Firstly I must set down, at my subject’s grave insistence, that he is not called ‘Blind Crow’ because he is old and sightless. It is an affectionate jibe chosen for him because of his clumsiness with tools and, I speculate, also because of his croaking laugh. It is a laugh unheard in Deerfield Township for many a long month now.
I am Blind Crow, of the Pocumtuck people. I swear before Our Lord Jesus Christ that everything I speak here is an account of what I have seen and done, and is in all particulars the truth.
In the late days of the past Autumn, I and two friends from my village made west to hunt. Their names are Tall Pine and Ahanu. We were headed for the Bent River Valley, hoping to find muskrat or hare, deer if we were lucky. The Good Fathers would prefer we give up hunting for mating animals, but I loved hunting and still engaged in from time to time.
Deerfield has seen so many White Men these seasons past that the game all around has been hunted out. Even two days travel from the Township there was no game, small, big, or of any other size. The life of the forest had vanished and the conditions for hunting were getting worse, not better, as we followed the darkening sun. Even the birdsong had died off, something I had never witnessed in that season. The bit of salt pork we had brought with us was gone and my companions pushed me to turn back, but I told them I was too hungry to go back. In truth I was proud. The Good Fathers had warned me of Pride many a time, but I was a fool. I insisted we carry on a day more, even though I sensed we were already treading land claimed by the Manuxet.
The Manuxet, the Reader will know, are the Pocumtuck’s worst enemy, and as far as I know the worst enemy of all Indian peoples. The Manuxet have not one medicine man, but are all medicine men. My Christian Brothers say some of the old Indian ways are wicked and heathen, but the Manuxet’s ways are unholy. Their shadows are said to be cursed, and wither the plants wherever they tread. It is known from men who have dared to raid their camps that they eat the flesh of their enemies. This is a sin not only to Christians. It is whispered that a man captured by the Manuxet does not only face torture and death, but will rise up and walk again when the first full moon shines on his resting place. From then on he will turn his face from the sun, and serve a new master not of this land or earth.
Only hours after I insisted we continue into their territory, our enemies found us. They had surrounded us in perfect silence, then made a great shouting and racket near at hand, perhaps to confuse us. Tall Pine, his rifle out and cocked, fired at once, no doubt thinking some fierce animal was upon him. The grey-faced brave who leapt from the bush was hit dead center and knocked back two yards. When he came at once to his feet again, I thought that he must somehow have avoided the bullet’s path. Then I saw the hole in his breastbone, big enough for two fingers, and that as he yelled his war-chant black blood sprayed from his lips. Bad medicine. Ahanu drew his knife and fought to his death. I later thought this a very wise decision. At the time, Tall Pine and I stood and gaped like gutted fish at the holed man dancing about us, and were captured.
Stripped of our weapons and gear, and our hands bound with leather thongs, we were marched several leagues further west, to a small settlement at the foot of a hill, not a proper village but a rough camp where dozens of slaves were already at work. Many different tribes were represented: Narragansett, Tunxis, Wappinger, but no other Pocumtuck. No more than a half-dozen men from any one tribe was used. This was deliberate, I think.
It appeared our fate would not be death, but hard labour, and the Manuxet surely worked us as hard as any devil of Hell works the Damned. We were to dig. And dig. And dig. For this work we had shiny tools –White Man’s tools looking very new and expensive– and as much food and water as we desired. This food was a foul-smelling but invigorating stew, always thick with roots and meat, and tended constantly in an iron cauldron by a hideously scarred warrior. Our one other luxury was a few hours of sleep on the bare ground around noonday. Our captors hated this part of the day, and it seemed to be the only time they were not on their feet. They sat and brooded on the work which was not being done. Them, I never saw sleep. No mention was made of the reason for digging. The work was slow going, for the ground was rocky and sewn with the roots of many trees, which had been pulled up prior to my arrival. The goal did not appear to be a ditch or trench, or a cellar, for whenever I reached a certain depth, I was nudged to start digging in some unexplored spot, or to deepen a hole already started elsewhere.
All my fellows were terrified of failing the Manuxet, but after not many days of digging, I saw a man collapse from exhaustion. He was dragged from sight and did not return, the fate of any who could not dig. Our masters moved ceaselessly about the ragged holes like drunken bedbugs. They talked loudly with each other and constantly declaimed in words I did not understand. I had not thought the Manuxet language much different from my own, but the sounds of their words I could not myself produce at all.
Speaking amongst ourselves was forbidden, but one day, seeing our guards distracted with their inexplicable discussion, I wiped away the sweat pouring from the top of my head like a bitter spring and suggested to a fellow of the Mohican nation that perhaps we would find Hell itself at the bottom of these pits. He indicated to me that we were being made to dig in a widening circle, and said our captors were searching for some kind of underground house, but did not know its exact location. Even from a white man, I would have considered this crazy. Keeping one eye on our guards, I questioned him about this house.
He told me we were digging for something called Yig. It is an ugly word, as all things of the Manuxet are ugly, and when I tried to speak it, it squirmed on my tongue as if I had bitten into maggoty meat. Although my companion’s eyes were wild, I nodded and accepted his words, for all that they made no sense.
The nights grew colder and the moon’s face, which had been hidden from us, began to grow anew. Time passed, and over the days and nights of our capture, Tall Pine grew weak. He had got a fever some days after our arrival, brought on by too much night air I thought. I leaned for a moment on my shovel, pretending to study a stone that was in the way of my work, and he spoke these words to me, in a voice I did not think his at all:
It is true, what the slaves have said: we go to Yig. I see His eyes. I feel His breath. We will serve in His house underground all the days of the earth.
Having spoken these awful words, Tall Pine’s body buckled like a mature stalk of wheat cut down by the scythe, and he fell dead. All but knocking me aside, two warriors leapt up to tend him, as if they had waited all night for that moment. Paying me no mind, one of them slipped some tiny bundle from out his belt and into Tall Pine’s mouth. He was most certain to push it into Tall Pine’s throat where it would not come loose, and I knew somehow that this was a sacrilege to my friend’s body.
I had had enough by that time of digging, and swung my shovel at the nearest of the braves. The force of my anger was such that the top of his skull came free and took flight like some bloody bird across the open pits. This man did not rise. Then I went after his partner and the others. So crushed with despair had I been, I had not noticed how careless our guards were about their weapons, which lay discarded here and there. Against my fury they could not stand at all and I vowed to fight until I, or their entire tribe, were dead!
That is what the Blind Crow in my head did then, what Blind Crow dreamed. I woke from this dream to see that I had returned to my labour, and that what had been Tall Pine was gone. Had the Manuxet taken my soul already? I wondered. I told myself my soul was consecrated to Christ, but found little solace in this. Then I brooded blackly through many unchanging days and spoke to no one. When I lifted my head to study my surroundings once more, perhaps to decide at last to lay down and die, I saw that only a few workers remained. Those who had been worked into collapse or sickness or death were not replaced. The work area had grown and the holes were many, some as deep as a man, some as deep as three. There was only one silent brave watching four toiling men now, but such an awful weight sat on my shoulders that thought of escape did not enter the whistling chamber of my empty skull. Another, less welcome observation, however, did take seed: the moon began to peek over the horizon, and I noted how great and fat it was, that indeed this night it was at its fullest.
I shivered as I worked, feeling her stare, as if she looked upon me not with pity or care, as I thought she should, but with grinning malice. The moon rose, and other figures joined me in her harsh glare. Still I worked. Even without looking up from my labour, I could not help but note that my new companions worked harder and faster than any man, slave or free, ever did. The field of holes would soon be one massive opening in the earth. I swallowed my screams and worked, in some chamber of my brain wishing my heart would rupture with the strain and Blind Crow drop stone dead. My shovel flashed and flew as I tried to match the pace of the thing digging beside me, until a chip of stone from that demon’s shovel cut my cheek and I looked up into Tall Pine’s dead dead eyes.
The world went from me then, and I descended into a blackness of which I remember nothing but an endless yearning to forsake this earth for the world of my ancestors. What followed I have since assembled from several dim fragments of waking. Everything I witnessed was at night, but I do not know if it was one night or several that I was bound to the tree trunk. It was the nearest sturdy tree to the dig site, and the Manuxet had tied me in such a way that any time I woke I must at once witness everything taking place. Truly there is no limit to their cruelty.
At one time I awoke to the hoarse and ugly voices of every one of the devil tribesmen raised in ululation to the many-starred sky, as they danced in supplication to what the digging had finally uncovered. The returned slaves had made furious progress and the object of the great work was now revealed to me: a massive structure built of greenish stones. The blocks were smooth and close-fitted, and of a workmanship finer than any White Man’s building I had seen. It was equal on four sides, which sides rose up in great square steps. Father Marylebone has told me this structure is called a ‘pyramid’. Near the top of this pyramid a small stone slab, about three feet high, was being forced open. A hush descended all at once when the portal toppled, and a fierce exhalation of greenish cloud poured straight up from the black hole. I had never thought of a cloud underground before, but by this time such a marvel fazed me not at all. The Indians gathered around the summit of the pyramid screamed horribly and were struck down. I did not know if they lived or died, but here my mind went black.
When next I woke, the stars and moon were hidden with cloud. I think now that to this smallest of mercies I owe what remains of my sanity. The Manuxet cavorted once more about their temple, but a group of lean, dark-skinned figures had joined them, which wherever they were placed stayed always in shadow. Silence reigned over this dance but for the stamp of bare feet on earth and an occasional low clicking and clacking unlike any sound I had heard before. From time to time one of the shadowy new-comers emerged from the tiny black doorway of the pyramid, and at other times returned, taking one of the tribesmen by the hand. Those men who entered the pyramid did not appear again.
The final time I was roused, it was to a cacophony of booming retorts that shook the very trees about: gunfire! A small army of motley white settlers had appeared, and to me they were as welcome as a host of angels. They rained lead shot of all kinds upon the Manuxet still assembled around the stone pyramid. Would the slaves raise their tools against the white men? Who could say whether in their new and horrid aspect they would do their masters’ bidding? But I saw then that the slaves were to a man laid flat and motionless. The shadow men also were absent, and the tiny door to their house back in its place.
Many of the Manuxet showed the same resilience as the man Tall Pine had shot down when we had been captured, but the white men’s storm of buckshot and lead balls tore them apart. Although their ruined corpses stirred and twitched much longer than any dying thing ought, in the end they were destroyed utterly.
I was concerned at first that my saviours might mistake me as one of the Manuxet and kill me as well, but I was released from my bonds and kindly made comfortable. It was then I caught a glimpse of the three men with stiff high collars watching from beyond. One of them was the Reverend Snow himself, an important Churchman from Boston who I had seen preach in Deerfield. Though I had seen him only once before, he had a powerful, hawkish nose I would never forget. From their attitude towards the mercenaries, I saw these men were in charge. When they noticed me however, they hastily retreated from sight and I did not see them again.
Very soon after the gun smoke had lifted, the white men took up shovels and picks to fill in the great hole around the blasphemous temple. They would be long at this task, I thought, but as the first blade struck dirt, the earth itself started to shake. I believed that we had angered this horrible Yig and asked God how much more tribulation would he rain down on my head. The earth did not rise up against us however, but in a great wash of dirt, stones and broken trees the hillside above the camp rushed down to bury the strange green stones. I and the men who had shot down the Manuxet got well out of the way of the landslide and none were injured. All agreed it was the Hand of God which had wiped out the rogue tribe’s evil works. The pyramid was indeed covered, all but the very highest tier, which still rose just high enough for the portal to show above ground. A brief effort was made to break apart the protruding portion of the stone house, but the men were tired, and eager to be on the trail home lest more of our dreaded enemy arrive seeking vengeance.
As for the slaves who had been laid out in the dirt, I was later assured that from all appearances they were quite dead, most of them for weeks. Whilst they did not benefit from a Christian burial, they are indeed buried and for that I am glad. It must be plain to you, Reader, as it is to me that my rescuers had been specifically employed to eliminate this group of Manuxet, and that the attack had been very carefully planned, but on this account my new companions remained as silent as the grave. After they returned me to Deerfield Township, these men vanished back into the woods and of them I know nothing else.
I am much reduced since my captivity, in both body and mind. Most of my hair has fallen out, my bones show through the skin everywhere, and I have a sickening pallor like that of the Manuxet. My people shun me now, and call me Tchibai, Ghost. They say that a Manuxet is living in my skull, watching through my eyes. They say that I stink of the Manuxet, like the places where the White Man has buried his dead, but not deep enough.
In the face of such injustice, the old Blind Crow would have turned to Our Lord Jesus Christ. He would gather strength from Christian belief. He would call on Christ for protection and hope.
I reach for Christ now, but I find nothing. In my heart, I know He must still be there, but I know too that no Christ, lamb or lion, could ever protect me from the underground God of the Manuxet, the foul thing they called Yig.
That is the extent of Blind Crow’s statement. Although I have never before doubted this Indian’s honesty, I naturally must question the veracity of his outrageous tale. It is indisputable that Blind Crow vanished for about a month after a hunting trip in the deep woods, perilously close to the territory of the Manuxet, and that his companions have never returned. It is also true that a massacre of the Manuxet was reported to our Order by a pair of Narragansett hunters at about the time specified in this narrative, but the agents of this violence have never been revealed.
Blind Crow has asked for my assistance in petitioning the Colonial Government for funds and men to eradicate the Manuxet entirely, and to excavate and destroy this fanciful House of Yig of which he speaks. Needless to say, such a petition will accomplish nothing. The Manuxet have never been a threat to white colonists, and whatever danger they are to their fellow Indian is reduced day by day by the Evils which sadly afflict all of the Native people: smallpox and drink.
Finally, regarding the assertion that a representative of the Church –especially as highly respected a man as Reverend Snow!—had some responsibility for such a massacre, or even stood by to witness it, I cannot credit. However, I did promise to transcribe Blind Crow’s statement word-by-word, and I have faithfully done so.