Sibyl the Savage

THE little village of Deepgrove, in Western Massachusetts, has a tragical colonial history. Legends cluster around the ancient mansions of Queen Anne’s War, of the surprise by the French and Indians and the long march to Canada through the winter snows. The Deepgrove people are tenacious of these memories, and have founded an antiquarian society for the preservation of objects of historical interest. Prominent in their museum is the Memorial Hall, devoted to mural tablets bearing the names of the captives. One of these stones bears the curt inscription,



This brief legend stimulated my curiosity. What could have induced a gentle Puritan maiden to marry an Indian ? I searched through all the records and papers belonging to the society for some clue, but could find no other relic of the girl than a bit of lace, finely wrought by Sibyl at the age of fourteen, and given to a member of the family at Hadley before the burning of the village ; and a miniature, poorly painted, depicting a child with a high forehead and thoughtful eyes. The miniature and lace had been contributed to the museum by descendants of their first owners. The more I studied the pathetic face of this unknown girl, the greater became my interest in her. Other of the Deepgrove captives had married and settled among the Indians, but none were so held up to scorn as my poor Sibyl. I longed to find some excuse for her, and to defend her from the reproach of becoming “ a savage.” Later, her own defense fell into my hands in a somewhat remarkable manner.

I was spending the summer in Canada, and, always interested in what concerned the history of the Deepgrove captives, I paid a visit to the Indian village of Caughnawaga, the home of the descendants of the very tribe which assisted the French in their raid on Western Massachusetts. I chatted with the kindly priest, with the taciturn chief, and the courteous surveyors. I wandered over the La Crosse grounds, watched the launching of canoes, bought bright bead-work, and asked every one for legends and stories and old writings. I was most unexpectedly rewarded by a rich discovery. The store-keeper had a quantity of paper, which I was welcome to examine. It had belonged to a former curé, but after his death, when his desk had been reviewed by the new incumbent, a bushel or so of trash had been turned out to the store-keeper as wrapping-paper. It had been slowly used all these years, brown paper being greatly preferred, as this was closely written over on both sides, and was not considered quite nice enough for lard and cheese. Prowling in the barrel brought from under the counter, I found several imperfect MSS. that greatly interested me. One of these was a neat little roll, closely written in English, and entitled The Story of Sibyl Cæur de Femme. Across it a manly goose-quill had scrawled in French and in red ink, “ The said Sibyl Cæur de Femme left this paper with me at her death, praying that it be sent to her relatives in New England ; but as we know not who or where they may be, I have seen fit to preserve it among my papers until called for. [Signed] ——, Curé.”

At last “Sibyl’s Story ” was called for.

I know not [she wrote] whether any may miss me at home, for my father and mother were killed at the first onslaught, and my little brothers, who were redeemed and returned, were of too tender an age to care greatly for me ; and yet would I fain hear news of my old playmates, and since that may not be would have them know how I fare. And first I must go back to a day in summer before the taking of the town, when there came to my father’s house two strangers appareled as Dutchmen, traveling, as they said, from Rensselaerswyck on the Hudson to Boston, and demanding shelter over night from the approaching storm. When we marveled that they should have undertaken such a journey on foot, they replied that their horses had escaped from them at their last camping place. Of the two men, one was young and handsome, in despite of his tanned face and one hand sadly scarred as by fire and torture of the barbarous savages. He held himself silent, but courteous, eating little and talking still less, and that in such outlandish English that none could understand. Supper had, the parson, coming in to see us, essayed some conversation, asking with which of the citizens of Albany they had acquaintance, upon which we understood the names of Schuyler and Van Rensselaer ; and as it chanced that Parson Williams had some knowledge of John Schuyler, he was the better pleased, though disappointed to find they bore no letters. After the going of the parson the younger man did divert the children by imitating the cry and song of divers wild birds and little beasties. He also drew for us with a coal upon the hearth, so that we could scarce tear ourselves from him, and there was much clamor at our putting to bed.

Rising the next morning by candle, as our custom was, and having laid the trenchers for breakfast, my mother sent me to the cellar for provisions; where I found all in confusion and much good victuals carried away, namely, a ham, a jug of cider, two neat’s tongues, with a baking of bread, a hog’s harslet, and three dressed geese. When I made report of this to my mother there was much dole and pother. My little brother, also, being sent to rouse our guests, made us to be still more consternated by the news that they were clean gone, having departed the house with our provender during the night. Nor was my mother greatly mollified when she found in one of her pans a paper addressed unto herself, containing a pass for one person on the Dutch ship Rhyneland, from New York to Rotterdam, signed by Johannes Schuyler. “ For,” quoth she, “ though the reparation be greater than the damage, yet am I not likely soon to avail myself of this safe conduct, and we will find it but scanty eating in this large family.”

After this, search being made along the bank of the river, a small boat or skiff which had been moored thereabouts was discovered to have been stolen ; and parties following down the stream found the boat bottom upward on a rock, as though wrecked by the storm and the violence of the current. But the men, or their bodies, did they not find, so that it was never certainly known whether they were that night drowned, or whether they escaped safe to Canada ; for it was now certainly believed that they were French spies.

This belief was confirmed later on in this fashion. Mr. Williams wrote to his friend, Mr. Schuyler, of Albany, to know if he had knowledge of these men. And he replied that the friendly Indians of the Five Nations, or Iroquois, had brought into Shinectady two prisoners, which they had taken on the shores of the great lakes ; which prisoners had been in their power upwards of a twelvemonth, and had been very cruelly treated by them. One of these was a Jesuit priest, of note in Canada for his zeal for the conversion of the Indians and for his astonishing journeys. The other was a coureur de bois, as the French call the lawless traders who, without license from their governor, do traffic with the savages for peltries, selling the same to smugglers. When Mr. and Mistress Williams had read thus far they were scandalized to think to what excess of villainy we had given harborage. Mr. Williams read on, how Mr. Schuyler had offered to buy these captives, and that the Iroquois were well pleased to barter the priest for a keg of rum, two Dutch cheeses, and a clock ; for, said they, he is so great an eater, we had better charge ourselves with the famine or the pestilence. But the young trader was the property of a chief’s widow, whose husband had been slain by the French. She at the torture of the prisoners had it in her power to say whether one of them should die or be given her as a slave. And she, seeing this man, by name Jacques Belœil, patiently endure all the malice of these wretches (nay, when she had herself suggested new tortures of more frantic cruelty, and had burned off two of his fingers in a heated calumet), was filled with so ardent an admiration for his heroism that she chose him, not as her slave, but as her husband; claiming that he should be adopted into the tribe to fill the place of the dead chief. But Jacques Belœil did steadfastly refuse to become her husband, declaring that he would die first, and calling upon the Indians to put him to death. But the woman would not suffer this, saying that if he would not be her husband, then should he be her slave, and in the bitterness of her resentment reserving him to the daily experience of every degradation and cruelty which her malice could invent. But when he fell sick, either from pity or the fear that he might by death escape her persecutions, she had him brought to the habitations of the Dutch, seeking physic and a chirurgeon to recover him of his illness. Mr. Schuyler said, moreover, that he did his endeavor to purchase Jacques Belœil from this woman, being greatly tendered in mind by his sad case ; but she would in no wise part with him, and the tribe set out for their country, carrying him with them. But in the middle of the night he was awakened by a tapping upon his window, and there found the young man demanding succor and hiding, having escaped his foes. Whereupon he in mercy secreted him, and when the Indians returned on the morrow stoutly denied his presence. The rage of the chieftainess, thus defrauded of her victim, was, he wrote, frightful to behold, she swearing that she would follow him to the confines of the other world, — yea, and into the huntinggrounds of the dead, — to wreak her revenge upon him. When the tribe finally departed, bearing this half-crazed woman with them, Mr. Schuyler related that he brought these escaped captives to Albany, and there, supplying both with clothes and money, did secure passage for them on a vessel bound for Rotterdam. This he did for that he counted it not safe for two unprotected men to journey through the wilderness to Canada, and for that these same Indians had brought tidings of unfriendly intentions on the part of the French, and a design of the late Count Frontenac, like to be carried out by his successor the present governor, the Chevalier Vaudreuil, of descending upon the unprotected frontier settlements of the English.

Scarce was the wonder of this event forgotten when Mr. Schuyler’s fear was realized, the French overflowing us as a flood ; burning, pillaging, and slaying. Separated from my kindred, I became the captive of a young brave, Woman’s Heart: so called for his gentleness, and that he delighted not in cruelty and torture. The other Indians derided him also for his kindness to me ; for, finding that my feet were half frozen, he dragged me on a sledge the whole of the toilsome way. Nevertheless, for all this, I gave him scant thanks, for my heart was full of bitterness. While on the march I marked one of the French soldiers, whom methought I had seen elsewhere, so that I stared at him, until he was out of countenance, and, falling behind the others, he came to me and took my hand, and I saw that it was Jacques Belœil, whom we had harbored the summer before, and who repaid our confidence with such villainy. Notwithstanding, when he spoke me fair and kindly, I was in such a despair of misery that meseemed I had encountered a true friend, and I besought him with tears to rid me out of the power of my Indian master, which he promised to do ; making me to understand that when we were come to Canada, where he could attain to his money, he would ransom me from the Indian, and see me safe returned to my people. After this he walked the whole of the way by my sledge, and I could see that he had learned more English words than formerly, for we made shift to understand each other passing well. He parted also his rations with me, and sang French chansons, and sometimes with his gun brought down a bird, which he would lay in my lap. Moreover, at night he stood guard before the wigwam of boughs which Woman’s Heart built for my shelter; and though the Indian liked these attentions indifferently well, yet he suffered him, and they warmed themselves and cooked their food at the same camp-fire. And once Jacques Belœil spake of the victuals which he stole from our cellar, saying that he had never eat so good, and he was sorry that we had not served ourselves of the passage on the Dutch ship to escape these sorrows, for that this sortie was not of his liking, for he had himself been captivated, and liked it not. Then I told him what we had heard concerning him from Mr. Schuyler. At the mention of the chieftainess he crossed himself and looked behind, as though he felt her following. And verily at that time a strange Indian was walking silently behind him, and this savage did not belong to the tribe of Mahogs [Mohawks], who were the allies of the French, but had come with them from whence none knew. He was an illfavored man, deeply pitted in the visage of the small-pox, and no one companied with him. At times Jacques Belœil flung him a bone or a morsel of moose meat, and it was for this reason, methought, that he followed him like a shadow.

At last we came to a place where the commander, the Sieur Hertel de Rouville, divided the band, taking the soldiers with him to Canada by one way, and sending the Indians and captives another. At which parting it was made known to me that perchance I cared more for this French soldier than beseemed mine own comfort. He too seemed loath to go, and promised me that he would make all speed to find me again. When the dividance was made the strange Indian feigned not to understand, and went with the army ; but he was presently sent back, and joined us again, and so we all came to the dwellings of the Indians, called the village of Cagnawaga, on the right bank of the St. Lawrence, near to the city of Mount Royal. Here is a mission and a Jesuit priest, wherefore these Indians are called “praying Indians” by their neighbors. Here also, with the spray of the rapids blown in their faces, they pitch their lodges, and shoot the falls in their birchen boats. And surely I found kindness here, where I expected misery : for Woman’s Heart gave me to his mother, an aged squaw, whom I served as slave; but she was old and bed-rid, and could not beat me, so that what I did I did of my own free will, and seeing that I shirked not my tasks and strove to pleasure her, she treated me more daughter-wise. Woman’s Heart too was brother-like, and gave me none occasion to bewail. But now something happened which caused me great uneasiness ; not for myself, indeed, but for one for whom I cherished as great concern, namely, the young soldier, Jacques Belœil. The strange pock-marked Indian came often to our lodge, and with him others like him, who, Woman’s Heart told me, were Iroquois, come from a far country as ambassadors, to treat with the French concerning certain captives which they wished returned to them ; and they had brought with them also their princess, a great woman in their country. This woman came to us one day, and my heart froze at the beholding of her, for never in my life had I seen so bloodthirsty a face, or one so devoid of all charitableness. I knew when I saw her that this was she who had so cruelly tortured Jacques Belœil, and I knew also by the famished look in her eyes that insomuch as she was capable of loving, if an insensate, tigerish passion be love, she loved that man. They talked some time in the Iroquois language, and Woman’s Heart asked me if I knew where Jacques Belœil dwelt, and I was glad to tell him that I knew not. Then he spake still more with her, and I comprehended that he counseled her to wait patiently, for where I was Jacques Belœil would surely come, for he had promised it. Then was I in great fear, for meseemed to be the bait to draw my friend into this deadly trap and gin.

Woman’s Heart bade me place meat before his guests, and I did so ; but the chieftainess discovered a long and sharp knife, hid in the folds of her robe and fastened about her neck by a cord, and she told us that as she hungered the knife hungered, and that she had vowed not to satisfy herself with flesh until this knife had eaten of Jacques Belœil’s heart.

After they had left us I reproached Woman’s Heart for aiding her murderous designs, when he said that he would fain have the Frenchman dead, seeing, if this were so, I might think kindly on him. Then I understood for the first time that Woman’s Heart cared for me, and was eaten with jealousy ; and I feared him, though he was gentle and gave me none affront by word or act.

And now spring was come, and the bateaux began to go up the river, laden with fur-traders, coureurs de bois, and adventurers ; and something said within my heart that he would soon come. One day, when the Iroquois Indians were hunting in the forest, and I had gone with some of the Indians to Mount Royal to barter goods, he did come.

When I returned that evening I found the Iroquois pulling to pieces their lodge and preparing to depart hastily. And when I asked Woman’s Heart the meaning of this, he told me that while we were all away there arrived a bateaux of coureurs de bois, and that Jacques Belœil was with them ; that he sought the curé, and talked with him much, as also with Woman’s Heart, and was in a great chafe that he could not find me ; but that his companions would not stay, and carried him presently away with them. The Iroquois were angry, when they returned, to have missed him, and their princess had given orders to follow by the first light. Then I fell on my knees before Woman’s Heart, and caught his hand, and begged him to follow after, and if possible outstrip the Iroquois, and warn Jacques Belœil, and save him. But he made answer moodily, “ Wherefore ? That you may be his squaw ? ” Then my fear and despair were so great that I promised Woman’s Heart that if he saved my friend from his enemies, for my sake, then would I renounce all white people and civilized life, and willingly become his wife.

With that he rose up quickly, quitted the lodge, and returned presently with two young braves, his friends, and an Indian wench, who, he said, should care for his mother during our absence ; for that I should go with them, to see the business well done. At these tidings my heart leapt for joy, and I said, “ We will save him, — we will yet save him ! ”

Now Jacques Belœil and his companions, being bound for Lake Nipissing, had gone by the way of Saint Anne’s up the river Ottawa, and it was over this route that the Iroquois proposed to track them; but Woman’s Heart was of the opinion that, being strangers to the country, they could never come up with the more experienced voyagers, by reason of the numerous portages, the dense forests and swamps, and the crookedness and blindness of the way. His counsel, therefore, was that we should not attempt to follow, when we should undoubtedly fall in with the Iroquois and excite their suspicions, but should rather go before, taking the longer but easier way up the St. Lawrence and the great lakes, the Lac Frontenac [Ontario], the Lac du Dauphin [Erie], and the Lac d’Orleans [Huron], and so come against him before he could be made subject to any villainy.

There was another reason why this decision of Woman’s Heart was good and sensible : for that all along our route at convenient distances we found settlements, either of the French or Indians, where we put in to provision ourselves ; whereas the Ottawa throughout its entire course is a houseless wilderness. Our first stopping was at Fort de la Galette, where was the former mission of the Abbé Piquet; thence past thousands of islands to the well-garrisoned Fort Frontenac ; and so by ways and villages whose names I do not now recollect, — I paddling often to aid the others, or fishing in the clear water to the portage of Toronto, and thence by a long portage past the great cataract of Niagara. And surely in all my life I have seen nothing so awful as these falls, coming straight down out of the hand of God, and filling the soul with amazement.

Then came we to the abandoned fort of Niagara, and here found we all in good condition as left by the Chevalier de la Motthe; the great cross in the square, and the cabins empty, but not fallen in pieces. We entered into the bake-house, and I did bake bread in an oven the first time since my captivity, and it tasted exceeding good. It irked me also to leave these civilized habitations thus empty to the winds.

So journeyed we on to the détroit of the lake, where were fifty men who had made a trading post for beaver and other peltries, which they say they smuggle to the English, and that they create great havoc among the Indians by supplying them with Dutch rum and French brandy in exchange for their commodities ; and indeed I liked not the manner of life of these men, for they were many of them drunken, and they quarreled loudly among themselves, and we got away with all speed. Thus by stages, which it would be tedious to describe, we came in June to the settlement of Indians, of the Squirrel tribe, on Lake Nipissing, where we had counted on lighting on Jacques Belœil. We heard, indeed, that he and his companions had been there, but not finding the beaver as abundant as they had hoped, they had departed only four days before us for Michilimakinac. The chieftainess, or her people, none had seen ; it was therefore to be surmised that they were still upon the way. Glad at heart that we had at least outstripped them, we prepared to ascend the Lac d’Orleans, bound for Michilimakinac, which is a strait communicating between the Lac d’Orleans and the Lac des Illinois [Michigan]. But here a fresh disappointment awaited us, for we found that those we sought had descended the Lac des Illinois, with the intention of pushing across the country to the great river Colbert, or Mississippi. We therefore redoubled our exertions, striving most frantically to come up with them ; for should they once attain the Mississippi, we feared lest they might pursue it to its very mouth, such being the enticing stories brought back by the Chevalier La Salle and others, how it waters the English settlements of Virginia and Carolina, and empties into the Bay of Mexico.

By hard rowing and good fortune in travel we came up to the party before they had reached the great river. But here, also, a grievous disappointment befell us, for Jacques Belœil was not with them, having parted from them with one other at Michilimakinac, to go up the Lake Royal, or Superior, in search of ores of copper, which were said to abound at the head of this lake.

So had we all our journey across the Lac des Illinois for nothing, and as we then thought worse than nothing; for it was very possible that the Iroquois, arriving at Michilimakinac later than we, had obtained surer guidance, and were now far in advance of us. But it did not so chance ; for as we returned we met them, bound, as we had been, for the country of the Illinois. When they saw us they challenged, and would know what we did in those waters; and Woman’s Heart spoke them fair, but they were not satisfied. The chieftainess, also, when she saw me was the more suspicious, and would know if we had seen Jacques Belœil, and whither we were bound. To these questionings we replied with lies : that Jacques Belœil was gone down the Mississippi, and that we were on our way home. With that they pressed on out of our sight; but the next morning we perceived that they had altered their course, and were returning, whether because they had given up the chase, or were suspicious of our movements, we could not rightly guess. When we reached Michilimakinac again the summer was past, and the young braves who had come with us would go no further, but left us, and, with our boat, returned home. But though the water was stormy, by reason of the autumn gales, we procured another canoe and pressed on. When we turned into the Sault Ste. Marie we perceived that there was a boat following us, nor had we gone far before it came alongside, and we saw the Iroquois. They spake not to us, as they easily outstripped us, and we made sure they had received some fresh information; and it turned out that so they had, and from our own men. Now were we in greater trouble than ever, for our enemies were in advance, and for lack of paddlers we could not keep pace with them. But the very winds favored us, for they presently encountered a storm, and were wrecked under the painted cliffs, where the Indians resort for pipe-stones and for colored earths for their war-paint. So that again we passed them, and came, just as winter was setting in, to a little settlement of the Sieur Du Luth, where was a Jesuit priest, ten Frenchmen, and a tribe of friendly Indians. These received us kindly, and told us that Jacques Belœil and his companion were gone into the hills with an Indian guide, in search of copper, but counseled us not to follow, as they would soon be back, for that now the ice was forming, and the snow would soon be upon us. It was plain that we must bide here the winter, but first I could not rest till we had found Jacques Belœil, and we set out the next day with Indians of that village upon his trail. And now the cold was very bitter, so that at night we had our noses frost-bit, and often I thought to have perished, suffering as much as ever I did on the march from Deepgrove to Canada. At times we found his camp-fires, or the hollows where they had been, and this cheered us to press on ; but when we had nearly reached him the blinding snow came down, and we were compelled to wait. And while we waited, who should come up with us but the Iroquois ! The chief tainess was very angry, for she saw plainly now that we were at cross-purposes ; but there were so many of the friendly Indians with us that she dared not give the word to her men to attack us. And there were we together, waiting the ceasing of the storm to go further. Right sure was I that none of us would sleep until it was over, but the snowing lasted four days, and we were fain to take rest by turns. At the last the Iroquois did get two hours’ start, and were off on snow-shoes through the forest, and we after so fast that we soon came where we could hear the crackling of the branches which they broke in their march. Suddenly through all the forest there rang a yell so very hideous that I knew they had attained to the object they sought.

“ It is their war-cry ! ” I said, my knees knocking together under me.

“ Nay,” replied Woman’s Heart, “ listen again : it is not the shout of braves, but the yell of one squaw; ” and twice more that dreadful cry sounded, each time more distinct and frightful as we neared it.

And when we were come to a little cleared space we found the last camp of Jacques Belœil and his companions, under a shelving rock, where, having lost their means of making a fire, they had cowered together, and had all frozen to death in the storm. The Iroquois had brought out the bodies and stretched them upon blankets, and their chieftainess, standing over Jacques Belœil, was brandishing her knife in the air and singing. When she saw me she made at me, but Woman’s Heart stood between, receiving a cut upon the arm ; and she went back again, singing that we two had followed Jacques Belœil for hate and love many a league, but that hate was strongest, for whereas I must now pause, she would still follow through the hunting-grounds of the hereafter, there to find him and to do him deadly mischief. With that she stabbed herself with the knife, and sank down upon the body of Jacques Belœil, her men running forward to sustain her.

After that litters were made for the four corpses, and we returned sorrowfully to the settlement. For though I had greatly feared, and even hated, this woman, yet her death made me to pity her; and was also a great wonder to me, I having heard of many who died for love, but never of one who destroyed herself for hate, and that her victim might not escape her. And surely I like not to think of that unhappy ghost still following where the spirit of Jacques Belœil may be ; though the priest tells me that he being a good Christian, and she an unbaptized heathen, she can never reach him. So were they buried all by the lake shore at the settlement, with one cross to mark their graves ; and meseemed that my heart was buried with Jacques Belœil, and the death of the chieftainess shamed me as though she had done somewhat for hate that I would not have done for love, though I knew that could my death have saved him I would have died gladly.

Woman’s Heart and I were forced to bide at that place until the breaking up of the ice ; and I served as laundress to the Frenchmen, and he made arrows and waited patiently the healing of his wound. And though he had not fulfilled his part of the bargain in saving Jacques Belœil from death, yet seeing that it was from no fault of his, and considering the many perils, dangers, and adventures which he had passed through for my sake,—yea, and his great patience, which claimed nothing, — my heart relented toward him, and when the spring came the priest united us in marriage, and we returned joyfully to our own home. There we found that his mother had died, and he made me sit on her mat as mistress of the lodge. And surely he has been a most kind and gentle husband, and our boys are bold and brave, but gentle-hearted also; and I would not have my life otherwise, for I am happy, save when I wake scared from my dreams, and think on the chieftainess and Jacques Belœil.

L. W. Ohampney.