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Archives of Aboriginal Knowledge
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In 1846, several gentlemen of literary, social, or political eminence, united with the writer of the present work, in a memorial to Congress on the subject of the Indian Tribes; their history, condition, and destiny, and the “imperfect and fragmentary” state of our information respecting them.1
On the 4th of March, 1847, Congress responded to this appeal in behalf of the Race, by directing the Secretary of War (who, at this period, had the jurisdiction of Indian Affairs)2 to collect and digest such statistics, and other information, as were necessary to a full historical understanding of the subject. The Author was honored with a commission to execute this trust, and directed to report the result of his investigations through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He immediately transferred his residence from New York, to Washington; in order to avail himself of the necessary facilities and sanctions of the office, in the prosecution of the inquiry.
The First Part of the investigations made in pursuance of this appointment, is now submitted. In carrying out the object, while presenting the existing state of the various tribes, it has been sought to group them, by the tie of languages, into generic families, or stocks ; and, so far as practicable, to restore those ethnological links in the chain of their history which denote resemblance, and ancient affinities. To do this, not only the principles of the languages are required, but the Indian antiquities and traditions, their physical traits, and the mental type and psychological peculiarities of the Race; which become so many points of comparison, and helps to investigation.
The peculiarly intimate relations the author has held to them (having married a highly educated lady, whose grandfather was a distinguished aboriginal chief- regnant, or king,) has had the effect of breaking down towards himself, individually, the eternal distrust and suspicion of the Indian mind, and to open the most secret arcana of his hopes and fears, as imposed by his religious dogmas, and as revealed by the deeply-hidden causes of his extraordinary acts and wonderful character.
To illustrate the work, the pictorial art is, it is conceived, appropriately appealed to; and it is made one of the points relied on to give its pages subsidiary interest and value. This department of American art is placed in charge of Captain S. Eastman, U. S. A. a graduate of West Point Military Academy, and a former Assistant-Professor of Drawing in that Institution; a man, indeed, who has served these twenty years, in peace and war, on the American frontiers, always carrying with him his easel and brushes, to while away leisure moments in camp; and who now returns from the West with his portfolio filled with views of American scenery, and objects of Indian life and art, delineated on the spot, or drawn from specimens.
In the consideration of the policy to be adopted with respect to the wild prairie and transmontane tribes, who rove over immense tracts with no sense of dependence or responsibility but that which they daily acknowledge to the bow and arrow, the gun and club, in the use of which they have acquired great dexterity and new power by the introduction of the horse; we commend to notice the remarks of Mr. Wyeth, formerly of Oregon, on the best mode to be adopted respecting the shifting and feeble tribes of those latitudes. The faithless and robber-like character of the prairie hordes east of the mountains, is graphically depicted by Mr. Burnet, in his memoir on the Comanche, and by Mr. Fitzpatrick, respecting the Arapaho and other predatory tribes on the higher Arkansas and Nebraska. Although this character is inapplicable to the more easterly tribes, many of whom are advanced in arts and knowledge, it is yet important to keep it in view in adjusting our policy respecting those remote and lawless tribes.
The experience of two hundred years, with the entire race, demonstrates the delusion of a prosperous Indian nationality, as based on any other system but that of agriculture and the arts. And, it is believed, the sooner the several tribes cease to regard themselves politically as containing the elements of a foreign population, the sooner will the best hopes of their permanent prosperity and civilization be realized. Meantime, while they preserve a pseudo-nationality, it may be affirmed as one of the clearest deductions of statistical and practical investigations into the operation of our laws, and the general principles of population, that nothing beyond the interest of the funds due to the tribes, for lands purchased from them, should continue to be paid as annuities, while policy requires, that the principal should be devoted, with their consent, wholly to purposes of civil polity, education, and the arts.
With all their defects of character, the Indian tribes are entitled to the peculiar notice of a people who have succeeded to the occupancy of territories, which once belonged to them. They constitute a branch of the human race whose history is lost in the early and wild mutations of men. We perceive in them many noble and disinterested traits. The simplicity of their eloquence has challenged admiration. Higher principles of devotion to what they believe to be cardinal virtues no people ever evinced. Faith has furnished the Christian martyr with motives to sustain him at the stake: but the North American Indian has endured the keenest torments of fire without the consolations of the Gospel. Civilized nations are cheered on their way to face the cannon s mouth by inspiring music; but the warrior of the forest requires no roll of the drum to animate his steps.
Mistaken in his belief in a system of gods of the elements misconceiving the whole plan of industrial prosperity and happiness wrong in his conceptions of the social duties of life, and doubly wrong in his notions of death and eternity, he yet approves himself to the best sensibilities of the human heart, by the strong exhibition of those ties which bind a father to his children, and link whole forest communities in the indissoluble bonds of brotherhood. He lingers with affection, but with helpless ignorance, around the dying couch of his relatives; and his long memory of the dead ceases but with life itself. No costly tomb or cenotaph marks his place of burial; but he visits that spot with the silent majesty of grief. God has planted in his heart affections and feelings, which only require to be molded, and directed to noble aims. That impress seals him as a brother, erring, indeed, and benighted in his ways, but still a brother.
To reclaim such a race to the paths of virtue and truth; to enlighten the mind which has been so long in darkness; and to give it new and solid foundations for its hopes, is a duty alike of high civilization and warm benevolence.
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