To be taken captive by the Indians, was, among the early colonists, considered the most terrible of all calamities, and it was indeed a fearful thing to become the victim of their revenge. But those who were enduring the actual sufferings of captivity, or suffering still more from terror of uncertain evils, thought little of the provocation given by the white people. The innocent suffered for the guilty, and however persevering I suppose the efforts of the government to be just in its infancy, in a wild unknown country it was impossible to control unprincipled marauders. Some atrocious act was first committed by white men, which drove the Indian to retaliation, and thinking pale faces were all alike, he did not wait till the real offender fell into his hands.
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When the white men first came, the Indian looked upon them as superior beings. They were ready to worship Columbus and his little party, and all others along the coast, until their simple trust was outraged beyond endurance, they welcomed the strangers, gave them food when they were hungry, and sheltered them when they were cold. It was not till their encroachments became alarming, that the Indians asserted their rights, and if in all cases they had been as justly and kindly dealt with as by the Quakers of Pennsylvania, there would not have been so dark a record of sins, wrongs and tortures. If none but men of principle had made treaties with them, and all whose duty it was to observe them, had kept their faith, revenge had not come out so prominently in Indian character.
But it was not in obedience to national policy that those who were taken in battle, were put to the torture, burned, and flayed. The Six Nations had never found it necessary to build prisons, and dig dungeons for their own people. If any man committed murder, they sometimes decided that he should die, and sometimes bade him flee far away where none who knew him could look upon his face. But crimes were so rare that they had no criminal code, and when they overcame their enemies, they either adopted them and treated them as brethren, or put them immediately to death.
White people have often put Indians to death, and oftener put them in dungeons to waste and starve, but it was not part of their practice to adopt them and call them brethren. Had they sometimes done this, or sent them freely back to their friends unharmed, they might have conciliated where they were only made more desperate.
When families are bereaved, they sought to be revenged on those who had bereaved them, and when warriors returned from battle, the prisoners were given up to the friends of the afflicted. With them alone it remained to decide the fate of those who fell into their hands. If they chose, they adopt them in place of the husbands, or brothers, who were slain; and if they so decided they were put to death, and in any way they decreed. If the manner in which their friend had been killed was aggravating and greatly enraged them, they were very likely to decide upon torture, and inflicted it in a manner to produce the greatest suffering. But in such cases, they sometimes showed great magnanimity, and “returned good for evil.”
Children were often adopted, and by a solemn ceremony received into a particular tribe, and evermore treated as one of their own people. You have been in the habit of listening to heart-rending stories of cruelties to captives, but captives who were adopted were never cruelly treated. Those who were immediately put to death experienced great suffering for a few hours, and those who were preserved were subjected to hardships which seemed to them unspeakable, but they were such as are necessarily incident to Indian life. They left no written chronicles to tell to all future generations the wrongs and tortures to which they were subjected, but one who sits with them by their firesides, may have his blood frozen with horror at the recitals of civilized barbarity.
And there was one species of wrong of which no captive woman of any nation had to complain when she was thrown upon the tender mercies of Indian warriors. Not among all the dark and terrible records which their enemies have delighted to magnify, is there a single instance of the outrage of that delicacy which a pure minded woman cherishes at the expense of life, and sacrifices not to any species of mere animal suffering. Of what other nation can it thus be written, that their soldiers were not more terrible at the firesides of their enemies than on the battle-field, with all the fierce engines of war at their command. To whatever motive it is to be ascribed, let this at least stand out on the pages of Indian history as an ever enduring monument to their honor.
A little book which professes to have been written for the sole purpose of recording and perpetuating Indian atrocities, and dwells upon them with infinite delight, alludes to this redeeming trait in Indian character, but attempts to ascribe it to the influence of superstition, as it were necessary to find some evil or deteriorating motive for everything noble, or pleasing in Indian character. Their treatment of captives from among Indian nations were the same. And I know not that there has been any satisfactory solution of a characteristic which has been found among only one other civilized Christian or barbarous nation. A wanderer among the Indian tribes once asked an Indian why they thus honored their women, and he said “The Great Spirit taught, and would punish us if we did not.”
Among the Germans I believed there existed the same respect for woman, till they became civilized. They may have been some superstitious fears mingled with a strong governing and controlling principle, but it is not on this account the less marvelous that whole nations, consisting of millions, should have been so trained, religiously or domestically, that degree of beauty or fascination placed under their care, though hundreds of miles in the solitudes of the wilderness, should have tempted them from the strictest honor and the most delicate kindness.