Incident on the Capoolong

By Pete Tucker

Part One – An Abortive Hunt

Date: Nov. 9, 1729
Place: Along the Capoolong Creek in what is now Hunterdon Co., NJ.

Kikowoua, a sixteen year old boy, was in a bad way today.  As his Lenape brethren commonly did to hunt deer, Kikowoua had shimmied up a knotted rope in order to perch himself upon his preferred tree branch. His bow and quill of arrows, both strapped to his back, freed his arms and hands for the climb. For as deft as was his  ascension to his makeshift seat, he had made but one false move this morning that changed his whole day.

Kikowoua was pleased that he was alone. Well, maybe not altogether. He hoped that none of his tribesmen would see him in his present predicament, and yet he needed at least one of them right now.  Having reached his spot in the tree, Kikowoua was in the process of rolling up his rope to place it in the crotch of a branch when he had mistakenly dropped the whole thing to the ground.

It was high enough in the tree to kill someone who took a tumble from this height. Kiko, as those close to him abbreviated his name, had no good choices. Somehow or another, he would eventually need to descend from his tree. Right now, he had no way to do that. Kiko resolved to wait for a while. With any luck, one of his brothers would happen by and toss up one end of his woven rawhide rope.

Kiko’s tree had a huge circumference. Putting his arms around it to enable his descent was out of the question. He would just have  to keep watch for what he knew would be an unlikely passer by. If all else failed, his imitation of a coyote howl might draw the closest  hunter to help him.

They all kept an armed arrow on Coyotes for little other reason than to control their numbers. They were decidedly not good eating.

Given his misfortune, Kiko would have to remain perched on the branch. Killing a deer was now out of the question. To do so would compel his  immediate descent from the tree. What else to do then, but enjoy a temperate day and hope for someone from the settlement to pass by. At least the weather was relaxing. If nothing else, Kiko loved to sit in the tree and ponder his surrounds.

He sat quietly on his crude chair. A passing thought unsettled him. The peaceful nature of the Lenape settlement along the Capoolong Creek was abuzz of late, as though a swarm of bees had been disturbed. Surely the  Lenapes  had lived on these graceful lands as far back as anyone could remember, but recently strangers had arrived.

They didn’t swim well in local waters. In fact, they were fish out of water. They had no knowledge of Lenape language or customs. They were even colored differently.  There was a notable wariness between them and Kiko’s people.

Apparently, these strangers were from very far away, a place the Lenape knew nothing about. Why they had to come here, Kiko did not understand, but it seemed obvious that they intended to stay.  Two of their families had built huge homes made of stone. Both were not far from where Kiko’s family lived. Kiko’s father raged about these people. They seemed to assume that the land belonged to them.

Kiko just hoped that it wasn’t one of the strangers who might walk through the woods today and discover him stranded up in this tree. How would he ask them to toss up his rope? Would or should he even try? It was a confusing dilemma to young Kiko. It made no sense that he was even contemplating this. If someone was a total stranger, of course they should toss up his rope!

Kiko counseled himself to calm down a little. This situation would somehow resolve itself. In the meantime, he contemplated his surrounds, something he loved to do while hunting. It was an area of incomparable beauty. The world possessed a soul that was gracefully stated today. His hunting endeavor was quelled for the time being, but it seemed not to matter. All was good…. he hoped.

Part Two – Point and Grunt

The day was getting long in the tooth. To Kiko, it was not without its frustrations. He’d been sitting in his tree since early morning. Now, a hint of dusk was showing in the western sky. He was hungry.

Kiko  wondered if someone in his family might venture to the woods, perhaps curious at this point whether he was hefting home some venison.

He adjusted his position. The wood was getting hard to sit on any longer. He kept thinking about the monstrous buck that he had seen right under his tree earlier this morning. What a bounty that would have been, had the buck’s motion allowed only a little better shot.

He had abandoned his attempt to count the points on its antlers, which would serve to indicate the buck’s age. The deer had been slightly spooked by some slight noise in the woods. The antlers were thus obscured.

Kiko’s body instinctively relaxed, a reaction to just having heard a faint noise in the distance. He slowed his breathing to concentrate. Surely enough, there was an ever-so-distant rustling of leaves, perhaps resulting from human footsteps. This was a good sign, he thought. Maybe someone was coming to get him.

Then nothing. Then a little more rustling. Quiet again. Humming, he then heard distant humming. It was becoming more distinct. Kiko was confident that he knew the direction from which it was coming. He waited some moments further.

The humming was now perceptibly closer, but that wasn’t the hum of a Lenape. Kiko could tell. Regardless, it was time to bring this day to a close, even though he was uncertain how that would unfold.

There was still sufficient daylight to see a figure, a boy he thought, approaching fairly close to Kiko’s tree. Indeed, he was humming. Kiko waited and peered in the direction of the boy. His look, his dress was now a sure indication. Here was one of the stranger’s boys!

“Waaahooo”, Kiko screeched as the boy practically came under his branch.

The boy was beyond startled. At first he knew not from where the voice came.

The boy stopped walking. He was trembling, Kiko could see that.

Kiko uttered a far less shrill sound. The stranger boy instantly looked up and saw Kiko. He was overwhelmed, fraught with fear.

“I don’t know who you are, Mister, but you don’t scare me”, the boy uttered feebly.

Kiko, of course, hadn’t the faintest idea what the boy had just communicated.

Kiko estimated that he was easily older than this boy by a few years. To diffuse the situation, Kiko put his hands up. That seemed to put the boy at ease a little. The two quickly realized that speaking to each other in their native tongues was futile. Neither had a clue what the other was saying.

The idea came to Kiko that he would just point and make gestures to indicate what he would like the stranger boy to do for him. With his index finger, Kiko pointed to the ground where his rope had fallen, now nearly obscured by leaves. The boy, still frozen in his tracks, looked down to where Kiko was pointing. Seeing the rope, the boy pointed toward it and took a few steps closer.

Kiko uttered some enthusiastic sounds that he hoped would communicate his approval to the boy.

Affixed to one end of the rope was a small stone that enabled it to be hurled up and over a tree branch, but how was Kiko going to explain that one? He made motions that he hoped would mimic an attempt to toss up the rope’s end.

The boy was getting the picture. He was being  asked to somehow get the rope up to the Lenape in the tree. Kiko changed the expression on his face to one of approval.

The boy hesitated for a moment, stepped back and looked up at Kiko. He seemed to be assessing the situation. The picture then unexpectedly changed. The boy pointed toward Kiko, then mimicked the act of sitting down. Kiko compliantly sat on his chair.

Quizzically, the boy then turned around and began a trot toward the approximate direction of the grandiose stone house. Kiko could only hope that the boy had his own plan. He sat as darkness veiled the land. He could only hope that the stranger boy would come back.

Kiko was beginning to feel desperate. What if the boy didn’t come back? He sat and listened to the silence of the Autumn. It was feeling quite cold. Shortly his family would be on the lookout for him, he was certain.

As though there was, indeed, a God, Kiko heard voices. A stranger’s light appeared in the woods; a little flame swinging, as if being held in someone’s hand. The odd language of the newcomers was vaguely audible through the trees. They carried a lantern, a newfangled device with which he was not familiar. Soon the light was cast upon two men carrying what appeared to be a ladder. The stranger boy tagged behind.

In short order, the two men hefted the ladder against Kiko’s branch. One held the lantern, enabling Kiko to see it. The man waved his arm downwardly as if to usher Kiko’s descent. The boy then stepped forward, footed and steadied the ladder

A noble history at The Capoolong was in the making. Kiko steadied himself at the top of the ladder and commenced his incremental decline.

Kiko’s feet finally touched the ground. The adulation was awkward and joyous at the same time. An unspoken protocol had, within minutes, been sealed. There in the woods along the Capoolong, Scottish immigrants had just saved a Lenape boy, holding out hope that relations between two incongruous peoples might meld.

Conclusion – Unfettered Legacy

Kiko pointed to himself and said “ Kiko.” The boy who had just baled him out of a bad situation reciprocated, saying “Paul.” Paul repeated Kiko. Kiko repeated Paul. It was a moment that neither of them ever forgot. A bond of kinship had been formed between two unlikely candidates.

Their differences were monumental. Nonetheless, they both felt impelled to know each other. In fact, the very next day, Kiko ventured to Paul’s house. Paul’s folks were a bit “put out” by this new nexus, but were swayed by the symbolism of yesterday’s event. As time moved on, the boys never forgot the bond that fused them together, even after less than gracious treatment of The Lenapes.

Over years both boys had great fun with pointing at some object and reciting the corresponding word, English or Munsee, the Lenape language. This was the glue of their friendship until they  became old men, until they learned each other’s language.

Together they wondered: would everyone come to realize that we all, at one time or another, have to go get a ladder for someone, be they stranger or friend?

As if by design, Paul and Kiko both died 70 years later, in 1799, well after their respective wives had passed on. They spent many of their waning days in lively banter over all manner of subjects, friends to the end. They lived through and never saw the end of the dreadful treatment of natives across America. They died steadfastly proud that, between them, they had lived above the ugly fray.