Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"With Sacred Honor" --Chapters 1-4

Editors’ Note:

For more than a decade, William T. Johnson – an accomplished public speaker, naturalist, and historian – has labored on a story about an under-studied yet pivotal chapter of North American history. The French and Indian War – acknowledged by many scholars as the first truly “world war” – convulsed the globe and saw the world’s preeminent powers locked in a bitter struggle at whose heart lay the Ohio Valley, Johnson’s lifetime home.

Johnson’s particular area of interest is the Stockbridge Indians of Massachusetts, a tribe fiercely loyal to the English cause during a period when wary Native Americans strategically shifted alliances according to  what they perceived best suited their positions in the North American political balance – and their futures as free and independent peoples.

Johnson’s novel about one particular Stockbridge Indian – a sensitive yet brave man who served as a scout for a company of British rangers – will be published in the near future by J.B. Solomon Editions, an Alliance-based press who owes its very name to this fictional, yet very vivid, man. When Mr. Johnson co-founded the press in 2007, the character of Solomon was imbued in its spirit. It was clear from the beginning that his exploits and insights would one day grace the pages of one of the press’s offerings.

That day is near at hand. In the meantime, please enjoy the first four chapters of Solomon’s story, With Sacred Honor. Look for more news about the book in the coming weeks, and feel free to contact the press at

We sincerely thank you for your interest in Solomon and his story.

With Sacred Honor
By William T. Johnson
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual people, places, and events is fictitious or is used fictitiously.


The moon shines warmly tonight in this place that I have come to accept as my home. Wisps of smoke drift from the chimneys of the cabins, but most of the villagers have let their hearths cool and have retired to their beds for slumber. But I cannot sleep. Another night spent surrounded by memories and the ghosts of departed brothers. I think that tonight would be a good one to be in the woods again, but my body, riddled with aches and old wounds, will not allow me to sleep on the naked ground as once I often did.

My hand extends to the rough planks of my unpainted door. I slide the bolt with my left and reach with my right. When my palm makes contact, I can feel the furry oak grain as I increase my pressure, making the iron hinges surrender to my will. Warm, smoky air eases past me when the door is cast aside; the sounds of autumn rush in through the entrance that I nearly fill. It is not that my frame is large – quite the opposite as a result of these long years – but that the doorway, in proportion to the cabin, is small.  A balance is reached between inside and out, making the sense of escaping heat disappear and unbending the flames of the fire in the hearth. Now that the door is not braced by the frame, a light breeze catches it and softly rocks it back and forth. The hinges emit a metallic creaking. I make note to acquire grease from the blacksmith.

Few people stir in this late hour. A figure, across the clearing which stands between the double row of closely huddled cabins, silently returns with pails of water from the spring. By the task and what I can see of the wraith-like shadow I suppose that it is Ruth from down the way. She does not see me. And then I am suddenly alone again. Alone – a relative term, as all of the cabins around me are occupied, but a feeling that is determined more by emotion than actual proximity to other beings.  At different times I have felt accompanied when the nearest persons were far below me and out of view; and other times alone while another slept in my arms.    

A ring of light circles the moon in the sky and I close my eyes to murmur a small prayer of Thanksgiving. I ask the Lord to grant me strength of memory. Tomorrow I will gather with the others in the small framed church and we will sing our praise to God.  Many will give hollow benedictions to Him for their fortunes; but my words to God are sacred, wholehearted if weary thanks for surviving the many occurrences in which I have seen both His grace and His wrath.

Opening my eyes, I slowly stroke the long gray locks that splay over my shoulders and I wonder when they turned from their shining ebony to this old man’s adornment. I am suddenly shaken from my reminiscence as a loud whoop rings down the corridor between the two lines of cabins. I reach for and feel the small knife I keep tucked in the sash at my waist. It is the only weapon that I have retained over the years, vowing that if Death comes to visit as oft times before, I will greet Him with this alone. I see that it is a few young men who have returned from their raid with some horses from across the river. I don’t care to hear the news. Despite my advanced age, I have not attained the status of a venerated elder. After our last removal, I stopped telling my stories; few know the paths that I have traversed.  To most, I know, I am the eccentric – deranged, perhaps – old man who drinks too much and sometimes wakes them up with my midnight screams. I live alone, and I have been alone in all the time that these people have known me. At times, they have seen the odd figure arrive at my door and enter it without knocking; strange persons, some speaking few words of English, some missing body parts, and some with the same long and distant stare that plagues me.

To get by, I occasionally sell one of the old muskets with inscrutable foreign stamp-marks or one of the many other trinkets that serve as painful reminders of the deeds of my youth. Sometimes I pay for needed supplies with ancient, Spanish Pieces-of-Eight or various other exotic currencies. The days have passed when young men provided for the needy, old, or infirm.

The hour is late now, late for all but especially for me. Swiftly I approach my final silence, the silence when, even if willing, no one can hear of these things that I have seen and done. It is Time’s promise that each man will be forgotten. In defiance of this law, man struggles to be remembered. Some commit this act in pure selfish fashion, but in my way I have always attempted to diverge from that path. Many times, unfortunately, I have failed in my attempts at humility; I am, after all, a mere man of flesh and sin. But in this final chance to explain, I will show that these advanced years have only been attained through the deeds of many great men and women. If not for their selflessness, their bravery, and their sacrifice, these words would not have found you. So now, friends, fill your glasses and draw near your fires – draw near my fire. By morning, the muskets might once again shout their angry cries in the fields and houses of this small village – or, Lord forbid, your own. Yes, fill your glasses; we may or might never meet here again. And I have much to tell.


When I was old enough to listen and remember, my grandmother would tell me the story of my birth. It was very cold, she would recall, and more snow had fallen than in many years before.

“Your mother was strong, you know, Solomon. Strong like Abigail.”

I looked up from the small fire burning in Grandmother’s wigwam to Abigail who, as always, did not react to Grandmother’s words. She kept snapping the long beans, throwing the ends into the fire and the bodies into a large, wooden bowl balanced on her legs
 “I think she knew that she would not live to see another sunrise when she began her pains with you. The look was in her eyes. She continued, fearless in her efforts to bring you into the world and when you came – oh, little one, when you came you could not have knocked the smile from her face!”

I was proud for a moment. Proud in the way that youth allows us to forget the rest of a story. I beamed a smile at Grandmother and she returned it with her own, sad smile. I noticed that Abigail’s hands had stopped working and I looked over at her again. Her jaw was set tight to hold back the tears and I was caught by that image. And I remembered the consequence of my bearing.

“Now, you two lose those faces!” Grandmother ordered. “Your mother would have nothing to do with her passing making you all sad. No tears. No tears, little ones.

“She would have changed nothing. It is not ours to change. These are the ways of the Creator,” Grandmother explained in her soothing voice.

“I’m not crying, Momasis,” I told her.

“I know, Solomon. You are a brave Mohican warrior! Now then, my water gourds appear to be empty. I wonder if there is anyone strong enough to fill them and carry them back from the spring?”

“I can!” I exclaimed as I jumped to my feet, nearly upsetting Abigail’s bowl.  This is the way that Grandmother was able to get many things done. There was never an order,n or even a request. Simply a question floated on the air, a question that was always rapidly responded to by any number of her grandchildren laying about her wigwam.

I gathered together the various gourds as Grandmother pulled them from this and that place. In the end, she produced a half dozen of them, neat little things colored yellow by age. Each had a finely woven rope handle strung through the top and a small hole bored in the side. Others of these that had grown old or become cracked hung in the trees about Grandmother’s lodge. Wrens found these to be excellent homes, filling them with grass and, later, eggs no larger than a child’s eye. When things no longer fulfilled their original purpose, Grandmother often found other uses for them; nothing was wasted or cast aside as useless.

With my tiny hands slipped through the various handles I stepped outside into the clear air. Trails of smoke followed me from the interior of the wigwam and I watched them quickly disperse in the soft breeze of early fall. I have heard that people love most the season into which they are born, but I found this to be untrue for myself. Even in these early years, I found wonder in two seasons: spring and, as it was on that day, fall. To this day, the sight of dry corn stalks standing in fields and the multitude of colors worn by the trees makes my heart stir in a peculiar way akin to falling in love.

The gourds were light in my hands as the leaves crunched under my bare feet and cold mud pushed between my toes. Other people, mostly women and children, were making their way to the spring, as well, and the many trails dwindled to one as we neared it. Also along the way was the large field where the older boys would play lacrosse. As I passed, I saw the boys were gathered together in a group, devising their plan of attack.  Briefly their attention was turned when the smallest in their group spied me walk by. James was often picked on by the others because of his size, and he missed no chance to refocus this unwanted attention to those smaller and weaker than him.

“Look at Solomon! He is practicing to be a girl carrying water!” he cried in an insulting voice. “Hey, Solomon –  will you help my sister bring us water as well?”

I walked faster, trying to outdistance him and his attention. The other boys laughed, which only served to feed James’ taunts. Now he was beside me, trotting backward and yelling his taunts so that his friends could hear. “Your sister Abigail brought water to my wigwam last night. She tried to get me to go down by the river with her but I told her that I was busy.”

When I grew older I learned to ignore people like James, but when young I was unable to let the insult pass. I froze in my tracks. My hands were filled with the rope handles of the gourds that dangled at my side, and my mind raced for something to retort. I had never been quick to respond in such situations, but when I did my words were most often beyond brutal.

“Speaking of my sister, she told me that your mother was an Abenaki slave that the Iroquois gave to your father. Is that true?” I asked, bracing my tone with innocence.

I already knew the question to be true. I also knew that it was unnecessary to draw upon such ugliness for my gain, but it was I who was cornered. James drew back his ball stick to strike me, but the leader of his team ran up and pulled him back to the game.

“Let’s go, James. It’s time to play again.” He spoke this with the elegance of redirection that so many peacemakers employ.

I gathered my gourds and continued on to the spring, sensing James’ hot gaze on my back. As I carried on, I felt badly about being so mean toward James, but I could not remain silent at his remarks. So go the paths of many conflicts in our lives. We desire them not, but seem powerless to avoid them.

When I returned to Grandmother’s wigwam the beans had all been cleaned and sorted. Our earlier conversation had not left Abigail unscathed, and I saw the two sitting and embracing as I approached. Grandmother was singing a sweet, soft song to Abigail and the two rocked gently back and forth near the low-burning fire.

“Were there many people at the spring?” Grandmother asked as I hung the gourds around her lodge.

“A few,” I answered as I looked down at my sister as she brushed tears from her face with her sleeve. “Grandpa Heron was telling his stories to the children beside the spring. … And James tried to fight me again.”

Abigail jumped to her feet at the mention of James and asked if he was talking about her.

“Abigail. Solomon. Don’t you two be getting drawn into that awful child’s evil medicine,” Grandmother instructed. “His father has not taken a bow to that boy’s backside enough times, and I’ll not have you two encouraging his hatefulness. Both of you will find enough worthy things to quarrel about as you grow older. Let him be angry, and do not let him poison your hearts. Do you understand?”

Abigail and I both nodded our heads but our youthful anger still burned hot, as could be seen in our twisted faces.

And then, just as quickly as our emotions had turned sour, Abigail and I were distracted by a haggard looking family that had just entered the village. Grandmother saw them, too, and after a moment of assessing them she remembered her manners and instructed us to go help them.

As I approached, I could see that the man who was leading the group appeared ill. His face was ash-colored – like what remains after an all-night fire. A woman and a little girl followed after him. The girl was tightly holding the woman’s hand.  My eyes returned to the man. He had no musket but he was carrying a small canvas bag over his shoulder that seemed alarmingly empty. His eyes were downcast. and every few moments he stopped to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He looked sick, yet dangerous in some small way, so I passed him up and went to the woman. She was carrying a small copper kettle containing rough, wooden spoons and a half-eaten loaf of bread. Across her shoulders she bore several blankets tied up with a rope; the load seemed to weigh her down more than it should as she, too, was staring at the ground.

“Good day,” I greeted her, meeting her gaze when she heard me approach. She smiled thinly at my greeting.

“Can I help you with that?” I asked as I reached up and touched the rope around her shoulders.   
“What a nice young man,” she replied. “Yes, you may help me.”

The young girl at her side buried her face in the woman’s petticoats and I could hear her sobbing through the coarse cloth. I slumped the blankets over my shoulders and turned to see Grandmother and Abigail converging near the man. I fell in step behind the woman and girl and listened to Grandmother speaking to the man as we came alongside him.

“Newly arrived are you?” Grandmother inquired sweetly.

The man barely nodded his head. He began to reply, but his words were caught in his throat as he barked a loud cough. When he caught his breath, he explained that they had been walking for days and had enjoyed little shelter – and even less food.

“Well then, no one walks by this lodge hungry,” Grandmother said in her happiest voice as she waved them toward her home. Though my eyes might have betrayed me, the look of danger on the man’s face seemed to evaporate to a simple countenance of absolute exhaustion and total loss of pride.

My Grandmother did all that she could to make the small family comfortable as she seated them near her fire. From the rafters of her lodge, she procured several baskets full of bread and dried vegetables. Within moments of their being seated, she had the fire crackling merrily and placed large wooden bowls in each of their laps. Each bowl was filled with the aromatic stew that she had been preparing before their arrival. Between ravenous mouthfuls, the man introduced himself as Edward and told us the names of his wife and daughter.

“That is Elizabeth,” he said, indicating his wife with a wave of his hand.

“And this little angel is Catherine,” he explained with a smile and a pat on the head of the little girl seated beside him.

It was the first time that the girl looked up from her bowl at me.  My heart skipped a beat as I saw her beautiful eyes. They were green like the emeralds that I had once viewed in the dry, cracked hands of a trader who had come to our village. Her eyebrows turned down when she noticed me staring at her and she stuck out her tongue at me to show her displeasure.  Had this been any other girl, I would have probably stuck my tongue out in kind, but this moment caught me off guard and I was hurt by her rebuff.

“Enough of that, Catherine,” her father ordered. She tucked her head down at his sharp words and returned to her eating. I looked away and saw Grandmother smirking at my surprised face.

“Looks like this wood pile is getting small,” Grandmother commented. I took the suggestion and pulled myself up to my feet, trying to look dignified in the way a child does when he has been injured.

“I’ll get some more, Momasis,” I told her, putting on my most helpful voice.

“Ask Reverend Sargent if that little cabin by the church is still empty, too,” Grandmother added. I hurried out of Grandmother’s lodge so that no one else, especially Abigail, would see my injured look.

 A new feeling was in my heart as I walked between the rows of lodges and cabins looking for the reverend.  Now that ten summers had passed since I was born, I had begun to notice girls in a different way. But this girl – and the way I felt instantly drawn to her – was completely unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was difficult to focus on where I should gather wood or find Reverend Sargent or even where to place my feet.  My thoughts were wholly consumed by the image that I had in my mind of those two beautiful eyes. I passed others – including my friend Jacob, who hailed me heartily – but barely noticed them. The only thing that I was aware of was a small vibration that seemed to be boiling to the surface of my skin from deep inside my body.  I shook my head, cleared my thoughts, and set off purposefully to do what I had been asked – and anything else I could think of to help this girl and her parents.


Six winters had come and gone since the arrival of Catherine and her parents. Six hard snows that packed the ground and left lodges and cabins lean of meat as the deer became scarcer in the round hills and deep forests that surrounded Stockbridge, our mission village in the west of the colony of Massachusetts. Adding to the hardships of food shortages was the danger of raids by war parties from the north. These war parties were made up of Abenakis and Frenchmen sent from Quebec to make trouble with English villagers and their Indian brothers. Militias were formed of the townsmen in each village; these did their best to repel these marauders. But when the militias employed the tactics of European warfare, their efforts were often in vain against Indian-style fighting. The colonists had learned to stand in lines, facing other men formed in similar lines, and fire in orderly volleys.

The Abenakis and their French allies, however, chose to fight in the way that we Indians have always fought: to find a good rock or tree to hide behind and direct each arrow or musket ball at a particular man. There were no orderly lines or volleys. Each man acted as he best saw fit, independent of his fellows but against a common enemy. This style of warfare was closely related to the way that men hunt animals. Consequently, as had been seen fit during periods of past conflict, our English brothers compelled us Mohicans to meet the enemy in our Indian fashion of battle. The young warriors from our village made raids against the Abenaki and French villages in the same way that the Abenaki had been attacking us and our friends. Often, warriors from Stockbridge would travel to Pittsfield, a large town to the north, to obtain from the English muskets, lead, and other provisions to outfit their war parties. Through the influence of Sir William Johnson, the Iroquois to the west of our village joined the Stockbridge Indians in these raids against our enemies. Soon, the entire existence of the Mohawks, members of the Iroquois Confederacy who lived nearest to us, became dependent on the English to provide for them, not only for warfare but also for everyday living.

Fortunately, because Stockbridge was a village made up of both whites and Indians living together, our white brothers encouraged us to continue caring for our own needs and not become solely beholden to the British army for their sustenance. It came to pass in those years that there was not always fighting to be found, and the army was less willing to part with provisions to help out the many Iroquois villagers. Some of the Iroquois people became very poor, but because we had held onto some of our old trades, we were better off than our western friends. One day, a few of the Mohawks came to ask how we managed to get by in these lean times. The men of this delegation were dispersed amongst us so that we could show them how we made baskets and brooms and other things that we were able to sell or trade. I was paired with Crow Wing, a young man about my age, so that I could explain how brooms were made, a trade that I had taken on in the past two years. His hair was plucked back to a neat scalp-lock at the top of his head, and his arms, legs, and chest were covered in the tattoos of a warrior. He was dressed in the manner of a warrior rather than a tradesman. Bright red wool leggings covered his legs, and below each knee was tied a thick belt of wampum. The white, frilled shirt he wore was covered with red paint at the shoulders – remnants of war expeditions past – and silver brooches adorned the front.  He quickly grew bored at my instruction of how to secure the handle between one’s legs and hold the straws just so. He asked if I ever had the occasion to hunt. He said this in challenging manner as he cast his half-finished broom to the ground and grabbed his musket, which had been leaning against a tree just outside my cabin door.

“You do not care to see what I’m showing you?” I asked impatiently.

“Women make brooms and baskets,” he replied.

I eyed him, annoyed that he would come here for help but not listen. I tried to continue my lesson but he would only stand with his arms folded across his chest, cradling the barrel of his firelock and staring off at the distance hills. I decided it was pointless to continue in my instruction until I had gained his respect as a man.

“All right, Crow Wing. We’ll go hunt,” I conceded. I threw my unfinished broom down next to his and went into my cabin to get my quiver of arrows and my bow.  When I returned outside, he was smiling and ramming a ball down the barrel of his gun. I could not help but smile, too.

“To tell you the truth,” I started, “I get tired of sitting around here making these damn things. I’d rather be in woods.”

He laughed and slapped me on the back as his other hand slid his ramrod back into the thimbles below the barrel of his gun.

“Solomon, where are you off to?” inquired Abigail as she returned with a basketful of corn. “I thought you were supposed to be showing our friend how to make brooms.”

“We are going hunting!” I replied, a huge smile splitting my face. Abigail shook her head and placed the basket down at her feet.

“Now, you know …” she started.

“Enough, sister. We’re going hunting. Have something good cooking when we return,” I ordered in a tone that I knew I should not take with her.

“Boy, you might live in this cabi,n but you are not my man to be telling me what to do,” she said angrily at the back of my head as Crow Wing and I trotted off.

“She is even more beautiful when she’s angry,” mused Crow Wing as we continued toward the edge of the village.

He had seen Abigail when he first came to our cabin for his lesson and had talked about her more than the broom-making throughout our lesson. I shot him an overly dramatic frown and elbowed him in the ribs before I took off at a full sprint toward the woods. I intended to outpace him into the forest, but I was brought to a standstill as I rounded the church. Standing in the middle of the path was Catherine. She was speaking to her father, who had never fully regained his health in all the preceding years in Stockbridge. After they had settled in, I had faithfully, provided meat and whatever else I could manage to assist them. Catherine and I had become fast friends, and I took every possible opportunity to speak with her or spend time in her company.

Crow Wing rounded the corner and nearly collided with me.

“Good day, Solomon,” Catherine greeted me. “Where are you two boys headed?”

“Hunting,” I answered, always short of words when in her presence.

Catherine looked between Crow Wing and me, and then turned back to her father, seemingly uninterested.

“Aren’t you supposed to be teaching our Mohawk friend how to make brooms?” Edward inquired.

Despite his wrecked health, he had risen as a sort of headman in our church and village. His accusatory gaze and tone had taken me aback, and I searched my thoughts for an acceptable answer.

“Oh sir, we’re done. I thought I’d show Crow Wing our beautiful forests before he has to return to his village,” I lied.

Catherine looked at us with a skeptical gaze and a small smirk parting her beautiful lips.

“Well then, you boys be cautious,” Edward warned. “These hills seem to be inundated with Abenaki and their papist conspirators these days.”

“Thank you, sir,” I replied in my most respectful voice.

Though it was I who provided for him, I had never lost my respect for his position as the father of my most beloved.  I doubted that he knew my strong feelings for Catherine, or how she had thanked me on numerous occasions by taking my hand and kissing me with her soft lips. My fondest memory was of the time when she had asked that I join her down by the small river that ran along the edge of our village. The night had been severely black, illuminated but slightly by a sliver of moon. Catherine had come to my door and tapped softly on it until I opened it.

“Hello, Solomon,” she had said. “Will you walk with me?”

I wrapped an old gray blanket around my waist and took her hand as she led me through the tall grass growing in a fallow field at the edge of the village. I gazed at her small back and tightly braided hair as the trail guided us through the field and onto the banks of the river. Her other arm was looped through the handle of a basket that had the neck of a violin protruding through the top. When she had decided on a place for us to stop, she asked me to lay my old blanket on the ground and bid me to sit down next to her. I needed no convincing and complied without a word. The warmth of her body next to mine sent a thrill deep into my soul. We sat in this way, without uttering a word, for some time. Her head rested lightly on my shoulder and my arm encircled her back. 

“Solomon,” she began.

My name sounded like a song from heaven floating on her sweet voice.

“Solomon … You have been kind to me and my family since we arrived so many years ago.”

She let this observation settle between us before she continued.

“Because of your care, we have never wanted for food or shelter or good company as long as we have been here. You have complimented me with your attention, and I see what hides behind your eyes when you look at me.”

The depth of her insight made my hands shake with anticipation as I wondered what else she would say.

“I want to thank you for all that you have done,” she continued.

With that said, she rose to her feet and drew the violin from the basket. She held the small, elegant instrument near her hip as she drew the tiny bow across its strings. A single note rose from the instrument as I closed my eyes to absorb whatever wondrous melody she would create. From that first note continued a soft but stirring reel that captivated my mind and thrilled my heart. The song she played brought tears to my eyes as I moved my head to its rhythm. When she had finished, she replaced the violin in the basket and returned to sit facing me on the blanket. I enfolded her in my arms and kissed her.  Her hands gently brushed over my cheeks and neck for what seemed a thousand years yet a time far too short for young lovers.  Finally, she withdrew a bit and placed her face before mine.

“I love you, Solomon,” she said in the most earnest voice I have ever heard.

“And I love you,” I replied with matched sincerity.

We kissed again. I have never felt a greater need or want or desire as I did at that moment. If ever a man sought the definition of passion it would have been found right there on the riverbank. Each kiss grew more intense as our fingers explored each other’s bodies, venturing into places unknown yet imagined for so many years.  Though we were young, we no less knew the great beauty of love as we were swept away like the waters of the river flowing by at our feet.

As I recall that time for you – now separated from it by heartache, warfare and death – it burns not one flame less than at the moment of its occurrence.
*             *             *

That is beauty,” I told Crow Wing not many moons afterward as I grabbed his arm and lightly stepped around father and daughter.

“Good luck in your hunt!” exclaimed Catherine as Crow Wing and I ran towards the woods.

The massive trees and huge, moss-covered boulders did little to impede Crow Wing and I as we rushed up a deer trail, nearing the top of the highest hill that crowned over Stockbridge. Early autumn winds wisped through the multicolored palette of leaves around us as we slowed our pace and fell into the measured step of hunters. Soon, we startled fewer birds and disturbed only the closest squirrels as our eyes sought out the movement of deer. It thrilled me to be away from the bustle of the village and to quiet my mind in this place that held greater reverence for me than any church I had ever attended. Here was God’s splendor, His workshop where He tinted the summer’s leaves angry red and golden yellow as He prepared His creation for winter’s long sleep.

I turned in my tracks to look down the mountain at my village. I saw the people moving about in fields and between cabins and wigwams, most of them oblivious to the hunters who had just departed. All unknowing but Abigail, Edward, and my love. My heart raced from the run up to this place but pounded even more furiously as I thought of Catherine. My eyes searched the pathways and dirt roads until I could make out her small cabin near the church. She and her father were nowhere to be seen, but just the sight of her home made me weak with desire.  My nose flared as my breathing settled and I drew in all the smells of my surroundings: crushed leaves underfoot, the pungent odor of pine, and my own salty sweat.

Crow Wing brought me back to our task as he made a low clicking sound, like that of a squirrel hulling a nut. Carefully I turned, my right hand grasping my bow and my left reaching back to take an arrow from its quiver. Crow Wing pointed his chin toward another hilltop not far from the one we occupied. I focused my eyes and saw three small does slowly walking and grazing in the small clearing below us. Without a word, he and I began our stalk. He moved off to my left and I walked a line that would take me in a wide arch and place me downwind of the does. Our movements were excruciatingly slow as we try not to startle our quarry. When I was within range to take a shot, I gently leaned against a tree to steady my arm and slightly adjusted my eyes so that I could see Crow Wing, now just a small figure in the distant trees. I waited until I saw him brace against a tree in same stance that I had taken. When I was satisfied that he was still, I drew the arrow back, bringing the fletching feathers to lightly brush against the right corner of my mouth. I aimed at the doe nearest to me, focusing on the area just behind her front leg so that my arrow would pierce her heart and lung, bringing a fast death. I closed my eyes to concentrate my thoughts and when I reopened them I was still aiming at the same place on the doe. Grandfather Heron had taught me this way of calming my mind, assuring me that it was necessary for making a good kill.

Before I released the arrow, I whispered a quick prayer: “Creator, thank you for this sacrifice.” My prayer spoken, I opened my fingers that held the arrow and sent it on its way. The distance was great enough that I could actually see it make the small rise and then plunge into the deer’s side, burying half its length into her. The other deer ran a moment after she was hit, instantly sensing danger. As Crow Wing and I had planned, they darted towards him. The crash of his musket being fired caused the remaining, uninjured deer to skid sideways and then fly away deep into the forest. The deer Crow Wing had shot crumbled to the ground instantly as the heavy ball crashed into it. But the deer that I shot had kept to its feet and began to race after its uninjured companion. A thick stream of blood pumped from her side as she rushed away and soon she was stumbling from the wound I had inflicted. I didn’t move from my tree, but rather kept a close eye on her as she finally lay down to accept her death. This was something else that Grandfather Heron had taught me: that a chased creature will keep to its feet as long as it feels that it is pursued.

A few days later, Catherine and I once again found ourselves at the river’s edge. I cradled her in my arms and stroked her ebony hair.

 “Solomon, what do you think will happen here in the next few years?” she asked, gazing into my eyes. “I heard some of the men talking about how French traders are buying scalps from the Hurons and Abenakis. Do you think that trouble will ever come here? What will the warriors do if that happens?”

Her questions probed deeper into the unknown than my young mind could fathom. I spoke the only words that came to me, words from Grandfather Heron, one of our elders: “Maya-we-helan.”

She drew her head away and looked at me quizzically.

“Everything is as it should be,” I translated. I then showed her the brass bracelet that Grandfather Heron had given me when he first told me the story. The simple pattern that wrapped around the entire band was of a continuous wave.

“All life is a circle that contains its ups and downs; that is what Grandfather Heron says,” I explained.

Catherine let this slide across her thoughts as she replaced her head to my chest and her finger traced the wave in my bracelet. I pointed as the little muskrat came back out of its hole beside the river and scanned the sky for owls. The muskrat then sat and chewed on a small branch; it knew Grandfather Heron’s words and understood them better than I ever would.

That evening left Catherine and I sitting on the bank for hours upon end. The moon slowly sank in the blackness of the western horizon and the stars shown more brilliantly than at the moment of their creation.

*             *             *
But as I have said, that old demon of sorrow and disappointment eternally lurked and waited to ambush me.  This experience was no different. One day when I had decided to go and visit with my friend, I was met with a note posted on her family’s cabin door. Great disbelief was the first sensation that filled my mind as I read over and over these lines.

Dear Solomon,
My father’s health has grown worse. We fear for his sake and despite all prayers and medicine he has not grown well.  We have gone to Boston to seek help and are prepared to return to England if his health completely fails.  I had hoped to see you before we left, but no time could be spared.  I hope that you remain well and that I will see you again. Take care Solomon; you will do fine in life. It is my most fervent desire that our paths shall cross again.

Your Most Obdnt Srvt,

– Catherine

When Catherine’s words had set in and I became fully aware of their meaning, I vowed to myself that I would someday find her, though I had no idea how.


Abigail had not found a husband, so for the next few years I was obliged to provide for my dear sister. I also remained busy helping new arrivals to Stockbridge in the construction of their homes. But any chance that I got, I would disappear into the forest. Here I would acquire game, calm my mind, and continue to develop my familiarity with life in the woods. As I grew older, these stays in the wilderness grew longer and longer. I began to feel more at home there than in my own cabin. In those days, most men hunted with firelock muskets, but I was still young and hunted with a bow.  The men that had firelocks had acquired them through trade or issue from the British Army. Many nights I would sit and listen to them speak of their experiences in battle, what they had seen and what they had done. Their stories were filled with accounts of their guns belching shot at their unfortunate enemies, with tales of capturing prisoners and outwitting other men. When I was on the hunt, these images would fill my mind and I would imagine that I was stalking a company of French Marines or a Huron war party.  But no amount of imagining or daydreaming could prepare me for the bitter realities of life and what would befall me and those I loved.
I clearly remember that spectacular fall day; it was the most incredible that I had ever seen.  A dry summer had brought a quick and dramatic change to the leaves.  Their color combining with the day’s sun made the woods seem all the more dazzling. Each tree’s leaves seemed so different from the next that the outline of them could be distinguished one from the other. As I crawled under a fallen tree I scooped a handful of dried leaves. I pressed them to my face to absorb the true scent of the coming season.

I had just killed a large doe and dressed it out to carry back to the village to share her sacrifice with all, as is the way of the People.  I moved through the variety of colors as if floating through a lake of vermilion and gold.  As I neared the village, it struck me that the smell of smoke was much stronger than most days. Usually I would smell the fires of the village’s chimneys as I approached, but not at this distance. I had not heard talk before I left of clearing land, but I knew that this could be a possibility. It was common to burn trees to make way for new fields. Nonetheless, for a moment I became nervous for Abigail. I shook off the feeling; but I quickened my step, knowing I was only a few ridges away from Stockbridge. I still had the deer on my shoulders and I thought about how she was still warm, its life not completely drained away. Her blood ran down the back of my linen shirt and along my arms, making my hands stick to my bow.

But all thoughts of the beautiful day, the deer, and the leaves left my mind as I crested the last hill and looked into the Housatonic Valley.  There below me I beheld a scene that chilled my blood. The cabins were burning and children were screaming. I swept my gaze across the village – so near yet in that terrible moment so distant – and spied a woman whom I knew well, huddled over a small, bloody bundle on the ground. 

I shirked the load from my shoulder and began running down the hillside. I had run hard in my life, but never like this. I felt no pain from my body as I pushed it well beyond its normal capabilities. My feet seemed to not touch the ground, and with each step the village grew larger before me.  Thoughts of the village, the people, and most importantly my sister drove me forward like a star shooting across the night sky.

I crashed through the cornfield at the edge of the village. The knife-like leaves of the cornstalks did nothing to slow me. I reached back to my quiver and ripped an arrow forward, knocking it into the string on my bow.  A voice in my head told me to slow down, but my heart would not allow any pausing or hesitation; thus, I pressed forward in a headlong rush. Pushing through the last few stalks, I knew that I would fight today; I knew that it would be soon. My right arm drew back the bow string and I asked the Creator to guide me in battle. Crashing from the field, I slammed into a painted warrior, sending my arrow wild.  Every sense was heightened; I can still recall the smell of the bear grease paint that was slathered over his body.  I heard his musket clatter to the ground, and my bow flew from hands. After a brief flight through the air our bodies detached and fell to the hard-packed earth. I looked up at him as I groped for my knife. I saw him doing the same. My other hand swept across one of my arrows that had splayed out of my quiver in the collision. I grasped it and gained my feet in the same motion.  I was to him before he could scramble to his musket, which had fallen to the ground a few feet away. With all the strength I could employ, I plunged the arrow into his side. He screamed but kept true to his pursuit of his firelock, scrambling like a bear on all fours. I stumbled backward in disbelief that the arrow had not fazed him. I fell back and crushed my head into the ground; all went nearly dark for a moment, and then I leaned forward to see the warrior raising his musket to my face. I instinctually turned my head, awaiting the blast. I heard the crashing report from a musket and knew that I must be dead; no man looks down the barrel of a loaded gun and lives to speak of it if the gun speaks first.

It then occurred to me that I was still very much alive. I turned my gaze to see the painted man lying in crumpled ball a few yards away. Miraculously, I was unharmed.  Time slowed in the next few minutes. I looked beyond the dead man and saw my unknown savior, a man I had never seen before.  The vision of this blond, blue-eyed man pierced through me, even at a distance of thirty yards.  His musket was shouldered and smoke was billowing from its steely maw. He covered the ground in no time and with his knife scalped the dead warrior. I had never seen a man scalped but had heard of it a hundred times over.  Still, I sat on the ground in total disbelief of all that was occurring. In some combination of English and Irish, he screamed at me, ordering me to get to my feet. It was an order I had no problem following. In a slightly humoring voice he told me salvation comes but once. It was a message I had heard many times in the church – the same church that I could now see, at the edge of my vision, completely engulfed in flames.  As the man gave me my message of salvation, he threw me the dead man’s trade gun, covered in its former owner’s blood. I thought of my bow and realized much more than weapons had changed for me in only an instant. The blond man edged close to me and snapped open the hammer and filled the pan of the trade gun, repriming it.Then he slapped it shut.

“Follow me,” he said.

I began to, but then grabbed his arm and said that I needed to find my sister. At this he nodded and replied, “Lead the way, boy.”

We rounded a few cabins and came to my home. There I saw two painted figures wrestling with someone on the ground. They were trying to slip a rope around the person’s wrists but were having great difficulty in their endeavor.  I saw a foot fly up and slam into one of the warrior’s breechcloth. He went limp and fell to ground; at this I could see the person they were trying to capture was Abigail.  The second man continued to try to get the rope around her hands. Red had filled my vision and I knew what I was to do. Raising the musket to my shoulder I placed the silver lug at the end of the barrel so that it aimed at the back of the man’s skull.

Then I took my first shot in anger.  Bone, brain, and blood spattered on my sister’s white shirt. I ran to her, helped her to her feet, and clutched her in a protective embrace. A second later, my new friend was at my heels, shouting at me to reload. I bent and took the powder horn and pouch from the man I had just killed. Even in that moment of absolute madness, I could not help but notice how the air was filled with the smells of the slaughter – the salty, rank stench of blood and the fetid stink of bursted bowel.  As I slunk from the scene, my new companion kicked the body over and pulled a sack of lead balls from a sash at the dead man’s waist. He also used the butt of his gun to smash away the rest of the man’s face and picked through the mess to find four more balls that the warrior had been holding in his mouth for fast reloading. No lead was to go to waste; all would be needed.

Loading the gun took me some time, and while I was doing this my friend grabbed the back of my arm and gave me instructions that, little did I know, would come to save us.

“Load quickly, boy,” he said. “Do not fire until I have reloaded and tell you to fire; follow me if you want to live.”

1 comment:

  1. Damn good brother just got done reading chapters 1-4 can't wait to read more. M.Burgan Washewa