beside Ulla-Ulla, the sweet-grass, and the unfinished baskets. Ulla-Ulla smiled and then laughed, and Ellen smiled and laughed, too. Ulla-Ulla was a happy Indian, and contented with her lot; but she knew no English except "yes" and "no"—the only two English words she could even try to say. Her lord and master did the selling, and "yes" and "no" go a great way when wisely used. So she stayed at the back of the tent, squatting there for hours, and wove sweet-scented grasses into gorgeous baskets, and watched little Sparkling-Eyes, her only child and the pride of her heart, dozing away the hours, snugly wrapped up and fastened to a board that either leaned against a tree or swung airily from its branches.

"Do you make all those baskets?" Ellen began, the awe her little heart felt at speaking to a real, "truly" Indian creeping into her voice.

"Yes," grunted Ulla-Ulla—only she pronounced it "yah."


"Do you always live in a big tent?" Ellen ventured again.

Ulla-Ulla watched her face sharply to see whether a "yes" or a "no" was required in answer, and finally said "Yah,"—which was not true at all, as Ulla-Ulla would have known could she have understood better what Ellen had said to her.

Just then Ellen caught sight of little Sparkling-Eyes out under the tree in the sunlight. The flaps at the back of the tent that served for doors were fastened back with wooden thongs, so that the afternoon sunlight might stream into the Indian home; and through this opening Ellen saw the baby, so still and quiet there. In truth, little Sparkling-Eyes was, at that moment, far away in dreamland.

"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed Ellen, in a transport of joy and surprise at her discovery, "is that beautiful dolly yours—that g'eat, big, beautiful dolly?"

"Yah," said Ulla-Ulla, smiling happily at the praise she supposed the little white papoose was giving her baby.

Ellen stood still in wonder and admiration at such a lovely "doll." She had never been near a baby in all her short little life—indeed, she had never even seen one!—so how was she to know this was not a doll, after all? Her heart began to swell with longing for just such a doll as this to love, coddle, sing to, and play with up at the big, lonely house that was her home. Just then a bright thought flashed through her mind: the doll was n't with the other things—it was out under a tree; and this Indian—she was surely too big to play with dolls. Perhaps, oh, perhaps, she did n't care for it! She ran back to question Ulla-Ulla.

"Does youlove your dolly?" she ventured, very timidly, indeed.

Ulla-Ulla was uncertain what to say, and then, remembering she had said "Yes" to everything so far, she concluded it was time to vary the conversation a little, and answered, "Nuh!"

Ellen's heart gave a great bound, and she stood with clasped hands before the Indian woman, a great hope showing in her eyes.

" Oh!" she exclaimed, with a deep breath, "if you don't care for it one teenty-taunty bit,would you—won't youplease give it to me?"

Ulla-Ulla thought a moment. The little girl's eager manner, her raised voice and flushed cheeks, all told the Indian woman she was asking for some unusual privilege. Now, every one that saw her Sparkling-Eyes always wanted to do one thing—to kiss her,—she was so pretty and dark and clean for an Indian baby. Ulla-Ulla remembered this, and decided it must be what the little papoose desired.

"Yah," she laughed, and nodded; and she turned back to her weaving and singing.

Ellen danced out of the tent to the tree, and laboriously picking up her present, staggered away with it. Fortunately, the carriage was not far distant, and the baby was very small and light, so that by a great effort she managed to carry it across the open space to the carriage. The Indians were all in their tents, busy with their customers; so it came about that no one saw Ellen as she carried her heavy load to the carriage steps. Big Jim was down by the brook, whittling a stick and whistling; so not even he observed Ellen's unusual actions. And she, laughing to herself, thought, "It 's a wery big dolly, an' is just awful heavy; butwon't papa and mama be s'prised when they see it!" And Ellen was right; they were.

The little girl rested her load on the broad, low step of the carriage for a moment, and then lifting it with all her might and main, she first kneeled and then stood on the step and placed it on the bottom of the carriage. This accomplished, she straightened herself, panting from the effort she had made, and then pushed the little sleeper far back under the seat, among the extra blankets.

Just then Ellen's folks came back, and she told them how she had seen the Indians, and had had "just asplendid time" (but never a word of her Indian dolly—of course not!). So they all bundled back into the carriage, and Jim brought back the horses and had them harnessed up in a trice. Then he climbed to his box, cracked his whip, and they wheeled gaily away homeward. Yet all this time Ulla-Ulla worked on, laughing to herself, between her songs, at the little white papoose, and chanting a few notes from pure joy and pride at owning such a baby as Sparkling-Eyes.

Up by the four cross-roads, where the wild
woodbine twines about the old fence-rails, the prancing span drew up and stopped; and Ellen and her mama got out to pick the violets that hid their blue heads among the grasses.

But while Ellen and her mother were gathering flowers at the cross-roads, there was wailing in the camp. Ulla-Ulla went out to get her baby, and found her gone! Dismay was in her heart and sorrow in the village, and the braves rushed here and there in search for the lost one, while the mother wept, beat her breast, and tore her hair.

At the cross-roads the flowers were thick, and Ellen and her mother gathered them to their hearts' content. A new joy filled Ellen's heart, for she owned a very big dolly now. Little did she dream, however, of the sorrow she had caused to the Indian mother in the tent she had visited! Ellen's mother approached the back of the carriage to place her flowers there, where they would keep fresher than in her hands.

[illustration - Little Sparkling-Eyes]

"No, mama, not there! Letme carry 'em,—oh, please, do!" exclaimed Ellen. She did n't care to have her mother know her secret yet. The surprise would be greater, she thought, if she waited until they reached home. But just then, from the extra robes under the seat, there came a merry chuckle, and from out the depths two little brown fists were thrust upward and grabbed for the bunch of flowers.

"Oh, my soul!" gasped Ellen's mother, fairly struck dumb with amazement." Where— What—!" She could say no more in her surprise, and the expression on her face was ludicrous to see. She leaned over and lifted the little Indian baby out.

"Why—why—!" she gasped again; and Ellen's papa and Big Jim sat in their seats and laughed, so comical was the sight.

" It 's mydolly!" Ellen exclaimed indignantly, almost ready to cry. They were all laughing—laughing at the dolly—when they all ought to be as surprised as they could be!

"On my word," gasped her father at last, in such amazement as to satisfy even Ellen "on my word—your dolly!"

But when Ellen had finally told them the whole story, little by little, Jim, papa, and even mama laughed and laughed and then suddenly began to look very serious, until Ellen was beginning to cry.

Before long there drove into the midst of the sorrowing village a carriage containing a big, black coachman, a smiling father and mother, a very penitent Ellen, and a little brown Indian papoose. Ellen's mama had told her how sad and sorry Sparkling-Eyes's mama must feel to lose her baby, and had explained how she came to consent to its being taken away, and, last of all, had promised to buy Ellen the very nicest doll her papa could find in all the great city of Boston when he returned to his business there the following Monday. So Ellen was partly satisfied at last.

The Indians clustered about the carriage, quite as surprised at the grand return of baby Sparkling-Eyes as Ellen's parents had been when they discovered her in the carriage.

Ulla-Ulla received her lost one to her arms again, and laughed quietly in her strange Indian fashion when she was told the tale of how she gave her baby away.

But Ulla-Ulla's husband hastened back to his wigwam, and brought Ellen the very nicest and prettiest basket of all his store.