Great and Evil Spirit
Such were some of the traits of this peculiar people. And even to day many tribes are the same as they were centuries ago, still clinging to their ancient habits and customs and adhering to the belief of their ancient theories, seeing and recognizing alone their Great Spirit both in animate and inanimate nature, And why? Because, in so few instances, have the renovating principles of the Bible been presented to them as they should and could have been.
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True the arts of civilization as possessed by us were unknown by the Indians prior to the discovery of the continent by the White Race, still its seemingly illimitable forests were alive with a free, independent and happy people, a war like race, jealous of their rights; and its shades and glens rang with the wild hoyopa-tussaha (Choctaw-warcry), and the echoes of its hills and mountains threw back the” defiant shout of many a gallant warrior, as he hurried along the war path in the noon-tide of his joyous man-hood, but soon to slumber in the long night of oblivion, as the fatal result of his unrestrained zeal; while the more experienced veteran made his movements with that calm deliberation that scorned every appearance of haste. Though war-like, yet, they were a devotional people, to their beliefs, founded alone upon the teachings of nature their only light. They had their good “Great Spirit” and their evil. “Great Spirit” between which there was continual strife for the mastery and possession of the human mind. What less or more have we? They acknowledged the mysterious power of these two antagonistic spirits, and that in numerable numbers of subordinate spirits waited upon both. In what do they differ from us in this? They believed a spirit governed the winds, guided the clouds, and ruled in all things that inspired fear; thus they regarded the elements, and all nature, as spirits, whose images were seen and whose voices were heard above, beneath, every where. Little differing from the mythology of the ancients Witchcraft swayed its sceptre over the mind of the poor. Indian, whose intellectual light emanated alone from nature; yet he was not so much the object of just censure, as those who had the Bible and yet advocated the doctrine. Remember Cotton Mather, a licensed expounder of the Sacred Scriptures, and his numerous adherents, who advocate and taught the doctrine of Witchcraft, and persecuted their opposes, even to the burning of them at the stake. But for the delusive beliefs and fears, which seemed to the Indian as truth, that encompassed him on every side rendering him the ready victim of the wildest superstition and dread, he has been called “The Wild Man of the Woods,” and though his religion involved the varying and confused belief in good and evil spirits in every imaginary creation of air, earth, and sky conceivable to the human mind, existing with not a ray of intellectual light shedding its healing beams through his soul, is it just that he should be reviled for his seeming apathy in moral and intellectual advancement by those who have ever lived within the circle of ever good and truthful influence, but who closed nearly every avenue by which the hapless Indian might return to the ,first principles of truth and intellectual light? Were not their traditions concerning the creation of the world, and those of their own origin; and their views and opinions of man, more worthy of praise than contempt? Was not their belief in the Great Good Spirit by whom all things were made; also in a Great Evil Spirit, who ever plans and labors to counteract all the good and benevolent designs of the Great and Good Spirit, so universal among all the North American Indians, and their great respect for, and undeviating and unwearied devotion to, the Great and Good Spirit, and hate, fear, and dread of the Great and Evil Spirit, a silent but pungent rebuke to their white scoffers and defamers, who profess so much concerning the Deity, yet exercise so little of a devotional spirit?
But whence, their universal belief in a future state of existence after death, though vague their ideas in regard to future rewards and punishments? Whence also their universal belief in a deluge at an ancient epoch, which destroyed all mankind but a few? Whence their belief that the earth was their mother, who sent them forth from caves, ravines, mounds and mountains? Whence the belief in fatality that the fate of man is irrevocably fixed? To which, perhaps, may be attributed their stability and indifference to danger and death? Whence their belief in transmigration and thus claiming relationship with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air expressive of an idea, it seems, of a foreign origin? Whence their belief that the race of animals was first created, then, followed the creation of man? From what ancient fountain of knowledge obtained they these various views? Was it intuitive? How manifest their pride also, and great their delight in having their traditions and legends point back to local origin, even to that of mysterious revelation with all the quadrupeds that burrow in the hidden recesses of the earth, differing in this but little from the mythology of the ancients.
Their opinions concerning the departure of the spirit at death were various. Some believed that it lingered for a time near those earthly precincts, which it had just left, and it continued still to be, in a certain manner, akin to the earth. For this reason, provisions were placed at the feet of the corpse during the time it lay on its elevated scaffold, exposed to the influence of light or air. The deceased had not as yet entered into the realm of spirits; but when the flesh had withered away from the bones, these were buried with songs and cries, terminating in feasts and dances peculiar to the ceremonies of disposing of the dead. Others believe that when the spirit leaves the body, it lingers for some time before it can be wholly separated from its former conditions; after which it wanders off traversing vast plains in the moonlight. At length, it arrives at a great chasm in the earth, on the other side of which is the land of the blessed, where there is eternal spring and hunting grounds supplied with great varieties of game. But there is no other way of crossing this fearful gulf but by means of a barked pine log that lay across the chasm, which is round, smooth and slippery. Over this the disembodied spirits must pass if they would reach the land of a blissful immortality. Such as have lived purely and honestly upon earth are enabled to pass safely over the terrific abyss on the narrow bridge to the land of eternal happiness. But such as have lived wickedly in their attempt to pass over on the log, are sure to lose their footing and fall into the mighty abyss yawning below. Surely this is not a very objectionable, idea of retribution after death. However, their estimate of good and evil, in many respects, was imperfect and circumscribed; and their ideas of future rewards and punishments after death seemed merely the reflex of their earthly joys and sorrows, the natural consequence of minds not enlightened by the teachings of the Bible. Therefore, they beheld a transformed divinity in animate and inanimate nature, in every thing, which lives or evinces an in-dwelling power, which they sought to propitiate by gifts and sacrifices. Their “Medicine Men” were the mediators between themselves and their imagined deity; these “Medicine Men” were believed, by means of their knowledge of the mysteries of nature and the power of magic, to be able to invoke spirits, to avert evil, to heal sickness, and to obtain the fulfillment of human wishes. These men were held in high esteem among all Indians everywhere, and acted in the capacity of both priests and physicians. Their medical knowledge, even if classed with superstitious usages, is not to be despised, as they have large acquaintance with healing herbs and the power of nature. The virtues of the Indian race are well known to those who truly know them; and their fidelity in keeping a promise, their true hospitality, and their strength of mind under sorrow and suffering, merits the highest praise. They had no other government nor governors but through their chiefs and medicine men. The former had but little power and respect, only in their own individual character, and they dreaded the loss of their popularity in their tribe. Thus the Indian warrior was truly his own man, free and independent loathing all restraints.
What but sad forebodings can fill the souls of the feeble few, when contemplating the past and looking to the future walled up before them to that extent, that all action and energy of their lives seem at an end and their only hope of refuge in the grave?
But the pageant has fled, and the majority of those who gave it such depth of interest to their destroyers have long since passed away into humble and nameless yet honorable graves, into which the living few, in vacant desolation, are fast falling, bewildered and confounded amid the toils that have been skillfully and successfully spread for them; and into which when fallen and hopelessly entangled, they appealed to our mercy but to find it a myth. Alas, what a cruel and inconsistent system has been practiced toward the Red Race from the time we enticed them under our jurisdiction, as wards, to the present day a system, calculated in its very nature to uncivilized rather than to civilize them, destroying all confidence, all love and all respect; yea, stifling all the social affections of the heart and the generosity of every noble sentiment; spreading devastation and desolation among them then to be cursed and pronounced a blotch upon the fair face of nature, while we, influenced alone by that degrading venality, that acknowledges no criterion but success, closed the heart and hand of our charity against them and shut our eyes on their woes hearts, hands and eyes never to be opened until the last of the race is exterminated, and there will be left no Indian possessions to excite our avarice; and we be left to boast our achievements in exterminating a helpless people whom to conquer was coward ice the checkered features of whose prehistoric history are still dimly shadowed in the memorials scattered around.
Yet their history, shorn as it is of its antique and romantic features by the march of civilization of the White Race with its accompanying vices and follies, which were presented before them in proportion to its virtues as ten to one, and thus rendered sad and mournful, is still interesting; and, I might justly add, instructive. But passing as they have through many changes of a long pre-historic age, as well as that of an imperfectly known history, the events of their fortunes seem like the incidents of a fairy tale; and while we regard with admiration the many known traits of their character, yet we can but be astonished that to so many of them natural refinement supplied the external deficiencies of accomplished instruction denied by their situation, while a sense of the proper, under every variety of circumstances, appeared intuitive; and many of their names and patriotic deeds are worthy of being transmitted to the remotest posterity, accompanied by those honorable and considerate epithets which flattery can never invest, and are never deceitful; and had they have had a written language, their native historians would have presented many things as interesting and dramatic as any of those of ancient or modern renown. But as it is, they may be justly styled martyrs uncrowned and un-canonized; since they are still known today to millions of the people of these United States under stereotyped appellation of “savages, “and to an equal number of others, as “Heathen Barbarians;” though the Indians belong not to either department of that scientific knowledge in which they have been enrolled by those whose extreme ignorance is thus made manifest; and who feel it an imperative duty to assume a countenance indicative of a holy horror and puerile fear at the very mention of the word Indian; and should they chance to meet one upon the highway serious convulsions would inevitably be the result; while others, of somewhat greater intrepidity, have been known to venture even into the presence of an Indian, their so called devil incarnate; and, to display their imagined heroic daring, they point the finger of scorn at him and question concerning him and his race in the language of ridicule and contempt (to which I have oft been an eye witness when passing through the Indian Territory) with that apparent instinct which makes one feel that humanity, at least that much of it as professed by such ignorant and imbecile yet highly self conceited specimens of mortality, must be closely allied to Darwin’s progenitor of man; and to whom the words of Schiller are justly applicable “Heaven and Earth was in vain against a dunce.”
Liberty, equality, and fraternity have ever been found to be cardinal principles among the North American Indians, from their first acquaintance with the White Race even to the present day. All stood, and still stand upon the same social level. No one regarded himself better, in any manner whatever, than his neighbor; none turned up the lip of scorn, or sneered at the misfortunes of one of his tribe. The members of each tribe lived in perfect harmony together, constituting, in every particular, one great, loving, confiding brotherhood. The clan was the unit of political and social life with all tribes. The individual was never considered. Hence to insult, wrong or injure a member of a tribe was actually to insult, wrong and injure the whole tribe; thus each tribe held the other responsible for the actions of its individual members according to the nature of the offense. In like manner were also construed all favors. Hence when a favor was bestowed upon any individual of a tribe, it was accepted as bestowed upon each member of the tribe. (He who was a friend to one was regarded as equally a friend to all, and as such was received into the confidence and friend ship of the entire tribe. What feature in the characteristics of any nation of people more commendable than this? Yet they are charged as being in want of a single redeeming trait of character.
Despotism, oppression, avarice, fraud, misrepresentation in trade, were things absolutely unknown in all their own tribal relations, and in their dealings with neighboring tribes. Therefore were they, at first, so easily swindled in trade by unprincipled white men; since the white man hid the defects of his article of trade tinder falsehoods, and the Indian openly exposed the defects of his in truth. Though it was easy to cheat an Indian once, to accomplish it the second time was a more difficult task. His confidence was gone never again to be secured. I recollect a little incident of this nature among the Choctaws when living east of the Mississippi river. A young Choctaw was cheated in a trade with a white man, and when censured for making the trade, he calmly replied: “Pale-face cheat me, me sorry; pale-face cheat me twice, me big fool.” After that as a matter of course, he would never believe a word that a white man would say.
Their tradition, always based on facts though abounding perhaps with many errors by misinterpretations and corruptions, in the cycles of ages through which they have passed, were no less dear to him, making a stainless history such as few nations had, save in those pure days of yore when men love truth, justice and honor more than gold; but while all those ancient places are still thronged with traditions, they are over grown with the weeds of popular fancy like ruins of ancient castles covered with ivy; yet, the names of some of them are still remembered by the aged Indians and sometimes mentioned in their ancient traditions, but the names of their predecessors have completely disappeared from their memories, and the time will never come in which these secrets of the centuries will be remembered or ever known again.