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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
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W. H. Macy

Flag of Our Union
Vol. 24, No. 47 (Nov 20, 1869)
p. 750

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      After an unsuccessful sperm-whaling cruise, near the equator, we anchored in a small bay on the northwest side of Ponapi, or Ascension Island, to recruit for a season in the Okotsk Sea.

      The "Nanakin," or ruler of the tribe dwelling nearest the anchorage, who bore the romantic name of Klchimboot, or "Kitchen-boot," as it was rendered by our seamen, attached himself to us at once, and afforded us every facility in the way of getting a stock of wood and water, as also an ample stock of yams and other supplies. He spent much of his time on board the ship, as did also his prime minister, Abraham Booth, an English adventurer, who had been several years a resident at Ponapi. Booth had piloted the ship into the bay, and also served us during our stay in the capacity of interpreter and "trading-master."

      But we were not long in discovering that the anchorage where we lay was a sort of debatable ground, or battle-field of two hostile nations. A state of war existed between Klchimboot's people and a tribe living up the creek, north of the anchorage. A few canoes from that direction were to he seen, now and then, hovering near us, but they rarely ventured alongside, unless when certain that none of their enemies were on board. We endeavored, however, to treat all parties alike, so as to preserve our neutrality, and to retain friendly relations with both the belligerents. Booth, as well as the Nanakin, had at several different times solicited the captain to aid their party in a raid up the river into the North Valley. But he had steadily declined committing himself, and hurried up his work, hoping to finish the business which had brought us there, and put to sea, without being involved in any serious outbreak of hostilities.

      At length, one evening, Booth came off from the shore, and reported that a fight was inevitable. He had certain information, he said, that the Northmen were coming down that night in force.

      "Let 'em come," said Captain Wheeler, coolly; "I shall have nothing to do with it. If the two tribes want to fight, let 'em fight it out."

      "But they'll fight here, on the middle-ground," said the pilot. "Old Kitchen-boot'll never let 'em land on this side of the bay. He is mustering his war-canoes, now, to meet 'em half way."

      "Good for him! Well, I shall try and protect my ship, of course; but I shan't interfere in the row, if I can help it. I reckon there'll be more noise than bloodshed."

      "That's true," returned Booth. "There's very few men killed in battle, though you might suppose, if you saw an expedition going to attack, that they meant to die to the last man, rather than retreat,"

      "Well, tell old Kitchen-boot not to muster his forces on board the ship here, for I don't want to commit myself to either party."

      Booth and his retinue remained on board all night, but the Nanakin did not come off. A strong anchor watch was set, and we did not fail to load all the guns we had, and to prepare cartridges for the old carriage-gun, as a precautionary measure.

      The Englishman had a good rifle in his possession, and was also skilled in the use of it. He might easily decide the fight at any moment, he said, by shooting the sovereign of North Valley; but, though this would win the battle and secure him high favor with Klchimboot, it would not put an end to the everlasting feud, and would place his life in constant peril, as the tribe would not fall to seek vengeance.

      The night wore away without farther alarm, but at daylight a fleet of canoes, some twenty in number, were seen drawn up in double line across the mouth of tho creek. Booth's canoe paddled away to the shore, and in a short time the other squadron, to the number of twenty-four, issued from behind a point of low rocks, the great war-canoe, in which were Booth and the Nanakin, leading the vanguard. A terrible yell of defiance went up simultaneously from both parties, as they advanced to the onset.

      Most imposing was the spectacle before us, as, clustered in the rigging and along the rail, we watched the swift progress of the rival fleets, with their paddles flashing in the early sunlight. The yells continued, increasing in loudness and fury as they approached each other. Each man seemed to be lashing himself into a paroxysm of rage, as if his object were to strike terror to the heart of his enemy before a blow was delivered. If so, they were not unsuccessful, for as soon as they arrived within stone range, their headlong valor, like that of Bob Acres, "oozed out at their fingers' ends." They turned tail to each other, as the action commenced, and receded quite as fast as they had advanced, the paddle-men displaying more vigor in their work than the stone-throwers, who exchanged volleys with little damage, most of the missiles falling short.

      "That's a complete flash-in-the-pan!" said my comrade Dyer, who sat at my side in the foretop. "I looked for them to come together with a shock, like Regulus and the Carthaginians, and all they have done thus far is to expend a great deal of breath in threats, and spatter each other by throwing rocks into the bay. See! they've hove to again for another yelling-match. O! brave lungs!"

      "Hold on a bit," said I. "That's only an artillery duel to open the battle with. You see they have faced about again at their paddles. Now look out for a shock, in earnest!"

      But the same manoeuvre was repeated, and with much the same result us before. A few light spears were thrown with the volley of stones; but we could not discover that any one was struck down, or even severely injured. The infernal din of voices was kept up; indeed, it never ceased, from beginning to end. A mutual retrograde movement separated them again.

      "There you are – one – two – like the rounds of a prize-fight," said Dyer. "They'll have to haul off again, to replenish their ammunition,"

      Thus they carried it on for an hour or more, alternately advancing and retreating, until, as my shipmate had prophesied, their magazines of shot ran low; but their stock of breath seemed inexhaustible. They carried a large supply of spears and darts of various sizes and lengths, some very light, and others of hard wood; but these last could not be very effective, unless they should venture to attack at closer quarters than we had yet seen them.

      Klchimboot was the owner of a tolerably good gun, which he had fired several times at irregular intervals, but with such unsteady aim that it had no effect, further than to add its mite to the noise and general confusion. Booth kept his rifle at his side, but made no use of it, seeming to regard the whole affair as a piece of very good sport.

      "But they have plenty of other guns," said I.

      "Why don't they fire 'em? Almost every canoe has a musket or two."

      "Bless you, you couldn't fire some of them with a lighted candle!" exclaimed Dyer. "Trade-muskets, bought or stolen out of ships – old flint-locks, that may have done good service at Lundy's Lane, or even as far back as Bunker Hill. There's no danger from them – unless you get near enough to get a crack from the butt-end, which it is plain these heathen will take good care not to do."

      "Then I presume this thing will continue until they have thrown away all their spears, and blown away their lungs."

      "So it would seem. Some great military critic, I forget who, has declared that it is not the army which has the most men killed that loses the battle, but that which has the greatest number scared. Now these fellows have all been scared ever since the first attack; so, as Klchimboot had the most numerous force, I think the Northmen have the best of it. Hillo! Booth is going to try a shot at them!"

      The "beach-comber" had seized his rifle, and, standing erect upon the platform of the outrigger, waved his hand to the paddle-men. The canoe shot out to a position in advance of the rest of the line, while the din of voices suddenly ceased.

      Klchimboot alone broke the silence by what seemed to be a stinging taunt, and challenge to any man of the opposite party to a duel with Booth, to be fought with firearms. It was considered a safe offer, for no native was any match for him in skill as a marksman. But few of them, indeed, could shoot with any degree of accuracy, while the majority had a kind of superstitious dread of anything bearing the form of a gun. As Dyer expressed it, "they were afraid of a flint-lock, which had neither flint nor lock."

      But, to the utter astonishment of the challenging party, the Nanakin of North Valley ordered his canoe paddled to the front. As she took up her station within fifty yards of the other, a white man, who had until now laid concealed, rose to his feet, rifle in hand, and confronted Booth with a glance of hatred and malignant triumph. No words were interchanged, but, quick as thought, the champions brought their guns to a sight, each striving to anticipate the other. Both reports rang on the air at the same instant, and both men fell back into their respective canoes. The cries of wailing on both sides went up more shrill and piercing than had those of rage and defiance. The fight was ended, and, as if by mutual agreement, the hostile fleets separated. The Nanakin's canoe came alongside the ship, the rest of his force returning to the shore, while the enemy retreated up the river.

      Booth was lifted on board, and was found to be mortally wounded by a ball in the cheat. His adversary, as he told us while his life was fast ebbing away, was a Scotchman known as Sandy McIntosh, who lived at Kitti, on the southwest side of the island. Between the two, a deadly feud of long standing had existed, and, in case of men situated as they were, there seems no alternative but for each to take the law into his own hands. McIntosh, foreseeing the challenge to single combat, had joined the northern tribe on this expedition, for the express purpose of fighting out this vendetta. His appearance was, of course, unforeseen to Booth; but he, as may well be supposed, always held his life, as it were, in his hand, and knew, at the first sight of his mortal foe, that he must either kill or be killed.

      McIntosh, as we afterwards learned, had been shot through the head, and fallen dead in the canoe. Beyond this, the casualties were few on either side.

      The fate of the two adventurers was simply that of scores of others, on this and other islands of the great South Sea. Like that of scores of California adventurers of 'forty-nine, it would form a dark page of history, which, perhaps, had best remain unwritten. It was not often, however, that two of these desperadoes met so bravely on equal terms, or that such tragedies were enacted in the presence of witnesses.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: The "Beach-Combers'" Duel.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 47 (Nov 20, 1869)
Pages: 750