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North American Indians
The North American Indians, in symmetry of form, seemed perfect men and women; all were straight and erect; the men, of a proud, independent and manly bearing, with sinewy form that denoted great strength, agility and fleetness; with dark complexion, resolute, yet quiet in expression, except when agitated by emotion; frank in demeanor, and always courteous, never meeting you without a grave but polite and cheerful salutation; and whose confidence was not a sudden spark that shone for a moment then went out, but endured through life unless betrayed, then was never more regained, nor was their hatred impulsive but fixed in their judgment and their thoughts rather than in their passing feelings. And what is said of the characteristics of the men, as men, so it may be said equally of the women, as women. Their traditions, which form the connecting link between truth and romance, throw but a glimmering light, as before stated, upon the unwritten history of their past, which has so long been forgotten, as well as upon their ancient habits and customs, of which there can be no reliable information, therefore all must be left to conjecture. But I came in possession of many traditions seemingly to founded more in truth than in fiction, as I oft sat among the Choctaws and Chickasaws in youth and early manhood and listened with romantic emotions to the narrations of the aged, whose plurality of years had consigned them to the retired list of warriors, as unable longer to endure the hardships and dangers that begirt the warpath and the chase, and thus acquired much concerning their past history, not to be found in books, of which I will more fully speak in their proper place.
But alas, that the writings of so many of their White historians (so-called) seemingly through ignorance or prejudice, or both, should contain more fiction than truth, and diffuse more error than true information concerning this peculiar and so poorly comprehended race of people; hence it may be truly affirmed that there is no race of people that now exists upon the earth, or has ever existed, of whom so much has been said and written, yet of whom the world has been taught less true knowledge and correct information than of the North American Indians. But it should not be, perhaps, a matter of very great surprise that the majority of the writers of the present day, especially the sensational newspaper correspondents, as many of their predecessors of years ago, should give prejudiced accounts of this people; since it is plainly manifest, when taken into just consideration, that they are utterly ignorant of the subject offered for their contemplation, yet fail to see their incapacity, since the ingredients are pure and have given abundant and unmistakable proof of their many valuable qualities; therefore, as a natural result, are lost to the blind observers whose compositions, regarding the unfortunate Indians, are made up of equal parts (well mixed) of self-conceit, ignorance, duplicity and falsehood ; which, in their very nature, so utterly disqualify them of judging beyond the surface of anything except self; but seem extravagantly delighted when they have struck a new vein of precious metal in the mine of falsehood against the unoffending Indians, and foolishly imagine it has stamped them with a wisdom higher than man s, though difficulties arise in the minds of a majority from a failure to so comprehend it. Still it is diverting to see them strut about after a safe delivery, as if they were at the head of a new dispensation and waiting for unknown converts to kneel and pay homage to their imagined greatness.
It is a universally admitted that the color of the Indians is peculiar to themselves, and though some affirm that they have discovered indications of a Tartar origin in their cheek bones, others assert that their eyes do not justify the affirmation. Their manner of life may have exerted”, perhaps, some influence in regard to color, but it would be a difficult matter to satisfactorily explain how it could have produced the great difference that is so plainly manifest in that of the eyes. Still it is affirmed that “their imagery both poetry and oratory, is Oriental, though suffering by the limited extend of their practical knowledge.” Their metaphors were drawn from nature, the seasons, the clouds, the storms, the mountains, birds and beast, and the vegetables world. Yet in this, they only did what all other races of the human family have done, whose bounds to fancy were governed by experience. They also clothed their ideas in. Oriental dress. They expressed a phrase in a word, and qualified the signification of a whole sentence by a syllable; and also conveyed different significations by the simplest inflections of the voice. Some philologists affirm that among all the North American Indians who once inhabited this continent, there are, properly speaking, but two or three languages,” and the difficulty which different tribes experience in understanding each other, is attributed to the corruptions in dialects. This may seem more plausible from the following incident. Shortly after the Choctaws were removed from their ancient domains east of the Mississippi River to their present places of abode, a small tribe of strange Indians was discovered occupying a portion of their western territory, now the Chickasaw Nation. A party of Choctaws, under the command of Peter P. Pitchlynn, was sent out to ascertain who they were. When the delegation arrived at one of the villages of the unknown tribe, they were totally unable to communicate with them only through the sign language, so well understood by all the Indians, and them alone. However, it was soon observed that the villagers, in conversation with each other, used a few words that were decidedly of Choctaw origin, and now and then one or more purely Choctaw words. This but in creased the interest of the now deeply interested delegates. Upon further investigation by means of the sign language, It was ascertained that the name of the little tribe of strangers was Baluhchi, a pure Choctaw word, signifying hickory bark (formerly used by the Choctaws in making ropes and whips when peeled from the hickory bush in the spring). It was also learned that they originally came from a country, to their pleasant place of abode, that lay beyond the “Big Waters,” and this was all that could be learned concerning them. Being anxious to ascertain something more definite, the delegates, upon further inquiry, learned that there lived in another village a few miles distant, an aged man who was formerly their chief but owing to his advanced age he no longer acted in that capacity, but was regarded by the tribe as their national Seer or Prophet. To him the delegation immediately went, and found to their agreeable surprise that the venerable old patriarch, for such he truly was, could speak the Choctaw language fluently. He corroborated the statement of the villagers in regard to the migration, and also claimed that he and his tribe were Choctaws. When asked, How long since he left his people east of the “Big Waters,” he replied: “Long ago, when a little boy,” and further stated that he was the only survivor of the little company that had wandered away years ago from the parent stock. But to fully test the matter, he was questioned as to the name of the Choctaw Iksas (Clans) and their ruling chiefs at the time of his boyhood and the departure of the company to he far west. He readily gave the name of several clans and their then ruling chiefs, together with the names of the clan (Baluhchi) to which his parents belonged; also many memorable incidents connected with the Choctaws in his boyhood together with the general features and outlines of their territory. All of which was known to be true. The test was satisfactory. The delegates returned; made their re port, and the Choctaw Nation at once received its long wandering prodigals into its paternal embrace, and without hesitation took them into full fellowship as children of one and the same family. About fifty families of this once lost clan, numbering- about two hundred souls still survive, with a few of whom I am personally acquainted. The little band, I was informed, still adhere to the ancient customs of their Clan with that tenacity peculiar to the North American Indians alone, but have returned to the use of the Choctaw language proper.
Here then, in this little band of strayed Choctaws, who had wandered from the parent stock scarcely a century before, is found a case in which their language had become so blended or mixed with that of the languages of other adjoining tribes, and thereby so corrupted and changed as not to be understood by their own people from whom they had wandered but a generation or two before. The ancient Baluhchi Clan of Choctaws was first made known to the whites by La Salle, who visited them on his voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River in 1682, and to which I will again refer.
Fenimore Cooper, in reference to the sign language of the North American Indians, says, he was present at an interview between two chiefs of the western plains, and when an interpreter was present who spoke both languages of the two different tribes to which the two chiefs respectively belonged. The two warrior chiefs appeared to be on the most friendly terms, and apparently conversed much together; yet, according to the affirmation of the interpreter, each was absolutely ignorant of what the other said .in his native tongue. Their tribes were hostile to each other, but these two chiefs had accidentally been brought together by the influence of the Government; and it is worthy of remark that a common policy influenced them both to adopt the same subject. They mutually exhorted each other to befriend the one the other in the event that the chance of war should throw either of them in the hands of his enemies.
But whatever may be the truth as respects the root and the genius of the Indian tongue, it is quite evident they are now so remote in their words as to possess most of the disadvantages of strange languages; hence, much of the embarrassment that has arisen in learning their history, and most of the uncertainty which exists in their traditions.
The North American Indians conform to rule as rigidly as any nation of people that ever existed. They regulated their whole conduct in conformity to some general maxims implanted in their minds in their youthful days. The moral laws by which they were governed were few, tis true. But they conformed to all of them most rigidly; while our moral laws are many by which we assume to be governed, yet we frequently violate them with little compunction of conscience when conflicting with our real or imaginary interests. We accuse the Indians of stoicism and habitual taciturnity, with out studying their characteristics; but if we had only informed ourselves, we would have learned that they are more firmly linked to us by mutual sympathies and affections than we have ever even imagined. But why do the Indians appear taciturn and unsocial to us? Because we have, from first to last, manifested toward them an unconcealed coldness, indifference, distrustfulness bordering largely on contempt; and never with that confidence, frankness and sincerity which are so indispensable to genuine love and true friendship. Let a little group of Indians be at a railroad station on the arrival of a passenger train. See the rush to the platform and the circle formed around them; hear the remarks of attempted wit made about them and the laugh of ridicule, as they stare at them as if they were a group of wild beasts, yet assuming they to be a people remarkable for their strict adherence to the rules and regulations of politeness! What feelings must pervade the Indians breasts but emotions of manifold pity and mingled contempt for such an ill-mannered set, who profess so much yet display so little of common sense! Who, with any degree of justice, can blame the Indians for manifesting their wisdom and good sense by keeping themselves aloof from the company of the self-conceited and scornful, whose moral worth and highest attainments begin and end seemingly with the monkey and, as a natural consequence, can exhibit no other disposition when in the presence of one or more Indians than that of gratifying an ignorant curiosity in beholding the so-called “red devils, red skin, Indian bucks,” appellations having their origin in the depraved hearts of as corrupt and reckless specimens of humanity as ever cursed a land or county, and are a foul blot upon the fair face of nature, and the language of whose hearts is “justice, truth, honor, mercy, humanity depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” Thus, in all our intercourse with this unfortunate race of people, we have exhibited, in the majority of instances, every disposition toward them that was calculated to drive them far from even the sight of us, and to stamp indelibly upon their hearts the belief that our only desire is, and ever has been, to dispossess them of their hereditary possessions; and in which they are wholly confirmed by reading our publications in which we portray them as “red devils, red skins, blood-thirsty savages, Indian bucks,” thus seemingly to attempt to justify ourselves, by our calumniating epithets, in our cruelties and outrages upon them without any respect to their claims upon truth, justice, mercy and humanity whatever ; and also, that they have no rights when conflicting 1 with ours, but must succumb any where and everywhere to the nod of our interest be it at their sacrifice what it may ; therefore we continue, as we have done for centuries past, to execute our verdict pronounced against them from the beginning: “It is easier and less expensive to exterminate the Indians, than to obey the mandates of the Son of God in attempting to Christianize them.” Said an old chief: “We’ve been driven back until we can retreat no farther; our tomahawks have none to wield them; our bows have none to shoot them; our council fires are nearly burned out ; soon the white man will cease to oppress and persecute us, for we will have perished and gone from the earth.” Thus have their expectations darkened into anxiety, their anxiety into dread, their dread into despair and their despair into death.
Never in the history of man has the extermination of a people been more complete than that of the North American Indians within the last two and a half centuries. To the query, “Where are they”? Echo but responds, “Where”? Alas! all have disappeared from their ancient abodes, and hundreds .of tribes have long since ceased to exist as nations, the majority not even leaving a name behind them; and even the former homes of the hapless remaining few refuse to acknowledge the feeble exiles but as vile intruders, while the names of mountains, hills and streams are all that remain as testimonials of their former occupancy, even as solitary heaps of drift-wood left far from the channel of the river bear testimony to the extent of its inundation. And to the query? Where are they? The best reply may be found in a book bearing the title “Shanks Report On Indian Frauds,” made March 3d, 1873, to the 420 Congress, 3d, Session, in the management of Indian Affairs. It is as follows: “In 250 years we have wasted their numbers from 2,500,000″ (nearer the truth would be, 20,500,000) “down to 250,000 or a waste of a number equals to all their children born to them in the last 250 years, and 2, 250,000, or 9-10 of their original number, residing in the limits of our Government, and have taken absolute ownership of 3,232,936,351 acres of their lands, prairies, forests, game and homes, leaving, to all their tribes collectively, only 97,745,000 acres of ground, generally not the best, and even that is sought after with a greed that is not worthy a Christian people.” Nevertheless we boast of ourselves being a true. Christian nation of the “Anglo Saxon” blood. Who can but pity the unfortunate Cubans and the Filipinos! With what emotions of horror must they shrink from their prospective future, when contemplating the extermination of the North American Indians?
Even at an early day the Indians themselves, believed, felt and acknowledged it. In 1611, all the Indians, then known to the whites, complained, according to the statements of the early writers, that from the time the French came to trade with them they began to decline and die off more rapidly than ever before. It is stated by the early explorers, that they would often fumigate their heads to avoid infection from the magic charms they believed the French carried about their persons, secret poison, harmless to themselves, but fatal to all Indians; at other times they would accuse the whites of selling them poisonous provisions. “In 1634,” writes the French journalist, “the orphans were sadly numerous, for after the Indians began to use whiskey they died in great numbers.” “Not so,” said a chief in 1636, “It is not your drink which kills us, but your writings; for since you have described our country, our rivers, land and forests, we are all dying. This was not so before your coming.” Unhappy chief! Thou were honest in thy convictions, but erring; in your judgment. Whiskey was the secret power employed by the pale-face to silently but effectually destroy thy race, as it has been from that day to this; and, as auxiliaries to that terrible destructive, the introduction of small-pox, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, whooping-cough, unknown before to the Indians, did their fatal work, and hurried millions of that unfortunate people to premature graves, often depopulating entire towns and villages, and even tribes. These new and unaccountable diseases appearing among them with the coming of the whites, baffling” their utmost powers in the healing art, and which it appeared no skill could obviate, nor remedy dispel the fearful infection, they very naturally attributed the cause of them to the writings of the Pale-face, so mysterious and incomprehensible to them. While some tribes attributed their mysterious dying to the anger of the Great Spirit, who thus punished them for permitting the Pale-faces to “describe their country, lands, rivers and forests.”
A Huron convert told the Jesuit priests in 1639, that it was almost the universal opinion of his nation, that all the professed friendship of the whites for the Indians was but a blind to conceal their deep hidden hypocrisy and treachery; and that they were really aiming to the total destruction of the Indians, in order to secure their country for themselves. How truly prophetic, and how much more of truth than fiction were their rational conclusions, and was there not manifested also, in their just reasoning, in regard to the secret designs of the whites, as far-sighted statesmanship as was ever exhibited by any nation of people that ever existed, ancient or modern? Were the philippics hurled against the ambitious Macedonian king and conqueror by the world wide renowned statesman and orator of ancient Athens more prophetic than were the predictions of those ancient Herons of North America? “You will see,” said a relative of the above mentioned Huron convert, to whom he spoke of the kind words and friendly actions of the Jesuit priests towards the Indians, your children die before your eyes; you your self will soon follow, and if we listen to them, we all will go the same way.” “Whether it is the work of the devil or the providence of God,” adds the annalist, “we dare not say, but of five children in the family, but one remains. Soon after that speech, one was carried off by fever; another has been ill for months and cannot live; the oldest, who was one of our pupils, a lad of fourteen, died very suddenly; an adopted daughter has a dangerous cough; the youngest boy is dying too, while the Lord has seen fit to afflict the wife also, who, after losing four children, herself died of small-pox. Truly the poor Indian may say Probasti me et cognovisti me.” In 1657, Father Menard himself, while laboring among the Iroquois, wrote as follows: “The hostility to our faith and to our persons which the Hurons had transmitted to those aborigines, persuading them that we carried with us disease and misfortune to every country we approached, caused our reception to be cool and the presents to be spurned which we offered as a help to the introduction of our religion.”
Could the Indians be justly censured, with such potent convictions resting upon their minds, that many, in wild despair and in blind revenge, if, peradventure, they might be able to turn back the fearful and destructive tide of; disease and death that was so effectually and rapidly destroying them, by driving from their territories the pale-faces seemingly the author of all their misfortunes and woes and did not their hopes of success, their devotion to and love of country, and their irresistible idealism which stimulates the mighty effort, constitute the essence of true patriotism? But alas, our prejudice denies it to them. Wherefore? Because we, as a people, were blinded by our imagined superiority over them, and preconceived determination to convert their country to our own use every foot of it as is so manifest today; therefore refused to become properly acquainted with them lest we might see and learn of their many characteristic virtues. Their country was the philosopher’s stone to us the true secret that influenced our actions toward, and all our dealings with them, both of a peaceful and host nature. It was the scepter that was to give us dominion over them, to their destruction, but our aggrandizement; the key that would un lock to us a storehouse of national power and personal emolument, opening unto us the untold treasures of the western continent. Therefore, whatever in them appeared strange and forbidding to our disordered imagination; what ever did not agree in every punctilio to our self-conceited, “high-born,” civilized customs, we at once misjudged and underrated, haughtily condemned and pushed aside as unworthy our refined attention. Hence it is a lamentable truth, that all the impressions ever made by the whites upon the Indians, with few exceptions, from their earliest associations to the present day, have been contrary to every thing that had a tendency to secure their confidence, maintain their friend ship, and induce them to forsake their primitive customs and adopt those of ours; and we have today the evidence on every side that the evil influences placed before the Indians, and the baneful impressions made upon their minds by unprincipled and lawless white men, who have always in their country, from the beginning, have been deeply and lastingly made, and have long ago assumed the form of a justly bitter but silent hatred enduring as time, and, it is to be feared, forever to rankle in their breasts. This prejudice against and hatred of all that appertains to the white race has been widening and deepening from their first acquaintance with the whites, from whom they have received nothing but sneers, cuffs and kicks from the alpha to the omega, and now stands a yawning gulf between the confidence and friendship of the red man and the white, so broad and deep that all hope of its being bridged seems nearly if not entirely at an end. As the great and good Washington exclaimed when informed of the treason of Benedict Arnold, “Whom can we trust?” so the Indians, long ago, have been entirely justifiable to exclaim of the white race “Whom can we trust?” Memory is, and always has been, the Indian’s only record book, their history of past events; and upon its pages, handed down through ages from generation to generation, are truthfully, faithfully and lastingly recorded in the archives of their respective nations, and the vicissitudes of their individual lives. Its instructions they never forget, be they of joy or sorrow, hope or fear, rights or wrongs, benefits or injuries; and. today, could the heart of every Indian, whose blood is not contaminated with that of the white, male or female, old or young, now living within the jurisdiction of these United States as their miserable and down trodden wards, be read as an open scroll, I venture the assertion as being within the line of truth, though broad and inconsistent as it may seem, there would be found written, and with just cause approved and sustained by truth, against the white race, with pen dipped in the stream of as bitter hatred as ever flowed through the human soul, “Tekel.” They would be superhuman if otherwise. But upon whom justly rests the cause of all this? At whose door lies the fearful wrong? Who has been the first and last cause? The voice of truth, as potent as that which fell upon the ears of Israel s guilty king, sustained CLOW as then by the God of justice and truth, comes also to the white man, and declares in thunder tones, “Thou art the man.”
The era (1492) in which Columbus discovered the western continent was unprecedented in the history of the world, awakening the long slumbering ambition of man-kind to an energy unknown before, and giving origin to number less speculative enterprises, which resulted in a fierce struggle among the different nations of the Old World to secure a permanent foot-hold in the New, which offered such bright prospects for national power and glory and individual wealth, and soon the representatives of the different maritime powers were seen upon the wide and seemingly illimitable field disputing, quarreling and fighting for supremacy upon the soil of the Native American, and adopting every art and device that ingenuity could suggest, right or wrong, so it did prove but successful in preventing the opposite from attaining its desired end, or displacing the fortunate one who had secured a coveted prize. Among the most conspicuous contestants were the representatives of Spain, France, England and Holland; who sent out corporations for colonizing purposes, establishing them at different points according to the inclinations of each, extending from the Great Lakes of the North to the Gulf in the South; each assuming the right based upon that of discovery and occupancy to possess, hold, occupy and retain any territory desired; but in reality, more by virtue of professed intellectual superiority over the Native Americans and the actual advantages in the munitions of war, than that of .any right accrued by virtue of discovery; influencing the inexperienced and unlettered natives by cajolery and deception, and oft by compulsion, to dispose of their lands to them at nominal prices, a mere pittance under the name of purchase,” without any regard whatever to the claims of truth, justice and honor, or to the validity of the Indians title by previous occupancy for ages unknown. But after many years of disputation, wrangling and fighting, the greatest arena of contending disputants was cleared of all but two, the French and English, to whom was left the task of closing the bloody drama; but into which the two hostile and contending rivals continued to involve (as had been done from the beginning of their feuds) the bewildered Indians in their battles with each other, and also arraying them in deadly strife and prolonged war-fare among themselves, tribe against tribe, that they might thus weaken their numerical strength, and thus the quicker and the more easily drive them from their ancient possessions; a scheme artfully adopted by us, after the dispossession of the English, in turn, in 1776 and the handing over of the Indians to us, to complete the destruction of that unfortunate race.
But truly has it been said, “The Father of Waters” has two epochs, and each with a romance, the one as different from the other as day and night. The first belongs to the northern Mississippi, and the second to the southern; the former has its pastor, Father Marquette; the latter its novelty, Hernahdo De Soto. France and England, long the ambitious rivals and zealous competitors for territorial acquisitions throughout the inhabited globe, were the first and only nations that disputed and contended for the entire possession of the North American continent at that early day; regarding which it has also been said that religious enthusiasm planted the Puritan colony on Plymouth Rock; religious enthusiasm planted the Cross on the shores of the St. Lawrence, among the Indians around Lake Superior, thence to the Great Valley of the Mississippi. Thus France and her Christianity stood in Canada and the Mississippi valley; England and her Christianity stood on the hills of the Hudson and in the Susquehanna valley, and invited the Indians each to their respective civilization and Christianity, while bloody conflicts and cruel scenes marked the footsteps of the introduction of the new order of things among the confused Indians.