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Henry Tufts
Chapter VII
Life With The Indians

Transcribed 1997 by Ne-Do-Ba

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I far prefer a savage life
To gloomy cares or vexing strife.

[Note: Henry had a wound in his thigh that was not healing. He was searching for Molly Ockett, who he had been told might be able to cure him.]

By the time prefixed I was equipped for departure, and had gathered (in my opinion) such a portion of health and strength, as might enable me to travel a few miles a day. So bidding adieu to family and friends, I set out on the precarious enterprise, but the most gloomy doubts of success and uncertainty of return, were my constant attendants on the way. I proceeded by short and slow marches, traveling sometimes not more than a mile or two in a day. The people, whom I visited on the road, used me, for the most part, with much kindness, otherwise, of necessity, I must have abandoned the expedition.

I shall not here attempt to decipher the multiplicity of difficulties and discouragements, arising from pain, sickness, want, and sometimes almost despair, which I encountered during this long and tedious pilgrimage. To render an adequate description of my sufferings and trials would far exceed my feeble ability; suffice it to say, that, after many and repeated efforts, I reached the Pigwacket country (see note 1), where I suspended my travels a few days, to recruit, in some degree, my exhausted strength and spirits. Obtaining by this delay some renovation of vigor, I proceeded to collect a few necessaries, and then prosecuted the tardy way, till I had passed the English settlements. But now was I frequently put to my trumps to trace the most direct course toward the Indian encampments, which, as yet, were thirty miles distant. And to complete my distresses, I was necessitated to pass several uncomfortable nights in the howling wilderness, where the frequent yellings of the wild beasts inspired ideas of horror and amazement. However, after surmounting many obstacles, I had the good fortune to procure the company of some English hunters a small part of the remaining way.

Thus I pursued my course, 'till certain footsteps, and other vestiges, indicated my proximity to the frontiers of the Indian settlements. No long time supervened, ere ascending a great hill, I had a view, for the first time, of their camps and wigwams in Sudbury, Canada (see note 2). But the uncouth appearance of those wretched habitations inspired my imagination with a kind of awe, not knowing what sort of reception I should find among the rude and uncultivated sons of nature, their inmates ...

It was now the beginning of June, 1772, the trees had assumed a rich foliage, nature wore a most pleasing aspect, and the voice of the nightingale was melodious through the groves. The mildness of the present evening had been joyous to me in health, but now I was unable to relish its comforts. The whole scene was in contrast with my feelings, since weakness and lassitude had produced a general apathy with regard to every surrounding object.

On my arrival near the entrance of one of the wigwams, I was descried by several of the savages, who came out, with uncouth signs and gestures, to welcome me into their homely cabins. Being quite unacquainted, at that time, with the Indian language, I was unable to comprehend a single particle of their discourse; but they presently brought several others, who could speak English, though broken yet intelligible. With these people I conversed several hours, informing them of my indisposition, and how I had taken a long and tiresome journey, on purpose to reside among them. That my motives were founded on the hopes I had entertained of regaining my health through their assistance. They expressed great willingness to receive me, provided their leading men, into whose presence I was to be introduced the next day, should have no objections.

During the first night I was treated in a friendly and obliging manner, but the supper, which was prepared principally, as I imagined, for me, I by no means relished; though out of compliance to my host, I endeavored to partake of it freely, knowing that they would of course, be offended at the omission. The repast consisted of smoked venison only, fried a little in fat, but without salt, bread and every kind of sauce whatever. A considerable time elapsed before I could accommodate my palate to such uninviting fare. The friendly behavior of the Indians, however, so far dispelled all apprehensions of uncivil usage, which I had entertained so unjustly to their prejudice, that I slept the first night with tolerable composure. My bed was composed entirely of bear skins, that were spread on the floor for my better accommodation.

The next day I was escorted to the chieftain's wigwam; this was built in a style superior to that of the others. It was a structure of some curiosity, being ornamented with many rude drafts and pictures of men, various other animals and implements of war. These devices appeared (as was obvious) extremely magnificent in the eyes of this unpolished people.

On my approach, their chief, whose name was Swanson, gave me a very cordial reception, and presently ordered his domestics to prepare dinner. Meanwhile we commenced a prolix confabulation, in the course of which I acquainted him with my circumstances, and the design I had formed of residing in Canada for a season. He seemed pleased with my intentions, and gave me free toleration to abide in his tribe during pleasure. To these instances of benignity he superadded another, which was to enjoin Molly Occut, at that time the great Indian doctress, to superintend the recovery of my health. At my departure he gave me a general invitation to visit his house whenever I saw fit, or might stand in need of his assistance, and this I assured him I should never fail to do.

Those formalities over, I felt myself at liberty to shape my conduct, as inclination or convenience might dictate. Recovery of health was my first and earliest concern, so I made direct application to the lady for such medicines as might be suitable to my complaints. She was alert in her devoirs, and supplied me for present consumption, with a large variety of roots, herbs, barks and other materials. I did not much like even the looks of them; for to have contemplated an encounter with the formidable forrage might have staggered the resolution, doubtless, of a much greater hero than myself. However I took the budget with particular directions for the use of each ingredient.

My kind doctress visited me daily, bringing new medicinal supplies, but my palate was far from being gratified with some of her doses, in fact they but ill accorded with the gust of an Englishman. Nevertheless having much faith in the skill of my physician, I continued to swallow with becoming submission, every potion she prescribed.

Her means had a timely and beneficial effect, since, from the use of them, I gathered strength so rapidly, that in two months, I could visit about with comfort.

Returning health inspired my breast with new-born hope, and was a source of lasting consolation. And now curiosity prompting me to visit the Indian settlements in this department, in order to become more intimately acquainted with their customs and modes of life, I followed the daily practice of traveling from place to place, until I had visited the whole encampment, and from the best conjectures I could frame on the subject, found there might be about three hundred inhabitants in this quarter. The entire tribe, of which these people made a part, was in number about seven hundred of both sexes, and extended their settlements, in a scattering, desultory manner, from lake Memphremagog to lake Umbagog, covering an extent of some eighty miles. Finding traveling to agree with my feelings I continued the salutary exercise, every day, for several months, until my health was restored in as full and perfect a manner, as I had possessed that blessing at any former period. This happy restoration to pristine ability I attributed principally to the good offices of my doctoress, who during my convalescence, was indefatigable in her care and attention. Her character was, indeed, that of a kind and charitable woman. As a specimen of this I will relate an incident, that took place a short time subsequent to my arrival.

There was a certain poor, white man, who lived in Pigwacket, and had a large family, which by reason of his indigence and the dearth of provisions, he was quite unable to supply with food. So great was the scarcity at that time of bread-corn, the staff of life, that no pay would procure it except money. Of this he was wholly destitute, so that himself and family were reduced to great straits, and literally in danger of starving. This man had used sometimes to visit the Indians for the benefit of hunting, trading, etc., by which means he had contracted some acquaintance with them, and had heard that Molly Occut always kept on hand a considerable quantity of money. As he knew not, in this his extremity, what other means to pursue, he took a journey into the Indian country, and straightway applied to Molly to obtain a loan of about twenty dollars, while the ensuing winter. She rallied him on the score of his coming to borrow of the poor Indians, who (she said) were generally despised by the white people. Nevertheless she loaned him the money, but charged him to come the next winter and hunt furs to refund her the sum. This he promised, and performed very exactly, for the winter following, he came sure enough, and was so lucky as to collect a sufficient quantity of furs to repay his benefactress, and had remaining some overplus for the relief of his own family. But to quit digression: I had now been in these northern regions nearly half a year, and the warmth of summer had receded to make way for winter's unrelenting reign. The severity of the weather had already become intolerable; yet the savages seemed to pay so little regard to the cold piercing blast, that one would have been tempted to consider them as insensible of feeling as their native oaks and pines. For my own part I was inclined to keep pretty much within doors, wishing to render life as agreeable as possible. My food which was chiefly smoked venison, had given me for a while much horror and disgust, but by use and habit it had grown, at length, more savory, insomuch that I now thought it preferable to salted provision. I procured, notwithstanding, from time to time, a small supply of salt, corn, potatoes and other vegetables from one or other of the natives, who were so friendly as to bestow on me, not unfrequently, even what they needed for their own subsistence. They thought me, perhaps, less able than themselves to dispense with such requisites.

Since beginning to amend in health under the auspices of madam Molly, I had formed a design of studying the Indian practice of physic, though my intention had hitherto remained a profound secret. Indeed I had paid strict attention to everything of a medical nature, which had fallen within the sphere of my notice. Frequently was I inquisitive with Molly Occut, old Philips, Sabattus and other professed doctors to learn the names and virtues of their medicines. In general they were explicit in communication, still I thought them in possession of secrets they cared not to reveal.

Knowing them to be extravagantly fond of rum, of which I had seen flagrant specimens, it struck my mind that if I could procure a quantity of that liquor with which to treat them occasionally, I should doubtless obtain their favor more effectually than by any other method. But I had no way to procure money for the purchase, except by hunting with the Indians or setting traps, wherefore to such expeditions I resolved to have recourse. Already had I received pressing invitations to accompany their hunting parties, so that (though hitherto had I declined such proposals) I anticipated no obstacle to the accomplishment of my design. The rigor of the winter was yet too severe for my feelings, but as I had often found profit from being in a state of readiness, I took care to provide a fusee, with good store of amunition. And no sooner had the inclemency of the atmosphere abated in some degree, than I joined a number of the hunters, who were about setting out in quest of moose, deer and such other game, as might come to hand. We stayed out upwards of a week; our custom being to traverse the woods in almost every direction, during the day, and at the approach of night, to strike up a large fire, and lie down upon hemlock boughs, with each man a blanket, but no other covering, than such as the canopy of heaven afforded. To me these hardships were quite irksome; I wished them at an end, although we had very good success in our business, for beside killing several moose and deer, we acquired a variety of fur animals. On return to the camps the booty was equalized, in usual manner, among the hunting adventurers.

After this I continued the same pursuits throughout the remainder of the season, which ends usually in April or May, and my dividend of the furs sold for about thirty dollars.

As divers English people used occasionally to visit us to purchase furs and the like, I disposed of my share to those visitants; and among other articles procured ten gallons of rum, with which I regaled a number of my Indian friends, as long as it lasted. By this exploit I so far engaged their good will and gratitude, that no sooner did I acquaint them with my desire to learn the healing art, than they promised me every instruction in their power, which, subsequent to this I ever found them ready to afford.

Having thus far succeeded in my favorite scheme, I henceforth devoted the greater part of my time to the study of Indian botany and physic, and being naturally possessed of a strong retentive memory, I made rapid proficiency under such skillful guides. My studies were rarely interrupted, except when I was obliged to hunt or attend to my traps; but to such kind of drudgeries I was forced sometimes to submit, in order to procure furs to purchase necessaries, the use of which I was unable or unwilling to forego.


Editors Notes from 1930 edition

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