- Historic Sites
The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey
He was the first Englishman to give a detailed description of the North American wilderness. Was it a pack of lies?
April/May 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 3
To have walked so far so fast the three travelers would have required continuing help from the Indians. Visitors from outside the natural order, with white skins, they probably would have received it. They would have been fed, led from tribe to tribe over the trails that doubtless threaded the country, been perhaps at times even borne on litters, certainly conveyed over bodies of water. Says the Relation : “… they passed ouer many great Rivers … in Canoes or Boates: some foure, some five, some eight, some tenne miles ouer: whereof one was so large, that they could scarse crosse the same in foure and twentie houres.” Those would have been the great estuaries and bays, the last perhaps the Chesapeake. “After long trauaile,” the Relation goes on, they “came to the head of a riuer called Garinda, which is 60 Leagues West from Cape Britton: where they understood by the people of that Countrey of ye arrival of a Christian. Whereupon they made their repaire to the Sea side, and there found a French Capta ine named Monsieur Champaigne, who tooke them into his Shippe and brought them unto Newhauen, & from thence they were transported into England, Anno Dom. 1569.”
So, what do the experts make of Ingram’s observations?
Dr. Sturtevant says: “There is nothing [in the transcript] that can be taken as definite indications that [Ingram] was familiar with the Indians between Pânuco and Cape Breton. There are a few elements that do make sense for these Indians: painted or colored garments, wearfing] feathers on [the] head, … olive or tawny skin color, body painting, heads partly shaved, skin shields, short broad bows, bone arrowheads, round houses, drills for making fire (badly described), good fishing, maize ears, … drums. But these features also occur elsewhere and could easily be invented. … The account also includes, of course, a great many elements that are known to be impossible for these Indians: wear[ing] rubies, silver or crystal palanquin, gold and silver bracelets and leg bands, gold-plate ‘curets/ gourd penis sheaths, kine, Guinea hens (or any domesticated birds), horsetail (there were no horses), iron heads on darts, silver arrowheads, iron swords, iron knives, silver and crystal pillars, sizes of towns, silver vessels, turf as fuel, much iron. … There are hints here of experience in the West Indies or the shores of the Caribbean …: gourd penis sheaths (known to have occurred on the Caribbean shore of South America), hammocks (only hinted at), emphasis on uses of palms, poisoned arrows, plantains, ‘cassua’ (i.e., cassava, manioc …), horses and kine and goats and sheep (by this time common in the West Indies), cannibals. …”
Dr. Sturtevant also remarked that “None of the place names nor the few words given … are readily recognizable.” I must say I was rather struck by Ingram’s statement that in “the language of some of the Countreis” Caricona meant a king, Carraccona a lord, and Fona bread (he cited them in succession) when I read in Carl Ortwin Sauer’s Sixteenth Century North America that Jacques Cartier in 1535 found that the “Lord of Canada” at Quebec was called “Donnacona” and bread “carraconny.” However, Dr. Sturtevant dismissed the similarity of these words as meaningless coincidence despite their juxtaposition by Ingram. And there could be no doubt of his warrant in attributing Ingram’s impressions pretty broadly to fancy and a tropical American experience. ”… it is the one (maybe the only) virtue of the adventure that it demonstrates that it was possible under aboriginal conditions,” he said, “to pass quickly across numerous tribal territories in eastern North America.”
The botanists Richard H. Eyde and Robert W. Read also noted the predominantly tropical character of the vegetation Ingram described, insofar as it was recognizable at all. A palm with remarkable properties sounded, they thought, like Leopoldinia of South America. Ingram’s statement that “In the South partes of these countreys they go all naked, sauing that the Noble mens priuaties are couered with the necke of a goorde and the womens priuaties with the hayre or leafe of the palme tree” prompted Dr. Eyde to send me an article on penis gourds by Charles B. Heiser, Jr., of the University of Indiana in which it was stated that they were used only in New Guinea, two parts of Africa, and Venezuela.
Putting aside the elephants and red sheep, Michael A. Bogan, a mammalogist, said: “Most of the animals mentioned [by Ingram] would have been encountered by a voyager to [eastern North America] in 1568. … Black bears were probably common, grizzlies less so, and wolves, foxes, deer, hares and conies (= cottontail rabbits?) or their hides were probably common as well. But horses, cattle, sheep and goats … were probably found only in the areas of Spanish settlement. … The only deer in the area … is the white-tailed deer, the young of which is spotted. What Ingram meant by ‘red, white, and speckled deer’ is speculative. [Ingram could however, have said ‘red and white, and speckled.’] The ‘wild cattle’ may refer to elk, which occurred in northeastern North America. …”