American Heros & Heroines — Native American Style

horseheader11.jpgcopy-of-pocahont1Perhaps this blog might be called, What really happened.  There has been so much written about Pocahontas (whose name was actually Matoaka — which means “flower between two streams”) that it’s sometimes difficult to sort the true from the fiction.  This post in no way pretends to “know it all,” about this very definite heroine, but I think we might be able to set the story straight, at least a little.

smlpocwn1I’m not altogether certain that I can fit all the information into one blog.  But I’ll give it a try.  The information that I’m going to give you here comes from the book THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTES, by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow and Angela L;. Daniel “Silver Star.”  This is the story that has been passed down orally for hundreds of years by the priests of the Powhatan tribe and is the story of Pocahontas as told by her own people.  It is the story passed down by the tribe’s quiakros — or the chosen few of the tribe, who have spent their lives in learning.  One thing I’m going to say at the start, mostly because it fascinated me, is that Pocahontas did not die of smallpox as is generally reported.  She was murdered.

pocahontas1That said, let’s continue.  She was indeed a princess.  She was born to the paramount chief, Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca.  She was born to Wahunsenaca’s first wife, his wife of  his heart late in life.  Her mother died giving birth to her — and interestingly enough, her mother’s name was Pocahontas.  Wahunsenaca had truly loved his wife and when she died, he showered the love that he’d had for her, upon his newborn child.  Pocahontas menas, by the way “Laughing and joyous one.”  As mentioned in the book, the story of Pocahontas is a story of love — not the love between her and John Smith, but rather the story of a father and daughter’s love for one another and for their people.  Pocahontas had many older brothers and sisters — many were already married.  And so caring for the young child was not a problem.  She grew up being nursed by several different women of the tribe, which according to the book, might be one reason why her ties to her people were so strong.

aa_pocahonta_newworld_3_m1Pocahontas was only 10 years old when the colonists stared to arrive in 1607.  Because she was the daughter of the paramount chief, she was watched over very, very closely.  No running around wild for her.  Captain John Smith was 27 years old when he arrived in the New World.  The Powhatan tribe was made up of 6 different tribes, with other tribes in its alliance, as well.  There were other chiefs, but Powhatan Wahunsenaca was the paramount chief.  They all spoke the Algonquain language.  Part of the polijsmith1tics of the day was to bring into the tribe an alliance with other peoples and other tribes.  Thus, although the Powhatan could have destroyed the colonists at any time, they did not.  Instead, they sought to ally the newcomers to them.  Perhaps, looking back on history, this was their true mistake.

John Smith — about 6 months after their arrival in the New World — went to explore the countryside.  Warriors out hunting for food, discovered him and his party and after a skirmish ensued, Smith was taken captive.  Because the English used “thunder sticks” to kill the Indians, the people were afeared of them and were beginning to think of the English as though they were a diety.  This next is from the book quoted above — I found it highly interesting:  “Smith would pretend to come into a village in a friendly manner.  When he was in close proximity to the chief of the village, he would put his pistol to the chief’s head, demanding a ransom of food in exchange for the chief’s release.  Smith and his men would proceed to take all the corn and food in the village.  As they left, Smith would throw down a few blue beads, claiming to have “traded” with the Powhatan people.”

140px-pocahontas11Does that sound like a man that a young girl would fall in love with?  Anyway, I am sorry about the image cutting off part of her head, I have tried to fix it but alas, computers and I don’t always agree.  Anyway when Smith was taken to Wahunsenaca, it is uncertain whether Pocahontas met Smith at this time or not.  Wahunsenaca asked John Smith why the English had come here, to which John Smith replied that they had come to this land to escape the Spanish.  Now, the Indians of this country had some trouble with the Spanish, already.  In fact they called the Spanish, “sons of the devil..”  Remember that Spanish ships would patrol the coasts of the Atlantic coast, sometimes capturing Native people.  Relations between the Spanish and the Powhatan were hostile.pocanson1

By the way, it is this image of Pocahontas that is considered by her own people to be her true image.  It is said that Wahunsenaca truly liked John Smith.  It was his plan to bring John Smith into the tribe and make him part of the tribe in an effort to consolidate their friendship against the Spanish.  Then if the Spanish did come in, they would be faced with the English-Powhatan people.  According to Pocahontas’ people, “Athough Smith alleged years later that Pocahontas saved his life dring the four-day ceremony n the process of his being made a Powhatan werowance, his life was never in dager.  His life did not need saving.”  A werowance was a commander — male.  Also, at this time, Pocahontas was a child.  Children were not allowed to attend these kinds of ceremony.  The priests would not have allowed Pocahontas to be at the ceremony.  After the ceremony, not only was John Smith considered to be a member of the Powhatan tribe, but the entire English colony was considered to be members, too.aa_pocahonta_newworld_3_m1

In fact, when Smith returned to the English fort, it was the English who tried to kill him.  He was put on trial and was sentenced to death.  It was Christopher Newport’s arrival in the colony that saved John Smith.

Because the English were now considered part of the tribe, Wahunsenaca sent envoys with food to the Jamestown colony.  Because he now trusted John Smith, he allowed his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, to accompany the envoy.  Although she was closely watched and chaperoned during these excurtions, the colonists became familiar with her, and they associated Pocahontas with the food, not the powerful chief who was in fact sending it.  Thus, the rumor that Pocahontas brought food to the colonists against her father’s will, is disspelled.

320px-baptism_of_pocahontas1What Pocahontas was at this time was a symbol of peace.  She was not a spy as some historians have liked to believe.  It was during the summer of 1609 that relations between the Powhatan tribe and the English began to deteriorate.  Smith entered into villages rudely and with full arms, demanding and taking food.  In some instances, he left the Powhatans with no food for the winter.   As a matter of fact, this is the speech perserved that Wahunsenaca said to Smith. 

“Why do you take by force (that which) you may quickly have by love?  Or to destroy them that provide you food?  What can you get by war when we can hide our provision and fly to the woods?”  Yet John Smith continued to force arms upon the villages in order to take all their food stores, again leaving a few beads as though he had traded for the supplies.  Maybe he was simply a bully and it’s all he knew.  Smith continued to allege that Wahunsenaca wanted to kill him.  However, if this were true, it would have been done without apology or explanation.  Yet, it wasn’t.  Why?  Because Smith was considered to be part of the tribe.

jsmith1Danger came to the Powhatan tribes in the form of rape.  In Powhatan society, the children went naked in the summer and women were bare-breasted.  It was part of their dress, and did not excite the men in particular because it was such a common sight.  Rape was not permitted in Powhatan society.  Often the women of the tribe would offer themselves to the English to prevent them from raping their children.  Because the English had guns, this was all they could do.  Whenever the English would come to the village, the elders would often take the children and hide them in the woods.  As more and more English colonists arrived, the atrocities began to grow.  Children were often taken to be slaves to the English.  The women were simply raped.  The Powhatan became shocked at the behavior of the English and set up guards to determine when they were coming to their villages.  For their own part, the English kept expecting some sort of retribution by the Powhatan.  Neither Wahunsenaca nor Pocahontas had seen John Smith since 1609 and they were told that he was dead.  Wahunsenaca discontinued allowing Pocahontas to go to Jamestown.  It was no longer safe.

smlkocoum1Well, that’s all we have time and space for today.  I didn’t get it all into one post, as you can see.  I hope you’ll bear with me and come seek out my post two weeks hence as I’ll be discussing Pocahontas’s coming of age.  Her marriage to Kocoum, her abduction and her subsequent marriage to John Rolfe.  And last but not least, her murder.  Why she was murdered and who did the deed, or at least who was responsible for it.  Facts, all.  Facts that have been hidden all these years which have only recently been brought to light by the people of Pocahontas’s own tribe.  I hope you have enjoyed this excursion into history and a look at this very brave heroine.  The enormity of her bravery and what she gave up and its cost to her, we’ll go over in a couple of weeks, okay?

So, what do you think?  Did you already know this, or does this shed a different light on history.  It is said, that what is written of history is written by the victors.  This has, indeed, been true in the case of Pocahontas.  Thank heaven for oral tradition and keeping the truth alive against all odds.  And thank heaven we live in a place in this time where the truth can come out.  So come on in and tell me what you think. 

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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40 thoughts on “American Heros & Heroines — Native American Style”

  1. Very interesting post, Karen.

    I think the truth may lie somewhere in the middle of both stories, though. I could really envision the villages and the actions of the people as I read your post, but I always think you have to take a bit from both sides to get the entire story.

    I think that this is probably the case with most legends passed down through history-each side tends to make themselves look better than they were in actuality.

  2. Fascinating blog, Karen. I was aware of some facts but have never read the whole story. The Disney version just makes me groan, and that’s the one most people believe.
    Can’t wait to read the rest. You’ve written a real classic here!

  3. HI Terry!

    Ah, I can understand what you’re saying here — however, the legends passed down from the elders of the tribe are supposed to be pure unembellished truth. I think, however, that one has to look at both sides — especially when it comes to “look at what you did to me.” The other guy always has his side of the story. And often the truth is somewhere inbetween.

    We’ll see. I guess it’s only that the actual tribe history is not one that most people know. They believe the Disney movie was fact in many cases. Thanks so much for your post.

  4. Thanks Elizabeth!

    Like you I cringe over the Disney movie — but I cringe more over the “historical” accounts that are almost pure fiction. One expects the Disney movie to be fiction — but when something pretends to be “historical” and is no more than gossip, boy, I do cringe with that.

  5. My father got me a book on Pocahantas that sounds very familiar to this. It was called Pocahontas: True Princess by Mari Hanes (Author), David Danz. I don’t know how accurate it is but everything you mentioned sounded familiar.

  6. Hi Kay,
    Very interesting post! I didn’t know this side of the story. And yes, perceptions from each side might have been swayed by time and embellishment, but still it’s a fascinating subject. Great info!

  7. Thank you Karen for telling the true story of Pocahontas. I will definitely be back in two weeks to finish the story. I’m also going to check at my local library for Dr. Linwood’s book ‘The True Story of Pocahontas’. Thank you again for all the info.

  8. Isn’t it interesting to look at people in history before much was actually written down for posterity. Another similar Indian woman who is a mystery in many ways is Sacagawea. She’s mentioned several times in Lewis and Clark’s diaries, but we still don’t learn who she really was.

  9. I love it, Karen. I’m a huge sacagewea fan but I’ven ever paid much attention to Pocahontas. I couldn’t even make it through the Disney movie. 🙂

    I look forward to part 2.

  10. This is so fascinating! You should be ashamed that you left me hanging though. LOL I want to know the rest of the story. Guess I’ll have to be patient and wait for the next chapter.

    I learned so many things I never knew. The true facts sure differ from what I was taught in school. John Smith was a very bad man. I’m glad the truth has finally come out because he deserved no place in history as a hero. Thank you for shedding light on this story.

  11. Hi Krista!

    That is so cool! The book that I got this info from is called THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS and is written by the elders of her tribe, as the story was passed down to them. Interesting.

  12. Hi LuAnn!

    You’re so right. There was a novel written about her some years ago, but I put it down when they had her watching a religious ceremony and thinking how bad it was. Sorry, those thoughts would never have entered her mind.

    She was won in a game of chance you know. One of my older titles, THE SPIRIT OF THE WOLF, goes into this somewhat. : )

  13. Hi Mary!

    Your posts always make me smile. I did make it through the Disney movie and another “historical” movie, also. But that was before I really knew all the facts. : )

  14. Hi Linda!

    Thanks so much for your comments. You know, amazingly enough Pocahontas’s father liked John Smith. The book is very definite about this.


    By the way, my next post is titled “The Abduction and Murder of Pocahontas.”

  15. I truly enjoyed all the information. Isn’t it unfortunate that only the “victor” gets to write the history. History classes would have been a lot more interesting if we could have heard both sides of the story.

  16. Hi Kay, thanks as always for the wonderful, enlightening post. I did know a lot of this from my American Lit days, but nothing about the rapes. How completely dreadful. I’m looking forward to the next installment.


  17. What a great synopsis you gave and took out the hype. Iahve heard of some of this before but some was new. Great job!!

  18. Hey,
    Well as usual I turn up late for these things. I have to admit I find this history lesson very interesting and very different from what I have read about her before. I will have to hunt the book down. I look forward to your next post.
    Take Care

  19. Wow, Jeanie, I so agree. Sorry for being gone from the blog so long today — I’m still in Florida taking a class and so my time is very minimal. : )

  20. Hi Tanya!

    Yes, actually the rapes were something that caused the Native Americans to grow disenchanted with the colonists. Before that time, rape was almost unheard of and women and children could pretty much walk free in the forest.

  21. Hi Debby, you’re doing better than I was on this. Much of what I learned in this book was new to me. I had actually liked the Disney version. Now, it would be hard to watch, unless I decided it was about two completely different people. : )

  22. I liked this history lesson very much. It is very
    real to me that the English colonists acted in this manner as there are numerous other examples of this same type of behavior by them elsewhere in America and most if not all of the other countries that they conquered. Now, where is the rest of the story?

  23. Well I love you very very very much also, are you sure you can’t let me in on the rest of the story, without my having to wait two weeks. I won’t fill in the other bloggers. Please please please.

  24. Hello, my darling!

    For any other bloggers reading this, can you tell we’ve been apart for a while — I’m here in Florida doing a course — but soon I’ll be done. Oh, okay, I’ll see if I can send you the rest of the blog — only cause it’s you and you ask so nicely.

    I love you very, very much!

  25. Thanks for the wonderful blog. I did already know most of it, but it never hurts to review. It is important to get these stories out. It is amazing and sad how much of the history we learn is either false or incomplete. As you said, history is written by the victors and they do have a tendency to make themselves look good. It is heartening to find more and more books coming out that revisit our country’s and the world’s history and are setting the record straight. Hope I can get to a computer next week (we’ll be out of town for our son-in-law’s surgery). Always look forward to your blogs. Thanks.

  26. Karen, that is a fascinating post. Thanks so much for writing it, and for letting me know it’s up.

    It’s always fascinating how stories morph to suit the tellers, isn’t it? And how people latch on to the version with which they connect the most strongly.

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