Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Prisoner Among the Indians

James Smith lived in Pennsylvania. He was taken prisoner by the Indians just before the famous defeat of General Braddock. He was then about eighteen years old. The Indians took him to the French fort where Pittsburg now is. They made him run the gauntlet; that is, they made him run between two lines of Indians, who were beating him all the way. He was so badly beaten that he became unconscious, and was ill for a good while after. But at length he got well, and the Indians took him to their own country in what is now the State of Ohio.

When they arrived at their own town, they did not kill him, as he thought they would; but an Indian pulled the hair out of his head with his fingers, leaving only the hair that grew on a spot about the crown. Part of this he cut off short. The rest was twisted up in Indian fashion, so as to make him look like a savage. They pierced his ears, and put earrings in them. Then they pierced his nose, and put in a nose ring. They stripped off his clothing, and put on the light clothing that an Indian wears about the middle of his body. They painted his head where the hair had been plucked out, and painted his face and body, in several colors. They put some beads about his neck, and silver bands upon his arms.

All this time James thought they were dressing him up to kill him. But, when they had decked him in this way, an old chief led him out into the village street. Holding the young man by the hand, he cried out,—

"Koowigh, Koowigh, Koowigh!"

All the Indians came running out of their houses when they heard this. The old chief made them a long speech in a loud voice. James could not understand what this speech was about. When it was ended, the chief handed James over to three young Indian women.

James thought the young squaws were going to put him to death. They led him down the bank into the river. The squaws made signs for him to plunge himself into the water; but, as he thought they wished to drown him, he refused. He was not going to drown himself to please them. The young women then seized him, and tried to put him under water. But he would not be put down All this time the Indians on the bank were laughing heartily.

Indian on bearskin


Then one of the young squaws, who could speak a little English, said, "No hurt you." Smith now gave up to them, and they scrubbed him well, dipping his head under water.

When he came out of the water, he was dressed up in a lot of Indian finery. The Indians put feathers in his hair, and made him sit down on a bearskin. They gave him a pipe, and a tomahawk, and a bag of tobacco and dried sumach leaves to smoke. Then they made a speech to him, which an Indian who could speak English explained to him.

They said that he had been made a member of an Indian family in place of a great man who had been killed. And then they gave him a wooden bowl and a spoon, and took him to a feast, where Indian politeness required that he should eat all the food given to him.

After James Smith was adopted by the Indians, he learned to live in their way. He learned how to make little bowls out of elm bark to catch maple-sugar sap, and how to make great casks out of the bark to hold the sap till it could be boiled. He learned how to make a bearskin into a pouch to hold bear's oil, of which the Indians were very fond. They mixed their hominy with bear's oil and maple sugar, and they cooked their venison in oil and sugar also.

The Indians gave James an Indian name. They called him Scouwa. The Indians gave him a gun. Once when they trusted him to go into the woods alone, he got lost, and staid out all night. Then they took away his gun, and gave him a bow and arrow, such as boys carried. For nearly two years he had to carry a bow and arrows like a boy.

He was once left behind when there was a great snowstorm. He could not find the footsteps of the others, on account of the driving snow. But after a while he found a hollow tree. There was a little room three feet wide in the inside of the tree. He chopped a great many sticks with his tomahawk to close up the opening in the side of the tree. He left only a hole big enough for him to crawl in through. He fixed a block for a kind of door, so as to close this hole by drawing the door shut when he was inside. When the hole was shut, it was dark in the tree.

But James, or Scouwa as he was called, could stand up in the tree. He broke up rotten wood to make a bed like a large goose nest. He danced up and down on his bed till he was warm. Then he wrapped his blanket about him and lay down to sleep, first putting his damp moccasins under his head to keep them from freezing. When he awoke, it was dark. The hole in the tree was so well closed that he could not tell whether it was daylight or not, but he waited a long time to be sure that day had come.

Then he felt for the opening. At last he found it. He pushed on the block that he had used for a door, but three feet of snow had fallen during the night. All his strength would not move the block. He was a prisoner under the snow. Not one ray of light could get into this dark hole.

Scouwa was now frightened. Not knowing what to do, he lay down again and wrapped his blanket round him, and tried to think of a way to get out. He said a little prayer to God. Then he felt for the block again. This time he pushed and pushed with all his might. The block moved a few inches, and snow came tumbling through the hole. This let a little daylight in, and Scouwa was happy.

After a while he pulled his blanket tight about him, stuck his tomahawk in his belt, and took his bow in hand. Then he dug his way out through the snow into the daylight.

All the paths were buried under the deep snow. The young man had no compass. The sun was not shining. How could he tell one direction from another, or find his way to the Indian camp? The tall, straight trees, especially those that stand alone, have moss on the north or northwest side. By looking closely at these trees, he found out which way to go. It was about noon when he got to the camp. The Indians had made themselves snowshoes to go in search of him.

They all gathered about him, glad to see him. But Indians do not ask questions at such a time. They led the young man to a tent. There they gave him plenty of fat beaver meat to eat. Then they asked him to smoke. While he was resting here, they were building up a large fire in the open air. Scouwa's Indian brother asked him to come out to the fire. Then all the Indians young and old, gathered about him.

His Indian brother now asked him to tell what had happened to him. Scouwa began at the beginning, and told all that had occurred. The Indians listened with much eagerness.

Then the Indian brother made him a speech. He told the young man that they were glad to see him alive. He told him he had behaved like a man. He said, "You will one day be a great man, and do some great things."

Soon after this, the Indians bought him a gun, paying for it with skins, and he became a hunter.