1 Buffalo Creek September 1812
The Indian stepped silently into the clearing by the unfinished cabin. He stared at the small yellow-haired girl, unsure if she were a wood sprite that would cast an evil eye upon him. He closed his wall-eye and cocked his head to bring her into focus. He listened as she sang of a lady who had a bridge that was falling down, and quietly watched as she tugged at weeds in the garden beside the cabin. Sensing no threat from the tiny girl, he walked the few steps to her, bent down and ran his hands through her soft golden hair.
“Oh, Da,” she said smiling and looking up at the dark man.
Her striking blue eyes grew large as turtle eggs and she screamed.
He stepped back, and she ran for the cabin.
“Katie!” yelled the woman who instantly appeared, knife in hand, in the doorway to the cabin.
She pulled Katie inside and swung the door closed. The Indian stared at the closed door and glanced at the unshuttered window to the left of the door and the open roof above. He never would understand women, even though he had many of his own waiting for him in the village. He lay down the bag slung over his shoulder, squatted on a stump next to a pile of long poles in the clearing and decided to wait for the white man to appear. White men were hard to understand, but at least they were men of a sort.
He didn’t have long to wait. The man of the cabin sprinted into the clearing with his musket primed and ready for action in his left hand and his tomahawk in his right. He saw the Indian sitting on the stump chewing a piece of jerky and laughed, his dark blue eyes sparkling with delight. He brushed back his thick black hair with mud-splattered hands and strode over to the grinning Indian.
“Wandering Eye, you came!” he called in greeting.
The Indian rose to his feet and hugged him, slapping his back heartily.
“You have worked hard since last we met, Danny Dailey,” said Wandering Eye.
“To work my own land is not hard.”
“Where did you grow the white woman and child?”
“They were staying with Mrs. Lovejoy in Buffalo while I built the cabin.”
“You brought them and you have not done with the cabin. The wind will blow cold through the logs.”
“I will keep her warm at night, my friend,” he said with a boastful smile. “I was at the creek mixing straw and mud when I heard Katie yell.”
“She is a child of the sun.”
“Never saw flaxen hair have you?”
“Maureen. Katie. Come out and meet my good friend, Wandering Eye.”
The door to the cabin opened and Maureen came out tentatively with Katie clinging to her skirt.
“Welcome to our home,” said Maureen. “I am afraid I acted badly.”
“You acted like a she bear with her cub.”
The two sized each other up. Maureen had seen Senecas going about their business while staying at Mrs. Lovejoy’s, but Wandering Eye clung to the old ways. He didn’t wear his hair long in the new fashion adopted from the whites. His head was shaved except for a long scalp lock with a feather dangling from the side. His face was smooth and dark. His eyes were almost black and his right eye stared off to the side as if waiting for something to come. He wore a three-quarter length buckskin over leggings. A long knife hung from a fringed sheath at his side. But for the smile animating his face, he was fearsome to behold. She could see that he had yet to be civilized, but she sensed an aura of dynamism and kindness that emanated from his every move.
Wandering Eye smiled at Maureen. Her green eyes shone with happiness. He saw that she was pleased to have his help raising the roof on the cabin. She would be safe and warm tonight. Why the men of Buffalo refused to help the family confused Wandering Eye. Danny Dailey was a Christian like them, but the Christians of Buffalo did not like his kind of Christian, so Danny Dailey had to build his cabin outside the white man’s village and come to the Seneca village for help.
Danny Dailey’s woman was fair. Her skin was smooth and her hair glowed a pale red, glinting where it caught the sun. He could see why the young one had golden hair. The woman was strong, but too thin for his taste, not much good for a winter’s bed. Her hands were raw from work, so at least she was not lazy and would be a good helpmate for Danny Dailey. The clan mother would approve of her.
“I thought the golden child might be a spirit,” he commented handing her two pheasants and a handful of crab apples from his bag. “Never have I seen one so fair with hair like the corn silk.”
Maureen made the sign of the cross and blessed herself.
“Sometimes it seems as though the faeries have taken her,” admitted Maureen. “She seems to hear and see things that we cannot, but she is too sweet for the faeries.”
Danny laughed, “Wonderful, you two superstitious old wives can keep each other company. Faeries and wood spirits indeed! Katie is an angel from heaven. Aren’t you sweetie?”
“Yes Da!” she squealed jumping into his arms. “I’m your special angel, right Da?”
“It isn’t safe to make light of the faeries, Danny,” Maureen warned crossing herself again. “They have their ways.”
“No time for faeries,” said Danny. “Time for work. You and Katie finish mixing the mud and straw while Wandering Eye and I raise the roof.”
The day passed quickly in a blur of heavy labor. The two men laid the poles framing the roof and then wove thatch through the frame. Maureen carried buckets of straw laced mud from the creek bed up to the cabin and filled in the cracks between the logs while Katie stomped straw into the mud by the creek.
Before the light faded from the sky, Maureen carried the sleepy-eyed Katie back to the cabin and laid her down on the bed. She took the pheasants to the fire pit and plucked the feathers, setting aside the long tail feathers for Wandering Eye and started the fire. She didn’t know if he would want them, but she thought she should make the offer. She realized she didn’t know much about the Senecas. The people in Buffalo were somewhat afraid of them, but treated them poorly anyway. To them, the Senecas were just a nuisance to be tolerated for the time being. Other than Mrs. Lovejoy that’s how the people of Buffalo seemed to consider Danny and her. They had left Ireland, to escape the harsh British rule where Catholics could not own land, expecting to find life better in America. Well they had their land. It seems that the good Christian people of America valued silver and gold enough to profit from a Catholic, if not to accept or help him. Danny didn’t care. He wasn’t much for the priests anyway. He just wanted a chance to be his own man. She never thought she would have more in common with a savage than with white men, but that night she would sleep under a roof for the first time since leaving Mrs. Lovejoy’s-- thanks to a savage.
Katie awoke to the aroma of the stewing pheasant and apples intermingled with the bad smell of Da’s pipe. Da and the Indian were talking quietly outside while Mama stood by the fire pit stirring the pot. Katie sat up and listened to the men talking.
“The war seemed as though it would never come here. It was so far away,” said Da. “I never thought it would reach us here.”
“You were not here for the last war,” said Wandering Eye. “The rivers ran red with the blood of white men and red men. It will be the same this time. Sullivan came and burned our homes and crops, driving us from our lands by the rising sun.”
“But you said the Six Nations had agreed to remain neutral this time.”
“Our brothers to the north fight alongside the British. We have sworn not fight against our brothers, but I do not know how we can do this if they fight with the British. Our path is with you.”
“This news you bring from Fort Dearborn bodes ill for us. Do you know what happened to General Hull?”
“Only that the British and the Mohawks have routed them. We will find out more at Pomeroy’s Tavern tomorrow.”
“Will you fight?”
“The Wolf Clan will fight if the British come.”
“Must you go Danny?” asked Maureen. “It is not our fight.”
“I will go and listen to what the men have to say. We fled Ireland to escape the British. Will we let them drive us from America?”
“But what would Katie and I do, if…?”
“You will have the land.”
“We will die in this wilderness without you.”
“I won’t leave you alone. I will come back.”
“You don’t know these forests. We have been here less than a year. They will kill you.”
“I won’t be alone. I will be part of an army with men like Wandering Eye to guide us.”
“General Hull had an army with him.”
“Enough woman! I am going to hear what they have to say. Do not embarrass me in front of my friend. Bring our dinner.”
“Get it yourself.”
She threw the spoon to the ground in front of him and stormed off into the forest. Danny looked sheepishly toward Wandering Eye and shrugged his shoulders.
“She has a mind of her own,” he explained.
“In matters of war, the clan mother decides if we will fight, but when we go to war, it is the men who lead,” he replied. “It is wise to listen to the counsel of your women. When the decision is made, then the time for talking is over.”
“I’m hungry, Da,” said Katie rubbing her eyes.
Danny filled a bowl from the pot and handed it to Katie and then filled bowls for Wandering Eye, Maureen and himself.
“Maureen, darling,” he called. “Come back and eat with us. It’s a wondrous meal you’ve made and we need to talk more.”
“I’ve a right to be heard,” she called back.
“That you do, and I’d be a fool not to listen.”
“You would be for true,” she answered returning to the fire and eating her stew.
Wandering Eye belched loudly.
“I’m happy you liked it; hand me that bowl,” said Maureen scooping more into his bowl. “Eat away.”
Danny held out his bowl, grinned and belched.
“You can get your own.”
After dinner the sky turned threatening, and the four huddled closer to the fire. Lightning streaked across the sky and a loud crash of thunder sent them into the newly roofed cabin. The cabin was dark, the only light coming through the small window. The wind picked up and rain pelted the roof and side of the small log shelter.
“Looks like our new roof will get a testing tonight,” said Danny.
“It is a sound cabin,” said Wandering Eye. “It will withstand the coming storm.”
Katie crawled back in bed and listened as the big people talked of the war. She wasn’t sure what a war was, but she could hear the fear in their voices as they speculated on the coming days. The thunder and lightning eased and the drumming of the rain lulled her to sleep.
In the wee hours of the morning the storm returned with a vengeance. Lightning lit the cabin with blinding flashes followed immediately by resounding peals of thunder. Katie crawled into her mother’s arms and buried her face against her breast wailing with each peal of thunder. When the storm passed, she noticed that her mother was awake crying softly.
“It’s okay, Momma. The storm is gone.”
”I know, Katie dear.”
“Then you don’t have to cry.”
“That wasn’t the storm I’m afraid of. Go back to sleep, Katie dear.”
Excerpted from "Da's Shillelagh: A Tale of the Irish on the Niagara Frontier" by Timothy M. Shannon. Copyright © 0 by Timothy M. Shannon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.