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

The Council Fire

After an absence of many days, the great sachem and his warriors returned from the warpath. They were red with paint and shining with bear's grease. Bloody scalps hung at their girdles, and captives marched at their sides with hands tied behind them. There had been a great battle, and as the conquerors came into the village they shouted and boasted of the victories they had won. They hastened to collect brushwood and make a great fire. Long hours they feasted and smoked and told tales of the warpath.

No one offered the poor captives a morsel of food. There they stood, tied to the trees with ropes of the willow, and heard how one by one their chiefs had fallen. And when the feast was over they were stripped of their clothing and forced to run the gauntlet. Squaws, old men and boys of the village formed in a long, double line. The squaws were armed with pot hooks and bones, the old men held in their shrunken hands the war clubs, and boys who had never shed the blood of any creature larger than a squirrel lifted up their sticks-all pelted the prisoners as they fled down through the narrow passage. Some of these prisoners had been great warriors among the Narmgansetts, and it was worse to them than death to be beaten by squaws and boys of their enemies. Whack! Whack! Whack! went the blows as they rushed on down the bristling gauntlet line. And all the while the hoarse shouts of the women mingled with the quavering war-cry of the old men and the shrill screams of the children.

Bright Eyes could hardly have mustered courage to strike the bleeding warriors, had he not seen his mother dealing such awful blows. He was ashamed that his heart was softer than a squaw's. So he struck away mightily. But half the time he kept his eyes shut.

After the wretched victims had run the gauntlet, they were put to worse treatment. They would not let the enemy see that any torture could give them pain.. Not a sigh or groan escaped them, and they sang their death songs with steady voices while they were burned to death, or pinched and beaten and shot about the legs and arms with arrows.

Bright Eyes was urged by his father to shoot at the prisoners. The first time he bent his bow his heart stood quite in his throat. He did not want to hurt the dying men. But he was proud when he saw how straight his little arrow stood in the flesh with the big one of his father. He drew another arrow from the quiver; then another and another. He sent them thick, with eyes wide open and breath coming fast. He was thinking only of his skill at shooting.

That was the way Bright Eyes learned to look at suffering.

Every autumn a great council was held. The warriors sat about a fire smoking long pipes and looking very grave, and their little sons sat at their sides, that they might learn the history of their people. Broad bands of wampum belts were passed around the circle, and read aloud by the chiefs. There were pictures on the belts, worked in colored beads, which told of all the totems in the Land of the Bays. Now, these totems were the Indians' coats of arms, with various devices, just as the nations of Europe have. England has the lion and the unicorn, Russia the bear, Austria the eagle, and it was much .the same among the American Indians. One tribe chose as a badge, the wise beaver; another, the swift hare; another, the cunning fox; another, the unconquerable bear. And these wampum belts told of all the devices by which each tribe was known.

Then these wampums told of great victories, and of mighty warriors who had died on the battle-field. But—alas for the pride of the chieftains!—the belts told, too, of defeats and loss of hunting grounds. That was always hard to read before the eager boys who listened.

The more Bright Eyes heard of the history of his people, the more he longed to do some daring thing which might be written down in the wampum belts.

He said that when he had won the feathers of the war eagle for his hair, he would go himself on the warpath to the hated Narragansetts. Or, better yet, he would call the clans together, and they would steal through the woods to the ocean, pitch their tents in the forests along the bays, and all the long summer build them a line of boats to carry them up to conquer the hostile Tarratines, who dwelt on the Kennebec.

But sometimes, when the campfire flickered, and the warriors lay in heavy slumbers, Bright Eyes had even bolder plans than these. He whispered to himself that he would make peace with the other tribes of the Algonquins, with the N arragansetts, the Tarratines, the Pequods, the Mohegans, with all that spoke the Algonquin language and dwelt in the Land of Bays, and they would unite against their common foes. Why should these kindred warriors fight and quarrel with one another? Many arrows bound together never could be broken. Many warriors, when united, might make war upon the hated Mohawks, the "Man eaters," who dwelt on the lakes in the north. There was a shameful story written in the wampums how the whole Algonquin people once had fled before the Mohawks like sheep before the wolves in winter.

All this planning for great conquests kept little Bright Eyes very busy.