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A Remarkable Indian

From “Salter’s History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties,” by Edwin Salter, E. Gardner & Son, Bayone, NJ 1890.

The following is an additional well-authenticated account of that noted Indian character, INDIAN WILL, originally furnished to the Shore Press:

Long, long years ago, when this section of country bordering on the Atlantic ocean was one continuous wild waste, with nothing save stinted pines and scrub oak to greet the eye of the unfortunate wanderer who might be traveling this way, there was a kind of half civilized Indian, who lived at Indian Field, at the head of Shark River, and was known to the inhabitants around as Indian Will. His old cabin was a half civilized looking affair, composed of mortar, stone, logs, and hides, the latter formerly covering the animals that were so unfortunate as to fall beneath the fatal point of his index finger -for legend has it that Will was gifted with a strange power; whenever an animal or fowl became the object of his desire all he bad to do was to point at it with his index finger, and the same would fall dead, as if stricken by a bullet or a flint-headed arrow.

According to Indian fashion, Will was a married man; his squaw came, so it is said, from the western section of New Jersey, and like himself, was from the old Delaware, tribe of Indians, whose early history is enshrined in quite a halo of glory. Will was, despite his half civilized life, a true Indian, possessing all the stoicism of his race, and the same indifference to the taking of human life, when it in any way conflicted with his whims. Hannah, like all Indian wives, of the two, — she and her husband — had the hardest time of it. She dressed the game and cleaned the fish, and, in fact, did all the work there was to be done in and around the cabin, while her lord and master, Indian Will, was off on fishing excursions, or in the forest of stinted pines, pointing his finger at a limping rabbit, opossum, or quail, as it chanced to be.

One day Indian Will was out on a hunting expedition, and left Hannah, who was sick with the measles, to get along the best she could in the lone cabin. In a little patch just back of the cabin Will had managed to get up sufficient gumption to plant some beans, and at the time to which we refer they were ripe and ready for picking. As I said just back, Hannah had the measles; her appetite was not of that kind that made what she, had been eating heretofore palatable; she hardly knew what she did want; she hankered after something, and in an unfortunate moment her eyes rested on the beans; they were just what she wanted; so, without caring, or at least heeding the consequences, she picked them and put them in the iron pot in company with a bit of opossum. The fire was soon blazing on the rude hearth, over which hung the sooty crane, from which was pendant the iron pot containing the beans and opossum. Hannah ate heartily of the savory dish, and the results were, as far as her feelings were concerned, decidedly beneficial, but as far as her future welfare was concerned it was otherwise. The legend saith naught of the extent of time Will was absent, but, at all events, when he returned he noticed, the first thing of all, that some one had been in his bean patch and annihilated all hopes of his anent the anticipated feast. Hannah was still under the influence of her pleasant repast when she was confronted by her infuriated lord.

“Who,” he exclaimed, “has eaten my beans?”

Poor Hannah, with a stoicism peculiar to her race, replied, “I did!”

“Then you shall die,” exclaimed her savage mate; “I will drown you!”

Poor Hannah made no reply, save a pantomimic one, which was the embodiment of resignation.

Indian Will was unrelenting. He commanded his dusky spouse to direct her footsteps to the neighboring river, which was in full view of the cabin, and followed with strident gait close behind her. Arriving at the water’s edge, he seized the unresisting offender, and, with apparent ease, plunged her head under the element. After holding her there for a number of minutes he drew her head out, when she gave a few gasps, indicating that life was not extinct. Will again plunged her, as before, and when he again drew her out, poor Hannah was dead. The place where she was drowned is still known as Deep Hole. Neath a gnarled willow in the immediate neighborhood, he buried her, with her feet toward the West; by her side he placed a pone of Indian bread and some game, so that she might have something to eat while on her journey to the happy hunting ground. This being done, the savage went about his business, perfectly unconcerned, but in all probability pained somewhat to know that in the future he would have to be his own servant. Time passed on, I know not bow many weeks it was, when Hannah’s brothers began to wonder why they did not hear from her, or why she did not pay them a visit, as it had been her wont in times passed. Among themselves they got to talking over the matter one day, when it was decided among them that the brother, who rejoiced under the un-Indian name of Jacob, should pay a visit to Indian Field and ascertain how matters stood. Jacob’s journey was on foot, so it necessarily took him a number of days to accomplish the task. Arriving at Will’s cabin, he found him just preparing some game for the appeasement of his gastric longings.

Jacob was surprised — that is, in the sense that an Indian is surprised – to see the mate of his sister in such an ignoble occupation, and asked Will where Hannah was.

“I drowned her,” replied Will, “because she ate my beans.”

“She was my sister,” rejoined Jacob, “and it falls on me to avenge her death, so you must prepare to die. Let the struggle between us take place by yon bank, so that the same water that beheld Hannah’s death may also witness thine.”

“Will Hannah’s brother permit me to eat, and join with me in the feast, ere we embrace in the death struggle?”

“Be it so,” replied Jacob, and both sat down and ate of the food, while their respective faces betrayed no signs of the ominous thoughts that were burdening their minds.

During the repast not a word was spoken by either Will or Jacob. The ceremony was eventually over, when the two walked in single file, Will leading the way, until they came near to the place still designated as the Deep Hole; here they stopped and for a moment stood face to face. Jacob was the first to move; he rushed forward and in an instant they closed in on one another. The struggle for mastery lasted for some time, but at last Will’s foot came in contact with a stubble, and down he went, with Jacob at the top; the latter then pulled from his belt a long keen knife, with which he intended to fulfill his mission. Jacob had his victim, as it were, pinioned to the ground, and at his mercy, but being, as it were, controlled by a spirit of magnanimity, he said:

“He who brought Hannah to an untimely end can now cast his eyes to the West, and for the last time gaze on the setting sun.”

Will availed himself of the opportunity, and when doing so, Jacob, thinking his victim secure, began fumbling around his belt for a bit of Indian weed, for he became possessed with an irresistible desire to exercise his molars, and in an unguarded moment relieved his arm from confinement, and seizing a pine knot, dealt Jacob a powerful blow in the temple, and over lie toppled, as lifeless as a defunct herring.

Having escaped from his peril, Will arose from his late uncomfortable position, and with a grunt of satisfaction gazed on the prostrate form of his would-be slayer. He did not take the trouble to bury his victim, but left him where lie died, thinking the wild beast and buzzard could attend to the case better than he could.

A number of days following the last mentioned fact some circumstances led Indian Will to pass by the spot where it occurred, when from some cause he fancied he heard the body snore, so he came to the conclusion that Jacob was only enjoying a long sleep, and fearing lie might awake at any time and give him further trouble, jumped several times on the body, and, finally, after satisfying himself that Jacob was dead, indifferently covered it with earth and leaves and passed on, and from all indications thought no more of it.

Will was an Indian, and so, for that reason, remorse was something that never bothered him. The days went by as days before the late tragic event had gone. He wandered through the echoing forests, and during moonlight nights lie indulged in his favorite pastime of bringing down the opossum and coon by the pointing of his fatal finger. When not engaged in hunting he would linger around the old village inn or his secluded cabin, and revel in imaginary bliss by drinking the white man’s firewater whenever lie could get it.

One day he was stretched out at full length, under the shade of a tree which stood by his cabin; he was not sleeping, but evidently was taking his ease, when lie was brought to a realization of imminent peril by the appearance of Jacob’s three brothers, who from the fact of his not returning according to promise, led them to come in search of him, and also to inquire into the matter that was the cause of his journey.

Will made no effort to evade the questions that were addressed to him by the three brothers. He told them poor Hannah was dead; that lie drowned her because she ate his beans; also that Jacob was dead; contrary to his expectations, in a death struggle Jacob was the victim and not he.

The three brothers heard the story, at the conclusion of which they in unison gave significant grunts, when one, who acted as spokesman, told Will his time had come, and that lie must make himself ready for death.

With evident resignation, Will told his brother that he was willing to die; that life had ceased to possess its charms; but he made one request that was that they procure a gallon of firewater, so that they together might have a happy time before he took his final departure to join his poor Hannah in the land of the Great Spirit. The brothers assented to Will’s request, the firewater was procured, and in the cabin of the condemned Will the happy times commenced. The brothers were not backward in drinking liberally of the firewater, and in due course of time were fully under its influence, and eventually dropped, one after the other, into a drunken slumber. Will, in the meantime, though be begrudged the brothers the whiskey they drank, made up his mind that life was dearer than it, and so pretended to drink a great deal more than be actually did, and from all indications was as drunk as they were; but when snoring on the part of the three avengers commenced, Will cautiously assumed a new role, and began business. Will procured a tomahawk, which was near at hand, and began the work of destruction. The brother who received the first attention evidently did not know who struck him, but the second one who was the recipient of the murderous blow was aroused to that extent that he was enabled to give birth to several unearthly sounds before he resigned his hold on life. The noise made by the expiring Indian aroused the third brother, and would have been the means of frustrating Will’s plan, had not the latter’s dog dashed to the rescue; he was a knowing canine, and seemingly comprehended the whole affair, for he seized the awakened Indian by the throat and held him in position until his master came forward and culminated his murderous plan. Will stood up in his cabin, and looking upon the bloody work lie had accomplished, stoically said: “Poor Hannah’s gone — for good brothers gone too — all because poor Hannah ate my beans! Ugh!”

Without much ado Will dragged the bodies of the defunct Indians out of his cabin, and to a spot a few rods distant gave them what lie thought to be a proper burial. He then returned to his cabin and resolved himself into a committee of investigation to ascertain the quantity of whisky left for his consumption.

Following his last achievement Will came to the conclusion that poor Hannah’s relatives would give him no more trouble. The months rolled by and lie still continued his life of hunting and fishing but for some reason a kind of cloud seemed to hang over his life; perhaps it was owing to the fact that Will’s love for firewater increased and interfered with his success in obtaining that which enabled him to purchase the “Oh, be joyful.” Near Indian Field, in Will’s time, there stood an inn, the like of which were common in those days, where whiskey was unblushingly sold, for every one was privileged to become tipsy if he only possessed the necessary wherewithal. At the bar of this old inn, at the time to which I have a particular reference, Indian Will had become an habitual hanger-on; he neglected his former occupation of hunting and fishing, and owing to this fact was frequently without means to purchase his favorite beverage. Will had already became a debtor to the innkeeper, and so, when lie asked for more whiskey on trust, he was flatly refused; his only reply to the innkeeper’s flat was an habitual “Ugh!” and with the tread of offended dignity he strutted out of the room, and directed his course toward the beach.

Whether Will’s journey to the beach was for the purpose of philosophical meditation is a question that has never been fathomed; at all events, to the beach he went, and with eyes directed toward the incoming waters proceeded to pace down shore, leaving his moccasin prints in the shimmering sand. Will had not proceeded far in his stroll when lie discovered, much to his satisfaction, a number of pieces of shining metal half buried in the sand. He eagerly stooped down and picked, them up, and, contrary to his expectations, they proved to be Spanish dollars. In these dollars Will saw visions of firewater, and pushing his search still further, he was rewarded with a handful of the Spanish coin. Thinking that the quantity of money in his possession was sufficient to purchase whiskey enough to satisfy his desire for days to come, he withdrew from the beach, and with a vigorous and consequential step directed his course toward the old inn.

Will’s entrance in the barroom was a source of surprise to those there congregated, who had so recently seen his departure, and their surprise was increased when lie strutted up to the bar and threw thereon his handful of dollars, exclaiming at the same time:

“Now will you let Indian Will I have more whiskey?”

The innkeeper surveyed with mingled greed and astonishment the profuse outpouring of that which was a scarcity in the neighborhood and before Will bad time to again express his desire, took down the whiskey decanter and tumbler, and told him to help himself. Owing to Will’s recent impecunious condition he had been without his usual portion for an uncommon long time, so the present occasion, so far as the magnitude of the potation was concerned, was an uncommon one. Owing to the transformative qualities of the whiskey, Will’s truculent demeanor gave way to one of a more affable nature. So the innkeeper also assumed the affable, and, after lie had safely stored away the Spanish dollars, persuaded Will to follow him into a private room, where he underwent a cryptic examination. The result of the interview was simply this: Indian Will agreed to conduct the innkeeper to the beach and show him where the Spanish dollars were found.

The innkeeper did not think it policy to go immediately to the beach, and so retained Will in voluntary confinement for a while. One after another left the old hotel, until finally the guests were all gone. At last the two, Will and the innkeeper, started for the beach. Arriving at the spot where the coin was discovered they began searching for additional treasures. As the waves receded the innkeeper discovered a kind of iron chest, half buried in the sand. Fortunately the tide was falling, and enabled the treasure trove hunters to obtain possession of the trunk without much trouble. With their united strength they brought it high upon the shore, and a brief examination convinced the innkeeper that he had possession of the treasure box from which came the coin obtained by Indian Will. From the action of the elements, the box had been unjointed enough to enable the coin to escape. Suffice to say that the chest was, as soon as circumstances would allow, taken to the inn, which upon examination proved to contain a princely sum of money in Spanish coins.

From the time of the discovery of the iron chest, the life of the innkeeper, or otherwise his mode of living, underwent a radical change. He soon relinquished his hostship of the inn and built a residence more to his liking in the immediate vicinity. The fact of the discovery of the treasure trove was in a measure a secret between the innkeeper and Indian Will. Of course there was a great deal of talk about the innkeeper’s sudden rise in point of wealth; there were surmises in reference to it, and they frequently fell little short of the mark; in fact the old innkeeper acquired considerable real estate, and this, when lie had done with the things of earth, passed to his children, whose descendants to this day still dwell along the shore, and can thank the old ocean and Indian Will for whatever wealth they possess.

Indian Will, after the find, ceased to live in his old cabin, and became a part and parcel of the innkeeper’s household; his wants were few, and were ungrudgingly provided by the innkeeper – the principal wants being tobacco and firewater.

Tradition has it that Indian Will bad two half grown sons, who, like the ordinary urchins of our time, delighted in having to do with pyrotechnics. They got hold of their father’s powder horn one day and in some way ignited its contents; it flashed up and horribly disfigured both of their faces. Like the Spartans of old, Indian Will did not think it to their benefit, or to those perfectly formed, for the young backs to continue longer on the face of the earth, so he killed them and buried them in Indian Field. Their names, so it is said, were Dick and Dave, and their mounds are still to be seen, as corroborations of the tradition.

Poor Hannah and her brothers — if the stories of the credulous are worthy of serious attention — “did not sleep quietly in their graves.” At intervals in the last fifty years, local gossip have said that during the moonlighted nights of autumn — about that stage of the season’s progress when the hue of decay has enstamped itself on the foliage of the forest, and the withered blades of corn rustle in the faintest breezes – they have seen the diaphanous forms of the unfortunates rise suddenly from the earth, float gracefully along for a distance, and as suddenly disappear. There is nothing traditionary that indicates that he who should have been was ever “haunted.” According to the most authentic versions, the closing years of Will’s life were in harmony with his plane of thinking; perfectly happy, he lived to a ripe old age, and died some seventy-five years ago, the last of his tribe, and was buried at Indian Field. Contrary to what should have been his just deserts, Indian Will, during the last of his career, “lived in peace, died in grease, and was buried in a pot of ashes.”