Oldtown Fireside Stories: Colonel Eph's Shoe-Buckles

“YES, this ’ere’s Tekawampait’s grave,” said Sam Lawson, sitting leisurely down on an ancient grassgrown mound, ornamented by a mossy, black slate-stone slab, with a rudely carved cherub head and wings on top. “ And who was Tekawampait ? ”

“ I wanter know, now, if your granny hain’t told you who Tekawampait was ?” said Sam, pushing back his torn straw hat, and leaning against the old slanting gravestone.

“ No, she never told us.”

“ Wal, ye see Tekawampait he was the fust Christian Indian minister of the Gospel there was in Oldtown. He was a full-blooded Indian, but he was as good a Christian as there was goin’ ; and he was settled here over the church in Oldtown afore Parson Peabody; and Parson Peabody he come afore Parson Lothrop ; and a very good minister Tekawampait was too. Folks hes said that there could n't nothin’ be made o’ Indians ; that they was nothin’ but sort o’ bears and tigers a walkin’ round on their hind legs, a seekin’ whom they might devour ; but Parson Eliot he did n’t think so. ‘ Christ died for them as wal as for me,’ says he ; ‘and jist give ’em the Gospel,’ says he, ‘and the rest’ll come along of itself.’ And so he come here to Oldtown, and sot up a sort o’ log-hut right on the spot where the old Captain Brown house is now. Them two great elm-trees that’s a grown now each side o’ the front gate was two little switches then that two Indians brought up over their shoulders, and planted there for friendship trees, as they called ’em ; and now look what trees they be ! He used to stand under that are big oak there and preach to the Indians, long before there was any meetin’-house tospeak in here in Oldtown.

“ Wal, now, I tell you, it took putty good courage in Parson Eliot to do that are. I tell you, in them days it took putty consid’able faith to see anything in an Indian but jist a wild beast. Folks can’t tell by seein’ on ’em now days what they was in the old times, when all the settlements was new, and the Indians was stark, starin’ wild, a rarin’ and tarin’ round in the woods, and a fightin’ each other and a fightin’ the white folks. Lordy massy, the stories I ’ve heard women tell in their chimbley-corners about the things that use to happen when they was little was enough to scare the very life out of ye.”

“ O do, do tell us some of them ! ” said Henry and I.

“ Lordy massy, boys ; why, ye would n’t sleep for a week. Why, ye don’t know. Why, the Indians in them days wa’ n’t like no crittur ye ever did see. They was jist the horridest, paintedest, screechin’est, cussedest critturs you ever heard on. They was jist as artful as sarpents, and crueller than any' tigers. Good Dr. Cotton Mather calls ’em divils, and he was a meek, good man, Dr. Cotton was ; but they cut up so in his days it’s no wonder he thought they was divils, and not folks. Why, they kep’ the whole country in a broil for years and years. Nobody knowed when they was safe, for they was so sly and cunning, and always watching behind fences and bushes, and ready when a body' was a least thinkin’ on’t to be down on ’em. I’ve heard Abiel Jones tell how his father’s house was burnt down at the time the Indians burnt Deerfield. About every house in the settlement was burnt to the ground ; and then another time they burnt thirty-two houses in Springfield,—the minister’s house and all, with all his library (and books was sca’ce in them days) ; but the Indians made a clean sweep on’t. They burnt all the houses in Wendham down to the ground, and they came down in Lancaster and burnt ever so many houses and carried off forty or fifty people with ’em into the woods.

“ There was Mr. Rolandson, the minister, they burnt his house and carried off Mis’ Rolandson and all the children. There was Jerushy Pierce used to work in his family and do washin’ and chores, she’s told me about it. Jerushy she was away to her uncle’s that night, so she wa’ n’t took. Ye see the Lancaster folks had been afeard the Indians’d be down on ’em, and so Parson Rolandson he’d gone on to Boston to get help for ’em ; and when he come back the mischief was all done. Jerushy said in all her life she never see nothin' so pitiful as that are poor man’s face when she met him, jist as he come to the place where the house stood. At fust he did n’t say' a word, she said, but he looked kind o’ dazed. Then he sort o’ put his hand to his forehead, and says he. ‘ My God, my God, help me ! ’ Then he tried to ask her about it, but he could n’t but jist speak. ‘Jerushy,’ says he, ‘ can’t you tell me, — where be they ? ’ ‘ Wal,’ says Jerushy, ‘they' ’ve been carried off.’ And with that he fell right down and moaned and groaned. ‘ O,’ says he, ‘ I’d rather heard that they were at peace with the Lord.’ And then he’d wring his hands : ‘ What shall I do ? what shall I do?’

“ Wal, ’t wa’ n’t long after this that the Indians was down on Medford, and burnt half the houses in town and killed fifty or sixty people there. Then they came down on Northampton, but got driv’ back ; but then they burnt up five houses, and killed four or five of the folks afore they' got the better of ’em there. Then they burnt all the houses in Groton, meetin’-house and all; and the pisen critturs they hollared and triumphed over the people, and called out to ’em : ‘What will you do for a house to pray in now ? we’ve burnt your meetin’-house.’ The fightin’ was goin’ on all over the country at the same time. The Indians set Marlborough afire, and it was all blazin’ at once, the same day that some others of ’em was down on Springfield, and the same day Captain Pierce, with fortynine white men and twenty-six Christian Indians, got drawn into an ambush, and every one of ’em killed. Then a few days after this they burnt forty houses at Rehoboth, and a little while after they burnt thirty' more at Providence. And then when good Captain Wadsworth went with seventy men to help the people in Sudbury, the Indians came pouring round ’em in the woods like so many wolves, and killed all but four or five of ’em ; and those poor fellows had better have been killed, for the cruel critturs jist tormented ’em to death, and mocked and jeered at their screeches and screams like so many divils. Then they went and broke loose on Andover, and they was so cruel they could n’t even let the dumb critturs alone. They cut out the tongues of oxen and cows, and left ’em bleedin’, and some they fastened up in barns and burnt alive. There wa n’t no sort o’ diviltry they wa’ n’t up to. Why, it got to be so in them days that folks couldn’t go to bed in peace without startin’ every time they turned over, for fear of the Indians. Ef they heard a noise in the night, or ef the wind squealed and howled, as the wind will, they’d think sure enough there was that horrid yell a comin’ down chimbley.

“ There was Delily Severance ; she says to me, speakin’ about them times, says she, ‘ Why, Mr. Lawson, you ’ve no idee ! Why, that ar screech,’says she, ‘ wa’ n’t like no other noise in heaven above, or earth beneath, or waters under the earth,’ says she. ‘ When it started ye out o’ bed between two or three o’clock in the mornin’, and all your children a cryin’, and the Indians a screechin’ and yellin’ and a tossin’ up firebrands, fust at one window and then at another, why,’ says she, ‘ Mr. Lawson, it was more like hell upon earth than anything I ever heard on.’

“ Ye see they come down on Delily’s house when she was but just up after her third baby. That are woman had a handsome head o’ hair as ever ye see, black as a crow’s wing, and it turned jist as white as a tablecloth, with nothin’ but the fright o’ that night.”

“ What did they do with her ? ”

“ O, they took her and her poor little gal and boy, that wa’ n’t no older than you be, and went off with ’em to Canada. The troubles them poor critturs went through ! Her husband he was away that night; and well he was, else they’d a tied him to a tree and stuck pine slivers into him and sot ’em afire, and cut gret pieces out o’ his flesh and filled the places with hot coals and ashes, and all sich kind o’ things they did to them men prisoners, when they catched ’em. Delily was thankful enough he was away; but they took her and the children off through the ice and snow, jist half clothed and shiverin’ ; and when her baby cried and worried, as it nat’rally would, the old Indian jist took it by its heels and dashed its brains out ag'in a tree, and threw it into the crotch of a tree, and left it dangling there : and then they would mock and laugh at her, and mimic her baby’s crying, and try every way they could to aggravate her. They used to beat and torment her children right before her eyes, and pull their hair out, and make believe that they was goin’ to burn 'em alive, jist for nothin’ but to frighten and worry her.”

“ I wonder,” said I, “ she ever got back alive.”

“ Wal, the wimmen in them times had a sight o’ wear in ’em. They was resolute, strong, hard-workin’ wimmen. They could all tackle a hoss, or load and fire a gun. They was brought up hard, and they was used to troubles and dangers. It’s jist as folks gets used to things how they takes 'em. In them days folks was brought up to spect trouble ; they did n't look for no less. Why, in them days the men allers took their guns into the field when they went to hoe corn, and took their guns with ’em to meetin’ Sundays ; and the wimmen they kep’ a gun loaded where they knew where to find it ; and when trouble come it was jist what they spected, and they was up even with it. That’s the sort o' wimmen they was. Wal, Delily and her children was brought safe through at last, but they had a hard time on ’t.”

“ Tell us some more stories about Indians, Sam,” we said, with the usual hungry impatience of boys for a story.

“ Wal, let me see,” said Sam, with his hat pushed back and his eyes fixed dreamily on the top of Eliot’s oak, which was now yellow with the sunset glory, — “ let me see. I bain't never told ye about Colonel Eph Miller, have I ? ”

“ No indeed. What about him ? ”

“ Wal, he was took prisoner by the Indians, and they was goin’ to roast him alive after their fashion, and he gin ’em the slip.”

“ Do tell us all about it.”

“ Wal, you see Deliverance Scranton over to Sherburne, she’s Colonel Eph’s daughter, and she used to hear her father tell about that, and she’s told me time and ag’in about it. It was this way: —

“ You see there had n’t ben no alarm about Indians for some time, and folks had got to feelin’ kind o’ easy, as folks will. When there don’t nothin’ happen for a good while, and it keeps a goin’ on so, why, you think finally there won’t nothin’ happen ; and so it was with Colonel Eph and his wife. She told Deliverance that the day before she reely had forgot all about that there was any Indians in the country; and she’d been out after spruce and wintergreen and hemlock, and got over her brass kettle to bile for beer, and the child’n they brought in lots o’ wild grapes that they gathered out in the woods ; and they said when they came home that they thought they see an Indian a lyin’ all along squirmiin’ through the bushes, and peekin’ out at 'em like a snake, but they wa’n’t quite sure, faith, the oldest gal, she was sure she see him quite plain ; but Bijah (he was Colonel Eph’s oldest boy) he wa’ n’t so sure.

“ Any way, they did n’t think no more about it, and that night they had prayers and went off to bed.

“ Afterwards, Colonel Eph he said he remembered the passage o’ Scriptur’ he read that night : it was ‘ the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.’ He did n’t notice it much when he read it, but he allers spoke of it afterwards as a remarkable providence that that are passage should have come jest so that night.

“ Wal, atween twelve and one o’clock they was waked up by the most awful screechin’ that ever you heard, as if twenty thousand devils was upon ’em. Mis’ Milter she was out o’ bed in a minit, all standin’. ‘ O husband, husband, the Indians are on us ! ’ says she ; and sure enough they was. The children, Bijah and Faith, come a runnin’ in. ‘ O father, father, what shall we do ? ’

“ Colonel Eph was a man that alters knew in a minit what to do, and he kep’ quite cool. ‘ My dear,’ says he to his wife, ‘ you take the children and jist run with ’em right out the buttery door through the high corn, and run as fast as you can over to your father Stebbins and tell him to rouse the town ; and Bije,’ says he to the boy, ‘ you jist get into the belfry window and ring the bell with all your might,’ says he. ‘ And I ’ll stay and fight 'em off till the folks come.’

“ All this while the Indians was a yellin’ and screechin’ and a waving firebrands front of the house. Colonel Eph he stood a lookin’ through a hole in the shutter and a sightin’ his gun while he was a talkin’. He see that they’d been a pilin’ up a great pile o’ dry wood ag’in the door. But the fust Indian that came up to put fire to't was shot right down while he was a speakin’.

“ Wal, Mis' Miller and Faith and Bije wa’ n’t long a dressin’, you may believe ; and they jist put on dark cloaks, and they jist streaked it out through the buttery door ! There was thick pole-beans quite up to the buttery door, and then a field o’ high corn, so that they was hid, and the way they run was n’t slow, I tell you.

“ But Colonel Eph he had to stop so to load that they got the pile o’ brush afire, though he shot down three or four on ’em, and that was some comfort. But the long and the short o’ the matter was, that they drove the door in at last, and came a whoopin’ and yellin’ into the house.

“ Wal, they took Colonel Eph, and then went searchm’ round to find somebody else ; but jist then the meetin’house bell begun to ring, and that scart ’em, and they took Colonel Eph and made off with him. He had n’t but jist time to get into his clothes and get his shoes on, when they hurried him of. They didn’t do nothin’ to him jist then, you see, these Indians was so cur’ous. If a man made a good fight and killed three or four on ’em afore they could take him, they sot great store by him, and called him a brave man. And so they was ’mazin’ careful of Colonel Eph, and treated him quite polite for Indians; but he knew the ways on ’em well enough to know what it was all for. They wanted a real brave man to burn alive and stick slivers into and torment, and Colonel Eph was jist the pattern for ’em, and his fightin’ so brave made him all the better for what they wanted.

“ Wal, he was in hopes the town would be roused in time for some of ’em to come after him, but the Indians got the start of ’em, and got ’way off in the woods afore people had fairly come together and found out what the matter was. There was Colonel Eph’s house a blazin’ and a lightin’ up all the country for miles round, and the Colonel he said it come ruther hard on him to be lighted on his way through the woods by such a bonfire.

“ Wal, by mornin’ they come to one o’ their camps, and there they had a great rejoicin’ over him. They was going to have a great feast, and a good time a burnin’ on him, and they tied him to a tree and sot an Indian to watch him while they went out to cut pine knots and slivers to do him with.

“ Wal, as I said, Colonel Eph was a brave man, and a man that always kep’ his thoughts about him, and so he kep’ a workin’ and a workin’ with the withs that was round his hands, and a prayin’ in his heart to the Lord, till he got his right hand free. Wal, he did n’t make no move, but kep’ a loosenin’ and a loosenin’ little by little, keepin’ his eye on the Indian who sot there on the ground by him.

“ Now Colonel Eph had slipped his feet into his Sunday shoes that stood there by the bed and had great silver shoe-buckles, and there was a providence in his doing so, for ye see Indians are ’mazin’ fond o’ shiny things, and the old Indian he was took with the shine o’ these shoe-buckles, and he thought he might as well have ’em as anybody, so he jist laid down his tommyhawk and got down on his knees and was workin’ away as earnest as could be to get off the buckles, and Colonel Eph he jist made a dart forward and picked up the tommyhawk and split open the Indian’s skull with one blow, then he cut the withs that was round his legs, and in a minute he was off on the run with the tommyhawk in his hand. There was three Indians give chase to him, but Colonel Eph he kep’ ahead of ’em. He said while he was a runnin’ he was cryin’ and callin’ on the Lord with all his might, and the words come into his mind he read at prayers the night afore, ‘ the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.’

“ At last he see the Indians gained on him, and he faced round suddenly and struck the Highest one smack on the head with his tommyhawk. Then when the next one come up he cut him down too ; and the third one, when he see both the others cut down, and Colonel Eph comin’ full blaze towards him with his tommyhawk a swingin’, he jist turned and run for dear life. Then Colonel Eph he turned and cut for the settlement. He run, and he run, and he run, he did n't well know how long, till, finally, he was clear tuckered out, and he jist dropped down under a tree and slept, and he lay there all the rest of that day, and all night, and never woke til! the next day about sundown.

“ Then he woke up, and found he was close by home, and John Stebbins, his wife’s father, and a whole party, was out lookin’ for him.

“ Old Colonel Eph used to tell the story as long as he lived, and the tears used to run down his cheeks when he told it.

“‘ There’s a providence in everything,’ he used to say, ‘ even down to shoe-buckles. Ef my Sunday shoes had n’t happened to ’a’ set there so I could ’a’ slipped into ’em, I could n’t ’a' killed that Indian, and I should n’t ’a been here to-day.’ Wal, boys, he was in the right on’t. Some seem to think the Lord don't look out only for gret things ; but ye see little things is kind o’ hinges that gret ones turns on. They say, take care o’ pennies and dollars ’l take care o’ themselves. It’s jest so in everything, and ef the Lord don’t look arter little things he a’n’t so nice as they say, anyway.

“ Wal, wal,” said Sam, in conclusion, “ now who’d ’a’ thought that anybody could ’a’ made anything out o’ Indians? Yet there ’t was. All them Martha’s Vineyard islands turned Christians, and there was Indian preachers and Indian teachers, and they reely did settle down, and get to be quite like folks. But I tell you, boys, it took faith to start with.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe.