The Life and Times of Chief Escumbuit
Excerpts from Story
The 15 year old Ottucke, destined to become the feared Chief Escumbuit, takes part in a retaliation raid against the hated Iroquois.
By late afternoon, the adrenaline of the braves had begun to ebb, as the day seemed to have been wasted. Suddenly, the lookout came up the brook and excitedly told of four canoes heading upstream from far down the river but close to shore. In about 20 minutes, the agreed signals, in the form of bird cries, began to filter back to the group. Five canoes: five male stern-paddlers, three male and two female bow-paddlers, and 12 women and children passengers. Now the agonizing question: Will they land?
The final signal had the effect of a musket shot: They are coming ashore!
Now, every brave to his assigned spot, his heart pounding in his chest, his bow already strung, his first arrow notched, his war club at his feet, his dagger in his belt and his nerves as tight as the string of his bow.
Now they are coming up the brook: the laughter of the children, the chatter of the women, an adult command! The bow of the first canoe appears, followed by the rest. The Canoes lands on the sand bar, the lead brave steps out and pulls the canoe up on the sand. "Wait! Heed the warning of the chief. You must wait until the first two canoes have landed. Then I will give the signal."
Ottucke already had his bow drawn, his aim on his assigned target. Finally it came - the simple call of a chick-a-dee. His Iroquois turned to face him just as his arrow buried itself in his chest. A maelstrom of sound ruptured the silence of the peaceful brook - Pigwacket's war cries, capsized canoes, screams of the Iroquois and mass panic.
Out of this hellish scene and somehow unscathed in the first volley of arrows, straight at Ottucke ran a young muscular brave, tomahawk in hand, screaming his defiance. Ottucke dropped his bow, snatched his war club and rose to meet the charge. The Iroquois attacked, slashing the fleshy part of his left shoulder as Ottucke evaded to the right. Swinging sideward, he caught the Iroquois a glancing blow to the side of his head as the momentum of his charge carried him to his knees. He whirled instantly, but it was too late. Ottucke was on him like a mountain lion, smashing his head with his war club as if it were a rotten pumpkin in the field.
Knowing instantly that the Iroquois was dead, he now charged for the brook, his murderous instincts unleashed. By the time he got there, the others had completed the slaughter. As the women and children were being herded onto the sand bar, heated arguments broke out over the rightful owners of the scalps. This would be decided by individual marks on each arrow identifying its owner.
Ottucke turned his Iroquois victim over, took out his knife and made a circular cut around the circumference of the head. Pulling on the Iroquois' scalp lock, he peeled and cut the scalp away from the skull. Dipping his finger in the blood of the dead Iroquois, he then carefully drew the crude outline of an eagle on the dead braves torso - his totem - that of his Manatou. Now, returning to the body of the young brave who had charged him, he repeated the procedure. He felt a slight wave of admiration for the bravery of the dead youth but no regrets, only euphoria. He was a Pigwacket Warrior fulfilling his destiny.
Escumbuit and his Canadian friend, Montigny, are invited to France to be honored by King Louis XIV. A large, expectant gathering of the French elite is fascinated by Escumbuit's appearance before the King.
The attention of the assembled was riveted on the tall figure of Chief Escumbuit, striding to the dais on which the King stood. A full head taller than the average man in the room, Escumbuit stood silently with great dignity, awaiting the King's words. From the two feathers in his scalp lock to the wampum decorated moccasins on his feet, he was dressed as an Abenaki Warrior, his face painted with the white, black and red markings of a brave on the war path, designed to strike terror in the heart of his enemies. His fine, soft deerskin shirt was decorated with intricate patterns of colored beads. Above his moose hide moccasins, he wore deerskin leggings held up by cords suspended from the rawhide girdle holding his deerskin breechcloth in place. His head was shaven, except for the scalp lock at its back, which held the two feathers of an Abenaki Warrior. The tawny color of his arms and face were marred only by the light colored scars of his numerous battle scars. On his shoulders rested his beaver skin cloak, adorned with a gruesome assortment of human scalps. In his right hand, he carried his famous war-club.
There was a long moment of silence in the great hall when the courtier gestured for him to make his speech to the King. As the large assemblage listened intently to hear every word, Chief Escumbuit raised his war-club over his head and began to speak in his slow, untutored French. "Your Imperial Majesty! So long as the sun shall rise on the People of the Dawn shall the Abenaki warriors fight at the side of the French against the English. This hand of mine has slain one hundred and fifty of Your Majesty's enemies within the territory of New France. So long as the English come, so shall the French soldier and the Abenaki warrior dance the "scalp dance" over their dead bodies."
The King, hearing and understanding the words, clapped his hands with delight, whereupon the crowd burst into a thunderous applause.
The King descended from his throne. Advancing towards the Chief, King Louis XIV gestured for an assistant to pass him the beautifully crafted saber, which featured a silver hand guard. On cue, Escumbuit kneeled as the King rested the tip of the blade on the Chief's shoulder.
"Chief Nescambiouit of the territory of Arcadia in New France. As King of France, with this sword, I declare you to be a knight in my service. With this honor, I declare that the treasury of France shall pay you the sum of eight livres each day for the remainder of your life. Vive La France!"
This being the finale of the day's events, the crowd applauded long and loud, and the ladies pushed their husbands forward to approach "Le Sauvage," hoping to feel the danger radiated by his person. Montigny, also the center of attention, came to the Chief's rescue in order to field the many questions and invitations offered to them. Escumbuit stood silent, letting Montigny speak for him since he scarcely understood a word of what was being said.
Chief Escumbuit tells the story of "why loons don't get stuck in the bottom weeds of the lake" to his granddaughter, Bluebird.
He hardly noticed that his granddaughter, Bluebird, had approached and taken a seat on the pine needles at his side. They sat in silence, the distant call of a loon coming down the lake. On hearing that haunting call, he seemed mesmerized.
"The bird is calling Gluskap."
"Why does he do that?'' Bluebird asked. She had heard the Indian myth before but wanted to hear it again from her grandfather's mouth. He answered her by asking another question.
"Do you know why loons don't get stuck in the bottom weeds of the lake?" Without waiting for her answer, he began recounting the myth.
"One day, Gluskap decided to travel from Newfoundland across to Maine and into what is now called New Hampshire. Along the way, he saw a loon flying out over the water. It circled the lake twice, low near the shore where men and animals were, as if it were looking for something."
"Gluskap called out, 'What are you doing?' The loon said, 'I was looking for you. I want to be your servant.' So, right away, Gluskap taught the bird a strange cry. The loon quickly tried it out. 'What is that echoing cry?' the loon asked."
"'That's you!' said Gluskap. 'How can it be coming from me, and still sound as if it's in the distance?' the loon asked. 'It's the way I made it, that's why,' Gluskap answered."
"Now, Gluskap began to travel again and happened upon an Indian village, whose people were happy to see him. They gave him many gifts. They sang songs, and they showed Gluskap a good time. They celebrated so much, and Gluskap was so pleased that he turned them all into loons, who, to this day, continue to be faithful to Gluskap."
"That's why New Hampshire has loons. Even today, many people go at night by a loon's lake 'to hear the loon calling to Gluskap,' or,' a bird is looning to Gluskap,' or, 'a loon is in need of Gluskap,' or, 'Gluskap is riding in on a loon's call,' or, 'there's no mistaking, Gluskap and the loon are talking to each other.'"
"One day, the loon, who was the best of divers, got stuck at the bottom of the lake. The loon called out but could not be heard because its voice did not break to the surface of the water. The loon was stuck, and soon, it would drown."
"Gluskap, wandering nearby, said to himself, 'I haven't heard the loon in quite some time.' He listened hard, but did not hear any loon. He stood by the lake listening, but no loon. It started to thunder. 'Shut up!' Gluskap exclaimed. 'I'm trying to hear the loon.'"
"'Don't be angry,' the thunder answered. 'I'm trying to tell you that the loon is stuck in the weeds at the bottom of the lake.'"
"Gluskap dove right into the water. There, at the bottom of the lake, he found the loon, nearly drowned. Gluskap grabbed the loon by its wings, and swam to the surface. As soon as they broke the surface of the water, the loon flew into the air, landing on the far side of the lake, and quickly began his usual calling."
"Gluskap answered, 'from now on, you can dive to the bottom of the lake but not into the weeds.'
"So, my dear child," Chief Escumbuit said, looking at Bluebird, "what you hear is the loon telling Gluskap that it didn't go into weeds at the bottom of the lake."