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Indian captive, p.1
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       Indian Captive, p.1

           Lois Lenski
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Indian Captive





  R.W.G. Vail


  Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski



















  A Biography of Lois Lenski

  Excerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski

  THE BIG EVENT OF THE 1940s was the award of the Newbery Medal to Strawberry Girl in 1946. No one was more astonished than I to receive it. Had it been given to my book Indian Captive, the Story of Mary Jemison, which I considered my major and most scholarly work, I would not have been surprised. I had envisioned a series of Regional books, for I knew there were many regions little known and neglected in children’s books. The series was barely started, and I had already daringly broken down a few unwritten taboos, I had written more plainly and realistically than other children’s authors, I had taken my material and my characters direct from real life instead of from the imagination, and my Regionals were not yet entirely accepted or approved. I was an innovator and a pioneer in a new direction, and I knew I had a long and difficult task ahead to earn the acceptance which I was not expecting so soon. But the award focused national attention on Strawberry Girl and the books to follow, so I was very grateful.

  The convention of the American Library Association was held at Buffalo that year, and at various meetings and receptions, I received invitations from librarians to go to many parts of the country—Seattle, Utah, California, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota—to write about their region. Afterwards, the award brought much publicity, including requests for personal interviews and radio appearances, for personal appearances at libraries and schools, most of which I was unable to accept. Those that I did accept were strenuous and wearing, and I was glad when the flurry subsided, and I could retire to private life again.

  An entire book could be written about my experiences in other regions during the 1950s—in San Angelo, Texas, for Texas Tomboy, in Perry, Oklahoma, for Boom Town Boy, in McLaughlin, South Dakota, for Prairie School, in Remsen, Iowa, for Corn Farm Boy, and other places. The list goes on and on, always a new environment and way of life to be studied, and always good people who shared the intimacy of their lives with me, each region more exciting and stimulating than the last, each region calling for one’s deepest powers of observation, understanding, and compassion.

  As soon as I return from a region, I have a big job to do. I have to copy all the notes I have taken, classifying them under various headings, making them readily and quickly accessible. Then I make an outline for my story, listing the various incidents I wish to include under the different chapter headings. I write my text in longhand first, and often revise it in longhand, then revise again as I type it. (The subject has, of course, been approved by the editor in advance.) I send the typed manuscript in, to be read and approved, copyedited (improving or disapproving of my punctuation!) and sent to the printer to be set into type. If any changes are suggested by the editor, the manuscript or portions of it may be returned to me for this purpose. If any changes in format are contemplated, I am always consulted. For many years, with Lippincott, I worked directly with the head of the manufacturing department in planning all details of type and format. It was in this way that a beautiful format was devised for the Regionals.

  While the manuscript is at the printers, while I am waiting for the galley proofs, having kept a carbon of the manuscript, I am working on the illustrations. For the Regionals, these are graphite pencil drawings on 3-ply Bristol board, and are reproduced by high-light halftone offset. The drawings for the Roundabouts are ink drawings, reproduced by letterpress.

  When the galley proofs reach me, two sets are sent, one for me to read and correct, and to answer editorial or printers’ queries; the other set for me to cut up and paste into a blank dummy, allowing space on the proper page for each illustration, of which I usually make about fifty.

  After I wrap up a large package containing original manuscript, the original illustrations, corrected galley proofs, and the printer’s dummy and ship it to the publishers, my work on a book is finished. The rest is up to the publisher. I see and hear nothing more until months later, when a book package arrives out of the blue, containing the first copy, hot off the press, for me to hold in my hands and marvel at. There is no other thrill so great for an author-illustrator as seeing the first copy of a book he has labored over and believed in and deeply loved.

  From Journey Into Childhood by Lois Lenski © 1972 by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic for the Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Inc.


  ANY WORK CONCERNING THE life and romance of Indian days requires a rather accurate knowledge of what these native people produced and how they lived. To weave a narrative of any consequence, the author must be familiar with the implements, utensils and the daily routine of the people. This seems self-evident but many writers have ignored this basic necessity and written purely from imagination, filling in the gaps with pre-conceived knowledge or basing it upon modern adaptations of European practices.

  It is refreshing, therefore, to find an author whose initial work had gone so faithfully into the ethnology of the people of which she writes. Her detailed studies of the Indian way of looking at things and her painstaking effort to find out the exact type of implements, utensils and methods of producing them, reflect in her descriptions. This makes satisfying reading to the expert as well as to the average reader for the narrative then becomes convincing because it is based upon accurate knowledge.

  The career of Mary Jemison, the White Captive of the Genesee, has been the subject of several books and many papers and addresses. Many efforts to describe her life and Indian background have lacked the very essential things which Miss Lenski has introduced. Not only did Miss Lenski make a study of the literature but visited the Indians, many of whom are descendants of the subject of her book. She carefully examined many Indian drawings and discussed with Gaoyaih, one of the skilled Indian artists, the material of which various features in his drawings and paintings were made. Her studies in the various museums containing Iroquois and especially Seneca objects culminated in a very exact understanding of how the people forming the background of her story lived.

  Not only is the text interesting but her drawings are of such delightful quality that they will add a vast amount of interest to this work which she issues under title “Indian Captive.” In them she has caught the spirit of ancient days. The attitudes of the individual figures and the facial expressions are characteristic and most pleasing.

  —Arthur C. Parker

  Director, Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, Rochester, N. Y.


  IN THE EARLY DAYS of the settlement of America, children were frequently captured by the Indians. Sometimes the captivity was of short duration and they were returned to their families. Some of them have left written accounts of their experiences. An interesting fact, revealed by a careful study of the subject, is that many children did not return, some by reason of their own choice. Well-known examples of children who did not return are Eunice Williams, Esther Wheelwright, Horatio Jones
, Frances Slocum and Mary Jemison. The three latter lived their entire lives with the Indians, refusing various opportunities to return to the whites.

  The story of Mary Jemison is one of the most interesting of all captivity stories, perhaps because we have a more complete record of it than of any other. At the age of eighty years, she told her memories of her experiences in detail to James Everett Seaver, M. D., and the book was first published at Canandaigua, N. Y., in 1824. It has been issued in some thirty editions, the last as late as 1932. Mary Jemison’s story is remarkable in that it gives us a picture of Seneca Indian life from the inside, told in simplicity and sympathy.

  Mary Jemison was born of Scotch-Irish parents, Thomas and Jane Erwin Jemison, on board ship during their emigration to this country, probably in the year 1743. She had two older brothers, John and Thomas, and an older sister, Betsey; also two younger brothers, Matthew and Robert, born in this country. The family landed in Philadelphia, then removed to a large tract of land on Marsh Creek in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where they lived for seven or eight years. With the exception of the two oldest boys who escaped, they were all captured by the Indians on April 5, 1758. All except Mary were massacred by the Indians the day following.

  Mary Jemison, who was called the White Woman of the Genesee, lived all her life with the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Indians, in the western part of what is now New York State. She married two Indian husbands and had her own farm and home on Gardeau Flats, just below the Portage Falls on the Genesee River. When she died, in 1833, at the age of nearly ninety-one years, she was buried in the Seneca churchyard at South Buffalo, and later re-buried at Letchworth Park in her beloved Genesee Valley. Mary Jemison was loved, honored and respected by both red men and white and many of her descendants still live on the Indian reservations in western New York.

  My story, “Indian Captive,” presents an interesting theme—the conflict between Indian and white life. Every effort has been made to present an authentic and sympathetic background of Seneca Indian life, as lived in the Genesee River Valley in the years 1758-60. It is the time of the French and Indian War, when the French and the English were competing for help from the Iroquois Indians, in order to stop the onrush of colonists westward. But the fact that the frontier was a dangerous place to live did not hold the pioneers back, and so the ground work for the Revolutionary War was rapidly laid.

  The pre-Revolutionary period in Iroquois life was a transition period. The old Indian ways were being replaced by new ways for which the white man was responsible. The white traders brought iron and steel implements to replace primitive stone ones; cloth to replace deerskin; brass kettles for earthen pots; glass beads for porcupine quills; guns and powder for bows and arrows; log cabins to replace bark long houses. All these things changed the Indians’ mode of living materially and marked the beginning of a new era.

  For a long period the old and the new overlapped. There is no doubt that at this time and even later the Iroquois Indians still clung to many old customs and ways of working, although they were gradually adjusting themselves to the new. I have tried to suggest this transition, emphasizing at the same time those older ways which we have come to think of as typical of the Iroquois—those older ways which distinguish the Iroquois from other Indian tribes found in other parts of the United States.

  My story deals only with Mary Jemison’s childhood—not her later life. Certain liberties have, of necessity, been taken with Mary’s own story, to adapt it to fictional use for modern young people, but the essential facts remain true to Mary’s actual experiences. The chief change made has been a telescoping of events in point of time. Certain events which happened later have been moved forward to take place during the first two years of her captivity, before her early marriage. The Indian baby in my story is her Indian sisters’, not her own. A few details from other captivity stories have been incorporated, to give a better-rounded picture.

  Before she went to Genishau, Mary actually spent four years in southern Ohio; her winters near the mouth of the Scioto River, and her summers in two Ohio River Indian villages—the first at “Seneca Town” or Mingo Town, located about three miles below the present Steubenville, and the second, called Wiishto, at the mouth of Swan Creek, sixteen miles below the present Gallipolis.

  The actual journey which Mary took from Wiishto to Genishau (which I have not described in my story) covered over 680 miles, and followed a devious route by way of the Muskingum River and its western branch to Upper Sandusky, Ohio, then by Indian trails eastward across the northern part of Ohio to French Creek, Franklin, Pa., then northward to Warren, Pa., Caneadea, N.Y. and Genishau, which was located on the Genesee River near the mouth of Little Beard’s Creek, not far from the present Cuylerville.

  There is some difference of opinion as to whether Mary’s actual age at the time of her capture was twelve or fifteen. I have chosen to keep her twelve. She was known to be small for her age and has been described by those who saw her as “a small woman, only four and a half feet in height.” Her Indian name was Deh-ge-wa-nus, which meant, literally, The-Two-Falling-Voices.

  A privately printed book, dealing with reminiscences of family life in western New York State, prior to 1815, mentions the Indian captive, Molly Jemison. In this particular family, for several generations, Mary Jemison was always called Molly. This would indicate that the nickname was commonly used in the vicinity where she lived and that it clung to her to the end of her life and long after her death. For this reason I have chosen to make use of the more intimate form of the name, Mary, and have called her Molly.

  The designs used on title-page and cover are typical motif taken from Seneca embroideries. The flower design on the cover is called “the celestial tree.”

  Over six thousand acres of land covering the section around the Portage Falls on the Genesee River fifty miles south of Rochester are now known as Letchworth State Park. Here, due to the interest and foresight of the late William Pryor Letchworth, have been assembled an old Indian council house which formerly stood at Caneadea, the log cabin of one of Mary Jemison’s daughters, and a bronze statue representing Mary as a young woman, over her burial place. It is easy to understand why Mary came to love this beautiful valley and why, to those who know her story and go on pilgrimage there, her spirit still lingers “by the Great Falling Waters.”

  For generous help in the preparation of this book I am deeply indebted to: Mr. Elrick B. Davis of the Cleveland Press for his initial suggestion; Mr. R. W. G. Vail, New York State Librarian, for first bringing the story of Mary Jemison to my attention, and for constant help and encouragement; to Dr. Arthur C. Parker, Director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Clark Wissler, Curator of the American Museum of Natural History, for their helpful interest in reading the book in manuscript and checking it, as well as my illustrations, for accuracy; to Prof Wm. P. Alexander, Buffalo Museum of Science, for checking portions of the manuscript dealing with wild animal life for accuracy; to Mr. Noah T. Clarke, New York State Archeologist, and Miss Bella Weitzner, Assistant Curator of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History for checking details; to Mr. Milton L. Bernstein for the loan of several early print views of the Portage Falls; to Maud Hart Lovelace, Beatrice de Lima Meyers, Miriam Elizabeth Bass, G. W. Walker and others for helpful suggestions.

  A careful study of Seneca Indian material was made at the American Museum of Natural History, the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Museum of the American Indian at New York and the New York State Museum at Albany. I wish also to thank the Buffalo Museum of Arts and Sciences for its generous ban of pictorial material.

  Lois Lenski


  Harwinton, Connecticut

  April 4, 1941


  Come What May

  “MOLLY CHILD, NOW SUPPER’S DONE, go fetch Neighbor Dixon’s horse.”

  Molly looked up at her father. At the far end of the long table he stood. He was lean, lanky and raw-boned
. Great knotty fists hung at the ends of his long, thin arms. His eyes looked kind though his face was stern.

  “All I need is another horse for a day or two,” the man went on. “Neighbor Dixon said I could borrow his. I’ll get that south field plowed tomorrow and seeded to corn.”

  “Yes, Pa!” answered Molly. She reached for a piece of corn-pone from the plate. She munched it contentedly. How good it tasted!

  Corn! All their life was bound up with corn. Corn and work. Work to grow the corn, to protect it and care for it, to fight for it, to harvest it and stow it away at last for winter’s food. So it was always, so it would be always to the end of time. How could they live without corn?

  The Jemison family sat around the supper table. Its rough-hewn slabs, uncovered by cloth, shone soft-worn and shiny clean. A large earthen bowl, but a short time before filled with boiled and cut-up meat, sat empty in the center. Beside it, a plate with the leftover pieces of corn-pone.

  “You hear me?” asked Thomas Jemison again. “You ain’t dreamin’?”

  The two older boys, John and Tom, threw meaningful looks at their sister, but said no word. Betsey, tall, slender fifteen-year-old, glanced sideways at their mother.

  Molly colored slightly and came swiftly back from dreaming. “Yes, Pa!” she said, obediently. She reached for another piece of corn-pone.

  Inside, she felt a deep content. Spring was here again. The sun-warmed, plowed earth would feel good to her bare feet. She saw round, pale yellow grains of seed-corn dropping from her hand into the furrow. She saw her long, thin arms waving to keep the crows and blackbirds off—the fight had begun. The wind blew her long loose hair about her face and the warm sun kissed her cheeks. Spring had come again.

  “Can’t one of the boys go?” asked Mrs. Jemison. “Dark’s a-comin’ on and the trail’s through the woods…”

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