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A History of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia
Chapter II  Indians

THERE is much evidence to show that at one time Tatamagouche was a frequent rendezvous for the Micmac Indians. The name itself is almost conclusive in showing that it was a place well known to these men of the forest. The location and environment of the place were peculiarly suited to meet the few needs of the Red Man. The waters of the rivers and harbours teemed with a great number of 6sh, including the lobster and oyster, while in thd fall and spring these waters and the adjacent marshes were the haunts of the wild fowl which to a great extent made up the Indians’ bill of fare.

Traditions tell us that at one time there was an Indian burying-ground on Steele’s Island. This is still generally believed and is not without good foundation. A number of years ago a jaw bone of unusual size was found near the edge of the bank. The late David Fraser is supposed to have been the finder. It was kept for a number of years in his shop. It is true that at present no trace of mounds is to be found on the island, but recent cultivation would account for their disappearance—indeed it would be extraordinary if, after the lapse of so many years, there still remained any indications of this ancient burial place. Other stories, too, are current, which tell of the finding of rude Indian implements and beads on the shores of this island.

More certain evidenced of the Indians has, however, been found on Ross’ Point in what is now the farm of C. N. Cunningham. When a cui was being made there at the time of the construction of the railway, a number of bones were exposed, many of which had every appearance of having been broken before they were interred in their final resting place. These bones were found close to the surface, which indicated that they had either been deposited in haste, or at a date previous to the coming of the Europeans, when the Indians possessed no implements other than sharpened sticks with which they were unable to dig a hole of much depth. In the adjoining fields at various times, spear heads and other implements of war have been found. Possibly what is now a peaceful farm, was once the scene of a hard fought battle.

A recorded reference which substantiates the former statement that Tatamagouche was a frequent rendezvous tor the Indians, is found in a report by Judge Morris in 1753 on the failure of the attempts of British settlement in Nova Scotia in 1749-50 and -53. It seems that the chief cause of the failure was the hostility of the Indians who were constantly making attacks upon the British settlers. This is how Judge Morris explains the situation.

The Indians being supplied with provisions at Hay Vert?, proceed along the shore of the sea, till they come to Tatamagouohe, which is navigable twenty miles for their canoes, where they leave them, and taking 'heir provisions travel about ten miles, which brings them to Cobequid. This takes up two, sometimes three days. At Cobequid they are supplied by the French; thence from there they go down the Shubenacadia River to Dartmouth where they embarrass the inhabitants.”

The Judge then goes on and advocates as a remedy the removal of the French from Onignecto and the erection of a fort on the Shubenacadie. He says:

“It is quite evident that if the inhabitants were removed from Cobequid that their (the Indians' means of support among them would cease. They would have none to take care of their canoes, and consequently must pass from Tatamagouche River by land through the wools, which are almost impassable, above sixty miles, and carry their provisions both for their support out and home, which would put them to such difficulties they would be induced seldom, if ever, to attempt it.”

Thus it would seem that Tatamagouche was, to use the modern phraseology, a "strategic point" from which the Indians could carry out their acts of depredation.

Frequently, when they had succeeded in capturing a prisoner of note, the Indians would retire to Tatamagouche. Many a poor captive has found his way to lead over the rough trail from Cobequid to Tatamagouche, and thence overland to Chignecto, or by water to Louisbourg or to St. John’s Island. Much of our knowledge of the Tatamagouche of those early days is gleaned from diaries which were kept by several captives who were brought here by the Indians. One, by Capt. Win. Pote, we snail deal with later.

Another rather distinguished captive whom the Indians brought to Tatamagouche, was Anthony Casteel. On 17th May, 1753, Casteel with several Englishmen, was surprised and captured by the Indians at Jeddore. All his comrades were killed, but he escaped by calling himself a Frenchman. He was then carried by the Indians down the River Shubenaeadie to Cobequid, thence to Tatamagouche. The party left Cobequid on the 24th of May, and arrived the same night at Tatamagouche, where they lodged. On the following day, Friday, “We crossed,” he says, “a bay and marched to a place called Remsheag (Wallace) where we found an Indian encampment.” From Wallace he was taken to Ray Verte. Subsequently he was released.

There are indeed few, if any, stories of difficulties between the early settlers at Tatamagouche and the Indians, and they seem to have been on excellent terms, though many of our forefathers felt genuine fear when they heard of the cruelties that were then attributed to the Indians. In River John, more trouble was experienced, and there the first settlers, in self-protection, prepared to erect rough forts. It was there, too, that Frederick, the five year old son of George Patriquin was stolen, and though every search was made for him, no trace of the missing boy could be found. With good reason it was believed that the Indians alone could account for his disappearance.

The Indians as late as twenty-five years ago used to visit Tatamagouche in great numbers. The “old burying-ground” was their favourite meeting place. Gradually their numbers became fewer and finally they ceased to visit as of old. Only occasionally do we now see a few of this rapidly disappearing race around the place where their fathers lived a happy, though obscure, life, or where, when the call came, they answered it and fell in battle.

Our debt to them may be small. They left to our fathers no cultivated fields with which to repay their honest labours. Neither intellectually nor morally have they contributed to our civilisation, unless in their religious life their simple, confiding trust in an Almighty Power, whose care they were, may strengthen ours. Still in the words of the poet we can say of them:

“The memory of the red man,
How can it pass away
While their names of music linger
On each mount and stream and bay?”

Their legacy to the people of Tatamagouche is a name euphonious and full of that mystic, hidden meaning which can alike arouse our imaginations and stir our emotions.

The late Frank Steele used to relate that on one occasion, after a heavy storm, he found a large number of bones on the beach. These he carefully buried near the bank’s edge.

Oak or Stewart’s Island, across the Harbour on the Malagash shore, was another favourite resort for these people. When the first settlers arrived, they found immense quantities of oyster shells near the beach. These they used for fertilizing their farms. Small quantities may yet be seen at or near the edge of the bank. According to Lone Clond. Malagash in the Micmac language meant a plaoe where the Indians met to play games, and it may be that the word Malagash was first applied to this small island. It is to be noted, however, that the students of Micmac state that Malagash means “end of smooth water”. It is more probable that the word was first applied to the Point.

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