List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

I had in my possession a curious Japanese sword, which had been
given to me by an uncle of Tom Wilson's--a strange gift to a young
lady; but it was on account of its curiosity, and had no reference
to my warlike propensities. This sword was broad, and three-sided
in the blade, and in shape resembled a moving snake. The hilt was
formed of a hideous carved image of one of their war-gods; and
a more villanous-looking wretch was never conceived by the most
distorted imagination. He was represented in a sitting attitude, the
eagle's claws, that formed his hands, resting upon his knees; his
legs terminated in lion's paws; and his face was a strange compound
of beast and bird--the upper part of his person being covered with
feathers, the lower with long, shaggy hair. The case of this awful
weapon was made of wood, and, in spite of its serpentine form,
fitted it exactly. No trace of a join could be found in this
scabbard, which was of hard wood, and highly polished.

One of my Indian friends found this sword lying upon the bookshelf,
and he hurried to communicate the important discovery to his
companions. Moodie was absent, and they brought it to me to demand
an explanation of the figure that formed the hilt.

I told them that it was a weapon that belonged to a very fierce
people who lived in the east, far over the Great Salt Lake; that
they were not Christians as we were, but said their prayers to
images made of silver, and gold, and ivory, and wood, and that this
was one of them; that before they went into battle they said their
prayers to that hideous thing, which they had made with their own

The Indians were highly amused by this relation, and passed the
sword from one to the other, exclaiming, "A god!--Owgh!--A god!"

But, in spite of these outward demonstrations of contempt, I was
sorry to perceive that this circumstance gave the weapon a great
value, in their eyes, and they regarded it with a sort of
mysterious awe.

For several days they continued to visit the house, bringing along
with them some fresh companion to look at Mrs. Moodie's god!--until,
vexed and annoyed by the delight they manifested at the sight of the
eagle-beaked monster, I refused to gratify their curiosity by not
producing him again.

The manufacture of the sheath, which had caused me much perplexity,
was explained by old Peter in a minute. "'Tis burnt out," he said.
"Instrument made like sword--heat red-hot--burnt through--polished

Had I demanded a whole fleet of canoes for my Japanese sword, I am
certain they would have agreed to the bargain.

The Indian possesses great taste, which is displayed in the carving
of his paddles, in the shape of his canoes, in the elegance and
symmetry of his bows, in the cut of his leggings and moccasins, the
sheath of his hunting-knife, and in all the little ornaments in
which he delights. It is almost impossible for a settler to imitate
to perfection an Indian's cherry-wood paddle. My husband made very
creditable attempts, but still there was something wanting--the
elegance of the Indian finish was not there. If you show them a
good print, they invariably point out the most natural, and the
best-executed figure in the group. They are particularly delighted
with pictures, examine them long, and carefully, and seem to feel
an artist-like pleasure in observing the effect produced by light
and shade.

I had been showing John Nogan, the eldest son of old Peter, some
beautiful coloured engravings of celebrated females; to my
astonishment he pounced upon the best, and grunted out his
admiration in the most approved Indian fashion. After having looked
for a long time at all the pictures very attentively, he took his
dog Sancho upon his knee, and showed him the pictures, with as much
gravity as if the animal really could have shared in his pleasure.

The vanity of these grave men is highly amusing. They seem perfectly
unconscious of it themselves and it is exhibited in the most
child-like manner.

Peter and his son John were taking tea with us, when we were joined
by my brother, Mr. S---. The latter was giving us an account of the
marriage of Peter Jones, the celebrated Indian preacher.

"I cannot think," he said, "how any lady of property and education
could marry such a man as Jones. Why, he's as ugly as Peter here."

This was said, not with any idea of insulting the red-skin on
the score of his beauty, of which he possessed not the smallest
particle, but in total forgetfulness that our guest understood
English. Never shall I forget the red flash of that fierce dark eye
as it glared upon my unconscious brother. I would not have received
such a fiery glance for all the wealth that Peter Jones obtained
with his Saxon bride. John Nogan was highly amused by his father's
indignation. He hid his face behind the chief; and though he kept
perfectly still, his whole frame was convulsed with suppressed

A plainer human being than poor Peter could scarcely be imagined;
yet he certainly deemed himself handsome. I am inclined to think
that their ideas of personal beauty differ very widely from ours.

Tom Nogan, the chief's brother, had a very large, fat, ugly squaw
for his wife. She was a mountain of tawny flesh; and, but for the
innocent, good-natured expression which, like a bright sunbeam
penetrating a swarthy cloud, spread all around a kindly glow, she
might have been termed hideous.

This woman they considered very handsome, calling her "a fine
squaw--clever squaw--a much good woman;" though in what her
superiority consisted, I never could discover, often as I visited
the wigwam. She was very dirty, and appeared quite indifferent to
the claims of common decency (in the disposal of the few filthy
rags that covered her). She was, however, very expert in all Indian
craft. No Jew could drive a better bargain than Mrs. Tom; and her
urchins, of whom she was the happy mother of five or six, were as
cunning and avaricious as herself.

One day she visited me, bringing along with her a very pretty
covered basket for sale. I asked her what she wanted for it, but
could obtain from her no satisfactory answer. I showed her a small
piece of silver. She shook her head. I tempted her with pork and
flour, but she required neither. I had just given up the idea of
dealing with her, in despair, when she suddenly seized upon me, and,
lifting up my gown, pointed exultingly to my quilted petticoat,
clapping her hands, and laughing immoderately.

Another time she led me all over the house, to show me what she
wanted in exchange for BASKET. My patience was well nigh exhausted
in following her from place to place, in her attempt to discover the
coveted article, when, hanging upon a peg in my chamber, she espied
a pair of trousers belonging to my husband's logging-suit. The
riddle was solved. With a joyful cry she pointed to them, exclaiming
"Take basket. Give them!" It was with no small difficulty that I
rescued the indispensables from her grasp.

From this woman I learned a story of Indian coolness and courage
which made a deep impression on my mind. One of their squaws, a near
relation of her own, had accompanied her husband on a hunting
expedition into the forest. He had been very successful, and having
killed more deer than they could well carry home, he went to the
house of a white man to dispose of some of it, leaving the squaw to
take care of the rest until his return. She sat carelessly upon the
log with his hunting-knife in her hand, when she heard the breaking
of branches near her, and turning round, beheld a great bear only a
few paces from her.

It was too late to retreat; and seeing that the animal was very
hungry, and determined to come to close quarters, she rose, and
placed her back against a small tree, holding her knife close to her
breast, and in a straight line with the bear. The shaggy monster
came on. She remained motionless, her eyes steadily fixed upon her
enemy, and as his huge arms closed around her, she slowly drove the
knife into his heart. The bear uttered a hideous cry, and sank dead
at her feet. When the Indian returned, he found the courageous woman
taking the skin from the carcass of the formidable brute. What iron
nerves these people must possess, when even a woman could dare and
do a deed like this!

The wolf they hold in great contempt, and scarcely deign to consider
him as an enemy. Peter Nogan assured me that he never was near
enough to one in his life to shoot it; that, except in large
companies, and when greatly pressed by hunger, they rarely attack
men. They hold the lynx, or wolverine, in much dread, as they often
spring from trees upon their prey, fastening upon the throat with
their sharp teeth and claws, from which a person in the dark could
scarcely free himself without first receiving a dangerous wound.
The cry of this animal is very terrifying, resembling the shrieks
of a human creature in mortal agony.

My husband was anxious to collect some of the native Indian airs,
as they all sing well, and have a fine ear for music, but all his
efforts proved abortive. "John," he said to young Nogan (who played
very creditably on the flute, and had just concluded the popular air
of "Sweet Home"), "cannot you play me one of your own songs?"

"Yes,--but no good."

"Leave me to be the judge of that. Cannot you give me a war-song?"

"Yes,--but no good," with an ominous shake of the head.

"A hunting-song?"

"No fit for white man,"--with an air of contempt. "No good, no

"Do, John, sing us a love-song," said I, laughing, "if you have such
a thing in your language."

"Oh! much love-song--very much--bad--bad--no good for Christian man.
Indian song no good for white ears." This was very tantalising, as
their songs sounded very sweetly from the lips of their squaws, and
I had a great desire and curiosity to get some of them rendered into

To my husband they gave the name of "the musician," but I have
forgotten the Indian word. It signified the maker of sweet sounds.
They listened with intense delight to the notes of his flute,
maintaining a breathless silence during the performance; their dark
eyes flashing into fierce light at a martial strain, or softening
with the plaintive and tender.

The cunning which they display in their contests with their enemies,
in their hunting, and in making bargains with the whites (who are
too apt to impose on their ignorance), seems to spring more from a
law of necessity, forced upon them by their isolated position and
precarious mode of life, than from any innate wish to betray. The
Indian's face, after all, is a perfect index of his mind. The eye
chances its expression with every impulse and passion, and shows
what is passing within as clearly as the lightning in a dark night
betrays the course of the stream. I cannot think that deceit forms
any prominent trait in the Indian's character. They invariably act
with the strictest honour towards those who never attempt to impose
upon them. It is natural for a deceitful person to take advantage
of the credulity of others. The genuine Indian never utters a
falsehood, and never employs flattery (that powerful weapon in the
hands of the insidious), in his communications with the whites.

His worst traits are those which he has in common with the wild
animals of the forest, and which his intercourse with the lowest
order of civilised men (who, in point of moral worth, are greatly
his inferiors), and the pernicious effects of strong drink, have
greatly tended to inflame and debate.

It is a melancholy truth, and deeply to be lamented, that
the vicinity of European settlers has always produced a very
demoralising effect upon the Indians. As a proof of this,
I will relate a simple anecdote.

John, of Rice Lake, a very sensible, middle-aged Indian, was
conversing with me about their language, and the difficulty he found
in understanding the books written in Indian for their use. Among
other things, I asked him if his people ever swore, or used profane
language towards the Deity.

The man regarded me with a sort of stern horror, as he replied,
"Indian, till after he knew your people, never swore--no bad word in
Indian. Indian must learn your words to swear and take God's name in

Oh, what a reproof to Christian men! I felt abashed, and degraded
in the eyes of this poor savage--who, ignorant as he was in many
respects, yet possessed that first great attribute of the soul, a
deep reverence for the Supreme Being. How inferior were thousands
of my countrymen to him in this important point.

The affection of Indian parents to their children, and the deference
which they pay to the aged, is another beautiful and touching trait
in their character.

One extremely cold, wintry day, as I was huddled with my little ones
over the stove, the door softly unclosed, and the moccasined foot of
an Indian crossed the floor. I raised my head, for I was too much
accustomed to their sudden appearance at any hour to feel alarmed,
and perceived a tall woman standing silently and respectfully before
me, wrapped in a large blanket. The moment she caught my eye she
dropped the folds of her covering from around her, and laid at my
feet the attenuated figure of a boy, about twelve years of age, who
was in the last stage of consumption.

"Papouse die," she said, mournfully clasping her hands against her
breast, and looking down upon the suffering lad with the most
heartfelt expression of maternal love, while large tears trickled
down her dark face. "Moodie's squaw save papouse--poor Indian woman
much glad."

Her child was beyond all human aid. I looked anxiously upon him, and
knew, by the pinched-up features and purple hue of his wasted cheek,
that he had not many hours to live. I could only answer with tears
her agonising appeal to my skill.

"Try and save him! All die but him." (She held up five of her
fingers.) "Brought him all the way from Mutta Lake[1] upon my back,
for white squaw to cure."

[1] Mud Lake, or Lake Shemong, in Indian.

"I cannot cure him, my poor friend. He is in God's care; in a few
hours he will be with Him."

The child was seized with a dreadful fit of coughing, which I
expected every moment would terminate his frail existence. I gave
him a teaspoonful of currant jelly, which he took with avidity, but
could not retain a moment on his stomach.

"Papouse die," murmured the poor woman; "alone--alone! No papouse;
the mother all alone." She began re-adjusting the poor sufferer in
her blanket. I got her some food, and begged her to stay and rest
herself; but she was too much distressed to eat, and too restless to
remain. She said little, but her face expressed the keenest anguish;
she took up her mournful load, pressed for a moment his wasted,
burning hand in hers, and left the room.

My heart followed her a long way on her melancholy journey. Think
what this woman's love must have been for that dying son, when she
had carried a lad of his age six miles, through the deep snow, upon
her back, on such a day, in the hope of my being able to do him some
good. Poor heart-broken mother! I learned from Joe Muskrat's squaw

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: