NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:

Previous section

Next section


THE Indians have been prejudged, misjudged, and subjected to harsh judgments in various ways. Respecting the origin of the tribes, and the manner in which the continent may have been peopled, Charlevoix, in 1721, after an elaborate examination of all that had been written on the subject, expresses the opinion that "we seem to be just where we were before this great and interesting question began to be agitated." He thus affirms the universality of their manners: "To see one, is to see all."

A century later, viz: in 1826, an astute observer and fluent writer, who has since attained eminence as a statesman, lays especial stress on that general uniformity of traits and character, and rigid adherence to preconceived standards of manners, customs, and institutions, which so characteristically marks the race. At their discovery, he remarks.

"From Hudson's Bay to Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, the country was possessed by numerous petty tribes, resembling each other in their general features, separated into independent communities, always in a state of alarm and suspicion, and generally on terms of open hostility. These people were in the rudest state of society, wandering from place to place, without science, without arts (for we cannot dignify with the name of arts the making of bows and arrows, and the dressing of skins). They were without metallic instruments, without domestic animals; raising a little corn by the labors of their women, with a clam-shell, or the scapula of a buffalo; devouring it with savage improvidence, and subsisting, during the remainder of the year, on the precarious supply furnished by the chase, or by fishing. They were thinly scattered over an immense extent of country, fixing their summer residence upon some little spot of fertile land, and roaming with their families, or their mat, or skin houses, through the forests, in pursuit of the animals necessary for food and clothing.

"Of the external habits of the Indians, if we may so speak, we have the most ample details. Their wars, their amusements, their hunting, and the most prominent facts connected with their occupation and condition, have been described with great prolixity, and, doubtless, with much fidelity, by a host of persons, whose opportunities for observation have been as different as the times and places, and the eras in which they have written. Eyes have not been wanting to see, tongues to relate, nor pens to record, the incidents which from time to time have occurred. The eating of fire, the swallowing of daggers, the escape from swathed buffalo skins, and the juggling incantations

-- xii --

and ceremonies by which the lost is found, the sick is healed, and the living killed, have been witnessed by many, who believed what they saw, but who were grossly deceived by their own credulity, or by the skill of the Indian
wabeno. But, of the moral character and feelings of the Indians, of their mental discipline, and their peculiar opinions, mythological and religious, and of all that is most valuable to man, in the history of man, we are about as ignorant as when Jacques Cartier first ascended the St. Lawrence."

Such was the state of society in which the aborigines were found, and such have the wild foresters remained to the present day. To enlarge the record from which the tribes must be judged; to ascertain their names, numbers, position, and statistics; to mitigate error, and induce precision; and to bring into one comprehensive view a body of fresh and authentic facts, derived from personal observation, which might be useful alike to the statist and moralist, appeared, in the year 1837, to be an object worthy the attention of the national legislature. Congress did not merely require a record of arithmetical figures, to decide the relative numbers between the sum total and the divisor of a tribe's annuity — but sought also to control its appropriation, and to direct it to objects suited at once to arrest their extinction, to promote their well-being, and advance in the scale of life.

No general history of the tribes has been written. The numerous local histories, prolix in themselves, commonly begin and end with a limited geographical boundary, or the hunting-grounds of a tribe, or family of analogous bands. The New England tribes have been most frequently associated in this view. The Indian is a man who has but little respect for artificial boundaries, or indeed for any kind of limits to his freedom of geographical action; while all observers bear testimony that he exhibits, over vast areas, the same features, manners, customs, and physical traits of a national race.

Of the numerous local publications referred to, Mr. Colden's History of the Five Nations is by far the most comprehensive, clear, and exact. It is only to be regretted that the narrative terminates in 1698, with the period of the treaty of Ryswick, at which time William and Mary were seated on the British throne. The opening of the eighteenth century was, in fact, the period from which these confederated tribes assumed their most formidable power. In 1712, they were joined by the Tuscaroras from North Carolina, who constituted the sixth member of the confederacy. During a period of forty years, while the head-quarters of the British superintendency of Indian affairs in North America was located in their territories, they were most important auxiliaries to the British armies in their contests with New France, and served reputably in the final conquest of it in 1760.

The Iroquois power had virtually predominated over all the tribes from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to that of the Mississippi, with the exception of the Appalachian group. This power had apparently originated in extensive ancient Indian wars, and in the overthrow of populous tribes, considerably advanced in arts and industry,

-- xiii --

who were located in the Mississippi valley. The influence acquired during three centuries prior to the landing of the English in Virginia, had placed them in such an impregnable position, that no single tribe could cope with them. Their power was strengthened and their influence extended by the deference paid to them by the colonies, which became most obvious during the long-protracted contest for supremacy in America, waged between England and France. The brief period which elapsed between 1760 and 1776, was employed to invigorate and consolidate their confederacy by a closer alliance with the British, with whose commanders and their forces they became favorites. When they had reached the culminating point of their history, they were, with the exception of one tribe, namely, the Oneidas, impelled, with bitter and desolating force, against the Americans. The triumph of the Revolution was, however, the tocsin of their defeat, and resulted in the tacit dismemberment of the time-honored Onondaga league. A few decades they lingered on in a state of political inaction, dwelling on reminiscences of the glory of former days. The war of 1812, in which they were urged to participate by Great Britain, found them indisposed to engage in a second contest. Tecumseh had no aid from the Iroquois. The war-paths of olden times were obliterated; symbolically speaking, their ears were sealed; and, when that contest closed, they forever laid aside the warlike hatchet, and turned their attention to agriculture. The tomahawk was exchanged for the plough, the school-house, and the Gospel.

The other stocks of Indians who, next in order to the Iroquois, figured prominently on the continent, were the Algonquins and Appalachians. The Algonquins were ever the staunch friends and allies of the French. They defeated Braddock on the Monongahela, and secured success for the arms of Montcalm on the waters of Lake George. The Appalachians, who had successfully opposed De Soto, maintained their position in the south. Clinging to the coast lines of the Gulf of Mexico as their inheritance, they, by their activity and bravery, repelled the repeated Spanish invasions. There was still another stock, residing on the banks of the Gila and of the Rio Grande del Norte, who made vigorous, though, as events proved, unavailing efforts to oppose the domination of the Spaniards. The Dakotah history is of modern date.

The causes which brought the Indians into conflict with the colonies were general in their operation, and founded on the same principles. They loved their hunting-grounds, highly prized their independence, exulted in their freedom from all the restraints of labor, and spurned the maxims of civilization. It imported not what were the originating causes of hostility, nor the sources of misunderstandings; the Indians were sure, in the end, to find national maxims to defend their conduct, if they did not sustain their policy.

The ruins of Checheticali, of Peos, of the platform mounds of Florida, and of the Mississippi valley, bearing evidences of cultivation and arts beyond that now possessed, supply archaeological materials which invite learned research. The tribes on this

-- xiv --

ample field, spreading from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior, create an impression that these regions were once occupied by others possessing similar manners, who far exceeded in numerical strength, resources, and energy of character, the tribes actually occupying the country at the period of the discovery. Traditions of the Kaskaskia and Tuscarora Indians make direct reference to ancient Indian wars and contentions. [1]

There are evidences also in minor monumental reliquiae, that a foreign people had trod the American shores before the era of Columbus, or the planting of Virginia. These are purely topics of literary research.

We are, perhaps, at fault in attaching less interest to the remote origin of an unfortunate family of the human race, and to their ancient history, than should be felt. Better results could be hoped for, were as much enthusiasm displayed in regard to this subject as a naturalist evinces respecting the color, geometrical shape, rays, macula, or formation of a leaf, the angles of a crystal, or the organic structure of a fish, an insect, a shell, or a lobster. Could this intense predominancy of physical over moral investigations be reversed, the archaeologist might not despair of being able to penetrate through the intensity of the gloom overshadowing their ancient history.

Compared to the Indian tribes who occupied the southern parts of the continent, the Vesperic families of North America were characterized by greater personal energy, manliness, eloquence, and power of thought. If they evinced the pristine traits of nomadic habits, in the chase and war, and by relying on the spontaneous products of the forest, they were also remarkable for greater vigor of constitution and character than the southern tribes. Nationality had not exerted, as it did in the tropics, such unpropitious influences on individuality. They were bold and free. Private, and not municipal, or public works, absorbed their energies. No imperial cacique, or Inca, had arisen to place on their necks the dynastic yoke of either ecclesiastical or civil despotism. The voluntary labor expended on the construction of an earth-mound by the population of a village, and the compulsory toil exacted by the erection of a teocalli, or pyramid, are the examples of the two extremes of the Indian polity.

The Indian of these latitudes is an instance of the inherent love of liberty; in his breast the passion for independence subduing every other. This, as the tribe increased in numbers, and extended its domain, was favored by the magnificence and fresh exuberance of the immense forests and fertile valleys of the temperate latitudes — forests which yielded spontaneously all the necessary means for the support of life. The aborigines roved over domains which monarchs might be proud to own, and satraps and rajahs covet. They made voluntary offerings to gods of the elements, whom they regarded as subject to the rule of a cosmic Great Spirit. Horrific idols there were none, from the capes of Florida to the St. Lawrence — from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains. Neither a Brahma, nor a Siva, a Gunga or a Juggernaut, received the

-- xv --

knee-worship of millions. No victim of superstition plunged himself into a sacred stream; no widow sacrificed herself on the funereal pyre of her husband; no mother was the cruel murderess of her own female infant. The Great Spirit was adored as the giver and the taker of life.

Such were our Indians. They neither raised costly temples to false gods, nor paid taxes to man. Power was wielded upon the model of the patriarchal system. The father of a family was the head of his clan, and the ruler of his country. No frightful image of
Teoyaomiqui, or of the sanguinary Huitzilopochtli, stood on the banks of the Ohio, the Susquehanna, the Mississippi, or the Niagara. No ruins like those of
Papantla, of Cholula, or of the valley of Oaxaca, were found, to serve as monuments of past times, and indicate to posterity where the domestic circle of the hunter had been rudely invaded, his hearth-stone desecrated, and the liberties of a people utterly crushed.

Powhatan and Tamanund, Massasoit and Atatarho, were but the presiding chiefs of sachemdoms and bashabaries, the people of which were living in their primal state. Power and custom had not then degenerated into tyranny; religion required no human sacrifices. The prescriptive laws of war left to each tribe and clan the choice of its own totemic banner of skin or feathers, and, by leaving the hunter tribes untrammelled in their actions, secured to them the power of effectively refusing their assent to wars and conquests not approved. Their very mythology possessed a social feature in such imaginative creations as Iagoo, Quasind, Papukwis, and Pauguk. Even their demi-gods, Manabo and Hiawatha, were the impersonations of kindness and benevolence, and were regarded as having come down among the human race, with the feelings of men, to teach them arts and knowledge.

Such a people had some noble elements in their character. Fearless of death, brave in war, and eloquent in council, they were exemplifications of the highest perfection of the forester's state; and when, at the commencement of the sixteenth century, they endeavored to oppose the growth and spread of European colonization, their efforts were but attempts to cement more closely the links which had bound them together for unnumbered centuries. The hunter-state was symbolically the golden age, which it was deemed essential to guard with jealous vigilance. Around the frontiers they displayed a united front against the introduction of civilization, with its attendant arts, laws, industry, letters, and religion; the details of this opposition to the onward progress of the European race constitute materials for a voluminous and elaborate history.

A hurried collation of the incidents of their history during the long period of three centuries and a half, has necessarily rendered this view brief and summary. Attention was perpetually called from minutiae to results. The acts and principles of the Indian, like the symbolic characters of his pictography, must frequently be judged of by implication. Armies enter the field, or conceal themselves in ambush, and chiefs and sachems take a seat at the council-fire, to defend principles which the Indian feels are necessary

-- xvi --

to the preservation of his independence, but his conclusions he does not so much arrive at, by the power of ratiocination, as the dreams of fanatical delusions. If these minutiae should be traced up to every Indian battle-field, the narrative would become verbose, and the events perhaps possess but little general interest. The Indian race wastes away without regret, and without sympathy.

In forming an estimate of the man, in ascertaining his faults and virtues, studying his physical and mental development, and inquiring into his history, the author has spent many years of active life on the American frontier. To this object the exploration of its geography and mineralogy became, at length, subordinate; and if assiduity merited success, he might claim it. In presenting the results thus far obtained, he has availed himself of an extensive correspondence with residents in the Indian country, reaching, it is believed, to every prominent tribe between the Atlantic and the Pacific. To these observers in the field, acknowledgments are made passim. But personal inquiries, however efficiently made, are alone inadequate to the compilation of Indian history. Books are required; and whoever endeavors to trace the subject, will find many of these to be rare, and only extant in foreign libraries. The government, under whose liberal auspices these inquiries have been pursued, has not in any manner withheld these prerequisites; nor has the author failed, in one single instance, to obtain ready access to the leading libraries of the country. To no source, however, is he more indebted in this respect, than to Peter Force, Esq., of Washington, who, with his characteristic comity, placed his large and distinctive American library at all times freely at the disposal of the author.

To Capt. S. Eastman, who has illustrated the first four volumes of the work, and to the other eminent artists employed on it, painters and engravers, the public rest under obligations.

WASHINGTON, October 24th, 1857.

-- 27 --

Previous section

Next section

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
Powered by PhiloLogic