In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 8
"Ononko's Vow - A Colonial Tale" by Herbert
S. Streeter (Dramatic)
Deerfield, Massachusetts, is such an one. Here we have reminders of the old colonial days,- of the struggles of the Puritans on the then Western frontier against the Indians under Philip, and against the French and Indians during the Queen Anne War. In the old memorial hall at Deerfield will be found many mementos of those days. Lining the main street of Deerfield on either side still stand buildings which partly withstood the raid on Deerfield by the Indians and French in 1704. Historic spots are marked with slabs of granite with appropriate inscriptions thereon.
At South Deerfield a monument stands sacred to the memory of Captain Lothrop and his men, who were escorting under orders a train of ox-carts loaded with grain which was being taken from Deerfield to the military headquarters at Hadley in September, 1675. Lothrop's command is described by the historian and also the poet as containing "Young men who were of the very flower of the County of Essex, and not one of whom was afraid to meet the enemy in the gate." In a moment of fancied security the men broke ranks and feasted themselves upon the grapes which lined the banks of a small brook, then unnamed but now and ever since known as Bloody Brook because of the fate which so quickly came upon them. Seven hundred Indians lay in ambush on either side of the stream and fell upon them, giving no quarter.
As one stands in the peaceful little New England town it seems hard to realize that this awful massacre took place on that very spot a little over two centuries ago. The colonists and soldiers under Lothrop had little chance to defend themselves in the Bloody Brook massacre, but in the raid on Deerfield in 1704 remarkable instances are on record of the defense made by the hardy Puritans and colonists against the Indians and French. The entire village within the stockade was destroyed with the exception of what is now known as the Frary House, which stood at the time and a large portion of which escaped the fire which the Indians set to the village. While the Indians and French were besieging the house of John Williams and the old Indian house in which many of the inhabitants had taken refuge, a wonderful fight against long odds was put up by Benoni Stebbins and the men and women of his household and their immediate neighbors against a large force of French and Indians, who were held at bay by the intrepid colonists and their devoted mothers, sisters, wives and sweethearts. Some of the survivors of this awful raid rebuilt their homes in Deerfield, and today there are many residents of that town who are proud of being their descendants. Among these is the venerable historian of Deerfield, Mr. George Sheldon, a man of wonderful intellect, now in his ninety-second year.
It has been the good fortune of the Edison Company to secure a picture of Mr. Sheldon in our film. The story which is unfolded is begun by introducing Mr. Sheldon to the observer as he is talking to some visitors to Deerfield. He assumes the position of the narrator of a story and the view dissolves into what he told.
The story of Ononko's Vow is a pretty love tale through which is intertwined the story of an Indian's fidelity to his promise. The prologue takes place during the course of the Bloody Brook Massacre when an Indian chief, one of the rescuing party, saves a young Puritan, Jonathan Smith, from the tomahawk of a hostile Indian. Ungagook is the name of this chief, and he is accompanied by his little ten-year-old son, Ononko. Ungagook unknown to Smith receives his death wound in rescuing the latter. Together the chief and his son come to the house of Smith, and as they see him safely to his door the colonist's young wife expresses her thanks to Ungagook. The chief make a gesture which is intended to convey the idea that he thinks lightly of what he has done, and immediately thereafter betrays the fact that he is mortally hurt. He expires in the home of Smith, but before doing so has his little son Ononko promise fidelity to the family in whose house his spirit goes to the Great Manitou.
Twenty-eight years later we see how Ononko, now a vigorous young brave, keeps the pledge which he made his father in the years gone by. Deerfield has been sacked. Jonathan Smith and his daughter Ruth, who has just been affianced to Ebenezer Dow, are driven before the tomahawks and flintlocks of the Indians. Dow has gone for assistance, managing to evade the raiders, and the rescuing party comes from the settlement below. Jonathan Smith is saved by a trapper, but his daughter Ruth is among the colonists who are being taken on across the meadow toward Pine Hill and thence to Canada.
Ononko has seen the light in the sky from the village below and has hastened with the relieving party of colonists and Narragansett Indians to the scene. He enters the room where the colonists had stoutly defended themselves but where most of them were massacred. Failing to find his friend he seeks him without, and meets him as he is leaving the awful scene of carnage. Learning from the father that his daughter is among the retreating Indians, Ononko promises to seek for her and bring her back to the grieving old man. The story ends in his successfully carrying out his promise.
After the rescue, which is accomplished in a most thrilling manner, we see the young colonist and his bride-to-be approaching the edge of the settlement under the guidance of the tall young chief of the Narragansetts. Behind them walks their friend, the trapper. Ononko stands at the edge of the forest and points toward the settlement below. The three others pass him and turn to bid him goodbye, first asking him to proceed with them into the village. Ononko refuses. Why? Perhaps because in the breast of the handsome savage some gentle thought of the girl he has saved has entered: but his mobility of character permits him to entertain the thought only for a fleeting moment.
When Ruth was in captivity she was protected from the snow only by the woolen dress she wore. On the homeward march Ononko had given her his blanket to keep her warm. As he bids Ebenezer and his pretty fiancé farewell Ruth offers Ononko his blanket, which she is wearing. The young chief prettily presents it to Ebenezer and places it across the shoulders of the girl. After accepting the gift the young people go to their home, their trapper friend accompanying them. Long Ononko stands contemplating the settlement below him. What his thoughts may be the observer is left to imagine.
At the finish of the film we again see Mr. Sheldon bidding good-bye to the two young people who have been visiting his town.
This is but a brief outline of a story which is full of the vigor of the early days of the New England settlement, and which breathes the atmosphere of reality as far as the Indians and the historical matter shown are concerned. The scenes at the time of the pictorial massacre at Bloody Brook were laid in the late summer and the leaves and foliage show in all their beauty, whereas the scenes at the sack of Deerfield are laid in the winter and the ground is covered with deep snow. It is safe to say that no more realistic picture has ever been presented than this one. It is not a case of the Indian of the Western prairie who is engaged in cattle "rustling"or similar occupations, but we have here the representation of the early red man, showing his hatred of the white race and in this instance particularly of the English, his willingness to ally himself with their enemies, his craftiness and subtlety as well as the noble and heroic elements of his nature.
In "Ononko's Vow"we even have a suggestion of the poetic vein which made the Indians of Fenimore Cooper so lovable. In fact we may well imagine that the Ononko of our story is one of the descendants of the great Uncas. These remarks as to Indians must not be considered misleading, for the story does not deal altogether with Indians. In fact, the love story of Ebenezer Dow is a very pretty one, and the adventures portrayed show vividly the heroism not only of the men of the colonies but of the noble women who stood by their sides through all the trials and tribulations of those days.
The story of this film is vivid, patriotic, wholesome and soul stirring, and the pleasant introduction of so distinguished a man as Mr. Sheldon is most acceptable. Altogether a most remarkable film.