The Captivity of Jonathan Alder (1773-1849)
and his life with the Indians
White Invasions and Reprisals-Hunting Adventures-Indian Superstitions-The Feast For the Dead
"During my stay with the Indians, and until after the great victory of Gen. Wayne, we were frequently attacked or disturbed by the whites. In fact not a year passed without suffering some loss on our part by attacks of the white armies. The fall of the year was generally chosen as the time best suited to march against the Indians for the reason, perhaps, that at that time our crops were raised and preparations made for the winter; and if our subsistence should be destroyed we would be reduced to greater distress at that season, than at other periods of the year. Many bitter and sorrowful hours have we passed in consequence of such difficulties and privations. When peace prevailed we enjoyed ourselves freely, but when these terrible troubles and scourges came, attended as they were, with the loss of everything in Indian holds dear on earth, we became very much disheartened. Driven from place to place, our favorite hunting grounds taken from us, our crops destroyed, towns burned, and our women and children sent off in the midst of winter, perhaps to starve, while the warriors stood between them and their enemies, like a mob to be shot down! All these things engendered animosities and caused cruel retaliation. The whites were strong and powerful; the Indians few and feeble and hence were driven back and their lands occupied by the whites. This state of things will account for many, if not all of the cruelties charged to the Indian. I was rapidly becoming an Indian in the true sense of the word, and felt sorely for the wrongs on these occasions and acted as they do - revengeful and hateful toward the white race. I felt keenly the wrong of robbing them of their lands while the whole race was being pressed further and further back into the wild forests; and that too, from lands for which the whites never could have had any claim whatever. Even the theory of purchase was but another pretext to rob. We had no choice but to sell and take what they chose to give or be driven off and get nothing! The price offered was always governed by what it would cost to drive us off, and if the latter cost the least, it would always be the first resort. This is but a true statement of the case. The rude and uneducated red man has, and will have, to give way to the more educated and refined white man until, perhaps, there will not one be left on this continent! One season a large force came out from Kentucky and attacked our towns at Mack-a-Chack. The women and children were hurried back just at daybreak without food and compelled to flee for their lives as best they could, not knowing whether they would ever see their husbands, brothers, and sons again. Yet the squaws and children hurried forward for miles without food or covering to a place of safety, with death either by starvation or exposure staring them in the face. In this case every Indian that could fight stood his ground for all we had in the world was in our towns as our crops were harvested and snugly put away for winter. In this case, as usual, the whites were too strong, and the Indians gave way and retreated with great loss. During the fight six Indians got into one of the strongest houses and barricaded the entrance so that when the others fell back they could not follow; besides they were doing execution among the white soldiers in their own defense. After the Indians had retreated - that is, all that had not been taken as prisoners - the whites surrounded the house in which the Indians were concealed, but failed to take them, for the reason that every time the whites attempted to storm the barricaded house, the Indians picked them off with their guns so rapidly they had to stop. At last they resorted to stratagem, shooting fire on the house, so that the Indians were compelled to run or be roasted alive. They chose the former or, rather, proposed to pretend to surrender, and then take advantage of the moment and make their escape. But as soon as they started to run, four of them were shot down; two got between some logs and , before they could be killed, succeeded in killing six white men and wounding two or three others! The loss of the whites was much greater than that of the Indians. In their retreat, the Indians carried off all their dead and wounded except the six braves who took refuge in the house. The whites were in a great hurry to get away for fear the Indians might be reinforced but, not wishing to leave their dead unburied, and having no tools to dig graves, or at least insufficient ones, they went to a large slough near by and cut and removed the turf about five feet wide and dropped their dead into the mire, and forced them down into the soft mud and water with poles! I obtained the history of many of these facts from prisoners they had taken and (later) exchanged and from Simon Kenton who was the commanding officer on that occasion.
"I was now drawing toward manhood and had become accustomed to the ways, habits, diet and general mode of living, among the Indians, and so far reconciled that I had lost all desire to return to my home and kindred. My health was good and I had become very stout and active and had the good will and confidence of all the Indians. I was an expert hunter and took great delight in the chase after game; for in hunting there is much amusement and excitement. In the fall of the year when bear become fat it is not uncommon to find a she bear with four cubs, that being the number raised by them. I frequently had great sport when I would find a bear and cubs. I shot the old one and then took my ramrod and chased the cubs until they treed and then shot them. I have often had the whole lot - the old one and four cubs - down within half an hour. Sometimes two of us hunted together and when we found a bear and cubs, shot the old one and tomahawked the young ones. This would furnish more real fun than treeing and shooting them.
"The Indians have a way of killing deer during the forepart of summer that is amusing and easily done: A doe that has a fawn generally hides it in some secret place and goes away to feed, sometimes wandering a great distance from the fawn. We made a kind of instrument, a bleat, and by that means brought the doe to the place she had concealed her young. This was easily done at the proper season, and was very common for young hunters. When the doe came up the concealed hunter shot her. I have taken many deer in this way. I got completely cured of calling up a doe once: I was on the Maumee River. I thought I would walk down in the bottom and call up a doe. I started out with my deer-bleat and got down among the spice-bush and commenced calling. After I had called awhile, I waited some time, and was just going to call again when I thought I saw the spice wood shaking some distance away. I waited again. It stopped. I called again and then it came closer. I could see the brush shake but could see nothing else so I kept calling. Every time I called it came nearer; when I stopped it would stop so I kept calling until it got close to me. I sat down behind a bush of spicewood in order to conceal myself until it came close enough to shoot. It came so slowly and cautiously I could not tell what to make of it. I kept on calling until it came up to the bush. I could see the bush shake but could see nothing else - the tread was so soft I could scarcely hear it; and when I was sure it could not be more than two lengths of my gun away I raised up very slowly but to my great horror, instead of a deer I saw a huge panther just ready to spring, its tail was lashing from side to side, as we have seen a catís tail, when ready to make a spring upon a mouse or bird; and it was that which disturbed the brush. In less than a moment had I not risen, it would have sprung upon me! I was awfully frightened, so much so that I never thought of shooting but just gave one loud, terrific yell. The panther was equally surprised, for, instead of a young tender fawn it saw a huge Indian gun and knife rise before its vision. It just made one leap and I really believe it went twenty feet and from that it went in a hurry I assure you, and was beyond my hearing almost before the echo of my voice had ceased. I suspect the panther, like myself, came to the conclusion to quit deer hunting for that day.
"The forests of Ohio abounded in all kinds of game and wild animals though there were none that were particularly dangerous except a bear and panther when wounded. The wolves were the most likely to attack a person when hungry. I was once out hunting when quite a youth, before I had learned to use a gun, with an Indian named Shank to keep him company. One day he got off early and did not get in until very late. Soon after dark I heard the wolves howling and barking. They were more than a mile away and when I first heard them and I soon found they were coming nearer but expected Shank would return in a few minutes. I kept an anxious look-out for him but he came not; and the wolves were coming nearer every minute! I had no arms except my bow and arrow, which every Indian boy carries as soon as he can draw a bow-string. Mine was a poor thing with which to fight wolves. They frequently came within one hundred yards of me and set up a tremendous howl. I could hear them snap their teeth! Sometimes a gold fellow came so close that I could see his eyes shine. I shot away all my arrows but do not know that I hurt any of them. Yet they seemed to be circling around me; and I thought I was about to be devoured by the cowardly thieves; and not knowing what to do I did the very thing I should have avoided; I put out the fire and tore down the tent and doubling the cloth up, stretched it on the ground, laid down upon it at full length and commenced rolling myself up by turning over and over until I had wrapped it all around me, hoping it would take them some time to tear it to pieces and, in the meantime Shank might come to my relief. Soon after I got rolled up I heard him coming. There was a heavy crust on the snow and I heard him walking three or four hundred yards away. Presently he hallowed and asked if I was alive. I answered and he told me to stir up the fire which I did. As soon as he came up and fired his gun into the thicket of the wolves and threw some fire brands among them, they dispersed. He asked me how the tent came to be torn down. I told him what I did it for. He laughed very pleasantly at my stupidity and said that was the worst thing I could have done; that instead of putting out the fire I should have made a larger one and threw fire-brands at them, as nothing frightens them more than fire. That was the closest attack I ever had with wolves. They frequently struck my trail, when out hunting, and followed it howling and barking for miles.
"The Indians have a great many superstitions about wolves. One of them is, if they shoot at a wolf and miss it, the wolf becomes a sort of evil genius and charms the gun; which will do no good for six or eight moons, when the spell is worn off, which takes about that time unless they go to work and unbreech it and scour it out; as that is the only way they can break or stop the charm. Of course they often miss a bear, deer or other animal, but that is all right, and no charm is suspected; but if a warrior or hunter miss a wolf, he will at once go to repairing the supposed wrong. This is one reason an Indian will not shoot a wolf if he can avoid it; and, for that reason, perhaps, wolves are rarely shot at and become so bold. I have often seen Indians unbreech their guns and, upon asking them what was the matter, they replied they had shot at a wolf the other day, and having missed it, the gun had not shot right since! In fact I have done the same thing myself very frequently; for being raised with the Indians I had adopted their superstitions to a great extent.
"Here is another custom: An Indian squaw, when going from one town to another, or from house to house with a child in her arms, will, before leaving the house at which she stopped, stoop down and taking a pinch of ashes from the fire and sprinkle them upon her childís head. I never learned why this was done for, perhaps, the best of all reasons, I never inquired.
"The Indians have many feasts and each one is for a particular purpose. They have one that is called 'the feast of the deadí. This feast is generally held once a year, for each family. Sometimes but one family goes to this feast, if it is not convenient for others to attend. At other times quite a large company goes in a body. The way they do it is first, to select a proper place and stretch a tent then, in the afternoon, they cook their provisions for the feast. These feasts are always held after dark. The Indians are firmly of the opinion that their dead relatives will name and eat with them the same as if they were living. The victuals being all prepared, a fire is built in the tent by a committee which has charge of all preparations. This committee also keeps watch that no dogs are permitted on the grounds. After dark the people commence to assemble, bringing with them their provisions cooked ready to eat. After they have all gathered into one large tent some old man gets up and states the object of the meeting. He then appoints a few persons to uncover the various dishes containing the food - for the provisions remain covered until hi is done speaking. He then, after examining each dish tells the persons appointed to uncover the dishes, to take them out and set them behind the tent in the darkness. The old man then takes out his pipe and tobacco and smokes with the whole company, passing the pipe around, all the time talking about these deceased friends and relatives, relating the good deeds they have done, how brave they were, and how sorry they were that they had gone to the good hunting ground before their living friends, and how glad they were to have them return and eat; frequently insisting on them so eat heartily, promising to prepare them another feast next year should they not, ere that time, be themselves called to the good hunting grounds. This part of the proceedings is very solemn and, sometimes, very interesting. After the victuals have been left out in the dark perhaps an hour, the old man gets up and tells them he supposes that their dead friends have finished their feast and now the living will eat their part of the food. He then appoints some persons to go out and get the dishes and place them before the living. After the dishes are brought in he bids all to eat. As the young people may be a little skeptical about the dead eating, (for all the dishes are returned at full as they were taken out) he tells them that the dead can eat and be filled and still there will be as much in the dishes and bowls as ever! After supper is over the old man returns thanks to the Great Spirit and dismisses the people and all go home.
"I have often attended these feasts with my Indian parents. eaten of good things prepared, and witnessed the deep solemnities of the occasion. They frequently asked me, if I should outlive them, to make them a feast every year, and assured me they would come and eat with me. They said, if they outlived me they would make me a feast every year as long as they lived, and that I must come and eat with them. I frequently think of it now, since I have become civilized with the whites, and, although I have not made a feast of the kind, yet, I certainly would gladly do so if I could be convinced that my old Indian father and mother would meet with me; for of all the most solemn and beautiful ceremonies among the Indians this is the most interesting."