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- Once Upon A Time In Connecticut - 4/19 -
attack him, that they had laid an ambush for him, and had threatened to "boil him in a kettle." Some Indians of a friendly tribe met him and told him that a band of Mohegans had fallen upon them and robbed them two days before, and had destroyed twenty-three fields of their corn. Miantonomo had already come about halfway, and, after holding a council with his chiefs, he decided to push on. "No man shall turn back," he said; "we will all rather die."
He reached Hartford in safety, but Uncas was not there. Uncas had sent word by a messenger that he was lame and could not come. The Governor of Connecticut "observed that it was a lame excuse and sent for him to come without delay." So Uncas decided that it was safer for him, on the whole, to get well quickly and to go to Hartford.
In the council that followed, each chieftain stated his grievances and made complaint against the other, and the English tried to reconcile them. At last a treaty of peace was signed, and then Miantonomo stepped forward and held out his hand to Uncas and invited him to a feast. But Uncas would not eat with him, and the two chiefs parted no better friends than before.
Not long after this, Miantonomo was accused of trying to unite all the Indian tribes against the English settlers. It was said that he had made a speech to the Long Island Indians in these words:--
"Brothers, we must be one as the English are, or we shall soon all be destroyed. You know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins, and our plains were full of deer and of turkeys, and our coves and rivers were full of fish. But, brothers, since these English have seized upon our country, they cut down the grass with scythes, and the trees with axes. Their cows and horses eat up the grass, and their hogs spoil our beds of clams; and finally we shall starve to death. Therefore, I beseech you to act like men. All the sachems both to the east and west have joined with us and we are resolved to fall upon them."
The English were much alarmed on hearing this. It was quite true that the Indians had sold their lands without realizing that the settlers would use them for anything else than for hunting grounds and for fishing places, as they themselves had done. They could not know that the forests would be cleared, that farms would spread over the countryside, and towns grow up along the river courses, and they themselves be driven farther and farther back into the wilderness. But Miantonomo denied that he had planned a united attack on the settlements. He told the messengers who were sent to him from Boston that all such reports came from Uncas, and he agreed to go to Boston and appear before the court of Massachusetts. He said, too, that he would like to meet his accusers face to face and prove their treachery.
Miantonomo was a tall, fine-looking chief with serious and stately manners, and he made a favorable impression in Boston on the magistrates who were not very well disposed toward him. "When he came in, the court was assembled and he was set down at the lower end of the table over against the governor." A Pequot interpreter was given him. Now, in his own country he had refused to make use of a Pequot as interpreter because he was not on good terms with that tribe and could not trust them, but here, "surrounded by armed men," he could not help himself. He protested, however, saying gravely, "When your people come to me, they are permitted to use their own fashions and I expect the same liberty when I come to you."
The sessions of the court lasted for two days, and every one was astonished at the wisdom and dignity of the great sachem of the Narragansetts. He answered all the questions put to him deliberately, and would not speak at all unless some of his councilors were present as witnesses. At meal-times, when a separate table was set for him, he was not pleased and refused to eat until some food was brought to him from the governor's table. In the end he convinced the council of his innocence and he returned in peace to his own country.
Meanwhile, Uncas, who was both feared and hated for his sudden rise to power, had several narrow escapes from death. One of the captured Pequots in his own tribe shot an arrow at him and wounded him in the arm. Uncas complained to the English that Miantonomo had engaged this Pequot to kill him, and Miantonomo retorted that Uncas had cut his own arm with a flint to make it appear that he had been wounded, and no one knew where the truth lay. Soon after this an attempt was made to poison him. Then, at last, one day as he was paddling down the Connecticut River in a canoe, some Indians who were friends of the Narragansetts sent a shower of arrows at him from the bank. He at once made a raid into their country, killed seven or eight of their warriors, burned their wigwams and carried off the booty.
This brought matters to a climax, for their chief, Sequassen, was related to Miantonomo and Miantonomo took up his quarrel. The trouble, which had so long been smouldering between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts, broke out in earnest. Miantonomo collected all the Narragansett warriors and led them swiftly and secretly through the forests toward the land of the Mohegans, which lay along the banks of the Pequot, or Thames, River. He hoped in this way to fall upon Uncas while he was unprepared.
But Uncas was on his guard. His watchmen on the hills caught sight of the Narragansetts as they came out of the woods by the fords of the Shetucket River,--above the present city of Norwich. Uncas had a fort five miles below on the Pequot River, which was his headquarters, and the old story says:--
"Being warned by his spies of the approach of the Narragansetts toward his seat, Uncas called his warriors together, stout, hard men, light of foot and skilled in the use of bow and arrow, and upon a conference he told them that it would not do to let the Narragansetts come to their town, but that they must go and meet them. Accordingly they marched about three miles, and on a large plain the armies met, and both halted within bowshot. A parley was sounded, and Uncas proposed a conference with the Narragansett sachem, who agreed. And being met, Uncas saith to his enemy words to this effect:--
"'You have a number of brave men and so have I. It is a pity that such brave men should be killed for a quarrel between you and me. Only come like a man, as you pretend to be, and we will fight it out. If you kill me, my men shall be yours, but if I kill you, your men shall be mine.'
"Upon which the Narragansett sachem replied,
"'My men came to fight and they shall fight.'"
Now, Uncas knew well that his army, being much smaller, had no chance against the army of the Narragansetts in a fair fight, and before he met the Narragansett sachem he had planned a stratagem with his own men.
As soon as Miantonomo had spoken Uncas threw himself face down on the ground and his men drew their bows and shot their arrows over his head and rushed "like lions" upon their astonished enemies. The Narragansetts broke in terror and confusion. They did not stop to fight, but turned and fled panic-stricken, through woods and swamps and over rocks and hills, by the way they had come, back to the river fords. The Mohegans pursued them, killing a number of them and wounding more. They drove them headlong, like sheep, before them, and the pursuit lasted for five or six miles. Some of the Narragansetts lost their way and came upon the Yantic River near its falls and were driven over the steep rocks on the banks and drowned in the water. Others were taken prisoners. "Long afterwards, some old Mohegans were heard to boast of having found a poor Narragansett struggling and panting in a thicket that bordered the river, and so frantic with fear and excitement as to suppose himself in the water and actually attempting to swim among the bushes."
Miantonomo was strong and a swift runner, but that day he wore for protection a coat of mail which an Englishman had given him and the heavy garment impeded his flight. The Mohegans recognized him by it and followed him eagerly. He kept his distance until he had nearly reached the river, but there, "the foremost of Uncas's men got ahead of him." They threw themselves against him and prevented his escape. They did not kill him or try to take him prisoner, but they ran beside him until Uncas came up, when they dropped back and gave their chieftain the "opportunity to take him."
"At a place since called 'Sachem's Plain,' Uncas took him by the shoulder and Miantonomo sat down, knowing Uncas. Uncas then gave a whoop and his men returned to him." But Miantonomo sat silent.
At last Uncas spoke to him and said, "If you had taken me I would have besought you for my life."
Now it was against the Indian's code of honor to ask for mercy. An Indian brave must never complain, no matter how hard his fate. If he were put to torture, if he were even burned at the stake, he must let no sound of pain escape him. He might boast of his own exploits and tell how many of his enemies he had killed, but he must never admit defeat. Courage and endurance were the great Indian virtues. Therefore Miantonomo made no reply to the taunts of Uncas and his men; he kept silence, as befitted a great sachem and a brave warrior, "choosing rather to die than to make supplication for his life."
Uncas had the right, according to Indian custom, to put his prisoner to death at once, but he had agreed to consult the English in all important matters, so he carried him to Hartford. This was late in the summer of 1643. In September the commissioners of the United Colonies met in Boston and the case of Miantonomo came before them. The commissioners were afraid to take the responsibility of setting the Narragansett sachem free, because they had promised to protect Uncas and they felt that Uncas would not be safe while Miantonomo lived, yet they had no reason to put him to death. At last, after long deliberation, they decided that he should be given back to Uncas and that Uncas, if he chose, might put him to death; but he must do it in his own land, not in the English settlements, and there must be no torture.
[Illustration: MIANTONOMO'S MONUMENT Courtesy of the Cranston Co., Norwich, Conn.]
So Uncas came to Hartford "with some considerable number of his best and trustiest men," and having received his prisoner, he set out with him on the fatal journey. The English sent two of their own men with him to see that the sentence was duly executed. They went through the forests until they had passed the English
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