The Battle of Deonasadeo

scotto

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Hamilton Spectator
July 2, 1932

In February of this year an exhibition was held in the Ridpath Galleries in Toronto in which among many other relics of the past was shown an ancient stone axe recovered from the soil of a field at Burlington beach (Deonasadeo “where sand forms a bar”) where tradition holds that a sanguinary struggle took place very long time ago between Indian tribes that had lived hitherto in comparative amity in this region. The possessor of this ancient implement of war is John Cartwright Secord, a name, by the way, that recalls, the family that carried on the milling industry of the patriarch William Davis where the water '; falls from the heights at Mount Albion.
One cannot help regretting greatly the lack of foresight on the part of collectors of Indian remains in this district that these were not retained in the community giving housing and guarded afterwards with jealous care. We have it from reliable authority that the late Benjamin E. Charlton (who was an indefatigable collector of relics of the redmen) that he disposed of a roomful of valuable Indian implements and remains to an enterprising American visitor for the sum of five hundred dollars! What those mute memorials of a dead and gone civilization would be worth in cold cash to-day, we do not venture to suggest. Any curator of any museum would mortgage his home to purchase them were they in the market, at this late date.
The showing of the ancient axe, and the specimens thereon in the public press some months ago, led your reviewer to make some investigations with the aid of the capable young ladies in the reference department of the Hamilton public library, and through unearthing elsewhere a measure of material to build up an article or two on what has been called in story and legend The Grasshopper Battle of Burlington Beach.
We have stored in our memory the impression of having seen years ago painting of another traditional conflict between the redmen, from the brush of the imaginative youth who after-wards became one of the noted painters of his time— the late William Blair Bruce, son of the late venerable William Bruce- artist son of an artistic father. It was through the munificence of the Bruce family that this city was made the recipient of the valuable canvasses done by the artist which are hung in the rather shabby rooms of the art gallery of Hamilton, just in rear of the Sun Life building. Some time we hope to be able to present a plate of the picture for the benefit of our readers.

The Legend of the Beach, as the Rev. T. Webster entitled the Grasshopper Battle in his Early Scenes in Canadian Life (contributed to the New Dominion Monthly of 1869), is one that ought to be rehearsed from time to time for the benefit of those who take more than a passing interest in the folklore of what is supposed by the majority of people to be a matter-of-fact countryside. Any who will take the time to delve in the records of the past of this district and province, to say nothing of Canada at large, will soon discover that we are not wanting in authenticated tales of romantic and tragic interest but also in traditions of the aborigines and pioneers that ought to be recalled and stored as rich material for the writers who shall come along in due time and weave them into tales that will put some Canadian man of letters in the same class as the Wizard of the North—Sir Walter Scott. Far off fields of as venture are not laden, of necessity with more wealth than the very acres about us which the redman of old trod before Canada's history was begun and afterward when the stouthearted pioneers laid low the forests and set up their homes and hearths in the wilderness of the Niagara peninsula.
We have told in earlier articles how LaSalle, Dollier and Galinee came to the golden sands of Deonasadeo in the month of September 1669, and how autumn put on her glorious garb to welcome them to the fair waters of Macassa in that memorable year. Long before any white man beached his canoe yonder by the great lake or paddled it to the landing hard by Oaklands generations of redmen had lived and hunted, fought and died in the vicinity of the little lake where nature was open-handed and game abounded, on land, in lake as well as in air. One ought not, ever though he were, able, to offer a learned dissertation, on the Indian tribes who held sway in this territory in the mists of the past. We are told that the great Neuter Nation held the balance of power in the Niagara district were the savage Iroquois utterly destroyed them in succession to the over¬throw of their Huron enemies.
We know that LaSalle was guided hither in 1669 by an Iroquois picked up by him after his visit to the Senecas in what is now New York State. These "wolves of the forest" (as they have been style by some of the severe critics of civilization to which we are such strangers), after the annihilation of the Neuters, had maintained a sort of colony at the head of the lake and came here periodical to hunt and fish when desire of necessity moved them.
The "beach" that separates the great lake from the lesser was a favored place on which to set up the wigwams of the redmen as may be imagined, especially in heated period of midsummer. To this place this place the Indians came in numbers from outlying villages to spend days of rare delight and nights feasting in what was indeed “the happy hunting grounds”. From generation to generation they came as to a sportsman’s paradise to lay low the lordly deer, to possess the slothful bear and to net the magnificent salmon that abounded in the neighborhood. An arrow shot almost at random at a cloud of wild pigeons would be sure to bring birds to the pot of the bowman. Coote's Paradise, in particular, must have been as thickly populated with feathered inhabitants at this time as a congested tenement house in a center of over-population.
Year after year the tribes came up hither to enjoy nature's benefits and share in her manifold bounties and keep the peace between warrior and warrior. One of these held sway over the north shore of the great lake from Deonasadeo to the river we call the Credit—the other occupied the lands that stretched southward from the "beach” to the mouth of the Twenty Mile creek near the village of Jordan. The wives of the hunters dwelt side by side in toler¬ance and the children of the "northerners" and the "southerners" played their Indian games peaceably, while the fathers hunted in the forest or paddled the waters nearby for fish and fowl or, if the weather were hot, slept the sleep of the well-fed under the shade of the abundant trees that skirted the shores of the great and little lakes.
As fate would have it this spirit of neighborliness that had existed between the Indians was to be rudely broken through the spontaneous decision on the part of the chiefs of the two tribes to transfer their habitation for a time to the shining sands of Deonasadeo. The old camping grounds were, therefore, abandoned for the time being and a movement of the occupants made by foot and canoe to the "beach.” As the canoes of the two advancing fleets descried one another there must have been many a guttural exclamation from the paddlers as they drew nearer and nearer. However, there was no overt act committed and the rivals took up by tacit consent camping grounds with a sort of no man’s land between them. The gnarled oaks, that had for long years stood the battle of the elements that from time to time sweet over the prehistoric sands of Deonasadeo afforded some protection from the elements and furnished ample supplies of wood for the cooking and or the great bonfires that made daylight of night.
(Cont.)
 

scotto

Administrator
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Feb 15, 2004
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63
The Beach Strip
#2
The leaders of the two tribes exchanged those courtesies prescribed by Indian etiquette throughout untold generations and set about preparing their respective quarters in close proximity. As the younger men of the tribes came in by foot they exchanged tolerant greetings and from all appearances no cloud showed itself n the face of the aboriginal sky.
The days came and went and with them all went well—The women held many a delightful feast of gossip, the children romped and wrestled together on the lovely sands and the young men engaged in friendly games of skill. It may not be too much to suppose that the shy maidens and bashful beaus of the adjoining tribes found means to exchange tokens of their affections that in a not distant day might ripen into matrimonial relation. Rest assured there would be much family pride shown by the lads of one tribe to the lads of the other in bringing down a squirrel with a flint-tipped arrow or the incautious bird that rested for a moment on the limb of an oak tree. When the "bag of tricks" had been emptied and the boastful spirit inherent in the red children had been satisfied, some child would suggest adjourning to a blushing bed of wild strawberries or to picking up pebbles of varying hue on the rippling beach. Be sure, too that the girls would race after the gaudy butterflies and having run so fast and so far rest themselves where the wild flowers abounded and there fill their sun-browned hands with blooms sweeter far than ever florist grew.

Woman may have been the primary cause of the trouble that ended in Eden being deprived of the presence of the original pair placed therein to have and to hold during a state of innocency. In this “new paradise,” however, a boy was to be the disturbing factor from which would flow discord and death. Two lads, probably fleeter on foot than the rest, commenced chasing a grasshopper, a flying one doubtless, from place to place. As it landed they pounced upon the place where it should have been and laughing arose from the scramble and followed fast upon the elusive insect. After much chasing the grasshopper, now a trifle winded no doubt, had come to earth after a short flight and, as the more active boy of the two stopped to capture his prize, the other gave him an merciful shove that threw him headfirst into the sandy soil, skinned his nose most likely, and you may rest assured, aroused his hot elemental temper. The aggressor thereupon seized the quarry amid cheers on the one side and cries of foul play on the other. Anyone with the smallest of the psychology of the boy will realize how easy it was to make a first class (unreadable) very small matter (unreadable) small in the eyes of youngsters of the male order. In less time than it takes to tell it, the swarthy lads were at it hammer and tongs, although the material hammers in those days were, as we have been told, stone, and the tongs two pieces of green oak or maple. If the young lads began the fight it was not long before their older companions enlisted themselves in strife; fond mothers of the two tribes also came running to the "battlefield," and there must have been some shrill yelling and excoriating epithets employed as the squaws tore one another's raven locks.
When a "war" in on it is surprising how the news travels in wide and ever wider circles until it reaches enough people to furnish the materials for a major conflict. The young men came running in and were soon ranged on opposite sides in the "Grasshopper battle;" these were reinforced by the warriors whose scalp-locks proclaimed, that they had won their "spurs" on many a hard-fought field.
As the sun sank lower and lower over the ruddy water of Macassa, the contest grew more furious until at length he hid himself behind the everlasting hills of Flamboro, as if to avoid the closing act in the dread drama of tribal-warfare.

Where the dewy morn had ushered in peace and good will among the two aboriginal peoples, the moon-lit night saw the sands of Deonasadeo sodden with the life-blood of old and young, cumbered with the awfulness of broken bodies and mutilated forms. There torn and stark, lay the dead and agonized dying as an elderly squaw (who had been dispatched, as was the custom of the time, into the forest to recover a slain deer that had been laid low by the shaft of her lord and master), came upon the frightful scene. A few hours before, she had left a happy community where the woman gossiped together and the children peacefully, if noisily, played. . .and now this ghastly exhibition. Had the foul friends taken possession of Deonasadeo and transformed its occupiers into something worse than it themselves? "What could be the cause of this terrible disaster?” she asked, "Why this violence and shedding of blood?" Tradition has it that she was told that the primary cause was a grasshopper, and secondly, two quarreling lads who aimed at its capture.
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After having recalled so much of the Legend of the Beach, surely we must point a moral to adorn the termination of a tale: Ask yourself, ye statesman and leaders of the peoples of the earth, who would bring your nations into conflict on some question hardly less trivial than that just related, if the ground of dispute. In the final analysis, is anything short of a grasshopper quarrel.
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