Subplots Enrich the Main Plot: The Use of Native Peoples in The Loyalist Trilogy
In the writing of my Loyalist trilogy, close to one thousand pages of fiction which delves into the history of Upper Canada, now called Ontario, one of the first Natives I named was Black Bear Claw. Part of a subplot, I called him an Indian as that was the term used at that time of little understanding between those of European descent and the Natives. Black Bear Claw comes to represent some of the things that happened to our first Nations’ People throughout the first and second book.
A severely wounded man, he is dropped off at Lucy’s cabin where she nurses him back to health. In The Loyalist’s Luck, she encounters him again in the forest about four years later, and further on in the book he comes to live with her and John at their mill near the Fort which at present-day Fort Erie across the river from Buffalo. I had the chance to tell some of the horrific history of the Mohawks who were abandoned by both the British and the Americans in their treaty making after the American Revolutionary War.
Here Lucy asks the wounded man lying on her floor what has happened since she saw him last.
“I will tell you,” he said. “But only you.” He tried to sit up but settled for leaning on one elbow, looking at her, his face more animated than she had seen it in a great while.
“I went back. To my old lands.”
“Do you mean to the United States?”
“Yes. My woman was there. And my sons.” His voice echoed his pride and she thought of the man she had known. Black Bear Claw’s words came out softly, at first, as he told Lucy things she already knew about the revolution but soon the voice took on a bereft and barren sound. He told of the savagely reduced numbers of Indians. Their rights and lands had been devastated. The war over, a whole new wave of land-hungry settlers had pushed toward the western reaches of the former colonies, this time with the support of the new states, many of whom could not see beyond their own need for land to the rights of those who had lived there for centuries.
The British were no better. Many of the Five Nations tribes had fought for the British in hopes of being on the winning side and keeping their lands but they were forsaken in the treaty negotiations. Their lands were ceded to the Americans. When Black Bear Claw finally found his people there was no peace for him in that land. He and his brothers and sisters tried to keep their traditions and their ways but instead were bribed with trinkets and alcohol until their old ways were no more.
Black Bear Claw stared beyond Lucy to some imaginary window into the past. She had no words. Presently, under the unbroken glare of the slanting sun and perhaps the kindness in her eyes, he stretched up to sit as tall as he could. “My sons are dead,” he said. “And all of my people.”
“But you came back here,” she whispered.
“I remembered a time…when a white woman,” he looked at her and continued, “when a white woman was kind.” His voice broke. Immediately he lay down again and looked away.
Near the end of The Loyalist’s Luck Black Bear Claw’s story is concluded as the denouement of this novel unfolds.
Another Native I included in my books is Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant as he was known to the white people at the time. Brant easily came to mind as he had been the topic of my Grade Eight speech which I researched, wrote and recited by memory to my class. I loved that assignment and immediately respected Joseph Brant. Somehow he was still in my subconscious when I wrote the first book in the Loyalist trilogy.
Brant was a war chief entrusted with fighting for their Confederacy and well versed in dealing with the British and warfare in general. His pact with the British made a relationship between him and my character, John, possible. John is rescued by Brant’s warriors and brought to the Mohawk camp in New York state where the women care for his wounded friend, Frank, and John wrestles with whether to rejoin Butler’s Rangers or go back home to Lucy for the winter. I used these scenes to again look into Native ways such as the different clans within a tribe and their javelin game. Here John meets Brant for the first time.
The boy ahead of him stopped so quickly John almost ran into him. He stepped aside and John met the dark eyes of a chief staring at him. The eyes were set in a broad, determined face with a full nose, thick lips and a dark cleft in the chin. He wore a feathered headdress, a mark of his rank, but his clothes were not Indian. Rather he wore a tan, collared shirt, and breeches of the white people.
“Who are you?” the chief barked.
“John Garner, sir. I have a farm in New York.”
The Indian stared at him.
“What is your name?” John thought he knew.
Still the Indian was silent.
“Are you Joseph Brant?”
“I am Thayendanegea, chief of the Mohawks.”
“I am honored, sir.” John dipped his head respectfully. “Are you known as Joseph Brant?”
“How do you know the horse in the pen?”
“I beg your pardon?” The topic change had jolted John. He stood tall and swallowed, breathing in the fumes of the fire. “That is my horse. It was stolen from me a few weeks ago a long way from here.” He stopped as the Indian stiffened and glared at him.
“Are you a fighter? A militia man?” The chief looked aside and his voice was soft.
John thought quickly. He didn’t know what the right answer was but he had to take a chance. “Are you Joseph Brant?”
The Indian chuckled. “I am Thayendanegea to all the Mohawk people but, yes, I am also known as Joseph Brant, friend to the great King George in England.” Suddenly his eyes bored right into John and he barked. “Who are you?”
John smiled. “I am John Garner, a cavalry man with Butler’s Rangers. I, too, am a friend to the British.”
John sat cross-legged by the fire. Its warmth cast a ruddy glow over his face as he stretched his hands to the heat. “Do you know where Butler’s Rangers are now?”
Brant did know and wasted no time sharing with John, who began to trust him.
“But how did you get my horse?” John finally asked.
Brant’s eyes were patient. “We did not steal your horse. One of our hunting parties met a band of the Tuscarora, those that are fighting against the British. Our braves relieved them of the burden of their horses and brought them back here. You may have your animal back.” He nodded at John.
“Thank you, sir. My friend, also with the Rangers, is here wounded. His horse was stolen, too. May I have it back as well?”
“Certainly, if it is here. I trust your friend will soon be well.” Brant made to stand up and John hurried to do the same.
“Thank you, sir.”
In the third book of the trilogy Chippewas by the name of Migisi and Kiwidinok have a wee child who is left on the porch as his mother sips tea inside the cabin with Catherine Garner. Here is a segment of a story my father used to tell about his ancestors and which works well in The Loyalist Legacy.
Catherine was just about to answer when a terrible cry broke their peace. She and Kiwidinok raced to the porch. A huge yellow cat of an animal crouched beside the wailing baby. It rested a giant paw on the tiny laced-in infant as though not at all sure what it had discovered. Kiwidinok howled and threw herself toward her wailing child but Catherine grabbed her and together they stared at the spiked ears with the telltale black tufts pointing straight up and the long mustard fur darkly spotted. The lynx looked toward the women but didn’t move its paw.
She thought of her rifle, as the animal’s eyes bore into her own in a staring contest the like of which she’d never before experienced. Her fingers tightened on Kiwidinok’s arm, pulling her back ever so slowly. “Shh,” she whispered, thinking to remove the threat and mollify the big cat.
But even though Kiwidinok retreated with her, the screaming went on, both hers and the child’s. Catherine willed calm into those cream and black eyes and forced deep breaths up from her own churning insides. That cat could be on them in the blink of an eye and then how could they help the child? She forced a smile.
And slipped inside. She grabbed the rifle, jerked it down, and shoved Kiwidinok aside. As she sighted along the barrel, the lynx’s eyes narrowed; it turned back to the whimpering baby. Her finger pulled the cold metal trigger but just as the shot fired a crushing blow smashed her left shoulder. She missed. Kiwidinok’s hand rested in mid air. “I thought…the baby.” The woman had destroyed her aim.
The lynx tore the child off its board and leaped off the end of the porch into the long grass around the corner of the cabin. Catherine grabbed up her rifle that had fallen and again pushed past Kiwidinok as she darted inside for bullets, knowing full well she couldn’t stop the lynx now. Outside, she raced after Kiwidinok who was already staggering around the corner.
At the front of the house they stopped and listened. Silence. They crept to the roadway. Nothing. Across the dusty strip. Still listening. Still nothing. Kiwidinok straggled along beside her, quiet at last, as she edged into the woods across the road. An eerie feeling gnawed at her innards. Was someone watching her? Or something?
Kiwidinok caught up to her. Gone was the calm and composed person who had sat across from her sipping tea just moments ago. Her hair tumbled about her face, frowsy and frazzled, her arms criss-crossed her breast, and her hands beat a soft tattoo on her arms. The worst was her eyes. Always beautiful, black, and brimming with joy, they exuded terror. Catherine pushed ahead.
She could see where the animal had dragged its find in the long grass. She dropped to study the ground. Was that blood? She stepped over it quickly, blocking Kiwidinok’s view. Not much farther along, she raised her arm and stopped. A soft crunching sound came from just up ahead in the trees. Her companion heard it, too, but this time kept quiet. They stepped closer, listening and looking.
Catherine checked the rifle but looked up when Kiwidinok strangled a sound. Ahead, partially hidden by the dead bottom branches of a tall pine, the lynx lay on the ground eating. She moved closer. The animal’s wide jaws opened to reveal for a second its terrible bloodied teeth before red paws stuffed the gaping maw once more. Kiwidinok slumped against her and she eased her to the ground.
The gun on her shoulder, she sighted once more, forced concentration, thought of Lucy’s instructive words, didn’t even breathe. This time she’d kill the beast. The trigger moved with a deadly silence until the sound erupted and the head of the lynx split into red bits flying up and floating down to the ground to settle on the already bloodied blanket of the tiny baby.
Kiwidinok groaned. She knelt down and sat on the ground, cushioned by the coppery pine needles, and cradled the woman in her arms.
Of course this is a very sad tale but I wanted to use it to accentuate the plight of this Chippewa couple and all of those First Nations people who had to find a way to live once Europeans settled in North America. My characters, Migisi and Kiwidinok, do not want to stay on the reservation set aside for them after having lived most of their lives with no such restrictions.
Today we have to be aware of all of our North American first Nations people as we celebrate Canada 150 and the beginnings of European settlement in the whole of North America. Many of us are caught in between the horrors of the residential school history which has come to light and the reality of just what constitutes a status Indian and what does not. For some of the history which has led us to this point in Canada, please take a look at Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of Pauline Johnson by Charlotte Gray. Your eyes may be opened as mine were.
These, then, are some of the sub plot themes that interested me as I told the story of the Garner family throughout the American Revolutionary War and afterwards. Of course the main story is that of John and Lucy Garner and their extended family. The books are available on Amazon and many other places. Click on cover for information below. Enjoy!
August 26, 2017 @ 2:59 pm
Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of Pauline Johnson is exceptional. Four days since I picked it up from the library and already I am at page 200.
August 28, 2017 @ 8:59 am
Fabulous, Brian. I’m so glad you like it. I learned a lot although there were some parts I skipped past as they got too dry for my taste. Still, a memorable book which I mention to audiences all the time.