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Various and conflicting have been the opinions entertained with regard to the intellect of the North American Indians. They are generally reputed to be shrewd, cunning, sprightly, and fluent in speech.
It must occur to every reflecting mind, however, that there must be great diversity as to intellect among the different classes, and that habits and pursuits of life have an important bearing upon the question. Much depends upon physical organization, and modes of living naturally affect the conformation and development of the several organs of the body.
The Choctaws were fairly developed and well proportioned in body, but not superior nor quite equal to the average of white people, while the entire want of mental and moral training could not fail to super induce less vigorous intellectual manifestations. Indian lads are infants in thought, in feeling, and in mental strength when well-grown boys. But they were not seriously wanting in intellectual ability; they made fair progress in study, being able, in most cases, to read easy lessons within a few weeks after entering school; they almost all would learn to write with remarkable facility, and many of them would excel in penmanship without much effort. In a number of instances lads commenced the year in the alphabet, and before the session closed were able to write letters home to their friends; their passion for letter writing was almost equal to that for shaking hands.
There were two lads, whose progress in study I never saw excelled; they commenced in the alphabet, and within three weeks time were able to read in the New Testament; and, at their earnest solicitations, were permitted to take their places in the Testament class in the Sunday school, and each was able to read his verse in turn with the balance of the class. But during the week they were kept in the spelling book and first readers for several weeks longer before they were advanced to more difficult studies. They were about fifteen and sixteen years of age. The names we gave them were Moses Porter and Coleman Daniel. The former was a remarkably interesting and well disposed youth; and though it will be a little out of chronological order, I will here give a brief sketch of him.
He was one of the first six from the Pushmataha district, who were present on the day the Academy opened its first session Moses was an orphan, having neither father nor mother. From the first day he was noted for his faithfulness and promptness to every duty assigned him; he manifested an excellent disposition, and was patient, kind, and obliging in his intercourse with his associates. It was never necessary to give him a single word of reproof; or to remind him of any labor or duty which appropriately devolved upon him. Moses professed conversion and united with the Church before the close of the first session, and was baptized by W. H. Goode and admitted to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper; and I do not recollect that he ever turned aside or performed a single act which could suggest a doubt as to the genuineness of his piety and Christian character. He was feeble in health, being scrofulous and predisposed to pulmonary consumption. In the spring of 1845 he had a severe attack of pneumonia, but was restored again to usual health; but in the spring of 1846 he had a second attack of pneumonia, which was violent and threatened to terminate fatally. Dr. E. G. Meek did all within his power to arrest the course of the disease and to restore the patient to health, but without success. The disease settled upon the lungs, and it soon became evident that he must die within a very few days. When the information was communicated to him, it gave him no alarm; he remained calm, and continued to suffer patiently; no word of complaint or murmuring escaped his lips. He was willing and prompt in taking the medicines prescribed, and in observing all the directions that were given by the nurse and the physician.
The time had come when Moses must die; gladly would he have lived to labor in the cause of his blessed Master, and to be useful to his fellow-men; but God had otherwise determined the ardent hopes and plans of usefulness were never to be realized in this life.
He understood his condition, reflected seriously and prayerfully upon the solemnities of death; he spoke with calmness, expressing unshaken confidence in the merit of the Savior, believing that through grace he should be accepted, and permitted to live with angels in the land of the redeemed at God’s right hand.
A few minutes before he ceased to breathe he sent for one of the teachers to come to his room; looking into the face of his instructor, he said, “I am now dying, soon I will be gone! send my trunk and clothes to my brother at home. I have three dollars and a half of money, which you will give to my sister. Now I am ready all is right, all is right!” He said no more, but closed his eyes in death, and went to live with the redeemed and saved. He was truly a trophy of grace, and is doubtless now numbered with the countless multitudes before the throne, “who have gone up through great tribulation, having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
There was the philosophy of a living faith in the last conflict; there was a sublimity in the words which fell from the lips of the dying youth, who was just rescued from pagan darkness, in time to die in the faith of the everlasting Gospel.
Artless and true to the thoughts and convictions of that solemn hour, his last words were essentially the same that were spoken by the dying Bishop M’Kendree. The Bishop was thoroughly taught; had read and comprehended the various systems of philosophy. He was a theologian; could reason profoundly on the immortality of the future state, and could hold forth the promises of the Gospel, which contemplate the life to come; and yet his dying words were simple and only expressive of trust in Christ “All is well, all is well!” It was the last note of victory. It was light while “passing through the valley of the shadow of death.”
The dying Indian youth was but a babe in Christ; had just learned to read and love the precious truths of the Gospel. He knew nothing but Christ and his power to comfort and cheer the soul. His experience of a change of heart and life dated back only about two years. His race was swift and the goal was almost gained. And now upon his straw mattress, in the log-cabin he had obtained the same grace, exercised the same all conquering faith, and realized the same unspeakable peace which characterized the death scene of the sainted M’Kendree. The Bishop’s dying words were, ” All is well, all is well!” The last words of the Indian boy, Moses, were, “All is right, all is right!”
The essential divinity of our holy religion is seen in its effects upon life, character, and experience in all lands and among all the races of men. It is wisely adapted to all grades of intellect and cultivation; who can reflect upon its power to comfort and to cheer the dying, whether aged or young, and for one moment candidly doubt its vital essence, its power to draw the sting of death, and reflect bright and glorious light down into the vaults of the grave?