The Death of Thoreau's Guide

THE strangest monument a man ever had in sacred memory, — a pair of old boots. For a token of respect and admiration, love and lasting grief, — just a pair of old river-driver’s boots hung on the pin-knot of a pine. Big and buckled ; bristling all over the soles with wrought steel calks; gashed at the toes to let the water out ; slashed about the tops into fringes with the tally of his season’s work, less only the day which saw him die; reddened by water; cracked by the sun, — worn-out, weather-rotting old boots, hanging for years on the pine tree, disturbed by no one. The river-drivers tramped back and forth beneath them, a red-shirted multitude ; they boated along the pond in front and drove their logs past, year after year ; they looked at the tree with the big cross cut deep in its scaly bark, and always left the boots hanging on the limb. They were the Governor’s boots, Joe Attien’s boots; they belonged to Thoreau’s guide.1

The pine tree had seen the whole. It was old and it was tall. Its head stretched up so high that it could look over the crest of Grand Pitch, tremendous fall though it is, right up where Grand Falls come churning down to their final leap into Shad Pond. It had been looking up the river in the sunshine of that summer morning, and had seen the whole, — the over-loaded boat that set out to run the falls, the wreck in the rapids, the panic of the crew, the men struggling among logs and rocks, the brave attempt at rescue, and the dead, drowned bulk, which had once been the Governor, as it was tumbled down over the Grand Pitch into the pond below. The pine tree had stood guard over it for days, and when, after four days in the grave of the waters, it rose again, the pine tree still kept watch over it, until, on the sixth morning, the searchers found it there. “ And when they found his body, they cut a cross into a tree by the side of the Pond, and they hung up his boots in the tree, and they stayed there always, because everybody knew that they was the Governor’s boots.”

If ever Henry David Thoreau showed himself lacking in penetration it was when he failed to get the measure of Joseph Attien. True, Joe was young then, — he never lived to be old ; yet a man who, dying at forty-one, is so long remembered must have shown some signs of promise at twenty-four.2 But Thoreau hired an Indian to be aboriginal. One who said “ By George ! ” and made remarks with a Yankee flavor, was contrary to his hypothesis of what a barbarian ought to be. It did not matter that this was the sort of man who gave up his inside seat and rode sixty miles on the top of the stage in the rain, that a woman might be sheltered ; — all the cardinal virtues without aboriginality would not have sufficed Mr. Thoreau for a text. And so he missed his opportunity to tell us what manner of man this was. Joe Attien’s best chance of being remembered lies, not in having been Henry Thoreau’s guide on a brief excursion, but in being just brave, honest, upright Joseph Attien, a man who was loved and lamented because he had the quality of goodness. “ His death just used the men all up,” said a white river-man years afterward ; “ after that some of the best men wa’n’t good for anything all the rest of the drive.”

I could give, as I have gleaned it here and there, the testimony to his worth, the statements of one and another that he was not only brave but good, an open-hearted, patient, forbearing sort of a man, renowned for his courage and skill in handling a boat, but loved for his mild justness. “ He was just like a father to us,” said a white man who had been in his boat. Thirty-three years after his death I heard a head lumberman, who also had served two years in his boat, a very silent man, break out into voluble reminiscence at merely seeing Joe Attien’s picture. But there is a story, indisputably authentic, which shows, better than anything else, the largeness of the man.

He had been slandered by a white man, whom he had thought his friend, in a way which not only caused him distress of mind, but was calculated to interfere materially with his election to the office of tribal governor, the most coveted honor within an Indian’s grasp, and that year elective for the first time.3 The incident occurred just before his first election in 1862, — for he was governor seven times. Hurt to the quick, he avoided his former friend, yet said nothing. But as soon as he discovered that the false accusation had arisen from a wholly innocent and most natural mistake, without a word in his own justification, leaving the charge to stand undenied, he renewed the old friendship, and his friend never knew what just cause he had given for resentment till, years after Joe’s death, it was accidentally revealed by one who had heard the misunderstanding explained. Such was the man.

If you ask the men who were there at the time how Joseph Attien died, they will never suggest that it was accident or the hand of God. More or less emphatically, according to their natures and the vividness of their recollection, they will say right out, “ Dingbat Prouty did it; it was Dingbat Prouty drownded Joe Attien.” They will cheerfully admit that this is not a man to be spoken of slightingly, because he is a great waterman ; but upon this point there is only one opinion,—that he forced Joe Attien to run a bad place against his better judgment, for the mere sake of showing off. “He pushed himself in.” — “ He had n’t no business in that boat at all.”— “ Prouty drownded Joe Attien, everybody who was there says so.” — “ He had n’t no business in that boat, and didn’t belong there anyway, but he said he was going to run them falls, and he did run ’em.”

It is very hard to tell a true story, and the more one knows about the facts the harder it is to make a story of them. Here was a simple tale of how the inordinate ambition of one man to win a name for himself brought grief upon the whole drive. But the next turn of the kaleidoscope gave a wholly different combination. For I took what I had gathered to John Ross himself. “ Is this straight ? ” And he said : “ No ; you are all wrong there. Prouty belonged in that boat; he had been bowman of it about two days. It was my orders for them to go down and pick a jam on the Heater, and they were going. I was right there and saw the whole of it, and I never blamed Prouty.”

But why then should the men have blamed him ? No exculpation could be more complete. There is no appeal from what John Ross says he ordered and saw executed. Why do not the men know this ? Instead of telling a simple tale, are we undertaking to square the mental circle? For, with nearly two hundred men close at hand, it seems preposterous that the facts should not have become generally known ; it is still more incredible to suppose that, thinking independently, they could all have reached the same false conclusion; but that, having been cross-examined in all sorts of ways for four-and-thirty years, they should never have varied from their first error is inconceivable. Why do the men still hold Charles Prouty responsible if he was not to blame ?

From being a study of facts, the story turns into a question of psychology. Why is it that when one has been looking at red too long he sees green, and keeps on seeing green, even when there is no green there ? — that is the clue. A man does not get a name like “ Dingbat” and keep it all his life for nothing. Therefore, after the men had gazed fixedly upon the commanding excellence of Joseph Attien; after they had seen him pass beyond their ken, “ all the trumpets,” as it were, “ sounding for him on the other side ; ” when they turned away and looked at the man whom fate had elected to stand beside him that day, what would one expect them to see by contrast ? Green! Very green! And to keep right on seeing — green ! Having affirmed the worth of Joseph Attien and the warm esteem in which all held him, it remains to show how, because he was placed in too sharp a contrast with such a man, Charles Prouty incurred a blame which his chief says was none of his.

We come now to the story. Chance gave to it a fitting frame, — grand scenery, bright sunshine, a date of distinction, the eye of the Master. You are never to forget that up on a log-jam, just below where this happened, stood Himself, — John Ross. He ordered the boat down; he saw it go; he sent another to the rescue; he reported this to me; it stands authenticated. But what the men saw and felt, that which is unofficial, that which represents the current of the story, and carries us on to the ending of it, I gathered for myself among them.

On the drive there is no distinction of days. Holidays or Sundays, the drivers know no difference; one week’s end and the next one’s beginning are all the same to them. The Fourth of July now is marked for them by no other suitable recognition than extremely early rising.

But it used not so to be. In the old days, when it was a point of pride to have the logs in boom by the last of June, the men were free to celebrate on the Fourth. To them the Fourth of July was the greatest day of all the year. Like boys just out of school, they were free from work, free from restraint, free to make just as much noise as they pleased ; and, having plenty of money in their pockets wherewith to purchase all sorts of a good time, they enjoyed a glorious liberty. The Fourth was never a quiet day in Bangor if the drives were in the boom.

However, the year of our Lord 1870 is distinctly chronicled as one of the most uneventful ever known, nothing at all going on but a church levee across the river in Brewer, so that the police loafed out the Fourth in weary and unwonted idleness. The drives were late that year, so very late that, though the head of the West Branch drive was some miles downstream, the rear of it rested on the Grand Falls of the Indian Purchase. The hands had been leaving the day before, so as to get home for the Fourth ; the water was falling; the whole drive was belated and short-handed ; the head men were worrying; no one had any time to remember that it was a legal holiday.

That is, no one remembered it except the Chronic Shirk. His rights had been assailed, and, having found a Temporary Cripple, who could not escape by flight from his unwelcome company, he insisted on arguing the case, and volleyed back his opinions of working on a legal holiday with an explosiveness which reminded one of the reports of a bunch of firecrackers.

It was “ Rip — rip — rip — bang ! but he did n’t like this workin’ on a Fourth er July! The Declaration of Independuns had said — that it was a man’s right— on the Fourth er July — to git as tight as Lewey’s cow — and he did rip — rip — rip—object — to bein’ defrauded out of his constitoot’nal rights! ”

He was a sun-baked, stubble-faced fellow, less troubled with clothes than with the want of patches, but with shirt and skin about one color where the sun had toned them to each other around the more ancient rents; and he sat in a niche in the log-jam, expectorating tobacco forcibly and to great distances, and swore voluminously about his illluck in not being somewhere else. Just then he had nothing to do. He was an expert at picking out jobs where there was nothing to do. This time he was waiting for his mate, who had gone for an axe, and not a stroke of work had he done since his mate left him. There it was, a bright sunny morning about seven o’clock, a good time to work, and the logs ricked up like jack-straws on both sides of the falls, the whole river in that confusion which the rear has to clean up and leave tidy ; plenty of work for this fellow to do with his peavey in picking off singles and rolling in little handfuls caught along the edges, and helping to do his share of the setting to rights; but, instead, he sat on a log-jam in the sun, and spat more vigorously and swore more violently, as it grew upon him how ill the world was using him in making him work on the Fourth of July.

The Cripple, unable to escape, tried to divert him from his melancholy.

“ Well, Tobias Johnson’s boat got down all right,” he remarked.

Tobias Johnson and his crew had but just run the Blue Rock Pitch. It was to see the boats go down that the Cripple had crawled out upon the logs. The water being very bad that morning, what Tobias Johnson had done was bound to be a topic of conversation all that hot day among little groups of men working on the logs. Even the Shirk ought to have whirled at such a glittering conversational lure. Instead he sulked.

“ I’d be rip — rip — ripped — if I was seen runnin’ these here falls to-day. It’s a damned shame to have to work on the Fourth er July anyway. Head men that knowed beans from bed-bugs would ha’ had the whole jim-bang drive in long ago ; ” —and he exploded a whole bunch of crackers on the heads of the offending contractors of the drive. “ Here we be a-swillin’ sow-belly an’ Y. E. B’s,4 an’ down to Bangor, don’t I know jes’ ’s well as can be, Deacon Spooner has brought up a thousand pounds o’ salmon to Low’s Market, an’ is reportin’ all about the sunstroke to the schoolhouse an’ the camp-meetin’ they are gettin’ up down to Whisgig on Shoo-Fly, an’ salmon enough for all hands an’ the cook.” (Deacon Spooner was a sort of summer Santa Claus, who purveyed imaginary information and real Penobscot River salmon. He was held in high local esteem, but he went out of print about this time, and the great volley of oaths which the Shirk shot off at the merry and inoffensive deacon, though they may not account for his disappearance, would provide good reason for looking for him among the damned.)

The Cripple tried to get away, but he was too closely followed. Then, deciding that talking was better than listening, he took the reins of conversation. “ Bi must have found it awful rough water,” said he ; “ don’t believe there ’ll be not another bo’t attempt it to-day with the water slacking so. Say, did you hear that yisterday Joe Attien tried to git Con Murphy to leave Tobias’s crew an’ come into his boat ? An’ Con said he liked his own crew, an’ did n’t want to change, not even to be in Joe’s bo’t. I heerd that he got Ed Conley out of Lewey Ketchum’s bo’t now Lewey’s left the drive. Speaks pretty well for Tobias though, don’t it ? ”

The Discontented One turned impartially from Deacon Spooner and damned Tobias.

“ Jim Hill! ” said the Cripple, “ how them logs has took to runnin’! They ’re goin’ it high, wide an’ lively. That stops all bo’t capers for one while. Any bo’t that had it in mind to rival Bi Johnson had better think twice about it before they git out into this mix-up on slack water. Guess our fun’s up, an’ I mought ’s well be crawlin’ back to camp.”

“ Guess I mought’s well stay right here where I be,” said the Shirk ; “ John Ross is up there on that dry jam east side, an’ I ’d jes’ ’s soon be where I can keep an eye on him.”

The Cripple made a few painful, hobblingsteps over the logs, and had reached the crest of the jam, when he turned, with his hand shading his eyes, and looked down toward the Blue Rock Pitch, where a boat was drawn up on the shore, and the crew stood waiting.

“ Say, though,” he shouted to the Shirk, trying to make himself heard above the water, “ looks like they was talkin’ about runnin’ after all! Who is it ? Make ’em out ? ”

The Grumbler put up his head cautiously, to make sure that John Ross was attending to his own business, before he ran briskly to the peak of the jam, and announced that it was that ding-dingdanged Injun, Joe Attien ; could tell him by his bigness.

“ Hain’t he the perfect figure of a man, though ! ” broke in the other in admiration ; “ pity his heft keeps him from his rightful place in the bow.” Joe Attien weighed two hundred and twenty-five, and, because of his great weight and strength, always captained his boat from the stern, although in running quick water the bow is the place of honor.

The Leisurely One, having made sure that he was getting the right man, proceeded to curse Joe Attien and all his forbears. Then he sat down upon the logs and resumed his original lamentation. “ Now down Bangor way to-day they’d be doin’ somp’n wuth lookin’ at — hoss races an’ bo’t races an’ ” —

“ Joe’d be in the canoe race, sure,” interrupted the other.

“ Not by a long chalk ! ” said the Grumbler ; “ don’t you see he’s governor agin ? Don’t you rec’lect that last time, when they made him a ding-danged, no-good judge, an’ him one of the best paddles in the tribe, a rip — rip — rip — splitting good man on a paddle, all because he was a ding-dang-donged governor ? ”

The other man admitted the cogency of the argument. “ But say,” said he, “ that’s the real thing there. Ain’t that Dingbat talkin’ up to Joe ? ”

They watched the rapid, incisive movements of a slender, agile young fellow, outlined against Joe’s bulk. “ Dinged little weasel,” muttered the Grumbler, identifying him, “ so durn spry ’t he don’t cast no shadder ! ”

Then he relapsed once more into his reflective mood. “ Now down Bangor way now, you bet — oh, boss races an’ bo’t races an’ canoe races, an’ ‘ Torrent ’ and ' Delooge ’ a-squirtin’ out in the Square, an’ cirkiss, an’ greased pig, an’ tub races, an’ velocerpede races — there ’ll be somp’n down there to-day wuth lookin’ at, an’ up here nothin’ but this dodblasted ol’ river an’ a ding-dang passel o’ logs ! ”

“ Say,” said the other, “ I can’t quite make that out yet. I ain’t a-catchin’ on to that performance. There ’s McCausland, an’ Tomer, an’ Joe Solomon, an’ Curran, an’ Conley, they all belong,— but where’s Steve Stanislaus ? An’ that little Dingbat, — what’s he doin’ with a paddle there ? ”

“ Wants Joe to run the falls.”

“ Well, but he ain’t in Joe’s bo’t! ”

“ Course not, little rumscullion! That’s it! He’s failed to get his own crew in most like, an’ now he ’s stumpin’ Joe to take him along o’ his crew. You watch an’ see him do it. He ain’t a-goin’ to let Bi Johnson have the name of bein’ the only man that dares to run these falls to-day, not if he can help it. He ’ll shake the rafters o’ heaven, but he ’ll show us that he’s every bit as good a waterman as Tobias Johnson.”

“ What makes him light on Joe ? and where’s Steve ? ”

The man did not know as yet that the day before, when the crews reorganized at the Lower Lakes, Steve Stanislaus, who was Joe Attien’s friend and cousin and physical counterpart, had left Joe’s boat. But all sorts of low cunning being readable to the Shirk, he was not at a loss for an explanation.

“ Well, don’t you see, he’s cut Steve out some ways. Joe handlin’ stern, that gives him a chance to go in the bow, and that’s right on the way to a bo’t of his own, and what he could n’t get with no other man. He don’t ship to be no midshipman in the maulin’ they are goin’ to git. He’s figgerin’ how to put hisself at a premum as a crack man.”

“ Reel Dingbat trick,” muttered the Cripple. “ Joe knows that this ain’t no runnin’ water to-day ; just wicked to try to run here the way things is now.”

“ Don’t want to, don’t have to,” retorted the Swearer, for once omitting the garnish of his speech. And it was more true than most epigrams. Joe’s orders to go down with a boat did not imply that he was to run the Blue Rock Pitch against his judgment. A waterman of his reputation could dare to be prudent, and all the spectators thought that he intended to take out above the pitch and carry by and put in below. Then they saw him pick up his long paddle.

The Shirk pricked up his ears and began to be more cheerful. “ Looks like somp’n was goin’ to happen now ! ” he chippered. “ There they are a-gettin’ of her ready. Now they ’re runnin’ her out. There’s Dingbat takin’ bow. Wonder what they are goin’ to do with that spare man ? Which one of them rip — rip — rippin’ galoots do you s’pose Joe ’ll be leavin’ behind ? ”

That seventh man in the boat was what the men never understood, and it gave the color to the accusation that Prouty pushed himself in. Seven men is a boat’s crew when working on logs, but in running dangerous places they carry but six, or even four men. It would seem as if, planning not to run, Joe had his log-working crew, and then, changing his mind suddenly, forgot to leave behind the extra man.

“ Gosh! how rough the water is ! ” said the Cripple ; “ all choked up with jams both sides, and the logs running to beat hell. They don’t stand one chance, not in — My soul! — but he ’s putting that spare man in on the lazy seat! — Well, what you must do you will do.” It was the inbred fatalism of his class, which makes them stoical.

Simultaneously the Grumbler fired off a volley of curses which made the air smoke. “ Rip — rip — rip — bang ! — bang ! If that Go-donged Injun ain’t a-shippin’ a Maddywamkeag crew! ” (In the cant of the river a “ Mattawamkeag crew ” means all the men a boat will hold.)

The Shirk was fully alive now. He jumped up and took his peavey from the log beside him. “ Guess I ’ll be moseyin’ right along down now,” he chirped. Then he set out running over the logs at a lively pace, trailing his peavey behind him. He anticipated seeing something fully equal to greased pig and velocipede races.

But there was not much to see that time. The catastrophe came at once, before they were fairly started. The water was very rough that morning, — on a falling driving-pitch it is always roughest. There was that crowning current, heaped up in the middle, that would push a boat upon the shore; there were the log-jams making the channels narrow and crooked ; there were the loose logs running free, that would elbow and ram a boat and crowd her off when she tried to avoid them; there were the doubtful, treacherous channels, creatures of the log-jams along the banks and of the fickle current, new with every differing condition, never to be fully memorized ; there were the rocks, not less cruel because cushioned with great boils of water ; and there were the boat’s own weight and tremendous momentum. No thoroughbred waterman will ever undertake to say how fast a boat can run in a rapid, for he does not know himself. He says, “ Very fast,” and turns the topic to all-day records.

Still the great sharp-nosed boat had as little cause to apprehend disaster as any boat could have had. She bore a picked crew; she obeyed Joe Attien; and she was a stanch and trusty boat, very wise about all the ways of water. She knew all kinds and how to take them. There were the huge boils, those frightful, brandy-colored boils, streaked full of yellow foam-threads spinning from a hissing centre; and there were the slicks, where a great rock betrayed his lurking-place only by the tail of glassy current below, — safe are such places, for the rock lies above them ; and there were the ridgy manes of white water-curls, where the slopes of two great rocks met and rolled the water backward; — but she knew how to take them all ; she was prepared for perils on all sides, danger unintermittent, whether she took it slick, or bit into the foam with her long beak, or caught it raw and crosswise beneath her flaring gunwales. What she did not expect was that her peril would come before she had caught the set of the current at all; no one looked for that, not even the Shirk, who was running fast so as to be right on hand when she swamped, and was addressing to them various select remarks not intended to be heard above the roar of the water, such as, “ Guess you got your bellyful this time, old fellow ; ” and, “ Go it, boys, you’ll get plumb to hell this trip ” It was nothing to one of his kind that seven men stood in deadly peril, and the show of the moment he was craftily neglecting that he might the better witness the closing spectacle. But he never dreamed that it would come as it did.

It was a very simple accident; the dragon fly, with bulging eyes, rustling in zigzag flight along the river’s brink, might have reported what he saw as well as could a man. There was the long, lean boat, blue without and painted white within, lying with pointed stern and longer, tapering snout, steeving sharply, like a huge fish half out of water ; within her the line of red-shirted men, their finny oars fringing her battered sides, the stripling Prouty high up in the bow, too eager to snatch the honors of which he has won so many fairly since; then the row of seated men, — ragged red shirts, sorely weathered; hard red knuckles, tense on the oar-butts ; sunburned faces under torn brims, or hatless; sunscorched eyes, winking through sunbleached lashes; all, Yankee and Irishman and Province man, black-eyed Indian and blue-eyed Indian, waiting on big Joe Attien, towering in the stern, confident that what he did would be done right. Seven men, and four were looking backward to the shore, and three were facing forward toward the water, four one way and three the other, as if emblematic of the coming moment when they should be divided by three and by four, for life, for death. What they thought and how they felt, who could tell now; but out of all those there the man’s heart which would have been best worth reading was that spare man’s on the lazy seat, who knew rough water, and could see ahead, and who had nothing at all to do. If he unbuckled his stout, calked brogans, and slipped them off his feet, who could say whether it was done from fear or from foresight ?

Then the poles dip, the long, spruce, iron-shod poles at bow and stern, the oars sweep shallow water, and, splashing and gritting gravel as they push off, the poles dipping one side and the other, abreast and backward, like the long legs of an uncertain-minded crane-fly, they shove her out.

And then was their black fate close upon them : she did not swing to the current; she was too heavy, the crew were raw to one another and to the boat, bow and stern did not respond as they always had done when Steve Stanislaus and Joe handled boat, as their old crews still say, “ just like one man.” Logy and bewildered, instead of turning promptly to the current, the old boat let the water catch her underneath her side. It shot her straight across the channel, right among the ugly rocks on the other shore, close above the Blue Rock Pitch. And then, before she could be straightened, the River took her in his giant hands, and smashed her side against a rock, smote her down with such a crash that the men along the banks who saw and heard it cannot be convinced that she was not wrecked ; and some who saw her fill so suddenly still declare that her whole bottom was torn off as you rip the peel from a mandarin orange. That is not true; she was not much hurt. But eighteen hundred pounds of boat and men were hurled upon that sunken rock with the full force of the River. The port side buckled fearfully; the ribs groaned and gave; the nails screamed as the sharp rock sheared off their heads, and a long yellow shaving, ploughed out of her side, went writhing down the foaming current. Down to the water’s edge dipped the up-stream gunwale ; in poured the water in a flood, and before she settled squarely, the lifted port side showed that long and ugly scar. What of the shock that sent the man upon the lazy seat reeling backward, that tumbled the men at the oars forward upon their faces, that wrenched their oars from their hands and threw the batteau seats from the cleats, and sent the spare man’s driving shoes adrift among the litter of unshipped seats and useless men ? Unmanned, unmanageable, full to the lips of water, and just on the brink of the Blue Rock Pitch, what could the old boat do ? Joe dropped his useless pole and took his paddle, but she could not answer to it, and bow-heavy with the weight of water running forward as she felt the incline of the fall, her stern reeling high in air, her crew, disarmed and helpless, crowding on the bowman, she wallowed down that wicked water among rocks and logs.

So much is fairly certain, but beyond this no one seems quite sure ; for I can find no one who saw it. Tobias Johnson’s crew could not, not having eyes in the backs of their heads, for they had sprung at once to the rescue in their own boat. And the Shirk, who would have been glad to see, was out of the running. In his haste to be on hand, he had tripped himself on his peavey, and had been plunged headforemost into a hole in the jam, where, kicking and clawing, he went off like Mother Hoyt’s powderhorn. (Cursing his own awkwardness ? No, not a bit! Damning the men who were struggling in the water, because they had tripped him up, and had not given him a fair chance to see them die !)

Nor did John Ross on his log-jam see it, though he was so near. “ I was on a dry jam right there, but I had kept Levi Hathorn’s boat with me in case any one should tumble in or anything should happen, and I sent it down to them, — and I don’t know any more. I saw that they were going to have a hard time, and

— and I turned and looked the other way.” (Ladies and gentlemen — tenderhearted ladies, high-minded gentlemen

— pause and consider whether, standing there, yours would have been the transcendent grace that “ turned and looked the other way ” !)

But one thing everybody knows, — there were men in that boat who could not swim ; there are such in every boat. The others leaped and swam ; these clung to the boat. And Joe Attien stayed with them, —not clinging as they did, buried in water, not crouching and abject, waiting for the death that faced him, — not a coward, now, never, but paddle in hand, because the water ran too deep for pole-hold, standing astride his sunken boat, a big, calked foot upon either gunwale, working to the last ounce that was in him to drive the sunken wreck and the men clinging to it into some eddy or cleft of the log-jams before they were carried down over the Heater and that thundering fall of the Grand Pitch. It is the last one sees of Joe Attien ; no one has reported anything after that; one remembers him always as standing high in the stern of his boat, dying with and for his men.

The Humane Society gives no medals for rescues made along the river; our men have nothing to show for anything they have done ; but when all the pæans of brave deeds are chanted, let some one remember to sing the praises of Tobias Johnson’s crew. We do not speak of them, — this is not their day. Enough that when they saw Joe Attien’s boat swamp they all leaped into their places and swept out to the rescue. Man after man they pulled in, heedless of their own safety. The last one they caught when they were just on the verge of the Heater, and then somehow, overloaded as they were, on the brink of sure death, they swung in and crept back to the landing-place.

Ashore they looked over the saved and called the names of the dead. They had three. Joe Attien was gone, and Stephen Tomer, an Indian lad, and Edward Conley of Woodstock, and Dingbat Prouty. They still hoped for these, — hope dies hard, and they knew how difficult it is to drown a man who resolutely prefers to try his chances of being hanged. So they and all who had flocked in to them at the flying rumor of disaster took up pick-poles, pickaroons, peavies, whatever might be used to save a living man or to recover the body of a drowned one, and set off down the drivers’ path which skirts the falls.

There was little hope of finding Joe. When they saw him go they all understood that, dead or alive, they would find him with his men. But Dingbat had been seen swimming strongly. If the logs had not crushed him, nor the rocks broken him, he might yet be picked up in some inshore cove where the eddy played, clinging to the alders, too fordone to pull himself out, but still alive.

They searched well and they searched some time before they found him, — for I had it from one who was there, — and when they did discover him, it was the rescuers who were scant of breath.

“ Ga-w-d ! but don’t he seem to be takin’ it easy ! ” said one.

For a man who had just been through what he had been through, he certainly was taking it very easy. He was sitting on a log out in an eddy, a great hullingmachine log, peeled by the rocks in rapids, with tatters of bark hanging to its scarred sides, bitten to the quick by the ledges, broomed at the ends by being tumbled over falls. There in the eddy it was drifting because it was too big to be dislodged until some driver prodded it out and over the Grand Pitch. Unable to escape, it went sailing round and round, sometimes butting other logs and ramming the weaker ones out into the rapids, sometimes nosing up against the line of the current, and always drawing back again into its quiet haven, swimming slowly, but swinging often, ever a little beyond the line of the bushes, ever a little inside the line of the current. The falls-spume gathered in clots against the side farthest from the eddy’s vortex, and the torrent, as it rushed past, threw up wavelets that lapped its flanks. And there in the warm morning sunshine, wet as a drowned rat, his hair plastered over his sharp-cut face, and the wrinkles round his nose showing more plainly than common, sat the missing bowman, dripping from every edge and elbow, but stolidly sucking his pipe.

“ Well, I call that nerve! ” remarked one of the rescuers, viewing him from behind a screen of bushes. He appreciated the self-command it took for a man considerably more than half drowned and entirely soaked to get out his old pipe, dig her clean, and clamp her under his spiked shoe to dry while he peeled his wet tobacco down to the solid heart, got out his matches from his water-tight vial, and filled and lit her up. They admired his young bravado, and waited a moment watching him, as, theatrically unconscious of their presence, which he well enough observed, he drew at his pipe, and swung with the eddy, his shadow now falling to the front, now to the rear.

“ Ain’t he a James Dickey-bird! ” said another beneath his breath.

Then Dingbat overdid the matter.

“ Where’s that damned Injun ? ” he demanded, suddenly acknowledging their presence.

The ichor of swift resentment coursed through their veins; already it was settled in their minds who was responsible for this disaster. Here he was, safe enough, having saved himself ; Joe Attien was dead trying to save his crew. As the lightning flash sometimes photographs indelibly the objects nearest where it strikes, so on the minds of these men that unfeeling question branded forevermore the pictures that stood for those two lives, — Dingbat floating at his ease in the eddy, having looked out for himself, Joe Attien drowned and battered and lost among logs and ledges, willing to lose himself if he might save his crew. They have never forgotten, never will forget, that difference. To this day when you ask one of them who was there at the time how Joe Attien died, this contrast leaps before him, and he says that Dingbat Prouty did it.

The rapids give place to river meadows, the meadows grow into salt shoremarshes, the marshes lose themselves at the verge of ocean, and a mist creeps up out of the sea. Time levels and softens all, and draws a veil of haze across to hide what is unpleasantly harsh. So be it! Let all that is unworthy, low or mean, be blotted out, provided that the lights we steer by, the beacons across the wide waste waters, be not dimmed ; — leave us, O Time, the memory of men like this !

I was a tiny child when Joe Attien died. He had been a familiar friend, and often, no doubt, he fondled me as he did his own babies. But I do not remember him. Instead I recall — not clearly, though I somehow know that it was they — the delegation of Indians who came down to ask my father where they should go to look for his body. They were tall, and I looked through their legs as between tree-trunks, and the shadow of grief on their dark faces made them like the heavy tops of the pine trees, trees of mournfulness and sighing.

“ Spos’n Gov’nor could got pole-holt she could saved ’em.”

And, “ She could saved it herself, Gov’nor, ’cause she strong man and could swim, but she want to preservation crew.”

So my father pondered the problem and told them where to look for the body. “ A brick would swim in that water, it is so strong,” said he. “ The Governor was a heavy man, but unless he is jammed under logs or wedged between rocks, he will be carried right down over Grand Pitch. As soon as the current slackens it will drop him, and he will sink in shallow water at the inlet to the pond. It is hot weather now, and, the water being shoal there, by the time you can get up river the body will have risen ; you will find it in the upper end of Shad Pond.”

It all came out as he had predicted. The body of Edward Conley had been picked up above the falls several days before, but the two Indians they found together in Shad Pond on Sunday, the sixth day. They took both the bodies ashore, and where they landed they cut a deep cross into a tree ; and because they could not treat lightly anything which had belonged to so brave a man, Joe Attien’s boots they hung upon a limb of the tree. There the river-drivers left them till they wasted away, a strange but sincere memorial of a good man.

Fannie Hardy Eckstorm.

  1. Thoreau spells the name “ Aitteon ; ” I have preferred the form found on his tombstone, “ Attien,” because it indicates both the pronunciation and the derivation. For it is not Indian, but the French Etienne, or Stephen.
  2. The newspapers said he was thirty-five when he died, but his gravestone says plainly “ forty years and seven months.” It is interesting to learn that one who lived so well and died so generously was born on Christmas Day.
  3. His epitaph is wrong in asserting that he inherited the title of governor. The office had been a life office, hereditary in the Attien family, who were chiefs ; but at Joseph’s father’s death it was made annual and elective. Joseph Attien won his elections by popular vote against great opposition, and he carried seven out of the eight elections held up to the time of his death. The eighth — by the intervention of the so-called “ Special Law,” passed by the state to reduce the friction between the parties — was the New Party’s first election, none of Joseph Attien’s friends, the Old Party, or Conservatives, voting that year.
  4. That is, yellow-eyed beans. Pork and beans are the river-driver’s staple of diet as well as the lumberman’s, and not as mnch relished in midsummer as in the colder season.