Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

An Indian Baby

A very long time ago many tribes of Indians dwelt in a land which they called "The Land of the Bays."

No spot on all the vast continent of America was more favored than this.

First, there were many bays where canoes might safely glide in search of fish.

There were Casco, Saco, Penobscot, Massachusetts, Cape Cod, Buzzards, Narragansett and many, many other smaller bays playing hide-and-seek among the headlands of its coast.

Then its sandy beaches were full of clams and lobsters, its marshes resounded from morning till night with the cries of wild fowl, and tangled forests hid the very choicest of game.

The Indians who claimed this beautiful country all belonged to the great Algonquin nation; but they were divided into many tribes, each having a sachem or chief of its own. The most powerful tribes were the Tarratines, the Massachusetts, the Wampanoags, the Narragansetts, the Pequods and the Mohegans. Barbarous names enough these seem to be when written out in black and white, but spoken in the language of the Indians they sounded like the murmur of pine trees or the gurgling of brooks, so musical they were.

Can you picture these people in your mind? They are tall, slight and agile, eyes jet black, hair straight and black, skin copper-colored, face sometimes gloomy and sometimes noble and mild. Dressed in skins and armed with bow and arrow, they flit in and out of the forests so stealthily, and skim over the water so swiftly in their light canoes, that it is difficult really to know anything about them.

So we must find an Indian baby to study day by day, just as we would our own little baby brother. And surely there never was a more interesting baby than the little Indian, Bright Eyes. His father was a great chief or sachem, who dwelt on the east bank of the Taunton river, near the lovely spot where its waters empty into Mount Hope Bay, an arm of Narragansett Bay.

When this baby's eyes were first opened, they looked straight into the face of a loving squaw mother. Hers was not a handsome face, to be sure, after our way of thinking. The small eyes were far apart, the forehead was low under the coarse black hair, the mouth large, and the skin a reddish copper in color. But there is no doubt, if this wrinkled bit of a baby could think at all, it thought this face was beautiful; for love was there, and even an Indian baby knows what the smile of love is.

The first thing Bright Eyes knew about life and its troubles was a plunge, once, twice, three times, into a cold stream of water, which fairly took his breath for a moment. But before he had his mouth in shape for a cry, he was wrapped up, as snug as a bug in a rug, in a beaver skin and laid away in a quiet corner of the wigwam to sleep.

This wigwam was a tent which the squaw mother had made. She bent long, straight saplings round like an arbor with both ends stuck into the ground. Then she covered them inside and out with mats, and hung a mat at the door to keep the wind out. Straight overhead was an opening where the smoke escaped from the fire built on the floor in the middle of the room. Bright Eyes loved to watch the blaze of this fire, and to smell the venison cooking in the great, earthen pot. Hi, how good it did smell!

In warm May weather he was tied, with the fragrant ribbons of linden tree bark, in a cradle of thin wood. It was soft with sweet grass from the meadows, gay with porcupine quills and shell beads and rattles. It hung on the bough of a tree near the field where his mother worked.

Massasoit as a baby


Here Bright Eyes lay swinging, among the branches, long hours at a time. If he cried it did not matter; he had to learn to be patient. The blue sky smiled down upon him, the balmy breezes brought kisses from the sea, the pine-trees told stories in very solemn whispers. Squirrels, with tails in air, whisked madly in and out among the branches overhead, as if to say, "Don't you think that you could catch me?" Birds sang to their mates in the nests; but little Bright Eyes was quite sure they were calling to him, and was so busy listening to all the voices of the forest that he had very little time to cry. His cradle hung so that he could see the green hillside with a bubbling brook, and the wigwams along the edge of the river. He saw his patient mother at work. She carried wood from the forest for the fire. She dipped up water from the spring in a bucket made of bark. She pounded the last year's dry corn to make cakes, which she wrapped In leaves and baked in hot ashes.

When the leaf of the white oak was the size of a mouse's ear, she hoed the ground with a clamshell and dropped herrings into the holes that the corn might grow strong and green.

There was much for Bright Eyes to see from his perch in the tree. But sometimes the sky grew black. The winds rushed with a roar through the pine trees. The .tides swept in from the bay and tossed the spray high into the air. Then straight into the wigwam went little baby, cradle and all. Did Bright Eyes cry at that? Not a bit of it. He crooned to the rain as it pattered on the roof of mats. He sucked his chubby-fist and set himself to gazing at the strings of yellow squash and the rows of red, white and blue corn which hung on the walls. The pictures, embroidered with colored porcupine quills, were very curious, and the deer heads, eagle claws and bear claws pleased him immensely.

Rut at the back of the wigwam, high up where no rude hands could touch it, was an odd little bundle which Bright Eyes could never make out. It was such a dirty little bundle of brown skins; and yet it was something very precious. At early dawn on hunting days his Sachem father stood before it, lifting up his hands, and calling out in a loud voice; and sometimes a strange-looking man in paints and feathers and wampum beads danced before it and sang and shouted to it as if he were going mad. This was the powwow priest, and the bundle of dried skin was a sort of god which brought good luck in the chase or the warpath.

Yonder, near the doorway of the wigwam, hung bunches of black hair. There was a long row of them, and warriors often came into the lodge to gaze at them. They counted on their fingers, one, two, three, four, up to ten; then they shut both hands and counted the fingers over again. Twenty long black locks of hair-the scalps torn from the bleeding heads of warriors killed in battle!

Alas, what castle of Bluebeard was ever worse than this? And yet there lay this innocent little papoose wishing he might have the black bunches for playthings.