The Captivity of Jonathan Alder (1773-1849)
and his life with the Indians
A Second Trip to Kentuck-Becomes a Free Hunter-Indian Marriages and Divorces-Taking Scalps
"One or two years after our horse stealing trip we made up another party to go on the same errand. We started from Mad River and passed down the usual route from upper Sandusky to the Salt Springs, and from thence to the Ohio River. We crossed over in bark canoes and struck out into the country for the settlements. A long distance this side of the settlements we came to a cabin and passed around it as we did not want to be discovered. The day before we got to the settlement we came to another cabin and passed it as we did the first one. Before dark, on the next day, we came in sight of a settlement and at once began looking around for horses. But, by some means, we had been discovered as the whites had been preparing for us. The first thing we knew, they were after us full tilt, on horses. As the whites outnumbered the Indians at least five to one, there was nothing left for us but to retreat as rapidly at possible. We took to the woods and, after running a while, struck a path and kept to it some distance. I being the youngest person in the company, the Indians soon left me behind. As we were traveling through a cane-brake, I got entirely lost from the rest of the company. The cane was very thick and high consequently it was very difficult to run a horse through it. The whites came so close to me sometimes that I could hear their horses tramping on the ground and rustling the cane. I was sure I would be overtaken, so I stopped, set my gun down, and turned around intending to give myself up, thinking that they would see that I was white and take me a prisoner as it was not yet dark. But when I looked back they were not yet in sight; the path had forked a couple of hundred yards back and the Indians had taken the other path. As soon as I discovered this fact, and that the whites were not in sight I picked up my gun and run as fast as I could. I did not go far until I saw the cane shaking close by me and I immediately turned out of the path arid followed the waving cane. I had not gone more than three or four rods until I came upon all five of the Indians standing in a huddle very much frightened. Just as I got to them the whites passed on both sides of us in a full gallop. We squatted down where we were, and never moved or spoke above a whisper until after dark. Sometime after dark we heard a bell rattle and then go up and returned to the path, and listened to it a few moments. 'Now,’ said the head Indian, ‘that is all a trick to catch us; it has been tried on me before. They take an old worthless horse and watch him so that if we were to go there now we would all be shot down. The best thing we can do is to make our way back to the river as rapidly as we can as the whole country is now watching that horse so we can get out of here with safety as they are not watching any other place.’ We took the path and traveled as fast as we could, until very late that night. We lay on our blankets until daybreak, got up and moved on very carefully, until a short time before dark when we came to the last cabin we had passed before reaching the settlements We halted and held a council and it was finally concluded that as we had been discovered, and having missed the object of our expedition we would wait until after dark and kill the family in the cabin! There were some objections to this as it would be dangerous and some of us might be killed. But the head Indian settled the matter by saying, ‘There is no danger. You wake a man out of his slumber and he is very easily overcome as he is not half a man under such circumstances. Besides it is necessary to do something that the whites may remember us.' Accordingly it was settled to commit the murder that night. About dark some of the Indians reconnoitered the cabin and premises. We fell back about a half mile and waited until near midnight, and then got ready for the slaughter of this unsuspecting and innocent family. I would have done anything consistent with my own safety to have saved them, but there was no way of escape. It must be done and I dared not oppose it as I would have been unfaithful and my life would have paid the forfeit at once, or at least I thought so. It had been cloudy before night and continued getting more so until we were ready to start, by which time it was so dark we could not see a foot before us. The head Indian gave the word to move on, he taking the lead. We crept along very cautiously until we thought we had got far enough to be at the house. We then wandered around for some time hunting the house but could not find it! Finally we halted and all gathered close to each other to consult. I being but a boy, did not engage in such consultations, but retired a few steps. As soon as all got together the head Indian made a remark: 'If you recollect it was a clear day until just before sundown and then it commenced clouding until it has got so dark we cannot see one another standing here close together, although it is full moon. Now the Great Spirit does not want us to kill these people, and when the Great Spirit does not want us to do something he will not let us do it, so we had just as well leave for we will not find them. At that time I was standing about a rod from them as was usual for me when a council was held. I heard the door creak on its wooden hinges as it opened and in about one minute I heard it creak again as it shut. It could have been but a very short distance from me and the people evidently were on the lookout for the Indians. I trembled from head to foot when I heard the door, for I fully expected the Indians would hear it and then I would have to witness the horrible deed of murder and butchery of innocent persons, old and young for under our circumstances none would have been saved had we been able to have surprised them. But the Indians still kept talking so that I was soon convinced that neither of them heard the door open. After a little more parley the word was given and we moved on. We had passed to one side of the house and beyond it and in the same course we were traveling when we stopped to consult so that when we moved away we went right off from the house, which was a very fortunate thing for the inmates. I was very glad to hear the word given and also glad then, and ever since that I had the presence of mind sufficient to refrain from making any remark that could call the attention of the Indians to what I had heard. If I had done so the whole family would have been murdered. As we did not wish to sleep in the vicinity of the cabin, for fear of over sleeping ourselves, being discovered and some of us killed, we moved on a mile or so and lay down and slept. Next morning we got up quite early and moved on very carefully until about noon when we came to the first cabin we passed in going to the settlement. As quick as the Indians saw, it they all started on the run to take it. I expected then to see bloody work. When they get to the cabin they kicked the door open and ran in. I stood outside at the yard fence But there was no person at home and everything looked as if they had just left that morning. The Indians took the straw mattress out, ripped it open, and carried it and the bedclothes off with them. We started and traveled until dark when we came to a salt-lick. The water was strong. Here we found some horses that had, perhaps, strayed from the settlement. They were not very valuable but were better than none, so we concluded to gather up a few of them. They were rather wild but, by considerable strategy we caught one each. We camped at a spring, a short distance from the lick. The next day we reached the Ohio River, which was quite low. We drove the horses in at a riffle, and they did not have to swim more than half the way. After they got over we got some logs and lashed them together with grapevines and made a raft on which we paddled ourselves over. We caught our horses easily and, after resting a short time, went up into the country and camped. We passed up on the west side of the Scioto River and stopped a short time on the bottoms where Franklinton, (Franklin County) now is. There were large fields of corn there and an Indian town on the east side of the river, (near where the Penitentiary now stands). From here we passed on up between the river and Big Darby. There was a great beechment that fall and the bear were quite plenty and very fat. We killed a number of them and several deer so that by the time we got back on Mad River, our horses were well loaded with skins. We had returned without any loss or serious trouble. One thing gave me great consolation, that we had made the trip and neither killed nor hurt any one; yet I was very fearful never to tell about my hearing the door of the cabin open, for fear of their suspecting me of being not a true and trusty partner.
"One morning my old father came to me and said: ‘I was about the age that all young men should be free and do for themselves, and that I now had a right to go and come when I pleased, that I was under no restraint whatever, from him or my mother. But, if I chose, I could stay with my old father and mother as long as they might live, that they might eat of my venison and bear meat; which would be a great comfort to them in their old days. But that all the profits accruing from the sales of skins and furs should be my own; that I should still draw my rations of clothing, blankets, powder and lead from the British government, and should always have what I wanted of them.' I thanked him very kindly for the liberty he had given me and told him I had no desire to leave them - that I had always had all the freedom and liberty that any one could want, and that I would stay with them as long as they lived; my white mother, I have almost forgotten, and of course, I shall never see her again. My father shook hands with me without saying anything more. I must acknowledge that I was considerably agitated for it had all come on me so unexpectedly. To avoid any further demonstration on the part of either of us, I took my gun and shot-pouch and went hunting. The thought of being a free man disturbed me more or less all day though I had been free enough before, yet the idea that no one could now control my actions was constantly in my mind. I was my own master. This thought, I must confess, made me rather proud. It all seemed like the commencement of a new era in my life. I killed a deer that afternoon and brought it in. Everything was cheerful and pleasant but still, there was a certain kind of restraint - a different feeling - such as I am unable to fully explain. But, from that day on, whenever I sold skins I kept a purse of my own in which I put the money and no one ever disturbed it. I bought my own clothes and all else that my father did not furnish, though all he had was free for my use.
"I was still, as I always had been, a great favorite with the young folks of both sexes. Running races, hopping and jumping were great sports with the young men and boys. Even old men sometimes engaged in foot racing. Singing and dancing were the principal amusements among the young men and young squaws. They had other plays such as gambling or paying pawns: they took six moccasins and placed them in a row; then some one took a bullet between his fingers and put his hand into each moccasin. He left the bullet in one of them and the person that proposed to contend for the prize, had the privilege of picking up two of the moccasins. If the bullet be in one of them he has won, if not, the person who handled the bullet has won, and so on, until each person in the company has handled the bullet or picked up the moccasins. In these plays, when both sexes indulge, which is usually the case, little burdens or duties are laid on the losing party, such as bowing, kneeling to or kissing the winner or some other person or persons that may be designated; anything to make the play amusing and interesting.
"I was now almost a man and began to think much of the company of young women; though I proposed to maintain my old father and mother while they lived. The manner of courtship among the Indians is very different from that of the whites: a squaw is just as apt to go courting as a man. She comes to the cabin or wigwam and makes her business known just as readily as a man; and if her company is acceptable, she stays over night with her lover, just the same as if the young man were to go to see her. One might suppose from these facts that there is but little regard paid to virtue but it is not so; perhaps as few illegitimate children are born to Indians as to any other people. Among the married, a violation of the marital obligation very seldom occurs. Marriage among the Indians is a private agreement, and is only binding so long as both agree. Divorces are very easily obtained: all they have to do is to get up and go away and that ends the marriage; and consequently separations are frequent. When young folks have been courting for sometime, and agree to go together, objections are very seldom made by any one. When squaws arrive at the age of eighteen or twenty years they have a right to marry and generally go at once about it. No person can object as they belong to themselves and can do as they please. They seldom marry much younger or much older. It is the same with young men after twenty one years of age. When parties agree to marry; they do so at once, and but little ceremony is necessary, though sometimes quite a feast is held, if the parties are great personages, Chief’s sons or daughters. The parties agree, build a cabin or wigwam; and live together. Either can leave whenever dissatisfied. In case a squaw loses her husband by death or otherwise she usually remains at home one year. She goes to no gathering and takes no part in the amusements of the tribe. At the end of the year she is at liberty to attend places of amusement, dresses in her very best, and then goes into company, when some Indian that is in the habit of speaking on such occasions, takes her upon the stand and exhibits her. He relates her loss and gives her as good a recommendation as he can. He then tells all the unmarried that she is now ready to receive company, and that if anyone wishes to call on her he can do so. All the rights of an unmarried woman are now restored. It is not long before she has an opportunity to marry if she be young and worthy, even if she does not go in search of a husband. There are fewer bachelors and old maids among the Indians than among any other people.
"Three or four years before Wayne’s treaty, my old Indian mother took sick and died. She was very old - about eighty I suppose. It was a bad loss for my Indian father and myself for, notwithstanding her age, she made the home very comfortable. After her death and burial, father and myself lived together as before for it does not discommode an Indian to lose his wife as much as it does a white man, especially if there are no small children, for an Indian warrior or hunter can cook just as well as a squaw.
"During the border wars between Kentucky and the Shawnees, I have seen many white scalps in the Council-house after a battle. I have frequently been asked if the British paid the Indians for the scalps they took according to a specific agreement. Had it been true I certainly would have known it; but to the best of my knowledge there was no such agreement, nor did the British pay for the white scalps. I do not know that these scalps were delivered to the British, or even shown to them, for I saw them stuck up in the Council-house and remain there until eaten up by worms. After a battle or any other way in which an Indian could take a scalp, there was always a meeting in the Council-house and each man exhibited his scalps. They were then counted and the story of each scalp told, how it was obtained, and all the circumstances minutely detailed. Then the scalps were all stuck up in the roof of the house or hung on a pole and there remained until they were destroyed by worms or otherwise. The only object I could see in producing scalps was in the name. If an Indian produced many scalps in his wars he got the reputation of being a great warrior, as that is an Indian's greatest honor. I heard an Indian boasting one day how many scalps he had taken. Tecumseh, the great Chief turned on him and told him he was a low, mean Indian that more than half the number of scalps were those of women and children, Tecumseh said to him: 'I have killed forty men with my own hands in single combat, but never yet have I taken the life of a woman or child!’
"In this anecdote I have rather anticipated my story. But all these things will be more freely spoken of when I come up to the time; and asking the pardon of my readers for this anticipation and digression from the regular chronological order of my narrative, I will resume in the next chapter the thread of my story."