Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Item of the Day: Memoirs of A Captivity Among Indians of North America (1824)

Full Title:

Memoirs of A Captivity Among Indians of North America, From Childhood to the Age of Nineteen: With Anecdotes Descriptive of Their Manners and Customs, To Which Is Added, Some Account of the Soil, Climate, and Vegetable Productions of the Territory westward of the Mississippi.

Written by John Dunn Hunter. Printed in London by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1824.

From "Memoirs."

Of the place of my nativity, and the circumstances of my parentage, I am altogether ignorant, and fear that I shall for ever remain so; as I have assiduously explored every avenue through which I could expect information, both while I was with the Indians, and since my residence in the United States. . . . This part of my history, together with most of the incidents of early life, which generally, in works of this kind, form an interesting portion, will, in all probability, for ever remain unknown. Nevertheless, some features in this period were so strongly marked as to leave indelible impressions on my mind; while others not so strikingly characterized, like the imperfect recollection of a dream, cross my memory, but fix on it no decided and satisfactory images.

. . .

I was taken prisoner at a very early period of my life by a party of Indians, who from the train of events that followed, belonged to, or were in alliance with, the Kickapoo nation. At the same time, two other white children, a boy and a small girl, were also made prisoners.

I have too imperfect a recollection of the circumstances connected with this capture, to attempt any account of them; although I have reflected on the subject so often, and with so great interest and intensity, under the knowledge I have since acquired of the Indian modes of warfare, as nearly to establish at times a conviction of my mind of a perfect remembrance. There are moments when I see the rush of the Indians, hear their war-whoops and terrific yells, and witness the massacre of my parents and connections, the pillage of their property, and the incendious destruction of their dwellings. But the first incident that made an actual and prominent impression on me happened while the party were somewhere encamped, no doubt shortly after my capture; it was as follows: The little girl whom I before mentioned, beginning to cry, was immediately despatched with the blow of a tomahawk from one of the warriors: the circumstance terrified me very much, more particularly as it was followed with very menacing motions of the same instrument, directed to me, and then pointed to the slaughtered infant, by the same warrior, which I then interpreted to signify, that if I cried, he would serve me in the same manner. From this period till the apprehension of personal danger had subsided, I recollect many of the occurrences which took place.

Soon after the above transaction, we proceeded on our journey till a party separated from the main body, and took the boy before noticed with them, which was the last I saw or heard of him.

The Indians generally separate their white prisoners. The practice no doubt originated more with a view to hasten a reconciliation to their change, and a nationalization of feelings, than with any intention of wanton cruelty.

The Indians who retained me continued their march, chiefly through woods, for several successive days; a circumstance well remembered by me, because the fear of being left behind called forth all my efforts to keep up with them, whenever from fatigue or any other cause they compelled me to walk, which was often the case.

After a long march and much fatigue, we reached their camps, which were situated on a considerable stream of water; but in what particular part of section of country, I am wholly unable to say. Just before our arrival, however, we were met by a great number of old men, women, and children, among whom was a white woman attired in the Indian costume: she was the wife of a principal chief; was a great friend to the Indians; and joined with, an I believe surpassed, the squaws in the extravagancy of her exultations and rejoicings on account of the safe return of the warriors with prisoners, scalps, and other trophies obtained from their vanquished foes.

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