George Hooker Colton.

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the restraints of society ; and as their
habit of wandering is not, as with us, the
exception but the universal rule, the
laws of their unwritten code are adapted
to it. Simple, indeed, is this code. To
come to the council when it is convened,
and attenil to its delil)erations with aus-
tere dignity — to follow and obey the chief
in war, and to receive implicitly the cus-
toms of their fathers before them — con-
stitute all its requirements. Offences
against the persons of their brethren are
the only ones known to them, and are
always punished by the lex tilionis. It
murder is committed, the kinsmen of the



sufferer decide upon the atonement, and
may either entirely remit or modify it.
All other offences are as simply decided
upon. Of religion, as a system, they are
ignorant ; believing in a great and good
Spirit who rules all things for the good
of man. Each one, upon this funda-
mental idea, builds up a religion for
himself ; and in the stillness of the quiet
woods and prairies, and by the rivers and
solemn lakes, pours out his voiceless
orisons to the Beneficence which made
the happy hunting grounds, where deer
are plentiful as kine in the lands of the pale-
faces, where wild vines cover the uncul-
tured soil with fruit, and honey is laid
up for them in the clefts of the trees.
They are not, howeverj without a posi-
tive worship, for the writer of this has
seen, more than once, members of the
wild tribes lying in the tall grass, wet
with dew and drooping above them, sing-
ing their own simple and uncouth, yet
heart-felt hymns, in tones an Indian alone
can utter.

Simple in their habits and wants, the
skins of the deer and elk supply their
moccasin, and the soft robe of the buffalo,
their garb of luxury. Pigments obtained
from the veins of colored clay, left bare by
the torrents, and from the juices of the
wood berries, constitute all the refine-
ments of their toilet ; and the belt of wam-
pum and gaudy beads, or pieces of shell
and stone pierced with patient skill, the
jewels of their gala dress. From the
horn of the elk and a wood peculiar to
the country they inhabit, bearing a fruit
like the apples of the Dead Sea, are fash-
ioned their bows, and from the cane
which is the growth of the low-lands up-
on their streams, the lance and arrow,
deadly in their hands as the rifle's ball.

They have not, as we have said, the
laws of a complex civilisation, because
they need them not. Having nothing to
tempt the cupidity of their neighbors,
theft is rarely known among them, for it
is as easy to obtain the bow and quiver
from the forest amid which they dwell,
as from the wigwam of their fellows ;
and there could be no natural depravity
deep enough to induce them surrepti-
tiously to obtain the means of life in a
country abounding with all their simpli-
city of living makes desirable. They



1845.]



OJ the Indian Tribes.



r)OZ



know little of the sweet innuenccs of do-
mestic life, because women, with them,
are in a manner slaves, a'nd the warrior
thinks not of telling his troubles to his
wife, or of conversing with her upon
anything that interests him. For tiiese
reasons society with the Indians, without
this most attaching cord, is but a rope
of sand, and an Indian nation alway.'* as-
sumes the appearance of a fortuitous as-
semblage gathered by interest, as vultures
are by the scent of prey, or the weaker
members of the animal kingdom, by the
necessity of defence. As we see a troop
of the wild prairie horse governing their
motions by the example of the most pow-
erful stallion among them, the Indians,
in their hours of danger, have ever obey-
ed the motions of some superior man,
who, placing himself at their head, en-
tirely superceded, for the time at least,
their hereditary chiefs, and has been
obeyed, theij knew not why, by right of
the power which mind exerts over grosser
organizations, until a new emergency
should call forth a new hero. Thus it
is easy enough to find an exemplification,
that in each man who is obeyed in dan-
gerous conjunctures, there resides the
kenning or cunning, or capacity which
is the only right divine to power, and
which is acknowledged always in every
community — and that even in the heroes
of savage tribes, there is a truth and re-
ality which they partake with the great
men who have modified the events of
whatever has become history, and fash-
ioned creeds which will be the rule of
action somewhere long after their names
are forgotten.

They have priests, and medicine-men,
and sooth-sayers, quite as much given
to mummery and deceit as any who
have been the mode in the most civi-
lized communities. In some respects,
their medicine-men are better than ours
— they take no fees, and their drugs are
not very noisome. The bark and root
of the sassafras and the seneca, and
some mucilaginous plant — the bark,
perhaps, of the Ornus Fraxinus — con-
stitute the most of their pharmacopzeia;
add to these an exorcism, to cure the
wind, and an invocation to Manito,
to expel the shaking spirit from one
stricken with the ague.

A mode of writing, too, they have,
very graphically described by Dr. Ro-
bertson, and simple as the rest of their
arts. Three blows with a hatchet, and
the bark of the Populus Americanus, or

VOL. I. — NO. V. 33



Tulip Tree, i.s loosened and Ktrippct) off,
and figures traced here a;id there- pic-
tures without light and shiuJe— cbrorii-
cle the valiant emprJzcs, and pre-erve
the memory of good blow.s struck by
famous Sachems, until the bark has
grown over the wounded trunk again.
There will stand the tree, and for two
hundred years, perhaps, its scars show
that it commemorates something. The
obelisks and pyramids of the Pharaohs
can do nothing more distinct, and (juite
long enough they preserve the clear
story — some three years ; for the Duke of
Wellington, in but little more than that
time after the battle of Waterloo, wag
pelted by the mob of London.

Of civilization, these prairie tribes
know but little, and that little they have
learned from two sources. The firgt
was from the monks of the Society. of
Jesus, not a few of whom had been in
other days soldiers, carbonari, men of
adventurous lives, who had sighed away
their youth unavailingly in hopes for the
redemption of their own land, and now,
grown hopeless for that, had become
enthusiastic for the ultimate salvation of
the red wanderers of the New World.
Had the fndians no other tutors than such
as these, their course would be onward.
But other pale-faces, men of the huckster
genus, who would sell the bones of their
fathers if they could find a purchaser,
have insinuated themselves among them,
and dealing out deadly poison, sow phy-
sical and moral death around all who
traffic with them, and make useless the
labor of the old soldier, turned herald of
the cross. Show us an Indian hamlet
of fifty houses, or tents, and we will
show you a trader, who purchases from
its inhabitants the produce of their hunt
for a trifle, and, in spite of non-inter-
course laws, pays for it in whisky, or, as
the Indian calls it, fire-u-ater.

Such are the wild tribes now ; good
haters, therefore good lovers, with a fair
capacity for being made true men of —
for as well might we call the babe in
swaddling-clothes a man, as give the
name to a being undeveloped in his
mental faculties. Such, however, thus
slightly sketched, are those tribes now ;
and such were another portion of the
red race, whose present condition we
seek breiflj' to lay before the public

Tall and stalwart, perhaps, as their
brethren in the prairie, are the remnant
of the once mighty tribes whose homes
on each side of the Alleghany have been



504



Past and Present



[May,



usurped by the white man. Seemingly
exemplifying the truth of the innate de-
pravity of man, they have adopted all
the vices of the pale-face, and have not
profited hy the blessings his civilization
confers. The most wretched of the
wretched hamlets of our cultivated land
becomes a metropolis, compared with the
best of the villages of the most civilized
of the tribes on the line. Situated near
the whites, they have continual recourse
to the groceries, where few groceries
but rum are sold; and, continuing from
day to day, the imbibing of poisonous
spirits, acquire the hebete air of stupidity
or recklessness, which gives too often the
foundation of the idea which most per-
sons, who have merely looked into the In-
dian's country, entertain of his character.
It is utterly in vain to labor to retrieve
him from his fallen state, until this all-
powerful influence be removed.

The worm of the still must be crushed,
or civilization can do but little for him
but to teach him its own peculiar vices,
to drown his own savage virtues, and
stifle the promptings of an erroneous,
perhaps, but noble creed, whose teachings
instructed them to more wisdom than
multitudes have received into their minds,
from all the doctrines of a high Chris-
tianity. Dearly have they learned the
weight of the white man's power. We
remember, not many years ago, to have
heard one of the best of their speakers, a
Choctaw warrior and orator, thus express
himself in his own musical and deep ac-
cents, when appealed to, to sign a treaty
by which he would have relinquished the
last foothold upon the home of his fathers.
•'The red man loves not to write. The
Great Spirit speaks : we hear his voice in
the wailing of the winds, in the rushing
of the mighty waters. He never writes.

"We will not write; we stand beside
the graves of our fathers, and they speak
to us. Could their voices have been
heard by the white man ten suns ago,
when their hearth-sides were sold, they
would not now have been beyond the
Father of waters, but would all have
died where their sires did."

They learned to look upon the agent
of the government of the United States as
one sent to overreach them, and have
therefore turned to the refugee whites,
who, lost to the companion.'-hip of tlieir
own race, exert a ba'cfui influence ujjon
the people that have sheltered them.
When will the government be awakened



to the voice of truth and justice, and
drive from the vicinity of the Indian,
where it has power to act, the living
instrument of the destruction of those
whom with no little arrogance it terms ils
children ? tDlad in tatters, like Tom of
Bedlam in' King Lear, with the garments
of either race indiscriminately worn, they
present pictures to harrow the hearts of
those who" have seen them in the wild
prairie, and remember the glorious de-
scriptions of them by the Spaniards, Ma-
riana and Bernal Diez, or the true poetry
of our own knight errant. Smith.

In those da)-s, they were Homeric; and
looking back at the traditions of their
eloquence, of the scenes of daring pre-
sented constantly by their history, we re-
call such harangues as an Ulysses might
have made to his Islanders, and such bold
feats as inspired Arminius with his elo-
quence. A recent writer (Mr. Brown, in
his history of Illinois,) has attempted to
throw some discredit on the genuineness
of the harangues handed down to us from
Logan and others, by Mr. Jefferson and
Mr. Erskine, and on those of Tecumseh
and Red Jacket. That a phrase or two may
have been added and a prurience lopped
away, all familiar with the mysteries of
reportingcan well understand; hut that the
winged thoughts remain as they were ut-
tered is beyond a doubt. The white man
has not in his bosoin a well of such deep
emotions as that to which they constantly
give utterance. To support this, one has
but to stand in the midst of an Indian coun-
cil, with a competent interpreter, and listen
how all subjects, however trivial, become
dignified; how the glorious images ga-
thered from the scenery of their mighty
forests and endless plains, come rolling
forth, unforced, uncalled for, like the
streams of the great rivers whose torrents
are among the first objects they look upon.
Such beings are yet the most degenerate
of the broken bands along our frontier.
They come always to the council grand
and dignified : those who on the day before
were prostrate and degraded in the filth
of a drinking hut, there assume and wear
the port of bronzed Apollos. Certainly,
the Indian has many elements of a noble
being. Unlike the white man, or the ne-
gro, he never grovels — a redeeming trait;
a memory of what he was ever exists in
his mind, anil the fine passage in Erskine's
speech, at Ila.sting's trial, if false as re-
gards mankind, was altogether true as far
as the people from whom he drew his



1845.]



OJ the Indian Tribes.



505



observation, are concerned.* The race,
that in memory of two generations, j)ro-
diiced a Fontiac and a Logan, a Tecum-
seh, a Mcintosh anil a Black -I lawk, not
to f^peak of earlier names in their history,
was, we cannot but hope, notwithstand-
ing all the melancholy past, formed for
brighter and better days.

But whatever of good is to arise for
them, must come from their connection
with the white race on this continent.
We propose to consider the manner in
which our government has acted towards
them.

Of the conduct of the early colonists
it is, of course, somewhat aside from
our present field of remark to speak —
as all that occurred before the United
States were a nation. It may be well,
however, as it certainly is just, to observe
that the whole course of events on the
American continent previous to the revo-
lution, if it afford no satisfactory apology
lor our own conduct, is at least a bar to
extreme censure from other nations.

The country on the Atlantic, at the
time of the discovery, was not densely
populated. The eastern declivity of the
Alleghanies did not contain over one per-
son to three square miles. The cold
winds from the ocean were not congenial
to them, and the population of the conti-
nent having proceeded from some point
on its western coast, the regions first
visited by the white man may be consi-
dered the ultima t/iule for the inhabi-
tants of the centre of the continent, and
not fair enough to tempt them to leave
the fertile valleys and broad plains of
which they were already possessed. The
English found, therefore, but abrasions
from the larger tribes — scattered, naked
and poor— and were under no necessity
to begin the usurpation of their hunting
grounds, much less so sorrowful an ex-
termination. That the transactions, how-
ever, of nearly all the colonial govern-
ments were little else than this, will be
made but too apparent, we fear, on the
pages of history. Much, undoubtedly,
is due to those lawless men, whom the
disturbances of the English revolution,
the wars of the reformation, and the va-
rious other conflicts that convulsed for a
series of years the heart of Europe, flung
in such numbers upon the shores of the
New World. Straggling always to the
borders of savage life, these vagrants,
heartless and grasping, were ready, for



gain, to commit any act of violence. Still,
it was the duly of the British authoritieH
to interpose a speedy and thorough check
to such ceaseless aggressions.

Having possessed therr^selves of the
country bordering upon the sea-shore,
and driven back those they found there
into the narrow regions, which constitut-
ed a kind of debateable land between
them and the larger tribes, the English
then commenced the sy.stem of extending
their agencies and trading houses far into
the interior of the continent, corrupting,
and thereby enfeebling all that came with-
in their influence. England and France
were, indeed, but renewing their old-
world jealousies in the unexplored depths
of the new, both pressing on to compass
the empire of the wilderness ; and they
used the original lords of the river and
forest only as serviceable instruments.

The events we are now beholding are
the inevitable consequences of the course
thus early begun by British cupidity.
That no greater progress was made in
actual occupation, was only owing to the
fact, that under the royal government
emigration was counted by scores, instead
of the thousands now arriving monthly at
our ports from every thoroughfare of Eu-
rope. The royal government was more
peaceable than our own, because it had
not equal capacity to be offensive, nor
equal interest in such a policy, as the
value of the Indian fur-trade was then of
tenfold the annual worth of their terri-
tories.

At the very commencement of the revo-
lutionary war, a system of acquisition
was commenced at Kaskaskia, whose
radiations had already reached the heart
of the Potawatamies, and prepared the
way for that proneness to be controlled
by British influence, which has not yet
disappeared. During the Revolution the
various tribes, with the exception, per-
haps, of the Lenupe and Choctaw, seem
to have fought for that power which,
only till then, they had known.

The war had closed — the Cherokees
and j\Iuscogees who, under the wise gov-
ernment of Washington had learned to
love the new Republic, remained peace-
ful, and the Shawneesand Potawatamies,
among whom British influence yet pre-
served alive the embers of war, by the
continued though sometimes unsuccess-
ful efforts of Harmer, St. Clair and
Wayne, were reduced to terms. In the



* Brown's History of Illinois, p. 26.



506



Past and Present



[May,



meantime, the Alleganies could not re-
strain the increasing population. Men
who had left their hearth-sides in old
England would not be content with
meaner homesteads, and in the Edens of
the West sought something to recompense
them for the loss of their domestic pos-
sessions. Then the bitter fruits sown by
the parent government, began to ripen.
The early colonists had in New England
looked upon the Indians as peculiarly
liege servants of Beelzebub, to be de-
stroyed, of course, by the children of the
Lord ; in New York and Pennsylvania,
as simple people not really in possession
of their wild lands, since they knew not
their value ; and in the southern colonies,
yet tinctured with the spirit of chivalry,
as heathen and pagans whom it was an
honor to slay. Thus actuated from the
Atlantic to the Spanish borders, they be-
gan to conduct in such a manner as to
call forth from AVashington the following
remark in a letter to Col. Humphreys :
" I must confess, I cannot see much pros-
pect of living in tranquillity with these
"people, so long as the spirit c>f land-jobbing
prevails, and our frontier sufferers con-
sider it no crime to murder an Indian."

This state of things prevailed every-
where, but was carried to the extremest
limit perhaps in Kentucky, where Boone
and his coadventurers canonized them-
selves by the slaughter of their foes, and
by winning for their adopted country the
name of the " dark and bloody ground."
Is it tlien singuhir, says Mr. Wirt, that
the Indian should be implacable, since
" they have been driven from river to
river, from forest to forest, and through
a period of two hundred years rolled back,
nation upon nation, till they have found
themselves fugitives, vagrants and stran-
gers in their oum country ;—and look for-
ward to the time when their descendants
will be totally extinguished by tears — dri-
ven at the point of the bayonet into the
western ocean, or reduced to a fate still
more deplorable and horrid — the condition
of slaves ?" And when awakened to this
necessity, when forced to fly like beasts
of prey into the wilderness, what has
been our course .' Followed up to their
very lair.=, when crouching like Van Am-
burgh's lions at the foot of the civilized
man, even then we have not left them
what the subdued beast has in sovereign-
ty, his cage; but we have forced them to
move here and there, at the call of each
new comer, to lick the hand which sub-
dued them, to submit to the control of a



race they scorn— or one other choice, to
fly yet farther into the desert; or, sacri-
licing nationality, to amalgamate with
the heredilarj' enemies of their race.
This last has been the sad lot of a people
from v;hom most of our instances will
be drawn, the Cherokee.

Peculiar in their language, or, at least,
differing from the tribes which surrounded
them, in this respect, their kindred races
must probably be sought for among the
relics of the flrst inhabitants we know of,
in the West Indian Archipelago, and the
main land of South America. The fact of
their looking upon the sun with peculiar
veneration, if not worship, may also lead
us to such a conjecture. They were
powerful at the first coming of the white
man, extending over the greater part of
Georgia, Tennessee, with portions of Vir-
ginia, and the Carolinas; to speak con-
cisely, occupying, with the Creeks, the
whole country south of the Ohio, and
west of the confederacy of Onasahuncanok
— or Powhattan. The Avhites Jbr a long
time forbore to interfere with them, and
those who lived in their vicinity, far from
molesting, esteemed themselves happy
that their fate was cast in the neighhor-
hood of a people, so well disposed to be
friendly. One of the tirst steps taken by
the Government during the revolution was
to send an agent among them to win their
silence, and prevent so formidable a peo-
ple from becoming hostile. Had they not
succeeded — had the weight of the Chero-
kee people been made a point d'apptii for
the tories of the Carolinas and Georgia,
throwing the whole force of the terrible
warriors of the southern tribes among the
scattered homes of the planters, who can
say how much more severe would have
been the struggle for our independence !

Their forbearance, however, and gene-
ral good faith, did not avail for their se-
curity, beyond that which other powerful
and more hostile tribes had found. Many
incidental events, indeed, helpedtoprepare
the way for the diflicullies that followed.
The acquisition of Louisiana was pecu-
liarly fatal to them. The cities of New Or-
leans, Baton Rouge and Louis had formed
around them already the nucleus of thriv-
ing population, and the filling up of the
old States placed them, as it were, within
the midst of the country, though not of
it; and a cry was raised, that they ob-
.'^tructcd the march of civilization, and
threw obstacles in the way of the execu-
tion of the laws of the country. Alarmed
by this cry, a portion of the nation, in



1845.]



OJ the Indian Tribes.



307



1818, or about that time, set oiit, as Cae-
sar represents the Gauls of old to luivc
done, novas quccrere sedes, and marched
onwards, until the fertile plains, near the
present port of Arkansas, between the
fork of the Arkansas and \V''hite rivers,
induced them to pause in their course.
But the emigrants were not more ])ros-
perous than those whom they left behiiul.
The country was too beautiful not to
have attracted the cupidity of the v/hite
as well as of the red man — and ere lonf^
they found themselves closely enclosed
on the banks of the western rivers as they
had been in the depth of the Alleghany
mountains. They moved higher up the
river to the site occupied by their tribe
at present, and where the government
has shown a disposition to protect them
against the frequent clamors of the peo-
ple. It is still disposed to do so, but if
Te.vas is annexed to the Union, will it be
able to preserve, to a feeble race compa-
ratively, the sovereignty of so narrow a
strip of territory, as that now guaranteed
to them, and which is already looked for-
ward to by the idlers who infest every
frontier city of our land as the Eldorado,
the possession of which is to realize the
dreams of their vagabond cupidity ?

Those, meanwhile, whom they had
left behind them, as sentinels near the
graves of their ancestors, had not stood
still in the march of civilization, but
taught in the rough school of the world,
that the devil must be fought with fire,
had learned to cheat, lie, and steal as
dexterously, as if the knowledge they
had acquired were an heir-loom. All
things seemed to tend to the ruin of the
Cherokee. The discovery of mineral
wealth — which, under a truely paternal
government such as ours over the Indians
professes to be, would have>endered them
wealthy and prosperous — but added to
their danger, by holding forth a new
temptation to the unprincipled men whom
the rumor of gold mines, in all ages, has
sufficed to entice from their settled homes.
And the aggressors not only injured the
Cherokee, by possessing themselves ulti-
mately of their land, but they injured the
morals of the nation, by their influence



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 1) → online text (page 95 of 124)