James Cox.

My Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th online

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He conceived the idea of rallying all the colored people around him in
the impregnable mountains of Virginia, and having drafted a
constitution, he proceeded to unfurl his flag and call out his
supporters. In October, 1859, he took possession of the United States
Armory at Harper's Ferry, interfered with the running of trains, and
practically held the town with a force of some eighteen men, of whom
four were colored. Colonel Robert E. Lee quickly came on the scene with
a detachment of troops and drove the Brown following into an
engine-house. They declined to surrender, and thirteen were either
killed or mortally wounded. Two of Brown's sons were among those who
fell, and the leader himself was captured. He treated his trial with the
utmost indifference, and went to the scaffold erect and apparently
unconcerned. His body was taken to his old home in New York State, where
it was buried.

Abraham Lincoln must not be included in the list of enthusiastic
Abolitionists, although he eventually freed the slaves. In speeches made
prior to the war he expressed the opinion that in slave States general
emancipation would be ill-advised, and although his election was looked
upon as dangerous to slave-holders' interests, the fear seems to have
been prophetic in a large measure. It was not until the war had lasted
far longer than originally anticipated that Lincoln definitely
threatened to liberate the colored slaves. That threat he carried into
execution on January 1st, 1863, when 3,000,000 slaves became free. The
cause of the Confederacy had not yet become the "lost cause," and the
leaders on the Southern side were inclined to ridicule the decree, and
to regard it rather as a "bluff" than anything of a serious order. But
it was emancipation in fact as well as in deed, as the colored orator
never tired of explaining.

Such in outline is the history of the colored man during the days of
enforced servitude. Of his condition during that period volumes have
been written. Few works printed in the English language have been more
widely circulated than "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which has been read in every
English-speaking country in the world, and in many other countries
besides. It has been dramatized and performed upon thousands of stages
before audiences of every rank and class. As a descriptive work it
rivals in many passages the very best ever written. Much controversy has
taken place as to how much of the book is history - how much of it is
founded upon fact and how much is pure fiction. The ground is a rather
dangerous one to touch. It is safest to say that while the brutality
held up to scorn and contempt in this book was not general in the slave
States or on plantations in the South, what is depicted might have taken
place under existing laws, and the book exposed iniquities which were
certainly perpetrated in isolated cases.

That all negroes were not treated badly, or that slavery invariably
meant misery, can be easily proved by any one who takes the trouble to
investigate, even in the most superficial manner. When the news of
emancipation gradually spread through the remote regions of the South,
there were hundreds and probably thousands of negroes who declined
absolutely to take advantage of the freedom given them. Many most
pathetic cases of devotion and love were made manifest. Even to-day
there are numbers of aged colored men and women who are remaining with
their old-time owners and declining to regard emancipation as logical or
reasonable.

Not long ago, a Northern writer while traveling through the South found
an aged negro, whom he approached with a view to getting some
interesting passages of local history. To his surprise he found that the
old man had but one idea. That idea was that it was his duty to take
care of and preserve his old master's grave. When the war broke out, the
old hero was the body-servant or valet of a man, who, from the very
first, was in the thick of the fight against the North. The colored man
followed his soldier-master from place to place, and when a Northern
bullet put an end to the career of the master, the servant reverently
conveyed the body back to the old home, superintended the interment, and
commenced a daily routine of watching, which for more than thirty years
he had never varied.

All the relatives of the deceased had left the neighborhood years
before, and the faithful old negro was the only one left to watch over
the grave and keep the flowers that were growing on it in good
condition. As far as could be learned from local gossip, the old fellow
had no visible means of subsistence, securing what little he needed to
eat in exchange for odd jobs around neighboring houses. No one seemed to
know where he slept, or seemed to regard the matter as of any
consequence. There was about the jet black hero, however, an air of
absolute happiness, added to an obvious sense of pride at the
performance of his self-imposed and very loving task.

Instances of this kind could be multiplied almost without end. The negro
as a free man and citizen retains many of the most prominent
characteristics which marked his career in the days before the war. Now
and again one hears of a negro committing suicide. Such an event,
however, is almost as rare as resignation of an office-holder or the
death of an annuitant. Indifference to suffering and a keen appreciation
of pleasure, make prolonged grief very unusual among Afro-Americans, and
in consequence their lives are comparatively joyous.

One has to go down South to appreciate the colored man as he really is.
In the North he is apt to imitate the white man so much that he loses
his unique personality. In the Southern States, however, he can be found
in all his original glory. Here he can be regarded as a survival of
preceding generations. In the South, before the war, the truism that
there is dignity in toil was scarcely appreciated at its full worth. The
negro understood, as if by instinct, that he ought to work for his white
master, and that duties of every kind in the field, on the road and in
the house, should be performed by him. For a white man who worked he
entertained feelings in which there was a little pity and a great deal
of contempt. He has never got over this feeling, or the feeling which
his father before him had. Down South to-day the expression "po' white
trash" is still full of meaning, and the words are uttered by the
thick-lipped, woolly-headed critics with an emphasis and expression the
very best white mimic has never yet succeeded in reproducing.

George Augustus Sala, one of England's oldest and most successful
descriptive writers, talks very entertainingly regarding the emancipated
slave. The first trip made to this country by the versatile writer
referred to was during the war.

He returned home full of prejudices, and wrote up the country in that
supercilious manner European writers are too apt to adopt in regard to
America. Several years later he made his second trip, and his
experiences, as recorded in "America Revisited," are much better
reading, and much freer from prejudice.

"For full five and thirty years," he writes, "had I been waiting to see
the negro 'standing in the mill pond.' I saw him in all his glory and
all his driving wretchedness at Guinneys, in the State of Virginia. I
own that for some days past the potential African, 'standin' in de mill
pond longer than he oughter' had been lying somewhat heavily on my
conscience. My acquaintance with our dark brethren since arriving in
this country had not only been necessarily limited, but scarcely of a
nature to give me any practical insight into his real condition since he
has been a free man - free to work or starve; free to become a good
citizen or go to the devil, as he has gone, mundanely speaking, in Hayti
and elsewhere. Colored folks are few and far between in New York, and
they have never, as a rule, been slaves, and are not even generally of
servile extraction. In Philadelphia they are much more numerous. Many of
the mulatto waiters employed in the hotels are strikingly handsome men,
and on the whole the sable sons of Pennsylvania struck me as being
industrious, well dressed, prosperous, and a trifle haughty in their
intercourse with white folks.

"In Baltimore, where slavery existed until the promulgation of Lincoln's
proclamation, the colored people are plentiful. I met a good many
ragged, shiftless, and generally dejected negroes of both sexes, who
appeared to be just the kind of waifs and strays who would stand in a
mill pond longer than they ought to in the event of there being any
convenient mill pond at hand. But the better class darkeys, who have
been domestic slaves in Baltimore families, seemed to retain all their
own affectionate obsequiousness of manner and respectful familiarity.
Again, in Washington, the black man and his congeners seemed to be doing
remarkably well. At one of the quietest, most elegant and most
comfortable hotels in the Federal Capital, I found the establishment
conducted by a colored man, all of whose employes, from the clerks in
the office to the waiters and chambermaids, were colored. Our
chambermaid was a delightful old lady, and insisted ere we left that we
should give her a receipt for a real old English Christmas plum pudding.

"But these were not the mill pond folk of whom I was in quest. They were
of the South, as an Irishman in London is of Ireland, but not in it. I
had a craving to see whether any of the social ashes of slavery lived
their wonted fires. Away down South was the real object of my mission,
and in pursuit of that mission I went on to Richmond."

Mr. Sala proceeds to give a most amusing account of his ride from New
York to Richmond, with various criticisms of sleeping-car accommodation,
heartily endorsed by all American travelers who have read them. Arriving
at Richmond he asked the usual question: "Is not the negro idle,
thriftless and thievish?" From time immemorial it has been asserted that
the laws of meum and tuum have no meaning for the colored man. It is a
joke current in more than one American city, that the police have
standing orders to arrest every negro seen carrying a turkey or a
chicken along the street. In other words, the funny man would have us
believe that the innate love of poultry in the Ethiopian's breast is so
great that the chances are against his having been possessed of
sufficient force of character to pass a store or market where any birds
were exposed for sale and not watched.

It is doubtless a libel on the colored race to state that even the
majority of its members are chicken thieves by descent rather than
inclination, just as it is a libel on their religion to insinuate that a
colored camp meeting is almost certain to involve severe inroads into
the chicken coops and roosts of the neighboring farmers. Certain it is,
however, that chicken stealing is one of the most dangerous causes of
backsliding on the part of colored converts and enthusiastic singers of
hymns in negro churches. The case of the convert who was asked by his
pastor, a week after his admission to the church, if he had stolen a
chicken since his conversion, and who carefully concealed a stolen duck
under his coat while he assured the good man that he had not, is an
exaggerated one of course, but it is quoted as a good story in almost
every State and city in the Union.

Mr. Sala objects very much to judging a whole class of people by a few
street-corner or cross-road loungers. The negro he found to be
superstitious, just as we find them to-day. Even educated negroes are
apt to give credence to many stories which, on the face of them, appear
ridiculous. The words "Hoodoo" and "Mascot" have a meaning among these
people of which we have only a dim conception, and when sickness enters
a family the aid of an alleged doctor, who is often a charlatan of the
worst character, is apt to be sought. It will take several generations
to work out this characteristic, and perhaps the greatest complaint the
colored race has against those who formerly held them in subjection, is
the way in which voodoo and supernatural stories were told ignorant
slaves with a view to frightening them into obedience, and inciting them
to extra exertions.

For absolute ignorance and apparent lack of human understanding, the
negro loafer to be found around some of our Southern towns and depots
may be quoted as a signal and quite amusing example. The hat, as Mr.
Sala humorously puts it, resembles an inverted coal scuttle or bucket
without handles, and pierced by many holes. It is something like the
bonnet of a Brobdingnagian Quakeress, huge and flapped and battered, and
fearful to look upon.

"Hang all this equipment," this interesting writer goes on to say, "on
the limbs of a tall negro of any age between sixteen and sixty, and then
let him stand close to the scaffold-like platform of the depot shanty
and let him loaf. His attitude is one of complete and apathetic
immobility. He does not grin. He may be chewing, but he does not smoke.
He does not beg; at least in so far as I observed him he stood in no
posture and assumed no gestures belonging to the mendicant. He looms at
you with a dull, stony, preoccupied gaze, as though his thoughts were a
thousand miles away in the unknown land; while once in every quarter of
an hour or so he woke up to a momentary consciousness that he was a
thing neither rich nor rare, and so wondered how in thunder he got
there. He is a derelict, a fragment of flotsam and jetsam cast upon the
not too hospitable shore of civilization after the great storm had
lashed the Southern sea to frenzy and the ship of slavery had gone to
pieces forever. Possibly he is a good deal more human than he looks, and
if he chose to bestir himself and to address himself to articulate
discourse, could tell you a great many things about his wants and
wishes, his views and feelings on things in general which, to you, might
prove little more than amazing. As things go, he prefers to do nothing
and to proffer no kind of explanation as to why he is standing there in
a metaphorical mill pond very much 'longer than he oughter.'"

One turns with pleasure from the severe, but perhaps not overdrawn,
character sketch of the colored loafer, to the better side of the modern
negro. The intense desire for education, and the keen recognition of the
fact that knowledge is power, point to a time when utter ignorance even
among the negroes will be a thing of the past. Prejudice is hard to
fight against, and the colored man has often a considerable amount of
handicap to overcome. But just as Mr. Sala found the typical negro,
"standing in the mill pond longer than he oughter," a sad memento of the
past, so the traveler can find many an intelligent and entertaining
individual whose accent betrays his color even in the darkest night, but
whose cute expressions and pleasant reminiscences go a long way towards
convincing even the sternest critic that the future is full of hope for
a race whose past has in it so little that is either pleasing or
satisfactory.





CHAPTER XV.


OUR NATIONAL PARK.

A Delightful Rhapsody - Early History of Yellowstone Park - A Fish Story
which Convulsed Congress - The First White Man to Visit the Park - A Race
for Life - Philosophy of the Hot Springs - Mount Everts - From the Geysers
to Elk Park - Some Old Friends and New Ones - Yellowstone Lake - The
Angler's Paradise.


Yellowstone Park is generally included in the list of the wonders of the
world. It is certainly unique in every respect, and no other nation,
modern or ancient, has ever been able to boast of a recreation ground
and park provided by nature and supplied with such magnificent and
extraordinary attractions and peculiarities. It is a park upon a
mountain, being more than 10,000 feet above the level of the sea.
Irregular in shape, it may be said to be about sixty miles across on the
average, and it contains an area of 3,500 square miles.

Mr. Olin D. Wheeler, in an admirable treatise on this park, in which he
describes some of the many wonders in the marvelous region traversed by
the Northern Pacific Railroad, thus rhapsodizes:

"The Yellowstone Park! The gem of wonderland. The land of mystic
splendor. Region of bubbling caldron and boiling pool with fretted rims,
rivaling the coral in delicacy of texture and the rainbow in variety of
color; of steaming funnels exhaling into the etherine atmosphere in
calm, unruffled monotone and paroxysmal ejection, vast clouds of fleecy
vapor from the underground furnaces of the God of Nature; sylvan
parkland, where amidst the unsullied freshness of flower-strewn valley
and bountiful woodland, the native fauna of the land browse in fearless
joy and wander wild and free, unfretted by sound of huntsman's horn, the
long-drawn bay of the hound, and the sharp crack of the rifle.

"Land of beauteous vale and laughing water, thundering cataract and
winding ravine; realm of the Ice King and the Fire King; enchanted spot,
where mountain and sea meet and kiss each other; where the murmurs of
the river, as it meanders through heaven-blest valleys, becomes harsh
and sullen amid the pine-covered hills which darken and throttle its
joyous song, until, uncontrollable, it throws itself, a magnificent
sheet of diamond spray and plunging torrent, over precipices, and rolls
along an emerald flood betwixt cañon walls, such as the eye of mortal
has seldom seen."

The history of this park is involved in a good deal of mystery. About
ninety years ago it was first discovered, but the information brought
back to civilization by the explorers was apparently so exaggerated that
it excited general ridicule. No one believed that the wonders described
really existed. Even later, when corroborative evidence was forthcoming,
skepticism continued. It was almost as difficult then to make people
believe the truth about the hot springs and geysers, as it is now to
make people believe that it is possible for a man to stand on the edge
of a hot spring, catch the choicest kind of fish in the cool waters of
the lake surrounding him, and then cook his fish in the boiling water of
the spring without taking it off the hook, or walking a single step.

This latter fish story has the peculiar feature of being true. Several
reliable men, including some who have not allowed the ardent pursuit of
Isaac Walton's pet pastime to blunt their susceptibility of veracity,
have performed this apparently impossible feat, or have seen it done
right before their very eyes. A year or so ago, when an appropriation
was asked for in Congress for the further preservation of Yellowstone
Park, a member made this extraordinary possibility an argument in
support of his plea. A roar of laughter succeeded his recital, and when
the orator stopped to explain that he was merely recording an actual
fact and not telling a fish story, there seemed to be danger of
wholesale convulsion within the legislative walls. Several of the amused
Congressmen subsequently made inquiries and ascertained to their
astonishment that, instead of exaggeration, the half had not been told,
and that if a full summary of the attractions of Yellowstone Park were
to be written, the immense shelves of the Congressional Library itself
would scarcely hold the books that would have to be written to contain
it.

This little divergence is to afford an excuse for the incredulity of our
forefathers, who made sarcastic remarks as to the powers of wild Western
whisky, when pioneers returned from the Rocky Mountains and told them
that there existed away up in the clouds an immense natural park, where
beauty and weirdness could be found side by side.

John Colter, or Coulter, is said to have been the first white man who
ever entered the natural portals of this glorious park. It was in the
early days of the century that this remarkable man had his adventure. He
was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which was sent out to
explore the sources of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. He was
naturally an adventurer, and a man who had no idea of the meaning of the
word "danger." The party had a glimpse of Yellowstone Park, and Coulter
was so enamored with the hunting prospects that he either deserted from
the expedition party or obtained permission to remain behind.

However this may have been, it is certain that Coulter remained, with
but one companion, in the vicinity of the Jefferson Fork of the Missouri
River. According to fairly authentic records, he and his companion were
captured by hostile Blackfeet, who showed their resentment at the
intrusion upon the privacy of their domains by depriving Coulter of his
clothing, and Coulter's companion of his life. The chronic adventurer,
however, spent four years among the more friendly Bannock Indians, who
probably for centuries had lived in or near the park. He had a very
enjoyable time in the newly discovered region, and his adventures
crowded upon each other, one after the other, with great rapidity. When
at last he decided to return to the abode of the white man, he took with
him a fund of recollection and incident of the most sensational
character, and before he had been at home with his own kindred a week,
he had earned the reputation of being a modern Ananias, ten times more
mendacious than the original article.

Twenty or thirty years elapsed before any reliable information was
obtained about the park. James Bridger, the daring scout and
mountaineer, went through the park more than once, and in his most
exaggerated rhapsodies told of its beauties and of its marvels. But
Bridger's stories had been tried in the balances and found wanting
before this, and nobody worried very much over them. In 1870, Dr. F. V.
Hayden and Mr. M. P. Langford explored the park on a more rational
basis, and gave to the world, in reliable shape, a resume of their
discoveries. Mr. Langford was himself an experienced Western explorer.
For many years he had desired to either verify or disprove the so-called
fairy tales which were going the rounds concerning Yellowstone Park. He
found a number of equally adventurous gentlemen, including the
Surveyor-General of Montana, Mr. Washburn, after whom the expedition was
generally known. In 1871, Dr. Hayden, who was then connected with the
United States Geological Survey Department, undertook a scientific
exploration of the park. He was accompanied by Mr. Langford, and the two
men together tore away the veil of mystery which had overhung the
wonderful resort among the hills, and gave to the country, for the first
time, a reliable description of one of the most magnificent of its
possessions.

The report was not confined to eulogy. It included drawings, photographs
and geological summaries, and wound up with an earnest appeal to the
National Government to reserve the beauty spot as a National Park
forever. Several men arose to endorse the request, and in March, 1872,
Congress passed an act dedicating Yellowstone Park to the public for all
time, declaring it to be a grand national playground and a museum of
unparalleled and incomparable marvels.

Since that time the park has gradually become better known and more
highly appreciated. The Northern Pacific Railroad runs a branch line to
which the name of the park has been given, and which connects
Livingston, Montana, with Cinnabar, at the northern edge of the park.
The road is about fifty miles long, and the scenery through which it
passes is astounding in its nature.

From Cinnabar the tourist is driven in large stages throughout the park.
If at all reminiscent by nature, he thinks about the experiences of
Coulter, to whom we have already referred as the pioneer white man of
Yellowstone. Early in the century the park was occupied by Indians, who
had scarcely come in contact with white men, and who had not learned
that in the unavoidable conflict between races, the weaker must
inevitably succumb to the stronger. Around the limpid streams and at the
borders of the virgin forests, containing untold wealth, tents made of
skin drawn over boughs cut roughly from trees, could be seen in every
direction. All around there were rough-looking, utterly uncivilized
Indians, who were carrying out their usual occupation of doing nothing,
and doing it with exceptional ability.

The women or squaws were more active, but frequently paused in their
work to look at the unfortunate Coulter, who, deprived of his clothing
and absolutely naked, was waiting, bound hand and foot, for the fate
that he had every reason to believe awaited him. His only companion had
been killed the day before, and he expected every minute to meet the


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Online LibraryJames CoxMy Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th → online text (page 16 of 24)