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

some days after that the boy died a few minutes after Elizabeth
Iron, his mother, got home.

They never forget any little act of kindness. One cold night, late
in the fall, my hospitality was demanded by six squaws, and puzzled
I was how to accommodate them all. I at last determined to give them
the use of the parlour floor during the night. Among these women
there was one very old, whose hair was as white as snow. She was the
only gray-haired Indian I ever saw, and on that account I regarded
her with peculiar interest. I knew that she was the wife of a chief,
by the scarlet embroidered leggings, which only the wives and
daughters of chiefs are allowed to wear. The old squaw had a very
pleasing countenance, but I tried in vain to draw her into
conversation. She evidently did not understand me; and the Muskrat
squaw, and Betty Cow, were laughing at my attempts to draw her out.
I administered supper to them with my own hands, and after I had
satisfied their wants (which is no very easy task, for they have
great appetites), I told our servant to bring in several spare
mattresses and blankets for their use. "Now mind, Jenny, and give
the old squaw the best bed," I said; "the others are young, and can
put up with a little inconvenience."

The old Indian glanced at me with her keen, bright eye; but I had no
idea that she comprehended what I said.

Some weeks after this, as I was sweeping over my parlour floor, a
slight tap drew me to the door. On opening it I perceived the old
squaw, who immediately slipped into my hand a set of
beautifully-embroidered bark trays, fitting one within the other,
and exhibiting the very best sample of the porcupine quill-work.
While I stood wondering what this might mean, the good old creature
fell upon my neck, and kissing me, exclaimed, "You remember old
squaw--make her comfortable! Old squaw no forget you. Keep them for
her sake," and before I could detain her she ran down the hill with
a swiftness which seemed to bid defiance to years. I never saw this
interesting Indian again, and I concluded that she died during the
winter, for she must have been of a great age.

My dear reader, I am afraid I shall tire you with my Indian stories;
but you must bear with me patiently whilst I give you a few more.
The real character of a people can be more truly gathered from such
seemingly trifling incidents than from any ideas we may form of them
from the great facts in their history, and this is my reason for
detailing events which might otherwise appear insignificant and

A friend was staying with us, who wished much to obtain a likeness
of Old Peter. I promised to try and make a sketch of the old man the
next time he paid us a visit. That very afternoon he brought us some
ducks in exchange for pork, and Moodie asked him to stay and take a
glass of whiskey with him and his friend Mr. K---. The old man had
arrayed himself in a new blanket-coat, bound with red, and the seams
all decorated with the same gay material. His leggings and moccasins
were new, and elaborately fringed; and, to cap the climax of the
whole, he had a blue cloth conical cap upon his head, ornamented
with a deer's tail dyed blue, and several cock's feathers.

He was evidently very much taken up with the magnificence of his own
appearance, for he often glanced at himself in a small shaving-glass
that hung opposite, with a look of grave satisfaction. Sitting
apart, that I might not attract his observation, I got a tolerably
faithful likeness of the old man, which after slightly colouring, to
show more plainly his Indian finery, I quietly handed over to Mr.
K---. Sly as I thought myself, my occupation and the object of it
had not escaped the keen eye of the old man. He rose, came behind
Mr. K---'s chair, and regarded the picture with a most affectionate
eye. I was afraid that he would be angry at the liberty I had taken.
No such thing! He was as pleased as Punch.

"That Peter?" he grunted. "Give me--put up in wigwam--make dog too!
Owgh! owgh!" and he rubbed his hands together, and chuckled with
delight. Mr. K--- had some difficulty in coaxing the picture from
the old chief; so pleased was he with this rude representation of
himself. He pointed to every particular article of his dress, and
dwelt with peculiar glee on the cap and blue deer's tail.

A few days after this, I was painting a beautiful little snow-bird,
that our man had shot out of a large flock that alighted near the
door. I was so intent upon my task, to which I was putting the
finishing strokes, that I did not observe the stealthy entrance (for
they all walk like cats) of a stern-looking red man, till a slender,
dark hand was extended over my paper to grasp the dead bird from
which I was copying, and which as rapidly transferred it to the side
of the painted one, accompanying the act with the deep guttural note
of approbation, the unmusical, savage "Owgh."

My guest then seated himself with the utmost gravity in a
rocking-chair, directly fronting me, and made the modest demand that
I should paint a likeness of him, after the following quaint

"Moodie's squaw know much--make Peter Nogan toder day on
papare--make Jacob to-day--Jacob young--great hunter--give much
duck--venison--to squaw."

Although I felt rather afraid of my fierce-looking visitor, I could
scarcely keep my gravity; there was such an air of pompous
self-approbation about the Indian, such a sublime look of conceit
in his grave vanity.

"Moodie's squaw cannot do everything; she cannot paint young men,"
said I, rising, and putting away my drawing-materials, upon which he
kept his eye intently fixed, with a hungry, avaricious expression. I
thought it best to place the coveted objects beyond his reach. After
sitting for some time, and watching all my movements, he withdrew,
with a sullen, disappointed air.

This man was handsome, but his expression was vile. Though he often
came to the house, I never could reconcile myself to his

Late one very dark, stormy night, three Indians begged to be allowed
to sleep by the kitchen stove. The maid was frightened out of her
wits at the sight of these strangers, who were Mohawks from the
Indian woods upon the Bay of Quinte, and they brought along with
them a horse and cutter. The night was so stormy, that, after
consulting our man--Jacob Faithful, as we usually called him--I
consented to grant their petition, although they were quite
strangers, and taller and fiercer-looking than our friends the

I was putting my children to bed, when the girl came rushing in,
out of breath. "The Lord preserve us, madam, if one of these wild
men has not pulled off his trousers, and is a-sitting, mending
them behind the stove! and what shall I do?"

"Do?--why, stay with me, and leave the poor fellow to finish his

The simple girl had never once thought of this plan of pacifying her
outraged sense of propriety.

Their sense of hearing is so acute that they can distinguish sounds
at an incredible distance, which cannot be detected by a European at
all. I myself witnessed a singular exemplification of this fact. It
was mid-winter; the Indians had pitched their tent, or wigwam, as
usual, in our swamp. All the males were absent on a hunting
expedition up the country, and had left two women behind to take
care of the camp and its contents, Mrs. Tom Nogan and her children,
and Susan Moore, a young girl of fifteen, and the only truly
beautiful squaw I ever saw. There was something interesting about
this girl's history, as well as her appearance. Her father had been
drowned during a sudden hurricane, which swamped his canoe on Stony
Lake; and the mother, who witnessed the accident from the shore, and
was near her confinement with this child, boldly swam out to his
assistance. She reached the spot where he sank, and even succeeded
in recovering the body; but it was too late; the man was dead.

The soul of an Indian that has been drowned is reckoned accursed,
and he is never permitted to join his tribe on the happy
hunting-grounds, but his spirit haunts the lake or river in which he
lost his life. His body is buried on some lonely island, which the
Indians never pass without leaving a small portion of food, tobacco,
ammunition, to supply his wants; but he is never interred with the
rest of his people.

His children are considered unlucky, and few willingly unite
themselves to the females of the family, lest a portion of the
father's curse should be visited on them.

The orphan Indian girl generally kept aloof from the rest, and
seemed so lonely and companionless, that she soon attracted my
attention and sympathy, and a hearty feeling of good-will sprang
up between us. Her features were small and regular, her face oval,
and her large, dark, loving eyes were full of tenderness and
sensibility, but as bright and shy as those of the deer. A rich
vermilion glow burnt upon her olive cheek and lips, and set off the
dazzling whiteness of her even and pearly teeth. She was small of
stature, with delicate little hands and feet, and her figure was
elastic and graceful. She was a beautiful child of nature, and her
Indian name signified "the voice of angry waters." Poor girl, she
had been a child of grief and tears from her birth! Her mother was
a Mohawk, from whom she, in all probability, derived her superior
personal attractions; for they are very far before the Missasaguas
in this respect.

My friend and neighbour, Emilia S---, the wife of a naval officer,
who lived about a mile distant from me, through the bush, had come
to spend the day with me; and hearing that the Indians were in the
swamp, and the men away, we determined to take a few trifles to the
camp, in the way of presents, and spend an hour in chatting with the

What a beautiful moonlight night it was, as light as day!--the great
forest sleeping tranquilly beneath the cloudless heavens--not a
sound to disturb the deep repose of nature but the whispering of the
breeze, which, during the most profound calm, creeps through the
lofty pine tops. We bounded down the steep bank to the lake shore.
Life is a blessing, a precious boon indeed, in such an hour, and we
felt happy in the mere consciousness of existence--the glorious
privilege of pouring out the silent adoration of the heart to the
Great Father in his universal temple.

On entering the wigwam, which stood within a few yards of the
clearing, in the middle of a thick group of cedars, we found Mrs.
Tom alone with her elvish children, seated before the great fire
that burned in the centre of the camp; she was busy boiling some
bark in an iron spider. The little boys, in red flannel shirts which
were their only covering, were tormenting a puppy, which seemed to
take their pinching and pummelling in good part, for it neither
attempted to bark nor to bite, but, like the eels in the story,
submitted to the infliction because it was used to it. Mrs. Tom
greeted us with a grin of pleasure, and motioned to us to sit down
upon a buffalo-skin, which, with a courtesy so natural to the
Indians, she had placed near her for our accommodation.

"You are all alone," said I, glancing round the camp.

"Ye'es; Indian away hunting--Upper Lakes. Come home with much deer."

"And Susan, where is she?"

"By and by. (Meaning that she was coming.) Gone to fetch water--ice
thick--chop with axe--take long time."

As she ceased speaking, the old blanket that formed the door of the
tent was withdrawn, and the girl, bearing two pails of water, stood
in the open space, in the white moonlight. The glow of the fire
streamed upon her dark, floating locks, danced in the black,
glistening eye, and gave a deeper blush to the olive cheek! She
would have made a beautiful picture; Sir Joshua Reynolds would have
rejoiced in such a model--so simply graceful and unaffected, the
very beau ideal of savage life and unadorned nature. A smile of
recognition passed between us. She put down her burden beside Mrs.
Tom, and noiselessly glided to her seat.

We had scarcely exchanged a few words with our favourite, when the
old squaw, placing her hand against her ear, exclaimed, "Whist!

"What is it?" cried Emilia and I, starting to our feet. "Is there
any danger?"

"A deer--a deer--in bush!" whispered the squaw, seizing a rifle that
stood in a corner. "I hear sticks crack--a great way off. Stay

A great way off the animal must have been, for though Emilia and
I listened at the open door, an advantage which the squaw did not
enjoy, we could not hear the least sound: all seemed still as death.
The squaw whistled to an old hound, and went out.

"Did you hear anything, Susan?"

She smiled, and nodded.

"Listen; the dog has found the track."

The next moment the discharge of a rifle, and the deep baying of the
dog, woke up the sleeping echoes of the woods; and the girl started
off to help the old squaw to bring in the game that she had shot.

The Indians are great imitators, and possess a nice tact in adopting
the customs and manners of those with whom they associate. An Indian
is Nature's gentleman--never familiar, coarse, or vulgar. If he take
a meal with you, he waits to see how you make use of the implements
on the table, and the manner in which you eat, which he imitates
with a grave decorum, as if he had been accustomed to the same
usages from childhood. He never attempts to help himself, or demand
more food, but waits patiently until you perceive what he requires.
I was perfectly astonished at this innate politeness, for it seems
natural to all the Indians with whom I have had any dealings.

There was one old Indian, who belonged to a distant settlement, and
only visited our lakes occasionally on hunting parties. He was a
strange, eccentric, merry old fellow, with a skin like red mahogany,
and a wiry, sinewy frame, that looked as if it could bid defiance to
every change of temperature.

Old Snow-storm, for such was his significant name, was rather too
fond of the whiskey-bottle, and when he had taken a drop too much,
he became an unmanageable wild beast. He had a great fancy for my
husband, and never visited the other Indians without extending the
same favour to us. Once upon a time, he broke the nipple of his gun;
and Moodie repaired the injury for him by fixing a new one in its
place, which little kindness quite won the heart of the old man, and
he never came to see us without bringing an offering of fish, ducks,
partridges, or venison, to show his gratitude.

One warm September day, he made his appearance bare-headed, as
usual, and carrying in his hand a great checked bundle.

"Fond of grapes?" said he, putting the said bundle into my hands.
"Fine grapes--brought them from island, for my friend's squaw and

Glad of the donation, which I considered quite a prize, I hastened
into the kitchen to untie the grapes and put them into a dish. But
imagine my disappointment, when I found them wrapped up in a soiled
shirt, only recently taken from the back of the owner. I called
Moodie, and begged him to return Snow-storm his garment, and to

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: