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Children's Story Garden  >  A Ride Toward War Paint

Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

A Ride Toward War Paint


"BY sundown we should be within sight of the Indian village," said Caleb Pusey as the six men on horseback descended the rough trail and came out in the glare of the afternoon sun. Below them spread a wide Pennsylvania valley, as yet untouched by a plow, for this was in the early days of the colony, long before the Revolutionary War.

"It lies just beyond yonder line of trees, does it not?" asked a younger man, James West, pointing down the valley.

Caleb nodded gravely. All the men looked extremely serious as in silence they guided their horses among the loose rocks and around fallen trees. Then one man spoke:

"Caleb, who was it brought the word to our settlement of the Indian uprising? You know I was not present last night when the Councillors met.?"

"It was old Red Wing's squaw. They were always most friendly to the whites. She came into the village late in the afternoon and stopped the first man she met, who happened to be the blacksmith. From his forge the news spread like fire, and I have never seen such panic. It was said five hundred, nay a thousand, Indian warriors were gathering for battle — their faces were painted — their drums were beating — at any moment they would be upon us! Forgotten were the wise councils of William Penn and the long, unbroken peace with our red brothers. The talk was all of arming and marching against the Indians before they could reach us. Our settlers have never had arms — nor needed them. Now they must be procured! The Council was called for immediate action."

"Ah, I wish you had heard Caleb at that meeting!" cried James West with boyish enthusiasm. "In the midst of the argument of the Councillors as to where guns could be procured, Caleb rose and his eyes shone like coals ——"

"It was my heart that burned with shame for my people," murmured Caleb.

James continued eagerly, "He cried in a voice that silenced their frantic bickerings, 'I will go to the place where the Indians are said to be gathering, if the Council will appoint five others to go with me unarmed.' The Council protested. They said it would be but a living sacrifice. The six men would be surely murdered. Caleb declared that as long as we were unarmed and unafraid, we were safe, as we always had been."

Caleb took the story up. "James, here, was at my side in an instant. These other good friends expressed their approval and willingness to go. I knew that I could depend on you. So the Council could not well refuse to allow us to depart on our errand, though they had little faith. I do not doubt, myself, that when we talk to the Indian chiefs we can discover the trouble and put matters right."

The others nodded. Still each man realized, in spite of these cheery words, that they were running a grave risk. Indians when once aroused, do not listen to argument. The hearts of the six white men beat faster as at last they came within sight of the tepees of the Indian village.

A few yellow curs barked shrilly and two little brown children playing on the edge of the woods, ran away and peeped at the strangers from behind trees. There was no other sign of life. Most of the wigwams were closed as if deserted. From the peak of one, larger than the rest and near the centre of the field, rose a lazy curl of smoke. The men rode to it. An old Indian, evidently the chief, lay on a pile of skins outside the open flaps, peacefully smoking a carved red-clay pipe. He rose slowly and stood courteously before the white men.

They dismounted, and Caleb offered the Indian his hand, which the old man shook warmly, inquiring in broken English, "What can an old chief do for his paleface friends?"

The thought crossed James West's mind that perhaps this was a trap, perhaps the warriors were all hidden ready to spring out upon them, or had already departed to attack the settlement of whites. Almost breathlessly he waited for the chief's answer when Caleb Pusey asked, carelessly:

"Your tepees seem empty, Chief. Where are your young men and maidens?"

The Chief waved his hand toward the forest beyond the valley.

"For three days my men have been hunting deer far away to the north. The women, old and young, are working in the fields beyond the river. What could my people do for the strangers?"

The sincerity of the old man's desire to be friendly was so evident that the white men were embarrassed and ashamed to have to explain their errand.

"The truth is that a false report reached the ears of the white settlers, and we were sent to determine whether it could be true," Caleb began. "An Indian woman told us that the tribes were rising against us."

The Chief stepped back as though he had been struck, his eyes blazing with anger.

"It is false!" he cried. "That woman should be burned to death, for she might have made much mischief! We have no quarrel with the white men."

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

A Ride Toward War Paint
A true story told from a number of sources. The name of Caleb Pusey is authentic. The other names are fictitious. (Historical Notes.)
Caleb Pusey
"Pusey, Caleb, with his wife Ann, and daughter of the same name, emigrated in 1682. By trade he was a last-maker. Perhaps no one among the early immigrants in PA was better qualified to contend with the difficulties incident to the first settlement of a new country than Caleb Pusey. His place of residence, within the limits of this county, was at 'the Chester Mills.' In the establishment of these mills, and in the conducting of them many years afterwards, he was the active partner and master spirit. It was required more than ordinary energy to contend with the repeated misfortunes attendant on the first erection of this early improvement. Mill after mill was swept away by the flood, but the indomitable energy of Pusey was not overcome, and at length his efforts were crowned with success. But his whole time was not occupied with his private concerns. Much was devoted to civil affairs and to his religious duties. We find him 'taking his turn' as a township officer, and serving as a juror; in laying out roads and negotiating with the Indians; in performing the duties of sheriff, and acting as a justice of the County Court; as a member of the Provincial Assembly and at length of the Executive Council. To religious matters he was equally attentive. His name constantly appears in the minutes of the Society of Friends among those who were most active in settling difficulties and in promoting deeds of benevolence. He frequently appeared in the ministry, and sometimes employed his pen in the defense of the doctrines of his sect. His reply to one Daniel Leeds was liberally subscribed for by the meetings. He was a farm man and of the strictest integrity, and though an intimate friend of the celebrated George Keith, when that gentleman chose to attack what was regarded by Caleb Pusey as true Quaker doctrine, he did not hesitate to sustain the testimony that was pronounced against him." (Source: a Google-cached copy of a page that seems no longer to be accessible, in a section on Chester County in the Rootsweb site.)
See also:
The Caleb Pusey House and Landingford Plantation - with photos of Caleb Pusey's house, built in 1683, a year after Quakers began settling in the new colony of Pennsylvania.
History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by H.G. Ashmead (1884), has a description of the Pusey house (p. 428, bottom) and a reflection upon the story above (p. 429).
Editorial comment:
A hard part of this story is that "old Red Wing's squaw" is blamed for the misinformation and condemned (rhetorically) to be burned to death, after "they were always most friendly to the whites." Perhaps this snippet is added to give extra vehemence to the old chief's denial, or perhaps it reveals antagonism between the natives who live in closer orbit to the settlements and those who live further away.