The White Wampum

by Emily Pauline Johnson




Captive! Is there a hell to him like this?
A taunt more galling than the Huron’s hiss?
He—proud and scornful, he—who laughed at law,
He—scion of the deadly Iroquois,
He—the bloodthirsty, he—the Mohawk chief,
He—who despises pain and sneers at grief,
Here in the hated Huron’s vicious clutch,
That even captive, he disdains to touch.

Captive! But never conquered! Mohawk brave
Stoops not to be to any man a slave;
Least, to the puny tribe his soul abhors,
The tribe whose wigwams sprinkle Simcoe’s shores.
With scowling brow he stoically stands by,
Watching, with haughty and defiant eye,
His captors, as they counsel o’er his fate,
Or strive his boldness to intimidate.
Then fling they unto him the choice:
“Wilt thou [Page 4]
Walk with uncovered feet upon the coals
Until thou reach the ghostly Land of Souls,
And with they Mohawk death-song please our ear?
Or wilt thou with the women rest thee here?
His eyes flash like the eagle’s, and his hands
Clench at the insult. Like a god he stands.
“Prepare the fire!” he scornfully demands.

He knoweth not that soon this jeering band
Will bite the dust—will lick the Mohawk’s hand;
Will kneel and cower at the Mohawk’s feet;
Will shrink when Mohawk war-drums wildly beat.
His death will be avenged with hideous hate
By Iroquois swift to annihilate
His vile, detested captors that now flaunt
Their war-clubs in his face with sneer and taunt,
Nor thinking soon that reeking, red and raw,
Their scalps will deck the belts of Iroquois.

The path of coals outstretches, white with heat,
A forest fir’s length—ready for his feet.
Unflinching as a rock he steps along
The burning mass—and sings his fierce war-song—
Sings as he sang when once he used to roam
Throughout the forests of his southern home,
Where down the Genesee the water roars,
Where gentle Mohawk purls atween its shores,—
Songs that of exploits and of prowess tell,—
Songs of the Iroquois invincible. [Page 5]
Up the long trail of fire he boasting goes,
Dancing a war-dance to defy his foes.
His flesh is scorched, his muscles burn and shrink,
But still he dances to death’s awful brink.
The eagle plume that crests his haughty head
Will never droop until his heart be dead.

Slower and slower yet his footstep swings,
Wilder and wilder still his death-song rings,
Fiercer and fiercer thro’ the forest sounds
His voice, that leaps to Happier Hunting Grounds,
One savage yell—
                                 Then, loyal to his race,
He bends to death—but never to disgrace. [Page 6]