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1. Where such a race can be supposed to have had their origin, history may vainly inquire. It probably broke off from one of the primary stocks of the human race, before history had dipped her pen in ink, or lifted her graver on stone. Herodotus is silent; there is nothing to be learned from Sanconiathus and the fragmentary ancients. The cuneiform and the Nilotic inscriptions, the oldest in the world, are mute. Our Indian stocks seem to be still more ancient. Their languages, their peculiar idiosyncrasy, all that is peculiar about them, denote this.
2. Considered in every point of view, the Indian race appears to be of an old a very old stock. Nothing that we have, in the shape of books, is ancient enough to recall the period of his origin, but the sacred oracles. If we appeal to these, a probable prototype may be recognized in that branch of the race which may be called Almogic1 branch of the Eber-ites; to whom, indeed, the revelation was not made, but who, as co-inhabitants for many ages of the same country, may be supposed to have been more or less acquainted with the fact of such revelation. Like them, they are depicted, at all periods of their history, as strongly self-willed, exclusive in their type of individuality, heedless, heady, impracticable, impatient of reproof or instruction, and strongly bent on the various forms of ancient idolatry. Such are, indeed, the traits of the American tribes.
3. What may be regarded, in their traditions of the world, their origin, and their opinions of man, as entitled to attention, is this. They believe in a supreme, transcendental power of goodness, or Great Merciful Spirit, by whom the earth, the animals, and man were created; also, in a great antagonistical power, who can disturb the benevolent purposes of the other power. This person they call the Great Evil Spirit. The belief in this duality of gods is universal.
4. They relate, generally, that there was a deluge at an ancient epoch, which covered the earth, and drowned mankind, except a limited number. They speak most emphatically of a future state, and appear to have some confused idea of rewards and punishments, which are allegorically represented.
5. They regard the earth as their cosmogonic mother, and declare their origin to have been in caves, or in some other manner within its depths. The leading dogma of their theology is, however, that a future state is destined to reward them for evils endured in this; and that the fates of men are irrevocably fixed, and cannot be altered, except, it may be, by appeals to their seers, prophets, or jossakeeds, which finally, if we are to judge by the stolidity of an Indian s death, they entirely forget, or appear to have no faith in.
They declare themselves generally to be aborigines. Pure fables, or allegories, are all that support this. By one authority, they climbed up the roots of a large vine, from the interior to the surface of the earth;2 by another, they casually saw light, while underground, from the top of a cavern in the earth.3 In one way or another, most of the tribes plant themselves on the traditions of a local origin. Seeing many quadrupeds, which burrow in the earth, they acknowledge a similar and mysterious relation. Tecumseh affirmed, in accordance with this notion, that the earth was his mother; and Michabou held that the birds and beasts were his brothers. A few of the tribes, north and south, have something of a traditional value to add to these notions, expressive of an opinion of a foreign origin. This, as gleaned from various authors, will be now particularly mentioned.
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6. These ideas, which vary greatly in different tribes, are mingled with fables and beliefs of the grossest absurdity. To separate tradition from mythologic belief, in the chaos of Indian intellect, has some resemblance to the attempt of a finite hand to separate light from darkness. The overflow of waters on the earth having been nar rated, an event, by the way, which they attribute to the Great Evil Spirit, their traditions skip over thousands of years, which they fill up as an epoch of mythology. In this, monsters, giants, spirits, genii, gods, and demons, wield their powers against each other, and fill the world with cannibalism, murders, and complicated fears and horrors. Buckland himself could not desire a fairer field for one big saurian to eat up another; but the era is wholly spoiled for the geological warfare of monsters, by making man live on earth at the same time, and exposing him to all the horrible mutations and mutilations of the tooth and claw era. The Algonquin Indians indeed say, in accordance with geological theory, that the animals at first had the rule on earth, and that man came in as a later creation.
7. One of the chief features of this epoch of monstrosities, in each leading family of American Tribes, is the tradition of some great hero, giant-killer, or wise benefactor, whose name is exalted as a god, and to whose strength, wisdom, or sagacity, they attribute deliverance. Such is Quetzalcoatl among the Toltecs and Aztecs; Atahentsic, Atatarho, and Tarenyawagon, among the Iroquois, and Micabo, or the Great Hare, popularly called Manabozho, among the Algonquin.
8. The next thing that is heard, in their history of the world, is accounts, variously related, of the arrival of Europeans on the coast, about the end of the 16th century. From that era to the present day, is, with the exceptions below recited, the period of authentic tradition. Most of the tribes possess traditions of the first appearance of white men among them, and some of them name the place. The Lenni Lenape and Mohicans preserve the memory of the appearance and voyage of Hudson, up the river bearing his name, in 1609. The Iroquois have the tradition of a wreck, apparently earlier, on the southern coast; and the saving, and, after a time, the extinction of the infant colony in blood. This possibly may be the first colony of Virginia, in 1588. The Algonquin have a tradition of Cartier s visit to the St. Lawrence, in 1534, and call the French, to this day, People of the Wooden Vessel, or Wa-mitig-oazh. The Chippewa affirmed (in 1824) that seven generations of men had passed since that nation first came in to the lakes.4
From Almodad, the son of Joktan ↩
Breckenridge s Voyage up the Missouri. ↩
Oneöta, p. 207. ↩
If 1608, the period of the settlement of Canada, be taken as the era, and thirty years allowed to a generation, this is a remarkable instance of accuracy of computation. ↩