Pioneer Times in Weeder’s Clump: Bloodshed Averted

[The story that follows comes down to me through my grandfather, who discovered it as a handwritten manuscript in a box of papers he found in a drawer in his store. My story is faithful to the central incident described in the manuscript. I have, however, added details to locate the story in time and place as well as dialogue to capture suspense and give it a human touch.]

Shortly after Cyrus Weeder had attracted a small number of pioneers to settle on the west bank of the Big Sleazy River, the little community named after him experienced a crisis that threatened to break out in bloodshed. Two high bluffs paralleled the Big Sleazy, and on the western bluff was an Indian village. Indeed if you go to this place even today you can see the circles in the ground where their teepees were situated. For years after the Indians were gone, their artifacts were frequently uncovered by area farmers when they plowed the ground for their crops. Many years ago an Indian burial mound was opened on this bluff, and the skeleton of a seven-foot tall Indian was discovered. From the items buried with him it was probable he was a chief. Certainly he would have commanded the attention and respect of his people because of his physical stature. 

The pioneers of Weeder’s Clump by the river and the Indians up on the bluff had managed to get along remarkably well until an incident happened that could have destroyed the friendly relations between the two peoples and started a war.

Without warning, a group of Indians, heavily armed and with scowling countenances, appeared in Weeder’s Clump. They were led by their chief, who ordered that Cyrus and a small party of settlers  accompany them to their village on the bluff. Cyrus tried to ascertain the reason for this journey, but the chief merely answered by saying, “Wait and see.” 

This answer was anything but reassuring, and Cyrus and his friends could only conjecture about what they would see. But they knew for sure that whatever it was, it was of a serious nature. Since the settlers had not been expecting any trouble, they were unarmed when the Indians appeared in their midst. If the event exploded into a fight, the settlers would lose.

When the party was halfway up the bluff, Cyrus understood why the Indians located their village at the top of the bluff rather than at the base. The village had a decided defensive advantage over enemies who might attack from the east. This advantage would prove formidable in such an attack.

The party reached the top of the bluff and entered the village. Cyrus could tell by the faces of the Indian women and children that something serious had happened. There was not a single welcoming visage among those who gathered around the party, anger on women’s faces and fear on the children’s.

The reason for the journey was not in the village because the chief stopped only briefly for water before urging the party onward into the forest. They traveled about a mile and stopped beside a tall shag bark hickory tree. The purpose of the trip was immediately clear. Underneath the tree was the body of an Indian man, and he was obviously dead.

The chief looked accusingly at the settlers, and it was clear that he believed the Indian had been killed by one of them. He directed his attention to Cyrus, expecting him to disclose the murderer.

Since Cyrus served as the only medical person in Weeder’s Clump, he asked permission to examine the body. The first thing he noticed was there was no blood. The dead man had not been shot or stabbed. Indeed, there was no visible sign of injury on the body. How could a man in the prime of life and in good physical condition suddenly turn up dead. As far as Cyrus could tell there were no signs of strangulation and no broken bones either. If Cyrus was an authority on anything medical, it would be broken bones.

“No wonder they blame one of us for this man’s death,” Cyrus said to his friend Dan Vandeventer. “It defies any rational explanation. “

“What are you going to do?” Dan asked Cyrus.

“Can’t you see it’s not up to me?” Cyrus said, pointing to the chief and his armed men.

While Cyrus and Dan were conversing, the chief was circling the tree, scrutinizing the ground and looking upward at the tree.

Suddenly the chief exclaimed a loud oath and pointed to something high in the tree. What he saw was a dead squirrel lodged in the fork of the tree. The mystery was instantly cleared up. The Indian had killed the squirrel, but it had lodged in the tree. He had climbed the tree to dislodge the squirrel, but had lost his grip and had fallen to the ground. He had probably broken his neck in the fall. At least that is what the chief told his people, who nodded in agreement. 

“Saints preserve us,” muttered Dan Vandeventer, rolling his eyes heavenward in gratitude and relief.

“Yes, that was a close call,” replied Cyrus.

Satisfied that he had resolved the matter, the chief apologized to Cyrus. Thus friendly relations between the two communities were restored. 

[Postscript: As a youth I frequently hunted squirrels in the very area where this incident took place. I always had an eerie feeling when I walked over the ground where the Indian village had been. One day I stepped within one of the circles and tried to imagine what the world must have looked like to the people who lived here long ago.]