“Sugar-Making by the Indians” (from The Youth’s Companion, May 18, 1865; pp. 78-79)
They generally begin to tap the trees about the middle of March; or when they hear the crows caw, and see them flying round. This they consider the sign that the season for making sugar has come. They take their wigwams and all their little property,—which, fortunately for them, is all movable; and, with their families, go into the sugar bush. Their wigwams are set up, and they go on living just the same in one place as another.
The Indians tap the trees as we do, and catch the sap in troughs made of birch-bark. They fold the bark over and stitch together with straws, which they always use for sewing birch-bark. It makes very clean and firm troughs.
The children who are old enough are set to watch the sap, and empty the troughs when full, into the big kettles, or pails, over the fire. It keeps them pretty busy, and it must be a curious sight to see them, half clothed, perhaps, with only their blankets fastened about them, running in and out in the maple groves, watching the running sap as it trickles from the trees. During sugar-time the sap bush is their home. The sap is poured into the “kettles” and boiled down to syrup, and then is “sugared off.” The sugar is stirred until it grains and looks like our brown sugar; it is then put up in what are called “Mokuks,” which are made of birch-bark, in the shape of an ark. After the “mokuks” are filled, a piece of birch-bark is sewed over the top, so as to keep them air tight. These “mokuks” are made of different sizes. I have seen them so small they would not hold over a tea-cup of sugar, and others large enough to hold eighty or ninety pounds. But the prettiest size holds from five to ten pounds.
Some of the sugar they keep, if they have anywhere to keep it; but they sell most of it, or exchange it for articles which they need; and often get the white people to store it for them, so that the wild Indians cannot steal it.
Some of the sugar is very nice—clean and light-colored; and some, when made by those who are not very neat, or, perhaps, do not understand the art, is dark-colored, and often full of sticks and pieces of leaves.
Many Indian women have married white men on the borders, and will live in houses and be quite civilized. I knew one family where the mother was an Indian, and the children were well educated. The young ladies dressed as nicely as any of our young ladies. They had been sent away to school, had a piano, and were very accomplished. But this Indian wife and mother could not give up her Indian tastes and habits. She often pined for the free, wild life in the woods; and when the time for sugar-making came, she would get permission of her husband, every spring, to go off with the Indians into their sugar-camp, and help make sugar. She would then lay aside her civilized dress, put on the blanket and moccasins, and, taking her sugar-making utensils along with her, join some party of Indians that she knew, and be off for weeks in the sugar bush.
And is not this Indian woman very proud when she comes home with her “mokuks” of sugar, and deposits them in her fine store-room? She once asked me up to see it. O, how nice the “mokuks” looked,—so clean and white! She used to take great pride in this display of what her own hands had helped to make. She also stored a good deal for the other Indians; each having some mark upon his “mokuks” by which she could recognize them.