James Fenimore Cooper.

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a superhcial pretension to humanity, trifle with the
safety and happiness of two of their fellow-citizens,
in order to give an affected aid to the undoubtedly
righteous cause of one black man. If this species of
irritating la^iguage did good, if it did no harm by
hardening men in their opinions, it would be dis-
agreeable ; but under the actual state of things, it is
far worse than useless. The general tone of the
press, however, is sufficiently amicable ; and all those
who understand the difference between argumenta-
tion and judgment, have reason to hope it may long
continue so.

But physical suffering, especially in a country like
this, is not the prominent grievance of slavery. It is
the deep moral degradation, which no man has a
right to entail on another, that forms the essence ot
its shame. God has planted in all our spirits secrel
but lasting aspirations after a state of existence
higher than that which we enjoy, and no one has a
right to say that such are the limits beyond which
your reason, and, consequently, your mental being,
shall not pass. That men, equally degraded, exist
under systems that do not openly avow the principle


of domestic slavery, is no excuse for the perpetuation
of such a scourge, though circumstances and neces-
sity may urge a great deal in extenuation of its
present existence.


Sfc. Sfc.


The next subject of interest, after the unfortunate
descendants of the Africans, that has been brought
into my notice by this southern tour, is the remnant
of the original possessors of these regions. By far
the most numerous, and the most important of the
native tribes, which still continue in the immediate
vicinity of the whites, are those -which occupy re-
servations in Georgia, the Floridas, Alabama, Missis-
sippi, and Tennessee. The hngering fragments of a
hundred tribes are certainly seen scattered over the
immense surface of this country, living on greater or
less tracts that had been secured to them, or dwelling
by sutFerance in the woods ; but the only people now
residing east of the Mississippi who can aspire to the
names of nations, are the Creeks, the Choctaws, the
Chickasaws, the Cherokees, and the Seminoles, all
of whom dwell in the portion of country I have

As a rule, the red man disappears before the supe-
rior moral and physical influence of the white, just
as I believe the black man will eventually do the
same thing, unless he shall seek shelter in some other
region. In nine cases in ten, the tribes have gradu-
aliv removed west ; and there is now a confused as-

VoL. II. A a


semblage of nations and languages collected on the
immense hunting grounds of the Prairies.

It is impossible to say any thing of the numbers of
the Indians, except by conjecture, since they are not
considered as coming properly within the computa-
tions of the censuses. Perhaps the five nations
named may contain not far from twenty thousand
souls. It is not probable that all the Indians that
live within the boundaries of the United States,
stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, materially
exceed 120,000, if indeed they reach that amount.
Still I do not pretend to any great accuracy in my
estimates. Their numbers, in this quarter of America,
have always been exaggerated; and the sounding
terms of nations and tribes have contributed to the
extension of a mistaken idea of their importance.

The ordinary manner of the disappearance of the
Indian, is by a removal deeper into the forest. Still,
many linger near the graves of their fathers, to which
their superstitions, no less than a fine natural feeling,
lend a deeper interest. The fate of the latter is in-
evitable ; they become victims to the abuses of civil-
ization, without ever attaining to any of its moral

As might be supposed, numberless divisions of these
people, when the country was discovered, were found
in possession of districts along the coast, and deriving
a principal means of support from the ocean. They
were fishermen rather than hunters, though the savage
state ordinarily infers a resort to both pursuits. Most
of these people, foo, retired reluctantly from a view
of " the great salt lake," but some were environed by
the whites before they were properly aware of the
blighting influence of the communion ; and, getting
gradually accustomed to their presence, they prefer-
red remaining near the places where they had first
drawn breath. Trifling districts of territory have
been, in every instance in which they were sufficient-



ly numerous to make such a provision desirable, se-
cured to them, and on these httle tracts of land many
of them still remain. I have visited one or two of
their establishfnents.

In point of civilization, comJorts, and character,
the Indians, who remain near the coasts, are about
on a level wnth the lowest classes of European peas-
antry. Perhaps they are somewhat below the English,
but I think not below the IHsh peasants. They are
much below^ the condition of the mass of the slaves.
It is but another proof of the wayward vanity of man,
that the latter always hold the Indians in contempt,
though it is some proof that they feel their own con-
dilion to be physically better : morally, in one sense,
it certainly is not.

Many of these Atlantic Indians go to sea. They
are quite often found in the w^halers, and, in some in-
stances, in the vessels of war. An officer in the navy
has told me that he once knew a Montauk Indian
wdio v^as a captain of the main-top in a sloop of war ;
and in another instance, a flag officer had his gig
manned by Indians. They make active and very
obedient seamen, but are never remarkable for
strength. The whole number of them wlio now go
to sea, does not, however, probably exceed a hundred
or two.*

*The writer, while in America, heard an anecdote which
may eive some idea of the notions of retributive justice which
lino-erso long in the philosophy of an Indian, and Avhicu is
probably, the basis of his desire for revenge, since he is well
known to be as eminently grateful as he is vindictive. 1 he
whalers always take their reward in a portion of the protits ot
the voyage. An Indian made several voyages m succession, m
the same ship ; he found, at his return, that bad luck, advances,
and the supplies of an extravagant family at home, lelt him
always in debt. " What shall I do ?" was the question put to
his owner, as each unfortunate balance was exhibited. i ou
must go to sea." To sea he went, and, as stated, for four or
five years, always with the same result. At length, good tor-
tune, with a proper amount of preventive castigatioa on his un-


I accompanied Cadwallader on a visit to a con-
nexion, who lives v%^ithin forty niiies of New- York,
on the adjacent island of Nassau (Long Island.)
The uncle of my friend was a man of an extensive
hereditary estate, on which there might have been
a reservation of a few thousand acres of woods.
While shooting over this forest, one day, the proprie-
tor asked me if 1 felt any desire to see an Indian
king. Surprised at such a question, in such a place,
an explanation was requested. He told me that an
Indian, who claimed to be a descendant of the ancient
Sachems, then held his court in his woods, and that
a walk of fifteen minutes would bring us into the
presence of King Peter. We went.

I found this Indian, dwelling with his family, in a
wigwam of a most primitive construction. It was in
the form of a bee-hive, or rather of a very high dome.
The covering was made of a long, tough grass, that
grows near the sea, and the texture was fine and even
beautiful. A post in the centre supported the fabric,
which was shaped by delicate curving poles. A hole
in the top admitted the light, and allowed the smoke
to pass out ; and the fire was near enough to the up-
right post to permit a kettle to be suspended from
one of its knots (or cut branches) near enough to feel
the influence of the heat. The door was a covering
of mats, and the furniture consisted of a few rude
chairs, baskets, and a bed, that was neither savage,
nor yet such as marks the civilized man. The attire
of the family was partly that of the one condition, and
partly that of tlie other. The man himself was a
full-blooded Indian, but his manner had that species

provident wife, before he sailed, brought the balance on his side.
The money was of course tendered ; but for a long time he re-
fused to receive it, insisting that justice required that his owners
should now go to sea, where it would seem he had not enjoyed
himself quite as much as he believed the other party to the
contract had done on shore.


of sullen deportment that betrays the disposition
without the boldness of the savage. He complained
that "basket stuff" was getting scarce, and spoke of
an intention of removing his wigwam shortly to some
other estate.

The manufacture of baskets and brooms is a com-
mon employment of all the Indians who reside near
the settlements. They feed on game, and, sometimes,
like the gypsies, they make free with poultry, though
in common they are rigidly honest; nearl}" always so,
unless corrupted by much intercourse with the v/hites.
With the proceeds of their labour they purchase
blankets, powder, and such other indulgences as ex-
ceed their art to manufacture. King Peter, I was
told, claimed a right, in virtue of his royal descent,
to cut saplings to supply his m.aterials, on any estate
in the island. He was permitted to enjoy this species
of feudal privilege in quiet, it. being well understood
that he was not to exceed a certain discretion in its

In the more interior parts of the country, I fre-
quently met families of the Indians, either travelhng,
or proceeding to some village, with their wares.
They were all alike, a stunted, dirty, and degraded
race. Som.etimes they encamped in the forests, lighted
their fires, and remained for weeks in a place ; and
at others, they kept roaming daily, until the time
arrived when they should return to their reservations.

The reservations in the old States, and with tribes
that cannot aspire to the dignity of nations, are man-
aged on a sufficiently humane principle. The laws
of the State, or of the United States, have jurisdic-
tion there, in all matters between white men, or be-
tween a white man and an Indian ; but the Indians
themselves are commonly permitted to control the
whole of their own internal policy. Bargains, ex-
ceeding certain amounts, are not valid between them
and the whites, who cannot, for instance, purchase
Aa 2


their lands. Schools are usually provided, in the more
important tribes, by the general government, and in
the less, by charity. Religious instruction is also
furnished by the latter means.

I saw reservations in which no mean advances had
been made in civilization. Farms were imperfectly
tilled, and cattle were seen grazing in the fields.
Still, civilization advances slowly among a people
who consider labour a degradation, in addition to the
bodily dislike that all men have to its occupations.

There are many of these tribes, however, who fill a
far more important, and altogether a remarkable posi-
tion. There is certainly no portion of country within
the admitted boundaries of the United States, in which
their laws are not paramount, if they choose to exert
them. Still, savage communities do exist within these
limits, with whom they make treaties, against whom
they wage open war, and with whom they make
solemn peace. As a treaty is, by the constitution,
the paramount law of the land, the several States are
obliged to respect their legal provisions.

That neither the United States, nor any individual
State, has ever taken possession of any land that, by
usage or construction, might be decreed the property
of the Indians, without a treaty and a purchase, is, I
believe, certain. How far an equivalent is given, is
another question : though I fancy that these bargains
are quite as just as any that are ever driven between
the weak and the strong, the intelligent and the igno-
rant. It is not pretended that the value of the ter-
ritory gained is paid for ; but the purchase is rather
a deference to general principles of justice and hu-
manity, than a concession to a right in the Indians,
which itself might admit of a thousand legal quib-
bles. The treaties are sufficiently humane, and,
although certain borderers, who possess the power
of the white man with the disposition of the savage,
do sometimes violate their conditions, there is no just


reason to distrust the intentions or the conduct of the
government. But jou may desire to know something
of the detail of the intercourse.

You have seen that the expenses of the war de-
partment of this government, for the year 1826, was
6,243,236 dollars. Among other charges, I find the
following items included in the gross amount. The
sums are all in dollars. Civilization of Indians,
14,914; pay of Indian agents, 29,860; sub-ditto,
12,131; presents to Indians, 16,387; contingencies
of Indian department, 130,542; general councils
with Indians on Lake Superior, 270,000 ; relief of
the Florida Indians, 7,249 ; treaties with ditto, 3,218 ;
Creek treaties, 109,471; Choctaw treaty, 2,056;
Choctaw schools, 2,804 ; treaties with Choctaws and
Chickasaws, 15,000; other Indian treaties, 183,568;
annuities to Indians, 243,542, &c. &:c.

The annuities are sums paid for grants of land.
At the treaties, presents are always made to the
tribes, and the agents and sub-agents are men em-
ployed to maintain the influence of the government,
and at the same time, to see that the rights of the
Indians are respected.

There is a bureau of the war department that is
called the " oflice of the Indian affairs." A humane
and discreet individual is at its head, and a good deal
is endeavoured to be done in mitigating the sufferings
and in meliorating the condition of the Indians,
though, owing to the pecuhar habits and opinions of
these people, but little, I fear, is effected. I see by
the report of the current year, (1827) that, in nine
months, requisitions towards the support of the ob-
jects of this bureau, were made to the amount of
759,116 dollars, or at the rate of a little more than
a million of dollars a year. This, you will remem-
ber, is one-tenth of the current expenditure of the
whole government, and nearly as much as is paid for
the support of the whole civil Ust, strictly speaking.


The manner in which the money is appropriated, can
be seen in the extracts already quoted for the year

Tlie government, it would appear by the reports,
puts the utmost latitude on the construction of their
constitutional powers, by even paying money for the
support of missionaries among the Indians. I believe,
however, that the alleged and legal object of this
charge, is for general instruction, though in point of
fact, the teachers are missionaries. They are of all
sects, Protestant and Catholic, the question of creed
being never discussed at all. T see by the reports,
that (in 1827) there were 1291 scholars in the differ-
ent schools that come under the superintendence of
the government. It is not probable that all the In-
dians belonging to the tribes that receive this instruc-
tion, much exceed, if indeed they reach, the total
number of 30,000. I think it is therefore apparent,
that quite as good provision for elementary instruc-
tion is made in behalf of the Indians, as is commonly
made for the people of any country, except those of
the United States themselves. There is no reason to
suppose that all the children who present themselves,
are not taught ; and there is much reason for believ-
ing that etforts are constantly making to induce all
to come. The number of teachers is 293, which is
quite enough to instruct ten times the number. You
are not to suppose, however, that all these teachers
are men hired expressly for that purpose. They are
the missionaries, their wives and families, and some
of them are for the purpose of instructing in the arts
of life, as well as in reading and writing. Much of
the expense is defrayed by charitable associations.
The sum actually paid by the government for tl
express object of instruction, is 7,150 dollars,
enough to maintain rather more than forty teachers
at stipends of 150 dollars each. It is probable that


some receive more, and some less. It is said that the
schools are generally in a flourishing condition.

Where there is much intercourse between the
very strong and very weak, there is always a ten-
dency in the human mind to suspect abuses of power.
I shall not descend into the secret impulses that give
rise to these suspicions : but in this stage of the world,
there is no necessity for suspecting a nation like this
of any unprovoked wrongs against a people like the
savages. The inroad of the whites of the United
States has never been marked by the gross injustice
and brutality that have distinguished similar inroads
elsewhere. The Indians have never been slain ex-
cept in battle, unless by lawless individuals; never
hunted by blood-hounds, or in any manner aggriev-
ed, except in the general, and, perhaps, in some de-
gree, justifiable invasion of a territory that they did
not want, nor could not use. If the government of
the United States was poor and necessitous, one
might suspect it of an unjust propensity; but not
oidy the facts, but the premises, would teach us to
believe the reverse.

A great, humane, and, I think, rational project, is
now in operation to bring the Indians within the pale
of civilization. I shall furnish you with its outline
as it is detailed in a recent report of the head of the
Indian oilice.

Most, if not all of the Indians who reside east of
the Mississippi, live within the jurisdiction of some
State or of some territory. In most cases they are left
to the quiet enjoyment of the scanty rights which
they retain; but the people of their vicinity com-
monly wish to get rid of neighbours that retard civil-
ization, and who are so often troublesome. The
policy of States is sometimes adverse to their con-
tinuance. Though there is no power, except that of
the United States, which can effect their removal
without their own consent, the State authorities can


greatly embarrass the control of the general govem-
ment. A question of policy, and, perhaps, of jurisdic-
tion, lately arose on this subject between Georgia
and the general government. In the course of its
disposal, the United States, in order to secure the
rights of the Indians more effectually, and to pre-
vent any future question of this sort, appear to have
hit on the following plan.

West of the Mississippi they still hold large regions
that belong to no State or territory. They propose
to several tribes (Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees,
&;c.) to sell their present possessions, improvements,
houses, fences, stock, &c., and to receive, in return,
acre for acre, with the same amount of stock, fences,
and every other auxiliary of civilization they now
possess. The inducements to make this exchange
are as follow: — Perpetuity to their establishments,
since a pledge is given that no title shall ever be
granted that may raise a pretext for another removal ;
an organization of a republican, or, as it is termed, a
territorial government for them, such as now exist in
Florida, Arkansas, and Michigan ; protection, by the
presence of troops ; and a right to send delegates to
Congress, similar to that now enjoyed by the other

If the plan can be effected, there is reason to think
that the constant diminution in the numbers of the
Indians will be checked, and that a race, about whom
there is so much that is poetic and fine in recollec-
tion, will be preserved. Indeed, some of the southern
tribes have already endured the collision with the
white man, and are still slowly on the increase. As
one of these tribes, at least, (the Chickasaws,) is in-
cluded in this plan, there is just ground to hope that
the dangerous point of communication has been
passed, and that they may continue to advance in
civilization to maturity. The chief of the bureau on
Indian affairs gives it as his opinion that they (the


€hickasaws) have increased about ten per cent,
within six years. Their whole number is computed
at four thousand souls.

Should such a territory be formed, a nucleus will
be created, around which all the savages of the west,
who have any yearnings for a more meliorated state
of existence, can rally. As there is little reluctance
to mingle the white and red blood, (for the physical
difference is far less than in the case of the blacks,
and the Indians have never been menial slaves,) I
think an amalgamation of the two races would in
time occur. Those families of America wdio are
thought to have any of the Indian blood, are rather
proud of their descent, and it is a matter of boast
among many of the most considerable persons of
Virginia, that they are descended from the renowned

The character of the American Indian has been
too often faithfully described to need any repetition
here. The majority of them, in or near the settle-
ments, are an humbled and much degraded race. As
you recede from the Mississippi, the finer traits of
savage life become visible ; and, although most of the
natives of the Prairies, even there, are far from being
the interesting and romantic heroes that poets love
to paint, there are specimens of loftiness of spirit, of
bearing, and of savage heroism, to be found among
the chiefs, that might embarrass the fertility of the
richest invention to equal. I met one of those he-
roes of the desert, and a finer physical and moral
man, allowing for peculiarity of condition, it has
rarely been my good fortune to encounter.

Peterlasharroo, or the young knife chief of the
Pawnees, when I saw him, was a man of some six or
seven-and-twenty years. He had already gained re-
nown as a warrior, and he had won the confidence
of his tribe by repeated exhibitions of wisdom and
moderation. He had been signally useful in destroy-


ing a baneful superstition, which would have made a
sacrifice of a female prisoner, whose life he saved by
admirable energy, and a fearless exposure of his own.
The reputation of even this remote and savage hero
had spread beyond the narrow limits of his own
country ; and, when we met, I was prepared to yield
him esteem and admiration. But the impression pro-
duced by his grave and haughty, though still cour-
teous mien, the restless, but often steady, and bold
glance of his dark, keen eye, and the quiet dignity of
his air, are still present to my recollection. With a
view to propitiate so powerful a chief, I had pre-
pared a present of peacock's feathers, which were
so arranged as to produce as much eifect as the fine
plumage of that noble bird will allow. He received
my offering with a quiet smile, and regarded the boon
with a complacency that seemed to find more of its
motive in a wish to be grateful, than in any selfish
gratification. The gift w^as then laid aside, nor was
it regarded again, during the whole of a long and in-
teresting interview. You may judge of my surprise,
when I afterwards learned that this simple child of
the plains considered my gift in some such light as
a courtier would esteem a brilhant. The interpreter
assured me that I had made him able to purchase
thirty horses, a species of property that constitutes
the chief wealth of his tribe. But, notwithstanding
my unintentional liberality, no sign of pleasure, be-
yond that which I have related, was suffered to es-
cape him, in the presence of a white man.

( 289 )

SfC. SfC.


Yoa can scarcely expect a very minute descrip-
tion of what 1 have seen in my southern tour. Still
I may put a few general facts before your eyes, in a
new, and, perhaps, not uninteresting manner.

The eleven slave-holding States of this confedera-
tion contain about 489,000 square miles of territory.
If Arkansas and the Floridas (not yet States) shall
be included, they will swell the amount to about
600,000, or something less than double the extent of
the whole thirteen northern, or free States, nicluding
Michigan, which, together, cover a surface of 334,000

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 52 of 58)