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


Through the long, dark winter season, there was little the warriors could do in the Land of the Bays, for it was always very cold. The villages by the rivers were moved to thick-wooded bottoms for shelter from the fierce blasts of the north. The families huddled about the fires in the wigwams, while the rivers froze thick and the snow wrapped all the tree-tops in white mantles, and covered up the pathways through the forest.

Sometimes, to be sure, a few stupid fish were caught through a hole in the ice, or a foolish duck was found imbedded in the frozen water.

But this good luck did not happen very often, and dried squash and corn, smoked venison and bear's meat, were thought to be good enough for winter food.

It was in high glee, that one morning very early in the spring, while the snow still lay deep on the ground, Bright Eyes joined his father in a moose hunt.

Armed with bows and arrows, they sped on their snow-shoes over the crisp crust toward the foothills. Icicles on the branches overhead cracked and trembled as they passed. Rabbits leaped in frantic haste across their pathway. The north wind whipped their faces into crimson. Swiftly they sped with eyes fixed on the snow. There were the tracks of a fox, that had been partridge hunting: There was the trail of a grey squirrel, as it scampered from tree to tree. There were the prints where the hare's broad pads had fallen. The hunters, wandered far, and when at last they found the deep tracks of a moose, they hurried faster than ever over the deep-drifted hollows and up the frozen water courses, but night came on and no moose was yet in sight.

Then they sought shelter in a cave behind a snowdrift. The cave was deep and dark, and their voices sounded strangely through the silence. The chief peered cautiously around. He sniffed the air. "Woof!" he said, "Bears have been here." But they saw nothing in the darkness; they heard nothing but their own quick breathing.

Then they scraped dry leaves together and built a fire near the mouth of the cavern. Both were very tired, and, after a supper of parched corn, lay down and were soon fast asleep.

The fire flickered and smoldered in the ashes.

The wind whistled about the snow-drifts at the entrance of the cavern. On the hunters slept. They were dreaming, perhaps, of the moose they would find on the morrow.

But what is that slow, dull sound as of something dragging over the ground? What are those two balls of fire coming always nearer? What is that dark shadow creeping out of the yet darker shadows behind it? Still the hunters sleep on.

Suddenly, no one ever knew just how it did happen, Bright Eyes was wide awake, and saw in an instant that danger was near.

Massasoit as a young man


He seized the stone hatchet at his side, and sprang toward the shadow. High in the air a monster bear raised its shaggy body, and the boy felt hot breath on his cheek as he sprang straight into its outstretched arms. But before the sharp claws could bury themselves in his shoulder, he dealt mighty blows on the head and on the neck, and then pounded away in wild random, until the great bear fell with a howl at his feet. The uproar roused the chief from his slumber. He gazed at the mighty beast shaking in death spasms at the feet of his son. He rubbed his eyes and could hardly believe what he saw. "Massasoit," he cried at last, "the great one, the brave one! This shall be your name, my Bright Eyes. Always henceforth you are Massasoit, for who has done a greater deed than this?" Bright Eyes was very glad that he had won a name. Every Indian brave must win his own name, and it had grieved him much of late to be called Bright Eyes, like a baby. Now they piled high the fire with brushwood, and stripped off the heavy bearskin, and hung it up in the cave to dry. Then they roasted some meat for their breakfasts. Never, surely, was there sweeter, juicier meat, than this haunch from the bear that Massasoit killed.

It was very early morning when these two hunters followed again the moose tracks. A hare, white and silent, ran across their pathway. That was a good sign, and over the crackling snow they skated on their snow-shoes.

At last a magnificent moose came in sight, tossing its branching horns and throwing its long feet out in a trot, at the rate of twenty miles an hour.

And then the fun began. It may be that the chief did not run at his utmost speed, and that he wanted his boy to catch the first moose. At any rate, Massasoit kept well to the front on his snowshoes. The hemlocks themselves, seemed running before his dizzy eyes. On and on sped the two. Then, at last, the moose broke through the crust of snow. It floundered madly in its struggles to rise again. It kicked straight out with its hind feet, and whirled around to beat with its fore feet.

The air was white with the blinding snow. A moment more, and Massasoit was near the magnificent creature, with his father close behind. Thick and fast fell their arrows, until the noble animal reeled forward and fell to the earth with a last panting breath.

There was no danger now, and quickly, while the flesh was warm, they stripped off the beautiful skin. Then they cut the sweet meat from the haunches, and bore it back to the cavern, and with the skins of the moose and the bear they returned to the lodge on the Taunton.

You may be sure there was rejoicing in the village when it became known that Bright Eyes had won his name.

All the warriors were invited to a great feast, and they came in paints and feathers. The sachem clothed Bright Eyes in a new doeskin, and put beads about his neck and a hatchet in his hand, made of sharpened stone, and set in a staff of oak wood. And before all the assembled people he called him "Massasoit, the Great One, the Brave One."

That was a proud and happy day for Bright Eyes.