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JOURNAL OF CIVILIZATION.
UNDER THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF CIVILIZATION.
THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS.
a maze of uncertainty and doubt. Among all
those people over whom the shadow of darkness Nations exist still untutored in the arts that is now extended, we know of none which should civilize society, and ụnaided by the beacon-light of excite more interest, than the wide-spread family the Gospel, which can lead the ignorant savage of our red brethren, tenanting the wilds of the vast to a pitch of knowledge unattainable by the philo-American continent. sophers of ancient Greece-who perhaps advanced This is scarcely the place for entering into a dison the road to true wisdom as far as man's un- cussion on their origin and history ; indeed, such assisted nature permits—but were bewildered in an attempt would result in little but a string of
conjectures, founded upon frail and insufficient | eastwards and southwards, gradually peopled the testimony. It is sufficient to call to mind the fact whole land ; even as in those ages, when Egypt that the body of evidence which has been collected and Greece were yet in their glory, a silent emiby inquirers, seems to lead to the conclusion that gration from the Tartarian plains was going on, by the population of America commenced in the which the north of Europe was filled with nations north, and proceeded by slow degrees; that the brave in battle and cruel in conquest, and not flow of population at first rolled southward ; and unlike in other particulars to the Indians of that the Mexicans, whose advance in the arts of America or the Huns of Attila. life would appear almost miraculous, were we not The character of the North American Indians, acquainted with China and Japan, are supposed to whom we shall for the present confine ourselves, to have overcome another nation, also further has alternately been the theme of exaggerated advanced in civilization than the Indians of the panegyric and unlimited obloquy. The “noble northern part of the country at the time of its savage” has been held up as the model of all that discovery by Europeans. Further we cannot go, was brave and manly; his skill, his patience, his except so far as to determine that all the various fortitude, and his daring, have not been unjustly tribes who people the whole extent of North and praised. But his savage deeds of blood have been South America, (with the exception of the Esqui- held sufficient cause to execrate and hunt him down maux, who probably came from the eastward,) even as if he were indeed a wild beast, and possessed not to the dark-skinned Patagonians and cramp-limbed human feelings and affections, although far from Fuegians, are, although differing in various degrees deficient in those nobler attributes of our nature. from each other, descended from the same stock - Nor, in estimating the character of the savage from the Tartar tribes of the central table-lands from his actions, should we forget that professing of Asia-and that the variations among them and even sincere Christians have held it right to did not all arise, although many have been in- shoot down the wild Indian as a dog, or without creased, in America. The different habits of life pity to consign him to hopeless slavery in the West of the dweller in the forest, the hunter of the Indies-sad facts, too well authenticated by the prairies, the fisherman who spends his life in his records of Massachusetts and Connecticut. canoe, and the poor root-digger, debarred by his con- Still when we behold an ardent patriot-a term querors from the chase, and forced to pick a scanty not unadvisedly applied—an affectionate husband, living from the plants of the field—all produce strik- a fond father, a sincere friend, bowing down his ing varieties, mental and bodily; and yet, by the intellect to the mummery of a “Medicine-man,” force of true civilization, even the most degraded murdering women and children in cold blood, race may gradually be restored to the noblest and enjoying the tortures of his enemy as he roasts standard which human nature is capable of at- in agony at the stake, we fall back aghast at the taining.
contemplation of the revolting exhibition. The original emigrants were in all probability When we recollect that the Indians, so far from members of different tribes, first separated on being inclined to yield to mere argument en their ancestral plains by the same causes that reproached with their barbarous customs, justify have increased their distinctive qualities in an themselves with considerable acuteness and some adopted country. So lately as the winter of 1833, show of reason, that their conduct is not the result a Japanese junk was wrecked on the North-west of mere brutal stupidity, but is the choice of men of coast of America, in the neighbourhood of Queen equal mental power with ourselves, and in many Charlotte's Island. Most of the crew, who were points displaying qualities which must command weak and exhausted by the unlooked-for duration our respect, we receive a lesson which should teach of a voyage for which they were ill provided, were us humility, and make the veriest sceptic admit it slain by the natives ; but two fell into the hands to be necessary that the Gospel of Peace should of the Hudson's Bay Company, who sent them to lend its aid ere human nature can plant one foot their establishment at Vancouver on the Columbia firmly forward on the path of civilization. River, and thence to England. Of their subsequent In such reflections it may not be uninstrucfate the writer of this paper knows nothing; but tive to give a glance at some of the characterthis one fact, coupled with the statement of the istic habits and customs of the Indians. We find Jesuit Charlevoix-who records two instances of among them all a distinct idea of a future state of Indians being met with in Tartary—is sufficient to rewards and punishments ; of a creator, the Great establish the possibility of a very early communi-Spirit, the fountain of good; and of an Evil Spirit, cation between the two continents.
his enemy and the enemy of man ; both of whom Thus from time to time a few individuals, a may be influenced by prayer and acceptable sacri. family, and not improbably occasionally a whole fice. A more remarkable fact still is the tradition tribe, have been accidentally driven, or have pur- current, in one shape or another, among all the posely passed over from North Eastern Asia to the tribes of both Americas, of the Deluge. No one opposite shores of America, and thence spreading can have visited the curious collection of Indian
THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS.
portraits, landscapes, costumes, and implements of performance a sort of pantomimic accompaniment peace and war, painted and collected by Mr. Catlin, is enacted. A figure horribly painted with black, and now exhibited by him at the Egyptian Hall armed with a lance, the representative of the evil Piccadilly, without being struck by four paintings, spirit, enters the village, and endeavours to interrepresenting the singular ceremonies in use among rupt the ceremony. The women cry for assistance ; the Mandans, (a tribe now extinct,) and continued the warriors affect fear; but upon the interposition for four days and four nights in succession, in of the “Medicine-man” he is deprived of his lance, commemoration of the subsiding of the flood. which is broken by the women, and he is driven
This singular people possessed in the centre of away in disgrace. their village, for they were an agricultural, not a But the buffalo dance is the least, although the wandering tribe, a wooden erection, which they most frequently-occurring ceremonial of these four called their “ Big Canoe,” and which they verily days, and seems mainly intended to give all a part believed to be the remains of the vessel in which in a scene in which a few only are the chief actors. the progenitors of the Indians were preserved, The young men of the tribe were expected, before when all the earth was overwhelmed by the waters. they went on the war path or claimed a seat in They held their feast at the time when the willow the council, to give a proof of their constancy and boughs first burst into blossom; for they preserved fortitude ; and their ordeal seems to have been the tradition of the fact mentioned in Holy Writ, regarded as a propitiatory sacrifice pleasing to the that a dove first gave intimation to the inhabitants Great Spirit. Four days and four nights the candiof the Ark that the waters were subsiding, but dates for torture, and glory fasted in the great substituted the willow branch for the olive leaf. “Medicine lodge,” the “Medicine-man” lying in the
The chief ceremony, however, was no simple midst,crying to the Great Spirit at all times when he meed of praise and thanksgiving---no modest was not summoned forth to assist at the buffalo dance. humble prayer, in the trust that the voice of the On the fourth day, in the afternoon, the work of lowly heart would not be disregarded. Covered with torture commenced. Stout wooden splints were a grim mask formed from the shaggy hide of the passed through the flesh of the shoulders or the buffalo, the people by turns performed a grotesque pectoral muscles, and cords being attached to the dance around the “ Big Canoe,” to the sound splints, the already exhausted sufferer was susof drums and the cries of their “ Medicine-man." pended to the roof of the lodge. Other splints He is one among them, generally an ancient, who, were passed through the arms and legs, to which either by superior skill in the art of healing, the buffalo sculls were attached. The devotee was practice of successful juggling, by which the igno- then turned round with a pole until he fainted, rant may at all times be easily deceived, or per- and another took his place. As soon as the swoon chance by the force of a reputation as a prophet, passed away the sufferer dragged himself to the derived from the fulfilment of a dream, no uncom- entrance of the lodge, and there sacrificed the little mon or unaccountable occurrence—is looked upon finger of his right hand to the Great Spirit. by the people as one who holds a mysterious com- But all this was only preliminary to the final munication not only with the good but the evil ceremony. After all had been tortured in the spirit ; and dealing with the latter, is with them, lodge, they were led out, with the buffalo skulls as with all men even far advanced towards civili- still hanging to them. Around the “Big Canoe" zation, but not shielded by the armour of a lively a circle of young men, holding a wreath of willow faith,—deemed a more sure road to immediate boughs between them, danced violently, yelling success, than a reliance upon their God.
with all their might. Dressed in their hideous buffalo masks, and Themen who had been tortured were then brought bearing bunches of green willows on their backs, forward-two fresh and powerful young men laid the men, taking it by turns, eight at a time, hold on each, by leather straps tied around the dance round the “Big Canoe,” against which the wrist, and ran with them outside the circle of the " Medicine-man," with his “medicine-pipe” in his dancers till they fainted, and then still dragged hand, leans, and cries aloud to the Great Spirit. them forward, until the weights were all disenThis dance and crying, which are not altogether gaged from them by tearing the splints out of their unlike the leaping and crying of the priests of Baal, Alesh; they then dropped them, and left them appaare intended as a propitiation of the Great Spirit, rently dead, “ until the Great Spirit gave them to induce him to send them plenty of buffalo in strength to rise and walk to their lodges." the hunting season ; and should that fail, the dance, Such practices, when the exhibition of the power without the other ceremonies peculiar to the cele- of endurance considered needful to the hardy bration of the subsidence of the flood, is repeated warrior was made a portion of the ceremonial atwith the most horrible and inhuman gestures and tending a national petition to the Almighty, were cries.
doubtless regarded in a double light,-like the In the four days ceremonial the buffalo dance scourging of the young Lacedemonians at the is repeated several times each day, and during its shrine of Diana,—as at once a trial of fortitude and