“The Last of the Aborigines

(Introduced by E.J. Devereux)

     Towards the middle of the last century many writers became suddenly concerned about the passing of native cultures in North America, and for some time there was a fashion for books weighty with romantic gloom about the chiefs and leaders of the Indians, belatedly seen as wise and noble men forced by inexorable fate to lead their people into death or exile.  It was a good romantic theme, and perhaps it eased the European conscience to see something Byronic in the suffering chiefs and an awesome inevitability in their falls, almost as if a new Book of Joshua were being enacted in the new promised land.  So, as the Indians were driven further and further, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow revived the prophet Hiawatha, John Richardson wrote of Tecumseh and the white savage Wacousta, Charles Augustus Murray created the beautiful Indian maiden of The Prairie Bird, a nameless writer of no great talent produced Ottawah: Last Chief of the Red Indians of Newfoundland, and, most important of all, James Fenimore Cooper glorified The Last of the Mohicans.   The elegiac note was always struck, with heavy sentimentality and much moral self-indulgence, and often along with the mourning an implicit assumption of the natural superiority of white ways.

     In this context George Webber’s The Last of the Aborigines published in St. John’s in 1851 seems all the more remarkable, and perhaps all the more worth reviving.  For Webber’s poem about the killing of the Beothuks, though affected by the then current theme, is written with genuine emotion by a Newfoundlander who had travelled the coast seeking real information about them, and so was able to control his imaginative depiction of their ending within a structure of adapted fact.  He is almost alone among writers of his age in raising the Indians to heroic stature, while ignoring the possibilities raised by most authors of a brave new world in which whites and Indians would live together.  With conscious irony he never uses the word ‘white’, referring to the settlers instead as Christians, to underline the cruel senselessness of the destruction, the cowardice the whites often showed, and the claim to moral superiority made so empty by wanton killing of the Indians and the treatment of them as something less than human.

     The redemptive bond between husband, wife, and children, which Murray and the author of Ottawah saw as a Christian value to be taught to the Indians, is seen by Webber as the centre of Beothuk life, a value indeed they could have taught to white people.  The authorities in Newfoundland tried quite sincerely to stop the slaughter of the Beothuks, and to reach them in some form of friendship; but perhaps Webber was alone in thinking they had no need of white people at all.

     One of the poem’s most interesting aspects is the use of fact, shaped and interpreted, as the central theme of fiction.  For the notes appended to the poem show clearly that Webber questioned many old settlers who had seen or even shot Beothuks, and selected episodes from these interviews that would demonstrate intense and self-sacrificing familial devotion, combined with tremendous courage and dignity.  These are virtues, of course, particularly admired among the Victorians, and their emphasis is to assert the human worth of the people that Newfoundlanders now knew to be extinct.  The eyewitness accounts pivot around the well-known published description of the capture of Mary March, and the awesome heroism of her husband, an event that inspires the action of The Last of the Aborigines and, in our own time, that of Peter Such’s fine novel Riverrun.  The tall Indian chief has impressed his memory on all who have read the account:  the forceful speech in defence of his family, being incomprehensible to the white hunters, remains a voiceless protest for all time, and his death at the hands of an armed group of men obviously terrified of him, and indeed killing him because of their fear, stands yet as a contrast between ‘civilization’ and ‘savagery.’

     Webber’s third note brings out the same general idea.  An old settler from Griquet told him how two Beothuks with drawn bows tried to cover the escape of a woman and child.   For no reason other than their own fright he and his friend fired a volley, wounding one Indian and apparently killing the child in its mother’s arms.  ‘The narrator added, that he had never regretted any act of his life so much as drawing his trigger at that time.’  The fifth note is even more startling, the story told Webber by an ‘aged woman’ whose grandmother knew a family of Indians which apparently had lost a small boy, possibly even to white hunters:  the Beothuk mother, presumably deranged by the loss, asked her husband to take away a white boy of the same age, but her daughter attempted to prevent it, out of sympathy for the white mother.  The father threatened her with his bow ‘whilst the girl stood rigid as a statue’.  Significantly for Webber’s purposes the only white man present was ‘too much intimidated to interfere’ and what looked like an attempt by the Beothuks later to return the child was frustrated by the needless killing of their messenger.

     It is then around three or four episodes, marked by a disciplined fearlessness in defence of women and children sharply contrasted to the cowardice of armed whites, that Webber builds his heroic poem, with an imaginative extension through what he could learn of the Beothuk’s way of life, of the most admired of Victorian virtues.  They provide him with his story and with his theme.

     I cannot claim to know very much about Webber, except that he appears to have come from the Conception Bay area and that he published some early poetry at Harbour Grace, including a passage repeated in The Last of the Aborigines.  Like many others he travelled for an extended time; he writes of himself as having seen Indians in Quebec, and his introductory verses say he was a ‘stranger in my native land’ at mid-century when the poem was published by The Morning Post in St. John’s.  He was then in ‘ripen’d years’ and addressed himself nostalgically to his old friends, ’Companions of the Morning-tide / Of Life’.  If he had left home when quite young, as he implies, and returned to a retirement in Newfoundland in the 1840’s, then the certainty of the extinction of the Beothuks could well have come as news to him, leading him to seek out the facts on which his poem is based.

     No one could seriously argue that it is a major work.  Despite the skill with which fact and fiction are merged into an effective thematic structure, it remains sentimental and derivative, a representative of a short-lived literary fashion written in the florid style of a late romantic imitating Cowper.  Yet it is a noble attempt to give honour to the fallen Beothuks, to take an important moral position, and to add to the emerging literature of Newfoundland.




BY George Webber

When Cook, lamented, and, with tears as just
As ever mingled with heroic dust,
Steerd Britains oak into a world unknown,
And, in his countrys glory, sought his own;
Wherever Man he found, to Nature true,
The rights of Man were sacred in his view;
He soothd with gifts, and greeted with a smile,
The simple Native of the NEW-FOUND-ISLE.


[Charity, 11.23-30]




I strike the lyre with trembling hand,
      As stranger in my native land,
For strangers must peruse the page,
      Or friends at least of later age
Than those, who whilome ranged with me
      O’er fertile mead, or barren lea, —
What time we hied with joy from school
      To dare the depth of whirling pool,
Or chase with bright and eager eye,
      The bird, the bee, the butterfly; —
Than those, who, were they by my side,
      Would e’en assist the muse untried
And cheer me on the steep ascent,
      Where I on purpose boldly bent,
Would fain pursue my devious way,
      And gain the summit if I may. —
Companions of the Morning-tide
      Of Life, who wander’d far and wide —
O’er ocean’s bosom, mountain’s crest,
      Do you in life’s meridian rest,
As when within your native bowers,
      Which innocence had strew’d with flowers:
Or shelter’d from the scorching beam
      By friendly tree near “trouting” stream!
Say, have you gained enchanted ground!
      Oh! if such rest on earth be found,
For pilgrims of our ripen’d years,
      Reveal the place, to your compeers; —
Compeers we still must be in time,
      For years keep pace in every clime,
And one will gladly join you there, —
      For all seems sadly alter’d here.


The moon with less than crescent bright,
      Fail’d to eclipse the pale star-light;
The desert was serene and still,
      Save sound, perchance, from rippling rill, —
Or when some zephyr might recall
      A strain from distant waterfall;
Bearing, as on a spirit’s wing,
      Music of Nature’s offering: —
When lo! forth issuing from the shade
      Of forest deep, an Indian maid,
Who, shrinking back, a moment stood
      Appall’d by treeless solitude;
Then gaz’d around with anxious eye
      That plain, bound Eastward by the sky,
And on the West by gloomy fir,
      Far tow’ring pine, and juniper;
The North by distant mountain blue,
      Whilst swamp and lake met Southern view: —
The scrutiny at length complete,
      And deer-skin tighten’d to her feet,
She shaking back her flowing hair,
      Bounds swiftly forth like frighten’d deer;
Oh! that the power I could command,
      Which poets sway in favor’d land,—
Or that my trembling hand at will,
      Could once assume the painter’s skill,
Then in her native garb array’d
      Should stand confess’d the Indian maid.
In stature o’er the standard height,
      Slender, but not extremely slight;
Graceful, without a bend, her air,
      And dark to blackness eyes and hair:
No cov’ring on her head she wore,
      But that which Nature gave, — she bore
In such profusion, ’twould impede
      A movement less than roebuck’s speed.
Spencer of down from wild bird’s nest,
      Her bosom’s fullness straight compress’d,
Whilst fur, alternate dark and light,
      Press’d all beside to instep slight.
And who was she, or what, the maid,
      In forest cov’ring thus array’d; —
And why all lonely wander there,
      With watchful eye and anxious air!
SOLOA was the maiden’s name;
      Her sire, an Indian known to fame:
Of thousands who once wander’d free,
      O’er land or lake remain but three; —
Brave NORAC and one warrior more,
      To guard his daughter, and adore;
Adore in vain; ah! hapless lot,
      Tho’ much with him, she lov’d him not.
And why thus callous? Can the hour
      Of danger cancel passion’s power,
Or changeful lot make us forget,
      In what we were, what we are yet?
Ah, no, not such is Nature’s child;
      Whether in desert country wild,
Or ’mid the city’s ceaseless hum,
      That passion reigns o’er all as one. —
She lov’d another far away,
      Whom she had met in early day:
’Tho slight the chance that she again
      Should meet him, other love was vain. —
It chanc’d upon an autumn day,
      She left her home the game to slay;
A huntress without guard or guide,
      With bow and arrows by her side;
And taking too much western range,
      Was ta’en and bound by Indians strange
From Canada, who sometimes came,
      For valued fur, to take the game;
Nor game alone, but often life
      Of Natives, in unequal strike;
Not that the latter were less brave
      To face the foe, or friend to save,
But nurs’d in mountain solitude,
      They ne’er possess’d the deadly tube
With which the foe, all pitiless
      And powerful, would still distress;
Which seem’d by potent charm to slay,
      Whilst feeble arrow fell midway.
With wand’ring band who thus would roam,
      Soloa — captured far from home, —
Was forc’d to sojourn for a space,
      Whilst they pursued the vig’rous chase.
A bower apart afforded there,
      By one the youngest hunter’s prayer,
Whose stripling form too slight was deem’d,
      For dang’rous hunt and so esteem’d
Was doom’d, ah, heavy doom for youth,
      To guard around Soloa’s booth.
Night came and hunters far away; —
      Save him who thus was task’d to stay.
And sleeps the captive? can she sleep,
      With none but foe, her watch to keep?
She can, — for she had caught his eye,
      Ere night-bird sang its lullaby: —
When first upon Soloa’s view,
      Appear’d an eye of orient blue,
And nought but love-beams floating there
      She knew there was no cause for fear!
That night, when all was hush’d and still,
      And slumber work’d its fitful will,
She heard a voice as in a dream: —
      ‘Maiden I am not what I seem!’
Upstarting from her rushy bed,
      ‘Who art thou stranger,’ then she said, —
‘And why thus enter to dispel
      A dream of home I love so well?’
‘My mother was an Indian maid, 1
      With home like thine in forest shade;
A father’s form I never knew —
      They say he was a warrior true,
Who came from distant land to bring
      Bribes to the Chiefs to serve a King.
He lov’d, or, said he lov’d: what then!
      Ah! what are woman’s wiles to men!
Unmov’d can they hear flattery’s strain,—
      Or when did warrior sue in vain?
That maiden left her all for him;
      For to her wild imagining, —
The sun-ting’d ocean — rainbow — sky, —
      Pales when compar’d to warrior high!
Bright and ecstatic was her dream,
      Trifling to him as light moon-beam;
Nearly as brief, for three weeks flown
      My mother was again alone:
Ah, what avails it now to tell,
      Of whirling brain and bosom’s swell, —
The days, the nights, of agony,
      Years not from mental suff’ring free?
’Tis past! She lives! and I am here
      Her heart’s sole treasure; Indian fair,
In wish’d-for time I hope again
      To clasp her! have I spoken in vain?’
‘Not so,’ Soloa soft replied —
      ‘Your mother — as in maiden pride,
Or worse than widow’d wretchedness —
      Will ever on my mem’ry press.
But what have I to do with thee,
      And why reveal thy mystery?
Since to your tribe I now belong,
      You would not do the captive wrong!’
‘Perish the thought!’ the youth exclaimed, —
      ‘Your confidence I sought and gain’d,
My only wish to bear you free, —
      This night you must depend on me.’
Quickly he loos’d the deer-skin thong,
      By which her feet were bound too long;
And swiftly, as on wings of fear,
      O’er vale and mountain flew the pair.
Across their way full oft would spring
      The startled fawn, or bird take wing,
And almost brush each bounding breast,
      Whilst onward as for life they press’d.
Morn dawn’d, as by an inland sea,
      Or boundless lake, if such there be,
They sat them down to take their rest,
      ’Till coming light illum’d its breast;
Then by some branches well conceal’d
      The maid a birchen bark reveal’d,
Which lightly launch’d upon the wave,
      was swift impell’d by paddle stave.
‘Now speak again, Oh! gentle youth,
      For yours is like the voice of truth!’
But stopping short, Soloa said:
      ‘How thoughtless was the Indian maid, —
Ah, me! I’ve done you grievous wrong,
      And we have tarried much too long,
For should you without me return,
      Will not your rangers’ anger burn?
Evil for good I would not give,
      I will return, then die or live.’
‘Grieve you for that?’ the youth replied,
      ‘Thus free to share what ills betide
My breach of trust; then take relief,
      My mother’s sire is our tribe’s chief;
’Tho’ old, yet potent is his arm,
      They durst not do his grandson harm.’
Reliev’d, Soloa smil’d with joy,
      And fain would clasp the blooming boy;
But something in her breast forbade,
      And check’d the effort passion made; —
Then dash’d the light boat on again,
      But safely far from woody main,
Which lately had Soloa press’d,
      More free than now, yet not so bless’d!
Now swiftly passing down the lake,
      The maiden points with glance elate, —
‘See you yon highland far away,
      But half reveal’d by hazy ray?
The hundred islands all are there,2
      With channels dang’rous, dark and drear,
Yet safe to those who know them well;
      They wind by many fruitful dell,
And fish and fowl all tamely play,
      In safe, secluded, glassy, bay:
That place one day must be our home,
      Then should you ever higher roam,
And wish to see the Indian maid,
      Be signal on that shore display’d.
It shall be so,’ the youth replied;
      ‘If thou wilt be the wand’rer’s bride; —
When manhood nerves my willing arm,
      To keep thee safe from every harm, —
If weary of sequester’d life,
      I long to enter into strife,
Which christian hands will ever blend
      With human lot, — then more than friend —
I’ll bear thee far from these wild scenes,
      To where my mother of me dreams,
And hers shall be your welcome home;
      Then wilt thou thither with me roam?’
‘I know not now, I must not say
      I will, yet scarcely can say — nay; —
But if thy thoughts with mine agree,
      Thou wilt one day return and see.’


The stag is bounding thro’ the brake,
     The hare is on the spring;
The loom is gliding o’er the lake, —
     The plover on the wing:
The mountain top again displays
     Its shadow on the plain;
But merry mates of early days,
     We ne’er behold again!

They tell me that the morning ray
     Is fairer than the noon;
The blossom of the early day,
     Much sweeter than the bloom: —
For once I own the sages right, —
     My morning spent with thee;
But when the sun has gained his height —
     Where, Stranger, wilt thou be?

’Tis past, the boat is on the shore,
      The huntress gain’d her home once more,
Nor need the bard to parents tell,
      The stranger there was welcom’d well;
And watch’d by Norac on his way
       For leagues, until the close of day.


Now came the season when the bear
       And wolf pursued the flying deer;
The fox waylaid, with cunning deep,
       The hare or marten on the steep;
Th’ amphibious otter, beaver mild,
       With instinct so like reason’s child,
Safe from the foe, of such devoid,
       By man alone could be destroy’d; —
Then Norac and Bravora, bent
       On lengthy journey, hunting went,
And left, without a guard, at home,
       The mother and the daughter lone—
Nor yet all lonely, for a boy,
       Some three years’ old, gave household joy;
Cheering by prattle all his own,
       In soft melliffluous Indian tone.
But, ah! it chanc’d on luckless day,
       That mother did with darling stray,
To cheer her with his notes of joy,
       And banish memory’s dark alloy:
By times he bounded gently on —
       By times he rested on the thong,
Which round her breast and shoulders hung,
       And cradl’d oft her darling son;
E’en so it was when on her view,
       Appear’d of Christian hunters two;
One levell’d the unsparing gun,3
       Aim’d at the mother—slew the son.
There was no cry, there was no moan,
       If so she heard not, but when home
Was gain’d, and band which form’d his bed
       Unlac’d, she found the child was dead!
All silent then and motionless,
       Stunn’d by the weight of her distress,
That day — that night — in anguish spent,
       Where every shade of woe was blent:
The dreaded foe so near her door,
       Her husband far on dreary moor,
Six children, one by one, had died,
       A daughter only by her side,
All friendless — none to shieled her now —
       What could that mother do but bow
Her head, and lie her down to die?
       But did she? Mark her kindling eye,
And hear her purpose low express’d; —
       ‘Soloa! I can take no rest,
Until a Christian child I gain,
       In place of one by Christian slain.’
‘Forbear, my mother; oh! forbear!
       What would you with the stranger here?
How little may the mother know
       Of him, the wretch who struck the blow;
And how could you to other give
       Such torture as is yours — and live?
‘I know it, but feel rage to-day,
       Which nothing but revenge can stay;
No more, — I am resolved to go —
       Nought less can soothe thy mother’s woe.’—
Days pass’d away, and not a sound
       From her, who oft made woods resound
With song of love in peaceful age,
       With scream of wrath when war would rage!
At length, with feeble step and moan,
       She did return, and not alone:
Into Soloa’s arms she toss’d
       A boy, the age of him she lost;
Then shrieking, cried, in accents wild,
       ‘Soloa! bring me my own child!
Hark! heard you not your brother call?
       Yes, — there he is, — and brothers all —
All seem to beckon me away.
       Soloa — I am going — stay —
Say to your father —’
                   All is o’er —
Sombrina sighs, and speaks no more!


My Mother! she has found a rest,
       Beyond the hunter’s aim;—
The babe which nestled on her breast,
       May slumber there again.

My Father! he is far away,
       And never may return;
What can the Indian maid to-day,
       But for the absent mourn!

My Brothers! they are lowly laid
       Where oft I love to stray;
Their bodies—in the fir-tree shade,—
       Their spirits—far away!

The Fawn, forsaken,—now alone,
       May woo the hunter’s dart;
For the stricken Deer has gain’d her home—
       With the arrow in her heart!

The simple, nor less plaintive, strain
       Is over, and the maid again

Appears to think of earthly thing,
       Forgot in rayless suffering:
Recall’d from her excitement wild,
       By voice of long-unheeded child,
And gazing fondly on the boy,
       A flashing thought gives transient joy;
‘Thou shalt return, thou lov’d and lost,
       To those on earth who love thee most,
For none can fill the void beside;
       So mother found when brother died.
I’ll bear thee to the shelter’d cave,
       There safe—if secrecy can save—
We’ll rest until our guardians come,
       Who shall restore thee, gentle one!’
By children’s side in fir-tree shade,
       Sombrina now is lowly laid,
All signs of living there effaced,
       Soloa to her back has laced
The child, and, with one silent wave
       Of hand to Spirit, seeks the cave.
Few miles from thence a channel torn
       By earthquake, or by water worn,
Stretch’d on for many miles to sea,
       With torrent roaring wild and free:
The banks with fern and brushwood crown’d
       The sides compos’d of broken ground,
Except that sometimes would appear
       The rock so rude, or cavern drear;—
’Twas Indians’ wont by night to glide
       Across the plain to channel’s side,
The priz’d cosmetic to obtain,
       The breast, the hands, the face to stain;
And many a fair and dimpled cheek,
       Was spoil’d by that fantastic freak;
Thus fair by Nature, red by will,4
       They were misnam’d, and would be still.
And now, upon an evening mild,
       Soloa wanders with the child,
But rests in woody verge till day,
       Departing, makes more safe her way.
Soon as the friendly night had flung
       Its mantle o’er the lonely one,
She hied with joy to cavern drear,
       And smil’d to think the child was there.
And weary days now pass away,
       Norac—Bravora—still they stay—
Whilst oft as safe proceeds the maid,
       Unto the gloomy fir-tree shade;
Returning late from lov’d one’s sleeping,
       Where she her vigils had been keeping,
Across the trackless plain she hied,
       Her errand Mercy—Love her guide—
Soloa gained the secret cave,
       And found the child she wish’d to save,
Too young for thought, too pure for care,
       All safe and softly sleeping there;
Soon by its side she gently press’d
       The rushy couch, and sank to rest;
As morning dawn’d a sound was heard,
       Like note of some peculiar bird;
A chirrup follow’d, quick and clear,—
       Soloa knew a friend was near;
Then swiftly did the maiden glide,
       From cavern’d way to river’s side,
And leaning ’gainst a shelving plane,
       Awaited the repeating strain;
It came at length, the maid replied,
       And blest Bravora’s by her side.
‘My father! Is he on his way,
       Or has aught happen’d, speak, I pray!’
‘Not so, but safe, and bade me bear
       The tidings, and protect you here;
Whilst he removes, to secret place,
       The produce of our three weeks’ chase.
Returning late, I found your home
       Raz’d to the ground, and tenants gone,
I need not ask, I know full well,
       What it would pain you much to tell,—
That home was found by Christian men,
       And desolation follow’d then.’
‘Even so, and worse,’—the maiden said,—
       ‘For Mother—Brother—all are dead!
Alas! that I should have to tell,
       Of evil deed, or luckless spell.
But thus it was: one morn from home,
       My mother with the child did roam,
Was met by hunters on the wild,
       Who aim’d at her, and kill’d the child;
She quickly turn’d towards the glen,
       Where was the home of cruel men;
Watching her time, she saw with joy,5
       By cottage door, an infant boy,
The age of her lamented one,
       And quickly o’er her shoulder flung
The frighten’d child, and bore him home,
       To fill the place of darling gone;
But vain the course she would pursue,—
       The stolen child was not the true!
Not him she bore thro’ winter’s cold,
       And summer’s heat, till three years old’
The last,—child of her old age!—
       Ah! what could then her grief assuage?—
Her other sons had perish’d well,—
       To save a father’s life they fell,
And she was comforted—but when
       The last, most lov’d, was taken,—then—
Then—reason reel’d, whilst eye grew bright,
       Her heart was broken — there was night.
And now that dangers dire surround,
       And mother recks not of the sound,
Why should the infant stranger share
       The Indian’s danger and despair?
Oh! bear him hence, — Oh, take him home,
       Then unencumber’d may we roam.’
Bravora paus’d awhile, and then,
       With watchful glance from rock to glen: —
‘What! would you send me now away —
       And hunters reeking for a prey?
Your father absent, mother gone, —
       I cannot leave you, bounding fawn!
Beside, I mind me, time is come,
       When silent courtship must be done;
For it is full nine moons ago
       Since first I own’d a lover’s woe;
You promis’d then — within that time,
       If your boy came not — to be mine.’
‘Oh! would you your affection prove,
       Then speak not to me now of love!
Ah me! my first and only choice,
       No more may hear Soloa’s voice,
And were he by, you still would share
       All that one loving heart could spare;
But think, Bravora; deep the woe
       Of women’s hearts, when first they know
The raging force of passion vain,—
       Time they require to soothe the brain!’
She rose and beckon’d with her hand
       That he should leave her, a command
Bravora never yet withstood,
       And so withdrew in sullen mood.


Now Westerly the sun descends,
       And to the sky new glory lends,
As lofty spirits, ere their fall,
       Bestow on those they love their all.
A flow’ry bank, which, in the sheen
       Of sunset, look’d like fairy scene,
Extended from o’erhanging ledge
       Of rocky cliff, to river’s edge:
Soloa and Bravora there
       Reclin’d at ease, apart, but near,
At ease? ah, no! Soloa’s breast,
       By ever varying passion press’d,
Heav’d with remembrance of the past,
       Too wildly dear, and sweet to last!
Her absent lover now would fill
       Each thought, and powerless leave her will;
Anon—the Christian child would bear,
       Of conflict dire, its dreadful share,—
Bravora: ’tho’ she lov’d him not,
       Had shar’d with her each changing lot,
To which the wand’ring Indian yields
       A willing suffrance, tho’ he FEELS!
And he had done so much for those
       She lov’d, since ruthless war arose,
That much was due from her full heart,
       Where gratitude still held its part;
But all in vain, the recreant breast
       Would still rebel; — the life-blood, press’d
By ancient cruelty away,
       Gave not the doom’d more agony: —
Bravora watch’d her changing eye,
       And heard with pain each rending sigh,
And felt, as lovers feel, the cause
       Was govern’d by capricious laws; —
Then was his turn to feel the woe,
       Which unrequited love can know;
And all unquench’d, his Indian blood
       O’erwhelm’d his reason like a flood.
Sudden from grassy couch he sprang,
       The chasm with his wild whoop rang;
Twice was the bow brought to his eye,
       The arrow drawn, but not let fly;
As oft it harmless fell to ground,
       When gaze was met by gaze profound, —
Never before had human form
       Compress’d so much of passion’s storm; —
Never before had maiden’s eye,
       Glanc’d lightning half so wild and high!
She stood as willing victim there,
       Ready the direst deed to dare
From his rash hand, knowing full well,
       O’er savage minds the passions’ spell;
And more than even this, she knew,
       If she his madness would subdue,
It must not be by start or scream,
       Uplifted hand or moving scene;
For had she deign’d, by voice or look,
       To sue for pity there, or shook
A single fibre in the blast,
       That voice, that look, had been her last.
A moment, and a sound is heard —
       Is it the warbling of a bird,
Or sound of an Ĉolian lyre,
       Which soothes unseen the Indian’s ire?
Ah, no! it is Soloa’s song;
       Commencing low, and waxing strong:
Of early time the melting strain,
       When childhood held its dreamy reign, —
Of later days, when war began
       To rage on the unpractic’d man;
Of Christian breaking Indian law,
       Of wrongs receiv’d from Carawa: Their term for Canadian Indians.
Anon; the strain is chang’d, and high
       Thro’ cavern’d cliffs the wild sounds fly,
Portraying in all glowing song
       How ruthless strife was borne along —
How bravely fought her native tribe,
       When strangers press’d on either side, —
Far from the West the Carawa,
       Who knew, save might, no human law —
And from the East a Christian band,
       Who wielded the death-dealing brand,
How — when the battle ’gainst him turn’d,
       Brave Norac every offer spurn’d
Of treach’rous peace, nor would receive
       The life an enemy might give;
But bade the remnant still fight on,
       With death-dirge for their battle song;
And his brave sons selecting out,
       ‘Who nobly compass’d him about,’
Sought post of danger, deed of dread,
       And cheer’d them till the last was dead;
Then fell thrice wounded where he lay,
       The last save one who fought that day,
Who bore him living from the plain,
       Ah, who? — She sighed, Bravora’s name!

How sweet the sound of woman’s voice,
       In silent grove or lonely bower;
When o’er her young heart’s early choice,
       She wakes or soothes deep passion’s power:
Or when the shades of night surround,
       Of wedded love the happy home,
The ear yields to the soothing sound,
       The heart to rapture all its own!

But never had the potent power
       Of song exceeded hers, whose hour,
Seem’d but the last when she began, —
       Long ere she ended chain’d the man!
Bravora stood entranc’d awhile,
       Look’d up — was greeted with a smile, —
And such a smile as only those
       Bestow, who feel for others’ woes.
Enough, — ’tis past, and moving o’er
       To where he had reclin’d before,
He beckon’d her to place above,
       And thus began his lay of love: —
Maid of the dark expressive eye,
       Whose gazes by degrees instilling
Love’s poison, wound more hopelessly
       Than glances more intensely thrilling; —
To thee, as to cloud-touching pine,Supposed Tree Worshippers.
       Bravora kneels, and will be kneeling;
Till that too placid brow of thine
       Betrays some ray of softer feeling!


Soloa — loving not — can feel
       Sympathy for a lover’s sadness;
Like twilight o’er her senses steal,
       And chase from thence her spirit’s gladness.


In vain thy callous heart bestows
       Such thought on one thus wildly beating;
Compassion cannot yield repose,
       Nor sympathy such sorrow sweeten!


Ah! no; when once our bosoms warm,
       And love on its own shrine is burning;
Nothing beneath the sky can charm,
       But ardent love for love returning!
Bravora — with such thoughts as these,
       What can I say your woe to lighten?
Be still thy gentle task to please,
       And friendship into love may brighten!
The strain was sweet, and from the heart,
       Yet mingled still some shade of art, —
Fearful to bid him hope no more,
       The maiden deign’d for once to pour
That balsam o’er his fever’d brain,
       Her ripe design the best to gain;
And when she had succeeded well,
       In breaking the love-potent spell,
Thus spoke the maid, who wish’d to sway: —
       ‘Tho’ for myself I could not pray,
Yet for another I can waive
       All pride, when I would wish to save; —
See — where yon group of alders grow,
       The nearest to the water’s flow;
Well; — just above them, and behind,
       Securely shelter’d from the wind,
A cave has long to me been known,
       And oft in danger prov’d a home:
Now is another tenant there, —
       I tremble, but it is not fear;
Bravora — do not look so wild —
       Alas! ’tis but the Christian child!
And you must bear him whence he came,
       Return, and we will talk again!’
The Indian, slowly rising, stood
       With down-cast eye, in musing mood. —
‘Is there much danger, then?’ she ask’d,
       ‘I would not have you hardly task’d.
Are Christian hunters in your way,
       Or Carawas about the bay? —
Can wolves be num’rous on the shore? —
        I never knew you fear before!’
‘It is not such,’ the Indian said,
        ‘I fear nor wolves — nor hunter’s lead,
But should I reach the distant bower,
        The Christian’s home — Oh! then would lower
The greatest danger, — safe the child,
        They may take life of Indian wild.’
Soloa paus’d in anxious thought,
        On mercy thus with danger fraught,
Then said: — ‘May you not safely bear
        The child his home and kindred near,
And leave him where he may be found
        By mother dear, on native ground?
Ah me! that child! I cannot rest,
        Till slumbers it on mother’s breast!
Oh! bear him hence, unharm’d and free —
        Return, — and I will rest with thee!’
‘It shall be done,’ Bravora said —
        ‘Tho’ Indian slumber with the dead.
But other things my thoughts distress,
        For many dangers soon must press
Your father and yourself around, —
        This cannot long be secret ground,
And who will watch thy safety o’er,
        When poor Bravora is no more?
Sad then must be thy destiny!
        Not of myself I think, but thee.’
‘Oh! think not of me, now,’ she cried,
        ‘But that I soon may be thy bride;
And we will wander far from view,
        ‘Where none can reach, in mountain blue!’ —
‘Enough! I go, — but leave the child, —
        To take him thro’ the forest wild
Were nothing, but to brave the foe,
        With such encumbrance, courts the blow!
But I will reach the distant bay,
        And guide a party on the way,
And glad them with the infant boy,
        The father’s hope, the mother’s joy.
When Indian speaks the deed’s begun, —
        And long before the rising sun,
Bravora brushed the morning dew,
        Mercy and love alone in view,


The day once more is on the wane,
        Bravora gazes on the plain;
And far beyond, from mountain’s crest,
        Perceives the boundless ocean’s breast;
And resting there an hour alone,
        The scene, the season, all his own —
Thinks o’er the past with anguish deep,
        And for the first time fain would weep:
Just such an hour have thousands past,
        Whose days have dwindled to the last,
They could not know, nor car’d to tell,
        If known, what caus’d the bosom’s swell; —
It was the scene, it was the hour,
        To yield to mem’ry’s, fancy’s, power;
And musing upon by-gone days,
        The phantoms of the past to raise, —
To hear, ‘or dream you hear,’ around,
        From fairy plot, or haunted ground,
A lullaby of childhood’s time
        Or plaintive strain of youthful prime.
Descending now the mountain’s side,
        And fast approaching ocean’s tide,
Bravora swiftly onward press’d,
        Reliev’d by action more than rest.
He gains at length the home, he thought,
        The same from whence the child was brought,
With Indian freedom opes the door,
        Reveals, by signs, that distant moor
Conceal’d the child they long had wept,
        And he would shew them where it slept;
Alas! for him, those men had bound
        Themselves by oath, wherever found,
An Indian red, beneath the sky,
        That one ‘or more, if there,’ should die.


The spirit of life’s early morn,
Now heralds forth the coming night;
In misty shroud my father’s form
Descends — as in his hour of might —
      The foeman to defy!
He breathes upon my burning brow,
I hear his war-cry even now,
       To teach me how to die:
For the departed best can tell
The anguish of life’s last farewell!

Oh! were it but on battle plain,
Where warrior true may strike a blow;
And, ere he perish’d, bravely gain
One trophy from the dastard foe; —
       Then freely would he yield
The life that had been his full long;
But not for him the battle song,
       The glory of the field:
Unknown, unhonor’d, he must die;
By Christians slain, with cowards lie.

But let me, ere my final fall,
On early scene a moment dwell,
The dim and distant past recall,
When thou, my father, fought and fell;
       All lonely did’st thou go,6
A fierce marauding band to brave,
Thy captive wife to shield or save,
       From slavery and woe, —
With battle blade and bow in band,
And harmless branch alone in hand.

Emblem of peace, display’d in vain,
And scoffd at in an evil hour;
For foemen press’d the icy plain,
Who yielded not to pity’s power,
       Tho’ thou did’st reason mild;
And plead with pathos wild and high,
That they would let the father die,
       And mother join her child, —
The treach’rous answer, thou did’st feel —
Not hear — the base assassin’s steel!

Yes! there, upon that frozen lake,
The sanguinary contest dire,
Was witness’d by the wife, whose fate
Depended on one hero’s fire, —
       Nor seem’d the struggle vain;
Ere rais’d on high thy battle brand,
The foemen fell beneath thy hand,
       And strew’d the gelid plain, —
Until they sped the fatal ball,
Heroic chief thou didst not fall!

And thine, since then, yon misty form,
Which fading on the captive’s view,
Now mingles with the rushing storm,
And beckons that he may pursue,
       And with thy spirit dwell;
Even so, — the murd’rers wait around, —
The wolf’s, the raven’s cries resound;
       The life and love, farewell!
Now let your direst vengeance flow;
Christians, I’m ready, — strike the blow

Bravora ceas’d, — he died, and they 7
      Destroy’d their infant’s chance that day.
Oh! if I knew where sleeps that brave
      And faithful Indian, o’er his grave
A stone of adamant should tell
      To latest ages how he fell;
“That from deep forest, dang’rous wild,
      “Or from an unknown early grave,
“Indian would save a Christian child,
      “And Christians slew who wish’d to save!”
Soloa passes weary days,
      And wonders why so long delays
The fated messenger, who bore
      Tidings of mercy to sea shore.
Oft to the child the maid would speak, —
      What keeps Bravora, what can keep
That faithful being thus away, —
      Have wolves or hunters made him prey?
Ah me! I would not be his bride,
      Perhaps for me, for you, he died. —
Thus mourn’d th’imprison’d maid in vain,
      For hunters, now about the plain,
Prevented her from seeking still
      A sight of him from distant hill,
Where it had been her wont to stray,
      With hope of meeting on his way.
Ah! were it not for helpless child,
      Soon would she hasten from the wild,
And seek her father, with him fly
      To save, or with Bravora die.
But when a week and more had pass’d,
      She knew her lover sigh’d his last.
Her father now — her last sad thought —
      Risk as she might — must still be sought.
Strong reason was there, she should brave
      Surrounding dangers, for the cave,
No longer safe, when heard resound,8
      With voice of man, the howl of hound;
Nor longer can her thoughts be bent
      On aught save self and innocent: —
Again she hears, with shudd’ring start,
      No sound of wolves but blood-hounds bark,
And knew full well that all was o’er,
      That they would course to cavern door, —
That reckless hunters would be there, —
      And death must follow, or despair!
She listen’d breathlessly, the sound
      Had passed away to distant ground, —
Now, Now, or never, and again
      The child is laced, and o’er the plain
She flies more swiftly than before, —
      As danger presses more and more,
She gains the forest, bounding through,
      Her home is seen and lost to view;
Home of the dead, her home no more,
      She hies towards the wave-wash’d shore,
Where last she left her frail canoe,
      But will she gain it? Hark, Halloo!
The bay of hounds, the dreadful cry
      Of hunters, — fly, Soloa, fly!
Oh! welcome sight, — the lake’s in view,
      She nears it fast, but there are two
Staunch blood-hounds now, almost within
      The last terrific fatal spring; —
Soloa! leave the child, and fly!
      She pauses; if the men were nigh
It may be done, but hounds, — forbear; —
      The child to atoms they would tear!
She pants, she fails, and feels the breath
      Of blood-hound coursing to the death,
When sudden wakes the war-whoop strain.
      Her father bounds across the plain;
With arrow fitted to the bow,
      The foremost blood-hound is laid low;
Another from the same source flies,
      Low as the first the second lies;
She stops, he beckons to fly on,
      A moment more and he is gone,
Oh! had he really known how few
      He had to fight for, the canoe
Might have receiv’d and borne him o’er
      The lake to safely distant shore.
It was not so, all was not known
      To him who nobly fought for home.
For home, and wife, and child, he thought —
      For all he loved, for all he sought;
And bravely did he win his way
      To where his wife and children lay,
And saw, with frantic whoop and bound,
      The wig-wam raz’d, and broken ground,
The graves of those he hoped to meet, —
      Even from their graves he must retreat.
Soloa launch’d her light canoe,
      And paddles off with child, to view
The closing scene, or wait for him
      Who pass’d away with tiger spring, —
She heard his war-cry, far above
      The shouts of those with whom he strove,
And now he breaks thro’ tangled brake,
      And rushes on towards the lake; —
Save him, Soloa! ah! they fire,
      And wound him, — he will not expire.
Again that gun, — he staggers, falls,
      But never once for mercy calls.
With Indian heart, and Indian eye,
      Soloa sees her father die,
And feels that there are none to mourn,
      Tho’ she should never more return.
Slowly she paddles the canoe,
      Toward the island known to few,
Whilst ever and anon the strain
      Of dirge, or death-song, gains the main.
She nears the channel, dark profound, —
      Is eddied by a whirlpool round,
Then swiftly darts the passage thro’,9
      Passing for aye from mortal view!

Notes to the Poem

  1. My mother was an Indian maid,
    With home like thine in forest shade;”
    The author once saw in Quebec a Canadian youth, whose description and history were literally as set forth in the poem.[back]

  2. The hundred islands all are there,
    With channels dang’rous, dark and drear,”
    There is such a lake as described, in the interior of Newfoundland, with a numerous cluster of islands, some of which were reported by furriers to shelter a few Red Indians as late as 1830.[back]

  3. One levell’d the unsparing gun,
    Aim’d at the mother — slew the son.”
    The author heard an old Planter tell, that about the year 1800 he fished out of a place called Cricket (or Grigurt), and in the Fall went with one more to hunt for deer.   When about fifteen miles in the country, they discovered a party of Indians, one very tall and stout man, one slighter, apparently a youth, and a woman with a child on her back, as described.  They were walking leisurely along, and would not have been molested, had not the youth looked round, and then intimated to the others that strangers were near:  the two men then turned round and with bent bows faced the hunters, whilst the woman attempted to escape.  The planters, fearing that they would be attacked by numbers, fired, one at each; the stout Indian was evidently wounded, he whooped aloud and bounded from the ground; it was also known by the frantic gestures of the woman that the child was either killed or wounded; but the youth and the supposed mother escaped unhurt.  All managed to disappear in the wood, and the hunters retreated in the greatest trepidation.  The narrator added, that he never regretted any act of his life so much as drawing his trigger at that time.[back]

  4. Thus fair by Nature, red by will,
    They were misnam’d, and would be still.”
    The author never saw but two of the Red Indians (so called).  The one, a young woman, was not much darker than the generality of women in a laborious station of life.  The other, a man, who was taken a child from his parents, was in a fishing boat with others (not Indians), and certainly did not appear darker than the rest; but there was something peculiar about the eye, by which he could easily be distinguished.  Red ochre was the prized cosmetic, and they have been known to travel many miles out of their way, to a cliff where a vein of such was to be found.[back]

  5. Watching her time, she saw with joy,
    By cottage door, an infant boy,”
    An aged woman was the author’s informant of this circumstance.  Upon being questioned about the Indians, she said her grandmother had a boy three or four years old taken by them.  The Indians were in the habit of calling every year at the planters’ winter quarters, (which would generally be in some remote place for the sake of timber and fur.)   In the case alluded to, the party consisted of two men, a woman, and a girl — the supposed daughter; they remained several days, as was their habit, without doing injury or mischief.  The Indian woman was observed by the mother to notice the child particularly, and informed her by signs that she had lost a little boy like him.   When leaving, she spoke and made signs to her supposed husband, who deliberately took up the child, placed it on his back, and walked off; but the Indian girl, when she saw the mother’s distress, hurried after them, and seemed to entreat her supposed parents to leave the child, and finally became so importunate and troublesome, that the man raised his bow and drew an arrow to the head, whilst the girl stood rigid as a statue; he then dropped the arrow, and was troubled no more by her or others; the mother of the child being struck motionless with horror, and the only man present (not being the father) being too much intimidated to interfere.[back]

  6. All lonely did’st thou go,
    A fierce marauding band to brave,”
    The particulars of this dreadful contest were taken (almost verbatim) from a published account of the capture of Mary March, by an eye witness.  The author has the paper still in his possession, and sincerely regrets his inability to do anything like justice to one of the most thrilling scenes, that ever occurred in this, or any other country.[back]

  7. He died, and they
    Destroy’d their infant’s chance that day.”
    A few weeks after the child was taken as described (Note 5), the same house was visited by another Indian alone, who endeavoured by signs to induce the planters (who were before absent) to accompany him into the country; but they, suspecting that others were lying in wait to fall upon them, refused to go; and being greatly incensed by the loss of the child, had sworn to kill every Indian they would come up with; but after the last visitor was put to death, it occurred to several that his signs and gestures had evidently referred to the lost child.  The parents in particular were overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow and remorse.[back]

  8. When heard resound,
    With voice of man, the howl of hound;”
    The reader will please substitute Newfoundland dog for hound, in his imagination, and the picture will not be overcharged.  The latter was preferred because the former would not run so smoothly in rhyme.[back]

  9. Then swiftly darts the passage thro’,
    Passing for aye from mortal view!”
    The last account of Red Indians which the author believed to be authentic, was received from a Canadian Indian, who stated, that in 1831 he saw a canoe with two persons, (a woman and a small man, or boy), come out of one of the numerous channels, and proceed across the lake in a different direction from the point occupied by him.  It may be necessary to state that the eight lines commencing thus —
    “How sweet the sound of woman’s voice —”
    Were taken from an early effusion of the author, published some years since in Harbor Grace, and signed, “G. W.”[back]