Council Of Fire – Snippet 33

Chapter 23

It is always about true and false

Fort Johnson, Colony of New York

“What does he want?” Johnson asked.

“What does he say he wants?”

Skenadoa looked around the drawing room. A half-dozen warriors stood around the room, watching and listening. Johnson sat in an armchair, his hands pyramided.

“He says he wants all white people to leave the lands of the Longhouse,” Skenadoa said at last.

“He’s looking to drive us out of our homes?”

“Huh.” Skenadoa walked to the window and looked out across the yard, where the refugees had pitched their tents. “Your homes. The Six Tribes called these lands their homes long before you.”

“There are treaties,” Johnson said. “Those of my people who have settled here have bought their land and live on it legally.”

“Tell me again of the treaties and the purchases, Warraghiyagey. Tell me of the Walking Purchase and the treaty made at Easton in Pennsylvania. Tell me how the people of Plymouth and Massachusetts-Bay treated Metacom after he . . . asserted his right to revenge for the murder of his brother.

“Tell me, Warraghiyagey. Tell me why Guyasuta is wrong to want what he believes is his.”

“You are in my house, Skenadoa,” Johnson said. “Do you believe that this Seneca chief is right? Do you make common cause with him? Because if you do, then you and your people can take your leave now.”

Johnson’s anger was in his eyes, but his voice was level. Skenadoa did not change his expression either.

“I accept the world as it is, Warraghiyagey,” Skenadoa said. “My people are in it; your people are in it. But you must understand what Guyasuta believes if you seek to oppose him. He believes that the treaties are false, that the land belongs to no one. Instead, we belong to the land. Your people believe otherwise.”

“And now Guyasuta has suddenly decided to change things, to upset the balance? Why now?”

“You already know the answer, Warraghiyagey. It is because of the coming of the broom-star, the change in the world. Guyasuta senses an opportunity unlike any that has ever come before.”

Johnson waited several moments before replying. “Tell me about Guyasuta.”

“He is a Seneca chief who came to the Ohio valley when he was young. He is now, I would say, about three dozen summers old, and is highly regarded among his people for his bravery and initiative.”

“Are his sympathies with the French?”

“Once, he was considered a friend of the English. He guided the Tall Hunter–a young officer named Washington, from Virginia, when he was sent as an envoy to the French at Presque-Isle. But the Seneca are not of one mind with regard to their loyalties–English, French or Iroquois.

“I think you are asking whether he acts on behalf of the French. I would say no. He serves another purpose and is his own master. He wants the French gone as well.”

“He is a warrior?”

“Yes, assuredly.”

“Then–how is it that he ‘senses’ this opportunity? Is he a shaman as well as a warrior?”

Skenadoa did not answer.

“He has someone in his retinue,” Johnson continued. “Someone has told him this–incited him to this. Guyasuta does not speak for all Iroquois, and he likely does not speak for all Senecas. He has decided to undertake this because he is an opportunist.”

“What do you mean by that, Warraghiyagey? Do you say that he is false?”

“This is not about true and false, Skenadoa.”

“It is always about true and false, Warraghiyagey. Chiefs of tribes from the Longhouse take up the hatchet and go to war because they feel a true need for action, or because they feel that they have been truthfully hurt, or because they have received a true vision from the Great Spirit. So I ask again: do you say that Guyasuta is false?”

The tension in the room had gone up suddenly, though neither Skenadoa nor Johnson had changed facial expressions. Johnson did not answer at once. He rose from his seat and walked to the fireplace. He took down a long, thin clay pipe and held it before him.

“I was adopted by the People of the Longhouse, friend Skenadoa, and given a name so that I might sit among them. The Tadodaho smoked this calumet with me as a sign of the bond we made, and I asked him if I might keep it as a reminder that it had been done, so I would never forget.”

“I remember. I was there, Warraghiyagey.”

“Then you know I call no brother false, because I know what it would mean to say those words, to take up that hatchet. It would make this–” he held out the pipe before him–“a meaningless token. So let me say that I have formed my words in a way that you did not understand, and that is my fault; or that I have failed to see what you meant by your words, and that is my fault as well.

“So, unless you no longer feel that you can call me brother, we should find other words to speak. Or I can simply break this pipe and grind the pieces beneath my feet. I leave it to you, my brother.”

Skenadoa showed neither fear nor anger and did not respond. After some time, Johnson placed the pipe carefully back on the mantelpiece.

“We must find out who has moved this chief Guyasuta to threaten us,” Johnson said. “Those of you who will ride with me make ready; at first light we will ride west and get answers.”

“Warraghiyagey–” Skenadoa began, but let the sentence falter, as if he could not see which path it would take.

“You can ride with us if you choose, Skenadoa. But I will have answers.”


As it happened, answers came to him.

On the morning of the second day after the gathering in Johnson’s study, a lone rider approached the gate of Fort Johnson. He was a Seneca, attired and painted for war, but showed no hostile intent. He was escorted into the yard and remained on his horse; Johnson came out on the porch of the house.

It was no one he knew. The Indian carried a bundle in his hands wrapped in a deerskin. With a grunt, he unwrapped it and tossed it on the ground in front of him: six arrows bound together and snapped in the middle. The bound arrows–like the fasces of Ancient Rome–were a symbol of the Covenant Chain, the league of tribes that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy.

“My chief sends word to you, Chief Warraghiyagey,” the native said, without greeting or initial courtesy. “The . . . arrangements . . . between your people and ours have ceased. You should prepare to leave the lands of the Longhouse or face the wrath of the people.”

“Which people?” Johnson spread his hands, gesturing toward the people camped in the yard, many of whom had emerged to watch the scene. “These people that you have driven from their houses and hunting grounds?”

“My chief has seen a vision,” the messenger replied.

“Guyasuta is no seer,” Johnson answered. “I have looked into his eyes. They are clear, a warrior’s eyes.”

My chief is Sganyodaiyo,” the man said. “The son of Gahonneh, of the Turtle Clan. The Great Spirit descended from the sky-kingdom and granted him a vision. He has a warrior’s eyes as well, and has given the word of his vision to Guyasuta.” He gestured toward the bundle of broken arrows. “Those of the Haudenosaunee who serve and consort with the white people have broken the trust of the rest. It is they who have destroyed the League. We will carry their scalps back and make them trophies.”

“Will you take a message back with you?”

“What words could you speak that would have any value?”

Johnson’s face darkened. “Then you had best leave my land, warrior, before you are killed for sport. I will deliver words personally to your chiefs–after I kill their braves and burn their longhouses.”

The Seneca did not respond but turned his horse and rode slowly out of the yard, as if he had not the slightest fear that anyone there would harm him.


In the morning twenty grim mounted men–six Englishmen and the rest natives–rode slowly out of the compound. A light drizzle accompanied them, further sombering the occasion. Molly Brant watched them go; her facial expression was impassive, but something in the tight set of her shoulders indicated her disapproval of her husband’s mission. She’d tried to talk Johnson out of it the night before–they’d argued long into the night. Unusually–but he’d stubbornly insisted it had to be done.

Joseph was not among them. He had asked Johnson to accompany the troop as a scout, but the white man had turned him down: as valuable as his scouting skills might be, Johnson wanted him to continue to recover from his injuries.

“Also,” Johnson said, “I want you to protect and defend your sister. I . . . fear for her. For all of us.” It was very much about true and false.