NOTE.—The “Onondaga Jam” occurred
late in the seventies, and this tale is founded upon
actual incidents in the life of the author’s father,
who was Forest Warden on the Indian Reserve.]
I HAVE never
been a good man, but then I have never pretended to
be one, and perhaps that at least will count in my favor
in the day when the great dividends are declared.
I have been what is called “well
brought up” and I would give some years of my
life to possess now the money spent on my education;
how I came to drop from what I should have been to what
I am would scarcely interest anyone—if indeed
I were capable of detailing the process, which I am
not. I suppose I just rolled leisurely down hill like
many another fellow.
My friends, however, still credit
me with one virtue; that is an absolute respect for
my neighbor’s wife, a feeling which, however,
does not extend to his dollars. His money is mine if
I can get it, and to do myself justice I prefer getting
it from him honestly, at least without sufficient dishonesty
to place me behind prison bars. [Page 186]
Some experience has taught me
that when a man is reduced to getting his living, as
I do, by side issues and small deals, there is no better
locality for him to operate than around the borders
of some Indian Reserve.
The pagan Indian is an unsuspicious
fool. You can do him up right and left. The Christian
Indian is as sharp as a fox, and with a little gloved
handling he will always go in with you on a few lumber
and illicit whiskey deals, which means that you have
the confidence of his brethren and their dollars at
the same time.
I had outwitted the law for
six years. I had smuggled more liquor into the Indian
Bush on the Grand River Reserve and drawn more timber
out of it to the Hamilton and Brantford markets than
any forty dealers put together. Gradually the law thinned
the whole lot out—all but me; but I was slippery
as an eel and my bottles of whiskey went on, and my
loads of ties and timber came off, until every officer
and preacher in the place got up and demanded an inspection.
The Government at Ottawa awoke,
stretched, yawned, then printed some flaring posters
and stuck them around the border villages. The posters
were headed by a big print of the British Coat of Arms,
and some large type beneath announced terrible fines
and heavy imprisonments for anyone caught hauling Indian
timber off the Reserve, or hauling whiskey on to it.
Then [Page 187] the Government rubbed
its fat palms together, settled itself in its easy chair,
and snored again.
I? Oh, I went on with my operations.
And at Christmas time Tom Barrett
arrived on the scene. Not much of an event, you’d
say if you saw him, still less if you heard him. According
to himself, he knew everything and could do everything
in the known world; he was just twenty-two and as obnoxiously
fresh a thing as ever boasted itself before older men.
He was the old missionary’s
son and had come up from college at Montreal to help
his father preach salvation to the Indians on Sundays,
and to swagger around week-days in his brand new clerical-cut
coat and white tie.
He enjoyed what is called, I
believe, “deacon’s orders.” They tell
me he was recently “priested,” to use their
straight English Church term, and is now parson of a
swell city church. Well! they can have him. I’ll
never split on him, but I could tell some other things
about Tom Barrett that would soil his surplice—at
least in my opinion, but you never can be sure when
even religious people will make a hero out of a rogue.
The first time I ever saw him
he came into “Jake’s” one night, quite
late. We were knocked clean dumb. “Jake’s”
isn’t the place you would count on seeing a clerical-cut
It’s not a thoroughly
disreputable place, for Jake has a decent enough Indian
wife; but he happens also to have a cellar which has
a hard [Page 188] name for illicit-whiskey
supplies, though never once has the law, in its numerous
and unannounced visits to the shanty, ever succeeded
in discovering barrel or bottle. I consider myself a
pretty smart man, but Jake is cleverer than I am.
When young Barrett came in that
night, there was a clatter of hiding cups. “Hello,
boys,” he said, and sat down wearily opposite
me, leaning his arms on the table between us like one
utterly done out.
Jake, it seemed, had the distinction
of knowing him; so he said kind of friendly-like,
“Sick? Sick nothing,”
said Barrett, “except sick to death of this place.
And don’t ‘parson’ me! I’m ‘parson’
on Sundays; the rest of the six days I’m Tom Barrett—Tom,
if you like.”
We were dead silent. For myself,
I thought the fellow clean crazy; but the next moment
he had turned half around, and with a quick, soft, coaxing
movement, for all the world like a woman, he slipped
his arm around Jake’s shoulders, and said, “Say,
Jake, don’t let the fellows mind me,” Then
in a lower tone—“What have you got to
Jake went white-looking and
began to talk of some cider he’d got in the cellar;
but Barrett interrupted with, “Look here, Jake,
just drop that rot; I know all about you.”
He tipped a half wink at the rest of us, but laid his
fingers [Page 189] across his lips.
“Come, old man,” he wheedled like a girl,
“you don’t know what it is to be dragged
away from college and buried alive in this Indian bush.
The governor’s good enough, you know—treats
me white and all that—but you know what he is
on whiskey. I tell you I’ve got a throat as long
and dry as a fence rail—”
No one spoke.
“You’ll save my
life if you do,” he added, crushing a bank note
into Jake’s hand.
Jake looked at me. The same
thought flashed on us both; if we could get this church
student on our side—Well! Things would be easy
enough and public suspicion never touch us. Jake turned,
resurrected the hidden cups, and went down cellar.
“You’re Dan McLeod,
aren’t you?” suggested Barrett, leaning
across the table and looking sharply at me.
I said in turn, and sized him up. I didn’t like
his face; it was the undeniable face of a liar—small,
uncertain eyes, set together close like those of a fox,
a thin nose, a narrow, womanish chin that accorded with
his girlish actions of coaxing, and a mouth I didn’t
Jake had come up with the bottle,
but before he could put it on the table Barrett snatched
it like a starving dog would a hunk of meat.
He peered at the label, squinting
his foxy eyes, then laughed up at Jake. [Page
“I hope you don’t
sell the Indians this,” he said, tapping
No, Jake never sold a drop of
whiskey to Indians,—the law, you know, was very
“Oh, I don’t care
whatever else you sell them,” said Barrett, “but
their red throats would never appreciate fine twelve-year-old
like this. Come, boys.”
“So, you’re Dan
McLeod,” he continued, after the first long pull,
“I’ve heard about you, too. You’ve
got a deck of cards in your pocket—haven’t
you? Let’s have a game.”
I looked at him, and though,
as I said in the beginning, I’m not a good man,
I felt honestly sorry for the old missionary and his
wife at that moment.
“It’s no use,”
said the boy, reading my hesitation. “I’ve
broken loose. I must have a slice of the old college
life, just for to-night.”
I decided the half-cut of Indian
blood on his mother’s side was showing itself;
it was just enough to give Tom a good red flavoring
and a rare taste for gaming and liquor.
We played until daylight, when
Barrett said he must make his sneak home, and reaching
for his wide-brimmed, soft felt preacher’s hat,
left—having pocketed twenty-six of our good dollars,
swallowed unnumbered cups of twelve-year-old [Page
191] and won the combined respect of everyone
The next Sunday Jake went to
church out of curiosity. He said Tom Barrett “officiated”
in a surplice as white as snow and with a face as sinless
as your mother’s. He preached most eloquently
against the terrible evil of the illicit liquor trade,
and implored his Indian flock to resist this greatest
of all pitfalls. Jake even seemed impressed as he told
But Tom Barrett’s “breaking
loose for once” was like any other man’s.
Night after night saw him at Jake’s, though he
never played to win after that first game. As the weeks
went on, he got anxious-looking; his clerical coat began
to grow seedy, his white ties uncared for; he lost his
fresh, cheeky talk, and the climax came late in March
when one night I found him at Jake’s sitting alone,
his face bowed down on the table above his folded arms,
and something so disheartened in his attitude that I
felt sorry for the boy. Perhaps it was that I was in
trouble myself that day; my biggest “deal”
of the season had been scented by the officers and the
chances were they would come on and seize the five barrels
of whiskey I had been as many weeks smuggling into the
Reserve. However it was, I put my hand on his shoulder,
and told him to brace up, asking at the same time what
“Money,” he answered,
looking up with kind of haggard eyes. “Dan, I
must have money. City [Page 192] bills,
college debts—everything has rolled up against
me. I daren’t tell the governor, and he couldn’t
help me anyway, and I can’t go back for another
term owing every man in my class.” He looked suicidal.
And then I made the plunge I’d been thinking on
“Would a hundred dollars
be any good to you?” I eyed him hard as I said
it, and sat down in my usual place, opposite him.
“Good?” he exclaimed,
half rising. “It would be an eternal godsend.”
His foxy eyes glittered. I thought I detected greed
in them; perhaps it was only relief.
I told him it was his if he
would only help me, and making sure we were quite alone,
I ran off a hurried account of my “deal,”
then proposed that he should “accidentally”
meet the officers near the border, ring in with them
as a parson would be likely to do, tell them he suspicioned
the whiskey was directly at the opposite side of the
Reserve to where I really had stored it, get them wild-goose
chasing miles away, and give me a chance to clear the
stuff and myself as well; in addition to the hundred
I would give him twenty per cent. on the entire deal.
He changed color and the sweat stood out on his forehead.
“One hundred dollars this
time to-morrow night,” I said. He didn’t
move. “And twenty per cent. One hundred dollars
this time to-morrow night,” I repeated. [Page
He began to weaken. I lit my
pipe and looked indifferent, though I knew I was a lost
man if he refused—and informed. Suddenly he stretched
his hand across the table, impulsively, and closed it
over mine. I knew I had him solid then.
“Dan,” he choked
up, “it’s a terrible thing for a divinity
student to do; but—” his fingers tightened
nervously. “I’m with you!” Then in
a moment, “Find some whiskey, Dan. I’m done
He soon got braced enough to
ask me who was in the deal, and what timber we expected
to trade for. When I told him Lige Smith and Jack Jackson
were going to help me, he looked scared and asked me
if I thought they would split on him. He was so excited
I thought him cowardly, but the poor devil had reason
enough, I supposed, to want to keep the transaction
from the ears of his father, or worse still—the
bishop. He seemed easier when I assured him the boys
were square, and immensely gratified at the news that
I had already traded six quarts of the stuff for over
a hundred dollars’ worth of cordwood.
“We’ll never get
it across the river to the markets,” he said dolefully.
“I came over this morning in a canoe. Ice is all
“What about the Onondaga
Jam?” I said. He winked.
“That’ll do. I’d
forgotten it,” he answered, and chirped up right
away like a kid.
But I hadn’t forgotten
the Jam. It had been a regular gold-mine to me all that
open winter, [Page 194] when the ice
froze and thawed every week and finally jammed itself
clean to the river bottom in the throat of the bend
up at Onondaga, and the next day the thermometer fell
to eleven degrees below zero, freezing it into a solid
block that bridged the river for traffic, and saved
my falling fortunes.
“And where’s the
whisky hidden?” he asked after awhile.
“No you don’t,”
I laughed. “Parson or pal, no man living knows
or will know where it is till he helps me haul it away.
I’ll trust none of you.”
“I’m not a thief,”
“No,” I said, “but
you’re blasted hard up, and I don’t intend
to place temptation in your way.”
He laughed good-naturedly and
turned the subject aside just as Lige Smith and Jack
Jackson came in with an unusual companion that put a
stop to further talk. Women were never seen at night
time around Jake’s; even his wife was invisible,
and I got a sort of shock when I saw old Cayuga Joe’s
girl, Elizabeth, following at the boys’ heels.
It had been raining and the girl, a full blood Cayuga,
shivered in the damp and crouched beside the stove.
Tom Barrett started when he
saw her. His color rose and he began to mark up the
table with his thumb nail. I could see he felt his fix.
The girl—Indian right through—showed no
surprise [Page 195] at seeing him there,
but that did not mean she would keep her mouth shut
about it next day. Tom was undoubtedly discovered.
Notwithstanding her unwelcome
presence, however, Jackson managed to whisper to me
that the Forest Warden and his officers were alive and
bound for the Reserve the following day. But it didn’t
worry me worth a cent; I knew we were safe as a church
with Tom Barrett’s clerical coat in our midst.
He was coming over to our corner now.
right on the dead square, Dan?” he asked anxiously,
taking my arm and moving to the window.
I took a roll of bank notes
from my trousers’ pocket and with my back to the
gang counted out ten tens. I always carry a good wad
with me with a view to convenience if I have to make
a hurried exit from the scene of my operations.
He shook his head and stood
away. “Not till I’ve earned it, McLeod.”
What fools very young men make
of themselves sometimes. The girl arose, folding her
damp shawl over her head, and made towards the door;
but her intercepted her, saying it was late and as their
ways lay in the same direction, he would take her home.
She got a quick glance at him and went out. Some little
uneasy action of his caught my notice. In a second my
suspicions were aroused; the meeting had been [Page
196] arranged, and I knew from what I had seen
him to be that the girl was doomed.
It was all very well for me
to do up Cayuga Joe—he was the Indian whose hundred
dollars’ worth of cordwood I owned in lieu of
six quarts of bad whiskey—but his women-folks
were entitled to be respected at least while I was around.
I looked at my watch; it was past midnight. I suddenly
got boiling hot clean through.
“Look here, Tom Barrett,”
I said, “I ain’t a saint, as everybody knows;
but if you don’t treat that girl right, you’ll
have to square it up with me, d’you understand?”
He threw me a nasty look. “Keep
your gallantry for some occasion when it’s needed,
Dan McLeod,” he sneered, and with a laugh I didn’t
like, he followed the girl out into the rain.
I walked some distance behind
them for two miles. When they reached her father’s
house and went in, I watched her through the small uncurtained
window put something on the fire to cook, then arouse
her mother, who even at that late hour sat beside the
stove smoking a clay pipe. The old woman had apparently
met with some accident; her head and shoulders were
bound up, and she seemed in pain. Barrett talked with
her considerably and once when I caught sight of his
face, it was devilish with some black passion I did
not recognize. Although I felt sure the girl was now
all right for the night, there was something [Page
197] about this meeting I didn’t like;
so I lay around until just daylight when Jackson and
Lige Smith came through the bush as prearranged should
I not return to Jake’s.
It was not long before Elizabeth
and Tom came out again and entered a thick little bush
behind the shanty. Lige lifted the axe off the woodpile
with a knowing look, and we all three followed silently.
I was surprised to find it a well beaten and equally
well concealed trail. All my suspicions returned. I
knew now that Barrett was a bad lot all round, and as
soon as I had quit using him and his coat, I made up
my mind to rid my quarters of him; fortunately I knew
enough about him to use that knowledge as a whip-lash.
We followed them for something
over a mile, when—heaven and hell! The trail opened
abruptly on the clearing where lay my recently acquired
cordwood with my five barrels of whiskey concealed in
The girl strode forward, and
with the strength of a man, pitched down a dozen sticks
with lightning speed.
“There!” she cried,
turning to Tom. “There you find him—you
find him whiskey. You say you spill. No more my father
he’s drunk all day, he beat my mother.”
I stepped out.
“So, Tom Barrett,”
I said, “you’ve played the d—d sneak
and hunted it out!” [Page 198]
He fairly jumped at the sound
of my voice; then he got white as paper, and then—something
came into his face that I never saw before. It was a
look like his father’s, the old missionary.
“Yes, McLeod,” he
answered. “And I’ve hunted you
out. It’s cost me the loss of a whole term at
college and a considerable amount of self-respect, but
I’ve got my finger on you now!”
The whole infernal trick burst
right in on my intelligence. If I had had a revolver,
he would have been a dead man; but border traders nowadays
are not desperadoes with bowie knives and hip pockets——
“You surely don’t
mean to split on me?” I asked.
“I surely don’t
mean to do anything else,” he cheeked back.
“Then, Tom Barrett,”
I sputtered, raging, “you’re the dirtiest
cad and the foulest liar that ever drew the breath of
“I dare say I am,”
he said smoothly. Then with rising anger he advanced,
peering into my face with his foxy eyes. “And
I’ll tell you right here, Dan McLeod, I’d
be a hundred times a cad, and a thousand times a liar
to save the souls and bodies of our Indians from going
to hell, through your cursed whiskey.”
I have always been a brave man,
but I confess I felt childishly scared before the wild,
mesmeric power of his eyes. I was unable to move a finger,
but I blurted out boastfully: “If it wasn’t
for [Page 199] your preacher’s
hat and coat I’d send your sneaking soul to Kingdom
Come, right here!”
Instantly he hauled off his
coat and tie and stood with clenched fists while his
strange eyes fairly spat green fire.
“Now,” he fumed,
“I’ve discarded my cloth, Dan McLeod. You’ve
got to deal with a man now, not with a minister.”
To save my immortal soul I can’t
tell why I couldn’t stir. I only know that everything
seemed to drop out of sight except his two little blazing
eyes. I stood like a fool, queered, dead queered right
He turned politely to the girl.
“You may go, Elizabeth,” he said, “and
thank you for your assistance.” The girl turned
and went up the trail without a word.
With the agility of a cat he
sprang on to the wood-pile, pitched off enough cordwood
to expose my entire “cellar;” then going
across to Lige, he coolly took the axe out of his hand.
His face was white and set, but his voice was natural
enough as he said:
“Now, gentlemen, whoever
cares to interrupt me will get the blade of this axe
buried in his brain, as heaven is my witness.”
I didn’t even curse as
he split the five barrels into slivers and my well-fought-for
whiskey soaked into the slush. Once he lifted his head
and looked at me, and the mouth I didn’t understand
[Page 200] revealed itself; there was
something about it like a young Napoleon’s.
I never hated a man in my life
as I hated Tom Barrett then. That I daren’t resist
him made it worse. I watched him finish his caddish
job, throw down the axe, take his coat over his arm,
and leave the clearing without a word.
But no sooner was he out of
sight than my devilish temper broke out, and I cursed
and blasphemed for half an hour. I’d have his
blood if it cost my neck a rope, and that too before
he could inform on us. The boys were with me, of course,
poor sort of dogs with no grit of their own, and with
the axe as my only weapon we left the bush and ran towards
I fairly yelled at my good luck
as I reached the high bank. There, a few rods down shore,
beside the open water sat Tom Barrett, calling something
out to his folks across the river, and from upstream
came the deafening thunder of the Onondaga Jam that,
loosened by the rain, was shouldering its terrific force
downwards with the strength of a million drunken demons.
We had him like a rat in a trap,
but his foxy eyes had seen us. He sprang to his feet,
hesitated for a fraction of a moment, saw the murder
in our faces, then did what any man but a fool would
We were hot on his heels. Fifty
yards distant an old dug-out lay hauled up. He ran it
down [Page 201] into the water, stared
wildly at the oncoming jam, then at us, sprang into
the canoe and grabbed the paddle.
I was murderously mad. I wheeled
the axe above my shoulder and let fly at him. It missed
his head by three inches.
He was paddling for dear life
now, and, our last chance gone, we stood riveted to
the spot, watching him. On the bluff across the river
stood his half-blood mother, the raw March wind whipping
her skirts about her knees; but her strained, ashen
face showed she never felt its chill. Below with his
feet almost in the rapidly rising water, stood the old
missionary, his scant grey hair blowing across his eyes
that seemed to look out into eternity—amid stream
Tom, paddling with the desperation of death, his head
turning every second with the alertness of an animal
to gauge the approaching ice-shove.
Even I wished him life then.
Twice I though him caught in the crush, but he was out
of it like an arrow, and in another moment he had leapt
ashore while above the roar of the grinding jam I heard
him cry out with a strange exultation:
“Father, I’ve succeeded.
I have had to be a scoundrel and a cad, but I’ve
trapped them at last!”
He staggered forward then, sobbing
like a child, and the old man’s arms closed round
him, [Page 202] just as two heavy jaws
of ice snatched the dugout, hurled it off shore and
splintered it to atoms.
Well! I had made a bad blunder,
which I attempted to rectify by reaching Buffalo that
night; but Tom Barrett had won the game. I was arrested
at Fort Erie, handcuffed, jailed, tried, convicted of
attempted assault and illicit whiskey-trading on the
Grand River Indian Reserve—and spent the next
five years in Kingston Penitentiary, the guest of Her
Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. [Page