Revenge is a dish best served cold! ...Old Apache Proverb
The swamps of eastern Massachusetts
August 12, 1677.
They were closing in on him. Captain Benjamin Church, with a few volunteers and his band of praying Indians, had been chasing the last remnants of the great sachem Metacom's army for months. Metacom, called by the white man "The Red King" or "Prince Philip," had taken to a small island that was mostly swamp, to lick his wounds and gain a little time.
Metacom was weary of the chase and the war that was in its third year. His wife Wootonekanuska and their nine-year-old son had been captured and taken to Plymouth for trial by the white man’s church. There they were tried and found guilty and were sold with other Indians to slavery in the West Indies by the minions of the white man’s god.
Most of the great Indian leaders had been killed or captured. To be captured meant a quick and sure death and mutilation of the body by the English devils. The great sachems Quinnapin, One-eyed John, Sagamore Sam, and Muttawump had all been captured and killed in September. The war that had been forced upon Metacom and the greater New England tribes was running down. As finally, the English King was sending troops.
Charles Stuart had let the tribes take his revenge on the Puritan fathers. When the Puritan’s power had been broken and their towns burnt to the ground, he finally sent troops to restore order. The troops were at least a double-bladed sword. There would be no freedom for the Puritan fathers; many would be forced to move westward like the retreating tribes to get away from the King's justice. Freedom for some would come only after another hundred years and several more bloody wars.
Alderman, the brother of a traitor that Metacom had killed to save his own life and for a handful of silver, had betrayed the Pokanokets to Benjamin Church. While Church's main force crossed to the island, Alderman waited across the river with the rear guard. A misunderstood signal caused the rear guard to open fire prematurely just after dawn.
Metacom, hearing this, jumped up and grabbed his pouch, powder and musket. Wearing only his breeches and stockings, he ran toward the battle sounds. As he came out into the open, he saw Alderman and the rear guard. Metacom screamed a curse at Alderman; as he brought his musket up to slay the traitor. Before he could fire, two balls tore through his chest, one ball tearing through his heart. As Metacom fell to the ground, he locked eyes with Alderman until everything faded to black.
Metacom's body was taken to Plymouth, where it was decreed that his head should be cut off and his body drawn and quartered. His head was set upon a stake for passersby to admire. For nearly 25 years it remained there. Cotton Mather was fond of taking off the jaw of that "blasphemous leviathan" and mocking him, holding little conversations for the amusement of his fellows. The four separate quarters were hung in trees so that his body could not be hallowed by burial. Alderman was allowed to cut off a hand for a reward and he used it for years to curry favors for drinks.
Anneawon, Metacom's war captain, continued the fight, but within a few months, southern New England was at peace. It would range on in Maine for a while, but with the coming of the English Army, the Wampanoag and other Indian federations were destroyed. This was the end of what the whites would come to call "The Red Kings Rebellion" or "Prince Philips War." All that remained were a few scattered tribes that were busily moving west away from their ancestral homes on the coast.
One night during August of 1702, a shadow approached the spike where the skull of Metacom hung. A moment later the skull was gone.
Wrapping the skull in a cloth the Pokanokets shaman Canonchets made his way out of the torch lights and into the woods. He followed the ancient paths of the forest south toward present day Warren, Rhode Island, back to the village of Metacom's birth.
Canonchets had a vision. The Great Spirit came to him and told him what he must do and how he was to do it. He had been collecting at great cost the remains of Metacom. Although he was missing a hand, Canonchets knew that he had enough for what he must do. It would soon be 25 years since the death of Metacom. Soon the second full moon of September would come, bringing the time for Metacom and the Pokanoket peoples, revenge!
There was barely enough time for Canonchets to make the trip of about 75 miles to the sacred grove near the Pokanoket town of Sowams. Canonchets was very tired. He was nearly 90 years old. He had been a youth when the white "Pilgrims" had first arrived to stay. Had helped them survive through their first few years. He had become a shaman under the great Pokanoket sachem Massasoit. Massasoit, whose kindness saved the Plymouth colony through all their lean years, had seen the birth and raising of Metacom into manhood. Watched as the whites turned from friendship to the warpath with the coming of the Puritans. Witnessed countless tribes fall or flee from the whites. He had witnessed the death of Massasoit and the rise and murder of Metacom's brother Wamsutta as sachem. Had witnessed Metacom's reluctant rise to become sachem of the Pokanokets.
Canonchets sat at many tribal councils, listening to Metacom try to keep the tribe intact and off the path of war. He supported Metacom with his own remembrances of the Pequot War of 1636-1637. He had tried in vain to keep the young warriors on the peaceful path. Journeyed to the white man’s towns on many occasions with Metacom to talk of peace, all to no avail. The Puritans would say one thing yet do another. They would make a treaty yet break it before the ink was dry. Finally, there came a day when the tribes could take no more and joined together in a federation to face a common foe.
Long was Canonchets witness to the many tribal councils, where sachems and shamans talked all night and day until there was nothing left to say. Until, at last, the only path that lay open, was the path that led to war!
For three years, from 1675 through 1677, the tribes of the northeast made war upon the white devils. Many white towns were burnt to the ground. Many captives taken, then returned for ransom. Unlike the whites, the peoples waged war against only the men. The women and children that were captured were treated well. There was no raping or torture for these captives, while the whites raped and pillaged everywhere they went. Many women and children choose to remain with the tribes when offered their freedom. With the death of Metacom the alliance broke apart and the tribes were scattered or sold into slavery until very few remained.
Canonchets had left Massachusetts and journeyed many moons west to the land of the Shawnee and had lived amongst them in peace on the banks of the Ohio River. In April the dreams had begun to come to Canonchets. Throughout April and May the dreams had come more and more often. On the night of the summer solstices, he had taken the mushrooms of the gods and had a spirit vision. The Great Spirit came to him in the form of a timber wolf, which told him that the time had come for him to return to the land of his ancestors. He taught him the ritual of the bringing forth of the dead. Taught him which herbs to use.
Throughout the heat of August Canonchets struggled down the coast of Massachusetts, past burned out and long abandoned villages that had for centuries sheltered the Pokanokets.
In September he reached Rhode Island and began the long journey north and around Narragansett Bay to Metacom's long destroyed home village of Sowams. Through the cranberry bogs and swamps Canonchets struggled, stopping to rest more often now but somehow always rising to trudge on another mile. Often the Great Spirit would appear by his campfire to give him strength and show him the path that the English could never find. The wolf brought Canonchets rabbits and pheasants and other wild game to the old man’s fire. Towards the end of September Canonchets came at last to the remnants of Sowams and to the sacred grove just beyond.
It was three days until the moon was again full; he had little time and much to do. The Great Spirit came to him that night and nuzzled him awake. He opened his eyes to stare into the deep blue eyes of the timber wolf. The Great Spirit told him many things that night. How the people had come to be, what waited for them in the future and the great plan of man and nature. He also told Canonchets of his death!
Canonchets stayed very busy constructing a bier and gathering all the roots, herbs and minerals from the good earth. As the sun set on the third day, Canonchets bathed himself in a cold brook and donned his finest clothes and feathers. He painted his face in the old ways of his people and began to make ready for the rising of the full moon.
The English Church spread fear of this "Blue Moon," as they called it, being that it came before the harvest moon, which was itself a pagan festival that the church had been trying to wipe out for centuries, not a good omen. Satan and his minions were said to be about on such a night as this!
Canonchets built a roaring fire and into a pot, he put his roots, minerals, herbs and blood from a cut he made on his arm. When his potion was ready, he took the pot from the fire and as the moon rose, he poured its contents over the remains of Metacom. When this was done, Canonchets knelt by the bier and chanted the old prayers of the Pokanokets. He recounted the history of his people as the moon rose above the trees. The wind, which had been still, began to pick up and the trees in the sacred grove began to whisper many things to Canonchets. While in this trance, Canonchets wasn't aware of the English soldiers sneaking up behind him. He didn't see the thrust of the sword that pierced his back until it had severed his heart and emerged through his chest. He lurched upward with the thrust and with his dying eyes saw that the wolf had returned for him, and that upon the bier the body of Metacom was beginning to reform itself.
The three English soldiers were busy making jests as they kicked the old man’s body. They could do no more harm to Canonchets. He was already behind them, standing beside the timber wolf. The soldiers began to rifle through Canonchets' meager possessions, so they never noticed Metacom rising from the bier. When they did feel his presence and turned around to look into his blinding blue eyes, it was already far too late. For all of that night, villagers all along the Narragansett Bay shore heard their terrible screams!