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The Life of John W. Johnson
Chapter 9
Basket Making & Doctors - c1854

Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba

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I became acquainted while here with Eld. Thomas Sunrise, a Protestant, belonging to the Seneca tribe, N. Y., who came to Haverhill to preach. He was a very smart speaker and an intelligent man, and I became very much interested in him. He wanted me to travel with him, and, I promised to meet him in Lawrence a short time before I was married, and I started upon the railroad to meet him there, but after going some four miles, I altered my mind, and turned and went back to the camp.

I worked very hard whilst camping at this place, bringing ash for baskets from a neighboring swamp to the camp, where we manufactured them, and then taking them upon my shoulders to carry around the village to sell. We next took the cars for Salmon Falls, N. H., where we stopped about one month, making and selling baskets. We also gave an entertainment in that place, and did very well.

We next went to Great Falls, and camped upon the east bank of the river, in a thick grove of pines. The first night that we arrived there, as we were out of provisions, one of our company went down to the "Union Store," and procured some pork and crackers, and we prepared to have something to eat; but upon examination our pork proved to be bad, and the crackers had been kept so long that they were wormy.

We were very indignant at this piece of imposition, and the same night I took the basket and carried the provisions back, and entering the door I asked the keeper if that was the kind of pork and crackers that he sold people to eat. He replied that it was good enough for any red-skin. I told him that it did not suit us, and that he might take it back and pay me the money, or exchange for good provisions. He seemed very independent about it at first, and said that I had better leave, but finding that he could not get rid of me so easily, he exchanged and gave me better provisions.

A short time after in the same store, I was insulted by the same man. I went to purchase some sugar, and having but a few cents in change, I asked for half a pound, and he replied that he did not sell sugar in such small quantities. I was angry, and replied that he could sell bad pork and wormy crackers, which made him afterwards keep very quiet, as he did not wish the fact circulated around the place. There are many who deceive the Indians in this manner as they travel from place to place, thinking that as they are poor and somewhat degraded they deserve no better treatment; they also suppose that the Indians have no pride nor principle, and therefore a certain class of people take particular pains to impose upon them by selling or giving to them, only what at other times they would throw away.

But the Indians, to the contrary, I care not how reduced they may be, have some pride left, and they are peculiarly sensitive. No slight affront can be given them without their notice, and no kind act without its being remembered.

It is also, I am well aware, a notorious fact that the Indians at the present time have not that stability of character, those principles of honor, for which they were originally noted, and some good reasons can be given how this change has been effected. They have been driven from their hunting grounds, and before the onward march of civilization, have been driven deeper into the forests. They have been cheated in their trades with the whites, and more than this, as they are a passionate people, having strong temperaments, and being fond of stimulants, the strong water of the whites has proved destructive to their better natures. The "fire water" has brought the Indians down, until now at the present day, they are far from having those original virtues and firm principles of honor that characterized their fathers, and are only a wreck of their former state.

The Indian once, like the mighty oak, defied his enemies, braving all by his strength, but rolling years have caused the trunk to decay, and the cold blasts have shorn him of his grandeur and strength, and he now today, stands alone. Looking out upon the world, he sees the forests spread before, but looking beyond, the cities and towns rise up to meet his gaze, inhabited by a race of people, unlike himself having customs different from his tribe, and thinking of the past when his forefathers chased the deer, or shot the bear, where now the smoke rises from some village; beholding the iron road linking together towns and states, and the iron horse plunging fearlessly and defiantly along, no wonder that he in silent and morose, that he is revengeful, and I might say, deceitful; no wonder that he drowns his feelings in the "fire water," and tries to forget the memories of the past in the stimulating cup.

As we think of this, and of the many sufferings of the poor Indian as he journeys along to his last great hunting ground, from which no pale-face will drive him, and where game will be abundant, let us aid him as we can by words of cheer and tokens of kindness, knowing that God the Father of us all is no respecter of persons.

We moved our camp back a short distance into the woods that we might be protected from the cold winds.

My wife being well acquainted with roots and herbs, having studied for the practice of medicine, I went to the village and left orders to have some circulars printed for her. A few days after I went to get them, and I found that there were some bills posted up on the streets, which read precisely like the copy that I had left at the printing-house, with the exception of my wife's name, for which the name of one of the men of our company was substituted. I went to the office and got my bills, and found that a person had got some bills printed at that office like my copy with the above exception. I was somewhat indignant, and would not post one of my bills in that place, and I walked to Milton Three Ponds, taking some baskets with me which I sold on the way, and I also distributed my bills. When I was returning to Great Falls, there was a man that was going there, and I offered him a quarter to carry me, but although he had no load, he refused. I told him that I would get there before him, and waiting until he had gone some little distance ahead, I started upon a run, and soon caught up, and as I passed by I bade him goodday, and kept on. I arrived at Great Falls before him, going the distance, fourteen miles, in one hour and three-quarters.

A few days after I moved to Milton, where we built a tent, and I borrowed a stove which I placed in my camp, the funnel running out about four feet from the ground.

Soon after we moved there, a number of persons came to see us, the gentleman of the party, as the others were ladies, was ridiculing everything we had. He was a large man, and the lower part of his face was covered with a profusion of whiskers, so much so that where the mouth of the individual was could only be guessed at, but before he left our camp, by a fortunate circumstance he was divested of a large proportion of the superfluous hair, leaving his mouth plainly visible. Among the many things that attracted his attention was our stove-pipe which ran out on the back side of our camp, and calling to his companions, he said, "Come, ladies, here's where they take pictures," and at the same time he placed his face up to the stovepipe. My wife at the same time lifted the canvas to get some wood, and also opened the stove door to put some in, when a draft of air came through the opening, and into the stove, sending a sheet of flame out of the stove-pipe, somewhat to the discomfiture of the gentleman who was having his picture taken. He drew back his face, quickly, looking somewhat different than it did before, the whiskers were singed off closely, and he presented altogether a rather comical appearance, his mouth was visible, and in not a very good natured manner he cursed us somewhat extravagantly. Having observed the operation, I told him that the next time, before we shaved him, he had better come in and get some lather upon his faces and we could perform the operation somewhat better; but as it was, we should not charge him anything for the operation. The ladies in his company could not help laughing, which only enraged him, and he left in no enviable mood, venting his spleen by pouring out curses and oaths upon us.

I secured quite a quantity of ash for baskets while here, going some distance to a swamp where I cut the ash, carrying it upon my shoulders to the road. I found it very hard work to get the sticks of ash from the swamp, as some were seven or eight feet long, and weighing from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty pounds; these I carried upon my shoulder from the swamp, wading through mud and water to the roads where I had it hauled to the depot, and by the cars carried to Great Falls. We moved to Great Falls where we stopped all the winter. One day I went off to sell baskets about four miles from the tent, where I came across a beautiful puppy, which the owner said I might have for a number of baskets, which I agreed to make. A few days after, having made the baskets, I went and got my puppy, which I carried in my arms to the camp, and although weighing only about thirty pounds, I found myself very tired when I arrived to the camp. My dog proved to be a faithful companion to me, as he was tractable, and the best watch dog that I ever saw, as no person could take anything from the tent in my absence. One day, a short time after I got him, an Irishman was coming up to the camp, somewhat intoxicated, and on his way, as it was towards night, he fell into a gravel pit, where he lay rolling and splashing in the water. My dog hearing the noise, jumped out of the camp, and ran down to where he was, and seizing the poor follow by his coat, he held him, and when I came to his assistance, the poor man thinking that some person had hold of his coat, was endeavoring to compromise with my dog, by saying, "I'm a Catholic, let me go, and I will give you a turkey for Thanksgiving."

But my dog was not acquainted with the Irish language, or not having much faith in compromises, did not heed his promises, and only replied by giving an extra pull, which sent the poor man sprawling again. I called the dog off, and lifting up the poor man, I started him towards his home, and from that day to this my dog has not been on very friendly terms with Irishmen, but whenever he hears one talk he will growl, and he seemed ever afterwards to owe them a grudge.

We built a handsled and the following winter we hauled all the wood that we burned upon it, breaking dry limbs from the trees in the neighboring wood. It was a very hard winter for us, as we suffered much from scarcity of provisions and also from the cold.

The people in this place were very penurious, and one person who owned considerable woodland, said that he had much rather the wood would rot upon the land, than to be carried off by the "lazy red-skins," as he termed us. We therefore fared rather hard while here, suffering much for the necessaries of life, to say nothing about the comforts or luxuries. I was not used very well I thought by the rest of the company, as I did the greater part of the labor, and of the whole amount of ash that I procured, some one hundred and fifty sticks, I only used two, while the rest of the company used the balance. I had paid the freight upon our baggage for some time past myself, and also the fares as we traveled in the cars, and I began to think that I was leading a rather hard life, and finding that my money was about gone, I concluded to leave the place. I started off soon after to leave, but I had not gone a great distance before I thought better of my plan, and I therefore turned about and went back to the camp.

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