Susanna Newbould was “Aunt Sue,” one of the most beloved editors of Robert Merry’s Museum; she retells a popular 19th-century plot involving Native Americans.
“Pukkwana,” by Susanna Newbould (from Robert Merry’s Museum, April 1858; pp. 109-113)

The 20th of Aug., 1794, was a sad day for some of the poor Indians, who, after ineffectual struggles to preserve their favorite hunting grounds, were obliged to yield to the superiority of the civilized over the savage. Who can blame them for the determined zeal with which they sought to preserve sacred the graves of their fathers! But General Wayne and his troops were too powerful for them; the white man conquered, and a treaty of peace was drawn up and signed.

Sadly the poor Indian retreated farther into the forest, and scarcely was he settled in his new home, before the axe of the pioneer again sounded in his ears; and these frequent encroachments aroused a feeling of resentment, and a desire for vengeance in many an Indian bosom. One of the terms of the treaty was, that if a white man murdered an Indian, the murderer should be given over to the Indians; and if an Indian murdered a white man, the Indian should be surrendered. For a long time the Indians complied faithfully with their promises, but in no case (although murders were frequent) was a white murderer ever given over to the Indians. I need not tell you how the red men were wrought up to madness—how they burned dwellings, murdered whole families, and took many captives.

Some years after the date just mentioned, Richard Rolfe and his family resided in a small village on the banks of the Wabash River. One evening they were about sitting down to supper, when he missed his youngest son, William, a fine little fellow about eight years of age.

In those days, when the Indians committed such depredations, the unusual or lengthened absence of any member of the family produced much anxiety and alarm.

“Where is Willie?” said his father, addressing his daughter Gay.

“I don’t know, father; I saw him last about four o’clock, going toward the woods with Carlo.”

Mr. Rolfe looked uneasy, but merely remarked, “It is time he was at home.”

“Hadn’t I better go and look for him, father?” said Robert, a lad of sixteen; and without waiting for an answer, he seized his cap and rifle, and ran out of the house. Mr. Rolfe was not long in following his example, and started for the woods; there he heard Robert calling for Willie, and he too

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joined his voice, but there was no response.

As the daylight faded away, they grew more and more anxious, and each read in the other’s face the thoughts uppermost in their minds—the Indians! While they stood there undecided what to do, they heard a slight noise, and something came running and panting toward them. Robert cocked his rifle; but it was Carlo, poor little Carlo! with a broken arrow in one of his legs. At sight of him in such a plight, the father and son grew pale, feeling that their worst fears were realized. Utterly paralyzed, Mr. Rolf could only ejaculate, “My boy! my boy!” But Robert, roused to energy, exclaimed, “Father, let us call out the village and go in pursuit, they can not have gone far;” then turning again to the dog (whose leg, after extracting the arrow, he had bound up with his handkerchief), he said, loudly, “where are they, Carlo? seek them!” The poor fellow seemed to understand, for he limped to his feet and began snuffling about, going in the direction from which he had just come.

“Father,” said Robert, hurriedly, “let us go at once, while the trail is fresh—Carlo will lead us. You stay here with the dog, and I’ll be back in fifteen minutes with all the lads in the country; don’t fret, father, we’ll get Willie back again, never fear;” and off he started with the speed of an antelope, giving his father no time to utter a word or suggest an idea. Not wishing to frighten his mother and sister with a knowledge of the worst, he merely told them not to be alarmed if his father and himself did not return until late, as he was going to get the neighbors to scour the woods for Willie, who had most likely lost his way.

But let us go back a little, and see what has become of poor Willie. Gathering nuts and playing with Carlo, he had strayed father away from home than usual, and was about returning, when suddenly the dog growled and flew toward a clump of bushes near by; up sprang two Indians who had been stealing cautiously toward the boy, hoping to seize and bind him before he could give any alarm. The brave little fellow struggled manfully, and one of the Indians seizing him by the hair, raised his tomahawk; but before he could strike, the other arrested his arm, saying, “Let the young cub live—we will give him to Pukkwanna, who mourns for her young hawk.”

Willie understood their language, having learned it from some friendly Indians with whom he had spent much of his time. Meanwhile Carlo kept on barking, and the tomahawk was again raised to dispatch him, when Willie, forgetting everything but the poor dog’s danger, shouted, “Go home, Carlo! go home, sir!” Carlo obeyed; but as he ran off, one of the Indians drew his bow, and his aim was all too true, for the arrow pierced the dog’s leg.

Willie was a good deal frightened as they dragged him along toward the river; but when he found that he was not to be killed and scalped immediately, he took heart, and comforted himself with the thought that “Father and Robert would release him somehow or other.” After rather a long walk through the woods, they came to the river, where a canoe was fastened to a log; this they untied, and, getting into it, paddled their way, for some miles, up the river, until they came to a little bay which set into the shore. There was just light enough to show Willie two wig-

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wams on one of the points of land which projected into the bay. This was their destination. Reaching the bank they sprang out, and telling Willie to follow, made their way toward the wigwams. They entered one, in which was an old woman and a young Indian about twelve years old. “See, mother,” said one of the Indians, “we have brought you a young deer; shall he stay and sleep in Begwa’s empty blanket? Ondaqua’s tomahawk is sharp and thirsty—he would have the young deer’s scalp; shall he take it?”

The old squaw looked up sadly at the empty blanket, then at Willie, and motioned to the Indians that they might leave him. She then spread food before them, and offered Willie some, but his heart was too full to eat; nevertheless he choked back the tears which were ready to flow, having heard that captives had regained their liberty by a display of courage and fortitude, and the brave little fellow determined to earn his. After eating and smoking for about half an hour, the two men left, and the Indian boy rolled himself in some skins on the floor, and was soon asleep. The old woman, Pukkwana, questioned Willie about his capture; he told her everything connected with it, and then asked her if she wouldn’t let him go home.

“The young deer,” she replied, “is the son of the white man; they steal our hunting grounds, they hunt us like wolves, they kill our sons, they plow up our graves; the young deer’s father is a pale face.”

“My father,” said Willie, indignantly, “is Richard Rolfe; he never stole anything, and never killed an Indian.”

At the name of Richard Rolfe, the old woman, although an Indian, start-

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ed. “Say that name again,” she said; Willie repeated it.

Drawing the child nearer to her, she said: “The young deer is safe in the lodge of Pukkwana; not a hair of his head shall be harmed; ere two more suns shall rise, he shall be safe in the home of his father. Listen. Pukkwana had a son, Oloompa, active as the wild stag, strong as the young lion, gentle as the dove; but the white man stole upon him and shot him like a dog! Pukkwana saw the sun go down, and Oloompa came not; she went out into the night and called his name, but he came not; two white hunters heard her, came, and helped her to find her son. There he lay in the long damp grass, with his life-blood dropping away. The hunters bound up his wound, and gently carried him to his mother’s lodge. For six days they watched him, and brought food and game for his mother, and Oloompa grew well and strong. One of those hunters was the young deer’s father!

“Pukkwana is grateful, she will give him back his son. Now eat and sleep.”

Willie took her hand and thanked her, and, after eating a small piece of corn bread, prepared to sleep upon a pile of skins which Pukkwana spread for him. Kneeling down he prayed aloud, that God would bless his “dear father and mother, relations and friends, the poor Indian, and everybody else.” The old woman stood with her hands crossed on her breast while he was praying, and gently pulled the skins over him when he laid down. He slept comfortably until late in the morning. Meanwhile Pukkwana had roused the Indian boy, and after telling him the story of Oloompa, bade him take the canoe, seek the two Indians, and tell them that they must take the child back to his home again. The Indians, as quick to return a kindness as they are to revenge an injury, readily agreed, and, mustering a party of “braves” in case of attack, they set out with Willie, intending to leave him in the woods where they found him. Pukkwana (who had just lost her youngest son) sadly bade him farewell, commended him to the care of the Great Spirit, and saying, “Let the young deer tell his father that Oloom-

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pa’s mother sent him home.” She went back into the wigwam and closed the entrance.

And what had Willie’s father been doing all this time? Robert did return in “fifteen minutes” with more than twenty of the neighbors, who were always ready to turn out at a moment’s warning. Carlo led them to the edge of the river, but there he could go no farther; it was nearly dark, they had no boat, and felt it would be useless to attempt anything more that night. Sadly Mr. Rolfe and Robert returned to their home. How could they tell the mother that her youngest, her darling, had been stolen by the Indians!

All that night they spent in making preparations to start early in the morning. The neighbors turned out en masse; Mr. Rolfe took half their number with him, in boats; Robert led the rest through the woods.

The party on the river examined the shore on both sides as they rowed along, hoping to find the tracks they sought. Thus half the morning was spent, when presently as they turned a sharp corner, they saw a group of Indians on the bank opposite and Willie with them. Each white man seized his rifle, and prepared for a deadly fight; but one of the Indians raised the boy on his shoulders and waded into the stream, while Willie beckoned to the boats, and shouted to his father, that the Indians were “friendly.”

Need I say more? Need I tell how the father wept for joy—how Robert threw up his hat, and went through all sorts of extraordinary performances in the exuberance of his delight? Suffice it to add that the Indians ever after held that village harmless for Richard Rolfe’s sake.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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