« ZurückWeiter »
for speculative inquiry. Eager to enjoy a country abounding in wealth, and happy at finding it possessed by men unable to defend it, they looked upon the natives as upon wretches, fit only for servitude.
The same difficulty, to a certain extent, meets us at the very threshold in contemplating the Indians of North America. Although the first settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts, in a moral point of view, were superior to the mercenary hordes that overrun and subjected to Spanish sway the fertile regions of the South, we have only to peruse their early history to be convinced, that impartiality, respecting the natives, was not among their virtues.
In one particular, however, all agree—that this vast Continent, from one extremity to the other, when the restless foot of European adventure first trod its soil, was inhabited, or more properly speaking, was overrun by a race of men advanced more or less in civilization. There are, it is said, in New-Holland and in Africa at the present day, human beings in a state of nature, entirely ignorant of the most common arts of life. The natives of this country, though barbarous, were not at the time of its discovery, in that predicament. All of them had made more or less progress in civilization, and the Mexicans and Peruvians, if we are to credit Spanish writers, had made considerable progress, not only in the arts, but in science; and were at least on a par in that respect with their conquerors, except in the art or science of human butchery, in which, all admit, the latter excelled. The North American Indians were about on a par with the ancient Britons in the time of Julius Cæsar.
Hume, the English historian, after speaking of the ancient Britons in the southeast part of the island, before the age of Cæsar, observes : “ The other inhabitants of the island still maintained themselves by pasture. They were clothed with the skins of beasts; they dwelt in huts, which they reared in the forests and marshes with which the country was covered; they shifted their habitations when hopes of plunder, or the fear of an enemy, impelled them; the convenience of feeding their cattle was a sufficient motive for moving their seats; and as they were ignorant of all the refinements of life, their wants and possessions were scanty and limited.
“ The Britons were divided into nations or tribes, and being a military people, whose sole property was their arms and their cattle, it was impossible, after they had acquired a relish for liberty, for their princes or their chieftains to establish despotic authority over them. Their governments, though monarchical, were free, and the common people enjoyed more liberty than among the nations of Gaul, from whom they were descended. Each state was divided into factions within itself—and agitated with jealousy or animosity against the neighboring states. While the arts of peace were yet unknown, war was their chief occupation, and formed the chief object of ambition among the people.
The Druids were their priests, and possessed great authority among them. Human sacrifices were practiced, and the spoils of war were devoted, in part, to their divinities.”
Those acquainted with the character, habits, manners, and religion, of the Indians of Illinois, will recognize in the above a familiar picture, and by referring to Tacitus, the Roman historian, they will discover in the Saxon race, from which we are principally descended, traits of character nearly similar. We must not, however, from thence infer, that the natives of this country are of Celtic or Saxon origin. Men, whose circumstances are alike, by a law of our nature, become assimilated in manners, in habits, and in character. A British poet, in speaking of Julius Cæsar, remarks that he would have been a herdsman, or a great wrestler, had he not been a Roman emperor.
Great Julius, on the mountain bred,
In some particulars, the natives of this country were vastly inferior to those who are called barbarous by the Europeans. The use of iron to the American savage was unknown. Hence, their inability to accomplish works so easily performed by civilized men. In another particular too, they were also inferior to the barbarians of the Eastern Continent. The savages of this country in no instance availed themselves of animal labor. They were not in fact “ lords of the creation.” The Tartar follows his prey upon the horse he has reared. The Arab has rendered the camel docile. The Laplander has made the reindeer subservient to his will. The people of Kamptschatka have trained their dogs to laborand the native of Hindostan has brought the half-reasoning elephant to his aid; but the American savage performs whatever he undertakes, merely by the strength of his own native arm. He is not conscious of any superi. ority he possesses over brutes. He considers himself their enemy, not their superior. He knows how to waste and to destroy, but not how to multiply or to govern them.
To form an opinion of the North American Indian, as he existed when he was lord of this vast Continent, predicated upon what most of us have seen in the miserable hordes which at the present day infest our borders, and hang on the skirts of civilization, would be doing them and our readers great injustice. It must be considered, that the savage has been exalted by some writers in the scale of existence above his merits; that his state has sometimes been represented as one of perfect happiness. That he is the real “stoic of the woods ”_
man without tear.' Some of this is unquestionably true-most of it, however, is unquestionably false. That the present race are mere remnants of once powerful tribes, we can easily believe ; but that those tribes, when in “all their glory," were anything more than mere savages, gaining a precarious existence by wandering over the vast and boundless forests, the majestic rivers, and mighty prairies of this vast Continent, is not equally clear. That they possessed capacities which fitted them for their (then) state of existence;
that they were linked to their fellow-men in civilized life, by more of those sympathies and affections than are usually ascribed to them, is cheerfully admitted. Their wants, however, were few and easily supplied. In the early stages of society, the arts deemed necessary for comfort are so few, that each one is sufficiently master of them all, to gratify his limited desires. To form his bow and point his arrow—to rear his hut, and hollow his canoe, is about the extent of man's early acquisitions, and this he does without calling to his aid any hand but his own. His labor, how. ever, progresses slowly-hence, “ the work of an Indian” became, among the Spaniards, a phrase by which they described anything in the execution of which much time had been employed, and much labor thrown away.
The most simple operation was a work of great difficulty. To fell a tree with hatchets of stone, was the employment of a month. To form a canoe into shape and hollow it, was the work of years. Their operations in agriculture were equally defective. The clearing a small field for culture, required the efforts of a tribe ; and the labor of its cultivation was left to the women.
Agriculture, when the strength of man is seconded by that of animals, and his power augmented by the use of instruments, is an undertaking of great labor among civilized nations.
It ought not then to excite surprise, that a people destitute of both, should have made but little progress either in agriculture or the arts.
In hunting and fishing, they excelled. In the latter, it is said, they became so expert in South America “as to infect the water with the juice of certain plants, by which the fish became so intoxicated, that they floated on the surface, and were taken by hand.”* A bold and dextrous hunter ranked next in fame to a distinguished warrior. No device which the ingenuity of man ever discovered, for ensnaring and destroying wild beasts, escaped his attention. He discovered, as it were by instinct, the footsteps of animals, which escaped every eye but his own, and followed them with unerring certainty through pathless forests. When he attacked his game openly, his arrow seldom erred; and when he attempted to cir. cumvent it by art, it was almost impossible to escape his toils. His skill has only been surpassed by “the hunters of Kentucky,” who, it is said, are disgraced by drawing blood in the killing of game; perfection in the art among them consisting in shooting so near, as to stun and bring it to the earth without shedding its blood.
Among several tribes their young men were not permitted to marry, until they had given such evidence of their skill in hunting, as to remove all doubts of their ability to support a family. Nations more civilized than they, might perhaps, in this particular, profit by their example.
Having no legal tribunals to which parties could appeal for the redrese of injuries, revenge was of course intrusted to private hands. In case
Robertson's History of America.
violence had been committed, or blood had been shed, the community did not assume the province either of inflicting, or moderating the punishment. It belonged to the family and friends of the person injured or slain, to avenge the wrong, or accept the reparation offered by the aggres. sor; and as it was deemed pusillanimous to suffer an offender with impunity to escape, resentment was implacable.
Having no ideas of separate property, avarice and many vices incident to man in a civilized state, were of course unknown. The relation between debtor and creditor being unacknowledged, and their chiefs exerci. sing no criminal jurisdiction, the ties which bound the savage warrior and his clan together, were exceedingly feeble ; and without the aid of superstition, by whose fatal influence the human mind is frequently depressed, and its native vigor subdued, would scarcely have existed. Their ideas of separate property were imperfect, and still the rudest tribes were acquainted with the rights of each to its own domains. These were entirely exclusive, and their hunting-grounds, like European parks and forests, were guarded with the utmost care. Their boundaries, however, were uncertain. This led to frequent disputes, which termi. nated in bloodshed. Hence most of the Indian wars, which for centuries previous to its discovery, converted the whole of this Western Continent into one great charnel-house, and wrapt its forests and prairies in gloom. A community limited in number, and constituting, as in case of an Indian tribe one family, is more sensible of injury than a community of larger dimensions; because the injury of one individual is an injury to the whole, and sentiments of vengeance, like the electric spark, are instantly diffused. As feeble societies enter the field in small parties only, each warrior is conscious of his own importance, and feels, that to his single arm is committed a considerable portion of the public vengeance. War was there. fore prosecuted by them, with all the rancor of a private quarrel. One council-fire was sufficient for its discussion. Here all the warriors and sages assembled. Eloquence and superstition inflamed their minds. The orator awoke their martial ardor, and they were wrought up to a kind of religious desperation “ by the visions of the prophet and the dreamer.”
In going to war, they were never satisfied till they extirpated, in whole or in part, the objects of their vengeance. They sought not to conquer, but to destroy. Revenge was the first, and almost the only principle, which the savage instilled into the minds of his children. Under its baneful influence, he neither pitied nor forgave. When a chief wished to allure a band of warriors to his standard, his most persuasive topics were drawn from revenge, and at times it must be admitted, they were eloquent. Animated by such exhortations, the youth snatched their arms in a transport of fury-raised the war.whoop--mingled in the danceand burned with impatience to “ attack the foe.”
Sometimes, however, they were more deliberate, and then an Indian council was one of the most dignified bodies of men on earth. The
elders assembled, and delivered their opinions in solemn speeches, weighed, with extreme caution, the nature of the enterprise, and balanced its beneficial or injurious tendencies with great sagacity. Their priests and soothsayers, in such cases, were consulted, and sometimes the
If war was declared, they prepared for it deliberately. A leader of renown stepped forth, and offered to conduct the expedition. None but a successful warrior or a skilful hunter, applied for a command, and none were constrained to follow him. The resolution of the community imposed no obligation upon any member to participate in the war. Each individual was master of his own conduct, and his engagement was entirely voluntary. They never took the field in numerous bodies, as it would require more efforts, and greater industry, than usually exists among savages, to provide for their subsistence. Their armies were, therefore, encumbered neither with baggage nor military stores. When at a distance from the enemy, they dispersed themselves through the woods, and lived upon its game; and as they approached the territories of a hostile tribe, they collected their troops and advanced with caution. Their most active hostilities were carried on by stratagem. To set on fire their enemies' huts at midnight, and to massacre men, women and children, as they fled naked and defenceless from the flames, constituted their pride and glory. No applause was attached to force. To surprise and to destroy, was the greatest merit of a commander, and the highest pride of his followers. They traced the footsteps of an enemy with wonderful accuracy through pathless forests—laid in ambush from day to day—and rushed upon their foes when the latter were most secure, and least prepared for resistance. They concealed their approach-crept frequently on their hands and feet through the woods, and to avoid detectivn, painted their skins of the color of withered leaves. With them it was considered folly to meet an enemy on his guard, or give him battle in open day. The most distinguished success was a disgrace, if purchased with considerable loss; and to fall in battle, instead of being glorious, as among civilized nations, subjected the memory of a warrior to the imputation of rashness. This has frequently been imputed to cowardice. When, however, we consider the fact, now conceded, that at times they made extraordinary efforts—defended themselves often with great resolution-attacked their enemies with daring courage, and rose superior to a sense of danger or fear of death, we are compelled to admit that their caution originated from other and different motives. The number in each tribe was so small, and the difficulty of raising new members so great, that the life of an individual was exceedingly precious, and the preservation of it, a consideration of importance in their policy.
Although they discovered great sagacity, as well in concealing their own motions as in discovering those of an enemy; when they entered the field in large parties, those precautions essential to their security, were seldom observed. Unaccustomed to subordination, unable or unwilling