Plot Summaries 1. Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos; 2. Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: Battle of Vinegar Hill
Clarion Foreword Reviews:
Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos Charter
Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos
June 1845. Canada West.
Book 1 contains a note on the pronunciation of the Mohawk language, a list of characters, plus a picture of the Grand River as seen from Ruthven Hall at Indiana. There is also a historical timeline of events that affect the Indigenous nations and Canada between 1776 and 1863.
Prologue speaks to Smoke Johnson’s theft of Davis land.
Nineteen-year-old Mohawk axeman, Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis, leaves his southern home on the Grand River to build plank roads in Uxbridge Township, north of Toronto. This is time before Confederation. What later will be called Ontario (formerly Upper Canada) and Québec (formerly Lower Canada) are herein Canada West and Canada East, of the United Province of Canada.
In Uxbridge, Squire meets twenty-year-old Jennet Ferguson, whose family has emigrated to Upper Canada from Scotland. By mid-19th century, Fergusons run a thriving stock farm, as befits industrious pioneers.
To Squire, Turtle Island is the ancient home of the people.
Fergusons believe they have arrived in the “New World” – a fresh green breast, perfect for hordes of entrepreneurial European and American settlers. Their arrival is not perfect for Indigenous nations. “Until you walk in their boots” is the motif of this book.
Being a healer like his adopted grandmother, Aughguaga Polly, Squire treats Mary Ferguson, Jennet’s mother, for a dislocated shoulder. A grateful William Ferguson, Jennet’s father, hires Squire to finish the shakes on the roof of their new home on the Scotch Line in Uxbridge.
Over their summer together Squire and Jennet “feel the spark,” as it were. Jennet has never met such a handsome, compassionate man. Jennet’s athleticism and independent spirit and her Scotch ferocity amaze the Mohawk. Both are frightened and reluctant to move on their feelings. Jennet turns shy. Squire gets jumpy around the strange customs of a Presbyterian immigrant family. Squire finishes the Fergusons’ roof, sells one of his wonderful horses, Poco, to William Ferguson Junior, leaves Jennet a note, and hops on his Canadian stallion, Cap’n, to go south to return to his home on the Grand River.
In home territory Squire meets up with his friends at the home of the Lower Mohawk Walkers. Jake Venti, also Lower Mohawk and Squire’s boyhood friend, declares he has achieved a great success: he has managed to get them both jobs clearing brush at the canal mogul’s big home under construction. David Thompson (the first) builds Ruthven Hall in Indiana. Indiana is a booming village on the Grand River set up by the Grand River Navigation Company. Thompson’s foreman, Sully Klock, is hiring.
As for Squire’s home life, the fat grandmother, Aughguaga Polly wants the clever grandson to marry Margaret Magdalene Walker of the Oneida Turtle clan. Maggie is unwell and cannot greet Squire, at least not as effusively as she would wish. Squire mulls over the idea of marrying Maggie but he is unsure. He leaves his friends and agrees to meet Jake Venti at Ruthven in three days to take on the job of woodsman.
On his way to the job, Squire finds himself waylaid.
American illegals have entered Canada. Ziggy and Meatface are slave snatchers from Buffalo City, New York. They want to trap the runaway Georgian slave, “Sarah,” to take her stateside. Pastor Sheppy of Buffalo has hired the bounty hunters to find Sarah from Georgia, but the snatchers menace Squire (if necessary they will make do with any dark face) and offer to take the Mohawk to the United States to be sold into slavery. Pastor Sheppy is a heartless slave-broker who promises to return runaway Sarah to her owner and to get good money for his troubles. (Six Nations/Haudenosaunee Territory lies between Detroit and Buffalo. Jump-off cities Buffalo and Detroit are well known in the lore of the Underground Railroad for the escaped slaves that pass through their confines. Indian Territory is a wild space and a good hiding place for fugitives.)
Squire escapes from the snatchers and, coincidentally, a certain Barton Farr ambushes Ziggy and Meatface and captures them.
(Back in the day, Barton Farr is a friend of Squire’s late father Peter Davis. Peter Davis and his father, the famous Peter the Runner, die in the cholera epidemic of 1832. After the deaths of his father and grandfather, Squire watches a tragic incident unfold – a bullying transgressor attacks his family. Lower Mohawk John Smoke Johnson, in the company of several Indian cohorts and with a gun and knives at the ready, chases Squire’s mother off the Davis’ land on the Oxbow of the Grand River. Davis and Johnson families are antagonistic, ever after. This is a recurring theme throughout the books.)
Present circumstance: Squire trusts Farr and does what Farr orders and he skedaddles and leaves the snatchers in Farr’s hands. Squire finds Cap’n, waves goodbye to the miserable tied-up bounty hunters and bids farewell to Sarah and her French-speaking African husband, Peter Johnson. Squire rides to Ruthven Hall to join Jake. Gainful employment is never something to take lightly.
In Uxbridge Jennet is heartsick after Squire leaves. She knows her father wants her to marry their Appalachian neighbour Jedidiah (Jeddah) Golden. Jeddah is a fair-skinned blond widower with annoying twinkling black eyes who runs a horse farm. Jeddah hails from Wheeling, Appalachia. He has a Scandinavian pa and a black African (Algerian) mammy. Jeddah is about thirty-five. Jennet has no interest. Jeddah is a dumb farmer. Way too dumb for Jennet’s taste. She uses every opportunity to show her disdain. Jeddah and his daughters, Miss Hattie and Miss Hedy, accept an invitation to the Fergusons for supper. A disaster. The daughters are rude. Jeddah is a weak-kneed rube. There will be no Golden-Ferguson nuptials – not if Mary Ferguson, Jennet’s mother, can help it.
Soon Jennet receives a blue envelope telling her she has a teaching position in Onondaga, a newly opened township on the Indian reserve in Brant County.
Brant County lies within the Haldimand Tract. Thanks to the efforts of Pine Tree Chief Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, the tract on the Grand River is deeded to the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations), after the Indigenous allies assist Great Britain in the American Revolution. Jennet remembers Squire is from Ohsweken, a place near Onondaga. Over her father’s objections, Jennet accepts the job. Jennet is ready to journey from Uxbridge to the southern part of Canada West (Upper Canada), where Squire is from, but it so happens that Jeddah Golden is also booked on the same stage.
Why this coincidence? Jennet asks. Well. Every so often Jeddah visits his cousin in the village of Brantford. Brantford is on the Grand River, a few miles upstream from Onondaga. Jeddah’s cousin is Nellah Blaize Golden, whom he sometimes calls “Teacher.”
On the journey southward Jennet comes to see Jeddah differently. Despite his appalling mountain-man speech (Jennet’s viewpoint) her Uxbridge neighbour is not dumb. Far from it. En route the travellers encounter the Markham Gang. Apparently Jeddah has been on the gang’s trail and that is how Jennet learns her neighbour has a job other than raising horses: Golden is a regulator—a bounty hunter. A gun for hire.
Meantime Squire and Jake take up bush clearing at Indiana, which is about a half-day’s ride from Brantford. One night, on account of Bart Farr and Sully Klock, a hullabaloo breaks out inside Murphy’s Bar in Indiana. Squire and Jake are drunk. They roll outside. The Walker sisters wait for them.
There is a body: the remains of the slave-snatcher Ziggy lie hidden in the beechnut grove near Ruthven’s construction site.
Peter Johnson (formerly Pierre Beauchemin of Detroit), husband of fugitive Sarah, admits he has knifed and killed Ziggy. Alarm bells clang. Headlines are imagined. Coloureds kill white man. Not good. There would be a certain lynching if word got out. The drunks sober up. The Indians and the black man, Peter Johnson, and the white man, Barton Farr, bury unconsecrated Ziggy beside the foundation of Ruthven Hall.
But where is the slave-snatching teen? Where is Meatface? Peter Johnson declares he will follow Meatface’s trail and find the kid and kill him.
For Squire, events go from bad to worse. David Thompson owns most of Indiana and Thompson’s foreman, Sully Klock, fires Squire and Jake because of the brawl at Murphy’s and the damage to the tavern. Jake is furious and blames Squire.
Squire takes off for the village of Brantford. He needs a job. He finds himself on Brantford’s notorious Vinegar Hill. Squire gets directed to the Cyclops Inn, where he offers Cook (Alfie Williams) a trade: game (or fish) for lodgings. Owner–proprietor of the Cyclops Inn and the Cave Tavern is Nellah Blaize Golden or “Teacher,” as patrons call her. Nellah is Jeddah’s first cousin.
Nellah agrees to Squire’s offer of a trade. Nellah is sharp and efficient. And pregnant. Squire has never clapped his eyes on such a beautiful person as this perfect African woman.
Jeddah, having escorted Jennet safe and sound to her billet in Onondaga, returns to Brantford to check on his cousin, Nellah, who is pregnant with Jeddah’s child.Squire gets into a fight with a local bully and Jeddah breaks up the fight. Jeddah and Squire find something familiar here, but they don’t know what, or why. They never did meet in Uxbridge, although each has heard about the other. Also. While Squire works in Brantford at Millburn’s emporium, he runs into his brothers and maternal uncle and they discuss the horrible way one of the Lower Mohawk chiefs has treated Margaret Riley Davis, Squire’s widowed mother, in chasing her off her land. The Davis boys are not prepared to forgive and forget.
Nellah goes soft on the good-looking young Mohawk who is smitten with her and invites Squire to attend her secret midnight salon. In her brick home on Vinegar Hill, black Nellah holds divinely elegant soirées, which the dominant, white, establishment males of Brantford and the surrounding area love to attend.
At the salon Squire meets the brothers-in-law Octavius Millburn and Lawrence Filkin (the men from a family that will loom large in Squire’s life in book 2).
In Onondaga Jennet teaches the Van Barnum children and other students. Ruby Van Barnum is her favourite pupil. Jeddah usually rides out to Onondaga to see Jennet on Fridays. On this particular occasion she asks him whether he has caught anyone in the Markham Gang. In the instant Ruby spies a rider in the distance.
One Lower Mohawk man, Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis, rides to the Van Barnum farm to find Jeddah to tell him something awful. Nellah has been sexually assaulted and robbed.
But! This means Jennet and Squire meet again – to the surprise of everyone.
As much as the reunited young couple might wish to talk to each other, Squire must fulfill his duty to inform Jeddah of the horrific details of the crime.
After which Jeddah mounts up and returns to Brantford to see Nellah and their baby girl.
Squire and Jennet follow. Yes. There is lovemaking. On a horse.
Squire Davis. Jeddah Golden. Peter Johnson. Bart Farr. At midnight four horsemen ride out of the village of Brantford. They are on a manhunt. The horsemen seek the villains who have raped and robbed Nellah: Englishman Boynton (Boy) Hewson and Squire’s Mohawk cousin, a Warrior, Paulus “Bobby” John.
The men depart Vinegar Hill. Left at the Cyclops Inn to watch over Nellah’s premature infant, Pearl, and to manage the healing of recovering Nellah is the woman from Uxbridge, Jennet Ferguson. Aughguaga Polly, Squire’s grandmother, and the maid Lizzie Bosson and Lizzie’s boyfriend, Adolphus, who is actually Meatface, have orders to help Jennet.
The whole situation on Vinegar Hill blows up.
The young slave-snatcher, Meatface, dies violently.
Jennet gets bad news. Her sister Mary has passed over. Jennet takes the stagecoach to Uxbridge before Squire returns from the manhunt. She has promised to wait for him at Nellah’s place but circumstances and family responsibilities have forced her to act against her vow.
To forgive each other, two people must see matters from the other’s point of view.
Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis arrives, unannounced, in Uxbridge to visit the Fergusons, 21 December 1845.
Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos: The Battle of Vinegar Hill
The story’s antagonists are callow Lawrence Filkin and the older, shrewder, deafer, risk-taker, Octavius Millburn. The wealthy Octavius Millburns live in the canal village of Brantford on the Grand River. Lawrence Filkin visits his sister, Fannie Filkin Millburn. Lawrence is from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
After dinner one night, the villains, Millburn and Filkin, repair to the Millburn’s library. Octavius (O. G.) Millburn owns the local Brantford emporium, where Squire Davis has on occasion found employment. Millburn is a land shark. He wants to acquire an enormous chunk of Six Nations’ Territory. He plans to use his wife’s family’s connections to get the land. Fannie and Lawrence Filkin are related to General Charles Murray Cathcart, soon to be Governor-General Cathcart of the Province of Canada. Millburn gets himself set to take advantage of their relationship.
Lawrence Filkin has his own (silent) agenda. He is a fanatic hater and a Canadian segregationist. Filkin despises people of colour, especially Teacher, the dark-skinned Nellah Golden, the queen of the night and the harlot of Vinegar Hill. But. Nellah Golden is Octavius Millburn’s business partner, his seamstress and, when Millburn is younger, his lover. For family honour and because of a seething jealousy of his wealthy brother-in-law, Lawrie Filkin vows to himself he will get rid of Nellah Golden, and run her out of her home and business. Filkin collects signatures for his “petition of clearance of coloureds.”
A few days after Filkin and Millburn’s library conversation, Octavius Millburn hears terrible news. Indian Warrior Paulus “Bobby” John and the Englishman Boy Hewson have raped and robbed Nellah Golden. They almost kill the queen of the night.
Worse yet, Fannie Millburn confesses to her husband, Octavius: she is the robbery’s mastermind – not Bobby John or Boy Hewson. The men being accused of such horrors are merely her paid accomplices. Fannie seeks revenge against her husband and Nellah Golden for their intimacy.
From guilt, and to deflect attention from his guilty and scheming wife, she who has ordered Bobby John to carry out the attack on Nellah, Octavius Millburn offers a huge reward for the capture of Bobby John, dead or alive.
Leaving from Vinegar Hill in Brantford, four horsemen set out to bring in Bobby John and Boy Hewson for the rape and robbery of Nellah Blaize Golden. They are the following: Jedidiah (Jeddah) Golden, who is Nellah’s fair-skinned cousin and the father of her baby, Pearl; Peter Johnson, African Frenchman and former lover of Nellah and current husband of Sarah Johnson; Barton Farr, a stagecoach owner at Canboro and an old friend of Squire’s father; and last but never least the eponymous Mohawk, Squire Tehawennihárhos Davis.
The horsemen start their search for Bobby John at Mohawk Village, a deserted Indian site on the Grand River.
Right away the posse runs into trouble. They discover Pomeroy and Chrisinny Munny and the children’s emaciated Irish mother Bride (pronounced Bry-dee) Munny. Bride Munny is Boy Hewson’s sister. With Bride as informant, the men discuss the extent of the liquor and horse smuggling and timber poaching, running rampant in Indian Territory.
In Mohawk village by the river, Squire and Jeddah meet Missus Lucille Goosay – a spry Cayuga woman. Missus Goosay begs Squire to save Pommie and Chrisinny. Do-gooders once snatched her own excellent sons away from her and took them to the Mush Hole (the Mohawk Institute at Brantford), and she fears the same thing will happen to the Munny kids. After they companionably sip pine needle tea and praise Chief Joseph Brant, Missus Goosay tells Squire where to find Bobby John.
On account of the starving Munnys, the horsemen feel compelled to return to Nellah’s place on Vinegar Hill, where Squire confronts the fat grandmother, Aughguaga Polly. Polly has no patience with Squire’s being in love with the Scotchwoman, Jennet Ferguson, and the fat grandmother takes pleasure informing her grandson about the murder on the Hill, and straightaway following the murder (Cook has killed Meatface), the cowardly white eyes Jennet Ferguson returns to her home to Uxbridge.
Squire’s friend Alfie Williams, also known as Cook, gives Squire the straight goods on the former slave-snatcher, the dead man, and the real reason for the departure of Jennet. Alfie is a Liverpudlian (from Liverpool) and Squire has difficulty understanding him.
Jennet’s leaving depresses Squire.
Despondent, Squire goes for a bath and a shave at Mahlon Joe’s bathhouse and, in the meantime, travelling cockers Lush and Westonbury Fowler set up a cockpit inside Nellah Golden’s barn behind the Cyclops Inn.
Lawrence Filkin is at the cockfight.
Squire joins in with the wagering. Filkin watches a revived and sparkling Bride Munny and a strutting Bart Farr parade around the pit. A fight breaks out among the various sects of Irishmen. With his polished black boots Lawrence Filkin kicks an inebriated Squire near to death; in fact Filkin would have killed him were it not for the interference of the Vinegar Hill people.
On account of severe rib and wrist injuries Squire is out of action for many weeks.
The other horsemen leave him at Nellah’s place and they go back out on the hunt for Warrior Bobby John and Boy Hewson. From Squire’s conversation with Missus Goosay they know where to find their prey at rest, and wait for him in Caldeonia.
Nellah and Squire recuperate together at her brick home on Vinegar Hill. They are compatible and friendly. One night Squire confides in Nellah about his worry over Jennet and their future together as an interracial couple. Where will they fit in? A howling Bride arrests the conversation. Bride has news of her brother’s imminent arrival at the Cave Tavern. She is terrified because her soulless brother, Boy Hewson, is coming to “get a woman.”
To protect the Hill women, Squire sends them away to hide with Mahlon Joe.
At Squire’s request, Aughguaga Polly makes a deadly datura concoction. In the tavern a disguised “female” Squire awaits Boy Hewson intending to feed him Polly’s decoction. Staying at the Cyclops Inn, various characters show up to drink in the tavern.
Squire hovers around the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment’s officer, a certain Lieutenant Horatio Needles. Private Bing and Sergeant Nelson are drinking too. Lieutenant Needles tells his companions a secret: Six Nations Indians smuggle stolen horses and British army deserters stateside. Lieutenant Needles says he will catch the smugglers. The colonial government wants to nip the deserting and smuggling in the bud without offending the “loyal” Indians at Ohsweken.
Boy Hewson arrives. He is small and near-sighted. He does not appear dangerous but Missus Goosay has warned Squire to beware. Hewson is a monster.
Boy is focused on his own plans. He comes to make a deal with the army. He will trade a live and kicking Indian smuggler (being held outside) for the creation of a WANTED poster bill. He seeks revenge on his sister Bride Munny for running out on him.
Squire wonders whether Hewson knows Bride and her children are living on Vinegar Hill.
Wheeling and dealing between Needles and Hewson continues until Cook, one Alfie Williams, pours camphene into a lighted lantern. There is an explosion.
Horatio Needles et al scurry out of the burning tavern along with the inn’s resident canallers. By this time Boy Hewson has swallowed Polly’s datura concoction and he dances on a tabletop. The Mohawk stamps at the fire. In the process Squire comes face to face with his old friend Jake Venti. Venti, it seems, is the Indian smuggler Hewson wanted to turn over to Needles.
Squire warns the disgruntled Venti: Hewson is a government informer, a dangerous snitch. Squire and Venti pick up Cook and carry him to safety. Squire rescues the drugged Hewson from a fiery death. He ties Boy up in Nellah’s barn.
Various and sundry characters watch the Cyclops Inn and the Cave Tavern burn to the ground. In their company a truly bummed-out Squire awaits the return of the horsemen. How will Squire explain the destruction of Nellah’s business to Jeddah? At least her brick house is saved.
Millburn’s house in on Dumfries Street.
Once again O.G. Millburn and Lawrence Filkin are in the library after dinner. New maid, Daniela O’Herlihy, is Millburn’s latest amour.
Readers learn more about the status of the horsemen. Filkin declares he has paid out Millburn’s reward money for the arrest of Bobby John and, as a bonus, the arrest of Boy Hewson. The criminals are in the Hamilton jail.
Nonetheless, in spite of the arrests, Boy Hewson’s poster bill has surfaced. The bill demands the capture of Bride Munny and her two children. There is a reward.
The poster bill appears on Millburn’s desk and he reads it to Filkin.
Filkin wonders whether the blonde woman and red-haired boy he has spotted on Vinegar Hill could be the Munnys. There are signs of an increasing friction developing between host, Millburn, and guest, Filkin.
21 December 1845
Uxbridge, North of Toronto
In time for Christmas, Squire arrives at the Fergusons’ farmstead to claim Jennet’s hand. He knows the family well. He works for William Ferguson over the previous summer.
The Asahel Filberts are visiting from Toronto and the Free Kirk Presbyterian minister purports to give the Mohawk good advice on how to pass as white.
Squire tells Jennet he has seen Boy Hewson’s disturbing poster bill at Stouffville. He says he feels a responsibility to the Munny children.
Jennet suspects he has fallen for Bride Munny. She worries about the nature of her relationship with Squire even though he has asked her to marry him. After the New Year, they part uneasily.
Because of the fire, Nellah is in a bad way financially. She has people counting on her for support. She has a baby to take care of. She begs Octavius Millburn to underwrite the cost of a renewed midnight salon to help her get out the word she is back in business. It so happens Acting Governor-General Cathcart plans a visit to Brantford to raise money for local regiments to help Canada defend itself if there is an American invasion. This is the time of America’s Manifest destiny. Millburn mulls over Nellah’s proposal and agrees to finance the salon. He tells Nellah to expect a VIP.
By this time Squire is back from Uxbridge. He is on home territory. From Ohsweken he rides on Cap’n toward Nellah’s salon but en route a dog stops him. He follows the dog and discovers a damaged woman, seriously injured, buried under a deathly snow mound. Squire tends to the woman’s injuries and the delay makes him tardy for Nellah’s midnight dinner.
The woman Squire saves is Julia Good. She is Bobby John’s girlfriend. Julia Good says a man with evil black boots kicks her in the neck. Squire recognizes the man from her description. Lawrence Filkin! Squire decides he will ask a favour of Bobby John. Squire can pay Bobby ten pounds to get Filkin sold either to the American army or the Mexican army. Squire will trap Filkin at Nellah’s place during the midnight salon and Bobby can capture him there.
Squire arrives at Nellah’s to discover the news on Vinegar Hill is grim. Governor-General Cathcart dutifully accepts Filkin’s “ . . . petition of clearance of coloureds” in exchange for Millburn’s financing an army unit to help protect Canada West from possible American invasion. To Nellah’s horror, she realizes Octavius Millburn has finally signed Filkin’s petition, which means her clearance. The townsfolk are eager to chase “coloureds” from the village of Brantford, especially from Vinegar Hill. The clearance will begin immediately. That very night.
Under severe stress, Nellah and Squire plan their course of action when they hear a clamouring in the dining room. The horsemen have arrived. Jeddah Golden. Peter Johnson. Bart Farr.
Farr outs the identity of Bride Munny, whose identity Nellah has successfully hidden. Bride is in grave danger from Lieutenant Horatio Needles, who seeks Boy Hewson’s reward for turning her over to a Magdalene Asylum in Montréal or Toronto, and for sending Pommie and Chrisinny to a Catholic orphanage. Dinner guests are very drunk. A mob forms to find coloureds and to send the blonde harlot to an asylum for unwed and/or single mothers. In the hullaballoo, each horseman (except Farr) grabs someone to save. Squire secures Pommie and Chrisinny. Peter Johnson scoops up Nellah and baby Pearl. Jeddah whisks Bride Munny from the mob, who by this time would tear her apart.
Squire is in the barn getting set to leave with the Munny children but the Goosay brothers relieve him of his duties. Harold and Sam Goosay show up because Missus Goosay has sent her excellent sons to rescue Pommie and Chrisinny Munny. With the children in tow, the Goosay men dash into the night. Squire is alone. Nellah runs into the barn to tell him to hurry. She gives him silver coins and Millburn’s overcoat. She says she will go to Montréal with Peter Johnson.
Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos
Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos and the Battle of Vinegar Hill
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featured image: Oxbow on the Grand River, photo courtesy Eric Praetzel
Cover art by Gerry Dotto
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