Title: The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as A Brooklynite]
Date: June 8, 1846
Whitman Archive ID: per.00360
Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and King's County Democrat, June 8, 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.
In many of the towns to the west and south, it is well known, the punishment of crime is without the delays and necessary forms, and statutable restrictions, of our older cities and states. The only law, in fact, to some of the more remote of these places, in public will, and public feeling—a dangerous state of things in a large and vicious city, but far from being attended with the evils which many people imagine, when exercised in the places we allude to. At all events, it is better to be under this sovereign and self-constituted power, than to have no law at all.
When the men returned to Warren that evening, with the strange news of the disappearance of the corpse—the same sentiment prevailed among the villagers which has been mentioned in the concluding lines of the last chapter. It served perhaps to deepen their indiguation, and make them anxious for a more hasty retribution on the head of him who was considered as the murderer.
"Let us," said they, "let us not wait, in this affair, and give the savage a chance of escape. But let us act as determined men, and have blood for blood!"
The watch, that night, had been arranged for six persons, who were thought a sufficient surety that Arrow-Tip could not get away. But so sanguinary2 was the spirit of the inhabitants that half the young men in the place turned out, and surrounded the strong room, where the prisoner was confined, lest some little opportunity might occur, which would lead to a failure in the fulfilment of their gloomy purpose.
The brother of Arrow-Tip, the Deer, appeared among them. As he approached, they lowered fierce glances upon him, which he returned not.—He made a simple request to be permitted to see Arrow-Tip—which they at once, and without parley, refused. He turned and calmly left the place. One or two among them spoke of the propriety of placing the Deer also in durance—but this, upon further consideration, was abandoned.
No one knew the thoughts of the imprisoned chief, that weary night, but his Great Spirit. He spoke not to those about him—preserving a calm and lofty aspect, and making no answer to their scoffs and taunts.
Day came again. They found him—when they went in the room, at the first streak of light, impelled by a feverish jealousy lest he might still have evaded their vigilance and got away—they found him standing there still, and silent and haughty. His hair, part of it, had fallen down over his forehead and his eyes. He was too abstracted, even, to lift his hand, and push it away.
The morning meal which they gave him, he partook of in moderation. And as the people of the place—men, women and children—came during the course of the forenoon, to gaze in upon him, as upon some strange monster, brought from a distant clime—he preserved the same attitude, and even brushed not the hair away from his eyes where it had fallen again.
About an hour past noon, three of the oldest men in Warren, (the oldest of the three was but five-and forty years) made their way through the crowd, and came in apparently upon important business connected with the prisoner, and his crime.
"Chief!" said the leader of the trio, "it is needless for us to tell you why you are confined here, and what may be the nature of the punishmentpuishment for the deed you have committed."
Arrow-Tip glanced upon them with apathy, and made no reply.
"Chief!" said the first speaker, again, "it is ill that you act so obstinately—and preserve this childish silence. A grown man should not be stubborn, like a dumb brute that has no knowledge."
"It is not ill," said the savage, quietly; "I am silent, because I have seen no fit occasion to speak. What would you have me say?"
"My companions and myself have been sent hither," answered the other, "to learn from you what you can tell us of the quarrel and fight which ended so fatally."
Arrow-Tip paused a moment, in thought. Then waving his hand toward the door he said,
"I have little to tell, but let it be told to all—not to three only. Let me speak to your brothers and kinsmen also."
"As you desire," was the reply.
One of the three opened the door, and gave some directions to a person without. They then emerged, altogether, and walked onward to an open green, on one side of which was the school-house, and on the other the church. It was a kind of public assembly ground, and there four-fifths of the people were at that moment gathered.
As Arrow-Tip, in company with the three, approached this, what was to be in some sense his tribunal, there was a silence throughout the whole spot, and all eyes were directed toward him.
He told his story. It was a plain tale—and bore not strongly either toward his guilt or innocence.
Brown and he, as most of these present knew, had been despatched together to the Bend station. In the course of the day, they were frequently seen, like the others, and had themselves seen the others.
When they first arrived at the station, (we are giving the substance of the story of Arrow-Tip himself) the chief made a banter with the blacksmith, that the latter would kill no game. In a merry vein, he bet his tobacco pouch against a rude kind of weapon, half-hatchet and half-poinard,3 that Brown had made himself, and then carried in his girdle. The day passed on, and it was plain that the chief would in all probability gain his wager.—Brown was a man of considerable heat of temper, and his ill success in the sport, and the laughing gibes of Arrow-Tip—(for it is an error to suppose that our American Indians invariably retain their sedateness)—caused him to become more than ordinarily fretful.
At last the signal for their return to the rendezvous was heard, and they prepared to obey it—carrying nothing to the common stock. The chief still continued his provoking raillery, and the blacksmith was rapidly losing all command over his passions.
It was at this unfortunate juncture that Arrow-Tip was heedless enough to attempt seizing the weapon at Peter's girdle, which was now become his prize. The difficulty merged at this point into a scuffle, and in the scuffle the blow was given, which was supposed to have caused the blacksmith's death.
Thus the chief concluded his story. He himself entertained no doubt that Brown was dead. But when told that his brother had taken away the body, he made no answer but a glance of scorn. Of all those there convened, one only, the hunchback, Boddo, knew the full truth—and could have set the whole matter right, andend the prisoner free, and poured joy into the hearts of the wife, and Brown's friends, had he so chosen. But he did not choose.
A short communion took place between the men of Warren. There was no judge, and no jury.—Each grown man was admitted to the conference, and listened to with respect. For each knew that the present case was a matter which touched the happiness and interest of his neighbor as much as himself.
Perhaps the time which was consumed in this deliberation upon the fate of the chief, might have been an hour, perhaps less, certainly not more.—Reader, such deliberations, and such methods of administering justice may perhaps appear to you as fictitious—and part of a tale of fiction. It is not so. There may be found, in the region of the scene of these transactions, many a place where the same course is held in criminal cases. And it may be doubted whether, after all, the result is at the risk of being more inconsistent with justice than in courts of law in our Atlantic towns.
"Chief," said the one who had acted as messenger two hours before, "we look upon you as guilty of murder. We shall take your life for that of our brother. We shall kill you. To-morrow, when the sun is at the highest, you will look for the last time on the light!"
Arrow-Tip's countenance changed not, nor did his lip quiver. One passionate wild glance only he cast around him, as if in quest of his brother, or of some look of sympathy. He found neither.
[To be continued.]4
1. This installment is preceded on the front page of the Eagle by a poem titled "The Sleeping Wife," attributed to J. L. Chester. [back]
2. Sanguinary means involving or related to blood-shed. [back]
3. A poniard is a type of small, narrow knife or dagger. [back]