History From America's Most Famous Valleys
STORIES OF THE REVOLUTION
With an account of the lost child of the Delaware: Wheaton and the Panther, &c.
Thanks to Willis Barshied Jr. for the donation.
Printed by Hoffman and White,
No. 71 State Street 1836.
LA FAYETTE AND THE INDIAN GIRL.
[We give the following story of La Fayette and the Aboriginal Girl of the far west, from Levasseur's Journal, because we think the incidents of the life of so great a man, as was the Marquis La Fayette, cannot be too often repeated ill the ears of Americans, as by it the memory of that philanthropic and greatly patriotic Frenchman is enstamped on the memory of the nation and the historic page of the country.]
I was still among the Indians, questioning the hunter as to the situation and force of their tribes, when I saw the secretary of the governor of Louisiana, Mr. Caire, approach, who came to propose that I should go with him to visit an Indian encampment at a very short distance from the village.- After about a quarter of an hour's walk, we arrived at a fence, which we climbed, and behind which two horses attracted our attention, by the noise of the bells hung round their necks. A little further on, the pass enlarging, formed a delightful little valley, in the middle of which some huts of bark were raised in a half circle. This was the Indian camp we sought. After a minute examination of this little camp, we were about to leave it, when I was arrested on the border of the streamlet which ran through it, by the sight of a small mill-wheel which appeared to have been thrown on the bank by the rapidity of the current. I took it up and placed it where I thought it had been originally put by the children, on two stones a little above the water, and the current striking the wings, made it turn rapidly. This puerility (which probably would have passed from my memory, if on the same evening it had not placed me before the Indians in a situation sufficiently extraordinary) greatly excited the attention of the old woman, who, by her gestures, expressed to us a lively satisfaction.
On returning to Kaskaskia, we found M. de Syon, who, on the invitation of Gen. Lafayette, left Washington city with us, to visit the southern and western states. Like us, he had just made an excursion into the neighborhood, and appeared quite joyous at the discovery he had made. He had met, in the midst of the forest, at the head of a troop of Indians, a pretty young woman who spoke French very well, and expressed herself with a grace at which he appeared as much astonished as we were. She had asked him if it was true that Lafayette was at Kaskaskia, and on his replying affirmatively, she manifested a great desire to see him. "I always carry with me," said she to M. de Syon, " a relique that is very dear to me. I would wish to show it to him. It would prove to him that his name is not less venerated in the midst of our tribes than among the white Americans for whom he fought." And in speaking thus, she drew from her bosom a little pouch which enclosed a letter carefully wrapped in several pieces of paper. " It is from Lafayette," said she, " he wrote it to my father a long time since, and my father, when he died, left it to me as the most precious thing he possessed." At the sight of this letter, M. de Syon proposed to the Indian girl to go with him to Kaskaskia, assuring her that General Lafayette would be very much pleased to see her. But this proposition seemed to embarrass her, and under various pretexts she refused to come. " However," she added, " if you have any thing to say to me this evening, you will find me in my camp, which is close by the village. Any one can direct you the way, for I am well known at Kaskaskia. My name is Mary."
Afterwards I spoke to Gen. Lafayette of the meeting with the young Indian girl; and from the desire he manifested to see her, I left the table with M. de Syon, at the moment when the company began to exchange patriotic toasts, and sought me a guide to Mary's camp. We soon arrived at the middle of the camp, which was lighted by a large fire, around which a dozen Indians were squatted, preparing their supper. They received us with cordiality, and as soon as they were informed of the object of our visit, one of them conducted us to Mary's hut, whom we found sleeping on a bison skin. At the voice of M. de Syon, which she recognised, she arose and listened attentively to the invitation from Gen. Layfayette to come to Kaskaskia. She seemed quite flattered by it, but said, before deciding to accompany us, she wished to mention it to her husband. While she was consulting with him, I heard a piercing cry, and turning round, I saw near me the old woman I had found alone in the camp in the morning. She had just recognised me by the light of the fire, and designated me to her companions, who, quitting immediately their occupations, rushed round me in a circle, and began to dance with demonstrations of great joy and gratitude. Their tawny and nearly naked bodies, their faces fantastically painted, their expressive gesticulations, the reflection of the lire, which gave a red tinge to all the surrounding objects, every thing gave to this scene something of an infernal aspect, and I fancied myself for an instant in the midst of demons. Mary witnessing my embarrassment, put an end toil by ordering the dance to cease, and then explained to me the honours which they had just rendered me. " When we wish to know if an enterprise we meditate will be happy, we place in a rivulet a small wheel slightly supported on two stones. If the wheel turns during three suns without being thrown down, the augury is favorable; but if the current carries it away, and throws it upon the bank, it is a certain proof that our project is not approved by the Great Spirit, unless, however, a stranger comes to replace the little wheel before the end of the third day. You are this stranger who has restored our manitou and our hopes, and this is your title to be thus celebrated among us." In pronouncing these last words, an ironical smile played on her lips, which caused me to doubt her faith in the manitou. " You do not appear to be very much convinced," said I to her, " of the efficacy of the service which 1 have rendered you in raising the manitou? She silently shook her head. Then raising her eyes, "I have been taught," said she, "to place my confidence higher. All my hopes are in the God I have been taught to believe in the God of the Christians."
I had at first been much astonished to hear an Indian woman speak French so well, and I was not less so in learning that she was a Christian. Mary perceived it, and to put an end to my surprise, she related to me her history, while her husband and those who were to accompany her to Kaskaskia, hastily took their supper of maize, cooked in milk. She informed me that her father, who was a chief of one of the nations who inhabited the shores of the great lakes of the north, had formerly fought with a hundred of his followers under the orders of Lafayette, when the latter commanded an army on the frontiers-that he had acquired much glory, and gained the friendship of the Americans. A long time after, that is, about twenty years ago, he left the shores of the great lakes with some of his warriors, his wife and daughter, and after having marched a long time, he established himself on the shores of the river Illinois. I was very young then, but have not yet, however, forgotten the horrible sufferings we endured during this long journey, made in a rigorous winter, across a country peopled by nations with whom we were unacquainted. They were such that my poor mother, who nearly always carried me on her shoulders, already well loaded with baggage, died under them some days after our arrival. My father placed me under the care of another woman who also emigrated with us, and occupied himself in securing the tranquil possession of the lands on which we had come to establish ourselves, by forming alliances with our new neighbours. The Kickapoos were those who received us best, and we soon considered ourselves as forming a part of their nation. The year following, my father was chosen by them, with some from among themselves, to go and regulate some affairs of the nation with the agent of the United States, residing here at Kaskaskia. He wished that I should be of the company; for although the Kickapoos had shown themselves very generous and hospitable towards him he feared that some war might break out in his absence, as he well knew the intrigues of the English to excite the Indians against the Americans. This same apprehension induced him to accede to the request made by the American agent to leave me in his family, to be educated with his infant daughter. My father had much esteem for the whites of that great nation for whom he had formerly fought. He never had cause to complain of them, and he who offered to take charge of me inspired him with great confidence by the frankness of his manners, and above all by the fidelity with which he treated the affairs of the Indians. He therefore left me, promising to return to see me every year after the great winter's hunt. He came, in fact, several times afterwards; and I, notwithstanding the disagreeableness of a sedentary life, grew up answering the expectations of my careful benefactor and his wife. I became attached to their daughter, who grew up with me, and the truths of the Christian religion easily supplanted in my mind the superstition of my fathers, whom I had scarcely known. Yet I confess to you, notwithstanding the influence of religion and civilization on my youthful heart, the impressions of infancy were not entirely effaced. If the pleasure of wandering conducted me into the shady forest, I breathed more freely, and it was with reluctance that I returned home. When, in the cool of the evening, seated in the door of my adopted father's habitation, I heard in the distance, through the silence of the night, the piercing voice of the Indians, rallying to return to camp, I started with a thrill of joy, and my feeble voice imitated the voice of the savage with a facility that affrighted my young companion. And when occasionally some warriors came to consult my benefactor in regard to their treaties, or hunters to offer him a part of the produce of their chase, I was always the first to run to meet and welcome them. I testified my joy to them by every imaginable means, and I could not avoid admiring and wishing for their simple ornaments, which appeared to me far preferable to the brilliant decorations of the whites.
In the meanwhile, for five years my father had not appeared at the period of the return from the winter's hunting,-but a warrior whom I had often seen with him, came and found me one evening at the entrance of the forest, and said to me, ' Mary, thy father is old and feeble, he has been unable to follow us here-but he wishes to see thee once more before he dies, and he has charged me to conduct thee to him.' In saying these words he forcibly took my hand, and dragged me with him. I had not even time to reply to him, nor even take any resolution, before we were at a great distance, and I saw well that there was no part left for me but to follow him. We marched nearly all night, and at the dawn of day we arrived at a bark hut, built in the middle of a little valley. Here I saw my father, his eyes turned towards the just rising sun. His face was painted as for battle. His tomahawk, ornamented with many scalps, was beside him-he was calm and silent, as an Indian who awaiteth death. As soon as he saw me he drew from a pouch a paper wrapped with care in a very dry skin, and gave it to me, requesting that I should preserve it as a most precious thing. ' I wished to see thee once more before dying,' said he, ' and to give thee this paper, which is the most powerful charm (manitou) which thou canst employ with the whites to interest them in thy favor ; for all those to whom I have shown it, have manifested towards me a particular attachment. I received it from a great French warrior, whom the English dreaded as much as the Americans loved, and with whom I fought in my youth. After these words my father was silent; next morning he expired. Sciakapa, the name of the warrior who came for me, covered the body of my father with branches of trees, and took me back to my guardian.''
Here Mary suspended her narrative, and presented to me a letter a little darkened by time, but in good preservation. " Stay," said she to me, smiling, " you see that I have faithfully complied with the charge of my father,-I have taken great care of his manitou." I opened the letter, and recognised the signature and hand writing of Gen. Lafayette. It was dated at Head Quarters, Albany, June, 1778, after the northern campaign, and addressed to Panisciowa, an Indian chief of one of the Six Nations, to thank him for the courageous manner in which he had served the American cause.
" Well," said Mary, " now that you know me well enough to introduce me to General Lafayette, shall we go to him that I may also greet him whom my father revered as the courageous warrior and the friend of our nations ?''- " Willingly,"! replied, " but it seems to me that you have promised to inform us in what manner, after having tasted for some time the sweets of civilization, you came to the rude and savage life of the Indians ?'' At this question Mary looked downwards and seemed troubled. However, after a slight hesitation, she resumed in a lower tone:-"After the death of my father, Sciakapa often returned to see me. We soon became attached to each other. He did not find it difficult to determine me to follow him into the forest, where I became his wife. The resolution very much afflicted my benefactors. But when they saw that I found myself happy, they pardoned me ; and each year during all the time that our encampment is established near Kaskaskia, I rarely pass a day without going to see them. If you wish, we can visit them, for their house is close by our way, and you will see, by the reception they will give me, that they retain their esteem and friendship.''
Mary pronounced these last words with a degree of pride, which proved to us that she feared that we might have formed a bad opinion of her, on account of her flight from the home of her benefactors with Sciakapa. We accepted her proposition, and she gave the signal for departure. At her call her husband and eight warriors presented themselves to escort us. M. de Syon offered her his arm, and we began our march. We were all very well received by the family of Mr. Mesnerd; but Mary, above all, received the most tender marks of affection from the persons of the household. Mr. Mesnerd, Mary's adopted father, was at Kaskaskia, as one of the committee charged with the reception of Lafayette, and Mrs. Mesnerd asked us we if we would undertake to conduct her daughter to the ball which she herself was prevented from attending by indisposition. We assented with pleasure ; and while Mary assisted Miss Mesnerd to complete her toilet, we seated ourselves round a great fire in the kitchen.
After a little time, we took leave of Mrs. Mesnerd, and found our Indian escort, who had waited patiently for us at the door, and who resumed their position near us at some distance in front, to guide and protect our march, as if we had been crossing an enemy's country. The night was quite dark, but the temperature was mild, and the fire flies illuminated the atmosphere around us. M. de Syon conducted Miss Mesnerd, and I gave my arm to Mary, who, notwithstanding the darkness, walked with a confidence and lightness which only a forest life could produce. The fire flies attracted and interested me much ; for although this was not the first time I had observed them, I had never before seen them in such numbers. I asked Mary if these insects, which, from their appearance, seem so likely to astonish the imagination, had never given place among the Indians to popular beliefs or tales. "Not among the nations of these countries, where every year we are familiarized with their great numbers," said she to me, " but I have heard that among the tribes of the north they commonly believe that they are the souls of departed friends who return to console them, or demand the performance of some promise. I even know several ballads on this subject. One of them appears to have been made a long time since in a nation which lived further north, and no longer exists. It is by songs that great events and popular traditions are ordinarily preserved among us ; and this ballad, which I have often heard sung by the young girls of our tribe, leaves no doubt as to the belief of some Indians concerning the fire fly.'' I asked her to sing me this song, which she did with much grace,- Although I did not comprehend the words, which were Indian, I observed a great harmony in their arrangement, and in the very simple music in which they were sung an expression of deep melancholy.
When she had finished the ballad, I asked her if she could not translate it for me into French, so that I might comprehend the sense. "With difficulty,'' she said, " for I have always found great obstacles to translating exactly the expressions of our Indians into French when I have served them as interpreter with the whites. But I will try.''
Mary ended her ballad, and I expressed to her my thanks as we arrived at the bridge of Kaskaskia. There Sciakapa collected his escort, said a few words to his wife, and left us to enter the village alone. We approached the house of Mr. Morrison at which the ball was given to Gen. Lafayette. I then felt that Mary trembled. Her trouble was so great that she could not conceal it from me. I asked the cause. " If you would spare me a great mortification,''she said, "you will not conduct me among the ladies of Kaskaskia.- They are now without doubt in their most brilliant dresses, and the coarseness of my clothes will inspire them with contempt and pity-two sentiments which equally affect me. Besides, I know that they blame me for having renounced the life of the whites, and 1 feel little at ease in their presence.'' I promised what she desired, and she became assured. Arrived at Mr. Morrison's, I conducted her into a lower chamber, and went to the hall to inform den. Lafayette, that the young Indian girl awaited him below. He hastened down and several of the committee with him. He saw and heard Mary with pleasure, and could not conceal his emotion on recognising his letter, and observing with what holy veneration it had been preserved during nearly half a century in a savage nation, among whom he, had not even supposed his name had ever penetrated. On her part, the daughter of Panisciowa expressed with vivacity the happiness she enjoyed in seeing him along with whom her father had the honor to fight for the good American cause.
After a half hour's conversation, Mary manifested a wish to retire, and I accompanied her to the bridge, where I replaced her; under the care of Sciakapa and his-escort, and bade them farewell.