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A Visit With Sabael Benedict

Created Feb-2000

OLD SABAEL - THE INDIAN OF A CENTURY

As the traveller leaves Lake George and goes north, he finds the country very hilly and rough, the population few and scattered, and every thing having an air of wildness. Following the lordly Hudson upward, he arrives at a point where the townships are called No. 12, 13, 14, &c., instead of having names, and where the road stops. Beyond this, far into the wilderness, the enterprising lumberman has penetrated, and all along the river are seen scattered saw logs, whose birthplace was far up among the wilds, and which were left the last spring, - the true log-driving season, - on their way down to the place where the saw-mill is ready to destroy their shape for ever. At one place, far, far up the Hudson, we found a nest of magnificent logs, which were stranded there the last spring by the sudden fall of the water. They completely choked up the river, piled up and wedged up from four to eight feet high, completely filling the river, and that for more than a mile in length. From the point where the road seems to stop, is a path fifteen or twenty miles through the woods to Indian Lake, and through this, summer or winter, it is the best way to walk, having your luggage carried on a sled by oxen. This we found the best way even in summer. The miles are marked on trees, but they seem fearfully long. At the end of this terribly rough path you come to Indian Lake, - a long, wild, and not a very pleasant lake, - emptying into Indian River, and thence into the Hudson.

Drawing of Sabael Benedict

Indian Lake received its name from an old Indian who came to it many years ago, bringing an only son, and who have lived there in their rude wigwam up to the present time. The old man's name is Sabael; born on the Penobscot, more than a century ago, and afterwards joining the Canada Abenaquis Indians. When, in our last war with Great Britain, the Abenaquis were induced to fight against the United States, he, being a Penobscot, left his tribe, and relinquished the yearly stipend which the Canada Indians receive from the British government, and came off through the wilderness, and settled on this lonely lake. At that time the country was well stocked with moose, beaver, otters, and deer. The two former are mostly gone, while the deer, the otter, and the bear, remain in abundance.

This old Indian was in the battle at Quebec, when Wolfe fell and the city was taken. His father was a kind of chief or brave, and he was his father's cook. He knows that he was then twelve years old. The battle took place in 1759, consequently he must now be a hundred and one years old. He speaks the English language, but not fluently. His son "Lige" (contraction for Elijah) is towards sixty years old. He was our guide in the wilderness, as he was also of Professor Emmons, when making his geological survey of the State, - a faithful, goodhearted Indian, kind, gentle, and true, - a real Indian however. They keep a pretty black horse, for which they have, and can have, no possible use, and four hungry dogs, of which Wam-pa-ye-tah (Whitefoot) seemed to be the favorite. We asked old Sabael if he could see.

"Me shoot so better as my son"; i.e. he could still beat his son with the gun. He is straight, and a powerful man; unable to read or write, a poor, ignorant Catholic in religion, and his knowledge is bounded by his experience in hunting. Even now he will take his canoe, and gun, and traps, and go off alone, six weeks at a time, on a hunting expedition. I asked him if he was never afraid while thus alone. His answer was,

"Me sometimes 'fraid of Chepi (ghosts), and once 'fraid bear. Me go into great cave, - all dark, - no gun, - creep in and look round, and great bear stand right up on his hind legs and growl at me. Then my flesh feel cold, - say nothing, - creep back slow, - get out quick as can. Then me set birchbark fire, throw him in, see bear, point in gun and shoot. Bear growl and stop, and then dead."

"But are you never afraid of the panthers which are in this wilderness?" "No, me no 'fraid; government no more belong to beast." "I don't understand you, Sabael."

"Me tell you what Indian say"; (i.e. an Indian tradition)."Once time, long ago, wild beasts all come together to make government. When get there, lion say, 'I be government; I strongest'. Then all beasts say nothing; all 'fraid. Then wolf say, 'I know one stronger than you.' 'Who he?' say lion. 'His name man, and he stronger as you,' say wolf. 'Me don't 'fraid of him; be government still. Let me see him.' 'Come 'long with me,' say wolf. So wolf lead him 'way through woods, long way, and tell him to sit down by this path, and by-by see man coming 'long. So lion sit down great while, and then see little child coming, and he speak out, 'You man?' 'No; shall be one day'. Then see old man coming on staff very slow, and he cry out, 'You man?' 'No; was once; aint now; never shall be again.' By and by see one riding on horse, look like devil, and lion speak out, 'You man?' 'Yes.' 'You government?' 'Yes.' 'No, no; me government.' So lion spring at him, and man take one hees ribs and strike him (sword), and make him bleed. Then he spit at him (pistol), and wound him bad. Lion very sick, creep back to woods; no government any more. Men government ever since, and me never 'fraid to be all alone in the woods."

The wigwam of Sabael is about as uncomfortable as a dwelling could well be; the furniture a few deer skins, a pot, spider, frying-pan, and the like. No floor, no table, chair, or bed; but there, on the bare ground, he sits, eats, and sleeps, in summer and in winter. He told us he had discovered two silver mines (probably micaceous rocks), but he could not find them. Last year he spent more than a month in trying to find one of them, but to no purpose. He hopes yet to do so, and thinks they will yield him thousands of dollars. What would the human heart do without something to hope for? He says he first discovered the valuable iron mine at Keeseville, and sold the knowledge of it to a white man for a bushel of corn, and a dollar in money. He is a bigoted Catholic, though he has not seen a priest for many years. He has a string of beads, which a priest gave him many years ago, and which he superstitiously regards as possessing great virtue.

"What use are they, Sabael?"

"Spose me out on lake, wind blow hard, lake all too high for canoe; me drop one bead into lake, all calm and still in moment. Spose me in woods, thunder bang strike tree, me 'fraid; hang these upon limb of tree, thunder all go 'way, no hurt me. Spose woods full of Chepi (ghosts), take these beads out, all Chepi run 'way."

And yet he dared not say he had ever seen any such miracle performed by using his beads. His son is a Protestant, so far as he has any religious views, and, when he is out of the reach of ardent spirits, is a charming man. But neither has the power to resist on this point, when tempted.

Poor old Sabael! I had heard much of him, but never expected to see him; a forest tree more than a century old. He will soon be no more. But of what use is such a life, or scores of such, to the world or to the possessor? How poor a creature is man, though he live to be one hundred years old, if he lives not under the light, the hopes, the motives, and the influences of the gospel? With these, the little child may die a hundred years old, and without them, the man of a century of years is less than a child.

Source: SUMMER GLEANINGS:
or SKETCHES AND INCIDENTS of A PASTOR'S VACATION.
By JOHN TODD, D.D.
Collected and arranged by his daughter.
Northampton: Hopkins, Bridgman, & Co. 1852
pages:261-266

Contributed by: David Benedict

Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - A positively delightful family treasure is found in this story that the Preacher left for us - too bad he couldn't see the big picture and appreciate thier differences rather than passing judgement - ah, but that's the way things where for our Native ancestors!

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Indian Lake, New York