Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

The Great Turtle

Among the Indians there are priests or medicine men who pretend to cure diseases. They also pretend to talk to their gods and other spirits. They have many ways of deceiving the Indians.

Mr. Alexander Henry, while a prisoner among the Indians, was present when the tribe he was with asked advice of the Great Turtle, which is one of the gods they believe in.

The Indians had heard that there was an English army coming against them. They were very much afraid, because they had killed or taken prisoner all the English in Fort Mackinaw. They wished to send messengers to make peace with the white men, but they were afraid the white men would kill their messengers. In this state of mind, they asked the Great Turtle what they would better do.

They first built a large house or wigwam. In the middle of this they set up five posts, and covered these posts with moose skins. This made a little tent in the middle of the large wigwam.

When night came on, they built fires in the wigwam outside of the little tent. This lighted up the house where the Indians were seated. Soon the priest came in. Some of the Indians lifted the moose skins on one side of their little tent. The priest crept in on his hands and knees. The little tent began to shake, and from the inside there came sounds like the barking of dogs and the howling of wolves, with screams and sobs, and cries of pain and sorrow. Words were spoken in strange voices, and in a language which nobody could understand. These voices the Indians had heard before, and they thought that they belonged to evil spirits who would tell them lies. When they heard these voices, the Indians hissed. They did not want to hear any spirit but that of the Great Turtle. After a while these frightful noises ceased. There was silence for a time. Then the Indians heard a new voice. It was low and feeble, like the cry of a very young puppy. All the Indians now clapped their hands for joy. They cried out that this was the voice of the Great Turtle, the spirit that never lied.

But now new voices came from the tent. For half an hour there were sounds in many different voices, but none of them were like the priest's own voice. When these sounds were no longer heard, the medicine man spoke in his own voice, and declared that the Great Turtle was present, and would answer any question that might be asked.

The chief of the village now put a large quantity of tobacco into the little tent. This was a sacrifice to the Great Turtle. Then he told the priest to ask the Great Turtle whether the white men were coming to make war on them, and whether there were many soldiers at Fort Niagara.

The medicine man put this question to the Great Turtle. The tent began to shake so violently that it seemed about to fall over. Then a loud cry came from the tent. This was to show that the Great Turtle was leaving.

For a quarter of an hour no sound was heard. Then the Great Turtle returned. He now made a long speech to the priest in his little squeaky, puppy voice, but it was spoken in a language which nobody could understand. After the spirit's speech was finished, the medicine man spoke in his own voice, and explained to the people that in the last fifteen minutes the Great Turtle had crossed Lake Huron, and gone to Fort Niagara, hundreds of miles away. Then he had gone on down to Montreal. He said there were not many soldiers at Fort Niagara, but at Montreal the river was covered with boats filled with soldiers. He said the soldiers coming to make war on the Indians were as many as the leaves on the trees. He told the Indians, that, if they would send men to the general of this army, he would make peace with them, and fill their canoes with presents of blankets, kettles, guns, powder, and shot. And he said, what pleased them still more, that the general would give them great barrels of rum.

The Indians were so much delighted with this message, that many of them set out, soon after, to go in boats to make peace with the white men. No doubt this humbug of the medicine man was a plan to persuade them to go. Mr. Henry was taken along to act as their friend.