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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 11. The Indians Visit Us—Their Strange and Peculiar Ways


SOME three or four years after we came to the country there came a tribe, or part of a tribe, of Indians and camped a little over a mile southwest of our house, in the timber, near the head of the windfall next to the openings. They somewhat alarmed us, but father said, "Use them well, be kind to them and they will not harm us." I suppose they came to hunt. It was in the summer time and the first we knew of them, my little brother and two sisters had been on the openings picking huckle-berries not thinking of Indians. When they started home and got into the edge of the woods they were in plain sight of Indians, and they said it appeared as if the woods were full of them. They stood for a minute and saw that the Indians were peeling bark and making wigwams; they had some trees already peeled.

They said they saw one Indian who had on a sort of crown, or wreath, with feathers in it that waved a foot above his head. They saw him mount a sorrel pony. As he did so the other Indians whooped and hooted, 1 suppose to cheer the chief. Childlike they were scared and thought that he was coming after them on horseback. They left the path and ran right into the brush and woods, from home. When they thought they were out of sight of the Indian they turned toward home. After they came in sight of home, to encourage his sisters, my little brother told them, he wouldn't be afraid of any one Indian but, he said, there were so many there it was enough to scare anybody. When they got within twenty rods of the house they saw some one coming beyond the house with a gun on his shoulder. One said it was William Beal, another said it was an Indian. They looked again and all agreed that it was an Indian. If they had come straight down the lane, they would have just about met him at the bars, opposite the house, (where we went through). There was no way for them to get to the house and shun him except to climb the fence and run across the field. The dreaded Indian seemed to meet them everywhere, and if possible they were more scared now than before. Brother and sister Sarah were over the fence very quickly. Bessie had run so hard to get home and was so scared that in attempting to climb the fence she got part way up and fell back, but up and tried again. Sister Sarah would not leave her but helped her over. But John S. left them and ran for his life to the house; as soon as they could get started they ran too. Mother said Smith ran into the house looking very scared, and went for the gun. She asked him what was the matter, and what he wanted of the gun; he said there was an Indian coming to kill them and he wanted to shoot him. Mother told him to let the gun alone, the Indian would not hurt them; by this time my sisters had got in. In a minute or two afterward the Indian came in, little thinking how near he had come being shot by a youthful hero.

Poor Indian wanted to borrow a large brass kettle that mother had and leave his rifle as security for it. Mother lent him the kettle and he went away. In a few days he brought the kettle home.

A short time after this a number of them had been out to Dearbornville and got some whisky. All but one had imbibed rather too freely of "Whiteman's fire water to make Indian feel good." They came down as far as our house and, as we had no stick standing across the door, they walked in very quietly, without knocking. The practice or law among the Indians is, when one goes away from his wigwam, if he puts a stick across the entrance all are forbidden to enter there; and, as it is the only protection of his wigwam, no Indian honorably violates it. There were ten of these Indians. Mother was washing. She said the children were very much afraid, not having gotten over their fright. They got around behind her and the washtub, as though she could pro- tect them. The Indians asked for bread and milk; mother gave them all she had. They got upon the floor, took hold of hands and formed a ring. The sober one sat in the middle; the others seemed to hear to what he said as much as though he had been an officer. He would not drink a drop of the whisky, but kept perfectly sober. They seemed to have a very joyful time, they danced and sang their wild songs of the forest. Then asked mother for more bread and milk; she told them she had no more; then they asked for buttermilk and she gave them what she had of that. As mother was afraid, she gave them anything she had, that they called for. They asked her for whisky; she said she hadn't got it. They said, "Maybe you lie." Then they pointed toward Mr. Pardee's and said, "Neighbor got whisky?" She told them she didn't know. They said again, "Maybe you lie."

When they were ready the sober one said, "Indian go!" He had them all start in single file. In that way they went out of sight. Mother was overjoyed and much relieved when they were gone. They had eaten up all her bread and used up all her milk, but I suppose they thought they had had a good time.

Not more than two or three weeks after this the Indians moved away, and these children of the forest wandered to other hunting grounds. We were very much pleased, as well as the other neighbors, when they were gone.

Father had a good opinion of the Indians, though he had been frightened by the first one, John Williams, and was afraid of losing his life by him. He considered him an exception, a wicked, ugly Indian. Thought, perhaps, he had been driven away from his own tribe, and was like Cain, a vagabond upon the face of the earth. He was different from other Indians, as some of them had the most sensitive emotions of humanity. If you did them a kindness they would never forget it, and they never would betray a friend; but if you offended them or did them an injury, they would never forget that either. These two traits of character run parallel with their lives and only terminate with their existence.

I recollect father's relating a circumstance that happened in the State of New York, about the time of the Revolutionary War. He said an Indian went into a tavern and asked the landlord if he would give him something to eat. The landlord repulsed him with scorn, told him he wouldn't give him anything and to get out of the house, for he didn't want a dirty Indian around. There was a gentleman sitting in the room who saw the Indian come in and heard what was said. The Indian started to go; the gentleman stepped up and said: "Call him back, give him what he wants, and I'll pay for it." The Indian went back, had a good meal and was well used; then he went on his way and the gentleman saw him no more, at that time.

Shortly after this the gentleman emigrated to the West, and was one of the advanced guards of civilization. He went into the woods, built him a house and cleared a piece of land. About this time there was a war in the country. He was taken captive and carried away a long distance, to an Indian settlement. He was tried, by them, for his life, condemned to death and was to be executed the next morning. He was securely bound and fastened. The chief detailed an Indian who, he thought, knew something of the whites and their tricks and would be capable of guarding the captive safely, and he was set as a watch to keep him secure until morning. I have forgotten what father said was to have been the manner of his execution; whether he was to be tomahawked or burned, at all events he was to meet his fate in the morning. Late in the night, after the warriors were fast asleep and, perhaps, dreaming of their spoils, when everything was still in the camp, the Indian untied and loosed the captive, told him to be careful, still, and follow him. After they were outside the camp, out of hearing, the Indian told the white man that he was going to save his life and show him the way home. They traveled until morning and all that day, and the night following, the next morning they came out in sight of a clearing and the Indian showed him a house and asked him if he knew the place; he said he did. Then the Indian asked him if he knew him; he told him that he did not. Then he referred him to the tavern and asked if he remembered giving an Indian something to eat. He said he did. "I am the one," said the Indian, "and I dare not go back to my own tribe, they would kill me." Here the friends parted to meet no more. One vent home to friends and civilization; the other went an exile without friends to whom he dared go, with no home, a fugitive in the wilderness.

There was a man by the name of H. Moody who often visited at father's house he told me that when he was young he was among the Mohawk Indians in Canada. This tribe formerly lived in what is now the State of New York. They took up on the side of the English, were driven away to Canada and there settled on the Grand River. Mr. Moody was well acquainted with the sons of the great chief, Brant, and knew the laws and customs of the tribe. [The Mohawk settlement on Grand River was a short distance from present-day Brantville, Ontario. Here Joseph Brant spent the latter portion of his life, and many of the descendants of the Mohawk still reside here.] He said when they considered one of their tribe very bad they set him aside and would have nothing to do with him.

If one murdered another of the same tribe he was taken up and tried by a council, and if it was found to be wilful murder, without any cause, he was condemned and put to death; but if there were any extenuating circumstances which showed that he had some reason for it, he was condemned and sentenced, by the chief, to sit on the grave of his victim for a certain length of time. That was his only hope and his "City of refuge." If any of the relatives of the deceased wanted to kill him there they had a right (according to their law) to do so. If he remained and lived his time out, on the horrible place, he was received back again to the fellowship of his tribe. This must have been a terrible punishment. It showed, however, the Indian's love of his tribe and country, to sit there and think of the danger of being shot or tomahawked, and of the terrible deed he had committed. He had taken away what he could never give. How different was his case from the one who left tribe, friends and home, and ran away to save the life of a white man who had given him bread.

About two and a half miles southwest of our house there was a large sand hill. Huckleberries grew there in abundance. I went there and picked some myself. On the top of that hill we found Indian graves, where some had been recently buried. There were pens built of old logs and poles around them, and we called it the "Indian Hill." It is known by that name to this day. The old telegraph road runs right round under the brow of this hill. This hill is in the town of Taylor. I don't suppose there are many in that town who do not know the hill or have heard of it, and but few in the town of Dearborn. I don't suppose there are six persons living who know the reason it is called the "Indian Hill" for we named it in a very early day. ["Indian Hill" was in the immediate vicinity of present-day Hand Station. The ridge, or hill, has long since been graded or hauled away, and the name itself seems to have vanished from the local memory.]

Some twelve or fifteen years after this a man by the name of Clark had the job of grading down a sand hill nearly a mile south of Taylor Center. In grading he had to cut down the bank six or seven feet and draw it off on to the road. He hired me with my team to go and help him. I went. He had been at work there before and he showed me some Indian bones that he had dug up and laid in a heap. He said that two persons were buried there. From the bones, one must have been very large, and the other smaller. He had been very careful to gather them up. He said he thought they were buried in a sitting or reclining posture, as he came to the skulls first. The skulls, arm and thigh bones were in the best state of preservation, and in fact, the most that was left of them.

I took one thigh bone that was whole, sat down on the bank and we compared it with my own. As I was six feet, an inch and a half, we tried to measure the best we could to learn the size of the Indian. We made up our minds that he was at least seven, or seven and a half, feet tall. I think it likely it was his squaw who sat by his side. They must have been buried a very long time. We dug a hole on the north side of a little black oak tree that stood on the hill west of the road, and there we deposited all that remained of those ancient people. I was along there the other day (1875) and as I passed I noticed the oak. It is now quite a large tree; I thought there was no one living in this country, but me, who knew what was beneath its roots. No doubt that Indian was a hunter and a warrior in his day. He might have heard, and been alarmed, that the white man had come in big canoes over the great waters and that they were stopping to live beyond the mountains. But little did he think that in a few moons, or "skeezicks" as they called it, he should pass to the happy hunting ground, and his bones be dug up by the white man, and hundreds and thousands pass over the place, not knowing that once a native American and his squaw were buried there. That Indian might have sung this sentiment:

"And when this life shall end,
When calls the great So-wan-na,
Southwestern shall I wend,
To roam the great Savannah. ­—Bishop.

No doubt he was an observer of nature. In his day he had listened to the voice of Gitche Manito, or the Great Spirit, in the thunder and witnessed the display of his power in the lightning, as it destroyed the monster oak and tore it in slivers from top to bottom, and the voice of the wind, all told him that there was a Great Spirit. It told him if Indian was good he would go to a better place, where game would be plenty, and, no one would drive him away. No doubt he had made preparation for his departure and wanted his bow, arrow, and maybe other things, buried with him. If this was so they had disappeared as we found nothing of the kind. It is known to be the belief of the Indian in his wild state, that he will need his bow and arrow, or his gun and powder horn, or whatever he has to hunt with here, to use after he has passed over to the happy hunting ground.

About the time that Clark dug up the bones, I became acquainted with something that I never could account for and it has always been a mystery to me. An Englishman was digging a ditch on the creek bottom, to drain the creek, a little over three- quarters of a mile west of father's house. He was digging it six feet wide and two feet deep, where brush called grey willows stood so thick that it was impossible for a man to walk through them. He cut the brush and had dug eight or ten inches when he came to red earth. Some day there had been a great fire at this place. The streak of red ground was about an inch thick, and in it he found what all called human bones. I went to see it myself and the bones we gathered up were mostly small pieces, no whole ones; but we saw enough to convince us that they were human bones. The ground that was burned over might have been, from the appearance, twelve feet square. It must have been done a great many years before, for the ground to make, and the brush to grow over it.

This creek, the Ecorse, not being fed by any rivulets or springs from hills or mountains, is supplied entirely by surface water. It is sometimes quite a large stream, but during dry weather in the summer time it is entirely dry. The Englishman was digging it deeper to take off the surface water when it came.
It is possible that, sometime, Indians had burned their captives there. In fact there is no doubt of it. It must have been the work of Indians. We may go back in our imaginations to the time, when the place where the city of Detroit now stands was an Indian town or village, and ask its inhabitants if they knew who were burned twelve miles west of there on a creek, they might not be able to tell. We might ask the giant Indian of the sand hill, if he knew, and he might say, "I had a hand in that; it was in my day." But we have no medium, through which we can find out the dark mysteries of the past. They will have to remain until the light of eternity dawns, and all the dead who have ever lived are called to be again, and to come forth. Then the dark mysteries of the past which have been locked up for centuries will be revealed.


 


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