Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter X
I leave the Huron shore
For emptier groves below!
Ye charming solitudes,
Ye tall ascending woods,
Ye glassy lakes and prattling streams.
Whose aspect still was sweet,
Whether the sun did greet,
Or the pale moon embrace you with her beams—
Adieu to all!
Adieu, the mountain's lofty swell,
Adieu, thou little verdant hill,
And seas, and stars, and skies, farewell!
Away started Niniotan like a fawn, his father following at a rate that kept both within a few feet of each other. The densest portions of the wood seemed to offer them no impediments, as they glided like rabbits through them. The boy trailed a rifle in his right hand with as much ease and grace as a full-grown warrior, and the speed which he kept up, mile after mile, seemed to have as little effect upon him as upon the indurated frame of his father. The step of neither lagged, and their respiration was hardly quickened. The dark eyes of Niniotan appeared larger, as if expanded with terror, and looked as if they were fixed upon some point, many leagues away in the horizon. The habitual gloomy expression rested upon the face of Oonomoo, and it needed no skillful physiognomist to read the signs of an unusual emotion upon his swarthy countenance. It was seen in the dark scowl, the glittering eye, and the compressed lip, although he spoke not a word until they had penetrated far into the forest.
In something less than an hour, the swamp, in the interior of which was the Huron's lodge, was reached; but instead of taking the usual route to it, Niniotan diverged to the left, until they reached a portion of the creek that was less swampy in its character. Running along its bank a few moments, the boy came upon a canoe, which he shoved into the water, and, springing into it, took his seat in front. Oonomoo was scarce a second behind him. The son pointed down-stream, and, dipping deep the paddle, the Huron sent the frail vessel forward at a velocity that was truly wonderful. A half-mile at this rate, and a tributary of the creek—a brook, merely—was reached, up which the canoe shot with such speed, that a few minutes later it ran almost its entire length where the water was no more than an inch in depth. Springing ashore, Niniotan darted off, closely followed by his father, until they reached a portion of the wood so dense that they paused.
"Here was left Fluellina," said the boy, looking around at Oonomoo. The latter uttered his usual signal, a tremulous, thrilling whistle, similar to that by which he had made himself known to his child before, but he received no response. Three times it was repeated with a considerable rest, when, like the faint echo far in the distance, came back the response. The Huron was about to plunge into the thicket, when a sound caught his ear, and the next moment his wife was before him. Neither spoke a word, until they had stood a few seconds in a fervent embrace, when Fluellina stepped back, and looking up in her husband's face, said: "The Shawnees have found our home and are now following me."
The husband became the warrior on the instant. His woodcraft told him that if his foes were searching for him and his, they would be in such force that he could not hope to combat with them; and the only plan, therefore, that offered him any safety was to fall back and meet his white friends at the earliest possible moment. In reaching the creek, he had bent down the bushes, and broken the branches on the way so that his trail could be followed without difficulty.
He now sped back to his canoe, which, when reached, he shoved into deep water, and ran a considerable distance before he deemed it best to enter. Lifting Fluellina in his arms, he deposited her carefully in it. Niniotan leaped after her, and the next moment they were going down the stream at a speed that seemed would tear the boat asunder every moment. Debouching into the creek, the canoe rounded gracefully and went upward with undiminished velocity, until, in almost an incredible space, the point of embarkation was reached, when Oonomoo ran in and sprung ashore, followed instantly by his wife and son.
The Huron had scarcely landed, when his quick ear detected a suspicious sound. He glanced furtively around. Nothing, however, was seen, although his apprehensions of the proximity of his foes had assumed a certainty. Without pausing in the least, he instantly took the back trail, Fluellina being close behind him, and Niniotan bringing up the rear. They had gone scarce a dozen steps when the Shawnee war-whoop was heard, and full a score of the red demons sprung up seemingly from the very ground, and plunged toward the fugitives. Simultaneously several rifles were discharged, and Oonomoo, who had thrown himself in the rear of Fluellina upon the appearance of danger, knew by the sharp, needle-like twinges in different parts of his body, that he was severely wounded. Flight was useless, and as he and his wife took shelter behind separate trees, he called to his son: "Niniotan, prove yourself a warrior, the son of Oonomoo, the Huron!"
As quick as lightning, the youth was also sheltered, and his gun discharged. A death-shriek from a howling Shawnee showed that the training of Oonomoo had not been thrown away. The boy reloaded and waited his opportunity.
The Shawnees, seeing they had driven their foe to the wall at last, prudently halted, as they were in no hurry to engage such a terrible being in a hand-to-hand contest, overwhelming as were their own odds. The Huron wisely held his fire, believing he could keep his enemies at bay much better by such means than by discharging it. The great point with him was to defer the attack until the arrival of assistance, and he had strong hopes that he could succeed in doing it.
Not Oonomoo's personal fear, but his excessive anxiety for the safety of Fluellina, induced him now to adopt a resort that was fatal in its consequences. Knowing that Captain Prescott and his men could be at no great distance, he gave utterance to a loud, prolonged whoop, which he knew some of the rangers would recognize as a call for assistance, and consequently hasten to his aid. Unfortunately, the Shawnees also understood the meaning of the signal, and satisfied that not a moment was to be lost, they boldly left their cover and advanced to the attack.
The foremost of the approaching savages fell, shot through the heart by the rifle of young Niniotan, and almost at the same instant the one by his side had the ball of Oonomoo's rifle sent crashing through his brain. The Huron now sprung to the side of his wife, and drawing his knife in his left, and his tomahawk in his right hand, he stood at bay!
It was a scene worthy the inspired pencil of the artist. The malignant, scowling Shawnees, steadily advancing upon the dauntless Huron, who, though his moccasins were soaked with the blood from his own wounds, stood as firm and immovable as the adamantine rock. His left leg was thrown somewhat in advance of his right, as if he were about to spring, but in such a manner that his weight was perfectly balanced. The knife was held firmly, but not as it would have been were he about to strike. The tomahawk, however, was drawn back, as if he were only holding it a second, while he selected his victim. His eyes! no imagination can conceive their fierce electric glitter as their burning gaze was fixed upon his merciless enemies. Black as midnight, they seemed to emit palpable rays, that shot through the air with an irresistibly penetrating power, and not once was their awful power eclipsed for an instant by the closing of the eyelid.
Onward came the exultant Shawnees. There was no checking them, and throwing all his mighty strength in his right arm, Oonomoo hurled his tomahawk like a thunderbolt among them. Striking an Indian fair between the eyes, it clove his skull as if it had been wax; and striking another on the shoulder, cut through the flesh and bone as if they were but the green leaves of the trees above, Fluellina sunk down by the feet of her husband in prayer, while he, changing his knife to his right hand, waited the shock of the coming avalanche! So terrible did the exasperated Huron appear, that the entire party of Shawnees paused out of sheer horror of closing in with him. Wounded and bleeding as he was, they knew that he would carry many of their number to the earth, before his defiant spirit could be driven out of him. And at scarcely a dozen feet distant, the craven, cowardly wretches poured a volley from their rifles upon both him and the kneeling woman beside him.
Oonomoo did not leap or yell; but with his eyes still fixed upon his enemies, and his knife still firmly clutched in his hand, commenced slowly sinking backward to the earth. The Shawnees saw it, and one of them sprung forward, as if to claim his scalp, but he fell howling to the ground, prostrated by a ball from the undaunted Niniotan who still maintained his place behind his tree. His companions were in the act of moving forward, to avenge the deaths of hundreds of their comrades, when the tramp of approaching men was heard, and a clear voice rung out: "This way, boys! I see the infernal copper-heads through the trees. Make ready, take aim—God bless me! you fired before the orders were given."
At the first glimpse of the Shawnees, huddled together in a rushing body, every one of the border men discharged his piece, without waiting for the command, right in among them. The destruction was fearful and the panic complete. Numbers came to the ground, writhing, dying and dead, while the survivors scattered howling to the woods, and were seen no more.
Shortly after Captain Prescott and Lieutenant Canfield had started with their men on the trail of Oonomoo, they came upon an elderly man in the forest who was hunting. He proved to be Eckman, the Moravian missionary, who had brought up and educated Fluellina, the wife of Oonomoo, and to whom she made her stated visits for religious counsel and encouragement. Upon learning the object of the party, he at once joined them, as he felt a fatherly affection for the Huron warrior. Being a skillful backwoodsman, he acted as guide to the men, proceeding, in spite of his years, at a rate which cost them considerable effort to equal. They had not gone a great distance, when the shout of Oonomoo was heard, and the missionary understood its significance. Bounding forward, the men came upon the Shawnees at a full run, Captain Prescott panting and still at their head, vainly endeavoring to keep them in line and to make them aim and fire together.
The missionary and Lieutenant Canfield took in the state of affairs at once. Niniotan was unhurt, and now came forward, his face as rigid as marble. Swelled to nearly bursting as was his heart, he endeavored to obey the instructions of his father, and show himself a warrior, by concealing his emotion to those around him. The man of God instantly ran to the prostrate Huron and his wife, the latter managing to maintain a sitting position with great difficulty. He saw both were mortally wounded and would soon die. Oonomoo lay flat upon his back, breathing heavily, while the copious pools of blood around him showed how numerous and severe were his wounds. Lieutenant Canfield lifted his head, while the missionary supported Fluellina. The latter opened her languid eyes, which instantly brightened as she recognized her noble friend, and said in a low, sweet voice, speaking English perfectly: "I am glad you have come, father. Oonomoo and Fluellina are dying. We want you to smooth the way for us to the Bright Land."
"The way is already smoothed, my child, so that your feet can tread it. Can I do anything to relieve your pain?"
"No; my body suffers, but my heart is on fire with joy. Please attend to Oonomoo," said Fluellina, looking toward him.
The Huron was so close to his wife, that by taking a position between them, the missionary was enabled to support both. Raising their heads with the assistance of Lieutenant Canfield and Captain Prescott, he laid them upon his lap in close proximity to each other. The men stood silent and affected witnesses of the scene. Brushing the luxuriant hair from the face of the dying Indian, the preacher said:
"Oonomoo, is there anything I can do for you?"
"Where be Niniotan?"
"Here," responded the boy, approaching him.
"Stand where you be, and see a Christian warrior die," he commanded, in his native tongue. "Where is Fluellina's hand?"
The affectionate wife heard the inquiry, and instantly closed her hand in his. He held it, in loving embrace. The missionary spread a blanket over the body and limbs of the Huron, so as to hide his frightful wounds from sight. A single stream, tiny, crimson and glistening, wound down from the shoulder of Fluellina, over her bare arm, to her waist, where it fell in rapid drops to the leaves below. No one of her wounds were visible, although it was evident that dissolution was proceeding rapidly with her.
The minister, at this point, noticed that the lips of Oonomoo were moving. Thinking he had some request to make, he leaned forward and listened. His soul was thrilled with holy joy when he heard unmistakably the words of supplication. Oonomoo was addressing the Great Spirit of the world, not as a craven does, at the last moment, when overtaken by death, but as he had often done before, with the assurance that his prayer was heard. With a simplicity as touching as it was earnest, he spoke aloud his forgiveness of the Shawnees, saying that he wished not their scalps, and had not taken any for several years, not since the Great Spirit had sent a wonderful light in his soul. For a moment more he was silent, and then opening his eyes, uttered the name of Niniotan.
"I am here before you!" replied the boy.
"Niniotan, be a Huron warrior; be as Oonomoo has been; never take the scalp of a foe, and kill none except in honorable warfare; live and die a Christian."
As was his custom, when addressing his wife or boy, this exhortation was given in his own tongue, so that the missionary was the only one beside them who understood it. Languidly shutting his eyes again, Oonomoo said: "Read out of Good Book."
The good man was pained beyond description to find that the pocket-Bible, which he always carried with him, had been lost during his hurried approach to this spot. But Fluellina, who had caught the words, said: "It is in my bosom."
The missionary reached down and drew it forth, and, as he did so, all the men noticed the red stains upon it, while he himself felt the warm, fresh blood upon his hand. Instinctively he opened the volume at the fifteenth chapter of Corinthians, that beautiful letter of the Apostle's, in which the triumphant and glorious resurrection of the body at the last day is pictured in the sublime language of inspiration:
"'As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
"'And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
"'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
"'Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
"'In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
"'For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
"'So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
"'Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?—'"
The hands of Oonomoo and Fluellina, which had still remained clasped upon the lap of the missionary, suddenly closed with incredible force, and rising to the sitting position, as if assisted by an invisible arm, they both opened their eyes to their widest extent, and fixing them for a moment upon the clear sky above, sunk slowly and quietly back, dead! A profound stillness reigned for several minutes after it was certain the spirits of Oonomoo and Fluellina had departed. Gently removing their heads from his lap to the ground, the missionary arose, and in so doing, broke the spell that was resting upon all. Niniotan stood like a statue, his arms folded and his stony gaze fixed upon the senseless forms of his parents. Placing his hand upon his head, the man of God addressed him in the tones of a father:
"Let Niniotan heed the words of Oonomoo; let him grow up a Christian warrior, and when his spirit leaves this world, it will join his and Fluellina's in the happy hunting-grounds in the sky. Niniotan, I offer you a home at our mission-house so long as you choose to remain. Your mother was brought to me when an infant, and I have educated her in the fear of God. Will you go with me?" The boy replied in his native dialect: "Niniotan will never forget the words of Oonomoo. His heart is warm toward the kind father of Fluellina, and he will never forget him. The woods are the home of Niniotan, the green earth is his bed and the blue sky is his blanket. Niniotan goes to them."
Turning his back upon his white friends, the young warrior walked away and soon disappeared from sight in the arches of the forest. [He kept his word, living a life of usefulness as had Oonomoo, being the unswerving friend of the whites all through Tecumseh's war, and dying less than ten years since in the Indian Territory beyond the Mississippi, loved and respected by the whites as well as by all of his own kindred.]
"Friends," said the missionary, "you have witnessed a scene which I trust will not be lost upon you. Live and die in the simple faith of this untutored Indian and all will be well."
"Captain," added the speaker, addressing Captain Prescott, "he has been a true friend to our race for years, and we must do him what kindness we can. If we leave these bodies here, the Shawnees will return and mutilate them—"
"God bless me! it shan't be done! it shan't be done! Form a litter, boys, form a litter, and place them on it. We'll bury them at the settlement, and build them a monument a thousand feet high—yes, sir—every inch of it."
A few minutes later, the party, bearing among them the bodies of Oonomoo and Fluellina, set out for the settlement, which was reached just as the sun was disappearing in the west. The lifeless forms were placed in the block-house for the night. The next morning a large and deep grave was dug in a cool grove just back of the village, into which the two bodies, suitably inclosed, were lowered. The last rites were performed by the good missionary, and as the sods fell upon the coffins, there was not a dry eye in the numerous assembly.
The avowal of Captain Prescott that the faithful Huron should have a monument erected to his memory, was something more than the impulse of the moment. Knowing the affection with which he was regarded by the settlers all along the frontier, he took pains to spread the particulars of his death, and to invite contributions for the purpose mentioned. The response was far more liberal than he had, dared to hope, and showed the vast services of Oonomoo during his life—services of which none but the recipients knew anything.
At this time, there was a band of border rangers in existence, known as the Riflemen of the Miami. Oonomoo had often acted as their guide, and these were the first that were heard from. Lewis Dernor, their leader, visited the settlement on purpose to learn the facts regarding his death, and to bring the gifts of himself and companions. Then there was Stanton and Ferrington, and scores of others, who continued to pour in their contributions through the summer, until Captain Prescott possessed the means of erecting as magnificent a monument as his heart could wish.
In the autumn, affairs on the frontier became so quiet and settled that the Captain was able to visit the East, where he gave orders for the marble monument, which it was promised should be sent down the river the next spring. Upon the return of Captain Prescott, the wedding of his daughter and Lieutenant Canfield took place, and they settled down in the village. The Captain did not venture again to erect his house in so exposed a situation, until the advancing tide of civilization made it a matter of safety. A handsome edifice then rose from the ruins of his first residence. General peace dawning upon the border, he removed his family to it, and turned farmer. His possessions continually increased in value until a few years after the commencement of the present century, and when he died, there were few wealthier men in the West.
During the war of 1812, Lieutenant Canfield was promoted to a Captaincy, and served under General Harrison until all hostilities had ceased. He then retired with his family to private life, taking his abode upon the farm which had been left him by his father-in-law, where he resided until 1843, when he followed the partner of his joys and sorrows—the once captive of the Shawnees—to his last, long home.
As the traveler passes down the Ohio river on one of its many steamers, his attention perhaps is attracted to a beautiful grove of oaks, willows and sycamores a short distance from the shore, beneath whose arches a tall, white marble obelisk may be discerned with some inscription and design upon it. Approaching it more closely, there is seen engraved on the front, the figure of the Holy Bible, open, with a hand beneath pointing upward. Below this, are cut the simple words:
Friend of the White Man.