Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Indians have hitherto uniformly resisted all attempts to civilise them, where they could support themselves by the chase. Some few tribes, such as the Southern Indians, and the remnants of the Six Nations, having been hemmed in by the whites, and circumscribed in their limits so as to be unable to live by hunting, have turned to agriculture for subsistence; but such a departure from the habits of savage life is not to be found where there has been a possibility of supporting life by other means. The hospitality of Indians is among their most striking qualities. In any of the tribes, a stranger is received with the utmost respect and attention. On his arrival he is served with the best in the wigwam, seated on the best seat, and treated with the utmost respect and attention. Ilis person and property are considered sacred. He may remain as long as he pleases in a wigwam without any questions being asked, and retire unopposed. Feasts are made for him; and, though his appetite may be satisfied, to refuse anything set before him gives great offence. With all, or almost all, the Indian tribes, the sole care of the men is to provide food; the labour is the exclusive lot of the women. The use of the axe or hoe is considered beneath the dignity of the male sex. It belongs to the females to plant corn, to make and mend garments and moccasins, to build, to pitch tents, to cut wood, to bring water, to tend horses and dogs, and, on a march, to carry the baggage. The women do not murmur at this, but consider it a natural and equitable distribution of family cares. But they are regarded as an inferior race, and often transferred as property. Polygamy is general. Every man has as many wives as he can support, and, in marriages, the will of the bride is seldom or never consulted; a man addresses himself directly to the parents of his intended wife, and her fate depends on their will. The custom of dowry is reversed among Indians; the man makes certain presents to the parents of his wife, instead of receiving a portion with her. The marriage ceremony is always very simple, and, in most tribes, there is none at all. Adultery is punished by cutting off the nose, or otherwise mutilating the offending female; sometimes, though rarely, with death: in some tribes, this crime is regarded as a venial fault, and in many the husband lends his wife to a friend without opposition on her part. Divorces

are frequent, and at the pleasure of the contracting parties: in such cases, the wife is usually left to provide for the children as she may. It is no uncommon thing to see an Indian woman who has been five or six times repudiated before she finally settles in life. In some tribes, especially those of Dahcotah origin, it is held the duty of each man to marry all the sisters of a family, and to have as many wives as he can support. In most tribes, and we believe in all. incest is held in abhorrence; and instances of devoted attachment are not uncommon -Every Indian submits in youth to a process of severe mental and corporeal discipline; during the course of which, frequent intervals of long and rigid abstinence are enjoined, by which the system is reduced. and the imagination rendered more suscep tible. Dreams are then encouraged: b these the novice is taught both his duty and his destiny; and in them his guardian manitou, who is to protect him in life and attend him in death, appears in the shape of some familiar animal, thenceforth to be the object of his adoration. He is taugh to despise death, and during his whole life he regards it with indifference. An Indian seldom commits suicide; not because the grave does not offer him a refuge, but be cause patience and fortitude are the first duties of a warrior, and none but a coward can yield to pain or misfortune. This sternness of purpose is another lesson early taught. He learns also to despise labour, to become a warrior and a hunter, to associate the idea of disgrace with any other employment, and to leave to the women all the ordinary duties of life. He is a ster and unbending fatalist: whatever of good or of evil may happen, he receives it with imperturbable calmness. If misfortunes press upon him which he cannot resist, be can die; and he dies without a murmur. The opinions, traditions, and institutions of his own tribe, are endeared to him by habit, feeling, and authority; and, from early infancy, he is taught that the Great Spirit will be offended by any change in the customs of his red children, which have all been established by him. Reckless of consequences, he is the child of impulse; unrestrained by moral considerations, whatever his passions prompt he does. Believing all the wild and debasing superstitions which have come down to him, he has no practical views of a moral superintendence, to protect or to punish him. Government

is unknown among them; certainly that contempt by all, though his condition be government which prescribes general rules, not of his own choice. This condition is and enforces or vindicates them. The utter frequently owing to a dream of his parents nakedness of their society can be known while he is yet unborn. In many tribes only by personal observation. The tribes men have what they call their medicineseem to be held together by a kind of bags, which are filled with bones, feathers, family ligament; by the ties of blood, and other rubbish; and to the preservation which, in the infancy of society, are of their medicine-bags they attach much stronger, as other associations are weaker. importance. Besides this, each holds some They have no criminal code, no courts, no particular animal in reverence, which he officers, no punishments. They have no calls his medicine, and can by no means be relative duties to enforce, no debts to induced to kill, or eat it when killed, for collect, no property to restore. They are in fear of some terrible misfortune. Moreover, a state of nature, as much as it is possible the Indians leave tobacco, worn-out clothing, for any people to be. Injuries are re- and other articles, on rocks, as sacrifices to dressed by revenge, and strength is the invisible spirits. security for right.

It is, perhaps, impossible now to estimate All Indians, of whom we have any know- the number of the North American Indians ledge, believe in one Supreme God and the with any degree of accuracy. It is, howimmortality of the soul. They attribute all ever, very small, in proportion to the extent good and all power to the Supreme Being. of their territory; for a hunting people Many tribes also believe in the existence cannot be very numerous. Their wars, of of an intelligent evil principle, whose ill which so much has been heard, do not offices they endeavour to avert by prayer now materially affect them. They are carand sacrifice. They never ask the Supreme ried on in detail by small parties, and, for anything, but merely return thanks for consequently, are not very destructive. benefits received; saying, that he is the best They very seldom give quarter; but, when judge of what is for their advantage. They a prisoner is spared, he is sure of being believe in many subordinate deities, two of adopted by the conquering tribe. The whom reside in the sun and moon. They tribes which inhabit the prairies go to war attribute supernatural powers to all serpents, on horseback, and their weapons are spears especially rattle-snakes, and will kill no and bows and arrows. Those who inhabit animal of the genus. Even the eel escapes the forests are generally armed with guns. on account of his resemblance. They pay Their courage is moral and passive, rather religious honours to rocks and venerable than active. They think it cowardice to objects. They believe that brutes have be affected by calamity, or to give way to immortal souls as well as men; and, in short, passion or emotion. Though they have no that all animated nature teems with spirits. laws, there are customs, which every indiIn their belief sorcery is blended with the vidual scrupulously observes. In cases of healing art, and their priests are also phy-murder, for instance, the rule is blood for sicians and jugglers. These priests practise feats of sleight of hand with all their religious ceremonies; but, with a few exceptions, they have no power or influence over the multitude. The future state of the Indians is a material paradise, where they will follow the same occupations, and enjoy the same delights they have experienced in this world. They have also a vague idea of future punishment for sins committed in the body. Among the superstitions of the Algonquin and Dahcotah tribes, is a very singular one: a man is sometimes devoted, by his parents or himself, to a life of ignominy. In this case, he dresses like a woman, and performs all female avocations; he associates with women only, and sometimes takes a husband; and he is held in utter

blood, and the homicide rarely shuns the penalty of his deed. They have chiefs, but the power of these is limited to persuasion, and they can command no one. Sometimes a chief becomes such in virtue of his achievements in war, or his wisdom: in some tribes, there is something like hereditary rank; but even this authority does not descend in a direct line, the son of a chief being often set aside to make room for one more worthy. But in war, implicit obedience is given to the commands of a leader. The tribes that inhabit the prairies all live by hunting the buffalo, mostly on horseback; those who dwell in wooded countries hunt deer and smaller animals. The more primitive savages are the poorest; but at the same time the least dependent, for they have few

might have added, the first settlers of the other colonies), "who, notwithstanding their being furnished with a charter from their sovereign, purchased of the Indians the lands they resolved to cultivate."*

wants, and can supply those few without who first settled in New England" (and he assistance. Those who live nearer the whites have more of the comforts of life, but are no whit more civilised or more happy. It is probable, that if the Indian trade of the Mississippi were interrupted for five years, all the aborigines of that quarter would be in danger of perishing, since they depend on the whites for clothing and weapons. The Indians can never more be dangerous, as there is no union among them. On the whole, we may speak of them as a brave, reckless, generous, and unfortunate people.

quent reference, "that the reduction or disappearance of the game, consequent upon the conversion of forests into fields, and the gradual advance of a civilised people, must have soon begun to press upon the means of subsistence on which the Indians mainly depended. Other circumstances co-operated in the work of destruction. Fire-arms were introduced, and greatly facilitated the ope rations of the hunter. Articles of European merchandise were offered to the In dians, and they were taught the value of their furs, and encouraged to procure them. New wants arose among them: the rifle

Whether, however, the space which the Indians had been accustomed to roam over in search of food was diminished by feud, fraud, or equitable agreement, the result to the native tribes was ultimately the same: it tended to limit the only means of subsist ence of which they chose to avail themselves, and, consequently, to add to the Such is the race of human beings, who, wretchedness of their condition, and to dimifrom a remote period, occupied-we were nish their numbers. "It is obvious," says going to say, but the term is inapplicable, the writer of a long and able article on this and has occasioned serious misunderstand- subject in the North American Review, to ings on the subject-ranged over the which we shall have occasion to make fre northern portion of this vast continent undisturbed, till mercantile adventure, or religious persecution, brought to their shores the civilised inhabitants of Europe. The right of Europeans to take possession of the soil which formed the vast hunting province of these tribes, has given rise to much discussion. Had they, in any sense, fulfilled the purpose for which the earth was given to the children of men, it would have been difficult to establish a title to any kind of possession contrary to their consent. But to maintain that the fact of a tribe of 1,000 men passing and repassing through as many square miles of country, and was found a more efficient instrument than destroying as many of its irrational occu- the bow and arrow; blankets were more pants as might be deemed needful for their comfortable than buffalo robes; and cloth, support, could give them just claim to have than dressed skins. The exchange was such territory considered exclusively their altogether unfavourable to them: the goods own, is more than we think the most zealous they received were dear, and the peltry philanthropist will be willing deliberately they furnished was cheap; a greater num to contend for. At the utmost, the only ber of animals was necessary for the support right they could have was to retain a suffi- of each family, and increased exertion was ciency of land to support them in their own required to procure them. We need not way; and even this, perhaps, could scarcely pursue this subject further. It is easy to be maintained in its fullest extent. Nearly see the consequences, both to the Indians this view of the subject, however, was taken and their game. Herds of buffaloes were by the English colonists; and, consequently, once found upon the shore of Lake Erie, with very few exceptions, full compensation and at the base of the Alleghany mountains; to the Indians for their foregoing the right they have now receded to the plains beyond of scouring the country when they thought the Mississippi, and are every year migratfit, was made upon terms settled with them ing still further west. A few years since as parties to a voluntary treaty. We do not they were unknown in the Rocky Mounintend to maintain that, in some instances, tains; they have now passed that barrier, the aborigines were not unjustly or cruelly and will ere long cease to exist. treated, but that the principle generally beaver has nearly disappeared upon all our acted on was not unsound. The testimony borders, and hunters and trappers have fol of Vattel is-"We cannot help praising lowed them to the waters of the Columbia. the moderation of the English puritans, * Vattel: book i., chap. xviii.

The

Even the common red deer, once so abun- of ascertaining; it is certain, however, as dant, is rarely found east of the Alleghany, well from a consideration of their mode of and is becoming scarce in the western life by Europeans, as from a careful examiregions. But a still more powerful cause nation of the earlier narratives, that, greatly has operated to produce this diminution in as they exceeded their present numbers, the number of the Indians: ardent spirits they were yet thinly scattered over the have been the bane of their improvement, country. The ratio of diminution may and one of the principal agents in their de- have been greater or less; but there is no clension and degradation. In this proposi- just reason to believe, that the tribes tion we include only those tribes in imme- have been increasing in numbers at any diate contact with our frontier settlements, period since they became known to Euroor who have remained upon reservations peans. This opinion is expressed by the guaranteed to them. It has been found superintendents of Indian affairs, in reports impracticable to prevent the sale of spiri- submitted to congress by the war departtuous liquors to those who are thus situated: ment; and, from the favourable opportunithe most judicious laws are eluded or openly ties possessed by those officers of acquiring violated. The love of spirits and the love correct information upon this subject, their of gain conspire to bring together the opinion must carry with it considerable buyer and the seller. As the penalties be- authority. Prescott, in 1860, gave the numcome heavier, and the probability of detec- ber of nations as 219, embracing 608 tribes, tion and punishment stronger, the prohi- which he enumerated by name; the amount bited article becomes dearer, and the sacri- of native population (including that spread fice to obtain it greater. We shall not at- over the British possessions) being comtempt to investigate the cause of the puted at 2,000,000. The name of nation is inordinate attachment displayed by the given by him to those tribes that derive Indians to ardent spirits; it is probably their origin from the same stock. For inwithout a parallel in all the history of man, stance, the Snakes, the Comanches, and and is certainly so, with very few excep- several other peoples of New Mexico, Upper tions, in the whole range of their own California, and Texas, spring from the society. This predisposition was the sub- Shoshonees nation. The tribes, in their ject of observation and regret two centuries turn, were divided into bands or villages: ago; and the earlier historians and tra- sometimes giving up their primitive name vellers, while they furnish the record of its for that of the country they inhabit, or of existence, furnish also the evidence of its the river near which they dwell. Some overpowering influence and destructive con- tribes have but one village-others many. sequences. To the operation of the physi- The bands are now frequently composed of cal causes which we have described, must 100, or even 500, lodges, wigwams, or tents. be added the moral causes connected with A greater agglomeration of families would their mode of life and their peculiar opi- render a long sojourn in the same place imnions. Distress could not teach them pro- possible, as the tribes now live exclusively vidence, nor want industry. As animal on the products of the chase. Each lodge food decreased, their vegetable productions contains, on an average, ten persons. In were not increased. Their habits were general, every fourth or fifth man is a stationary and unbending, never changing warrior. with the change of circumstances. There is a principle of repulsion in ceaseless activity, operating through all their institutions, which prevents them from appreciating or adopting any other modes of life, or any other habits of thought or action, but those which have descended to them from their ancestors."

That the aboriginal population should decrease under the operation of these causes, can excite no surprise. Whether the tribes upon this continent had attained the maximum of their population before its discovery by Europeans, we have not now the means

The divisions of the tribes that, in the beginning, formed only one people, were brought about by various causes. In a war, or during a great hunt, there were necessarily a number, more or less considerable, of individuals separated from the principal corps; and the reunion of the separated parties offering too many difficulties and dangers, the fractions established themselves in the countries which offered the best security and resources. But notwithstanding this separation, the languages, and the religious and historical traditions, were perpetuated in the families;

and it is thus that the Ojibbeways are recognised to be a section of the Chippeways. The Assinniboins have a similar relationship to the Sioux; and several other tribes are in the same condition.

The tribes that have preserved, up to the present day, a special name, are still very numerous. It is true that most of them are nearly extinct, and they are now limited to a very few families; nevertheless, many still remain that have preserved their prestige and their traditions, with their manners and usages. Such are the remnants of the primitive people, who, only two centuries ago, possessed this vast country, and who found in the sea, the lakes, the rivers, and the forests, means of subsistence sufficient for their wants.

and usefulness. And as these prospects are blighted, others succeed to excite the same hopes, and to end in the same disappointment. The cause of this total failure cannot be attributed to the nature of the experi ment, nor to the character, qualifications, or conduct of those who have directed it. The process and the persons have varied, as experience suggested alterations in the one, and a spirit of generous self-devotion sup‐ plied the changes in the other. But there seems to be some insurmountable obstacle in the habits or temperament of the Indians, which has heretofore prevented, and yet prevents, the success of these labours. What ever this may be, it appears to be confined to the tribes occupying this part of the cortinent. In Mexico and South America, a From an early period, their rapid declen- large portion of the aboriginal race has sion and ultimate extinction were foreseen accommodated itself to new circumstances, and lamented, and various plans for their and forms a constituent part of the same preservation and improvement were pro-society with their conquerors. Under the jected and pursued. Many of them were Spanish régime they existed as a degraded carefully taught at our seminaries of educa- cast; but still they were sedentary, living tion, in the hope that principles of morality under the protection of the laws, and proand habits of industry would be acquired, viding by labour for their comfortable suband that they might stimulate their country-sistence. In other parts of the continent, men, by precept and example, to a better particularly in California and Paraguay, course of life Missionary stations were where the Spanish sway had but a nominal established among various tribes, where existence, the Jesuits succeeded in col zealous and pious men devoted themselves, with generous ardour, to the task of instruction, as well in agriculture and the mechanical arts, as in the principles of morality and religion. The Roman catholic church preceded the protestant in this labour of charity; and the Lettres Edifiantes are monuments of her zeal and liberality. Unfortunately, they are monuments, also, of unsuccessful and unproductive efforts. What tribe has been civilised by all this expenditure of treasure, and labour, and care? From the martyrdom of Le Père Brebeuf, in 1649, upon the shore of Lake Huron, to the death of the last missionary, who sacrificed himself in a cause as holy as it has proved hopeless, what permanent effect has been produced? Year after year We turn from this digression to the direct sanguine anticipations have been formed, to subject of European adventure in the far be succeeded by disappointment and despon- west. The spirit of maritime enterprise, dency. We are flattered with accounts of which began to develop itself in England success, with explanations for the past, and towards the close of the 15th century, had hopes for the future; and this without the gradually the effect of attracting to the slightest intention to deceive. But the shores of that country many of the most subject itself is calculated to excite these resolute and experienced of a hardy and expectations. There are always individuals adventurous race of seamen, whom no attending these establishments who give dangers could appal, no hardships disfair promise of permanent improvement courage, when in the pursuit of gain. A

lecting the Indians into regular societies, in improving their morals and condition, and in controlling and directing their conduct. In the usual progress of conquest, where permanent possession is retained, the victors and vanquished become connected together, and, if they do not form one people, they yet acknowledge obedience to the same laws, and look to them for protection. The efforts of the United States' government, in connection with religious associations, have been eminently successful in Christianising the Indians living within their reserved territories. They are taught the useful arts, and many of them become expert in mechanics. The different tribes are under civil organisa. tions, and have their own codes of laws.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »