A lsoomse, a young Anishinaabe woman tries to manage relationships, her family and conflicting expectations of her people.
Settlers are destroying their lands, men folk from other tribes won't leave her alone, and the gahds seem to have lost their minds.
A war between the Canadas and the Americans overshadows a festering resentment.
Read An Extract
Prelude to War (1811)
M en paced quickly but carefully to verify the pull of the river wasn't loosening the ties holding the rafts' squared timber. Clouds were getting thicker, billowing higher, and darkening the sky. It was a contrast to roasting summer heat the men suffered throughout the day. Their sweat made them feel cold.
The men swarmed a circle around a fire in the centre of the raft where they waited for a call for grub.
London moved blocks of wood close to the fire. Eighteen-year-old Ruggles Wright asked, “London, why so sour?"
“...not really," he replied. “I feel something is coming for us. Your father's brother, Missa Thomas, when comin' here, warned that 'there'll be another war'. The way people talk, I think it's comin'.”
“Well it's not going to come today," young Ruggles Wright replied.
"It's like I can feel it on the river. It'll be soon."
Joseph Desjardin who was checking ropes beside him stood up and said, “When it comes, there'll be a madness everywhere. It will be somethin` that`s pure foolishness like.”
"London, why did you sign on for this?” Joseph asked. He was used to seeing the black man serve as Mr. Wright's house servant.
“I like being on the river. It has a power and a life to it. It feels free," he said. "I'll have you know I navigated the first one, through rougher waters than this."
“But you are free”.
“Not like the river I'm not," London said.
Joseph walked across the raft to see London's son Abner. He was using a pole to steer the raft.
“Abner," he called. “Le petit un, là.” He puts his palm downward at his belly level and then raised his palm over his head. “He's going to be a giant,” he said and gave him a grin. “Petit Abner.”
“Joseph, I've told you, I am not a titter.”
“Non, pas des gommes. Maintenant tu est gross homme…”
“Yeah, I am grown. I am a grown man now”.
“Vraiment. Don't you think, it's time we made some tunes," Joseph said."
"Go git it," Abner said with a twist of his head.
Joseph went into the supply tent, which was strung up at the centre of the raft. He pulled his fiddle out from his pack. Once he was ready to place it by his chin raindrops started pattering.
He looked up and barked, “juste une minute”. He went into the cook's tent and got two large wooden spoons. With his finger, he directed another boy to take over the steering from Abner.
"But..." said Abner.
"..."très important. Vraiment."
When Joseph passed the pair of spoons Abner laughed. “They're huge," he said.
“For a giant, it is necessary to play big music," Joseph said with a mad grin.
“La Vérité,” said Abner.
Joseph raised his fiddle in the air with a bow in preparation to play and swung as if in a toast and he repeated, "Pour la vérité."
The tune started and smashing feet followed. An American brought out a small hand accordion. Some began to howl like wolves.
Winds moved the storm clouds off course. Stifling sweat hindered the mens' ability to see. Ruggles slept under a tent but the rest slept unprotected under open skies.
The river remained relatively calm for another three days. By mid-morning of the next day, thunderclouds reappeared. The waters got rough. It became difficult to steer the raft. It was a week into the trip and it was for surviving the river's worst that the crew would earn their pay.
Ruggles and the cook madly tried to tie down the rations and the supplies. The cribbing in places buckled. Some men lost their footing. The timbers were slippery. Leather boots didn't give a man much grip on the wet slimy surface of the logs. On rough water, even the most seasoned raftsman could be shaken off of his feet.
John McAllister spun and rolled toward the back end corner of the raft.
Joseph handed Gideon an end of a rope. He wrapped an end around his left arm and gripped a strand in his left hand. He took a firm run and let himself slide across the raft towards John. Abner looked on, frozen, with awe. Joseph's body raced towards the river's edge. Gideon pulled the line taut. Joseph was pulled back just as his feet touched the water which tried to drag him in. Joseph grabbed out for John's thigh. He grabbed the man's pants. They started sliding off. John's face and arms were bouncing in the water. His body was leaving the raft as more of his pants kept slipping off. Joseph was losing him. Gideon's feet were slipping. The raft continued to spin. The cribbing heaved and stressed chaotically. Abner came to Gideon's side and grabbed a curl of rope. London with one hand guided himself along the rope until he reached Joseph. He pulled him back a bit, away from the water so he could get a better perch on the raft. Gideon fell sideways and grabbed a hold of John's boot. The scene may have looked funny to an observer but the situation was dire. John was fighting for his life. He was taking on water.
Someone else threw another rope towards London. He quickly tied a knot around John's foot and gave the order to pull. The raft rolled unexpectedly. London almost slid off himself. He smashed his elbow. Two others gave a strong pull on the rope. They managed to drag John out of the water. Joseph and London dragged John as they crawled away from the water, back to the centre of the raft.
The man was still face down. Joseph pushed on John's back and started swearing obscenities at him. No-one knew the translation because he was speaking in French. It was clear that he must have been telling the guy to spit up and breathe. John obliged with a barf of water and a howl for air. Joseph and Gideon turned him over. His chest and face were cut when he was dragged up. Ruggles gave Joseph a bottle of whisky to pour on a chest wound. He'd a small piece of wood had be to be pulled out. Joseph took a swig first before pulling it out and fixing the wound. "Mon ami, tu es très chanceux d'être avec moi," Joseph told him.
The crew managed to keep the cribbing together.
It rained most of the day and continued into the night. The rain stopped a few hours after dark.
For the men, it was a long cold damp night. There was no dry kindling to make a fire. In the morning everyone was cold, soaked and irritable. Ruggles gave orders to steer the raft towards shore.
A big campfire was set ablaze and all the men huddled close. The canvas which secured the rations was untied and made back into a tent. The cook with some help, prepared morning breakfast. The men stripped, and hung their clothes around the fire to dry. Everyone took off their clothes, except Ruggles, who changed into a dry set.
Joseph grabbed his fiddle from his case and raised it over his head as if it were a champions sword and he was going off to do battle. He took a bow across it once, then took off with the tune and stamped madly about as he continued to play.
Ruggles lay down in the supply tent and bit on an apple. "Damnation. Isn't this the strangest thing," he muttered. "I'm glad there's no more booze. This would have been a mad place indeed." He licked his lips. ...nice spot of rum would have been nice though..." As Ruggles fell asleep the rest continued stomping madly. The ribaldry and depravity of the lyrics got worse as the noise got louder. When night fell and the singing started again they were one with the competing sounds of coyotes and wolves. Some would argue that the latter had better tone.
It was a scene of madness. It might have been an infection picked up from far away. ...there was a sense that the world could catch on fire, and light up under them all.
Misquahke of the Mìssì Sauga came to listen to two Shawnee brothers who chose to stand against the westward expansion of American settlers. One of the brothers was known as Tecumseh which meant 'the Panther Passing Across' which referred to a comet in the sky that was seen when he was born. The other was Tenskwatawa who was nicknamed “the Prophet”.
They were attempting to organize an Indian confederacy and persuade them to march unified against Fort Detroit.
He heard Tecumseh speak about his brother's prophecy. 'The Great Spirit would be with them,' he said. 'Unity and determination would make their campaign successful. It would stop the white invaders.'
Tecumseh told them that a couple of weeks earlier, he addressed the Creek leaders in the southern town of Tukabatchee. He leaders severely criticized him. On their march north, his brother left them with a prophecy. He told them that 'when our footsteps reach Fort Detroit all of Tuckabatchee's cabins will fall.'
At this meeting, some tribal leaders doubted the Prophet's leadership because at times, unlike his brother Tecumseh he was impatient and reckless. He lost the battle of Tippecanoe because he forced an attack too soon and didn't wait until a confederation of tribes was complete. Everyone, he heard speak, believed Tecumseh was persuasive, confident and fearless.
In the evening Misquahke saw him talk to someone in front of his tent. He saw Tecumseh behave strangely. He was talking to a warrior in odd clothing. He acted as if was a boy, getting a thrashing from his father. Tecumseh however, had hundreds of warriors to call from who could easily have picked this man's body into little pieces. Misquahke ran toward the tent to hear what was being said. Once he got close he heard that the man spoke firmly to Tecumseh. His voice was deep and strong and his eyes bore into him.
“Your brother's foolishness is going to cost the lives of all the peoples,” the stranger said.
Tecumseh voiced his promise again. “When my brother's foot touches Fort Detroit the land will thunder. The people of Tukabatchee will hear it,” he said.
The stranger told him, “Do it; Do what needs to be done.” Then he asked again, “Who told your brother to do that? How was he told this?”
Tecumseh tried to keep putting him off with a whiny tone. Now it was as if he was talking to his mother.
“May the spirit be with you.
The way is difficult. It is right. May the people walk as one,” said the stranger.
“Will you be there," asked Tecumseh.
The stranger didn’t answer. He just moved his hand from his chest to an outstretched arm. He turned and left.
The man must be a great chief, thought Misquahke.
"If the Wìsakedjàk walked beside me rather than always telling me what I've done wrong we'd be confident of winning this war," Tecumseh muttered. He looked around to see if anyone was listening.
Misquahke behind brushed remained very still until he saw Tecumseh return inside his tent.
"I've seen the Wìsakedjàk and he's talking about war," Misquahke said softly. "This is important. I need to get back to my people. My chief needs to know."
A couple of weeks later Tecumseh overpowered the fort at Detroit. Houses in Tukabatchee and other places where the Tecumseh's march, had been ridiculed, fell down and broke apart, just as the Prophet said it would.
A Natural Fury
For those who knew where to look, a comet was visible but low in the sky for most of the year. A week and a half before Christmas day it became bright and slightly smaller than the full moon. It passed across the American mid-west.
Before the comet crashed it broke into two parts. There was a searing flash from out of the southwest. It was incredibly bright. It had a weird greenish-white glow. From a point between the comet and the ground a flash of light flickered and spun north. The ground was ripped up everywhere below. The air smelled bad, and it was hard to breathe. There were distant flashes of thunder and loud threatening strange threatening echoes.
When it crashed, the ground throughout the central United States and southern Canada trembled. There were earth tremors in New York and along the Gulf of Mexico. Some say that church bells shook in Richmond, Virginia and Boston. The worst of the earthquakes shook just south of the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It happened in the middle of the night. Flocks of birds had left the skies and moved towards people on the ground and hundreds of thousands of trees were flattened.
The whole midsection of the Mississippi writhed and heaved. Tremendous bluffs toppled into the muddy waters. Sand boils bubbled up, and there was a giant one which stretched for a mile and a half. Golf sized tar balls spat from fissures and lights flashed from the earth. Waters in the Mississippi moved backwards.
Some witnessed an orange and gradually pink flash leave the crash site. The flash left the Mississippi basin, raced along the Great Lake shores, veered across the St. Lawrence and slowed when it came to the tree covered forests in the Canadas. The slower pace of the light prevented some of the trees from catching fire. Something was racing to the Kitchi Sibi.
SHE was COMING for him….
Follow-up tremors would reoccur over a five-month period. After the passing of the comet, it got very cold. Severe cold weather iced over the Ohio River. The landscape had changed.