150 Stories About Indians: An Offering From Our Selection of Rare Books & Works on Paper
As our auction house product photographer, all materials cataloged for online sale pass through the studio and, ergo, my hands. I have the privileged opportunity, on an almost daily basis, to closely examine museum quality works of art-- without a security guard breathing down my neck, or anxiously shifting their weight from side-to-side in anticipation of my nose grazing the canvas. I have handled, with extreme delicacy, the most valued of porcelain, including our recently featured Meissen figurative groupings. The handling of such items requires diligent mindfulness of every vulnerable detail-- every beautiful-but-breakable cherub toe, flower petal, and wisp of nymph hair. The intimacy of the photographer/subject relationship has awed me at such piece’s incredible intricacy and craftmanship. But the dollar value placed on an item does not measure it’s worth, and sometimes the humblest of objects yield the power to captivate the imagination and speak to the soul.
Our book specialist is currently hard at work curating a specialty online auction to feature rare books and works on paper. Although the date is not set, these texts have started to find their way into my studio. They are stacked neatly on carts-- waiting in the queue to be photographed, opened, perhaps read. As a self-confessed book smeller, I have especially enjoyed opening the antiquarian volumes. I love to breathe in the sweetly gourmand, vanillic almond aromas produced by the chemical reactions of acid hydrolysis which occurs naturally in the pages of old books. These pages are thin, brittle, and yellowed. I asked if I should be wearing white gloves while handling them; but was reassured that hands, dirtier than mine, had been turning those pages for hundreds of years.
Out of all the books I have photographed so far, one that both stilled and stirred me, was a palm sized, child's book. A compilation of vignettes on Native Americans. The inscription reads that it was presented as a gift from teacher to student. The pages fell open easily, and I felt obliged to read the stories that little book had so generously shared. I would like to extend that generosity to you, for they spoke to me-- as a woman, a mother, and a lover of the written word.
Here are the stories taken in excerpt from the book, 150 Stories about Indians. Enjoy!
Female Daring, Pages 63-64
Several years after Boston and its environs were settled by the English, a party of Narrhaganset Indians stopped at the house of a Mr. Minot, near Dorchester, and demanded something to eat and drink. Bring refused they departed quite indignant and determined to be revenged. The sachem, who happened to be present, for this purpose directed an Indian, named Chicataubutt, to lie concealed in some bushes nearby, and to seize the first opportunity to revenge the supposed insult.
On the following morning, Mr. and Mrs. Minot having an occasion to go to Boston, but apprehensive of danger, gave their maid servant a strict charge to confine herself with their two children to the house, and to open the door to no person until their return. She obeyed the orders exactly.
Soon after, She saw Chicataubutt cross the ferry and approach the house. After looking around him with great caution, he rushed to the door. Finding it barred, he attempted to get through the window. The young woman had placed her master’s children under two brass kettles, directing them not to stir or make the least noise. She then loaded a musket belonging to the house, and stood upon her defense. The Indian, perceiving her design, fired upon her, but missed his mark. She then shot him through the shoulder. The savage still persisted in his design; but as he entered the window she threw a shovel full of live coals into his face, and lodged them in his blanket. The pain which they created was too great even for the savage to endure. Chicataubutt fled. The next day he was found dead in a wood on the borders of town.
And the adventure being made known to the government of Massachusetts Bay, this valiant young woman was by their order presented with a silver wrist-band, on which her name was engraved, with this motto: “She slew the Narrhaganset hunter.”
Adventures of an Indian Woman, Pages 105-107
The following interesting adventures of a poor Indian woman is related by Hearne, which was met with by his party in their journey from Hudson’s bay to the Northern Ocean.
One day in January, when they were hunting, they saw the track of a strange snow-shoe, which they followed, and at a considerable distance came to a little hut, where they discovered a young woman sitting alone. On examination, she proved to be one of the Western Dog-ribbed Indians, who was taken prisoner by the Athapuscow Indians in the summer of 1770, and in the following summer, when the Indians that took her prisoner were near this place, she had escaped from them, intending to return to her own country. But the distance being so great, and having, after she was taken prisoner, been carried in a canoe the whole way, the turning and windings of the rivers and lakes were so numerous that she forgot the track; so she built the hut in which she was found, to protect her from the weather during winter, and here she had resided from the first setting in of fall.
From her account of the moons passed since her escape, it appeared the she had been near seven months without seeing a human face; during all which time she had supported herself very well, by snaring partridges, rabbit, and squirrels. She had also killed two or three beavers, and some porcupines. She did not seem to have been in want, and had a small stock of provisions by her when she was discovered. She was in good health and condition, and one of the finest Indian women in North America.
The methods practiced by this poor creature to procure a livelihood were truly admirable, and are great proof that necessity is truly the mother of invention. When the few deer sinews that she had the opportunity of taking with her were expended, in making snares and sewing her clothing, she had nothing to supply their place but the sinews of the rabbits’ legs and feet. These she twisted together for that purpose with great dexterity and success. The animals she caught in these snares not only furnished her with a comfortable subsistence, but of the skins she made a suit of neat and warm clothing for winter. It is scarcely possible to conceive that a person in her forlorn situation could be so composed, as to be capable of contriving and executing anything that was not absolutely necessary to her existence; but there were sufficient proofs that she had extended her care much further, as all her clothing, besides being calculated for real service, showed great taste, and exhibited no little variety of ornament. The materials, though rude, were very curiously wrought, and so judiciously placed as to make the whole of her garb have a very pleasant, though rather romantic, appearance.
Her leisure hours from hunting had been employed in twisting the inner rind or bark of willows into small lines, like net twine, of which she had fathoms by her. With which she intended to make a fishing net, as soon as the spring advanced. It is of the inner bark of the willows twisted in this manner that the Dog-ribbed Indians make their fishing nets and they are much preferable to those made by the Northern Indians.
Five or six inches of iron hoop, made into a knife, and the shank of an arrow head of iron, which served as an awl, were all the metals this poor woman had with her when she eloped; and with these implements she had made herself complete snowshoes, and several other useful articles.
Her method of making a fire was equally singular and curious, having no other materials for that purpose than two hard sulphureous stones. These, by long friction and hard knocking, produced a few sparks, which at length communicated to some touch wood. But as this method was attended with great trouble, and not always successful, she did not suffer her fire to go out all winter.
The singularity of the circumstances, the comeliness of her person, and her approved accomplishments, occasioned a strong contest between several of the Indian party, who should have her for a wife; and the poor girl was actually won and lost at wrestling, by near half a score of different men, the same evening.
When the Athapuscow Indians took this woman prisoner, they according to the universal custom of the savages, surprised her and her party at night, and killed every soul in the tent, except herself and three young women. Among those whom they killed were her father, mother, and husband. Her young child, four or five months old, she concealed in a bundle of clothing, and took it with her, undiscovered, in the night. But when she arrived at the place where her captors had left their wives, (which was not far distant), they began to examine her bundle, and finding the child, one of the women took it from her, and killed it on the spot.
This last piece of barbarity gave her such a disgust to those Indians, notwithstanding the man who took care of her in every respect as his wife, and was, she said, remarkably kind to her, and very fond of her, she was so far from being able to reconcile herself to any of the tribe, that she rather chose to expose herself to want and misery, than to live in ease and affluence among persons who had so cruelly murdered her infant.
"150 Stories about Indians" with be auctioned as Lot 97 in our upcoming Rare Books and Works on Paper Sale. It features the publishers' embossed cloth, gilt spine, and is illustrated with 3 full-page woodcuts. It is in good condition, with a few internal stains. This small book is estimated to bring between $60-120 at auction.