Title: The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as A Brooklynite]
Date: June 2, 1846
Whitman Archive ID: per.00355
Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and King's County Democrat, June 2, 1846: . Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue.
Contributors to digital file: Sara Duke and Nicole Gray
cropped image 1
Original Novelette (Continued).1
A TALE OF THE WESTERN FRONTIER.
BY A BROOKLYNITE.
Master Caleb, the teacher, as usually happens in schools, had his favorites and his more especial likings, among the young flock whose education he controlled. Of all the rest, Quincy Thorne, the tall gentle boy, was the one whom he loved, and whose company he preferred. Any other choice would have created some envy and jealousy—but all the children themselves were attached to the teacher's favorite, and gladly yielded to his good fortune without demur.
It happened on the Thursday, when Peter Brown's wedding took place, that Master Caleb and Quincy stole away from the revellers in the middle of the afternoon, and took a quiet round-about stroll, bringing up, at last, at the dwelling of Quincy's father. The whole family had gone to the wedding—as in fact had all the inhabitants of the village, old and young; for the generous-hearted blacksmith would have it so—and the house was therefore quite deserted. The boy and the teacher took a seat on the door-step in front, and gazed at the pleasant prospect before them.
A little and verdant grass-patch, only, intervened between them and the river, which the dwelling fronted toward. They amused themselves by watching the gambols of the water-fowl, wild, but with their wings clipped, and thus partly domesticated; and by counting the various objects that glided along the stream—logs, and torn-up trees, and now and then a fish leaping above the surface.
Master Caleb," said the boy suddenly, "is not that the figure of an Indian yonder on the hill?"
He pointed as he spoke, to a spot forty or fifty rods distant, on the same side of the river where they were seated.
"It is indeed," answered the teacher, "and he is coming this way. Poor fellow! he seems worn and sick."
As the figure advanced, they had full leisure to survey him. He was one of the finest specimens of the Red People—or rather had the evidence of having once been so—for his gait was now slow and uneven, his eyes dim, and without brightness or glitter—and his cheeks sunken.
"It is Arrow-Tip!" said Master Caleb and the boy simultaneously, as they had a review of the savage; "it is our old friend, Arrow-Tip!"
Quincy rose from his seat, and stepped toward the new comer with words of welcome. He led him to the door, and into the house, and bade him rest himself. The Indian took these little kindnesses with the apathetic method of his race. It was plain, however, that they could but be acceptable to him—for he gasped with pain and exhaustion.
"We have not seen you here in Warren for many weeks," said Caleb, after a pause, "and you are ill, it seems."
"I am," replied the savage: "A dull-heat—like the air of your iron-warmed rooms in the settlement—fills me from head to foot. Strength has gone—and Arrow-Tip might be beaten by a young boy."
"How long has this been?" inquired Caleb.
"It first came," was the answer, "when the buds started on the trees. Now the forest is all green and dark with leaves."
"You have a fever," said Master Caleb, "which I dare say some trifling medicine from our common physic-chest, in the land agent's room, would cure at once."2
Arrow-Tip made no reply.
"Surely," said young Thorne, looking at the worn moccasins upon the feet of his guest, "surely you have not made this journey from your dwellingdwilling alone? Where was your brother, who ever came with you on your former visits?"
The dull eyes of the Indian glanced devoutly upwards:
"He who is your Great Spirit and ours," said he, "lives in the still forest, and was with the sick chief. My people knew not of my coming—none but my brother's wife, to whom I confided my purpose, lest they might think evil had befallen me. I had heard that the white man knew a hundred remedies for ills, of which we were ignorant—ignorant both of ills and remedies. The love of life was strong in my soul. I could not bear to pine away, as a tree whose trunk has been girdled by the hatchet. I felt my arm, and said to myself, perhaps in the village of the pale-faces, there may be something that will bring back its thickness and its nerve. In the night, when all were sleeping, I came out from our lodge, and bent my steps toward your town. The sun is now on his third journey over our heads, since I started."
Both Quincy and the teacher felt their sympathies strongly enlisted for the unfortunate savage. The boy assured him that he might no doubt be welcome to stop with them, as at home, for a season, during which all should be done for his recovery. And Master Caleb averred that Ezekiel Barrett, the store-keeper of Warren, had in his youth spent half of an apprenticeship with a New England apothecary3—and would probably be able to tell all about Arrow-Tip's ailing, and what would effect his recovery.
Toward night-fall, when Mr. Thorne and the members of his family returned from the wedding, it was readily arranged that Arrow-Tip should remain with them, as Quincy had suggested.
"Shame were it to me and my wife," said Thorne, "did we let one who has saved a life very dear to us, ask shelter here, and be refused."
And he looked at his son Quincy, while he spoke. Master Caleb saw that something, which had taken place in former years now served as a memento of good-will between the settler and the chief. He made inquiry, by a glance toward Thorne.
"Yes," said the latter, "we have indeed reason to be grateful to this sick man—for many years ago he saved Quincy's life."
And he told the teacher how it had happened.—It was before they came to live in Warren; for their acquaintance with Arrow-Tip dated many years back. The child, then small, was swept away by a freshet in a river, and Arrow-Tip had dashed into the foaming waters, and brought him safe back again. As may readily be supposed, Thorne and his family were unbounded in their expressions of gratitude—and through all the future years of their existence, never lost an opportunity of showing that gratitude.
Arrow-Tip—as he was called in the figurative style of his people—though possessing now but little of the power of a chief, was descended from the sachems of his tribe. He and a younger brother, named from his swiftness the Deer, frequently had intercourse with the white settlers of that region in the way of trade. They brought the furs and skins collected by their people, and exchanged them for powder, blankets, hardware and other things which habit had made necessary to them.
The Deer generally accompanied his brother on these excursions. The two loved each other—for they were the remnants of their family, and had none else to distract their affection. Boddo, the hunchback, had a claim also to be considered as indirectly of the same tribe with Arrow-Tip and the Deer. But no one knew exactly his relationship; and few thought it worth investigation.
[To be continued.]4
1. This installment is preceded on the front page of the Eagle by a poem titled "The Battle of the Rio Grande," attributed to Rev. T. B. Thayer. [back]
2. A physic-chest is a medicine chest. A land-agent manages the sale of property. [back]
3. An apothecary is an archaic reference to what would now be called a pharmacist, or someone who prepares and sells drugs or medicines. [back]