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Beyond Shingle Diggin's

Published March 1, 1995

The tragedy of losing Lonidaw, his Queen of the Woods, and his two children in such quick succession left Simon Pokagon devastated. He returns to her grave, unable to go into the wigwam where they had lived together, and sat down on a mossy log beside it.

“How unfeeling, strange it seems that she, who has been my love for so many years and watched so tenderly, should now be abandoned and consigned to the cold earth. Zowan [their dog] tried to soothe my broken heart by wiping away the tears I shed ... Laying my hand upon his head, I said, ‘Zowan, you have gathered your last flowers for Lonidaw! He started up as if she had called his name, and bounding to the lake, plunged in, soon returning with his mouth full of water lilies of pure white, dropping them upon her grave. Patting his head, I gave him an approving look. Again and again he went and came, until her grave was almost covered with the beautiful flowers, which glistened like snow in sunshine among the trees.”

Later, he converses with some small girls from across the lake that also brought flowers, carves Lonidaw’s name on a tree at the head of her grave - adding “Queen of the Woods,” age 34 – and follows the shoreline of the lake to their landing-place.

“The lake was smooth as polished glass,” he writes, “the shore line and the trees as plainly seen in the lake as on the land, while in the air above and lake beneath, bats, like butterflies flitted about, swallows in wide circles flew, night-hawks high above, rising as if to scale the sky then headlong descending like meteors with a strange hollow sound, while all around the lake the whip-poor-wills, whose only songs are but their names, a chattering concert gave, and later on, to add new glories to the scene, deep in the lake as heaven is high, appeared the galaxy of glittering stars set like diamonds in the vault of blue. All nature seemed to do her best to cheer my broken heart.”

A sudden storm comes up and finally he goes in.

“It was the midnight of my soul. The storm still swept across the nerves of life, chilled my throbbing heart and brain. Alone in my wigwam with the faithful dog at my side, I knelt and poured out my soul to the Great Spirit. I told Him about how Olondaw had been murdered by the demon of the alluring cup born of another race, and how my dear Hazeleye, without fault of hers, while fishing on the lake, was thrown therein by drunken men, and, though long we searched, her body was not found.

“I told Him how my dear Lonidaw, whom He gave me, became broken-hearted over the loss of our dear boy, and how she fell a victim to despair, and died because of the sudden death of our dear Hazeleye, leaving me wretched and alone. I told Him not only of my own family and kin, but how my band and tribe were falling before the intoxicating cup ... I told Him about the promise I made my beloved Lonidaw, while she lay dying, that I would war against the monster as long as I should live.”

The rest of the book becomes an urgent plea for curbing the liquor trade. One example of his passionate reasoning recalls the peach blight which struck area farmers in the early 1870s.

“As I passed through the peach belt of southwestern Michigan,” he writes, “I noticed in many peach orchards along my route men were digging up the trees, root and branch, and burning them. I also observed that many trees were loaded with ripe fruit of red and crimson intermixed tempting to behold, which were also burned with them. I made inquiry for the cause of such wanton destruction, and was told the trees were diseased with a contagion known as the ‘yellows’ and that the charming ripe fruit I had seen was diseased and that therefore, the State of Michigan had decreed that all such trees must be destroyed and that owners neglecting to do so would be subject to fines of $100 or imprisonment.

“Today I passed over the same route again, and where eight years ago the land was cursed with dying trees, I beheld spread out before me in every direction, beautiful orchards loaded with rich, ripe fruit, red-cheeked and in the bloom of health, presenting a living picture. ...

“Now,” he says, “let Pokagon ask, in all candor, ‘What brought about this great change from adversity to prosperity, from death to life?’ But one answer: ‘The State of Michigan did it.’ With a single blow of her right arm she crushed the wide-spread contagion, and yet many still dare say, even in the face of convincing facts and thousands of like cases, ‘no law can be enforced to prohibit the sale and manufacture of intoxicating drinks.’ ... All the wonderful achievements, inventions, and marvelous works almost divine, yet they are not able to provide means whereby they can destroy that great devil-fish which their own hands have fashioned and launched upon the sea of human life, whose tentacles reach out to do their wicked work alike into wigwams and palaces, into schools and colleges, into halls of legislation and courts of law and crushes in its coils the heart of the young bride, the wife, the mother, and the little child.”

When I began this series I particularly wanted to emphasize Simon Pokagon’s experience at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and his speech of reconciliation, which helped make him one of the best-known Indians of his time, although somewhat alienating him from his own tribe. I thought to include a bit of “Queen of the Woods,” a bit of the Chicago lakefront property dispute from my Grandfather Stark’s recollections and something about the pageant “Queen of the Woods” produced by the C. H. Engles in Hartford about 1910, in which my father played the role of Leopold Pokagon and Mrs. Fay (Dr. R. N.) Dunnington of Kawlawna, Simon’s mother.

But, I admit, 1 became so enamored of the book and the poetic style of Simon’s writing that I wanted to share it with Record readers and the rest will have to come later. I try not to get too bogged down in one subject that some will tire of it but am tempted to continue “Indians of the area” for a little longer.

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