Ethnological Suggestions

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Where we have nothing else to rely upon, we may receive the rudest traditions of an Indian nation, although they be regarded as mere historical phenomena, or materials to be considered. Whether such materials are to be credited or disbelieved wholly, or in part, is quite another thing. Our Indians, like some of the ancient nations of Asia, whom they resemble in many points of character, were prone to refer their origin to myths and legends, under which they doubt less, sometimes meant to represent truths, or at least, to express opinions. The Indian tribes, very much like their ancient prototypes of the old world, seemed to have felt a necessity for inventing some story of their origin, where it is sometimes probable there was little or nothing of actual tradition to build it upon. They were manifestly under a kind of self-reproach, to reflect that they had indeed no history; nothing to connect their descent from prior races; and if they have not proved themselves men of much judgment in their attempts to supply the deficiency in their fabrications and allegories, they must often come in, it must be confessed, for no little share of imagination.

There appears, throughout the whole race, to be the vestiges of a tradition of the creation and the deluge, two great and striking points in the history of man, which, however he wandered, he would be most likely to remember. They uniformly attribute their origin to a superior and divine power. They do not suppose that they came into existence without the act of this preexisting almighty power, who is called NEO, or OWANEO. This is the third great and leading point in their traditions. And these three primary vestiges of the original history of the race are to be found among the rudest tribes, between the straits of Terra del Fuego and the Arctic Ocean, not withstanding the amount of grotesque and puerile matter which serves as the vehicle of the traditions.

Between the creation and the deluge and the present era of the world, there is nearly an entire blank. Ages have dropped out of their memory, with all their stirring incidents of wars and migrations, and the first reliable truth we hear is, that at such a time they lived on the banks of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Lakes, or the St. Lawrence, &c. Nothing but this kind of proximate origin could indeed be expected to be retained They acknowledge relationship to na prior race of man. We see that they are sui generis with, and much resemble some of the eastern nations in color and features. Physiologists have never been able to detect a bone or muscle, more or less, than the Caucassian race possess. Philologists listen to their speech and admit that in one tribe or another they possess all the powers of articulate utterance known to that race. We know by this kind of evidence, physical and moral, that they are a branch of the original Adamic stock, without reference to the pages of revelation, where we learn the same truth, and are told in so many words, that ” God out of one flesh, formed all men/ And we must perforce infer, that the Indian race is of foreign origin, and must have crossed an ocean to reach the continent.

Ask not the red sage to tell you how? or when? or where? He knows it not, and if he should pretend to the knowledge, it would be the surest possible evidence, philosophically considered,, that his responses were fabulous. Three hundred and fifty-three years only has America been known to Europe, and yet should we strike our history out of existence, what should we know of the leading facts of the discovery and the discoverer from Indian tradition? Still the inquisitive spirit of research leads us to ask, where were this race eighteen hundred and forty-five years ago? or at the invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar? or at the outpouring of the Gothic hordes under Alaric or Brennus? Scandinavian research tells us they were here in the 10th century. The Mexican picture writings inform us that some of them reached the valley of Mexico in the 11th century. Welsh history claims to have sent one of her princes among them in the 12th century. The mounds of the Mississippi valley do not appear to have had an origin much earlier. The whole range of even historical conjecture is absolutely limited within eight or nine hundred years. Nothing older, of their presence here certainly, is known, than about the time of the crowning of Charlemagne, A, D. 800, unless we take the Grecian tradition of Atalantis.

That we have nothing in the way of tradition older than the dates referred to, is no positive proof that the tribes were not upon the continent long prior, There are some considerations, in the very nature of the case, which argue a remote continental antiquity for these tribes. It is hardly to be supposed that large numbers of the primitive adventurers landed at any one time or place; nor is it more probable that the epochs of these early adventurers were very numerous. The absolute conformity of physical features renders this improbable. The early migrations must have been necessarily confined to portions of the old world peopled by the Red Race by a race, not only of red skins, black hair and eyes, and high cheek bones, who would reproduce these fixed characteristics, adinfinitum but whose whole mental as well as physiological development assimilates it, as a distinct unity of the species. While physiology, however, asserts this unity, in the course of the dispersion and multiplication of tribes, their languages, granting all that can be asked for on the score of original diversity, became divided into an infinite number of dialects and tongues. Between these dialects, however, where they are even the most diverse, there is a singular coincidence in many of the leading principles of concord and regimen, and polysynthetic arrangement. Such diversities in sound, amounting, as they do in many cases, for instance, in the stocks of the Algonquin and Iroquois, to an almost total difference, must have required many ages for their production. And this fact alone affords a proof of the continental antiquity of the American race.



MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 2 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/ethnological-suggestions.htm - Last updated on Jul 11th, 2013


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