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

Fishing and Trapping

Until Bright Eyes was twelve years old, he wore only a patch of clothes. Then he was dressed much like his father.

He had a coat of tanned doeskin with two large pockets, one before and one behind, and long leather stockings fringed along the side. Braided moccasins of moose-hide were on his feet, turkey feathers were in his hair, and a quiver filled with arrows hung upon his shoulder. When he saw himself dressed in all these garments, he was very proud, and walked about with the strut of the warriors. He looked with disdain at his little sister, Mioonie, who had once been his chosen comrade. Their paths were now divided; his led to war and glory, hers to the spring for water and to the brush for firewood.

But not even Mioonie wished her handsome little brother to play with her after the feathers had been put in his hair, for now he must learn to do as men do. If he stayed about the wigwam he would become a squaw man, and there was nothing in the world that all the Indian girls hated like a squaw man, who carried wood and water and hoed the corn and braided the mats. She wanted Bright Eyes to hunt, and to fish, and to learn to shoot so well, that when he was on the warpath, he might kill more foes than any other Indian.

One day in the month of August, Bright Eyes went with his sachem father to make a canoe in the forest.

They carried stone hatchets, some flint and a bag of parched corn. They set out at a brisk pace in the early morning, and followed the beaten path for a time. Then they turned to the right where the underbrush was denser. There was plenty of game in these woods. Squirrels and jackrabbits, partridges and bushy-tailed foxes darted in and out the thickets, and Bright Eyes wanted to shoot at everything he saw. But his father did not look to right or left, and hurried on so fast that there was no time to take aim at anything. Suddenly the chief paused. He held his finger on his lips, and, stooping down, he removed his leggings and the moccasins from his feet. Bright Eyes did the same. The bushes might catch on them and crackle. The two went slower now, and very softly. Through an open space in the forest they saw at last a winding river. The sunshine played upon its waters, and they could hear the drowsy hum of insects skimming. over its glassy surface. On they crept, now hardly breathing. Then they saw two red deer standing knee-deep in the water. There they stood, with branching antlers, their eyes half shut, their ears twitching back and forth to frighten off the biting, buzzing insects. Quick as a flash the sachem bent his bow. One breathless moment, whiz-z-z went the fatal arrow, singing through the hot noon air!

Massasoit as a boy


The startled deer sprang from the river, splashing the water into spray. One sped like the wind to the thicket; the other fell back dead upon the mossy bank. Bright Eyes sprang, shouting, from the ambush, and the birds screamed an answer from the branches overhead. Soon the hunters stripped the skin from the great red roebuck. They struck a fire from the flint and roasted the juicy meat from the haunches.

They had a royal dinner. Then they pushed farther into the forest, until they came to where the trees stood high and straight, with stems like giants.

Here they set up camp in a tent made from the bark of a chestnut-tree. Then the chief set to work to make a canoe. First he fashioned from a pine-tree a long frame, bent to a point at each end.

Then he stripped the thin bark from a large, white birch-tree. That was easy to do in the month of August when the sap flowed down toward the roots. Then he dug in the ground for the roots of the spruce-tree, and made threads as stout as whip-cords, and sewed the bark together at the ends, and made it fast to the framework. Then he smeared the balsam from the pine-trees over all the seams and crevices. Then the two went together in search of a hedgehog. They found one in a hollow tree, rolled up tight, like a ball, and its spines stuck out like needles. It was fast asleep, but the flint arrows pierced its sides, and it never woke up again. The chief plucked its quills, and made them red and blue and yellow from the juices of roots and berries, and sewed them in circles and stars on the bows of the beautiful canoe. And so the canoe was finished. It was long and slender, and so light that Bright Eyes could carry it on his shoulder to the river. And when it was launched it flew like a thing of life, dipping its prow, curving its sides, and floating off like a swan on the water.

When night came on, and the stars peeped down from the sky, the two fishermen pushed silently out in the river. Bright Eyes plied the paddles at one end of the skiff, while his father sat at the other end holding in his right hand a long spear, and in his left a torch of dried birch-bark.

The blaze from the torch threw a flood of light on the water, so that every pebble in the bed below could be seen, and among the flags along the shore they saw the pike. There they lay, the cunning creatures! Their duck-shaped heads close together, and their mottled-green sides shining in the torch-light.

High was the long spear lifted. Straight at the flat heads it flew, and bore aloft a speckled beauty. Another and another struggled on the spear-point.

Then the swarm of pike regained their senses and scampered away down the river. But off sped the skiff into the darkness, swifter than the fish might carry the news. And soon another lot of silly flatheads lay dazzled in the torch-light.

And when the late moon rose above the treetops, the skiff was full of pike, and the two fishermen rowed back shouting, to the lodge.

At dawn on the morrow, Bright Eyes sprang from his bed of leaves, to help string the glittering treasures on 8 line of twisted cedar bark. And with canoe and fish on their shoulders, Bright Eyes and the sachem reached at last the village on the Taunton. Hi, how good tasted the steaming succotash of corn and beans and pike!

After this journey to the forest, Bright Eyes and his father were much together. They set traps for the beaver, and for the weasels, those with the white fur which was prized for ornaments; and for the brown martens, arid for the raccoons, whose skins made pouches and bags. They enticed animals within reach, by imitating their cries. They howled like wolves, bleated like the fawns, honked, honked like the wild geese, and gobbled, gobbled like the turkeys, which came in droves to the oak forests for acorns.

They caught the turkeys in traps, that they might not spoil the fine feathers. First they made a pen of wood, with an opening below just large enough for a turkey to pass, and scattered corn inside and outside. Then, hidden in the trees, they gobbled, turkey fashion. Soon the great bronze-colored birds came in sight. They flew in short stages. They rested on the limbs of trees, stretching out their long necks and peering cautiously about with their bright, beadlike eyes. They alighted and strutted proudly here and there. Then they stood very still, listening for more gobbles from their wandering mates. At last they spied the scattered corn, and having eagerly devoured all on the outside of the pen, they squeezed through the hole for the corn on the inside. When they had eaten this they spread their wings to flyaway. But they looked up to fly. They never thought of the place where they had entered. So these proud birds paid a heavy penalty for their lack of common sense. Their bodies went into the pot, and their beautiful feathers waved in the head-dress of many an Indian brave.

Bright Eyes learned to build a gull-house with sticks fixed in the sands of the beach. He covered it with loose poles and a thatch of seaweed. Then he laid large pieces of whale flesh on the thatch, and while the gulls were fighting over the meat and eating it, he stood beneath the roof, reached up his hands and drew down the birds one by one between the poles, until he had caught as many of them as he wanted.

Bright Eyes was very busy in the autumn, when the leaves were turning crimson.