Authors: Gloria Whelan
awn,” I begged, “please do something.”
Fawn only shook her head. “If I let the wolf get away, my father will be angry with me. We trap animals because the white man gives us money for the skins. Our land has been taken away. The animals are all that are left to us.”
Fawn’s words made me angry. “I didn’t take your land,” I snapped. “My papa is helping to get it back.”
The wolf lay very still, looking up at us with its green eyes. There was dried blood where the trap dug into its leg. I began to cry. Fawn picked up a dead branch. I covered my eyes so that I would not see her kill the wolf.
For Chris, Robin, Ron, Drew, Rex, and Sue,
and all my friends at the Petoskey library
The September of 1841 arrived a red and gold leaf at a time. The ferns turned brown and shriveled. The falling acorns made little plopping sounds on the roof One by one the singing birds left us until the woods were silent. Papa began to grow restless. That worried Mama.
With Papa there is no standing still. Even before our Potawatomi Indian friend, Sanatua; came, Papa was asking travelers about the northern woods. In our home of Saginaw, cabins had shot up everywhere. Papa is a surveyor who came to Michigan to measure
out the miles of empty woods. Now there was little left to measure, and Papa was thinking about moving north.
A house had sprung up where I once picked blackberries. A family built on the opposite shore of the pond where I had spent many early mornings and evenings fishing. Their house stood where the blue heron used to nest.
I was excited when Sanatua came for Papa’s help. “The Ottawa who have taken my family in have heavy troubles,” he told us. “White men have come to buy up all the land around their village. One day the white men will cut down the trees. They say wood is needed to feed the bellies of the great steamships. They must have wood for building. In their villages, houses appear like mushrooms after an autumn rain.”
“What will happen if the Ottawa lose that land?” Mama asked.
Sanatua frowned. “With no land on which to live, the Ottawa, like my own tribe, the
Potawatomi, will be sent far away.”
“How can you stop these men?” Papa asked.
“Some years ago the Ottawa chiefs were deceived into selling much of their land to your government. In exchange, your government gives them money each year. The Ottawa can buy some of their land back, but it is not easy. The surveyors they hire cheat them. They take the best land for themselves. That is why I thought of you. You are a man the Ottawa could trust. But there is not much time. You once spoke of wanting to move north. Come and see our land. See if you would not be happy there.”
Papa could hardly wait to saddle his horse and ride north with Sanatua. Mama and I stood by the window to watch them leave. I wanted to go along with them as far as the woods, for I can run as fast as Papa’s horse can trot. But Mama would not let me. “You are thirteen now, Libby. Flying skirts don’t become a young lady,” she said.
It was hard for me to stand still when all my thoughts were traveling north with Papa. He would soon be seeing my dearest friend, Fawn. Fawn is Sanatua’s daughter. In Indian her name is Taw cum e go qua.
In the distance Papa and Sanatua grew smaller and smaller. Soon they were gone altogether. Mama sighed and picked up William, who was beginning to cry. William is my year-old brother. I knew Mama held William not just because he was crying, but because he felt good. I used to hold my doll for the same reason when I was not so grown up as I am now.
I also knew that Mama did not want to leave Saginaw. Our small cabin was comfortable. We had cushions on the chairs and curtains on the windows. Mama had made a garden. The Maiden’s Blush rosebush had been only a twig when we brought it from Virginia. This summer it had five blooms. Mama saved all the petals and put them in a bowl with spices.
I did not know how I felt about moving. Like Papa, I was sorry that the woods were disappearing from Saginaw. And if we went north, I would see Fawn. I had made friends in Saginaw, but none like Fawn. She was happy to watch a caterpillar on a leaf for five minutes at a time. Still, it was troublesome to think about going to unknown country.
While I waited for Papa to come back, I returned to my favorite places: the tall elm tree where the oriole had nested, the little stream where I had gathered tadpoles, and the stand of poplars where I used to hide in the early evenings to watch the beavers cut trees for their lodge.
When Papa returned three weeks later, he had a great surprise. He had bought a house in the northern woods! “We must hurry and pack our things,” Papa said. “It will be a long trip on poor roads and the winter comes early there.” We could see his heart had stayed in the north.
Mama bit her lip as she does when she is
unhappy. “Rob, we came all the way from Virginia to Michigan. Now, just as Saginaw is becoming settled, you want to take us away.”
“Vinnie, I’m tired of living in a bundle, like squirrels packed into a hollow tree.”
“But, Rob, our cabin is so comfortable.”
“Wait until you hear about our new home. It was built for an American Fur Company trader. It has a kitchen and a parlor. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms.” At that Mama looked happier. Our log cabin had only two small rooms.
“Papa,” I asked, “would I have my own room?”
“Yes, Libby,” said Papa, smiling, “but that is not the best of it. The house is on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The lake is as big as a sea. And the lake is not like land that someone can buy and sell. It will always be there.”
I was happy at the thought of a room of my own. I was even more excited to think that I would soon be seeing Fawn. When we
parted, she had given me the silver eagle that she wore around her neck. “It will be as if you are one of our Eagle clan,” she said. I had given her my bracelet with the tiny gold heart that had belonged to my grandmother.
Mama turned up her sleeves and I put on my oldest apron. Papa nailed together boxes to hold our possessions. We began to pack our things for the trip north.
Last to go in the wagon was William’s cradle. It had been woven for him by Fawn’s mother, Menisikwe. Around the top of the cradle was a border of sweet grass that made our whole wagon fragrant.
Eagerly, Papa coaxed our horses, Ned and Dan, onto the trail leading north. I could not help looking back. The sun was shining on our cabin. Geese and ducks were swimming on our pond. This year we would not watch them fly away as winter came. Instead, we were the ones to leave.
I began to understand how Fawn and the Potawatomi tribe had felt when they were
forced to leave their village. I remembered how the women had cried out and the men had shouted angry words.
I had been there when it happened. I was visiting Fawn when the soldiers had come. Because I was wearing Fawn’s clothes, the soldiers believed that I was an Indian, too. They meant to take all of the Potawatomi Indians to the empty country of the west. Sanatua and his family risked their lives to bring me back to Mama and Papa. Then they fled north to join the Ottawa. Now we were following in their footsteps.
There seemed to be no end to the trip. Each day, as dusk came, Papa would unhitch the wagon next to some small stream or lake. He would walk off into the woods with his musket in search of rabbits or squirrels for our dinner. I would gather firewood and Mama would put on a kettle of potatoes, carrots, and turnips.
At night Mama and I would make ourselves snug in the wagon. Papa would throw a quilt over a bed of pine branches and sleep under the sky. I tried it, but only for one night. The hooting of the owls and the cries
of the wolves sounded much closer than they did in the wagon.
We spent hours in forests dark as the inside of a pocket. Then, suddenly Ned and Dan would pull our wagon into a meadow that was filled with sun. We traveled through forests of pine trees so tall I could not see to the top of them. We came upon golden-leafed birch and sugar maples with leaves in every shade of red from scarlet to rust.
We forded streams and crossed rivers on log bridges. On wet days Ned and Dan struggled through mud. On dry days dust as fine as flour sifted onto everything. William fussed and cried because the wagon bumped so. Mama grew more and more silent. Papa tried to be cheerful for all of us. I could see, though, that he wished we would hurry and get there.