Chapter 15

Not long after this, being at a certain place, the Captain was accosted by a stranger in the following manner: Captain, said he, I have heard of a young man in your service who talks Irish. Now, sir, my business is that of an Indian treaty-maker, and am on my way with a party of kings, and half-kings, to the commissioners, to hold a treaty. My king of the Kickapoos, who was a Welch blacksmith, took sick by the way, and is dead: I have heard of this lad of yours, and could wish to have him a while to supply his place. The treaty will not last longer than a couple of weeks; and as the government will probably allow three or four thousand dollars for the treaty, it will be in our power to make it worth your while to spare him for that time.

Your king of the Kickapoos, said the Captain, what does that mean? Said the stranger, it is just this: You have heard of the Indian nations to the westward, that occasionally make war upon the frontier settlements. It has been a policy of the government to treat with these, and distribute goods. Commissioners are appointed for that purpose. Now you are not to suppose that it is an easy matter to catch a real chief, and bring him from the woods; or if at some expence one was brought, the goods would go to his use; whereas, it is much more profitable to hire substitutes, and make chiefs of our own. And as some unknown gibberish is necessary, to pass for an Indian language, we generally make use of Welch, or Low Dutch, or Irish; or pick up an ingenious fellow here and there, who can imitate a language by sounds of his own in his mouth and throat. But we prefer one who can speak a real tongue, and give more for him. We cannot afford you a great deal at this time for the use of your man; because it is not a general treaty, where 20,000 or 30,000 dollars are appropriated for the purpose of holding it; but an occasional, or what we call a running treaty, by way of brightening the chain, and holding fast friendship. --The commissioners will doubtless be glad to see us, and procure from the government an allowance for the treaty. For the more treaties, the more use for commissioners. The business must be kept up, and treaties made if there are none of themselves. My Piankasha, and Choctaw chiefs, are very good fellows; the one of them a Scotch pedlar that talks the Erse; the other has been some time in Canada, and has a little broken Indian, God knows not what language; but has been of great service in assisting to teach the rest some Indian custom and manners. I have had the whole of them for a fortnight past under my tuition, teaching them war songs and dances, and to make responses at the treaty. If your man is tractable, I can make him a Kickapoo in about nine days. A breech-clout and leggins that I took off the blacksmith that died, I have ready to put on him. He must have part of his head shaved, and painted, with feathers on his crown; but the paint will rub off, and the hair grow in a short time, so that he can go about with you again.

It is a very strange affair, said the Captain. Is it possible that such deception can be practised in a new country? It astonishes me, that the government does not detect such imposition.

The government, said the Indian treaty-man, is at a great distance. It knows no more of Indians than a cow does of Greek. The legislature hears of wars and rumours of wars, and supports the executive in forming treaties. How is it possible for men who live remote from the scene of action, to have adequate ideas of the nature of Indians, or the transactions that are carried on in their behalf? Do you think the one half of those savages that come to treat, are real representatives of the nation? Many of them are not savages at all; but weavers and pedlars, as I have told you, picked up to make kings and chiefs. I speak of those particularly that come trading down to inland towns, or the metropolis. I would not communicate these mysteries of our trade, were it not that I confide in your good sense, and have occasion for your servant.

It is a mystery of iniquity, said the Captain. Do you suppose that I would countenance such a fraud upon the public? I do not know, said the other; it is a very common thing for men to speculate, now-a-days. If you will not, another will. --A hundred dollars might as well be in your pocket as another man's. I will give you that for the use of your servant for week or two, and say no more about it.

It is an idea new to me entirely, said the Captain, that Indian princes, whom I have seen escorted down as such, were no more than trumpery, disguised, as you mention; that such should be introduced to polite assemblies, and have the honour to salute the fair ladies with a kiss, the greatest beauties thinking themselves honoured by having the salutation of a sovereign. It is so, said the other; I had a red-headed brick-layer once, whom I passed for a Chippawaw; and who has dined with clubs, and sat next the President. He was blind of an eye, and was called blind Sam by the traders. I had given it out that he was a great warrior, and had lost his eye by an arrow in a contest with a rival nation. These things are now reduced to a system; and it is so well known to those who are engaged in the traffic, that we think nothing of it.

How the devil, said the Captain, do you get speeches made, and interpret them so as to pass for truth? That is an easy matter, said the other; Indian speeches are nearly all alike. You have only to talk of burying hatchets under large trees, kindling fires, brightening chains; with a demand, at the latter end, of blankets for the posteriors, and rum to get drunk on.

I much doubt, said the Captain, whether treaties that are carried on in earnest are of any great use. Of none at all, said the other; especially as the practice of giving goods prevails; because this is an inducement to a fresh war. This being the case, it can be no harm to make a farce of the whole matter; or rather a profit of it, by such means as I propose to you, and have pursued myself.

After all, said the Captain, I cannot but consider it as a kind of contraband and illicit traffic; and I must be excused from having any hand in it. I shall not betray your secret, but I shall not favour it. It would ill become me, whose object in riding about in this manner, is to give just ideas on subjects, to take part in such ill-gotten gain.

The Indian treaty-man, finding it in vain to say more, withdrew.

The Captain, apprehending that he might not yet drop his designs upon the Irishman, but be tampering with him out of doors, should he come across him, sent for Teague. For he well knew that, should the Indian-treaty man get the first word of him, the idea of making him a king, would turn his head, and it would be impossible to prevent his going with him.

Teague coming in, said the Captain to him, Teague, I have discovered in you, for some time past, a great spirit of ambition, which is, doubtless, commendable in a young person; and I have checked it only in cases where there was real danger, or apparent mischief. There is now an opportunity of advancing yourself, not so much in the way of honour as profit. But profit brings honour, and is, indeed, the most substantial support of it. There has been a man here with me, that carries on a trade with the Indians, and tells me that red-headed scalps are in great demand with them. If you could spare yours, he would give a good price for it. I do not well know what use they make of this article, but so it is, the traders find their account in it. --Probably they dress it with the hairy side out, and make tobacco-pouches for the chiefs, when they meet in council. It saves dying, and besides, the natural red hair of a man may, in their estimation, be superior to any colour they can give by art. The taking off the scalp will not give much pain, it is so dexterously done by them with a crooked knife they have for that purpose. The mode of taking off the scalp is this: You lie down upon your back; a warrior puts his feet upon your shoulders, collects your hair in his left hand, and drawing a circle with the knife in his right, makes the incision, and, with a sudden pull, separates it from the head, giving, in the mean time, what is called the scalp yell. The thing is done in such an instant, that the pain is scarcely felt. He offered me a hundred dollars, if I would have it taken off for his use, giving me directions, in the mean time, how to stretch it and dry it on a hoop. I told him, No: it was a perquisite of your own, and you might dispose of it as you thought proper. If you choose to dispose of it, I had no objections; but the bargain should be of your own making, and the price such as should please yourself. I have sent for you to give you a hint of this chapman, that you may have a knowledge of his wish to possess the property, and ask accordingly. It is probable you may bring him up to a half Johannes more by holding out a little. But I do not think it would be adviseable to lose the bargain. An hundred dollars for a little hairy flesh is a great deal. You will trot a long time before you make that with me. He will be with you probably to propose the purchase. You will know him, when you see him: He is a tall looking man, with leggins on, and has several Indians with him going to a treaty. He talked to me something of making you a king of the Kickapoos, after the scalp is off; but I would not count on that so much; because words are but wind, and promises are easily broken. I would advise you to make sure of the money in the first place and take chance for the rest.--

I have seen among the prints of Hogarth, some such expression of countenance as that of Teague at this instant; who, as soon as he could speak, but with a double brogue on his tongue, began to intimate his disinclination to the traffic. The hair of his scalp, itself, in the mean time had risen in opposition to it. Dear master, vid you trow me into ridicule, and de blessed shalvation of my life, and all dat I have in de vorld, to be trown like a dog to de savages, and have my flesh tarn off my head to give to dese vild bastes to make a knapsack to carry deir parates and tings in, for a hundred dollars or de like. It shall never be said that de hair of de O'Regans made mackenseens for a vild Indian to trat upon. I would sooner trow my own head, hair and all in de fire, dan give it to dese paple to smoke wid out of deir long pipes.

If this be your determination, said the Captain, it will behoove you to keep yourself somewhat close; and while we remain at this public house, avoid any conversation with the chapman or his agents, should they come to tamper with you. For it is not improbable, while they are keeping you in talk, proposing to make you a Kickapoo chief and the like, they may snatch the scalp off your head, and you not be the wiser for it.

Teague thought the caution good, and resolving to abide by it, retired to the kitchen. The maid at this time, happening to want a log of wood, requested Teague to cut it for her. Taking the ax accordingly, and going out, he was busy chopping with his head down; while, in the mean time, the Indian treaty-man had returned with one in Indian dress, who was the chief of the Killinoos, or at least passed for such; and whom he brought as having some recruiting talents, and might prevail with Teague to elope and join the company. I presume, said the Indian treaty-man, you are the waiter of the Captain who lodges here at present. Teague hearing a man speak, and lifting up his head, saw the leggins on the one, and the Indian dress on the other; and with a kind of involuntary effort threw the ax directly from him at the Killinoo. It missed him but about an inch and fell behind. Teague, in the mean time, raising a shout of desperation, was fixed on the spot, and his locomotive faculties suspended; so that he could neither retreat nor advance; but stood still, like one enchained or enchanted for a moment. The king of the Killinoos, in the mean time, drew his tomahawk, and prepared for battle.

The Captain, who was reading at a front window, hearing the shout, looked about, and saw what was going on at the wood-pile. Stop villain, said he, to the king of the Killinoos; you are not to take that scalp yet, however much you may value it. He will not take an 100 dollars for it, nor 500, though you make him king of the Kickapoos, or any thing else. It is no trifling matter to have the ears slit in tatters, and the nose run through with a bodkin, and a goose quill stuck across; so that you may go about your business; you will get no king of the Kickapoos here. Under cover of this address of the Captain, Teague had retired to the kitchen, and ensconced himself behind the rampart of the maid. The Indian treaty-man, and the Killinoo chief, finding the measure hopeless, withdrew, and turned their attention, it is to be supposed, to some other quarter, to find a king of the Kickapoos.