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

The Coming of the White Men

It was in the year 1585 that Massasoit first heard stories of the Palefaces. Not one in his tribe believed that these stories were true; yet we know that nearly one hundred years before this, Christopher Columbus had crossed the ocean four times, the grandees of Spain had planted colonies on the islands of the West Indies, and searched in vain through all the mainland for fabled cities with gold-paved streets.

The aged Ponce de Leon had sought the magic fountain of youth among the palm-trees of Florida, and old and wrinkled still, had died from an Indian arrow.

Ferdinand de Soto and his knights had wandered far in search of gold, and found their graves on the barren shores of the Mississippi river; and then, twenty years before this very time, a large colony of Spaniards had come to Florida in a fleet of ships, to found the beautiful city of St. Augustine.

But all these visits to America had happened far to the south, where the Mobilian Indians dwelt and the Algonquins in the Land of the Bays never wandered southward, and did not understand the Mobilian language, and that is the reason Massasoit's people had not heard of the pale-faced Spaniards.

Then, too, in the far north, the Cabots had ploughed their white-winged ships through the shoals of codfish, off the coast of Labrador .and Nova Scotia. French fishermen from Normandy had come over the "morning waters" in their frail barks to catch the fish, and dry them on the rocks of New Found-land. Jacques Cartier had sailed up the St. Lawrence river, and eaten in the wigwams of an Indian village, which he named Montreal.

But the people of Massasoit knew nothing of all this that had happened in the north, either; for the Mohawks dwelt there, and these two nations never met, except in deadly combat.

And so, as I said, the Wampanoags did not believe the boastful story of the Narragansetts about the visit of Verrazzani.

But the very next year, a great, white-winged ship anchored in the bay, near the spot where Massasoit and his father and many warriors were in camp for the fishing season; and men, who wore shining armor, and had eyes blue like the sky, and skins white like the snow, just as the Narragansetts had said, sprang from the side of the vessel. It was a proud day for the warriors; and, trembling with mingled fear and delight, they hurried down to the beach.

One of the strangers, taller and fairer than the rest, met them with smiling face and noble bearing. He clasped the hand of the sachem, and when he spoke his voice was gentle and kind.

Now, an old chronicle says that Sir Francis Drake stopped at Cape Cod in the year 1586.

The great admiral, in his famous voyage around the world, had once cast anchor on the fragrant shores of California. His charming smile so won the hearts of the natives, that they crowned him their king, and wept sorely when he sailed away.

And here, in the Land of the Bays, the same honors awaited him.

The sachem of the Wampanoags and Massasoit, his young son, and all the dusky warriors, knelt at the feet of Sir Francis, and implored him to dwell among them, and rule them as their king.

He might take Mioonie, the sister of Massasoit, for his wife, they said, and with the thunder in his hand, he might lead the Wampanoags on the warpath to the Narragansetts; he might even unite together all the quarreling tribes in the Land of the Bays-the Narragansetts, the Tarratines, the Massachusetts, the Pequods, the Mohegans, the Wampanoags, and lead them to victory over the hated Mohawks in the north.

Could any mortal man, even a Paleface, wish greater glory than this?

But Sir Francis looked at the half-naked savages, and then he thought of the yoemen of England, with cheeks ruddy from the freshness of the morning, and nerves like iron from the toil in the fields. He looked at Massasoit, the prince, and at his brothers, and at the young sons of the warriors, clad in the skins of wild beasts, and gay in seashells and bear's claws, and then he thought of the young gallants in Elizabeth's court in their doublets of scented velvets, their long silken hose, and golden rapiers hanging at their sides. He looked at the wigwams with the rows of ghastly scalp locks, the earthen pots and the rude beds of skin, and then he thought of the palaces in England, hung with rare tapestries, and adorned with pictures and books; and he thought, too, of the neat farm-houses with paddocks tacked to orchard bits, and floors scrubbed white as the oak of which they were made, and beds of white dimity, and open windows through which the breath of the heather came.

He looked at the sad-eyed squaws bowed down with hard toil in the fields, and at the painted Indian maidens, and then he thought of the merry farmers' wives in clothes of their own spinning, and the joyous dairymaids in leather stays and white sleeves with white kerchiefs pinned over their necks, laughing to the morning as they sought the kine among the hills of Devon.

No, he could not become their king and dwell in this Land of the Bays so far from the scenes of his childhood.

"He would be very glad," he said, "if all their tribes would unite and love each other as kindred nations should, but he could not lead them on the warpath to the Mohawks." Was not Philip of Spain at that very moment building ships to invade the shores of England? And was not his beloved queen calling on her cavaliers to defend her with their lives?

So Sir Francis Drake did not linger in the Land of the Bays, and the white sails of his ship spread to the breeze, and were soon lost to view in the mists of the sea.

Years passed by. Massasoit became a warrior, and was often on the warpath to bring back the scalps of his enemies; and he became renowned for his wisdom and skill.

He learned to love a maiden, a kind and gentle maiden. And when he went to visit her, he spent many hours laying on the paints of red and blue and white, smoothing out his tresses and twisting in the braids the quills of the hedgehog. He donned his finest leggings and moccasins, he clasped broad bands of silver on his arms, and chains of bear's teeth and red hawthorn berries on his neck; he hung bright plates of copper in his ears.

And then once on a warm June evening, as he wandered with the maiden by the river, he said no word of love, but he gave the snowy locust blossoms to her as a token, and she took the fragrant offering, smiling shyly at his glances.

Then this lover grew bolder in his wooing, and carried the finest roebuck to the doorway of her father's wigwam.

"Welcome! "said the warrior father, but the maiden only looked her welcome.

Then he entered the lodge, and sat down on a mat quite near her, and she did not rise to leave him. Then he put about her neck the purple wampum, always worn by the wives of the sachems, and so these two were married. And Massasoit was very proud and happy as he led the dear one to his wigwam.

A few years after this the father of Massasoit died, and there was lamentation among all the tribes that paid him tribute.

The body of the great chief was wrapped in the finest mats, and he was buried, sitting, with his hands upon his knees. His tomahawk and wampum, his bright paints, a little corn, and a few pieces of wood to make a fire on his long journey to the Happy Hunting Grounds, were placed in the grave by his side.

And his brilliant mantle of feathers was hung on the limbs of the nearest tree, where it swayed mournfully in the wind to remind the passers-by, of him who lay buried beneath the spreading branches.