Indian Blood

from "Little Stories of Old New England"
By William Everett Cram

Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette, Thursday, January 6, 1938

As far back as I can remember, it seems to have been a matter of common knowledge that certain families in this vicinity inherited Indian blood. In every instance this inheritance must have been very slight, for these families had intermarried generation after generation with other families. The real full-blooded Indians seem to have disappeared here earlier than almost anywhere else in the country, probably because this was one of the first settlements of white men. In spite of the exceedingly small proportion of Indian possessed by them, the men who I was told were part Indian, showed the red man's characteristics clear cut and unmistakable. We could easily recognize their tracks in the snow, for each foot print pointed straight ahead, one right in front of another, and they always preferred to walk in Indian file, either in the woods or along the country roads or on the village street. The typical Indian profile with high cheek bones and straight dark hair appeared to be astonishingly persistent, when in all probability more than nine-tenths of their family inheritance could be traced back to England. As a rule they were of more erect and graceful carriage than the average farmer, owing probably to the fact that work was not their one and only object in life.

The ideal of the New England farmer - thrift and unending toil combined - they lacked. Skilled workmen though most of them were, and most capable of earning good wages, they were inclined to spend their money as fast as they got it, and then go without. One and all of them expressed contempt for the persistent saving, the small economies, so characteristic of many well to do families at that time.

Possessed of keen wit and a gift for story telling, such as I have never heard the native red man credited with and which differed in a manner which I cannot quite define, from the dry wit of the typical Yankee farmer, they were generally well liked either as neighbors or hired help. At least one descendant of theirs has developed this gift to the extend of writing for publication both poetry and prose which the best critics class as high as any thing produced in this country. Another whom I greatly admire as the keenest hunter of wild game in this or any of the surrounding towns was also given to turning out original poems. These, so far as I know, have never been written down on paper, but were quoted by the boys of my school days, but always out of hearing of the teacher or our parents. I speak of it as poetry for poetry it really is, if I am any judge, in such matters and some of it may eventually find its way into print, if the tendency away from the Victorian standard of what is morally printable continues its downward course. In defiance of my own puritanical inheritance and careful upbringing it persists in recurring to live in memory, and I have been vainly endeavoring to recall a line or two which would possibly bear quoting here, but not one of them will do. Chaucer's poems seem prudish by comparison.

This man - whom I will call Joe Bill - was also a skilled musician with the violin and the other musical instruments and could play by ear with full expression, any piece which he had once heard. For a time he held a good position with a Symphony Orchestra in Boston, but was forced to give it up on account of his weakness for strong drink. This weakness, typical of all men of his family for generations back, can undoubtedly be traced to his Indian ancestry since intoxication after a potion which the average farmer could take without noticeable results. It was he who, when reproached for being drunk, he replied, "Look at me, I ain't drunk. A man ain't drunk so long as he can lie down without holding on."

As a hunter he also exhibited the Red Man's well known traits. Almost anyone who has spent much time alone in the woods soon learns to find his way about without much noise of rustling leaf or broken twigs but of all the woodsmen whom I have known, not one could tread his way so silently as Joe Bill could. On a perfect September hunting morning, windless and clear, I was out after partridges and rabbits, and catching sight of him crossing an opening between swamp and upland, made my way in that direction and followed close at his heels, probably a good deal to his annoyance. Presently his collie flushed a cock partridge which flew straight up into the thick top of a tall pine, and then fell of his unerring aim. He already had two partridges and a wood duck in his game bag, while I had nothing to show. After that he headed straight east in the direction of my home and I still followed close at his heels. Another partridge flew up without giving either of us a chance for a shot, flying low toward the northwest. Hearing it alight on the dead leaves I remarked that it had not gone far and could easily be flushed again, to which he answered that it had gone two hundred yards into the swamp and continued his course due east until we came out at the edge of the open field in sight of my house. When I turned to ask him if he was not going to try for that last partridge, he had vanished, and though he was not three steps away two seconds before, I listened in vain for the faintest rustle or sound of footsteps anywhere. As I crossed the field and had almost reached my own yard, I heard the report of his gun from the very direction the partridge had taken and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had added another to his bag for that day.

Every one of the men of this class were hunters of wild game, and to be rated as sportsmen rather than pot hunters led to the woods by their love of nature and solitude. To one of them - a lifelong fox hunter - I am indebted for the most valuable knowledge concerning the ways of foxes. He could tell at a glance whether footprints in the snow had been made by a he fox or a vixen, and when the winter months were merging into spring he would call his hounds back whenever they started to follow the tracks of a female. He was a practical farmer and a raiser of poultry, but told me once that he would rather lose half his chickens than shoot a fox in the breeding season. He said that often when a fox was nearly tired out by the hounds, another would cross the trail just in front of them purposely leading them off on a fresh trail in order to give the other fox a chance to rest.

The women of the families possessing Indian blood were as a rule much shorter and plumper than the men. Most, if not all, of them had a true love of nature, and were generally credited with a deep knowledge of our native medical herbs. One who had been a friend and instructor of my mother in her girlhood, was a most enthusiastic student of botany and a lover of the forest trees. Her farm was almost entirely covered with tall pines and hemlocks which she refused to have cut beyond the limited amount required for her firewood, though her relatives -- one of whom was a lumberman by trade - urged her to sell such standing timber as was deteriorating from old age. In my early studies of natural history I enjoyed more than anything else in the world, tramping through her wide-spread woodlot, which came as near the ideal primeval wilderness as anything left in this part of the country. In her will she left these woods to her heirs on condition that not one tree should be felled for ninety-nine years from the time of her death; but greatly to my selfish disappointment, the heirs rather than go on paying taxes on the standing timber without revenue from it for that length of time, disputed the will be general agreement, sold the standing timber, and divided up the proceeds, The town of Old Hampton - as distinguished from its later offshoots, North and South Hampton and Hampton Falls - was early settled; its wide spreading acres of salt marsh furnished summer pasturage, and salt hay for winter fodder, for the white man's cattle before clearings could be made in the tall timber. From those early days even down to the present, the inhabitants of Old Hampton, despite their practical, common-sense matter of fact way of looking at things in general have been more or less influenced by the spirits of the departed red men. A prominent townsman of the seventeenth century married the daughter of a family of strong Indian inheritance and built a large house of beautiful colonial design where they lived happily until the time of her death. A few years later he married again the wedding ceremony taking place in the same house; and at the very moment when he slipped the ring of the finger of his bride the shadow of his first wife arose through the floor, seized the ring and vanished downward before the frightened eyes of all assembled there. The ring was never seen again, and subsequent ghostly manifestations, night after night, finally compelled the owner to rent the house and move away. But the Indian apparitions continued, so that no tenent was able to occupy the house for any length of time.

Various reasons for their quitting were given, some charging it directly on the ghost. I think, it was about twenty years ago, and not long before her death, that Medium Brown - at least so I was told - informed the present owner that the only practical way of getting rid of these ghostly manifestations would be to move the house itself, the reason for this being that the house was built over the graves of the Indian ancestors of the former owner's first wife. Her advice was taken, and at considerable expense the house was moved to its present location, and was, I believe, occupied by the same family for many years. Recently, however, I have seen no sign of life about the place whenever I pass that way though both house and grounds are kept in perfect order. I have been told that the present owner does not live there. It may be that the ghosts still occupy it to the exclusion of more material tenants. I have not heard of any ghostly apparitions since it was moved, but it is still known as the haunted house. Medium Brown herself claimed to have Indian blood in her veins and was proud of it. Her practice - which consisted in consulting the Indian spirits on questions brought to her by farmers, business men and doctors or selectmen of her own neighboring towns - earned her a good living. I have heard more than one practical and successful business man admit that he was indebted to her on various occasions for advice on matters concerning which he had been puzzled to know exactly what to do. When I was six years old, one of my uncle's Jersey cows was found lying with outstretched neck and distended eyes, breathing with the greatest difficulty. After trying in vain to relieve her or to find out what was the matter, my uncle and my father hitched up the fastest horse and drove five miles to consult Medium Brown on the matter. I clearly recollect the excitement of it all and especially their return, when they hurriedly warmed a lump of tallow and thrust it down the patient's throat. And as the cow lay there, spasmodically swallowing and recovering her breath they told us that on reaching Mrs. Brown's house, they had merely asked her to have a look over the barn and tell what was wrong there; to which she replied "Your old cow has a corn cob stuck in her throat. Give her a lump of tallow as big as a hen's egg and she will be all right." The cow got well.

This sort of thing, of course, may be explained by the theory of mind reading; that is to say, that she read the thoughts of her visitors, and used her own judgement as to cause and remedy. But I think the commonly ascribed explanation, that she was aided by the spirits, is the simpler of the two.

My mother was constantly worried and distressed because of my habit of spending so large a part of my time alone in distant woods and swamps, and asked Medium Brown during one of her "trances" if I was safe at such times. She replied: "He's all right. There is a spirit of a young Indian brave goes with him everywhere."

This particular region was evidently a favorite of the native Red Men for ages long past, for their arrow and spear heads, tomahawks and stone hammers were found here in abundance, though rare occurance in all the surrounding towns. On my ancestral acres was a field known as "the rye lot", now all overgrown with woods. A cousin of my grandfather gave to me and my cousin when we were boys, two large boxes full of these Indian flint relics which he had picked up in the lot.

Half a mile to the southwest of the old rye lot is a sandy knoll where I have found scores of them, and there in plowed land or freshet-worn stream bank I not infrequently found others.

John G. Whittier, the poet, though not a native of Hampton, loved the seashore town with its tide washed beaches and salt meadows, and spent many summers here. Throughout his writings the Indian lore is clearly in evidence, preserving for this and later generations, local history which had never before his time been written down, but which was handed along from one generation to the next by work of mouth. Just as the Norse legends and other ancient history has been.