MA-TA-OKA OF POW-HA-TAN, THE GIRL OF THE VIRGINIA FORESTS
[Generally known as "The Princess Pocahontas"]
 THROUGHOUT that portion of the, easterly United States where the noble bay called the Chesapeake cuts Virginia
in two, and where the James, broadest of all the rivers of the "Old Dominion," rolls its glittering
waters toward the sea, there lived, years ago, a notable race of men.
For generations they had held the land, and, though their clothing was scanty and their customs odd,
they possessed many of the elements of character that are esteemed noble, and, had they been left to
themselves, they might have progressed—so people who have studied into their character now
believe—into a fairly advanced stage of what is known as barbaric civilization.
They lived in long, low houses of bark and boughs, each house large enough to accommodate, perhaps,
from eighty to a hundred persons—twenty
 families to a house. These "long houses" were, therefore, much the same in purpose as are the
tenement-houses of to-day, save that the tenements of that far-off time were all on the same floor
and were open closets or stalls, about eight feet wide, furnished with bunks built against the wall
and spread with deer-skin robes for comfort and covering. These "flats" or stalls were arranged on
either side of a broad, central passage-way, and in this passage-way, at equal distances apart, fire
pits were constructed, the heat from which would warm the bodies and cook the dinners of the
occupants of the "long house," each fire serving the purpose of four tenements or families.
In their mode of life these people—tall, well-made, attractive, and coppery-colored
folk—were what is now termed communists, that is, they lived from common stores and had all an
equal share in the land and its yield—the products of their vegetable gardens, their hunting
and fishing expeditions, their home labors, and their household goods.
Their method of government was entirely democratic. No one, in any household, was better off or of
higher rank than his brothers or sisters. Their chiefs were simply men (and sometimes women) who had
been raised to leadership by the desire and vote of their associates, but who possessed no special
authority or power, except such as was
al-  lowed them by the general consent of their comrades, in view of their wisdom, bravery, or ability. They
lived, in fact, as one great family bound in close association by their habits of life and their
family relationships, and they knew no such unnatural distinction as king or subject, lord or
Around their long bark tenements, stretched carefully cultivated fields of corn and pumpkins, the
trailing bean, the full-bunched grapevine, the juicy melon, and the big-leafed tabah, or tobacco.
The field work was performed by the women, not from any necessity of a slavish condition or an
enforced obedience, but because, where the men and boys must be warriors and hunters, the women and
girls felt that it was their place and their duty to perform such menial labor as, to their
unenlightened nature, seemed hardly suitable to those who were to become chiefs and heroes.
These sturdy forest-folk of old Virginia, who had reached that state of human advance, midway
between savagery and civilization, that is known as barbarism, were but a small portion of that
red-skinned, vigorous, and most interesting race familiar to us under their general but wrongly-used
name of "Indians." They belonged to one of the largest divisions of this barbaric race, known the
Algonquin family—a division created solely by a similarity of language and of
blood-relationships  —and were, therefore, of the kindred of the Indians of Canada, of New England, and of Pennsylvania, of
the valley of the Ohio, the island of Manhattan, and of some of the far-away lands beyond the
So, for generations, they lived, with their simple home customs and their family affections, with
their games and sports, their legends and their songs, their dances, fasts, and feasts, their
hunting and their fishing, their tribal feuds and wars. They had but little religious belief, save
that founded upon the superstition that lies at the foundation of all uncivilized intelligence, and
though their customs show a certain strain of cruelty in their nature, this was not a savage and
vindictive cruelty, but was, rather, the result of what was, from their way of looking at things, an
entirely justifiable understanding of order and of law.
At the time of our story, certain of these Algonquin tribes of Virginia were joined together in a
sort of Indian republic, composed of thirty tribes scattered through Central and Eastern Virginia,
and known to their neighbors as the Confederacy of the Pow-ha-tans. This name was taken from the
tribe that was at once the strongest and the most energetic one in this tribal union, and that had
its fields and villages along the broad river known to the Indians as the Pow-ha-tan, and to us as
 The principal chief of the Pow-ha-tans was Wa-bun-so-na-cook, called by the white men Pow-hatan. He
was a strongly built but rather stern-faced old gentleman of about sixty, and possessed such an
influence over his tribesmen that he was regarded as the head man (president, we might say), of
their forest republic, which comprised the thirty confederated tribes of Pow-ha-tan. The
confederacy, in its strongest days, never numbered more than eight or nine thousand people, and yet
it was considered one of the largest Indian unions in America. This, therefore, may be considered as
pretty good proof that there was never, after all, a very extensive Indian population in America,
even before the white man discovered it.
Into one of the Pow-ha-tan villages that stood very near the shores of Chesapeake Bay, and almost
opposite the now historic site of Yorktown, came one biting day, in the winter of 1607, an Indian
runner, whose name was Ra-bun-ta. He came as one that had important news to tell, but he paused not
for shout or question from the inquisitive boys who were tumbling about in the light snow, in their
favorite sport of Ga-wa-sa or the "snow-snake" game. One of the boys, a mischievous and
sturdy young Indian of thirteen, whose name was. Nan-ta-qua-us, even tried to insert the slender
knob-headed stick, which was the "snake" in
 the game, between the runner's legs, and trip him up. But Ra-bun-ta was too skilful a runner to be
stopped by trifles; he simply kicked the "snake" out of his way, and hurried on to the long house of
Now this Indian settlement into which the runner had come was the Pow-ha-tan village of
Wero-woco-moco, and was the one in which the old chief Wa-bun-so-na-cook usually resided. Here was
the long council-house in which the chieftains of the various tribes in the confederacy met for
counsel and for action, and here, too, was the "long tenement-house" in which the old chief and his
immediate family lived.
It was into this dwelling that the runner dashed. In a group about the central fire-pit he saw the
chief. Even before he could himself stop his headlong speed, however, his race with news came to an
unexpected end. The five fires were all surrounded by lolling Indians, for the weather in that
winter of 1607 was terribly cold, and an Indian, when inside his house, always likes to get as near
to the fire as possible. But down the long passage-way the children were noisily playing at their
games—at gus-ka-eh, or "peach-pits," at gus-ga-e-sa-ta, or "deer-buttons," and
some of the younger boys were turning wonderful somersaults up and down the open spaces between the
 as the runner, Ra-bun-ta, sped up the passage-way, one of these youthful gymnasts with a dizzy
succession of hand-springs came whizzing down the passage-way right in the path of Ra-bun-ta.
There was a sudden collision. The tumbler's stout little feet came plump against the breast of
Ra-bun-ta, and so sudden and unexpected was the shock that both recoiled, and runner and gymnast
alike tumbled over in a writhing heap upon the very edge of one of the big bonfires, Then there was
a great shout of laughter, for the Indians dearly loved a joke, and such a rough piece of
unintentional pleasantry was especially relished.
"Wa, wa, Ra-bun-ta," they shouted, pointing at the discomfited runner as he picked himself out of
the fire, "knocked over by a girl!"
And the deep voice of the old chief said half sternly, half tenderly:
"My daughter, you have wellnigh killed our brother Ra-bun-ta with your foolery. That is scarce
girls' play. Why will you be such a po-ca-hun-tas?"
The runner joined in the laugh against him quite as merrily as did the rest, and made a dash at the
little ten-year-old tumbler, which she as nimbly evaded, "Ma-ma-no-to-wic,"
he said, "the feet of
Ma-ta-  oka are even heavier than the snake of Nun-ta-quaus, her brother. I have but escaped them both with my
life. Ma-ma-no-to-wic, I have news for you. The braves, with your brother O-pe-chan-ca-nough, have
taken the pale-face chief in the Chickahominy swamps and are bringing him to the council-house."
"Wa," said the old chief, "it is well, we will be ready for him."
At once Ra-bun-ta was surrounded and plied with questions. The earlier American Indians were always
a very inquisitive folk, and were great gossips. Ra-bun-ta's news would furnish fire-pit talk for
months, so they must know all the particulars. What was this white cau-co-rouse,
(captain or leader) like? What had he on? Did he use his magic against the braves? Were any of them
For the fame of "the white cau-co-rouse," the "great captain," as the Indians called
the courageous and intrepid little governor of the Virginia colony, Captain John Smith, had already
gone throughout the confederacy, and his capture was even better than a victory over their deadliest
enemies, the Manna-ho-acks.
Ra-bun-ta was as good a gossip and story-teller as any of his tribesmen, and as he squatted before
the upper fire-pit, and ate a hearty meal of parched
 corn, which the little Ma-ta-oka brought him as a peace-offering, he gave the details of the
celebrated capture. "The 'great captain,' " he said, "and two of his men had been surprised in the
Chicka-hominy swamps by the chief O-pe-chan-ca-nough and two hundred braves. The two men were killed
by the chief, but the 'captain,' seeing himself thus entrapped, seized his Indian guide and fastened
him before as a shield, and thus sent out so much of his magic thunder from his fire-tube that he
killed or wounded many of the Indians, and yet kept himself from harm though his clothes were torn
with arrow-shots. At last, however," said the runner, "the 'captain' had slipped into a mud-hole in
the swamps, and, being there surrounded, was dragged out and made captive, and he, Ra-bun-ta, had
been sent on to tell the great news to the chief.
The Indians especially admired bravery and cunning. This device of the white chieftain and his valor
when attacked appealed to their admiration, and there was great desire to see him when next day he
was brought into the village by the chief of the Pa-mun-kee, or York River Indians,
O-pe-chan-ca-nough, brother of the chief of the Pow-ha-tans.
The renowned prisoner was received with the customary chorus of Indian yells, and then, acting upon
the one leading Indian custom, the law of
 unlimited hospitality, a bountiful feast was set before the captive, who, like the valiant man he
was, ate heartily though ignorant what his fate might be.
The Indians seldom wantonly killed their captives. When a sufficient number had been sacrificed to
avenge the memory of such braves as had fallen in fight, the remaining captives were either adopted
as tribesmen or disposed of as slaves.
So valiant a warrior as this pale-faced cau-co-rouse was too important a personage to
be used as a slave, and Wa-bun-so-na-cook, the chief, received him as an honored guest
rather than as a prisoner, kept him in his own house for two days, and adopting him as his own son,
promised him a large gift of land. Then, with many expressions of friendship, he returned him, well
escorted by Indian guides, to the trail that led back direct to the English colony at Jamestown.
This rather destroys the long-familiar romance of the doughty captain's life being saved by "the
king's own daughter," but it seems to be the only true version of the story, based upon his own
But though the oft-described "rescue" did not take place, the valiant Englishman's attention was
 speedily drawn to the agile little Indian girl, Ma-ta-oka, whom her father called his "tomboy," or
She was as inquisitive as any young girl, savage or civilized, and she was so full of kindly
attentions to the captain, and bestowed on him so many smiles and looks of wondering curiosity, that
Smith made much of her in return, gave her some trifling presents and asked her name.
Now it was one of the many singular customs of the American Indians never to tell their own names,
nor even to allow them to be spoken to strangers by any of their own immediate kindred. The reason
for this lay in the superstition which held that the speaking of one's real name gave to the
stranger to whom it was spoken a magical and harmful influence over such person. For the Indian
religion was full of what is called the supernatural.
So, when the old chief of the Pow-ha-tans (who, for this very reason, was known to the colonists by
the name of his tribe, Pow-ha-tan, rather than by his real name of Wa-bun-so-na-cook) was asked his
little daughter's name, he hesitated, and then gave in reply the nick-name by which he often called
her, Po-ca-hun-tas, the "little tomboy"—for this agile young maiden, by reason of her
relationship to the head chief, was allowed much more
free-  dom and fun than was usually the lot of Indian girls, who were, as a rule, the patient and uncomplaining
little drudges of every Indian home and village.
So, when Captain Smith left Wero-woco-moco, he left one firm friend behind him,—the pretty
little Indian girl, Ma-ta-oka,—who long remembered the white man and his presents, and
determined, after her own wilful fashion, to go into the white man's village and see all their
wonders for herself.
In less than a year she saw the captain again, For when, in the fall of 1608, he came to her
father's village to invite the old chief to Jamestown to be crowned by the English as "king" of the
Pow-ha-tans, this bright little girl of twelve gathered together the other little girls of the
village, and, almost upon the very spot where, many years after, Cornwallis was to surrender the
armies of England to the "rebel" republic, she with her companions entertained the English captain
with a gay Indian dance full of noise and frolic.
Soon after this second interview, Ma-ta-oka's wish to see the white man's village was gratified. For
in that same autumn of 1608 she came with Ra-bun-ta to Jamestown. She sought out the captain who was
then "president" of the colony, and "entreated the libertie" of certain of her tribesmen who had
been "detained,"—in other words, treacherously
 made prisoners by the settlers because of some fear of an Indian plot against them.
Smith was a shrewd enough man to know when to bluster and when to be friendly. He released the
Indian captives at Ma-ta-oka's wish—well knowing that the little girl had been duly "coached"
by her wily old father, but feeling that even the friendship of a child may often be of value to
people in a strange land.
The result of this visit to Jamestown was the frequent presence in the town of the chieftain's
daughter. She would come, sometimes, with her brother, Nan-ta-qua-us, sometimes with the runner,
Ra-bun-ta, and sometimes with certain of her girl followers. For even little Indian girls had their
"dearest friends," quite as much as have our own clannish young school-girls of to-day.
I am afraid, however, that this twelve-year-old, Ma-ta-oka, fully deserved, even when she should
have been on her good behavior among the white people, the nickname of "little tomboy"
(po-ca-hun-tas) that her father had given her,—for we have the assurance of
sedate Master William Strachey, secretary of the colony, that "the before remembered Pocahontas,
Powhatan's daughter, sometimes resorting to our fort, of the age then of eleven or twelve years, did
get the boyes forth with her into the market-place, and make them wheele, falling on
 their hand turning their heeles upward, whome she would followe and wheele so herself, all the fort
over." From which it would appear that she could easily "stunt" the English boys at "making
But there came a time very soon when she came into Jamestown for other purpose than turning
The Indians soon learned to distrust the white men, because of the unfriendly and selfish dealings,
of the new-comers, their tyranny, their haughty disregard of the Indians' wishes and desires, and
their impudent meddling alike with chieftains and with tribesmen. Discontent grew into hatred and,
led on by certain traitors in the colony, a plot was arranged for the murder of Captain Smith and
the destruction of the colony.
Three times they attempted to entrap and destroy the "great captain" and his people, but each time
the little Ma-ta-oka, full of friendship and pity for her new acquaintances, stole cautiously into
the town, or found some means of misleading the conspirators, and thus warned her white friends of
One dark winter night in January, 1609, Captain Smith, who had came to Wero-woco-moco for conference
and treaty with Wa-bun-so-na-cook (whom he always called Pow-ha-tan), sat in the York River
 woods awaiting some provisions that the chief had promised him,—for eatables were scarce that
winter in the Virginia colony.
There was a light step beneath which the dry twiggs on the ground crackled slightly, and the wary
captain grasped his matchlock and bade his men be on their guard. Again the twigs crackled, and now
there came from the shadow of the woods not a train of Indians, but one little girl—Ma-ta-oka,
"Be guarded, my father," she said, as Smith drew her to his side. "The corn and the good cheer will
come as promised, but even now, my father, the chief of the Pow-ha-tans is gathering all his power
to fall upon you and kill you. If you would live, get you away at once."
The captain prepared to act upon her advice without delay, but he felt so grateful at this latest
and most hazardous proof of the little Indian girl's regard that he desired to manifest his
thankfulness by presents—the surest way to reach an Indian's heart.
"My daughter," he said kindly, "you have again saved my life, coming alone, and at risk of your own
young life, through the irksome woods and in this gloomy night to admonish me. Take this, I pray
you, from me, and let it always tell you of the love of Captain Smith."
 And the grateful pioneer handed her his much-prized pocket compass—an instrument regarded with
awe by the Indians, and esteemed as one of the instruments of the white man's magic.
But Ma-ta-oka, although she longed to possess this wonderful "path-teller," shook her head.
"Not so, Cau-co-rouse," she said, "if it should be seen by my tribesmen, or even by my father, the
chief, I should but be as dead to them, for they would know that I have warned you whom they have
sworn to kill, and so would they kill me also. Stay not to parley, my father, but be gone at once."
And with that, says the record, "she ran away by herself as she came."
So the captain hurried back to Jamestown, and Ma-ta-oka returned to her people.
Soon after Smith left the colony, sick and worn out by the continual worries and disputes with his
fellow-colonists, and Ma-ta-oka felt that, in the absence of her best friend and the increasing
troubles between her tribesmen and the pale-faces, it would be unwise for her to visit Jamestown.
Her fears seem to have been well grounded, for in the spring of 1613, Ma-ta-oka, being then about
sixteen, was treacherously and "by stratagem" kidnapped by the bold and unscrupulous Captain
Argall—half pirate, half trader,—and was held by
 the colonists as hostage for the "friendship" of Pow-ha-tan.
Within these three years, however, she had been married to the chief of one of the tributary tribes,
Ko-ko-um by name, but, as was the Indian marriage custom, Ko-ko-um had come to live among the
kindred of his wife, and had shortly after been killed in one of the numerous Indian fights.
It was during the captivity of the young widow at Jamestown that she became acquainted with Master
John Rolfe, an industrious young Englishman, and the man who, first of all the American colonists,
attempted the cultivation of tobacco.
Master Rolfe was a widower and an ardent desirer of "the conversion of the pagan salvages." He
became interested in the young Indian widow, and though he protests that he married her for the
purpose of converting her to Christianity, and rather ungallantly calls her "an unbelieving
creature," it is just possible that if she had not been a pretty and altogether captivating young
unbeliever he would have found less personal means for her conversion.
Well, the Englishman and the Indian girl, as we all know, were married, lived happily together, and
finally departed for England. Here, all too soon, in 1617, when she was about twenty-one, the
daughter of the great chieftain of the Pow-ha-tans died.
 Her story is both a pleasant and a sad one. It needs none of the additional romance that has been
thrown about it to render it more interesting. An Indian girl, free as her native forests, made
friends with the race that, all unnecessarily, became hostile to her own. Brighter, perhaps, than
most of the girls of her tribe, she recognized and desired to avail herself of the refinements of
civilization, and so gave up her barbaric surroundings, cast in her lot with the white race, and
sought to make peace and friendship between neighbors take the place of quarrel and of war.
The white race has nothing to be proud of in its conquest of the people who once owned and occupied
the vast area of the North American continent. The story is neither an agreeable nor a chivalrous
one. But out of the gloom which surrounds it, there come some figures that relieve the darkness, the
treachery, and the crime that make it so sad. And not the least impressive of these is this bright
and gentle little daughter of Wa-bun-so-na-cook, chief of the Pow-ha-tans, Ma-ta-oka, friend of the
white strangers, whom we of this later day know by the nickname her loving old father gave
her—Po-ca-hun-tas, the Algonquin.
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