The Day the Indians Came to Dinner

Richard Moore and the other young colonists strained to lift the rough split-pine boards into place so the men could hammer them together for tables and benches. The long tables were for the coming feast. The women and girls had baked and cooked enough food for the whole colony of settlers and the Indians who had been invited.

Richard lived with the Brewster family. They were kind and treated him like one of their own boys, but he missed his mother and father, two sisters, and baby brother who, with many others, had died during their first, long, cold winter in Cape Cod.

It seemed a long time ago that they had come from England to America on the good ship Mayflower. In England, everyone was expected to go to the same church, and Richard’s father didn’t think this was right. It was he who first decided to bring his family to a new land where they could worship as they wished. Other families believed as Richard’s father did, and they all sailed from England together. Richard’s job now was to help carry out the plans of the group for a life of freedom.

The harvest was good after a long winter. And everyone worked hard to gather the food into a storehouse to feed the colony during its second winter at Cape Cod. Successful hunting added wild turkeys, ducks, and deer to the store of food.

Governor Bradford declared a feast day to celebrate the good harvest and invited the Indians who had helped them.

Richard’s heart beat faster when he thought of the Indians. Even though some of them appeared to be friendly, there were stories about how some had physically abused settlers in other colonies and had burned their houses. But Chief Samoset was their friend. And it was Squanto who had shown them how to plant Indian corn and how to catch fish. These two Indians spoke English that they had learned from English fishermen and sea captains who had sailed into that part of America. Squanto had actually lived in London for a time, but returned to America in 1619.

“They have invited Chief Massasoit and some of the other Indians to the feast,” said Mister Brewster at breakfast.

I hope there won’t be any trouble, Mrs. Brewster worried. We’ve had enough already.

The children remained silent, but they looked at each other across the table and hoped that this would be a peaceful celebration. Governor Bradford had told the colonists that to live peaceably in the new land, they must make friends with the Indians who had taught them so much about growing their food.

It was late afternoon now and the aromas of roasting turkey and venison, corn bread, and wild-berry pies filled the air. Richard could hardly wait to eat. Then, suddenly, the Indians came out of the thick forest into the clearing. Their deerskin moccasins made no noise at all.

Richard’s heart was beating so fast he could hardly breathe. For a moment he even forgot about the waiting feast.

Governor Bradford, Captain Standish, Master Winslow, and Mister Brewster went to meet the Indians. Richard saw some boys with the Indian men. The squaws had been left at home with the girls and babies. The governor and Chief Massasoit solemnly shook hands. There was quite a large group of Indians, and Richard hoped there were enough places at the long tables for everyone.

He decided he would do as Governor Bradford had done, and, besides, he had a strong desire to know them better. Walking forward, he held out his hand to a young Indian boy. The boy took it and they shook hands.

Richard smiled and to his surprise the boy smiled back. He wished that the boy could speak English or that he could speak the Indian language.

Richard fingered the knife he kept in his pocket. It had a pearl handle and was one of the few treasures he had brought from England. “Here,” he said on an impulse, handing it to the Indian boy. “I want you to be my friend.”

The Indian boy ran his fingers over it carefully and handed it back. “It’s for you,” said Richard. He pressed the knife to his chest and then held it out again.

This time the boy took it and held it against his own chest.

Richard smiled, hoping the Indian boy would understand his desire to be friends. The boy did understand this time that the knife was his to keep—a gift from the young settler. He smiled widely and his brown fingers tightened around the pearl handle.

It was time to eat and everyone sat down to trenchers heaped high with roast turkey, venison, vegetables, and corn bread. Squanto and Samoset acted as interpreters so their Indian friends would know what was being said.

Governor Bradford bowed his head and in a commanding voice, so everyone could hear, thanked God for the harvest and for their friends.

After they had eaten, the young Indian boy pulled at Richard’s sleeve and motioned for him to follow. He led him to the edge of the forest and stripped a slim branch from a tree. He motioned for Richard to sit on the ground.

Richard wondered what the boy was going to do when he opened the knife and began to whittle on the green shoot—long, clean strokes that removed the bark and exposed the smooth white wood underneath. Richard watched intently as the shoot began to change form. “It’s an arrow!” he exclaimed.

The Indian boy cut slits in the end and slipped turkey feathers into them. And the point was as sharp as a piece of wood could be. Then smiling broadly, the boy pressed the arrow to his heart and handed it to Richard. He said something that Richard didn’t understand, but the meaning was clear.

Richard took the arrow and pressed it to his heart. “Thank you,” he said.

As they walked back to the settlement, Richard put his arm around the boy’s waist and felt the Indian boy’s arm around his own. There was no longer any fear of these people with the copper-colored skin and straight black hair. In the months to come, they would learn to trust and understand one another. When the feast was over, Richard was sure his new friend would return.

It was the beginning of a long friendship between the colonists and Chief Massasoit’s tribe.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson