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Beyond Shingle Diggin's

Published February 22, 1995

“Queen of the Woods”

The last episode left Simon Pokagon longing to give Lonidaw, his Queen of the Woods, a farewell kiss, as she departed with her mother and the old trapper in his boat, but afraid to because of her jealous pet deer who stayed close by. “Just then, like some anxious dog to go, that starts before his master’s team, the deer started off before the boat, bounding up the stream along the shore. Quickly I seized Lonidaw’s hand, and holding it aloft, our lips half-way in mutual concert met. No word we said; our hearts endeared, beat time to the tune of youthful love no language can express. Unlike the savage practice of the whites, our little band no sneering laugh passed round. Pushing the boat from off the shore, I said, ‘Me-no tchi-ki (Goodbye) until we meet again.’

“I hoped to see her shed a parting tear, but she simply waved her hand and smiled ‘Me-no tchi-ki!’

“I watched the boat, with its living jewel crowned, sweep round the river’s bend, while every now and then, through bush and brake, I faintly glimpsed the snow-white deer, in contrast with the green, bounding along the shore.”

Simon did return to school for another year before he pursued his queen further, but the following summer finds him trying to find her mother’s home among the Ottawas. Through the old trapper’s grandson he finds her, but faces obstacles to marriage. First, she says, “My mother says a hunted race like ours should never wed.”

Simon replies, “Dear one, I have lived for years with the pale-faced race; they have always used me well.”

“Yes,” Lonidaw replies, “and you can talk well with them in their tongue, and read their books, but I am a wild child of the woods, wild as the birds that gather round to hear me sing the songs they chant… I can only speak my mother tongue. With my mother and our people I am happy, but should we wed, I fear you soon would tire of my native woodland ways and crush this childish heart of mine.”

“No, not so,” Simon said, … “I would forsake the white man’s land and we would live as our fathers lived … I am willing,” he insists, “to surrender all the aspirations that ever were mine to become learned and great, that I might enjoy the heaven-born love I have for thee alone.”

One more obstacle was the jealous white deer, who sensed her loyalty for him diminish in favor of this new love. Finally the deer leaves never to return and Lonidaw is inconsolable.

“How could I have had the heart to grieve him so,” she says forlornly, “when always I knew he was the first to welcome and the foremost to depend!” Other suitors had been afraid to try for fear of the deer. But Simon did not give up.

They pledged their vows before her mother and went to make their home on the shores of an unnamed lake, whether with the Ottawas or near the Potawatomie in our corner of southwest Michigan. I think the latter, because quite often in the story he is already spoken of as “the young chief Pokagon.”

In the course of the next five years two children are born: Olondaw, a boy, and Hazel Eye, a girl; and bring much happiness to their wilderness home and simple life.

“When the boy was twelve years old, Lonidaw reluctantly gave her consent that he might go to school, but not until she exacted a solemn promise from the priest that he should be carefully cared for and strongly guarded against the intoxicating cup, that deadly enemy of our race.”

The night before he left Lonidaw had several dreams which seemed to forebode disaster. If you remember, Lonidaw’s father, after his difficult return from Kansas, was destroyed by alcohol and throughout the book instances were mentioned where the white man had tried to seduce Indians with the deadly drink to get their way with them and to increase the lucrative liquor trade. So one of the values Simon and Lonidaw had in common was their hatred of the alcohol business. Simon’s father, Leopold, had fought it and Simon carried on his antipathy. Thus, it made the next episodes in the story a greater tragedy. After three years at school, Olondaw returns. Simon had visited him once each year but Lonidaw had not, and as she now runs to clasp him in her arms she screams and pushes him away.

“My son! My son! What have you done?” She pushes him away and weeps aloud. “He is lost! From out his mouth I smell the dragon’s breath!”

He finally told his parents about the practice of “bottle hunting” which some of the boys at school had engaged in. They went into back alleys picking up whiskey bottles that had been thrown away by drinking men. These they would fill with water, drink it, and sell the bottles. Looking his mother square in the face he said, “I think it’s awful mean, don’t you, to throw away bottles of fire-water for boys to learn to get drunk on?”

Though he vowed never to touch it again, Olondaw didn’t have the strength and as Simon concludes, “His young life went out and left us in the midnight of despair.

“Only Hazel Eye was left us then; that sweet rosebud, just opening into maidenhood, the very image of her mother, was our only hope and we would keep her isolated from the alluring serpent born of the white man that she was safe from all harm that might come from such a source.

“But soon, alas! We were compelled to learn that no one is safe from this soulless enemy, so long as he is provided a home among them.

“One day, while I was absent on a hunt and Hazel Eye was fishing on the lake, two drunken fishermen rowed their boat with such recklessness they ran into her bark canoe … throwing her into the water … and while yet the lake was bubbling with her dying breath, they laughed and drank and never raised a hand to save the child.”

Lonidaw plunged in but almost lost her life trying to save the child and died soon after, partly of a broken heart.

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