Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac's Childhood


We love our country principally because of the political freedom its government allows us. As we study its history, the lives of its heroes, and the struggles they have made for the liberties we enjoy, our patriotism grows stronger.
Chief Pontiac loved his country, too, but in a much simpler and more personal way, as you will understand when you have learned about the proud chieftain's boyhood and youth.
The birds scarcely know the forest so well as he did. When he was a tiny baby,—a fat, brown, little pappoose,—his mother used to bundle him up in skins, strap him to a board, and carry him on her back when she went to gather the bark of the young basswood tree for twine. As the strong young squaw sped along the narrow path, soft and springing to her moccasined feet with its depth of dried pine needles, the baby on her back was well content. Even if he felt cross and fretful the regular motion pleased him; the cool dim green of the forest rested him; the sweet smell of the pines soothed him; and the gentle murmur of the wind in the tree tops soon lulled him to sleep.[Pg 
When the mother clambered over a large tree trunk that had fallen across the path and the little pappoose was jolted wide awake, he did not cry. His beady black eyes followed every stray sunbeam and every bounding rabbit, or chance bird with wonder and delight. When his mother went to work she placed his rude cradle beside a tree where he could look on, out of harm's way. He was very little trouble, and she always took him with her when she went to get cedar bark, to gather rushes for mats and herbs for dyes, to pick up fagots for the fire, or to get sap from the sugar tree. So it happened that when he grew up Chief Pontiac could not remember a time when the dark forest did not seem like home to him.
As soon as he was old enough to understand words, he heard his mother laughing with her neighbors about[ the men in the village who stayed about their wigwams like women. Now, he thought that a wigwam or bark lodge was a very pleasant place. The small, dark, oven-shaped room, smoky and foul with the smell of fish and dirt, was home to him—the mud floor, worn smooth and hard with use, was strewn with mats and skins which served for chairs and beds. There was a fireplace in the center, and over it a rack on which smoked fish hung, well out of the reach of the wolf-like dogs that lay about gnawing at old bones. It was usually dry in wet weather, warm in cold weather, and cool when the sun was hot. It was where he went for food when he was hungry; it was where he slept on soft buffalo robes and bear skins when he was tired; it was where he heard good stories, and, best of all, it was where his mother spent most of her time.
But before Chief Pontiac was many years old he knew that the wigwam was the place for women and children, and that it was a shame for a man not to follow the deer through the forest, and go upon the warpath. He saw that if a man stayed at home and loved ease and comfort his squaw would scold him with a shrill tongue. But if he went off to hunt, it was different. Then, when he came home for a short time, he might lounge on a bear skin while his squaw worked hard to make him happy, cooking his meals, fetching clear water from the spring, and dressing the skins he had brought from the hunt.
Young Chief Pontiac liked to watch his mother while she stood weaving the wet rushes into mats to cover the lodge in summer, or while she sat on the floor with her feet crossed[ under her, making baskets out of sweet grass or embroidering with brightly dyed porcupine quills. But if he showed his pleasure or offered to help her, she looked stern and shook her head, saying, "Go out into the field and run; then you will be swift when you are a man;" or "go into the forest and shoot rabbits with your little bow and arrow, so that you may one day be a great hunter like your father."
All this made little Pontiac feel that the great fields and forests were his—his to find his pleasure in while he was a boy; his to find his work in when he should become a man.
He learned, too, that his very life depended on the forests he loved. He could never forget the cruel winter days when he had asked his mother again and again for fish and meat, and she had told him to be still and wait till his father brought meat from the forest. And he had waited there long with his hollow-eyed mother, crouching before the feeble fire, starving with hunger. He had strained his ears toward the great white forest only to hear the wail of the winds and the howl of the wolves. But at last the yelp of the dogs was sure to be heard, and then the half-frozen hunters would appear, dragging the deer over the crusted snow.