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

The Fall Hunt

There was idling among the warriors in the summer, while the maize was growing.

They floated lazily down the river, or lounged about in the shade of the forest, mending nets and sharpening hatchets, smoking and gossiping the whole day through.

But in autumn they were very busy, for this was the hunting season, when game was killed and meat was dried for winter.

It was in autumn that Massasoit went with many hunters to drive the woods. They spread through the forest in one wide circle, leaving an open space, and then they drew closer and closer together, shouting "Heigh-eigh! Who-oo-i-oo-who!"

The frightened game heard the noises and tried to escape. The antlered deer ran through the leafy glades, the shaggy bear lumbered out of his cave, the squirrels scampered through the branches, rabbits leaped through the thickets, grouse, partridges, turkeys hurried helter-skelter, toward the open space where safety seemed to lie. But, alas! Here, crouched in ambush, were a score of hunters. Arrows flew from all around the circle, and soon the ground was strewn with wild game. Then the skins of the animals were stretched on the ground, with the flesh side uppermost, and the edges pinned down with wooden pegs, that they might not shrink; the meat was hung on drying scaffolds; the teeth were strung for beads; the claws were made into ornaments; the feathers of the birds were plucked; the skins of the snakes were dried; the sinews of the deer were drawn for cords, and the antlers polished to deck some warriors in the war dance. So driving the woods brought a great deal of work.

Then there was the fowling. At early nightfall the Indians stalked about the beach, with torch in one hand and stick in the other. The seabirds in the marshes, bewildered by the sudden glare of the torches, flew within reach, and were knocked down by the dozen.

Then there were fishing excursions. Many hunters, in light canoes, sped down the river on a chase for sturgeons. They caught the monster :fishes with lines of twisted willow bark, and with the thigh bones of a rabbit; or they held them fast in stout nets of hemp.

In the lovely Indian summer, when the north wind painted all the foliage crimson and the south wind filled the air with haz~ and vapor, the villages wel'e moved to some bay or to the falls of some winding river. Here the tents were pitched, and grey columns of smoke ascended from hundreds of campfires. The women were soon hard at work cooking, spreading out fresh skins, and putting up drying scaffolds for the meat. The children ran about, making the woods resound with their merry, piping voices. The warriors, when they were not hunting, lounged about, smoking, or sat in groups sorting out flints they had picked up for arrow heads, and chipped slowly with stone upon stone as they chatted, joked and bantered.

It was all very much like a country fair. There were games of football and wrestling, racing, throwing stones and shooting targets.

Indian fakirs swallowed spears and arrows andflames of fire; they killed a boy and brought him back to life again, and changed a rabbit to a wild duck. At least that is what these fakirs claimed to" do, and many said they really did all these wonderful things right before the eyes of all the people.

There was a great deal of gambling and betting on games of chance at these Indian fairs.

Cards were made of bits of rushes and dice were made of painted pebbles.

Sometimes, in his wager, an unmarried man lost all his wampum, his bow and arrow, the furs which clothed him, his canoe, and even the very scalp locks he had won in hard-fought battles. Then, when he had nothing else to wager, he staked his own body, and if he lost, became a slave. But an Indian in bondage pined away and always wished to die, and his service was not thought to be of much account.

There were many mystic dances at these autumn picnics. Drums of dried bark, flutes of willow, and tortoise-shell rattles called out the dancers for the amusement of all the village.

First they moved in very solemn measures, and stepped in and out among the pines softly like the panthers. Then they turned around in circles, whirling and spinning, until they leaped quite over the heads of those sitting on the ground. Round the wigwams they flew in wider circles, faster and faster, until the dust and dried leaves rose in a whirlwind. Then they ran to the river's brink, stamped upon the sand, and tossed it until the very air began to whirl about in dancing, and the sand was blown like snow-drifts all along the river. Then they sat down laughing, and everybody laughed and chattered.

The Indians were all great story lovers, and they gathered with eager faces about the blazing pine-knots to listen to those who had the gift of telling stories. There in the firelight sat Prairie Flower, Morning Glory, May Blossom, Curling Smoke and all the other Indian beauties waiting to hear the stories; and the loudest praise was given to the one who talked the best. He always won the softest glances from the maidens, and so there was great rivalry among the warriors to excel in story telling.

In the fall hunt, when Massasoit was thirteen years old, he heard many good stories.

First an old man, a famous boaster, told the story of Osseo.

"Many, many years ago," he said, standing up and looking round the circle, "many, many years ago, there lived a hunter in the north land who had ten lovely daughters. They were tall and straight as the willows. But Oweenee, the youngest, was the fairest of them all. Her eyes were soft and dreamy like the fawn's. Her hair was black and glossy as the raven's wing. Her breath was as sweet as the fragrance of the wild flowers. Her laugh was like the singing waters. So light was her step that the flowers in her pathway only bent their heads as she trod upon them; and so skilful was she with her needle and her wampum, that her father's wigwam was more beautiful than any sachem's in the north land.

"All her sisters married brave and haughty warriors; and young and handsome suitors laid their roebucks at Oweenee's doorway. But she would not even look at any of them.

"Now there was in the village, the son of a great king, although no one knew he was a prince, for a wicked magician had transformed him into an old man. Everybody thought he was a common beggar. When the village started to move, this beggar prince, whose name was Osseo, always stayed behind to pick up anything that had been thrown away as useless, and he sometimes found pieces of robes, worn-out moccasins, and bones on which was a bite of meat.

"His face was all wrinkles, his teeth were gone, his legs and arms were shrunken and looked like pipe stems. He was weak with constant coughing. He looked so broken down and wheezy that the boys jeered at him as he begged from door to door.

"But each time the lovely Oweenee gave this stranger bear's meat, she saw his eyes were soft and full of sorrow. And she fell to wondering who this beggar might be. She asked him many questions, and could not forget the magic of his glances, and at length she began to listen for his tottering footsteps.

"Once, when the moon filled all the night with splendor, they sat beside the spring which bubbled from the hillside, and Oweenee told Osseo that she loved him, and so they were married.

"Then all her former suitors mocked her for marrying a bag of bones, and said they wished her joy with her beggar. But Oweenee told them proudly she was happy with Osseo.

"And every day she walked slowly through the village, leading her aged husband, smoothing out the pathway for his tottering feet.

"Once all ten sisters and their husbands were invited to a feast a long way off through the forest.

"The nine sisters walked ahead and chattered gayly with their handsome warriors, and filled the woods with laughter. Behind them came Oweenee, leading Osseo gently by the hand.

"Sometimes he stopped to look up at the bright stars overhead, and he prayed very softly.

"When the sisters looked back and saw him standing, they called out to each other, 'What a pity that he does not fall and break his neck!' And they fell to laughing louder than ever.

"At length they came to a hollow oak-tree, which had fallen across the path, and lay half buried in dead leaves and mosses.

"As soon as Osseo saw this great log, he uttered a cry and sprang into the opening.

"Now, when he went in at one end of the log, he was ugly, ragged, old and wrinkled; but when he came out of the other end he was tall and young and handsome. He had on a soft white shirt of doeskin, fringed in ermine, and worked in bands of wampum. His leggings were of deerskin, gay with the quills of the hedgehog. His moccasins were of buckskin, embroidered thick with quills and beads, and on his head were waving plumes of snow-white feathers. There he was, the real prince, just as he had been before the wicked magician changed him, and he sprang with a glad cry toward his lovely bride. But, alas! at the very moment that the spell for Osseo was broken, the lovely Oweenee was transformed into a weak old woman. She was very ugly, bent and wrinkled. "The sisters laughed louder than ever at this, for they had always envied her beauty. They gazed in wonder at her fine young husband, and tried with all their arts to entice him from Oweenee's side. But Osseo walked with the slow steps of his old wife. He held her yellow, withered hand in his. He called her sweetheart, and did all that he could to make her think he did not see how very ugly she was.

"When they reached the feast, all sat in the wigwam and made merry except Osseo. He could neither eat nor drink. He could not speak nor listen to anything that was said. Everybody paid the fine young fellow great attention. They passed him the choicest meats, but he sat there looking sadly at Oweenee.

"Then a low voice whispered to him, 'Osseo, the evil charm is broken.' And then the lodge began to tremble. The wooden dishes changed to scarlet shells. The earthen pots changed to silver bowls. The roof poles and the bark walls of the wigwam changed to silver and to jasper.

"At the same time the wicked sisters and their husbands were changed to birds. Some were jays and some were magpies. Some were thrushes and some were blackbirds. They hopped, and twittered, and spread out their plumage as if they had been birds all their lives.

"But poor Oweenee was not changed at all. It seemed to her it would be better to be a bird than such a feeble old woman.

"There she sat, wrinkled, sad and ugly. When Osseo saw her thus he prayed in anguish that she might be restored to youth and beauty. Woof! Woof! Her ragged garments were changed to robes of ermine. Her staff became a shining silver feather. Her eyes shone like stars. Her hair swept in masses to her feet. She was more beautiful than before.

"And Osseo and Oweenee lived happily ever after. But the wicked sisters and their husbands always hopped about in gilded cages as a punishment for laughing at the misfortunes of other people.

"It is not well," said the story-teller, looking solemnly around at some giddy young folks, "it is not well to jeer at people because they are old and ugly."

Some saw a pointed moral to this tale. All said it was a beautiful story, and there was much applause as the old man took his seat in the circle.