The Shagganappi

by Emily Pauline Johnson

The Brotherhood

    “WHAT is the silver chain for, Queetah?” asked the boy, lifting the tomahawk* and running the curious links between his thumb and fingers. “I never saw one before.”
    The Mohawk smiled. “That is because few tomahawks content themselves with times of peace. While war lives, you will never see a silver chain worn by an Iroquois, nor will you see it on anything he possesses,” he answered.
    “Then it is the badge of peace?” questioned the boy.
    “The badge of peace—yes,” replied Queetah.
    It was a unique weapon which the boy fingered so curiously. The tomahawk itself was shaped like a slender axe, and wrought of beaten copper, with a half-inch edge of gleaming steel cleverly welded on, forming a deadly blade. At the butt end of the axe was a delicately shaped pipe bowl, carved and chased with heads of animals, coiling serpents and odd conventional figures, totems of the once mighty owner, whose war cry had echoed through the lake lands and forests more than a century ago. The handle was but eighteen inches long, a smooth polished stem of curled maple, the beauty of the natural wood heightened by a dark strip of color that wound with measured, even sweeps from tip to base like a ribbon. Queetah had long ago told the boy how that rich spiral decoration was made—how the old Indians wound the wood with strips of wet buckskin, then burnt the exposed [Page 212] wood sufficiently to color it. The beautiful white coils were the portions protected by the hide from the flame and smoke.
    Inlaid in this handle were strange designs of dull-beaten silver, cubes and circles and innumerable hearts, the national symbol of the Mohawks. At the extreme end was a small, flat metal mouth-piece, for this strange weapon was a combination of sun and shadow; it held within itself the unique capabilities of being a tomahawk, the most savage instrument in Indian warfare, and also a peace pipe, that most beautiful of all Indian treasures.
    “It is so strange,” said the boy, fingering the weapon lovingly. “Your people are the most terrible on the warpath of all the nations in the world, yet they seem to think more of that word ‘peace,’ and to honor it more, than all of us put together. Why, you even make silver chains for emblems of peace, like this,” and he tangled his slim fingers in the links that looped from the lower angle of the steel edge to the handle.
    “Yes,” replied Queetah, “we value peace; it is a holy word to the red man, perhaps because it is so little with us, because we know its face so slightly. The face of peace has no fiery stripes of color, no streaks of the deadly black and red, the war paints of the fighting Mohawks. It is a face of silver, like this chain, and when it smiles upon us, we wash the black and red from off our cheeks, and smoke this pipe as a sign of brotherhood with all men.”
    “Brotherhood with all men,” mused the boy, aloud. “We palefaces have no such times, Queetah. Some of us are always at war. If we are not fighting here, we are fighting beyond the great salt seas. I wish we had more of your ways, Queetah—your Indian ways. I wish we could link a silver chain around the world; we think we are the ones to teach, but I believe you could teach us much. Will you not teach me now? Tell me the story [Page 213] of this tomahawk. I may learn something from it—something of Indian war, peace and brotherhood.”
    “The story is yours to hear,” said the Mohawk, “if you would see how peace grows out of deeds of blood, as the blue iris grows from the blackness of the swamp; but it is the flower that the sun loves, not the roots, buried in the darkness, from which the blossom springs. So we of the red race say that the sun shines on peace alone, not the black depths beneath it.”
    The Mohawk paused and locked his hands about his knees, while the boy stretched himself at full length and stared up at the far sky beyond the interlacing branches overhead. He loved to lie thus, listening to the quaint tales of olden days that Queetah had stored up in his wonderful treasure-house of memory. Everything the Indian possessed had associated with it some wild tale of early Canadian history, some strange half-forgotten Indian custom or legend, so he listened now to the story of the last time that the ancient Indian law of “a life for a life” was carried out in the beautiful Province of Ontario, while the low, even voice of the Mohawk described the historical event, giving to the tale the Indian term for the word “peace,” which means “the silver chain that does not tarnish.”
    “This was the tomahawk of my grandsire, who had won his eagle plume by right of great bravery. For had he not at your age—just fifteen years—stood the great national test of starving for three days and three nights without a whimper? Did not this make him a warrior, with the right to sit among the old men of his tribe, and to flaunt his eagle plume in the face of his enemy? Ok-wa-ho was his name; it means ‘The Wolf,’ and young as he was, like the wolf he could snarl and show his fangs. His older brother was the chief, tall and terrible, with the scowl of thunder on his brow and the gleaming fork of lightning in his eyes. This chief thought never of council fires or pipes or hunting or fishing, he troubled not about [Page 214] joining the other young men in their sports of lacrosse or snow-snake, or bowl-and-beans; to him there was nothing in life but the warpath, no song but the war cry, no color but the war paint. Daily he sharpened his scalping knife, daily he polished his tomahawk, daily feathered and poisoned his arrows, daily he sought enemies, taunted them, insulted them, braved them and conquered them; while his young brother, Ok-wa-ho, rested in their lodge listening to the wisdom of the old men, learning their laws and longing for peace. Once Ok-wa-ho had said, ‘My brother, stay with us, wash from thy cheeks the black and scarlet; thy tomahawk has two ends: one is an edge, dyed often in blood, but show us that thou hast not forgotten how to use the other end—fill thy pipe.’
    “‘Little brother,’ replied the chief, ‘thou art yet but a stripling boy; smoke, then, the peace pipe, but it is not for me.’
    “‘Ok-wa-ho felt this to be an insult. It was a taunt on his bravery. He squared his boyish shoulders, and, lifting his narrow chin, flung back the answer, ‘I, too, can use both ends, the edge as well as the pipe.’ The great chief laughed. ‘That is right, Little Brother, and some day the tribe will ask you to show them how well you can use the edge. I shall not always be victor; some day I shall fall, and my enemy will place his foot on my throat and voice the war cry of victory, just as I have done these many days. Hast thou sat among the wise men of our people long enough to learn what thou must do then—when the enemy laughs over my body?’
    “‘Yes,’ replied the boy, ‘I am thy nearest of kin. Indian law demands that I alone must avenge thy death. Thy murderer must die, and die by no hand but mine. It is the law.’
    “‘It is the law,’ echoed the chief. ‘I can trust you to carry it out, eh, Little Brother?’
    “‘You can trust me, no matter how great a giant thy enemy may be,’ answered the boy. [Page 215]
    “‘Thy words are as thy name,’ smiled the chief. ‘Thou art indeed worthy of thy eagle plume. Thou art a true Ok-wa-ho.’ Then placing his scalping knife in its sheath at his belt he lifted his palm to his lips, a long, strange, quivering yell rent the forest trails—a yell of defiance, of mastery, of challenge; his feet were upon the warpath once more.
    “That night, while the campfires yet glowed and flickered, painting the forest with black shadows, against which curled the smoke from many pipe bowls, a long, strange, haunting note came faintly down on the wings of the water—the dark river whispering past bore on its deep currents the awful sound of the Death Cry.
    “‘Some mighty one has fallen,’ said the old men. ‘The victor is voicing his triumph from far upstream.’ Then as the hours slipped by, a runner came up the forest trail, chanting the solemn song of the departed. As he neared the campfires he ceased his song, and in its place gave once again the curdling horror of the Death Cry.
    “‘Who is the victor? Who the fallen brave?’ cried the old men.
    “‘Thy chief this hour hunts buffalo in the happy hunting grounds, while his enemy, Black Star, of the Bear Clan, sings the war song of the Great Unconquered,’ replied the runner.
    “‘Ah, ha!’ replied the old men. ‘Ok-wa-ho here is next of kin, but this stripling boy is too young, too small, to face and fight Black Star. But the law is that no other hand but his may avenge his brother’s death. So our great dead chief must sleep—sleep while his murderer sings and taunts us with his freedom.’
    “‘Not so!’ cried the young Ok-wa-ho. ‘I shall face Black Star. I shall obey the law of my people. My hand is small but strong, my aim is sure, my heart is brave, and my vengeance will be swift.’
    “Before the older men could stay him he was away, but first he snatched the silver chain from off his tomahawk, [Page 216] emptied the bowl of tobacco, destroyed all the emblems of peace, and turned his back upon the council fire. All night long he scoured the forest for his brother’s slayer, all night long he flung from his boyish lips the dreaded war cry of the avenger, and when day broke he drank from the waters of the river, and followed the trail that led to the lodge of his mighty enemy. Outside the door sat Black Star of the Bear clan; astride a fallen tree he lounged arrogantly; his hands, still red with last night’s horrors, were feathering arrows. His savage face curled into a sneer as the boy neared him. Then a long, taunting laugh broke over the dawn, and he jeered:
    “‘So, pretty maiden-boy, what hast thou to do with the Great Unconquered?’
    “‘I am the brother of thy victim,’ said Ok-wa-ho, as he slipped this tomahawk from his belt, placing it on the low bark roof of the lodge, in case he needed a second weapon.
    “‘The Avenger, eh,’ scoffed Black Star, mockingly.
    “‘The Avenger—yes,’ repeated the boy. Then walking deliberately up to the savage warrior, he placed his left hand on the other’s shoulder, and, facing him squarely, said: ‘I am here to carry out the law of our people; because I am young, it does not mean that I must not obey the rules of older and wiser men. Will you fight me now? I demand it.’
    “The other sneered. ‘Fight you?’ he said disdainfully. ‘I do not fight babies or women. Thou hast a woman’s wrist, a baby’s fingers. They could not swing a tomahawk.’
    “‘No?’ the boy sneered. ‘Perhaps thou art right, but they can plunge a knife. Did thou not lend my brother a knife last night? Yes? Then I have come to return it.’ There was a flash of steel, a wild death cry, and Ok-wa-ho’s knife was buried to the hilt in the heart of Black Star of the Bear Clan.”
    Queetah ceased speaking, for the paleface boy, lying [Page 217] at his feet, had shuddered and locked his teeth at the gruesome tale.
    “But, Queetah,” he said, after a long pause, “I thought this was a story of peace, of ‘the silver chain that does not tarnish.’”
    “It is,” replied the Indian. “You shall hear how peace was born out of that black deed—listen:
    “When Black Star of the Bear Clan lay dead at his feet, the centuries of fighting blood surged up in the boy’s whole body. He placed his moccasined foot on the throat of the conquered, flung back his head, and gave the long, wild Mohawk war cry of victory. Far off that cry reached the ears of the older men, smoking about their council fire.
    “‘It is Ok-wa-ho’s voice,’ they said proudly, ‘and it is the cry of victory. We may never hear that cry again, for the white man’s law and rule begins to-day.’ Which was true, for after that the Mohawks came under the governmental laws of Canada. It was the last time the red man’s native law of justice, of ‘blood for blood,’ was ever enacted in Ontario. This is history—Canadian history—not merely a tale of horror with which to pass this winter afternoon.” Again Queetah ceased speaking, and again the boy persisted.
    “But the silver chain?”
    With a dreamy, far-away look the Indian continued:
    “One never uses an avenging knife again. The blade even must not be wiped; it is a dark deed, even to an Indian’s soul, and the knife must be buried on the dark side of a tree—the north side, where the sun never shines, where the moss grows thickest. Ok-wa-ho buried his blood-stained knife, slipping it blade downwards beneath the moss, took his unused tomahawk, and returned to his people. ‘The red man’s law is ended,’ he said.
    “‘Yes, we must be as white men now,’ replied the older men, sadly. [Page 218]
    “That night Ok-wa-ho beat into this handle these small silver hearts. They are the badge of brotherhood with all men. The next day white men came, explaining the new rule that must hold sway in the forest. ‘If there is bloodshed among you,’ they said, ‘the laws of Canada will punish the evil-doer. Put up your knives and tomahawks, and be at peace.’
    “And as the years went on and on, these ancient Indian customs all dropped far into the past. Only one thing remained to remind Ok-wa-ho of his barbarous, boyish deed: it was the top branch of a tall tree waving above its fellows. As he fished and paddled peacefully miles up the river, he could see that treetop, and his heart never forgot what was lying at its roots. He grew old, old, until he reached the age of eighty-nine, but the tree-top still waved and the roots still held their secret.
    “He came to me then. I was but a boy myself, but his grandson, and he loved me. He told me this strange tale, adding: ‘Queetah, my feet must soon travel up the long trail. I would know what peace is like before I go on the journey—come, we will unearth the knife.’ I followed where he led. We found the weapon three feet down in the earth, where the years had weighted it. In places the steel was still bright, but in others dark patches of rust covered the scarlet of Black Star’s blood, fresh seventy-three years before.
    “‘It is yours,’ said Ok-wa-ho, placing it in my hand. ‘See, the sun shines on it; perhaps that will lessen the darkness of the deed, but I obeyed the Indian law. Seventy-three years this knife has lain buried.†† It was the last law, the last law.’
    “That night Ok-wa-ho began to hammer and beat and mold these silver links. When they were finished he welded them firmly to the tomahawk, and, just before he went up the long, long trail, he gave it to me, saying, [Page 219] ‘This blade has never tasted blood, it will never have dark spots on it like those on the knife. The silver chain does not tarnish, for it means peace, and the brotherhood of all men.’”
    Queetah’s voice ceased. The tale was ended.
    “And peace has reigned ever since?” asked the boy, still looking at the far-off sky through the branches overhead.
    “Peace has reigned ever since,” replied Queetah. “The Mohawks and the palefaces are brothers, under one law. That was the last Avenging Knife. It is Canadian history.” [Page 220]

* The tomahawk and avenging knife spoken of in the story are both in the possession of the writer, the knife having been buried for seventy-three years on the estate where she was born. [back]

Fact. [back]

†† Fact. [back]