I don't suppose there is any use in trying to find out when the game of "Jack Stones" was first played. No one can tell. It certainly is a good many hundred years old.
All boys and girls know how to play it. There is the little rubber ball, which you toss in the air, catch up one of the odd iron prongs, without touching another, and while the ball is aloft; then you do the same with another, and again with another, until none is left. After that you seize a couple at a time, until all have been used; then three, and four, and so on, with other variations, to the end of the game.
Doubtless your fathers and mothers, if they watch you during the progress of the play, will think it easy and simple. If they do, persuade them to try it. You will soon laugh at their failure.
Now, when we older folks were young like you, we did not have the regular, scraggly bits of iron and dainty rubber ball. We played with pieces of stones. I suspect more deftness was needed in handling them than in using the new fashioned pieces. Certainly, in trials than I can remember, I never played the game through without a break; but then I was never half so handy as you are at such things: that, no doubt, accounts for it.
Well, a good many years ago, before any of your fathers or mothers were born, a little girl named Alice Ripley sat near her home playing "Jack Stones." It was the first of July, 1778, and although her house was made of logs, had no carpets or stove, but a big fireplace, where all the food was made ready for eating, yet no sweeter or happier girl can be found today, if you spend weeks in searching for her. Nor can you come upon a more lovely spot in which to build a home, for it was the famed Wyoming Valley, in Western Pennsylvania.
Now, since some of my young friends may not be acquainted with this place, you will allow me to tell you that the Wyoming Valley lies between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains, and that the beautiful Susquehanna River runs through it.
The valley runs northeast and southwest, and is twenty-one miles long, with an average breadth of three miles. The bottom lands – that is, those in the lowest portion – are sometimes overflowed when there is an unusual quantity of water in the river. In some places the plains are level, and in others, rolling. The soil is very fertile.
Two mountain ranges hem in the valley. The one on the east has an average height of a thousand feet, and the other two hundred feet less. The eastern range is steep, mostly barren, and abounds with caverns, clefts, ravines, and forests. The western is not nearly so wild, and is mostly cultivated.
The meaning of the Indian word for Wyoming is "Large Plains," which, like most of the Indian names, fits very well indeed.
The first white man who visited Wyoming was a good Moravian missionary, Count Zinzendorf – in 1742. He toiled among the Delaware Indians who lived there, and those of his faith who followed him were the means of the conversion of a great many red men.
The fierce warriors became humble Christians, who set the best example to wild brethren, and often to the wicked white men.
More than twenty years before the Revolution settlers began making their way into the Wyoming Valley. You would think their only trouble would be with the Indians, who always look with anger upon intruders of that kind, but really their chief difficulty was with white people.
Most of these pioneers came from Connecticut. The successors of William Penn, who had bought Pennsylvania from his king, and then again from the Indians, did not fancy having settlers from other colonies take possession of one of the garden spots of his grant.
I cannot tell you about the quarrels between the settlers from Connecticut and those that were already living in Pennsylvania. Forty of the invaders, as they may be called, put up a fort, which was named on that account Forty Fort. This was in the winter of 1769, and two hundred more pioneers followed them in the spring. The fort stood on the western bank of the river.
The Pennsylvanians, however, had prepared for them, and the trouble began. During the few years following, the New Englanders were three times driven out of the valley, and the men, women, and children were obliged to tramp for two hundred miles through the unbroken wilderness to their old homes. But they rallied and came back again, and at last were strong enough to hold their ground. About this time the mutterings of the American Revolution began to be heard, and the Pennsylvanians and New Englanders forgot their enmity and became brothers in their struggle for independence.
Among the pioneers from Connecticut who put up their old fashioned log houses in Wyoming were George Ripley and his wife Ruth. They were young, frugal, industrious, and worthy people. They had but one child – a boy named Benjamin; but after awhile Alice was added to the family, and at the date of which I am telling you she was six years and her brother thirteen years old.
Mr. Ripley was absent with the continental army under General Washington, fighting the battles of his country. Benjamin, on this spring day, was visiting some of his friends further down the valley; so that when Alice came forth to play "Jack Stones" alone, no one was in sight, though her next neighbor lived hardly two hundred yards away.
I wish you could have seen her as she looked on that summer afternoon. She had been helping, so far as she was able, her mother in the house, until the parent told her to go outdoors and amuse herself. She was chubby, plump, healthy, with round pink cheeks, yellow hair tied in a coil at the back of her head, and her big eyes were as blue, and clear, and bright as they could be.
She wore a brown homespun dress – that is to say, the materials had been woven by the deft fingers of her mother, with the aid of the old spinning wheel, which in those days formed a part of every household. The dark stockings were knitted by the same busy fingers, with the help of the flashing needles; and the shoes, put together by Peleg Quintin, the humpbacked shoemaker, were heavy and coarse, and did not fit any too well.
The few simple articles of underwear were all homemade, clean, and comfortable, and the same could be said of the clothing of the brother and of the mother herself.
Alice came running out of the open front door, bounding off the big flat stone which served as a step with a single leap, and, running to a spot of green grass a few yards away, where there was not a bit of dirt or a speck of dust, she sat down and began the game of which I told you at the opening of this story.
Alice was left handed. So when she took position, she leaned over to the right, supporting her body with that arm, while with the other hand she tossed the little jagged pieces of stone aloft, snatching up the others, and letting the one that was going up and down in the air drop into her chubby palm.
She had been playing perhaps ten minutes, when she found someone was watching her.
She did not see him at first, but heard a low, deep "Huh!" partly at one side and partly behind her.
Instead of glancing around, she finished the turn of the game on which she was engaged just then. That done, she clasped all the Jack Stones in her hand, assumed the upright posture, and looked behind her.
"I thought it was you, Omas," she said with a merry laugh; "do you want to play Jack Stones with me?"
If you could have seen the person whom she thus addressed, you would have thought it a strange way of speaking.
He was an Indian warrior, belonging to the tribe of Delawares. Those who knew about him said he was one of the fiercest red men that ever went on the warpath. A few years before, there had been a massacre of the settlers, and Omas was foremost among the Indians who swung the tomahawk and fired his rifle at the white people.
He was tall, sinewy, active, and powerful. Three stained eagle feathers were fastened on his crown in the long black hair, and his hunting shirt, leggings, and moccasins were bright with different colored beads and fringes. In the red sash which passed around his waist were thrust a hunting knife and tomahawk, while one hand clasped a cumbersome rifle, which, like all firearms of those times, was used with ramrod and flintlock.
Omas would have had a rather pleasing face had he let it alone; but his people love bright colors, and he was never seen without a lot of paint daubed over it. This was made up of black, white, and yellow circles, lines, and streaks that made him look frightful.
But Alice was not scared at all. She and Omas were old friends. Nearly a year before, he stopped at their cabin one stormy night and asked for something to eat. Mrs. Ripley gave him plenty of coarse brown, well baked bread and cold meat, and allowed him to sleep on the floor until morning.
Benjamin was rather shy of the fierce looking Delaware, but Alice took to him at first. She brought him a basin of water, and asked him to please wash his face.
The startled mother gently reproved her; but Omas did that which an Indian rarely does – smiled. He spoke English unusually well, and knew why the child had proposed to him to use the water.
He told her that he had a little girl that he called Linna, about the same age as Alice. Upon hearing this, what did Alice do, but climb upon the warrior's knee and ask him to tell her all about Linna. Well, the result was, that an affection was formed between this wild warrior and the gentle little girl.
Omas promised to bring his child to see Alice, who, with her mother's permission, said she would return the visit. There can be no doubt that the Delaware often went a long way out of his course, for no other reason than to spend an hour or less with Alice Ripley. The brother and mother always made him feel welcome, and to the good parent the influence of her child upon the savage red man had a peculiar interest which nothing else in the world could possess for her. So you understand why it was that Alice did not start and show any fear when she looked around and saw the warrior standing less than ten feet off, and attentively watching her.
"You can't play Jack Stones as well as I," she said, looking saucily up at him.
"I beat you," was his reply, as he strode forward and sat down cross legged on the grass.
"I'd like to see you do it! You think you're very smart, don't you?"
A shadowy smile played around the stern mouth, and the Delaware, who had studied the simple game long enough to understand it, began the sport under the observant eyes of his little mistress.
While both were intent on the amusement, Mrs. Ripley came to the door and stood wonderingly looking at them.
"It does seem as if Indians are human beings like the rest of us," was her thought; "but who could resist her gentle ways?"
Up went the single stone in the air, and Omas grabbed the batch that were lying on the ground, and then caught the first as it came down.
"That won't do!" called Alice, seizing the brawny hand, which – sad to say – had been stained with blood as innocent as hers; "you didn't do that fair!"
"What de matter?" he asked, looking reproachfully into the round face almost against his own.
"I'll show you how. Now, I lay those three on the ground like that. Then I toss up this, pick up one without touching any of the others, keep it in my hand and pick up the next – see?"
She illustrated her instruction by her work, while her pupil listened and stared.
"I know – I know," he said quickly. "I show you." Then the wag of a Delaware tossed the first stone fully twenty feet aloft, caught up the others, and took that on the fly.
"I never saw anybody as dumb as you," was the comment. "What is the use of your trying? You couldn't learn to play Jack Stones in ever so long."
She was about to try him again, when, childlike, she darted off upon a widely different subject, for it had just come into her little head.
"Omas, when you were here the other day, you promised that the next time you came to see me you would bring Linna."
"Dat so – Omas promise."
"Then why haven't you done as you said?"
"Omas never speak with double tongue; he bring Linna with him."
"You did? – where is she?" asked Alice, springing to her feet, clasping her hands, and looking expectantly around.
The Delaware emitted a shrill, tremulous whistle, and immediately from the wood several rods behind them came running the oddest looking little girl anyone could have met in a long time.
Her face was as round as that of Alice, her long, black hair hung loosely over her shoulders, her small eyes were as black as jet, her nose a pug, her teeth as white and regular as were ever seen, while her dress was a rude imitation of her father's except the skirt came below her knees. Her feet were as small as a doll's, and encased in the beaded little moccasins, were as pretty as they could be.
"That is Linna," said the proud father as she came obediently forward.