The Captivity of Jonathan Alder (1773-1849)
and his life with the Indians
Making Salt-Hunting Bear-Logan's Expedition-Making Sugar-Hard Times
Young Alder was now about fourteen years of age, and was becoming very active and useful as a hunter. It was the custom of the Shawnees from the upper waters of the Scioto, the Maumee, and Mad River, to make annual excursions to the Salt Springs near Chillocothe, to make salt. Young Alder, in company with a number of Shawnees, started on a hunting expedition through the Darby and Pickaway plains, in the direction of the Salt Springs. He continues: "When we got down on Darby and Paint Creek, bear and deer were very plenty, and quite fat. We spent several weeks - or rather moons, there hunting. Indians always count by moons, that being the only way they can conveniently keep time. Our camping places were along the streams, wherever a good spring was to be found. On the Oak-run, below the present site of London, (Madison County) there is a very large spring; and another not far from it on Paint Creek. These were great camping places. There was, also, another good spring a few miles north of London, on the head waters of Deer Creek. On the waters of Spring fork was another great camping place, and also a kind of burying ground. Several Indians were buried near the last named spring. We traveled back and forth between Big Darby and Paint Creek, gradually moving toward Salt Springs, killing deer and bear almost every day. When we arrived at the Springs, we put nearly all our force to making salt, leaving only a few good hunters to roam the forest in search of game, so as to keep the salt boilers in meat. We remained there one or two moons making salt, which was quite a slow process. Our kettles were small, nothing but common camp kettles that we carried with us, when we left. The water was not strong, and it took a great amount of boiling to evaporate it and make a little salt. Some families did not make more than a peck in a whole moon. In general, each family had two kettles, one holding about three and one about eight gallons. Many were there for weeks with but one small kettle. Of course, the process was slow, but whatever they succeeded in making would be their only supply until the next year. From one to one and a half bushels was about as much as one family desired to make. There were assembled at the springs several hundred Shawnees large and small. The same people did not go oftener than once in two or three years. Their trips were regulated by the quantity of salt made, when last there, as well as the number in a family to consume it. Many times we would get out of salt before the season to make it would return. In that case, we would either have to go alone to make it or do without. The latter was almost always the case, as no one family wished to go to the springs alone. A little salt goes a great ways with the Indians. They do not use much salt on their meat, and often none at all; hence their diet did not agree with the whites, and is at no time palatable to those who have been accustomed to the use of plenty of salt.
After we got through making salt, we concluded to have a bear hunt. We roamed among the hills up northeast of the Salt Springs. That region was then the best bear country in the West. The fall was advanced, and it was getting quite frosty and cold, consequently, it was just the time of the year they were very fat, owing to the fact that papaws were ripe, and mast was abundant at that season. No, Indian will kill a poor bear unless driven to it from great necessity. It is not so with deer, elk, and buffalo. Their meat is good for food whether poor or fat, yet, of course, much better when young and fat. One day when we were well up among the hills and bluffs, someone of the Indians treed a bear up a large tree, where it had gone into a hole. The Indian tomahawk was too small to cut down the tree, so we went up the side of the hill, or mountain, and selected a small poplar that we could cut and make fall against a large limb of the bear tree. The poplar was cut and fell as described, but when it struck the large tree we heard it crack, and waited some time to see if it would break and fall but it did not so we finally concluded it would be safe to ascend it. The next thing was to get some one to climb the small tree and drive the bear out, and, as I was the smallest person in the company, it was decided I should go up. I did not like the job - not that I was afraid of anything, except the bear. I consented, and was instructed to climb the tree and go a little above the bear-hole and take my tomahawk and cut a stick and punch the bear out. I knew this would be a very easy job, for as soon as the stick touched him he would come out. They told me that when I saw it coming, I must climb up the tree a short distance, and the bear would come out, and seeing me, go down the tree, and they would kill it as soon as it came into view. I stripped myself for the task, fastened my tomahawk to my belt, and began to ascend the poplar. After I had gone about fifteen or twenty feet, they told me to spring up and down, so as to shake the tree, and see if it was safe. I shook it all I could and it appeared to be solid. I continued to go up. I got to a large limb and put my hand on it to rest. I looked down, and it appeared a long ways to the ground. After I had rested a few moments, I again started, but just then, the tree broke off where I was sitting and down I went with the broken tree! That was about the last thing I remembered, until I revived, when I found myself lying on the hillside on my back. I looked up and saw an Indian away up the tree trying to put fire into the bear hole. One of the Indians told him to come down, adding, 'We have got one killed already with that bear and that is more than all the bears in the woods are worth, we cannot spare another - you had better come down and let him go.' Just then one Indian came to me, and seeing that I was alive, hallowed back to the others that I had come to. They all gathered around me in a short time, and I never saw people so rejoiced as they were when they found I was not dead. In a short time I began to talk and answer their inquiries as to how I felt. I told them I felt very badly and did not think I would live, but they all said I would live, 'And they would take good care of me.' They said that after the tree fell they could see nothing of me, but they cut the brush away, and drew me out, and supposing I was dead, had taken me up on the side of the hill and laid me down.' While I was lying there they had cut another tree against the bear tree, and an Indian had gone up to put fire in the hole, but his pole was too short, and they had given it up, and bruin had for once, come off with a whole skin, after a hard day's work, of a half dozen Indians, and myself. This broke up the bear hunt so far as that day was concerned. The fall had injured my back to such an extent that I could not stand on my feet, so they made a litter for me to lie upon, and when we moved from place to place, they carried me. Sometimes two, and sometimes four Indians would perform that service for me. The litter was made by taking two poles of proper length, and connecting them in the middle, for about five feet, with bark and buffalo robes somewhat like cords in a bedstead, and on this spread bear skins, upon which I was laid. When we were ready to move, four Indians hoisted the litter upon their shoulders, one at each end of the poles, and in this way carried me a whole day, and then put me down to rest for several days, while they hunted, leaving someone to take care of me, and brought in game every day. In this manner I was finally carried back to the town on Mad River. The Indians, during the whole trip refrained from murmuring, and did not seem, in the least, to regret the necessity of carrying me, on the contrary, they performed this hard service with the greatest cheerfulness, and treated me, all the time, with the utmost kindness and tenderness, and permitted me to share in the full benefit of the hunt, the same as if I had done my share of the hunting. My old mother was very much surprised when she heard I was hurt. She had heard of the accident a day or two before I got home, from an Indian who as usual, had gone ahead to report the approach of our party. She started my Indian father at once, to meet our party, and during the whole time I was disabled, no parents could have given more care and attention than I received from them. I did not walk a step until the following March, and then very little. My back was so badly injured that I had to be careful of every step I took for the least jar or twist would lay me up for weeks. It was several months before I could perform the least service. I however gradually outgrew the hurt, and in course of time became as stout and active as if it had never occurred."
The spring (1786) opened finely and the Indians raised a good crop, and harvested it nicely, but great havoc was made of it before we had time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. It was in the fall after I got hurt, that Logan, with a large force of men, made a raid on us; they burned all the Mack-a-Chack towns, with all our corn and beans; and made a complete destruction of everything we had and it would have been a total surprise on our part, and many more Indians been killed, had not one of Logan's men deserted and given the Indians notice of his approach a few hours before. All the women and children were sent further up the river, to a little town where I was staying, while the warriors made preparations for battle. But when the whites came up they were too strong for the Indians, consequently killed a great many and took some prisoners. Early one morning a runner came to our town and told us that a very great army had attacked the Mack-a-Chack towns, and that we must hurry and get away as soon as possible or the army would be right on us. We packed up everything we could carry and commenced our retreat to the north-west. We traveled in that direction for two days and better. Our entire company consisted of women and children, the men having all stayed back to defend our homes and property. I was among the largest of the males, and of course but little could be carried. We retreated until the squaws thought themselves safe, and then made a halt, which was beyond the head waters of the Scioto River. We suffered terribly for provisions, there was not a man among us and of course no person capable of furnishing such a large company with provisions. We stayed there some ten days, and subsisted upon papaws, mussels and crawfish. The mussels were covered with hot ashes and roasted like potatoes, and when done, the shell was opened and the contents eaten. The tail of the crawfish was pulled off and broiled on the fire coals until the shell pealed off. With a little salt, they were very nice eating. It was in this way we lived until the warriors came to our relief, and then we all moved to Zanesfield where we remained a short time, and then went to Hog-Creek where we wintered. Our chief living there was soon without salt, hominy, or corn, for we had lost everything we had in the way of food. Coon were plenty and fat, and not bad eating, for a hungry person. Deer and bear were very scarce, owing to the fact that there were so many tribes of Indians living in that part of the country, though sometimes a deer was killed. When we did happen to kill either a deer or bear, it was quite a treat, and the meat was closely taken care of, and dealt out very sparingly.
In the latter part of the winter, we moved back to the sight of our old town, at Mack-a-Chack, to make sugar, as that was the best sugar country in that region. Sugar is a staple article with the Indians, as well as with the whites, and no season is permitted to pass without making more or less of that article, if it is possible to do so. When we arrived at our town we found but little left. We saw but the ashes of our former cabin, all our choice, beautiful fields of corn had been burned. The ears were all lying in charred heaps, yet we overhauled it to see if there were not some that had escaped the fire, that we could parch and eat, but nothing of the kind was found! We remained there during the sugar making season, and made a good supply of sugar, which was a great help to us through the summer, as our means of subsistence were very limited.
In the spring, we removed to the head-waters of Blanchard's Fork, for the reason that we would there be more secure from the raids of the whites. Here we had a hard time indeed for the camp had to be cleared, and huts built which took so much time that it was very late before we got a crop planted, and for that reason, together with the scarcity of. seed, we raised but a small crop, which was more or less injured by the early frost, not having time to ripen before cold weather set in. During the summer, we suffered very much for want of food. With the exception of coon, game was very scarce. Coons were plenty, but very poor. A lean coon is very poor eating, as bad, if not worse, than a poor bear. When we had to rely on small game, it was very difficult to get a sufficient quantity for so large a company, under the most favorable circumstances. In our case, it was even worse, for we were so busy preparing for winter that few could be spared to hunt. Every preparation for winter had to be made during the summer, for as soon as fall came, and game began to get fat, we would have to go off where there was plenty to procure our winter's supply. To such an extremity were we driven for food, that we did not even skin the coons for fear of losing some part of them that could be eaten. We generally threw them into the fire to singe off the hair, and then ate them hide and all! Some of them were suckled down so poor that I have frequently seen our dogs refuse to eat them! Yet, for months we were compelled to eat them or starve! There was a kind of wild potato that grew plentifully in that section of the country, which we used to roast and eat; though they were not very palatable, they sustained life. It was owing to the abundance of this very inferior vegetable, that we were influenced to stay in that locality. There was plenty of game south of us which we could have had by going for it. But we could not abandon our crops at that season, for, in that case, we would have continued the miserable condition we were in the winter before. It is an invariable rule among Indians, to raise a crop of corn, beans and pumpkins, before the hunting season commences. The pumpkins are cut and dried, and put away for winter use, not to make pies as the whites do, but to boil with meat. Dried pumpkins boiled with fat deer-meat, are about as good eating as a hungry person could wish. After we cleared the ground and got the crop in and partly raised, and our huts built, the hunters scattered in all directions, wherever game was plenty, to hunt, leaving the squaws to finish and harvest the crop, and fill the crevices between the logs of the huts with moss to keep the cold out. Some of the hunters went as far south as Big Darby and Paint Creek. Here they killed deer, elk, buffalo and bear in great numbers, and dried and jerked the meat, and returned with as much as they could carry, which was no small quantity for an Indian can carry a larger load of provisions than any other people I have ever seen. It was in this way, they finally got a supply. As soon as they prepared a load of meat they came back to the camp, left it, and returned to the hunting ground for another load. By the last of August we began to live better, and during the fall we were full and had plenty. Such is Indian life. It is either a feast or famine, as the whites sometimes say. They (the whites) live off the fruit of farms, but sometimes their crops fail. Yet, if ever a people live on the game of the land, when it is plenty and fat, that people are the Indians. What more delicious eating could a man desire than fat deer, bear, buffalo, elk or wild turkeys, all of which the Indians frequently had in abundance? Then they were happy, and for all this prosperity, gave thanks to the Great Spirit."