By Linda Emley
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I was thinking about the people that shared that first feast.
According to the History Channel, “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations.”
I was thinking about our local “Indians” and realized that I know very little about this part of our history. I’ve been arrowhead hunting many times, but who were these people? I went upstairs at the museum and looked at our Indian artifacts and then I turned to our trusty 1881 Ray County History Book. I was sadden as I reread the brief chapter that was simply titled “Indians”.
“The Indians inhabiting this section when first visited by white settlers, and for several years afterward, were the Sacs and lowas. They claimed the country as their own, and of course regarded the whites as intruders; yet they were friendly, and, though perhaps regretfully, without resistance yielded dominion to the superior, incoming Caucasian. A few deeds of blood and plunder were committed by savages who occasionally stole into the country from more war-like tribes, but tradition has no graver charge to prefer against the Sacs and lowas than begging, pilfering and the like. They were not given to such dastardly deeds of despoliation and murder as the ancient Iroquois; nor were they so barbarous as the neighboring Osage.
“The white men, women and children soon became thoroughly familiar with the ‘poor Indian,’ and the latter’s appearance excited no alarm. One day in July, 1818, a band of marauding savages, belonging to the Osage tribe, camped in the yard of a Mrs. Macelroy, a widow, living near the mouth of Fishing River. The Indians built fires in the yard, and began cooking and eating roasting ears, pilfering, shooting pigs, and driving away the horses. The only inmates of the house were the two persons who lived there – the widow and her little son, aged ten. The latter was sent to the house of Mr. Martin Parmer, a near neighbor, to tell him of the presence of the savages; of their depredations, and to seek his assistance.
“Parmer, on receiving the message, seized his gun; a grown son did the same, and, accompanied by the boy, the two hastily proceeded to the widow’s house, on reaching which, the boy entered by the back door. By this time all the Indians had left but seven, who were still in the yard. Parmer and his son fired upon them, killing two. The rest ran into the house, where the mother and son were trembling with fear. With their tomahawks, the savages cut off two of the boy’s fingers, and inflicted other severe wounds, but failed to kill him. The elder Parmer climbed upon the roof and commenced tearing off the boards, whereupon one of the Indians ran out of the house, attempting to escape; but Parmer fired upon him from the house-top, and brought the savage to the ground.
“His firearm discharged, Parmer drew a butcher knife, hastily descended, and ran to the wounded Indian. The latter, insolent even in the moment of death, turned upon his back and attempted to spit in the face of his antagonist, when Parmer, with his butcher knife, cut the Indian’s throat ‘from ear to ear.’ The father and son killed three of the four remaining savages; the other, though severely wounded, made his escape. The six dead Indians were dragged to a deep gully and thrown in. This bloody encounter alarmed the settlers; they expected the Indians to seek revenge; the latter, however, showed no disposition to retaliate.
“Stephen Fields, who will be remembered as one of the original settlers in Buffalo, about 1820, moved to the bluffs, on Crooked River, near where the present poor farm is situated. The Indians commenced killing his hogs. At this Fields was greatly enraged, and, taking his gun, one morning, went into the woods, and came upon three Indians, also with guns. Fields told the Indians they had been killing his hogs, and to pnckachee (get away). The savages bitterly denied the accusation, but Fields insisted that he was not mistaken; he knew they had been killing his hogs. Unable to pacify the old man, the three Indians seized him, stripped off his shirt, and, with the ramrod of his own gun, flogged him unmercifully, lacerating his back in a horrible manner, they told him to “pnckachee”. That he did is not a rash presumption.
“This outrageous affair caused great excitement. Mr. Fields was an old man, 60 years of age, and greatly esteemed by his neighbors. The people were aroused. A company was raised to follow and punish the savages. The latter, anticipating retaliation, decamped long before sunrise the following morning. When their pursuers, about sunrise, reached the camp the Indians had deserted, their fires were still burning. Hair, bones, feet and flesh of the hogs they had killed were scattered around. The indignant whites pursued the Indians as far as Grand River, which the latter swam, thus baffling their pursuers.
“Returning to their homes, the whites found, at many places in the woods, venison hams hanging in the trees. They had been hung up by the Indians to dry. A venerable gentleman, who was living near the scene of the occurrence just related, at the date thereof, who was one of the party of original settlers, and has always lived in the county, assures the writer that he remembers of no other deeds of violence committed by the Sacs and lowas. They were generally very friendly.
“On one occasion, a party of surveyors, Meaddors and Holland Vanderpool, were camped in the woods. It was a rainy day in autumn, and the men remained in their tent for shelter – availing themselves, meanwhile, of the excellent opportunity of washing their leather breeches and hunting shirts. The party was busily engaged in washing their wearing apparel, when, out of the rainfall, six Indians stepped into the tent. They at once began making a variety of significant gestures, such as picking up ashes and putting them to their lips, plainly indicating that what they wanted was salt, an article of which the party had on hand in a little bag lying in sight, about a quart.
“Their request not being complied with, the Indians proposed to exchange for the salt a butcher knife they had brought along, and their powder and bullets, as they held out the articles, ‘how swap!’ The reply came, ‘no swap!’ Meantime, the white men had begun to sniff, and hold their noses, as an odor, not agreeable to every olfactor, was permeating the atmosphere of the little tent; and suddenly, a big Indian thrust from under his blanket, next to his skin, a genuine skunk exclaiming, ‘how swap pony cat?’ his companions, at the same time, gabbling like a flock of geese.
“The whites, at once comprehending the ruse, failed to disperse, and again replied, ‘no swap.’ Foiled in this trick, the big Indian at once invented another; a mark was made on a tree, some paces in front of the tent, at which five of the Indians, standing in the tent door, consecutively shot. No sooner had the fifth fired, than the five ran toward the tree, as if to see which had won. This was to attract the white’s attention – and it did so. In the excitement, the big Indian deftly slipped the bag of salt under his blanket, and ran in the direction of the mark, but he never stopped there. The surveyors were compelled to eat fresh meat without salt about 10 days.
“It is a well-known fact, that the Indians were exceedingly fond of honey, and yet remarkably afraid of bees. Holland Vanderpool and Daniel Riggs were one day cutting a bee tree in the forest. Two Indians came up, but being afraid, not of the men, but of bees, stood at some distance looking on. The tree was soon felled to the ground, and the large, rich, delicious comb taken from its hollow. While the process of ‘robbing’ was going on, the Indians stood making signs, by thrusting out their hands in a grasping manner and returning them to their mouths, which stood ajar, to indicate that they wanted some honey.
“Mr. Vanderpool, proverbially generous, took a large piece to each of them. They expressed their gratitude by tenderly stroking him on the breast, and by the exclamation, ‘good muck-a-man.’ Besides being afraid of bees, the Indians were too lazy to cut the trees. Laziness is one of the chief characteristics of the Indian. All heavy work and drudgery are forced upon the squaws.
“It will be seen, that the early settlers of Ray County suffered little on account of the Indians. They were fortunate in locating in the midst of friendly tribes, the Sacs and lowas.”
After reading this story, I’m once again reminded that our history books don’t always tell the real story. Just like the first Thanksgiving, history was made but since we weren’t there, we don’t know what really happened. As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, we need to remember the American “Indians” that once lived on the land that we now call home. Many of us have their blood running through our veins, but much of this history was lost because they were not allowed the same freedom that we know and love today.
Write Linda Emley at firstname.lastname@example.org