THE THRILLING ADVENTURE OF CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH
 FOR those who love stories of the Indians, and the strange and perilous adventures of white
men in dealing with the forest tribes, we cannot do better than give a remarkable anecdote
of life in the Virginia woodlands three centuries ago.
On a day near the opening of the winter of 1608 a small boat, in which were several men,
might have been seen going up the James River under the shadow of the high trees that
bordered its banks.
They came at length to a point where a smaller stream flowed into the James, wide at its
mouth but soon growing narrow. Into this the boat was turned and rowed briskly onward,
under the direction of the leader of the expedition. They were soon in the heart of the
wildwood, whose dense forest growth clustered thickly on either bank of the stream, which
ran in a narrow silver thread through the green wilderness. The stream they pursued is
that now known as the Chickahominy River, so called from an Indian tribe of that name, the
most, daring and warlike of all the savages of the region.
As they went on the stream grew narrower still, and in time became so shallow that the
 go no farther. As they sat there in doubt, debating what had better be done, the bushes by
the waterside were thrust aside and dusky faces looked out upon them through the leaves.
The leader of the whites beckoned to them and two men stepped out of the bushy thicket,
making signs of great friendliness. They pointed to the large boat, and indicated by
gestures that they had smaller craft near at hand and would lend one to the whites if they
wished to go farther up. They would go along with them and show them the way.
The leader of the party of whites was named John Smith. This is a very common name, but he
was the one John Smith who has made the name famous in history. He had met many Indians
before and found most of them friendly, but he had never seen any of the Chickahominies
and did not know that they were enemies to the whites. So he accepted the offer of the
Indians. The boat was taken back down the stream to a sort of wide bay where he thought it
would be safe. Here the Indians brought him one of their light but strong canoes. Smith
wanted to explore the stream higher up, and, thinking that he could trust these very
friendly looking red men, he got into the canoe, bidding two of his men to come with him.
To the others he said,—
"Do not leave your boat on any account. These fellows seem all right, but they are never
to be trusted too far. There may be more of them in the woods, so be wide awake and keep
your wits about you."
 The two Indians now got into the canoe with Smith and his men and began to paddle it up
the stream, keeping on until they were miles from the starting-point. Undergrowth rose
thickly on the banks and vines hung down in green masses from the trees, so that the boat
they had left was quickly lost to sight. Soon after that the men in the large boat did a
very foolish thing. Heedless of the orders of their leader, they left the boat and
strolled into the woods. They had not gone far before a party of savages came rushing at
them with wild cries, and followed them fiercely as they turned and ran back to their
boat. One of them was caught by the savages, and as the fugitives sprang into their boat
they were horrified to see the hapless fellow killed by his captors. This lesson taught
them not to leave the boat again.
Ignorant of all this, Smith went on, the boat being paddled here under a low canopy of
vines, there through open spaces, until far up the stream. At length, as passage grew more
difficult, he bade his guides to stop, and stepped ashore. Taking one of the Indians with
him, he set out, carbine on shoulder, saying that he would provide food for the
party. He cautioned his two followers, as he had done those in the large boat, to keep a
sharp lookout and not let themselves be surprised.
But these men proved to be as foolish and reckless as the others. The air was cool and
they built a fire on the bank. Then, utterly headless of danger, they lay down beside it
and soon were fast
 asleep. As they lay slumbering the Indians, who had started up the stream after killing
their prisoner at the boat, came upon them in this helpless state. They at once killed the
foolish pair, and then started into the woods on the trail of Smith.
Daring and full of resources as Captain John Smith was, he had taken a dangerous risk in
thus venturing alone into those forest depths, peopled only by prowling and hostile
savages. It proved to be the most desperate crisis of his life, full of adventure as this
life had been. As a youthful soldier he had gone through great perils in the wars with the
Turks, and once had killed three Turkish warriors in single combat between two armies, but
never before had he been in such danger of death as he was now, alone with a treacherous
Indian while a dozen or more of others, bent on his death, were trailing him through the
He was first made aware of his danger when a flight of arrows came from the low bushes
near by. Then, with fierce war-whoops, the Indian braves rushed upon him with brandished
knives and tomahawks. But desperate as was his situation, in the heart of the forest, far
from help, surrounded by foes who thirsted for his blood, Smith did not lose his courage
or his coolness. He fired his pistol at the Indians, two of them falling wounded or dead.
As they drew back in dismay, he seized his guide and tied him to his left arm with his
garter as a protection from their arrows, and then started through the woods in the
direction of the canoe.
 Walking backward, with his face to his pursuers, and keeping them off with his weapons, he
had not taken many steps before he found his feet sinking in the soft soil. He was in the
edge of the great swamp still known in that region, and before he was aware of the danger
he sank into it to his waist and his guide with him. The other Indians held back in fear
until he had thrown away his weapons, when they rushed upon him, drew him out of the mud,
and led him captive to the fire where his two companions lay dead.
Smith's case now seemed truly desperate. He knew enough of the savages to have very little
hope of life. Yet he was not inclined to give up while a shadowy chance remained. Taking
from his pocket a small compass, which he carried to aid him in his forest journeys, he
gave it to the Indian chief, showing him how the needle always pointed to the north. But
while the chief was looking curiously at this magic toy, as it seemed to him, the other
Indians bound their captive to a tree, and bent their bows to shoot him. Their deadly
purpose was prevented by the chief, who waved the compass in the air and bade them stop.
For the time the mystery of the compass seemed to have saved the captive's life.
Smith was now taken through the woods, the journey ending at an Indian village called
Orapakes. Here the dusky women and children took the captive in hand, dancing wildly
around him, with fierce cries and threatening gestures, while the
war-  riors looked grimly on. Yet Smith bore their insults and threats with impassive face and
unflinching attitude. At length Opechancanough, the chief, pleased to find that he had a
brave man for captive, bade them cease, and food was brought forth for Smith and his
While they were in this village two interesting examples of the simplicity of Indian
thought took place. Smith wrote a message to Jamestown, the settlement of the whites,
sending it by one of the Indians, and receiving an answer. On his reading this and
speaking of what he had learned from it, the Indians looked on it as the work of
enchantment. They could not comprehend how "paper could talk." Another thing was the
following: They showed him a bag of gunpowder which they had somehow obtained, saying that
they were going to sow it in the ground the next spring and gather a crop of this useful
substance. After spending some days in this and other villages, the captive was taken into
the woods, his captors making him understand that they were going on a long journey.
Whither he was being taken or what was to be his fate Smith was not aware. The language of
gestures, which was his only way of conversing with the savages, soon reached its limit,
and he was quite ignorant of what they proposed to do with him, though his heart must have
sunk as they went on day after day, northward through the forest. On they walked in single
ale, Smith unbound and
 seemingly free in their midst, but with a watchful Indian guard close beside him, ready to
shoot him if he made any effort to escape. Village after village was passed, in each of
which the women and children danced and shrieked around him as at Orapakes. It was evident
they knew the value of their prisoner, and recognized that they had in their hands the
great chief of the Pale Faces.
In fact, the Chickahominy chief felt that his captive was of too much importance to be
dealt with hastily, and was taking him to the village of the great chief Powhatan, who
ruled like an emperor over a powerful confederation of tribes. In slimmer his residence
was near the Falls of the James River, but he was in the habit of spending the winter on
the banks of York River, his purpose being to enjoy the fish and oysters of the
neighboring Chesapeake. Wesowocomoca was the name of this winter residence, and here the
captive was at length brought, after the long woodland journey.
Captain Smith had met the old Indian emperor before, at his summer home on the James
River, near where the city of Richmond now stands. But that was as a freeman, with his
guard around him and his hands unbound. Now he was brought before him as a captive,
subject to his royal will or caprice.
He found the famous lord of the tribes in his large wigwam, with his wives around him, and
his vigilant guard of warriors grouped on the greensward outside, where the Indian lodges
 in a considerable village along the stream. Powhatan wore a large robe made of raccoon
skins. A rich plume of feathers ornamented his head and a string of beads depended from
his neck. At his head and feet sat two young Indian girls, his favorite wives, wearing
richly adorned dresses of fur, with plumes in their hair and necklaces of pearls. Other
women were in the room, and a number of the leading warriors who sat around gave the
fierce war-cry of the tribe as the captive was brought in.
The old chieftain looked with keen eyes on his famous prisoner, of whose capture he had
been advised by runners sent before. There was a look of triumph and malignity in his
eyes, but Captain Smith stood before him unmoved. He had been through too many dangers to
be easily dismayed, and near death's door too often to yield to despair. Powhatan gave an
order to a young Indian woman, who brought him a wooden basin of water that he might wash
his hands. Then she presented him a bunch of feathers to serve as a towel. This done, meat
and corn-bread were placed before him. As he ate Powhatan talked with his warriors,
consulting with them, the captive feared, upon his fate. But he finished his meal with
little loss of appetite, trusting to the Providence which had saved him more than once
before to come to his aid again.
As he ate, his vigilant eyes looked heedfully around the room. Many who were there gazed
on him with interest, and one of them, a young
 Indian girl of twelve or thirteen years of age, with pity and concern. It was evident that
she was of high rank in the tribe, for she was richly dressed and wore in her hair a plume
of feathers like that of Powhatan, and on her feet moccasins embroidered like his. There
was a troubled and compassionate look in her eyes, as she gazed on the captive white man,
a look which he may perhaps have seen and taken comfort from in his hour of dread.
No such feeling as this seemed to rest in the heart of the old chief and his warriors.
Their conference quickly ended, and, though its words were strange to him, the captive
could read his fate in their dark and frowning faces. They had grown to hate the whites,
and now that their leader was a captive before them, they decided to put him to death.
There was no loss of time in preparation for the execution of the fatal decree. At an
order from Powhatan the captive was seized and securely bound, then he was laid on the
floor of the hut, with his head on a large stone brought in from outside. Beside him stood
a stalwart savage grasping a huge war-club. A word, a signal from Powhatan, was alone
needed and the victim's brains would have been dashed out.
At this critical moment Smith's good angel watched over him. A low cry of pity was heard,
and the young girl who had watched him with such concern sprang forward and clasped her
arms around the poor prisoner, looking up at the Indian emperor with beseeching eyes. It
 his favorite daughter. Her looks touched the old man's heart, and he bade the executioner
to stand back, and gave orders that the captive should be released. Powhatan soon showed
that he was in earnest in his act of mercy. He treated the prisoner in a friendly fashion,
and two days later set him free to return to Jamestown.
All that he asked in return was that the whites should send him two of their great guns
and a grindstone. Smith readily consented, no doubt with a secret sense of amusement, and
set out for the settlement, led by Indian guides. Rawhunt, a favorite servant of Powhatan,
was one of the guides, and on reaching Jamestown Smith showed him two cannon and a
grindstone, and bade him carry them home to his master. Rawhunt tried, but when he found
that he could not stir one of the weighty presents from the ground, he was quite content
to take back less bulky presents in their place.
So runs the story of Captain Smith's remarkable adventure. No doubt it is well to say here
that there are writers who doubt the whole story of Pocahontas and her deed of mercy,
simply because Captain Smith did not speak of it in his first book. But there is no very
good reason to doubt it, and we know that things like this happened in other cases. Thus,
in the story of De Soto we have told how Juan Ortiz, the Spanish captive, was saved from
being burned alive by an Indian maiden in much the same way.
Pocahontas after that was always a friend of the
 English, and often visited them in Jamestown. Once she stole away through the woods and
told her English friends that Powhatan and his warriors were going to attack them. Then
she stole back again. When the Indians came they found the English ready, and concluded to
defer their attack. Later, after she had grown up, she was taken prisoner and held in
Jamestown as a hostage to make her father quit threatening the English. While there a
young planter named John Rolfe fell deeply in love with her, and she loved him warmly in
In the end Pocahontas became a Christian and was baptized at Jamestown under the name of
Rebecca. Then she and John Rolfe were married and went to live in England, where she was
known as the "Lady Rebecca" and treated as if she were indeed a princess. She met John
Smith once more, and was full of joy at sight of her "father," as she called him. But when
he told her that she must not call him that, and spoke to her very respectfully as Lady
Rebecca, she covered her face with her hands and began to weep. She had always called him
father, she said, and he had called her child, and she meant to do so still. They had told
her he was dead, and she was very glad to learn that this was false, for she loved him as
a father and would always do so.
That was her last meeting with Captain Smith. In less than a year afterward she was taken
sick and died, just as she was about to return to her beloved Virginia.