Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


By John CechSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 28, 1980

Hope Valley, R.I.

Princess Red Wing sits at the worn upright piano, playing the chords for "Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned" and singing softly to herself. "You know, I'm just doing what my ancestors have done for centuries when they stepped out of their wigwams and greeted the day. I'm singing the praise of my creator."

Skip to next paragraph

For much of her long life, Red Wing has been singing her song of praise, with Indian words but with what she hopes is a universal message.

Since 1945 she has been the squaw sachem of the New England Council of Chiefs. This honor permits her to wear the big bonnet and to perform the sacred ceremonies. She presides at weddings, baptisms and christenings, and at the festivals of Thanksgiving which the woodlands Indians hold not once but five times each year to thank their Maker.

But before she achieved such a distinguished rank among her own people, she was offering much the same song to thousands of children of every race, as a teacher of Indian crafts and lore and a memorable teller of her people's legends and myths, at summer camps in Connecticut, rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Most of her life has been devoted to this one theme, regardless of audience: thanksgiving.

She is first and foremost a storyteller, in the most ancient sense of the world, telling her tales effortlessly, the way only a teller with years of practice can. Chiefly, they are stories of origin, the myths of her people. They provide a record of how the Indian accounted for everything from the creation of man and the seasons to the rabbit's short tail, the colors of the leaves, or the song of the thrush. Whether she is talking to adults or children , she starts with the same story -- how the ceremonial drum came to be made:

"A young Indian stood on a hilltop with all the glories of nature about him, and he felt so good that his hear beat loud and he heard, "Tum . . . tum . . . tum.'

"Then when he realized how close he was to Mother Nature -- he slept on her bossom, he fed from the berries of the bushes and the fish from the brook. In all he heard the heartbeat of Mother Nature: 'One, two . . . one, two.'

"then when he realized that everything his eye beheld -- the pine trees, the green grass, the flowers, the hard rocks, the wind upon his cheek, and even himself -- that all was created by a good, a great, and an unseen spirit, he heard the heartbeat of the creator of the universe: "One, two, three . . . one, two, three.'

"And when he looked around and saw his brother, he heard the heartbeat of mankind: 'One, two, three, four . . . one, two, three, four.'

"then he made his drum and he beat out that rhythm. All the music of the world is made up of that same rhythm that the young Indian found on that hilltop. And, for the Indian, all his ceremonies, all his business meetings, are called together by the drum, and when the drum beats, the people come."

Princess Red Wing was born on March 21, 1896, in sprague, Conn., near New London. Her mother was Mary Simonds of the Wampanoag nation, a direct descendant of Simeon Simonds, the young Indian who accompanied General Washington on his final campaigns and who, it is believed, was the grandson of King Phillip, the Massasoit who made war on the early colonies in defense of his lands, family, and traditions.

To this day, Red Wing carries the sign of Phillip's house, the Seven Crescents. It makes up part of the title which appears on all of her official correspondence with the federal government.

Red Wing's father, Walter Glasgo, was descended from the line of Mary Sachem of the Narragansetts and was a member of the family that estab lished the first iron foundries in Connecticut; their iron was used to make some of the earliest railroad tracks in the state. He was a farmer, a dairyman, a horseman -- and a gambler and a drinker.

Red Wing insists that his weaknesses never cost him a job or caused his family undue suffering, though one suspects they must have stretched the family's resources at times. Red Wing, however, refuses to spoil the memory of what she considers an essentially happy, if exacting, childhood. Bonds of love and respect for her parents remain intact.