|DANGEROUS DIFFERENCES is an historical novel
set in the eastern woodlands of North America in
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|The year is 1700, the place is a Saponi Indian town on the Yadkin River in western
North Carolina. Custoga, Chief of the Saponies, has called a special meeting in
the long house of the tribe council.
The Indians smoked and chatted for a long while. Then, as if by some
invisible signal, silence fell over the assembly and Custoga began to
speak. In a low, powerfully-projected voice, he began his message to the
council of Saponi warriors.
“Tomorrow we join the Occaneechi, Tutelo, Keyaunwee, and Shakori for
the winter hunt. This time the place is five suns away. Each winter the
distance is more, the deer and bear are fewer. We fight off attacks by
other hunters and watch the smoke of the cooking fires of the English
houses draw nearer. We are steadily losing our people to war and
sickness. Now we Saponi are half the number we were when my son
Kadomico, was born. Even the great Powhatan are fallen. Only two of
many Powhatan towns and settlements remain and those are confined
to a small place they call a reservation. Still the English farmers, traders,
and trappers come west. The Blue Mountains are now at our backs and
we must find new ways to protect our people, hunting grounds, and
fields. Tomorrow Kadomico will go to a place of the English where he
will join their sons and learn about the talking papers, what they call
reading and writing, and about their God. They call it school."
“The English are now governed by Nicholson and his council in a place
near the Chickahominy called Williamsburg. Nicholson himself asks
certain tribal chiefs to send him their first sons for this training. He said
that they would have very good food and shelter, all free. He promised to
be ready this summer with good clothes of the English, books, and
learning. He said they will have care in health and sickness, that visits by
their families will be welcome, and that the school will be open for
inspections at all times. And each can have a servant or member of his
tribe remain with them to speak their language and be sure they
remember the Indian way. He talked of what the best Englishmen’s sons
learn as though the same is good for Indians.” Custoga paused to
emphasize his decision.
“So, Kadomico will go tomorrow. Red Wolf and Tree Son will go with him
and one will remain as long as Kadomico wishes.” Custoga fell silent,
knowing the responses reflecting these troubled times, would vary.
In the soft light of the windowless longhouse, oak coals of the dying fire
glowed red under coats of white ash as the youngest of the six senior
warriors, Red Wolf, raised his tomahawk and spoke. “This is the only
thing the English understand. Words, papers, and councils are their way
of fighting for the land and destroying our people. Before I go to them,
live with them, and learn to be like them, I will join the French or the
Spanish and fight them. It is better to die like men than to dwindle away
by little bits.”
Watauga sitting across from Red Wolf, reached out with a long willow
wand and stirred the coals thoughtfully as though their slow
disintegration was a sad omen. “The time for uniting and fighting is past.
The white man is here to stay and in such numbers and with such
strength that they cannot be overcome. Now the French and English
fight each other and we Saponis must join one or the other or perish.
Custoga speaks wisely. Kadomico will see the way of the English, and
we will be better able to protect our people.”
Custoga was searching the faces before him for a sign of where this
council would stand on the issue when Choola rose, stretching to his
full height. His eyes showed plainly the deep sadness within him as he
began to speak in a low voice, pronouncing the words evenly. ”There
was no white man when I was young. The Saponi were many, and our
warriors were strong and feared by the Mohawk, Seneca, and Cherokee.
They left us in peace because of our strength. Our hunting grounds were
plentiful, and although there was often war among the great Indian
nations and many raids of villages, there was seldom a cause for the
Saponi to take to the warpath. We have always lived apart from the great
nations and government. Our town once was settled in the protective
hills of the great mountains of the north. Our people grew food in fertile
fields and took meat from the forest and streams, and it was plentiful. As
it was with our ancestors, so it was with us—when I was young.” Choola
paused in remembrance, letting the sadness that gripped him give way
to rising anger, typical of his manner when this subject came up.
He continued, his voice rising. “Gradually, our way has changed. Now
our women seek the clothes of the white woman, cook in copper and
iron and make beds of blankets. Our braves use firesticks, iron beaver
traps, and steel tomahawks and knives and weaken us further because
they are losing the way of making and using their own hunting bows and
war clubs and seek only the fire sticks, powder, and ball of the
Longknives. When I was young, the Saponi were strong and able to
provide for and protect themselves. Now the great nations of Iroquois,
Cherokee, and Shawnee face the French, English, and Spanish even as
they face each other to make their boundaries. Watauga is right, it too
late to turn back, we are too few to fight alone, and there is no place left
to retreat except higher into mountains where the land is steep and the
winters kill. Kadomico must go. He will learn the way of the English and
show the way of the Saponi. It is a first step."
Choola paused, then looking directly at his grandson, he began again.
"But let Kadomico understand, we have seen what happened to Chief
Opechancanough and the Powhatan people after the English came.
After many years of war, they finally captured Opechancanough and
proceeded with the destruction of the Powhatan and more than 200 of
their towns. Now the Powhatan are few and live in a few small places the
English call reservations. So, beware and let Kadomico understand, the
English will never accept the Indian as an equal and no Saponi will
accept the English as his master.
" Kadomico will learn the way of the English and help us find the best
way for the Saponi to protect their people and hunting grounds. In doing
this, he will not depart from the way of the Saponi, forget his people, or
bow to the English. It must be done, else we face the fate of others
before us—death by war, disease, or starvation."
The frozen stillness of Choola's face did not mask the sadness in his
eyes as he eased back to his seat, crossed his legs and folded his arms.
His words of concession to the strength of the English fell heavily on the
assembly, men unaccustomed to conceding without a fight. To them it
smacked of allying with the very force that threatened them, or worse
yet, submission, heretofore unthinkable. Anger, sadness, and confusion
stirred among them as they had listened to these words of compromise
from their most outspoken and respected old warrior. Well, in spite of the
confusion and uncertainty they were feeling, they did understand what
Choola had said and they could wait and see what would become of
Kadomico's visit to Williamsburg.
Custoga sensed the reluctant acceptance of the council and spoke.
"Kadomico will go tomorrow. Red Wolf and Tree Son will go with him.
Red Wolf will see the firesticks, English warriors, and their strength. And
our priests will call on the gods to stop the white man."