The Captivity of Jonathan Alder (1773-1849)
and his life with the Indians
The Departure and Return - New Stratagems - Mrs. Martin - Indian Work - Squaw Work
After taking leave of his associates in the Mingo Village, young Alder returned to the wigwams of his Indian parents, with the bright anticipation's of a speedy exchange, and return to his mother and brothers in far off Virginia, he retired to rest and pleasant dreams. His Indian mother awoke him early the next morning and began preparations for his departure. He was dressed in regular Indian style from head to foot, his clothing being all new and perfectly clean. His Indian mother was much depressed in consequence of his expected departure, but sufficiently collected to give him the necessary advice and directions concerning his future conduct. Just as his mother completed the arrangements, the boys and girls of the village returned to make another effort to induce him to change his mind, and prevent a final separation. They came very early; and all had some new and astounding story to tell him, the principal of which was, that the "agent was very mean, that he whipped and beat boys severely, and took all their good clothes away; and gave them mean ones in exchange and did not half feed the boys. In fact, several had starved to death on one trip he had made before." Alarming as the rumors were, he still relied on what his father had said, and tried to believe all would come out right. After he had been thus tried a second time, he resolutely adhered to the purpose of returning to his mother, and again took leave of his companions and playmates with considerable regret on his part. He continues: "All things being ready, my father brought up his horse and mounted him, and now the tough time came, I was to part, perhaps forever, from a woman who had taught me to call her mother, and who really loved me as her own child, and had, in fact been to me everything that a mother could be. She came up to kiss me and shake hands for the last time! When she took my hand her usual stoical feelings forsook her and she wept aloud. So deep was her grief that she was unable to utter a single word. She held me by the hand firmly looking me in the face and kissed me, crying all the time as if her heart would break, my father all the time setting on his horse without speaking! It was a scene never to be erased from my memory. I can yet see the sorrowful, but firm look of my father, as he sat on his horse, and hear the sobbing of my mother. My sisters and young associates were weeping, all of which was calculated to impress my mind very strongly - never to be forgotten. Finally my mother gave me one long and passionate embrace, kissing me over and over again and then lifted me on the horse, while my father turned its head away and started towards the agency. I could hear my mother's voice above the wailing's of all the others when we were more than a quarter of a mile away! After we got out of hearing, my father commenced to talk to me. He told me he was old but that I must be a good boy and maybe he and my Indian mother would come and see me sometime. He said I had been a good boy and he was very sorry to part with me, but that his nation had made the treaty and he had to obey, yet, he hoped that sometime, when I got to be a man, I would come and see him and my Indian mother, that I should always be welcome to the best they had. He requested me not to tell stories (lies) to my own mother, but to speak the whole truth and tell her just how he and his wife (Succopanus and Winecheo) had used me, that if they had ever treated me wrongfully they did not know it, and was very sorry for it, if it were so. I told him they never had, but that they had been the best friends I ever had, that I would not leave them only I wanted to see my own mother and little brothers. He said; 'He did not blame me for that was natural.' He then gave me a great amount of good advice, to all of which I said but little, for the scenes through which I had just passed, together with his kind desires for my welfare, so overcame me, I was scarcely able to speak at times."
The ride, along paths and through glades from the Mingo village, to the agency; was about two miles, and his mind was occupied by various reflections during the whole distance, and time passed so rapidly that he arrived sooner than he expected. He continues: "When I got there I saw about twenty white boys in the yard playing ball, and they could not have looked dirtier and blacker if they had been drawn up and down a chimney. They were as ragged as they could be! The very first sight of them brought all the stories of the Indian boys and girls fresh to my mind. Now I thought, here are these little fellows, blackened and dirtied up, ready to be sold for slaves, for they really looked more like boys destined for slavery than for freedom. When we came up to the front of the house we dismounted and walked in. After the usual compliments between the agent and my father, the latter said to him, 'Well here I have brought this boy.' 'Very well," said the agent, 'take a seat my lad.' My mind was full of what I had heard, and the present appearance of the boys was not in any way calculated to allay my anxiety, but on the contrary, tended to increase it, consequently; I was very suspicious of the agent of whom I had heard so much and saw so little. Somehow I thought I saw something in the man that promised me no good. I did not like him. He spoke harshly and roughly - at least it appeared so to me. I took a seat where I could look down at the boys playing ball, and the longer I sat the more I became alarmed. I thought to myself that just as soon as my father leaves all my nice new clothes will be taken from me, and I will be blackened just like the boys on the grass. In fact, I became satisfied that the stories the young folks had told me were true. I made up my mind that, come what would, I would not stay and be treated in that way. My father and the agent talked some half hour or more, and when he got up to leave, he turned to me and said, 'Be a good boy. This man wants to take you safely to your mother.' He held out his hand, I took hold of it and he held on for some moments talking to me - shook it cordially, and turned and bid the agent good-bye, stepped out, got upon his horse and rode off. I sat still a moment or two, but very uneasily. Finally, I got up and went to the door. I thought I would see which way he went. The agent ordered me to stop, but I kept on. He sprang to his feet, caught hold of me, pulled me back and ordered me to sit down! I was now badly frightened, and began to cry and fight. I scratched and bit, as best I could. He called his wife to help him, speaking to her in Indian, but I could understand both tongues. He told her to bring him a rope. Said he, 'I will tie the young rascal." His wife, however, would not bring the rope. He insisted she should do so, but she still refused. He became angry, and spoke roughly. She then got mad and told him to let me go. One word brought on another, until they got into a regular quarrel. She told him he frightened me, and that I would do no good under such treatment, nor would I stay with him if he did tie me. She ordered him to let me go and he could go to the camp and see me and talk friendly, and by that means I might perhaps, be induced to stay with him but as it was, it would be no use for him to try to detain me. He declared he would do no such thing, he would tie me. She then said he should not tie me, but should let me go. He continued to hold me for some time; while I was engaged in scratching and biting him. At last; his wife stepped up and ordered him to let me go and he did so, and that pretty quickly. As soon as he let go, I ran off and followed the path my Indian father had gone. I struck out at my best speed following the trail as best I could. I ran about three miles before I came in sight of him. He was crossing a small prairie, and riding slowly. I was about a quarter of a mile behind him, and hollowed three or four times but could not make him hear me. I ran some distance farther and hollowed again, but could not attract his attention. I ran again - stopped and hollowed, and so on, several times, before he heard me. When he did, he stopped and waited for me to come up. When I overtook he asked me what was the matter. I told him I did not like the man, and was not going to stay with him. 'Well' said he, 'put your foot on mine and get up behind me, and I will take you back to your old mother.' I got up behind him and went back to the village. When my mother saw me coming, she came running to meet us and inquired the reason of my returning. I told her the same story I had my father, that I would not stay because I was afraid and did not like the man, and that I was going to stay with her. She could not have appeared more gratified if I had been her own son and had been lost and just found. She helped me off the horse, took me by the hand and led me into the wigwam. She requested me to sit down, saying I must be very hungry, and she would get me something to eat as quickly as she could. She immediately began to prepare a meal for me with as much ado as if I had been some great personage she desired to honor. Indeed it seemed she did everything possible, so as to bestow all the kindness she could upon me. Right in the midst of this great ado, the young people of the village came to learn all the facts. My mother would not let them bother me, stating I was tired and scared, and they must go away and leave me alone, but they refused to go, so I told my mother I would tell them the whole story. She consented, and I related the adventure to the boys and girls, being very particular to tell them how the agent wanted to tie me, and would have done it, had not his wife prevented him. How ragged and dirty the boys looked that I thought I had made a lucky escape. They all cried out: 'Did not we tell you so? Did we not tell you that was a mean man, and would sell you for a slave? That is just what he will do with all those poor little boys he had in his camp.' I said I believed every word they uttered concerning the agent. I told them I did not wish to see him again, if I could help it, nor did I want him to see me. They said 'he would never give it up that way - that he would be sure to come after me and I must watch and be on my guard and they would help me, and as soon as they saw him coming, would tell me so I could run and hide.' This little piece of advice, as I afterwards learned, was the occasion of much sport. They nick named the agent, and would frequently look around and call him by that name - and cry out: 'Here he comes.' Of course I did not stop to look, but darted off into the thicket to conceal myself, and remained there the rest of the day. Late in the evening I would crawl towards the wigwam, and watch to see if he had gone, and finding the coast clear, went in. This kind of sport was kept up by the young people, nearly all summer. My mother frequently told me the young people were fooling me, but I thought it safest to keep out of the way of the agents. She added, that before I fled again, I must look, and if I saw the man, I could run, but as my eyes were as good as theirs, I need not run until I saw him! I thought this good advice, and the next time they told me the man was coming, I started to run, but stopped and looked around, and seeing nothing, I asked them where he was, but all said, 'there he is, do you not see him?' I looked, but did not see anyone, so finding I would not scare until I really saw the man, they gave it up. That was the last of that kind of sport. I have been thus particular in relating these little incidents, to show the true Indian character. No people enjoy jokes and fun more than the Indian. The best friend is not exempt from their fun provoking tricks. Every incident of their life, however serious or solemn it may be, in the beginning, will, in the end, furnish means of merriment and amusement."
The conduct of the agent, and the subsequent sports and stratagems of the young people, so frightened him that he finally abandoned all hope of ever being exchanged. In fact, as time passed, he lost almost all desire of making another effort to return home. He could now talk freely with the young people and was well treated. These things tended to reconcile him to his situation. (He afterwards found that the exchange of prisoners was a common thing, and always conducted on fair and honorable terms, and became convinced that if he had not been frightened on his former exchange, he would have been safely conducted to his mother.)
Part of the summers of 1783-4 the Indians encamped along the banks of the Maumee River and young Alder suffered a good deal from fever and ague. He had grown but little, was thin in flesh, and his food did not digest properly. During the latter part of the summer of 1784, his Indian father and mother, with many other Shawnees, visited the salt spring, near the present site of Chillicothe, in Ross County. He had the good fortune to meet his old friend, Mrs. Martin, from whom he had been separated about three years. The Indians with whom she lived had gone there to make salt. This was their first meeting since they had parted in 1781. They recognized each other as soon as they met, shook hands, and both took a hearty cry. They remained at the salt springs about three months. Mrs. Martin and young Alder were together every day and often talked over their experiences. Mrs. Martin was considerably shocked to find the head of her young friend covered with vermin She carried a fine toothed comb in her pocked, which she used every few days, until she had rid her young friend of his troublesome little pests. One day she took out of her bark basket. a few little scraps, among which were pieces of the scalp of her child the Indian had killed. She said, "After the Indian whipped her so hard, she saw him trim the child's scalp, and watched where he threw the pieces, and when she had an opportunity, gathered them up when no one was looking, and had kept them to that time intending to do so as long as she lived." This statement brought the scenes of the past vividly before them, and the result was, they both wept deeply over their misfortunes. Mrs. Martin, on several occasions during her stay at the salt springs, exhibited these memorials of her grief to young Alder, but never without shedding tears. Late in the fall, the Indians left the springs, and young Alder and Mrs. Martin were again separated never to meet. She was exchanged sometime in 1785, and got safely home, as he afterwards learned.
The distribution of labor among the Shawnees was according to their peculiar ideas of justice and dignity. We will allow Mr. Alder to describe their divisi0n of labor. He says: "The work of the females or squaws is very different from females among the whites. The Indian squaws are expected and required to do all the drudgery, cut and carry all the wood, bring all the water, skin all the game, including deer, bear and buffalo, if brought to the camp unskinned. They skin and stretch all the furs, plant the corn and beans, and cultivate and gather the crops. The Indian hunter feels it beneath his dignity to give his attention to such matters. In addition to these extra duties, the squaws have the entire control of the family, girls until they get married, and boys until they are twelve years old. The boys are classed as squaws or work hands until the age of twelve, during which time they are required to do all kinds of squaw work. They are frequently called squaws until they arrive at fourteen years of age, after which, they drop the female character, and are allowed to use and own a gun. I was of the right age to work with the squaws. During the summer, I worked in the garden, or patches as they were called, and during the fall, winter and spring, at skinning game, dressing and stretching skins. To do this properly, was quite a trade. The first thing was to shave off all the flesh that adhered to the hide, being careful not to cut the skin, stretching it in a neat manner, so as to make it as large as possible, and of good shape. This was one of the few things Indians seemed to take pride in doing well, and they certainly had some reason for so doing. If peltry were not properly prepared there would be a reduction in the price. I have thought the traders often took advantage of slight defects in dressing skins, more to make a bargain, than from real injury. They examined every skin very carefully and appeared anxious to find some fault." In the meantime, his Indian sisters had married. Mary married John Lewis, a leading Shawnee Chief. Hannah married Isaac Zane, and Sally, who two or three years before delighted in teasing and tormenting him, married a Shawnee warrior and hunter, who proved to be a good man and husband. Having now reached the age of twelve, his Indian mother sent him to live with Sally, for whom he had no very great affection. He says, "I was a kind of nurse to take care of her children, which she seemed to produce as fast as I cared for, and a little faster than Indian women generally do. This nursing business was a new thing to me, and one that was by no means agreeable. I did not like it for in addition to nursing, I had to do all the washing of the children's clothes, which was neither a clean nor pleasant work. There my trouble commenced. I suppose I was a little stubborn and contrary, at least from that or some other cause, I received many severe whippings from Sally. In truth she treated me in every respect as a servant, and when she became angry, which was very often, would call me 'a mean, low, sassy prisoner,' which hurt my feelings more than all the whippings, for it conveyed to my mind the idea that I was a degraded person, beneath the Indian race and in no way the equal of my passionate sister or her children. This state of things lasted about two years. On one of these occasions she gave me a merciless whipping. Her husband brought in eight or ten coons, and the next morning she divided them equally between herself and myself. We began skinning them. She was an experienced hand, and I was quite awkward and slow. She hurried me frequently, calling me 'a dirty, lazy dog.' I told her my knife was dull, and I could not skin any faster with it. A young hunter standing by took my knife and whet it for me. It was very sharp, and I began to get along very well; but as soon as she finished she tossed her knife to me saying: 'There, take my knife.' We were sitting on the ground near each other, and I picked up the knife and threw it back into her lap. Her limbs were bare almost to her hips and the knife fell upon, but did not wound them. She became angry in a moment, and sprang to her feet. Suspecting violence, I sprang up also, and started to run. We had an exciting race for about one hundred yards. She broke a switch as she ran, and as soon as she overtook me, began to whip me, ordering me back. I turned and ran back - tried to out run her but could not. She cut me with the switch almost every step, and when we returned, she ordered me to take the knife and skin the coons. She said, 'She would teach me how to throw a knife into a person's lap'. I sat down and finished the coons, but never forgot the whipping, as I was sore for a long time afterward."