Mary Hazelton Wade
Little Folks of North America Stories about children living in the different parts of North America
You all know the story of Columbus – how, more than four hundred years ago, he sailed from Spain out into the west; and also how the people, as they watched his ships fading from sight, believed they would never look upon the fleet again, for the brave sailors who manned it were moving into an unknown world whose dangers no one could measure.
You also remember what happened before Columbus returned from that long voyage – that a new continent was discovered where strange people of a race before unheard-of were living the life of savages, and that the great sailor, believing he had entered the waters of India, named these red men, Indians.
Instead of reaching India, as he supposed, he had brought to light a new and great continent – so vast that it embraced all climates; rich, moreover, in mines and forests, lakes and rivers, high mountains, fertile plains and valleys. And there were none to enjoy all these beautiful gifts of God save tribes of red men, except in the far north the Eskimos in scattered villages. They, too, like the Indians, were savages who knew nothing of the ways of white men. They lived in small settlements along the ice-covered shores of the ocean.
After Columbus had crossed the Atlantic and discovered this New World, other ships soon followed in the course he had marked, and the people of Europe settled in one place after another. At first they made their homes near the shores of the ocean. This was partly through fear of the red men who were not pleased at the thought of these new neighbors, so different from themselves. As years went by, however, the newcomers moved farther and farther into the west, driving the Indians and the wild beasts before them, until now the homes of the white men are found throughout the land. People of unlike faiths and speaking different languages cross the ocean in shiploads, for they feel that when America is reached they will find freedom and happiness.
The Indians who are still left in the country are slowly learning the ways of the white men. They are taught in schools by white teachers. They live in houses instead of the wigwams which were their former homes. They dress in white men’s clothes. They even plant gardens and care for their farms in the way of civilized people.
There are many Negroes in North America also, but they are found mostly in the southern part of the United States. They were first brought as slaves from Africa, but are now free and independent. Although they were once savages like the Indians, they have been quick to imitate and have easily fallen into the ways of the white men. Thus the red and the black races, the white and the yellow, can all be found at home in North America, abiding together in peace and comfort as the children of One Great Father should do.
Little Folks of Iceland
In the far northeast corner of North America lies the island of Iceland where little Danish children live far from the rest of the world. It is very cold in that northern country, yet the presence of volcanoes there and the lava that spreads over much of the country tell the story that ages ago the island was slowly built up from the lava that flowed from volcanoes rising up out of the bed of the ocean.
However that may be, the boys and girls of Iceland are happy little people who laugh and sing, dance and play as merrily as children who live where the sun shines all the year round and the seasons chase each other so rapidly that Mother Nature is constantly preparing new delights for them.
Away back in the ninth century a great chief called Nadodd left Europe in search of adventure. When he had sailed for a long time he came in sight of a land covered with snow. It seemed a cold, bleak place, but he landed, nevertheless, and gave the country the name of Snowland.
After Nadodd came two Norse chiefs who had quarreled with their king and left Norway to seek a new home. Although they found Snowland or rather Iceland, as it is now called, cold and desolate as Nadodd had done, they decided to settle there and other people from Norway followed them and built homes for themselves and their families along the coast.
These things and many more are written down in a big book treasured by the Icelanders to-day, – how little children were born to the settlers, how they were ruled by their chiefs, and how, after a while, one of their people went back to Europe and listened to the teachings of the Christian religion. He gave up his belief in heathen gods, and when he came back to Iceland he converted the settlers. From that time they, too, were Christians and had Christian ministers among them who taught and helped their little ones and themselves.
As time went by Norway, and with it Iceland, came under the rule of Denmark. Afterwards it became separate again, but Iceland did not, and is to this day looked upon as belonging to the Danes. Most of the children, however, by reading in the famous old book of their people, can trace their families back to the two Norwegian chiefs and their followers who were the first settlers in Iceland.
The children of Iceland live so far north that they know only a short summer. The days then are very long and there is scarcely any night. In the month of June there is really no night at all and there is no way of telling, except by the clock and their own sleepiness, when it is time to go to bed. The winters are quite the opposite. They are very long and bitter cold. Scarcely any of the time does the sun shine, yet the long nights are beautiful, for the moon and stars shine brightly and the northern lights, or aurora borealis, flash over the heavens in a wonderful way not seen in warmer lands.
On the long winter evenings the boys and girls are never happier than when listening to the stories that have been handed down from father to son for hundreds of years. They call these stories sagas. Some of them are legends, and others tell about the lives of people who lived in Iceland from the beginning of its history. There are many poems, too, which the little Icelanders learn “by heart,” and which they repeat in a half-singing tone, after the way of their people. These were written in the long-ago by warriors called “skalds.” They tell of battles and brave deeds and lovely ladies, and the children of to-day think them so beautiful that many of them try to write little poems themselves. This pleases their parents greatly and makes them feel quite proud that their own little ones are following in the steps of their ancestors.
Geysers and Glaciers
Iceland is never without snow and ice. On the warmest summer day the children can look on glaciers, or rivers of ice, that flow so slowly toward the sea from the inland country that one does not see them moving at all.
These glaciers look like broad fields of broken ice, piled up in strange, rough shapes. The summer sun melts the ice ever so little, and those who venture near the edge find rills of water flowing down the sides of the great cakes and boulders. As the glaciers enter the sea masses of ice sometimes break away, and turning over and over in the deep water, right themselves at last and sail out to sea as the icebergs that are often met by sailors on their way across the ocean.
“We have geysers as well as glaciers,” the children of Iceland will tell you, and they are glad to show their knowledge of them to the travelers who visit that distant land. A geyser is a boiling spring which bursts up out of the ground like a fountain, sometimes with such force that the water rises into the air higher than the tallest building you have ever seen.
There are other kinds of hot springs, too, in the country, where the water simply bubbles up. There is one large town in Iceland called Reikjavik, which is the capital of the island, and about a mile and a half away there is a hot spring where the washing is done for the people of the town.
Almost every day women go there from Reikjavik with hand-carts filled with soiled clothing. When they reach the spring they roll up their sleeves, tuck up their skirts, and begin the scrubbing and rinsing, the boiling and wringing that end in making the clothes as white as snow. From time to time they stop to drink coffee and have a friendly chat, but all the washing is done in the open air, without need of stove or fire to help the workers.
Sheds have been built near the spring where the ironing is afterwards done. Then the clothes are neatly packed in the little carts and taken back to the town to be returned to the owners.
The little Icelanders are very fond of their waterfalls, some of which are very beautiful. The country is so rough and rocky that the streams often plunge over steep lava cliffs and fall with a loud roar to the depths below.
There are so few sounds to be heard, because there are no railroads or large factories in the whole country, that the children like to visit these waterfalls and listen to the water as it plunges downwards over the cliffs. Then they return to the quiet farmhouses to play with their lambs and dogs, and to dream of the children of other lands far away where life is so different.
In the Homes
The fathers of the little Icelanders support their families by fishing, by raising cattle and sheep, and by hunting the birds that make their homes on the island during the summer.
Few trees grow in that cold land, so the homes are generally built of turf and lava, neatly painted red and thatched with sod. Small gardens are planted as soon as the long winter is over, and there the boys help in planting cabbages and lettuce, radishes and parsley, flax and turnips. A few potatoes are sometimes raised, too, but only those vegetables that will grow fast ripen in that cold northern land. Short, thick grass grows near the little homes, which are usually built in the valleys protected from the cold winds by the hills around them. There the men tend their flocks of sheep and herds of cattle which graze on the grass in summer and in winter eat the hay which their masters have gathered for them.
The children of Iceland are rather small, but they are quite strong for their size. They have yellow hair and blue eyes and are brought up to be gentle and polite. On week-days they go to school where they are taught very carefully, and on Sundays they go to church with their fathers and mothers, where they sing hymns very slowly and listen to long sermons by their good pastor. Sometimes the church is too far away to walk the whole distance. Then the whole family ride on ponies to the place of worship, and often, if they have come a very long ways, they are treated to cake and coffee at the minister’s house before they start out again for home.
The people are obliged to dress very warmly, and so the women of each household are busy, early and late, carding and spinning the wool from the sheep and weaving it into soft, thick garments for their families.
In every home you will be sure to find the women’s fingers moving busily at their work, while the loom and spinning-wheel seems to be constantly in motion.
Almost every home contains many children, who eat fish and drink milk day after day, with little change of food throughout the year. Only the richer families can have bread, for the flour out of which it is made, as well as the coffee and chocolate which even the poorest people manage to buy, must come in ships from Europe. Every one, however, can have cakes made of a kind of moss, or lichen, which grows on the island. Some of it is sent to other countries to use in medicine, and is known as Iceland moss. The children are often sent to gather it for their mothers, who dry it and grind it to powder and then make it into cakes which are boiled and then eaten with milk.
In the summer time the boys and girls hunt for birds’ eggs of which they are very fond, and sometimes their fathers kill a sheep or cow, which furnishes fresh meat for several days.
The children love their dogs which are often very pretty and are petted a good deal. They help their masters care for the sheep and are very faithful. Sometimes the cows wander a long ways in search of grass, but with the approach of night they come home to be milked and cared for. The ewes are milked, too, and their young masters and mistresses have no idea how strange this must seem to many travelers. Even the little children learn to ride the stout, patient ponies, and if they have an errand to do for their parents they seldom think of walking, but on to the ponies’ backs they spring, and away they go across the snowfields and over the roads till they reach the place for which they are bound.
The little girls are taught to knit and spin and do fine needle work. They help make the clothes for the family, which are of the same fashion, year after year. The mother always wears a black cloth dress with white under waist showing in front, a snowy apron, and on her head is sure to be a black cap with long tassel and a silver ornament. If it is very cold she winds a shawl around her head. Her daughters dress much as she does, except that they wear no caps till they are thirteen or fourteen years old.
The boys help in the work of the farm and go hunting and fishing with their fathers. Herds of reindeer wander over the island and their flesh makes a pleasant change in the daily fare, while the skins furnish thick, warm coats for the Icelanders. There are also foxes, but they and the reindeer are almost the only wild creatures, with the exception of the birds, found in the whole country.
There are many kinds of birds, – gulls, ptarmigans, swans, and wild geese, all come to the island to lay their eggs and raise their young, but the most precious of all are the eider-ducks whose bodies are covered with soft thick down. The mother eider-duck lines her nest with this down which she plucks out from her own breast, thus making a soft and comfortable home for the baby birds. After they are hatched the hunters go about from nest to nest, collecting the down which is taken home and spread out in the sun to dry. Then it is tied up in bags and sold in the town. Some of it is sent away to other countries and made into the eider-down quilts which are sold for a large price.
During the summer every village along the coast is full of busy people. The men and boys sail or row out to the places were cod and halibut are plentiful, and there they fish from morning till night, when they bring home the “catch” which they give into the care of their wives and daughters. At these times the women wear long waterproof aprons and thick woolen gloves. They, too, are busy all day long cleaning and splitting the fish at large tanks near the water’s edge, then salting and drying them for their own use during the coming year, or to be packed and sent to Reikjavik from which they are shipped to other countries. The fish, together with butter and ponies, are the principal things sent out from Iceland, and the ships that come to receive them bring the sugar, coffee and chocolate, the dishes and tools necessary to the simple housekeeping of the Icelanders.
The Cave of Surtur
There are many caves in Iceland, some of which are used by the farmers for storing their hay and housing their cattle. The most wonderful of them all is the large cave of Surtur, whose floor is carpeted with snow and ice.
The visitor enters a long hall and the dim light of his torch makes him think at first that he is looking at rows of statues. But they are pillars of ice and snow which reach up from the floor and have taken upon themselves many queer forms. Farther on in the hall bars of ice form a large screen before the eyes of the traveler. On every side new wonders meet his eyes as he goes farther and farther underground till at last he longs for the daylight and turns back, glad indeed when he has reached the mouth of the cave once more.
Many people who have visited Iceland say that the grandest sights in the whole world are to be seen in that island. The hills of lava with the ice-fields stretching between them, the geysers bursting forth out of the ground with a sound of thunder, the lofty volcanoes that look like sleeping giants of snow and ice, the great caves whose stalactites are coated with ice, all these things and many more make Iceland a land of wonder to those who visit that lonely island.