Authors: Helen Frost
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salt of the earth
“We told each other that we would in future be friends, doing all the good we could to each other, and raise our children in peace and quietness.”
ihkinaahkwa, Miami Chief (Little Turtle) to William H. Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory September 4, 1811
In the summer of 1812, at a place where three rivers meet, the sky is filled with birds of many kinds and colors. The rivers are home to fish, beavers, turtles, and otters. In the forest are deer, bears, wolves, porcupines, foxes, bobcats, squirrels, and rabbits. There is no electricity; there are no telephones. Transportation is by horseback, boat, or on foot over rough roads and trails.
In this time and place, two communities live side by side:
Kekionga is part of the Miami nation, a Native American community made up of villages along the rivers. People have lived in Kekionga for many generations, hunting, fishing, and farming as the seasons change.
Within walking distance of Kekionga, in a fort built with logs, lives a group of about eighty soldiers, sent by the United States government as part of an effort to claim the land and protect the people who are settling on it. Some of the soldiers' wives and children also live in the fort, which is called Fort Wayne. A few other families live outside the fort, within an area enclosed by a wood stockade. Inside this enclosure are fields where the soldiers and their families raise farm animals and crops. Hunting and fishing in the rivers and forest outside the stockade are important to this community, too.
Just inside the stockade, near the gate, is a trading post, and beside the trading post is the home of the trader and his family.
Although there is sometimes distrust and fighting between the two communities, friendships and intermarriage are also common. For a few hundred years, there has been communication and trade between the Miami people and the French, British, and, more recently, Americans.
Please imagine that Anikwa and his family are speaking Miami, a Native American language (today the name of the language is spelled “Myaamia”; the name “Miami” has nothing to do with present-day Miami, Florida), and James and his family are speaking English. Each child knows a few words and phrases of the other's language, and some of the adults can speak both languages.
A glossary at the back of the book gives definitions of Miami names and words, a guide to their pronunciation, and the address of a Web site where you can hear them spoken.
At the time of this story, the border between the United States and Canada has not been established; the British and American armies are engaged in what will later be called the War of 1812. Tribal leaders of surrounding areas are seeking to create a Confederation of Tribes that would keep land to the north and west of the Ohio River as their nation, separate from the newly formed United States.
The characters in
are fictional, but the historical events did happen to people who lived in Kekionga and Fort Wayne in late August and early September of 1812.
Names in Native American languages have been suggested by tribal members who speak the languages. As was common in 1812, I have kept some names in the original language, and used English translations for others.
âTwelve-year-old boy, Miami
âAnikwa calls him Father. He is Anikwa's father's younger brother, and in the way Miami people think of family, as a close male relative, he is considered to be Anikwa's father
âOld Raccoon's wife
âOld Raccoon's mother; Anikwa calls her Grandma
âFourteen-year-old girl, daughter of Old Raccoon and Mink, considered an older sister to Anikwa
âSix-year-old boy, son of Old Raccoon and Mink, considered a younger brother to Anikwa
âSixteen-year-old boy who lives in Kekionga
âOttawa man who comes to Kekionga
âShawnee man who has lived in Kekionga for some time
âTwelve-year-old boy, American, lives outside the fort, within the stockade, in a house near the trading post
âJames's father, a trader
âJames's baby sister
âEleven-year-old boy, lives in the fort
Mr. and Mrs. Briggs
âIsaac's father (a soldier) and mother
âIsaac's younger sister
A shallow sea
moves over the earth,
leaving a thin coat
of salt on the ground.
Dang mosquito bit me right where I can't reach it.
I rub my back against a hickory treeâup and down,
side to side. Thereâalmost got it. Might look silly,
but nobody's watching. Except a squirrelâI hear it
up there in the branches, and I get out my slingshot.
Ma will be happy when I bring home something
for the soup pot. Where is that old squirrel, anyhow?
Sounds like a whole family of 'em, laughing at me,
and I can't see even one. What? Not again! It's
Anikwa, laughing as he jumps down from the tree
and lands beside me. How long has he been watching?
I swear he can sound like anything! Squirrel, bumblebee,
bluebird, or bullfrog. Once, I heard my baby sister crying,
but when I turned to lookâit wasn't Molly, it was him!
up in the tree like he thinks
there's a real squirrel hiding somewhere
in its branches. I suck in my cheeks
to make myself stop laughingâ
he shakes his head,
his stone and slingshot,
gives me a smile that means I got him
this time, but next time he'll be watching if I
try that trick again.
he motions as he heads
to the berry bushes. I've seen him out here picking berries
every afternoon since they started to get ripe.
I say, pretending to
put berries in my mouth and
pointing down the trail
toward the bushes.
He nods his head.
As we walk
to the berry patch, he tries my wordâ
and I try hisâ
I roll both words around like berries
in my mouth.
Wonder if my mouth is purple-black, like Anikwa's. I start to head back
up the trail toward home. But waitâwhat's he saying?
that means “fish”! He points to the river trail, meaning,
so I do.
When we get to the river, he pulls a string of seven fish out of the water
and gives me a nice-size trout. Wish I knew how he catches all these fish.
I say, and then I repeat it in his language:
We walk along
together; I'm happy because he gave me this fish, so I start whistling.
He figures out the tune and whistles along with me. Yesterday, I found
a bee tree full of honey. Wonder if he's seen it.
It's off the trail a little, past the muddy place. We climb over the big log,
not far from where the trail splits, his trail going to Kekionga, and mine