A CLOSELY GUARDED CAMP.
THE darkness, which comes so quickly after sunset in that
far Southern country, with almost no intervening twilight, effectually
prevented our explorers from seeing where they were going. They only
knew from the stars that their general direction was east, or directly
into the heart of the Everglades. They were even unable to Study the
countenances, dress, or general appearance of the young Indians who,
standing in the bow and stern of each canoe, drove it forward with
unerring judgment and at a considerable speed by means of long push
poles. These poles were quite slender; but each terminated at its lower
end in an enlargement, formed by fastening a short bit of wood to
either side that prevented it from sinking deeply into the sand or
grass roots against which it was set.
The canoes in which our voyagers were now traveling were
as different from their own dainty craft as one boat can be from
another. Nor did they bear the least resemblance to the bark canoes of
Northern Indians, there being no Southern bark similar to that of the
Northern birch, or suitable for canoe-building. They were simply
dugouts, from twenty to twenty-five feet long by about three feet
broad, hollowed with great skill from huge cypress logs. Their lines
were fine, and, as our friends afterwards discovered, they are capital
sailing craft in any wind, except dead ahead.
When a Seminole decides to build one of these canoes, he
first selects and fells his tree, cutting off a section of the required
length, and free from knots or cracks. The upper surface of this is
hewn smooth, with a slight sheer rise fore and aft. On this smooth
surface a plan of the canoe is carefully outlined with charcoal, and
then the outside is laboriously worked into shape with hatchets. The
hollowing out of the inside is accomplished by fire and hatchets, and,
considering the limited supply of tools at the builders' disposal, the
result is a triumph of marine architecture. Hatchets and knives are the
only tools used in the making of the masts, spars, paddles, push poles,
and spear handles that are needed for the equipment of each canoe. The
ingenious builders also cut and sew their own sails, which they make of
unbleached muslin bought from the trader on Biscayne Bay. Although they
use no keels, centerboards, nor leeboards, they manage by holding their
paddles firmly against the side of the canoe and deep in the water to
sail closehauled, and to keep her up to the wind in a manner that is
truly surprising. The Indians take great pride in their canoes and
value them highly, for, as they are without horses, roads, or any
considerable area of dry land, these are their sole means of
transportation and communication between the different parts of the
vast territory over which they roam.
After traveling several miles, this first voyage of our
explorers in Indian canoes ended at a heavily wooded islet, between the
trees of which they could see the welcome glow of a campfire. To their
great delight, as they reached the shore, they found their own canoes
and the cruiser safely moored to it. In spite of their joy at again
seeing these, they were too hungry and too impatient to visit the
Indian village to do more just then than assure themselves that their
own boats were all right. Then they hurried towards the fire.
There was a roomy palmetto hut standing near it; but to
their surprise the firelight disclosed only a single human figure,
which, as they drew near, proved to be that of Quorum. He was hard at
work cooking supper, and only acknowledged their presence with a grin,
and the announcement that it would be ready in a few minutes.
Turning to the hut, they saw that it had been recently
erected, and that it Contained their own rolls of bedding, besides the
little bags of toilet articles belonging to Lieutenant Carey and the
boys, which Quorum had thoughtfully taken from the canoes and placed
ready for their use.
"I never realized the luxury of brushes and combs before!"
exclaimed Worth, as he occupied the time before supper with making what
was probably the most elaborate toilet ever seen in the Everglades.
Meanwhile the Lieutenant was questioning Quorum as to the
location of the Indian village, and was disappointed to find the negro
as ignorant on the subject as himself. Quorum thought it must be on
some other island, as this certainly was not the place to which he had
been taken the night before. He said that on arriving there he had
found the canoes and cruiser, the hut built, and the fire lighted. The
young Indian who had brought him had helped carry the things up to the
hut, and also given him some venison and vegetables in exchange for a
small quantity of coffee and sugar. He had remained there until shortly
before the arrival of the others, and Quorum had not noticed when he
disappeared. Before leaving, he had told Quorum that, by the chief's
orders, the white men would remain on that island until the following
"Oh, we will, will we?" said Lieutenant Carey, whose pride
chafed against receiving orders from an Indian, even if he was a chief.
"With our own boats at hand, I don't see what is to hinder us from
leaving when we please. I wish that chief would hurry up and put in an
appearance. I want to have a few words with him."
He now for the first time realized that the young Indians
who had brought them there had not followed them to the camp, and he
stepped down to the water's edge to see what they were doing. To his
dismay he found that they had not only disappeared, but had taken the
canoes and cruiser with them. Greatly provoked at this, he returned to
the camp in a very unpleasant frame of mind, mentally abusing the
Indians, and regretting that, by accepting their conditions, he had so
completely placed himself in their power. His good nature was somewhat
restored by the supper, which was most bountiful and well cooked, and
by the soothing pipe smoke that followed it; for among other things,
Quorum had not neglected to bring up a plentiful supply of tobacco.
After supper, as he and the boys lay outstretched on their
blankets within the hut, the open side of which faced the fire, the
Lieutenant acknowledged that their present position was a vast
improvement on that of the night before. The boys agreed with him,
though at the same time they were even more disappointed than he at not
finding. themselves in an Indian village. That was one of the things
they had most counted on seeing in the Everglades. Having finally
decided to make the best of their situation, and to obtain the greatest
possible amount of comfort and pleasure from it, they turned in, and
slept soundly until morning.
They were so thoroughly tired with their various hardships
and labors of the two preceding days and nights that they slept late,
and the sun had already been up for several hours before they answered
the negro's call to breakfast. He said that though he had been down to
the shore several times after water, he had seen no signs of either
canoes or Indians. Thus to all appearances they were not only the sole
occupants of the island, but of the 'Glades as well.
As they had nothing else to do, the Lieutenant proposed to
the boys that they should explore this new island, and make such
discoveries of other islands and the intervening 'Glades as could be
seen from its shores. They readily agreed to this, and the three set
forth. They had not gone more than a hundred yards from camp when they
were suddenly confronted by a young Indian, armed with a rifle, which
he pointed at them, at the same time making other signs to them to go
back. At first they were greatly startled by his unexpected appearance.
Then the Lieutenant undertook to remonstrate with him, and to explain
that they only wanted to walk harmlessly about and view the landscape,
but all in vain. The stolid-faced young savage either could not or
would not understand. He only shook his head without uttering a word,
but continued to make signs for them to go back.
"This is one of the strangest and most irritating things
that I ever heard of!" exclaimed Lieutenant Carey, after finding his
efforts to communicate with the Indian unavailing. "If we only had our
guns, I'd make that fellow let us pass or know the reason why. As we
haven't any, and he has one, the argument is too one-sided, and we
might as well retire from it as gracefully as possible. Let us try
another direction, and find out if that is also guarded." They tried in
two other places, only to be repulsed by other determined young guards
who, mute as statues, were equally stolid and impervious to argument.
There was nothing to do but to return to the hut and make
the best of the situation. From there no signs of an Indian was to be
seen; but let one of the inmates of the camp stroll beyond its limits
in any direction, and the woods seemed to swarm with them, though the
guards probably did not number more than half a dozen in all.
The day was passed in eating, sleeping, and in discussing
their peculiar situation. They were evidently prisoners, though to all
appearances as free as air; but, as Lieutenant Carey said, there was no
chance of their escaping from the island anyhow, so why they should be
denied the privilege of walking about it he could not understand.
Quorum was equally in the dark with the rest, and said that nothing of
the kind had been intimated by the chiefs during their talk with him.
It was finally decided that instead of being on a small island as they
had supposed, they must be at one end of a large one that contained a
village at the other, which, for some unknown reason, the Indians did
not choose they should visit. With this solution of the problem they
were forced to content themselves, and they waited with impatience the
coming of night, when, according to what Ul-we had told Quorum, their
journey was to be resumed.
THEY WERE SUDDENLY CONFRONTED
BY AN INDIAN ARMED WITH A RIFLE.
CROSSING THE 'GLADES WITHOUT SEEING THEM.
THEY had an early supper, so as to be all ready for a
start whenever their jailers should see fit to make one. By sunset
their blankets were rolled up, and they were impatiently awaiting some
signal; but none came until darkness had fully set in. Then once more
from the direction of the water came the now familiar cry of a screech
owl. It was answered from several points about the camp, which showed
their Indian guards to be still on duty. As Quorum had been allowed to
go freely to the shore for water during the day, the Lieutenant now
told him to go down again and discover the meaning of the signal. lie
returned a minute later with the news that Ul-we was waiting for him
and the cooking utensils, and that the canoes for the other passengers
would arrive with the setting of the new moon, which hung low in the
So Quorum left them, as on the previous night. As the
silver crescent of Halissee, the night timepiece of the Everglades,
sank from sight, the others went to the shore, carrying their blankets
with them. There they found two canoes, apparently manned by the same
silent crews of the evening before, awaiting them.
As they shoved off and plunged once more into the
trackless 'Glades, the Lieutenant turned for a look at the island. He
could distinguish its black outlines from end to end, and it was a very
small one. This overthrew the only theory they had formed concerning
their close imprisonment, and left him more than ever puzzled as to its
Hour after hour the long poles were steadily wielded by
the silent Indians, who seemed not to know fatigue nor to require rest.
All through the night the heavy dugouts pursued their steady way,
crashing through the crisp bonnets, and bending down the long grasses,
that flew up with a "swish" behind them. It was a marvel to the
passengers that the channels, followed as unerringly by the dusky
canoemen as though it had been daylight, always led into one another.
Their own experience had been that, even with sunlight to guide them,
half the channels they had attempted to follow proved blind leads. But
with the Indians it was never so.
Through the night Lieutenant Carey pondered his situation,
and studied their course by the Stars. These told him that it was a
little to the north of east, the very one he would have chosen, and in
this respect the situation was satisfactory. But what information was
he gaining concerning the Everglades, their resources, and present
population? About as little as was possible for one who was actually
passing through them. Could he obtain any more? Evidently not, under
the circumstances. Long and deeply as he pondered the subject, he could
not think of a single feasible plan for altering the existing state of
affairs. lie was compelled to acknowledge himself completely outwitted
by the simpleminded sons of the forest into whose power he had so
curiously fallen. "If I could only get at them, and talk to them, and
explain matters to them!" he said aloud; and the sailor answered:
"It wouldn't do no good, sir. There's none in the woild so
obstinate as Injins and Malays. Once they gets an idea inside their
skulls, all the white talk you could give 'em wouldn't drive it out.
Fighting is the only argument they Can understand; and, if you say the
word, I'll have these two heathen pitched overboard in no time."
"No," said the Lieutenant, "it wouldn't do any good, and
my orders are to treat such Indians as I may meet with all possible
friendliness. I only wish I could meet with some besides these two
young automatons, but there does not seem to be any prospect of it."
At the same time Sumner and Worth, crouched snugly among
their blankets in the bottom of the other canoe, were also talking of
their strange situation.
"Do you suppose any other two fellows ever had such queer
times on a canoe trip as we are having?" asked Worth.
"Indeed I do not," replied Sumner. "And this is the very
queerest part of it. Here we are still on a canoe cruise, without our
own canoes, without knowing where we are going, and without having
anything to do with the management of the craft we are cruising in. It
will be a queer experience to tell about when you get back to New York,
"Yes, indeed, it will, though New York seems so very far
away that it is hard to realize that I shall ever get there again. If
we could only see an Indian village, though! It seems too bad to be
going right through an Indian country and yet see nothing of its
"Oh, well, we are not through with the 'Glades yet, and
you may still have a chance to see plenty of Indians."
In spite of Sumner's hopefulness, Worth's wish did not
seem any nearer being gratified four days from that time than it did
then. Each night's journey was a repetition of the first, except that
they grew shorter with the growing moon. The Indians refused to travel
except in darkness, and never came for their passengers until after the
moon had set. Each day was spent in a comfortable camp, to which they
were so closely confined that they could learn nothing of their
Surroundings. These camps were always located on small islands, and
were always reached before daylight.
Quorum always arrived at the camping place some time in
advance of the others, and he always found the canoes and the cruiser
awaiting him. From them he was allowed to take whatever he thought the
party would need, but after that first night the boats invariably
disappeared before the others reached them.
Sumner said this was a trick the canoes had learned early
on the cruise, and they had probably taught it to the other boat.
Who caused their disappearance or where they went to, none
of them knew; and but for Quorum the owners of the several craft would
have heard nothing of their whereabouts or welfare.
During this strange journey, as they were un,able to do
any hunting or foraging for themselves, Quorum was obliged to exchange
So many of their stores for fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables, that he
finally announced them to be nearly exhausted.
At length, one very dark night, the passengers, who were
half dozing in the bottoms of the canoes, became conscious of a change.
The darkness all at once grew more intense, until they could barely
distinguish the forms of the Indians in the bow and stern of their
respective boats. A rank odor of decaying vegetation filled the air,
while the swish of grass and bonnets was no longer heard. They seemed
to be moving more Swiftly and easily than usual. Finally, when they
landed, it did not seem as though they were on an island; and as they
made their way towards the light of the campfire, about which Quorum
was already busy, they suddenly realized that it was reflected from a
background of pine trees.
"Hurrah, boys!" shouted Lieutenant Carey; "there is a Sign
that our trip is nearly ended. Pine trees don't grow in the 'Glades,
and there fore we must be somewhere near the coast. I can't say that I
am sorry, for the trip has been a most disappointing one to me. It has
been a decidedly unique and remarkable one, though -- has it not? I
wonder how many people will believe us when we say that we have crossed
the entire width of the Everglades without learning anything about
them, and almost without Seeing them? When we add that we have passed
dozens of Indian villages, and yet have not seen an Indian village;
have been surrounded by Indians, but cannot describe their appearance;
have come all the way by water, and brought our own boats with us, and
yet have not set eyes on our own boats since the day we entered the
'Glades -- I am afraid that we shall be regarded much as the old woman
regarded her sailor son when he told her that he had seen fish with
wings and able to fly. In fact, I am afraid they will doubt our
veracity. How I am going to get up any kind of a report to send to
Washington, I am sure I don't know. By the way, Quorum, were our canoes
here when you landed?"
"No, sah, dey wasn't; an' I is troubled in my min' frum
worryin' about dem. I is ask dat feller Ul-we, but he don't say
nuffin.' 'Pears like he done los' he tongue, like de res' ob de Injuns.
De wust ob hit is, sah, dat de grub jes about gin out, an' I is got er
mighty pore 'pology fer a breakfus."
So excited were our explorers over their new surroundings,
and over this report that their boats were again missing, that instead
of turning in for a nap, as usual, they sat round the fire and waited
impatiently for daylight. Sumner was the most uneasy of the party, and
every few minutes he would get up and walk away from the firelight, the
better to see if the day were not breaking.
On one of these occasions he was gone so much longer than
usual that the others were beginning to wonder what had become of him.
All at once they heard him shouting from the direction of the place at
which they had landed:
"Hello! in the camp! Come down here, quick! I've got
something to show you."
© 2001 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission.
Go scan your own damn