Catharine: The Faithful Ojibway: By Charles E. Waterman.
“Should you ask me, whence these stories? Whence these legends and traditions, With the odors of the forest, With the dew and damp of meadows, With the curling smoke of wigwams, With the rushing of great rivers, With their frequent repetitions, And their wild reverberations, As of thunder in the mountains? I should answer, I should tell you, ‘From the forests and the prairies, From the great lakes of the Northland, From the land of the Ojibways.’ ” -Song of Hiawatha
Catharine was a child of the forest. She had al the illusiveness of the forest, and, besides, had the added illusiveness of distance. Springing Panther, when his eyes were dim and his step unsteady, told his great-grandson, Stalking Moose, about her. He, in turn, told his great-grandson, John Buck. John, with the lapse of years and the help of the Indian School at Carlisle, had eliminated the blood of Springing Panther from his veins, and the nearest approach to the cervus family of his great-grandfather was the assumed patronymic Buck. This was due to the influence of the American Government, which had tried to smooth away the “odors of the forest,” the love of tribe and their superstitions. In this it has succeeded to a great extent. The names suggested by the warpath and hunting trail are gone; and the desire to be like their white brother has translated the Indian “Mouswah” into plain Buck. Compared with the nation built up by the conquerors of America, the hunting grounds of the natives were a small domain; beside the combats of the victors the battles of the aborigines were skirmishes; and beside the exploits of modern nimrods, with magazine guns, the chase of those who had preceded them paled into insignificance. So the tales of prowess told around the wigwam fire vanished into nothingness, as the blue smoke that circled above it vanished into air. Nothing was left-nothing but Catharine, and even her Indian name had vanished in her connection with the white man. She was a class in herself, so time could not efface her. There have been thousands of warriors, there have been thousands of hunters, but there has been but one Catharine, one maiden to stray from her nation, one maiden=-and a heathen at that-to obey the Biblical injunction, “love your enemies,” and she died in the attempt. It was a strange thing-so strange the anger it caused died out of the breasts of those who told her story. Springing Panther was her playmate, and might have been her lover had not her passion strayed elsewhere. He remembered her beauty; and, perhaps, in the mellowing light of his Indian summer, it lost none of its mystical charm. She must have had charm, or it could not have compelled the reciprocated passion of a white soldier. “The forest shade said this old admirer, “had paled the copper hue of her skin, till the blush of the rose hid and subdued it.” In the days of Stalking Moose, this rosy flush had mantled a white skin. Her human side had vanished. She was simply angelic. The white man must have been the son of God, else how could he have won the love of an angel. Thus the story grew until it came to John Buck. Thus the silver haze of tradition enveloped Catharine, until the image created Was niched by the “art preservative”-until tradition was swallowed up in history. This transformation is heartless; but blessed is the subject that has basked in the sunshine of tradition for one hundred and fifty years, for then it is impossible to rob it of all the halo gained in those decades. It is caught, like the fly in the amber, with wings torn in the battle with yeilding yet clinging gum, and preserved to future generations.
In the year 1760, there was peace in North America for the first time in seventy years, unless the breathing spells between bouts could be called peace. In the veins of the people around the great lakes and their outlet ran hot Gallic blood; but in those farther south was a fiercer fluid-Anglo-Saxon. Between the two was. a hedge of forest, and through this each darted when advantage rested on their side, to smite some unprotected settlement. Wolfe and Montcalm played the final game on the Plains of Abraham, and so there was peace. As a result, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi the lilies of France gave place to the red cross of England. It was true there were places yet to hear of this peace. There were settlers yet to learn they had changed places from conquerors to conquered. It was a delicate or brutal task, according to the man entrusted with it, to tell the truth to these people; and the job of assimilation was a greater one than the taking of Quebec. The task was assigned to Major Robert Rogers. In September, therefore, of the year 1760, he was dispatched to take possession of Detroit and other western posts. He had commanded a company of rangers in the campaign just ended, which had covered themselves with glory and gained a place of distinction for their commander. His command numbered two hundred men born and bred on the New England frontier. They were equally at home with the pruning hook or spear, or rather the gun which had taken the place of the spear. They were comfortable either around the big open fire of their cabins or the forest camp-blaze. They were self-supporting wherever they went. At home they subsisted from the crops of the fields they had cleared; in the forest from the animals that roamed· therein. In war-well, war, as they waged it, was a good deal like the hunt. It consisted of long marches through 1 the forest to attack some outpost, and the commissary department, as a general thing, was supplied from day to day by the country traversed. They were eminently fitted for bush-whackers, but were not satisfactory as soldiers to the captains of Europe. They despised drill and were uneasy under discipline. They were destitute of uniforms, except as the natural dress of a backwoodsman was uniform. Each private followed his own inclination as to what he should wear, but the material was always buckskin and the style similar, so there could be seen no real difference on parade. The officers, for the most part, dressed like their men; but some wore uniforms of blue cloth with scarlet facings. Some of these officers were native born and some Englishmen, who had found their way across the Atlantic in search of adventure. It would be useless to catalogue those who accompanied Rogers. Many of their names have been lost in the flood of years, or found only on old musty rolls. One there was, however, that fame caught with her camera. He was a kind of aid to Rogers, and his name was Gladwyn. They made the voyage over the inland waters in fifteen whaleboats. The way was new to them and full of the unexpected. The seething rapids of the St. Lawrence furnished excitement and hairbreadth escapes. When they sailed among the Thousand Isles the beauty enchanted them. The weather was rough and boisterous as they skirted the northern shore of Lake Ontario. With the first days of October they reached Niagara and were awed by that stupendous waterfall, as has been every visitor since. Carrying their boats around the cataract they continued the voyage. Through the chilly winds of November, they pursued their way along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and it was not until winter had set in that they reached Detroit.
Ill. The Challenge. TO reach Detroit, the rangers were forced to pass through the hunting grounds of the Pottawattomies, the Ojibwas and the Ottawas. Although these tribes had known the French and lived on friendly terms with them, they were jealous of the English. Perhaps it was because of this former friendship that they were so. These tribes had for a long time been united in a loose confederacy, with Pontiac, the Ottawa chief, as overlord. Naturally they did not like this incursion, and resolved to oppose it, so they waited on the invaders. As it was stormy, Rogers encamped near a river which he called Chogage, to await more suitable weather for traveling. It was here that he received the delegation of chiefs. Pontiac was spokesman, and he haughtily asked what they wanted in this country? Rogers replied that he represented the English who had conquered the French, and all the surrounding land formerly under their dominion had become the spoil of the victors. He added, however, that it was the wish of his royal master to live in peace with his red brothers. At the close of this speech, the Indians returned to their camp and held a council, while the rangers, suspicious of treachery, prepared for a night attack. There was no night attack. Instead, the Indians spent the hours of darkness in debating what course to pursue. Passion and shrewd judgment were fighting for mastery in their breasts. Some were for war regardless of consequences. Some were sanguine of success. “The white men were few,” they argued, “the red men many.” Others recalled that it had not been easy to stay the march of the white man as he encroached more and more on the red man’s land. These had been French and friends, objected some. Indeed, they had been allies and together they had fought the proud Englishman. The French, however, had been vanquished by the English, and, therefore, could no longer be allies. What was their status, therefore, toward the encamped strangers? Should they side with the French or English-the conquerors or conquered? Sentiment leaned toward the former, judgment toward the latter. The average Indian mind was indifferent to consequences. Disaster simply meant to scatter. The individual was the unit. The tribe was not a necessity. His allegiance was voluntary and slight. He fought for it from impulse and abandoned it for the same reason. The workings of his mind were simple. It was the present he was thinking of. He had no future. He was an observer, but deduction was for the present or near future. At rare intervals there were born individuals of a different mould. They might dream of empire and be called visionary. If one were only strong enough to twist the living strands together? But alas, they generally proved ropes of sand. Pontiac was such a dreamer. If the white man could weld different peoples together and make a nation of them, why not the red man? He would try. His physical prowess none could deny, and his eloquence had already knit the scattered links of the Algonquins family closer together. How should he treat these strangers? Should he acknowledge them as rightful successors of the French? Should he acknowledge their suzerainty by right of conquest? If an alliance with the French had been an advantage, would not one with the English be a greater one? Dropping his prejudices, it seemed it would to him; and he impressed this idea upon the gathered tribesmen; but is was an all night’s job. As a result, the chiefs returned in the morning and bade the strangers welcome to their territory.
IV. The Meeting
The verdict of the council eased restraint on both sides. In the camp of the rangers a strict guard was kept as a matter of precaution; but a limited number of men were allowed outside the lines during the day-time to forage for game. They were used to the ways of Indians and could take care of themselves. Some of the officers strayed outside simply as a relaxation. Most of them were indifferent to the charms of the forest from long association; but there were exceptions. Gladwyn was one of them. He loved solitude and nature. He was romantic in his makeup and could see beauty where prejudice would impair the vision of his companions. He was inclined to trust the word of Pontiac farther than other officers; so he was out in the forest in the full assurance of peace. There were other dreamers in the Indian camp than Pontiac; but their dreams were of a different kind. Besides the chiefs, there were squaws attendant upon their lords. They were nearer the Pottawattamie village than any other belonging to the confederacy, and in that village lived an Ojibway girl who had followed the party of chiefs. She was a dreamer; but after the way of the daughters, of Eve. Her dreams were not of warriors but lovers. True to feminine instinct, she was dreaming not so much of the men she loved as the one who should love her. She was not unused to white men. There had been coureurs de bois in her village, and some of them had wooed her dusky sisters. It is not known what her natural choice might have been, but this morning, suggested, probably, by proximity and the talk of the chiefs, she was thinking of the men in the white camp, now announced as allies of her people There were no restraining guards around her camp. She was free to roam wherever she chose, and, following the subject of her dreams. her footsteps took the direction of the camp of the rangers. When two people travel on the same line from opposite directions they must come together. Gladwyn and the girl did not travel undeviatingly. They side-stepped here and there, each for the purpose of viewing some insect or flower. Gladwyn was humming a tune-a rollicking march tune-that had been coined that very year in “Brighton Camp,” and sung by the boys who had come over with Wolfe, when, rain-soaked and tired, they threw up batteries on the Louis shore, and dodged the cannon balls fired at them by Montcalm. It was catchy and the fifes and drums had caught it up as they marched down the Plains of Abraham. He was thinking, as he softly sung: “When Mars shall have resigned me, Forevermore I’ll gladly stay With the girl I left behind me,” whether he should go home at that time, pick out some girl and settle dowh to peace. The dream looked pleasant. Just then, by the brookside he was following, shot up some spikes of red berries from a clump of white alders, and he stopped to pick them. Then · he backed them with a few oak leaves in the russet dress of autumn, and heightened the effect by a sprig of evergreen. He resumed his rambling and his humming, with these gifts of the season in his hand. Soon he spied a ledgy promontory ahead of him by the brookside. He climbed it, the exertion causing the song to cease for a time. He might have resumed it as he reached the summit, had not his ear detected another song. It was not a song, but rather chant; wild, weird, in minor key, but not without melody. He stopped and listened. There could be no song without a singer. This fact took possession of his mind without process of reasoning, also the desire to see her, for the tones were feminine. He stepped to the edge of the ledge and looked down. There stood an Indian girl engaged in the feminine pleasure of dressing her hair. Her mirror was the brook and she was trying the effect of her long braids first in one position and then another. Her form was graceful, covered with a mantle of buckskin, decorated with feathers and French beads. On her feet were moccasins, the vamps trimmed with porcupine quills. Her hair was black, and beneath it was a face not uncomely. The cheek bones were not prominent, as in most Indians, and her skin was not so dark. Undoubtedly there were variations of Indian physique and color as there were albinos among deer. Was the unusual type due to admixture of French blood? These things passed through Gladwyn’s mind as he looked at her. She was not unpleasant to look at, especially when a man was separated from his home and womankind by leagues of forest. He drew nearer the edge of the cliff to get a better view, when the scanty covering of earth made damp and treacherous by autumn rains gave way and down he slid to her very feet. His unexpected and noisy advent startled the girl; but she was too used to the unexpected in the forest to be frightened. First she seemed inclined to run away, then she remained to look at the stranger. He returned the look, explained and apologized for his sudden intrusion. The words were as Greek to her, as he might have known had he taken time to think. Words are the invention of men and the result of circumstance; but there is a universal language not dependent on the tongue. His words were unintelligible, but his smile and the glance of his eyes were friendly. She smiled back and summoned her choicest Algonquin, with an occasional French word, to answer what she knew he had said. To him as to her, words were superfluous. Eyes, smiles, and gestures supplied all necessary meaning. A man and maid cannot stand and smile and make eyes at each other forever. After a time the silliness of the situation becomes apparent. Gladwyn might have wished to prolong this pleasant interview; but a parting is necessary in all interviews, and sometimes it is the bitter-sweetness of this that is remembered instead of the interview; so he lifted his cap and presented the white alder berries he carried with the words, “Sweets to the sweet.” The Shakespearian quotation was lost on the girl. He was of another race and clime; but do you not suppose the act carried an apt translation? She accepted his gift, curtsied, turned her back, half reluctantly, · and walked haltingly into the forest. After going a few steps, she turned, as if irresistibly drawn to her late companion. He stood where she had seen him last, and smiled back his admiration; but the awkwardness of the situation forced him to turn. Ere he did so, however, he again lifted his cap and flung a kiss in her direction.
V. New Conditions
The English took possession of Detroit, and Gladwyn was made commandant of the fort. It was not a position of ease, for, outside the garrison, there were but few English-speaking people. On either side of the river were rows of log cabins occupied by Frenchmen with their Indian wives. These men had not forgotten the sting of defeat. Thinly could they disguise their sullen restlessness. If opportunity offered they were ready for insurrecton. Close association caused the Indians to share their feelings. It was true, in name, they were allies of the English; but can one love the enemies of one’s husband or relatives? Then, again, the alliance between the English and Indians was different from that which had existed between the French and Indians. With an English enemy south of the line of forest, the Indians had been important; but with a country wholly under one rule he became unnecessary. Thus the alliance was in name only. Outwardly there was peace, inwardly rebellion. This made the Indian inferior and he felt it. About the only use the Englishmen had for him was to exploit him. South, west, and north of Detroit stretched unbroken forest, the habitat of fur-bearing animals. The pelts of these were valuable, and were to be had chiefly through Indians. These, by contact with white neighbors, had lost something of their savage independence and learned to crave some of the white men’s luxuries; so an exchange was mutual. The fort, therefore, was not only a place of defense, but of barter as well. It was the hub of the Indian universe, and thither they flocked, male and female, for the goods desired. Under such conditions it was easy for the Ojibway girl to see the man she had met in the forest. It did not need a brilliant mind to observe he was looked up to as one in authority-that he was the big chief of the white men. Would that lessen the regard of any woman, would it not be a secret satisfaction that such a man had smiled on her? When he came near, would it not set her heart a-flutter in fear lest he should not recognize or remember her? There were long rows of squatty squaws which he passed without notice; would he deign to look at her? He came nearer, viewing this mass of humanity with indifference. Suddenly his eye lighted! He stopped, smiled, came forward and gave her an English handshake. That changed all her relations to the world. She was the one squaw on whom the great white chief smiled. · She was marked because of this favor among her own people. She was marked, because of this favor, by the English soldiers. She came frequently, not because she had pelts to sell, but to be near this man, who, in her simple heart, was her lover. Her ears were open to catch the strange words around her so she could converse with him. At first the commandant treated her as he would a wild animal he had caught-tried to grin her confidence and make a pet of her. She was something more, however, because she was human. Her personal appearance reminded him of a white maiden he had known at home. She was a pet, so she must have a name. She was human, so she must have a human name. She was female, so it must be feminine. Before he knew what her tribesmen called her, he named her Catharine, because she reminded him of the far-away white girl. Gladwyn was human. In those days the phrase, “Single men in barracks don’t grow to plaster saints,” had not been written; but the character which suggested the lines was on earth. He was no better or worse than the rest of his class; but the thought of the pure white Catharine she reminded him of made his relation with her different than it might have been under other circumstances. Seeing her was a pleasure, and he devised means to make her visits frequent. Catharine had skill in moccasin making, and he soon learned the fact. He commissioned her to make him some, so she might have an excuse in coming to him. It was curious how many pairs he required. He had long lines of them in his private quarters. Officers and men, when they visited him, came away with a smile lurking in the corners of their mouths. “The major’s slippers,” they said. “He’s got enough for the whole garrison, only they’re too good to wear!” It was a fact, Catharine made each succeeding pair of more elaborate design that the preceding ones, till Gladwyn would as soon have thought of wearing the fabled golden slippers supposed to be reserved for all of us in some future abode, as one her hand had wrought. Thus three years past.
During this time dissatisfaction among the Indians increased. They missed the importance of their relation with the French. They were neglected, therefore jealous. Furthermore, the newcomers were spreading out over their territory; and even these people, prone to look at the present only, could not fail to see, if the increase continued, there would be no hunting grounds for them. If they could be driven away this danger would be averted; but with an enemy powerful enough to subdue the French, would the Indian stand much chance of success? This thought caused them to consider the matter before undertaking war. They chaffed under the restraint, however. Their dissatisfaction was increased by the French settlers, who intimated that if the Indians went to war they might expect aid from them; but they must muster sufficient numbers to insure success. Pontiac was still the ascendant chief, and he finally became so fascinated with the idea that he traveled, not only among neighboring Algonquin tribes, but to distant nations, inflaming their passions and thereby inducing theffi’ to join him. When this alliance was consummated, the Indians began offensive operations. They cut off supplies intended for the fort, and massacred small detachment of troops, or solitary men who ventured into the forest. These was a vague unrest in the garrison. These acts had been carried on in such a stealthy manner they did not know whether actual war existed or not. These depredations had not been carried on around Detroit alone. They were general on the whole frontier. It was an unseen foe that surrounded them. As the arrangements of Pontiac neared completion, aggressions became more open. Considerable bodies of warriors were seen now and then, their bodies hideously painted. Danger lurked in the forest, and garrisons were locked within their forts. Plans for a general attack were at length matured. Bodies of Indians massed around important fortresses were to attack them at an appointed time, so succor could come to none. Stratagem had always played an important part in Indian warfare. Some way must be devised so victory would be certain. Garrisons must be surprised. At this particular time such a thing was difficult. A sharp lookout has been maintained for months because surprise was the thing expected. In distributing places of honor among the chiefs, Pontiac did not overlook himself. He was to hold the center of the stage. He was to take Detroit. How? That was a question with him. He did not intend to invest and lay siege except as a last resort. Such a proceeding would be uncertain. Somehow, he must gain possession in such manner that loss among his followers would be the minimum and success assured. At last he thought it out. He would hold a talk with the white chief to “brighten the chain of friendship.” Each of his chiefs should go to the fort wrapped in his somberest blanket, but underneath it should be concealed a sawed-off gun. The saying, “there is no good Indian but a dead one,” is really a paraphrase. Pontiac was the author of the original, and it ran, – “There is no good white man but a dead one.” It was a good plot and might have worked had it not been for Catharine. White people have always put faith in their tongues. It was all right to talk about the might of the sword, or that mightier thing, the pen, but above all they placed value in their persuasive eloquence. Hundreds of men have lost their lives in the three hundred years of Indian warfare in this country by thinking their tongues were mightier than their swords. Detroit might have added an example of this folly but for Catharine. Major Gladwyn had made an appointment to talk with Pontiac and his chiefs.
VII. Pair of Moccasins
As might have been expected this war talk was causing anxiety to Catharine. She was an Indian and wished to be loyal to her people-was loyal to them as long as they confined their attention to settlements other than Detroit. She was considered loyal and Warriors took no pains to conceal their plans from her. They did not confide them to her, for she was a squaw and belonged to the camp while they were warriors whose place was on the war path. While Pontiac was forming his confederacy and his plans for the annihilation of the white men, she remained indifferent; but when ~hose plans reached perfection and the reduction of Detroit was Included in the program, she became interested. Here was her tribe on the one side and her lover on the other. For the garrison she did not care. They were only white men, and, like the rest of her people, she wished them driven into the “great sea water” and drowned; but the commander was a different proposition. He was her lover. If he had been an Indian she would have gone to the ends of the earth to warn him and it would have been a credit to her in the eyes of her tribe; but to gave succor to a white man was the most dastardly thing an Indian could do. If she was detected it might be the means of her death. Her only chance of life lay in her. being a squaw. The braves did not make war on squaws and papooses, but the squaws themselves sometimes visited dire vengeance on their sex. While these plans were being formed Catharine was busy on a pair of moccasins for Major Gladwyn. They were very ornate. Not only were they decorated with the usual porcupine quills; but ·when apparently finished, a new line of decoration with beads was begun. While thus at work her ears were open to the plans of the warriors as they came to them through careless talk of young bucks and old squaws. When the diabolical plot of Pontiac was rehearsed, embellished by savage wit, she was startled. Something must be done and at once. Her lover must be warned. Taking the moccasins she started through the forest toward the fort. When she arrived, the commandant was absent; but she hung around awaiting his return. She was a well-known figure about the fort; but she was so comely many an eye followed her as she walked about. “Fine squaw!” said the officer of the day. “Yes,” answered the color-sergeant. “The major’s baggage,” added the corporal of the guard, “and he’s going to have another pair of moccasins!” All three laughed. By and by, the commandant returned and Catharine followed him to his quarters. She remained there some time-remained until the candles were lighted, when she came out, crossed the parade ground and disappeared in the forest. After supper had been served, Major Gladwyn summoned his officers and gave orders that the troops should be put under arms the next morning and be ready for any emergency. The chiefs carrie at the appointed time to “brighten the chain of friendship.” They were surprised to find the soldiers under arms. The talk began. The Indians claimed to be in a state of amity with their white brothers. In the course of their talk, they chided the great white chief for his distrust. Major Gladwyn stepped across the intervening space separating the white from the red chiefs, and pulling apart the blanket that covered the person of Pontiac, disclosed a sawed-off gun. “ls farther reason needed for the arms in the hands of our men?” he asked. “Go your way,” he continued, “but you need not come here again to ‘brighten the chain of friendship,’ for that chain has been broken here and now !” The Indians departed, chagrined, and wondering how their plans had been divulged. Some thought the great white chief possessed the gift of second sight; but most of then believed there was a traitor among their number. Who is he? For a time no one could guess; but when the query got among the squaws, they grunted and made sly remarks to the effect that when a young squaw spends most of her time making moccasins for the great white chief, one need not be at a loss to know where he got his information about the plot of the chiefs.
The chiefs were angry and might have meted out punishment of the most terrible kind had not the young bucks demurred. She Was the sweetest wild rose of the united tribes, and, although her affections were bestowed outside of the red nations, they had a tender regard for her, which modified their wilder passions. Then, again, the warriors had other schemes. If they could not take Detroit by one kind of stratagem they might by another; and the punishment of Catharine went by default, so far as they were concerned. The squaws, however, did not overlook her treachery. They Were not handicapped by sex. Their tongues were sharp. When a warrior was fortunate enough to bring in the scalp of an ambushed settler, some female member of his family would secure it and fling it into Catharine’s wigwam, with the brutal remark, that if she could not have the heart of her lover, his scalp lock might do. By and by came the battle of Bloody Run, and the squaws mourned the deaths of half a hundred braves. Catharine had nothing to do with this, but the thought had their first plot succeeded this battle might have been unnecessary, brought the primal cause back to her; so as the squaws wailed they heaped reproaches on her head. The more they gave way to their feelings, the wilder became their wailing, until something must be done to mark the climax of their grief. They marched about the camp wringing their hands and with ashes in their hair. When they came in contact with Catharine, their wailing changed to imprecation. By and by there filed past her a possession of bronzed amazons, each armed with a spade. As they passed her, each held out her spade, shrieking: “The white man’s spoon! You shall feast from it!” The amazons disappeared in the forest. When they returned they marched straight to Catharine’s wigwam, saying: “Want to see white lover, wild rose? Wild rose too sweet for braves to kill ! They left you here to insult our sight when we mourn-mourn for our dead! We don’t want to see you any more! Your lover wants to see you ! Do you want to see him ! You shall see him! You shall look at him until your dying day! You shall never take your eyes from him ! Come !” When the war was over, a soldier walking near the fort, came upon a human head resting on a mound of the forest. The body to which the head belonged was buried upright in the ground to the level of the chin. Long black hair strayed over the decomposed features, and sightless eyes stared straight toward the log palisades of the fort. It was the head of the handsomest maiden of the Ojibways, and it was thus she departed- “To the kingdom of Ponemah, To the land of the Hereafter!”