Louise Seymour Houghton.

Our debt to the red man; the French-Indians in the development of the United States online

. (page 3 of 14)
Online LibraryLouise Seymour HoughtonOur debt to the red man; the French-Indians in the development of the United States → online text (page 3 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Reservation Indian, half pauper, half responsible for
his acts — not as a free agent, but as a punishable
creature, — is enough to depress any race to the low-
est physical as well as moral terms, so that, as Dr.
Moffett points out, it is a wonder that he is as good
as he is.

When one hears an Indian, possessing the educa-
tion of a white man, urging upon Indian students at
Carlisle the importance of cultivating the ''hereditary
virtues" of the Indian, ''honesty, sympathy and the
religious instinct ; ' ' when one reads from a cultivated
Indian pen the matured conviction that "the great
ideals of the old life must conquer the intrusive race ' '
(us white folk), one realizes that it is time to study
those virtues, those ideals ; and this knowledge to some
degree gained, one sighs that the effort has been rather
to root out than to understand the instinctive convic-
tions and aspirations of the Indian.

The Rev. Henry Roe Cloud finds three basic ele-
ments in Indian character ; belief in the Great Spirit,
respect for personal authority in things religious, and
the sense of need of vital relationship w^ith the spirit-
ual world. Dr. Eastman (Quart. Journ. S. A. I., 1,


A descendant of Nicolas Perrot
In his costume as Chief Medicine Man.

French-Sioux. See p. 161.

The Original American

1915) speaks of the ''spirit of his democracy, the very
essence of patriotism and justice between man and
man" as a contribution to our own ideals, now recog-
nized by painter, sculptor, author, scientist and
preacher. Mr. John W. Converse (ib.), says, "his rev-
erence, his honor, his hospitality, his bravery, his
passionate love of freedom and independence ' ' are ' ' a
few of many Indian qualities which must be pres-
erved. ' '

The impressions of early French travellers appear
to bear out the opinions of present day Indians just
quoted. Nicolas Perrot, coureur du hois and later in-
terpreter between the Indians and three successive
governors of New France, who in 1671, acting for the
King of France, took possession of the Northwest, ob-
serves, in "Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississipi, "
which Mr. James Douglas (op. cit.) calls "the best
account we have of the Indians of the Upper Lakes, ' '
that the Indians have both good and bad moral traits,
their hospitality surpasses all that is general among
Europeans. In these respects Perrot 's editor, Jules
Tailhan, (Translation by Miss Emma Helen Blair, p.
138), finds that Perrot "falls far short of the reality."
If any one has a misfortune or accident, Perrot con-
tinues (p. 137), the entire village goes to console him,
men for the men, women for the women. ' ' The justice
among them is very great, he goes on ; in a case of mur-
der being committed upon one of another village or
tribe, all in the incriminated village bear a part in the
forfeit. To this Tailhan adds that among the Hurons,


Our Debt to the Red Man

if in case of theft the actual offender cannot be found,
the nearest village is held responsible (a view which
reminds one of a certain Mosaic law which provides,
in case of an undetected criminal, that atonement shall
be made by the inhabitants of the nearest village,
Deut. 21 : 1-9), the crime being punished rather than
the criminal.

As Perrot finds the Indians very cowardly, Tai-
Ihan supplements, "not cowardly, though cautious."
Their idea of courage is not ours, but they are ' ' almost
as brave as the heroes of Homer." An anonymous
author adds ''there is no temerity among them," He
possibly had in mind the practice ascribed to the war-
like Iroquois, of sending three messages of peace to
the enemy before engaging in war, a practice which
again reminds us of the Mosaic code.^

"Lazy" and "Indian" seem still almost to form
a hyphenated word in the white man's language. In-
telligent investigation of the economic condition of the
Indians before the white man's appearance on the
scene might show that though their industries were
not such as are essential in the present state of civili-
zation, nor pursued with the same motive of acquiring
a surplus of commodities, yet the people were by no
means indolent or lazy. The existing assumption is
chiefly due, perhaps, to the manifest indisposition of a

" We read in the Penn. Colonial Records (1768) that "Scarrooyady
said 'The Great Being who lives above has ordered us to send
Three messages of Peace before we make war.' '' Scarouyady
the ''Half-King", was an Oneida chief of prominence in the
middle of 18th century, a firm friend of the English colonists and
as active an enemy of the French. He was with Braddock at the
time of his defeat.


The Original American

large number of Indians to cultivate their Reservation
lands. This indisposition indeed hardly surprises
those who know the story of the frequent removals of
Indians from lands long cultivated by them to un-
broken if not barren regions. In 1865, the Hon. D. M.
Cooley, Commissioner of Indian affairs, wrote sym-
pathetically of the enforced removal of the Winne-
bagoes from their homes in the ''very garden of Min-
nesota," "where they were independent and happy
and always loyal to the government and friendly to
the whites, " to a place where they would have starved
and whence they were forced again to migrate. Two
years later the then Commissioner reported his view
that the Winnebagoes "have a just claim against
government on account of their removal from Min-
nesota at their own expense/' (Italics mine). Com-
missioner Parker in 1870 reported to the Secretary of
the Interior (Cox) that certain bands of Potawato-
mies and Winnebagoes in Wisconsin objected to being
removed, as they owned or leased land which they were

Bishop Walker, making a plea for the Osages in
1884, after their enforced removal, says "their newly
allotted land is largely untillable. The rations which
the Government provides are only sufficient to keep

them on the ragged edge of starving and this is

the benevolent provision of the United States for its

wards — peacable, loyal wards, too the marvel is

that in their wretchedness, their hunger and absolute
despair, they have not risen and revenged themselves


Our Debt to the Red Man

in some way. " " They are a worthy people, ' ' he adds.
The intelligence of the Indian within certain lines
is probably doubted by none. La Potherie in his His-
toire (17th century, translated by Miss Emma Helen
Blair) shows a shrewd apprehension of Indian charac-
teristics, mental and physical: "These peoples whom
we treat as savages are very brave, capable leaders,
good soldiers, very discreet and subtle politicians,
shrewd, given to dissimulation (at that period
deemed an important part of diplomacy among Euro-
pean nations, and by no means instanced by La Po-
therie as other than a virtue), understanding perfectly
their own interests, and knowing very well how to
carry out their purposes." An interesting illustra-
tion of Indian intelligence, much older than La Po-
therie, referred to by some early chroniclers but only
recently clearly understood by our Indian agents, is
found in the system of ' ' Winter Counts, ' ' practiced by
the western Indians. Incidentally it bears witness to
the prodigious powers of memory of an unlettered peo-
ple. Mr. Samuel La Pointe, the metis agent at Pine
Ridge, S. D. writes: "I have a 'winter count' in my
desk that starts from the year 1759, which year is
recognized" by the Sioux Indians as the "winter or
year when the people scattered ; ' ' the following year,
1760, is known as "the winter when the fishers were
killed," and so on down to 1910, "the winter or year of
the death of Red Cloud; this year (1913) will be
known in the Indians' 'winter count' as 'the year of
the death of Hollow Horn Bear.' "


The Original American

The Blackfeet, who have been characterized as
''fierce, yet gentle," are an outstanding instance of
loyalty to a government that has not always been fair
to them. This tribe (properly called Siksika) was a
hunting tribe and was never at war with the United
States, (H. A. I. art. Siksika) though in the early days
its general attitude was hostile. Gen. Parker, when
Indian Commissioner (1870), wrote of them as ''a na-
tion called hostile, but the Agent thinks it is because
they are badly treated." Surely they had reason to
deem themselves "badly treated" in the years 1833 to
1840, when coincidently with the extinction of the buf-
falo, which had afforded them their chief subsistence,
their rations were cut off by Government, in conse-
quence of which some six hundred of them died of
starvation. At this writing (March 1916) many of
them are still in a starving condition.

Yet when three years ago (1913) a delegation of
their chiefs came East for President Wilson's Inaugu-
ration, they paid a visit to Carlisle Indian School at
Commencement, and in the course of the "experience
meeting" which is a feature of that occasion, the aged
Chief Hollow Horn Bear, through an interpreter, made
an address which was a dignified expression at once of
a deep sense of the grievances of his tribe and of gen-
uine loyalty and fidelity to the Government. Highly
significant was the remark of Mr. A. C. Parker to the
Indian students on that occasion: "You can sing 'My
Country, 'tis of Thee, ' as none others can. ' '

The death of Hollow Horn Bear in Washington,

Our Debt to the Red Man

on his return from attending tlie Indian ceremonies
on Staten Island shortly after the Inauguration, will
be remembered. He was not a head chief of the Black-
feet, but by reason of his great age and his superior
intelligence was held in the highest respect by his tribe.
That he was capable, even at an advanced age, of
adopting new views was shown during his visit to Car-
lisle. Always until then opposed to sending Indian
children away from home for education, after examin-
ing that school he confessed to an entire change of

Notwithstanding his reputation for taciturnity,
amounting apparently even to surliness, the Indian is
fiiiKlaiiieulally social. This appears not only in his
til inking in terms of clan, band, tribe, while whites
think in terms of the individual, but in the construc-
tion of the Indian family. Husband and wife, though
of the same tribe, must belong to different gentes or
elans of that tribe; tlieir children therefore have cer-
tain rights in and owe certain duties to the two clans
or gentes thus united. (J. N. B. Hewitt, art. Tribe,
II. A. I.: 2:814).

The tribal organization naturally conforms to this
inherently social ideal. ''In order to constitute a tribe

a i)eople must ])ossess a more or less connnon

mental cojitent, a definite sum of knowledge, beliefs

and sentiments, and must also exhibit mental

endowments and characteristics that are likewise felt
to be common, whose functioning results in unity of
purpose, in patriotism and in what is called common


The Original American

sense." (Ibid.) The racial consciousness of the Indian
is therefore strong to a degree that it is difficult for the
white to appreciate. Dean Inge ("Studies of English
Mystics") has lately reminded us that ''modern psy-
chological science ascribes great importance to the
racial consciousness as a factor in individual charac-
ter ; " and here perhaps we shall find a key to much in
Indian nature and in Indian actions that have hitherto
puzzled us. At least we may understand that that
common mental content of which Prof. Hewitt speaks,
and which more than geographical position, more even
than kinship, is the bond of an Indian ''nation," de-
serves sympathetic study.

The proverbial hospitality of the Indian has a
deep affinity with this essentially social nature of his.
No w^onder that he finds it difficult to understand the
high moral ground on which we white folk justify our
so different practice. On the contrary, he distinctly
doubts its high morality, and accounts for it on
grounds little flattering to our self-esteem. Mr. Leupp,
in his little study of ' ' Red Man 's Land, ' ' quotes from
Chief Canestogo, of the Onondagas, an utterance very
much to the purpose in this connection :

"You know our practice: If a white man, in
travelling through our country, enters one of our cab-
ins, we warm him if he is cold, we give him meat and
drink that he may allay his hunger and thirst, and
spread soft furs for him to rest and sleep on. We de-
mand nothing in return.

"But if I go into a white man's house and ask for
[ 33 ]

Our Debt to the Red Man

victuals and drink they say, 'Where is your money?'
And if I have none they say, 'Get out, you Indian
dog!' You see, they have not yet learned the little
good things our mothers taught us when we were
children." (Italics mine).

The love of Indian parents for their children has
been often noted, but the intelligence of their affection
and their high standard of child culture indicated in
the above words, is borne out by many Indians of re-
cent times.

We are told by Sarah Winnemucca (Mrs. Hop-
kins), the "heroine of the Bannock war," Gen. 0. O.
Howard's interpreter, a full blood Piute, (who by her
lectures in Boston so alarmed the venal Indian agents
of her day that they retaliated by attacking her charac-
ter. Judge Bromfield of Nevada effectually refuting
the calumniators), that all Indian mothers teach their
children "manners and refinements" and also "na-
ture," which especially in its aspect as orenda ' has so
large a part in the religion of the Indian. She dwells
upon the high toned morality taught by Indian moth-
ers to their children ; and there is perhaps not so much
absurdity as might appear in her conviction that
Christian society has "missed the moral reformation

■^ "Orenda"; the Iroquois word for the spirit which was supposed to
be inherent in natural forces. The Algonquin "manitou" and
the Siouan "mahopa" "correspond approximately if not exactly
with this Iroquois term in use and signification.'"' (H. A. I. 2,
148, art. Orenda.) Hence arose the assumption of the whites
that the Algonquian word manitou was the Indian term for God.
Dr. Moifett, in his very intelligent work already cited, so ex-
plains it and also gives "orenda" as the Iroquoian word for
God; a very natural mistake, since "the possession of magic
power is the distinctive charaqteristic of all the gods." (H. A. I.
art. cit.)


The Original American

it might have had if the white people had become
acquainted with the noble Five Nations and others
whom they have exterminated."

Mr. Leupp expatiates upon the ''perpetual good
humor" of Indian children, who seldom quarrel, and
are always sunny and kindly. Perhaps Dr. Moffett's
observation (op. cit.) that "there are no severe words
in Indian languages" throws light upon this disposi-
tion of Indian children. Dr. Eastman ("Indian Boy-
hood") gives the same imi3ression, and to a degree ex-
plains it by noting the respect with which parents treat
their children. Perhaps the fact that children are
never given nicknames, or what the French call ' ' little
names, ' ' illustrates this respect, with the fact that each
significant act of the child as it progresses in years is
likely to result in the gift of "a new name."

The ethnologist, Mr. Francis La Flesche, a
French-Omaha, says in the preface to his autobio-
graphical story ' ' The Middle Five, ' ' that every Omaha
child receives careful instruction from infancy not
only in "courtesy" but in "the grammatical use of his
mother tongue," no baby talk being permitted. The
full significance of this statement appears only to those
who understand something of the characteristics of
Indian languages, not only "the manifold variety of
Indian linguistic families, embracing a multitude of
languages and dialects," but "their rich vocabularies,

flexible grammatical methods above all their

capacity of indefinite expansion, corresponding to cul-
ture growth." "The intricacies of Indian languages


Our Debt to the Red Man

are even yet but partially understood," continues Mr.
H. W. Henshaw in his masterly article on the subject
(H. A. I. 1, 579). It is therefore not surprising that
Mr. La Flesche should deem that "the misconception
of Indian life and character so common among white
people has been largely due to their ignorance of In-
dian modes of thought, beliefs, ideas and native insti-

That saving grace, a sense of humor, has been
recognized in the Indian, notwithstanding his pro-
verbial taciturnity, by all who know him well. Such
expert students of Indian character as Dr. Moffett and
Mr. Leupp love to dwell on the mirthfulness and ready
repartee of the Indian. Mr. Alanson Skinner of the
American Museum of Natural History, a Menominee
by adoption, urging the importance of recording and
preserving the unwritten Indian literature and folk-
lore, remarks upon the humor with which these nat-
ional traditions are permeated. Dr. Charles Eastman
(op. cit.), protesting against the notion that the In-
dian has no sense of humor and no faculty for mirth
says, ' ' I don 't believe I ever heard a real hearty laugh
away from the Indian's fireside. I have often spent
an entire evening in laughing with them till I could
laugh no more However, Indian humor con-
sists as much in gestures and inflections of the voice
as in words, and is really untranslatable."

All this is a strong witness to that idealizing fac-
ulty, which, though we admit that it is one of the
most precious endowTnents of the Frenchman, we have

[ 36 ]




Ethnologist of the Smithsonian Institution.

See p. 181.

The Original American

not so easily recognized in the Indian. Even the
strong belief in magic power which was an essential
element in the effectiveness of every tribe was more
than a vulgar belief in sorcery ; it was the outflowering
of their religious attitude toward nature, and an im-
portant witness to the idealism of this people.

Of this idealism Indian art and especially Indian
music/ which we are only beginning to appreciate, are
telling illustrations. No one could hear the Carlisle
School band render the Indian March, composed by an
Indian student, so thoroughly Indian in spirit, even to
the artistic adaptation of the war whoop, without feel-
ing the idealism that pulsates all through it.

The well informed reader of today has better
sources of information on these subjects than were
accessible to the ever-to-be-admired Parkman, yet there
are still many who show like ignorance with him of the
religious instinct of the Indian; "The primitive In-
dian was as savage in his religion as in his life. He
was divided between fetish worship and that next de-
gree of religious development which consists of the
worship of deities embodied in the human form .....
His gods were no whit better than himself. ' ' ( Intro-
duction to ''The Jesuits.") "We of today may learn
better from such men of Indian ancestry as Mr. Ar-
thur C. Parker and Prof. Hewitt. They dwell with

^ Miss Nathalie Curtis made a notable contribution to that under-
standing of the Indian mind of which we white folk stand in
need when she published (in 1907) "The Indian Book", con-
cerning which Mr. Roosevelt wrote to her from the White House,
"These songs cast a new light upon the depth and dignity of In-
dian thought."


Our Debt to the Red Man

delight upon the lofty ideals and stately ritual of their
ancestors, whose religion was founded upon that nob-
lest of sentiments, thanksgiving, and found in the life
of all nature the breath of him "who holds the skies."
The "beauty and power" of the Iroquois rituals of
Death and of Mourning, the dramatic character of the
ritual of Condolence, founded upon the three words,
peace, righteousness, power, — a ritual of which, say
these gentlemen, no one person now knows the whole,
but of which by diligent research they have succeeded
in piecing together a large part — speak a high range
not only of religious but of intellectual capacity, with
a remarkable facility of poetic expression. The Iro-
quois are indeed the intellectual superiors of most In-
dian nations, though not of all of them. The Chero-
kees and the Sioux, not to speak of the southern In-
dian races, are in many respects their equals, and in
some their superiors.

Though religion and morality do not always go
hand in hand even among whites who profess and call
themselves Christians, we find, with the genuinely re-
ligious spirit universal among Indian races, a high
standard of morality, and even of decency, which may
well put some whites to the blush. A recent illustra-
tion comes from the Nez Perces, whose children had
been sent to the public school. The parents presented
to the authorities this petition: "The long-haired In-
dians request that the whites in the school do not swear
or use vile language with the Indians." An Indian
policeman at Wolf Point, Mont., resigned his position

[ 38 ]

The Original American

because his superior officer used profane language
(Moffett, op. cit. p. 272).

This high standard of morality is especially note-
worthy in sexual relations. There is no record of the
violation of the marriage vow by any Indian woman
married to a Frenchman. It may surprise some among
us, familiar though we may be with our own early his-
tory, to be reminded that careful investigation of the
records of our Indian wars fails to discover, in the
bitter narrative of the atrocities perpetrated by "Red-
skins" upon the whites, the slightest evidence that any
woman captive was ever violated by her captor or by
any other Indian.^ There are instances of white women
being tortured by Indians — in Indiana, after ex-
treme provocation, with offences against some of the
holiest instincts of Indian nature — fidelity to the
pledged word, and religious reverence for the land.

This remarkable standard of sexual morality is
fundamental to Indian character and is based upon
the Indian idea of woman. Notwithstanding the ap-
parently unchivalrous committal of agricultural labor
to the women — a division of occupation which in fact
is necessary in every primitive society where the mili-

^ So Schoolcraft, whose first wife was an Irish Chippewa ; and so, at
the present day, the distinguished ethnologist of the Smithsonian
Institution, Mr. J. N. B. Hewitt, who also states that no house of
ill-fame has ever existed on any Indian Reservation. Mr. A. C.
Parker, who is of the Seneca tribe, tells of his white teacher in
Salamanca, N. Y.. who used to walk to and from school along the
railroad track. She often met drunken and bad Indians, but was
never afraid of them; of whites she was afraid. Mr. Alanson
Skinner observes that some tribes west of the Mississippi today
afford exceptions to this high sexual standard. It is perhaps not
fair even if possible to inquire how far these western Indians of
the present day may have been influenced by intercourse with


Our Debt to the Red Man

tary spirit is dominant, and of which cultured Ger-
many and France and even England and our own
country are now giving an illustration — the low
standard of female morality which is hardly separable
from a servile condition was absolutely unknown. Mrs.
Kinzie (op. cit.) says of the Winnebagoes among whom
she lived what might be said of any other tribe : * ' The
strictest sense of female propriety is a distinguishing
trait among them." This would be impossible if the
males of the race were sexually immoral.

The Indian considers the female sex to be inher-
ently sacred, as standing in a peculiar relation to the
earth, which is the mother of them all. It is Mr.
Hewitt's conviction that Indian women would never
have sold the land to the whites. In fact the sale of
land was to the Indian unthinkable. ''It was impos-
sible for a chief, family, clan or any section of a tribe
legally to sell or give away to aliens, white or red, any
part of the tribal domain," says Mr. H. W. Henshaw
(H. A. I. 2 : 288), ''and the inevitable consequence of
illegal sales was bad feeling, followed often by repudia-
tion of the contract by the tribe as a whole. Attempts
by the whites to enforce these sales were followed by
disorder and bloodshed, often by prolonged wars."
The almost isolated case already mentioned, of the
torture of white women by Indians, occurred in con-
nection with a flagrant violation of the rights of the
Miamis and their confederates by settlers in Indiana
from the English Colonies (the French had long been

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryLouise Seymour HoughtonOur debt to the red man; the French-Indians in the development of the United States → online text (page 3 of 14)