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
BACK

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: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Previous section

Chapter V. — The Hunter Tribes.

A COMPETENT and careful observer has estimated that, from ocean to ocean, the United States was originally occupied by 105 tribes, all of whom were hunters, or more or less of a nomadic character; of these, the details which have been submitted in a preceding volume 706 make it apparent that the Indians located between the Atlantic Ocean and the summit of the Rocky Mountains were divided into sixty-nine tribes.

Of this number, to a greater or less extent connected with the events of our history, the condition and prospects of the four tribes composing the Appalachian group, viz: the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks, have been already noticed, and the deduction drawn therefrom, that they are prepared to enter on the career of civilized nations. From the before-mentioned sixty-nine tribes, there are also to be deducted the twenty-four expatriated tribes and bands located in Kanzas, who are more or less engaged in the pursuit of industrial arts, agriculture, and letters, and have made considerable progress in morals and Christianity: thus leaving forty-one tribes to be regarded as hunters, and as still adhering to the precarious pursuits of the Koossawin. 707

Agreeably to data previously published, the number of hunter tribes located between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, a scattered and diversified portion of the Indian race, comprises thirty-six; most of whom have small pretensions to speaking radically different languages.

It would be inconsistent with all history and observation, to expect that, without agriculture, the numerous hunter tribes, who subsist wholly upon the flesh of wild animals, should survive the era of the chase. Idleness, intemperance, improvidence, and indulgence, exert the most baneful effects on civilized society, which has every means at command for its support; but the operation of these vices in savage life produces dreadful results. From the Missouri river to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and from the 49th parallel of north latitude to the river Gila, there rove tribes whose scanty

-- 553 --

and uncertain subsistence is supplied by the flesh of the animals they kill in their excursions, or by the roots they dig in the prairies, or on the arable uplands. The yam, the
tepia, and the wattapineeg, compose their scanty meal when the bear, the deer, and the buffalo cannot be found. It is impossible to conjecture how these tribes can long survive the extinction of the race of quadrupeds; mere existence at present, with the precarious means at command, being all that can be obtained. Numerical increase is impossible; alternating from plenty to want, and wandering over plains, or through defiles, suffering and enduring, the scale of population never advances, but is often reduced, for long periods, by want and sickness. They must always lose much of their population by war; and they may, in fact, be deemed prosperous, if they do not diminish beyond their estimated numbers. The tribe that comprised 500 or 1000 warriors during the last century, now numbers about the same force. No endeavor is made by labor to increase; there is nothing to encourage hope, in the future; consequently there is no basis on which to establish or develop a permanent population. These tribes can only be expected to exist as long as their spontaneous means of subsistence continue, and must decline or perish when these precarious supplies are withheld. It is simply a question of time; their fate is sealed — they must labor or perish.

Being mentally and habitually infatuated with savage manners and customs, the predatory hunting tribes will long hover on the extreme frontiers, where they now are, pursuing with barbarous delight their career of plunder, robbery, and murder. The gorges and defiles numerously interspersed throughout the broad and lofty range of the Rocky Mountains, afford shelter for these wild nomades, where, like the original valley tribes of Peru, who occupy the fastnesses of the Andes, they seem likely to remain, in defiance of the civilized settlements which spread along its foot. Where hunter tribes, living on the plains or arable uplands, are finally surrounded by a civilized population, the only practical mode of influencing them is by the introduction of schools. To be effectual, these should be, as has been previously stated, of the most simple character, and calculated only for teaching the elements, without much display or expense. Central schools, of a normal character, in the nation, where higher branches have been taught to the natives, to qualify them for filling the posts of teachers, catechists, and evangelists, have effected much, and have been found to be most beneficial when conducted on the manual-labor plan. Academies should be established in the Indian territory, &c.

We have, in withdrawing so many of the young men from their friends, and educating them at our higher schools and colleges, unconsciously fallen into the error of adapting our efforts to a state of society which will probably not exist among the Indians for a long period. The youths are there taught various branches of learning, and at some of these institutions they obtain a practical knowledge of the mechanic arts, and an insight into the principles of agriculture. But when this course of instruction is completed, what are their young men to do? If they remain among the whites, they find themselves

-- 554 --

avoided as members of a peculiar caste, and seek in vain for employment and encouragement. If they return to their country, their acquirements are useless, they being there neither understood nor valued.

The following review, by Colonel D. D. Mitchell, late superintendent at St. Louis, of both the tribes who emigrated to Kanzas, and of the wild nomadic tribes in the Missouri valley, derives additional importance from the long experience of that gentleman in the hazardous scenes of frontier life, during peace and war, and his familiar acquaintance with the Indian character; it is this fact that gives peculiar weight to his suggestions:

"Transferred Tribes. — The condition of these Indians has been materially improved within the last few months, and could they consider themselves as being permanently located at their present homes, no tribe on the western frontier would advance more rapidly in all the useful arts of civilized life. But, looking upon themselves as the mere tenants at will of the Government, they of course could feel little or no interest in the improvement or preservation of their houses and farms. Iowa must ere long become a State; 708 and, among the first acts of State sovereignty, she will soon extend her jurisdiction over all Indians residing within her limits. The threatening difficulties which have already grown out of such a state of things, should admonish the Government to guard against it for the future.

"The large body of fine land now owned, and partly occupied, by the Pottawattamies of the Council Bluffs, I am induced to believe could be purchased without much difficulty, and at a fair price, giving other lands in part payment. 709 Lands such as those Indians would be glad to settle upon could be easily obtained on the south side of the river. As they must ultimately be removed, everything is to be gained by both parties, in having it done immediately.

"During the present year much has been done by the Department to better the condition of the Indians, both morally and physically. The proposition which was made, and unanimously agreed to, providing for the payment (out of their annuities) for all thefts or depredations committed, either among themselves or against the neighboring tribes, speaks well for the innate honesty of the Indians, and its operation up to this time goes far to show that its effects will be most salutary. The Indians, however, contend, with great force of reasoning, that this excellent regulation should be made equally binding upon their white neighbors; and here it may be proper to remark, that the greatest difficulties with which the agents, teachers, and missionaries have to contend, in their laudable efforts to cultivate the minds of the Indians, arises from the presence of crowds, and daily increasing crowds, of depraved white men, who have taken up their abodes in the Indian country. This worse than savage population is

-- 555 --

composed of deserters from the fur traders on the upper Missouri, renegades from Santa Fé, discharged soldiers, and fugitives from justice. Such persons can only prey upon the Indians, or be tolerated among them, so long as they remain in their present ignorant and savage state; hence the unwearied efforts to thwart all attempts at civilization. Their residence in the Indian country is in open violation of law; but, being wholly irresponsible, they laugh at all attempts to remove them by a civil process.

"The circulars which have been issued by the Department to prevent the introduction and use of spirituous liquors in the Indian country, followed by the prompt movement of a company of dragoons to the Council Bluffs, and aided by the zealous activity of the several agents, have gone far toward the suppression of this iniquitous traffic on the frontiers. In the figurative language of an old chief, who was in this city not long since, ‘The sunshine, the approving smile of the Great Spirit, has cleared away the poisoned cloud which so long darkened our land. It has once more lit up our desolate huts and forsaken fields; its cheering warmth has dried up the tears of our women and children, who every night offer up their prayers of thankfulness to the Great Spirit in the skies, and our great father in Washington.’

"The arrangement which was proposed by the Department, to substitute goods in place of money in the payment of annuities, would have proved highly beneficial had it met the approbation of the Indians. The goods being purchased by contract, at the lowest market price, and issued out by the agents from time to time, so as to meet the wants of the Indians, would have been of more real benefit to them than four times the amount paid out all at once in money. The Indians, being destitute during the greater part of the year, are compelled to solicit credits from the traders, who, aware of the uncertainty of being paid, demand and receive the most usurious prices for their goods. The money which is not paid away to satisfy the traders soon finds its way into the hands of the whiskey dealers, who swarm like birds of evil omen around every place where annuities are to be paid. A question of grave importance here presents itself for the consideration of the Government, viz: whether the rights and privileges of guardianship might not, in certain cases, be exercised by the Department, when a measure is proposed clearly calculated to promote the happiness and welfare of tribes notoriously incapable of judging for themselves? Although some might grumble for the time, the salutary change in their condition would soon teach them to thank their great father for his fostering care.

"Hunter Tribes. — The census of the different tribes required by the Department will be furnished by the agents and sub-agents, so far as their jurisdictions extend; those beyond, will be found, as near as can be ascertained, in the following table:

-- 556 --

Tribes. 710
Lodges. Men. Souls.
Remarks.
Poncas 80 250 800 Living on the south side of Missouri, at the mouth of l'Eau que Court.
Yanctons 250 750 2,500 Lower band of Sioux, living near Vermilion river.
Tetons 320 950 3,000 Lower band of Sioux, on the south of Missouri.
Ogellalas 150 500 1,500 Sioux — dialect a little different — same region.
Sowans 1,150 4,000 12,000 Sioux on the Cheyenne river, and Platte.
Yanctonas 600 1,800 6,000 Upper band of Sioux, near Mandans.
Mandans 30 120 300 Live in dirt lodges, on the Missouri.*
Arickarees 150 450 1,200 Occupy the same village with the Mandans.*
Gros Ventres 75 300 800 Live in dirt villages, eight miles above Mandans.*
Assinaboines 800 2,500 7,000 Wandering tribe between Missouri and Red river of the north.
Crees 100 300 800 Language same as Chippewas; country, Assinaboine.
Crows 500 1,200 4,000 Rascals — on the head waters of Yellowstone.
Cheyennes 250 500 2,000 Wandering tribe on the Platte — language very remarkable.
Blackfeet 1,500 4,500 13,000 Wandering — near Falls of Missouri; both sides of the river.
Arapahoes 300 650 2,500 Prairie tribe, between the Platte and Arkansas.
Gros Ventres (Prairie). 400 900 2,500 Wanderers between the Missouri and Saskatchewan.
Snake 200 450 1,000 Poor tribe, in the Rocky mountains.
Flatheads 80 250 800 In the mountain — trade mostly on Colombia.*
Total 6,925 20,370 61,700  

"The scanty population shown in the foregoing table occupy the whole of that immense region lying west of the border tribes, bounded by the Arkansas on the south, the dividing highlands between the Missouri and waters of Hudson bay on the north, and the Rocky mountains on the west. It is evident, from the ruins of villages scattered along the banks of the Missouri and its tributary streams, that these desolate plains once teemed with myriads of human beings. We have the authority of an intelligent British trader, who crossed over the Missouri in the winter of 1783, for saying that the population, even at that recent date, was perhaps a hundred fold greater than at present. The Mandans he estimated at 25,000 fighting men, and the Assinaboines at 40,000. A reference to the table will show the wonderful destruction of human life which war and pestilence have produced in this region in less than a century. The small-pox, which was brought over from the northern Mexican provinces about the year 1786, almost depopulated the country. There are many old Indians now living who bear its marks, and retain a vivid recollection of its horrible ravages. Again, in 1838, the same disease swept off at least one half of the prairie tribes. Hence the scanty population, which seems almost lost in the vast expanse of prairie by which they are surrounded. It is some gratification to know that a new generation must spring up before they can be scourged by another visitation from this fell destroyer; but there is another constantly among them almost equally destructive, viz: spirituous liquor.

-- 557 --

It has been ascertained from sources entitled to the utmost credence that upward of 500 men belonging to those prairie tribes have been killed during the last two years in drunken broils, while the survivors, men, women, and children, are reduced to the lowest depths of poverty and degradation. The friends of humanity have, however, much to hope from the laudable and zealous efforts which we have reason to believe are now being made by the Government to save the wrecks of these once numerous and happy people.

"No advances whatever have been made toward civilization among the tribes on the upper Missouri; and so long as they continue the wandering life in which they so much delight, all efforts directed to that object will prove to be only a useless waste of time and money. While there remains such a vast extent of territory, covered over with innumerable herds of buffalo and other game, there seems but little prospect of their condition being materially changed. Generations will perhaps pass away before this territory becomes much more circumscribed; for if we draw a line running north and south, so as to cross the Missouri about the Vermilion river, we shall designate the limits beyond which civilized men are never likely to settle. At this point the Creator seems to have said to the tribes of emigration that are annually rolling toward the West, ‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.’ At all events, if they go beyond this, they will never stop on the east side of the Rocky mountains. 711 The utter destitution of timber, the sterility of the sandy soil, together with the coldness and dryness of the climate, furnish obstacles which not even ‘Yankee enterprise’ is likely to overcome. A beneficent Creator seems to have intended this dreary region as an asylum for the Indians when the force of circumstances shall have driven them from the last acre of the fertile soil which they once possessed. Here no inducements are offered to the ever-restless Saxon breed to erect their huts. Should the buffalo and other game eventually disappear from the prairies, there are spots of refuge in some rich little valleys on the banks of isolated streams, affording timber sufficient to furnish huts and fuel for the few wanderers whom necessity will compel to seek some other means of subsistence. Should this period ever arrive, a few domestic cattle might be introduced into the country, and the Indians would readily become wandering herdsmen — the Tartars of America. Their peculiar habits and inclinations form them for such pursuits; they never can be made agriculturists or mechanics. The time may arrive when the whole of the western Indians will be forced to seek a resting-place in this great ‘American desert,’ and this, in all probability, will form a new era in the history of this singular and ill-fated race. They will remain a wandering, half-civilized, though happy people. ‘Their flocks and herds will cover a thousand hills,’ and furnish beef and mutton for a portion of the dense population of whites that will swarm in the more fertile sections of the great valley of the Mississippi." 712

-- 558 --

The whole problem of the existence of the tribes is shrouded in that inscrutable fate which is but another name for the decisions of a wise and overruling Providence. That some of them will be reclaimed, and help to swell the multitudes who are destined to sing praises and hosannahs to the Highest cannot be doubted. Whoever has attentively perused the preceding pages, must have recognised this conclusion in the great and striking changes for the better which have occurred in the Ausonian tribes, who give the best evidences of progress in every element of civilization. These tribes have utterly and forever abandoned the chase. They have, to a great extent, embarked in agriculture, encourage education, practise temperance, and follow the precepts of Christianity. They are producers of more than they consume. They are in the high road to national wealth. Their flocks and herds cover wide plains, and may be said to wander over a thousand hills. In costume, in manners and customs, and in all the amenities of life, these Indians will favorably compare with the most promising adjacent communities of European origin. That others of the tribes, embracing some of the Kanzas group, who have been long under a course of instruction and moral training, but who have not yet attained their advanced condition, will be subject to great fluctuations, vicissitudes, and trials, ere they enter the circle of social progress, if they reach it at all, is equally clear. No prescience can anticipate the course of the nomadic, headstrong, murdering, robber tribes, who wander over the Missouri plains, climb the elevated ranges, and occupy the mountain passes of New Mexico, California, and Oregon. How many of these fierce tribes, of Tartaric habits, may, in time, turn an attentive ear to the voice of peace and instruction, cannot be predicted. But without the occurrence of changes of the most striking character, their ultimate destruction is certain. Ever since the discovery of America, it has been a question of considerable interest, whether any evidence of descent from cast-off fragments of Abrahamic stocks be traceable in an untoward race, whose physical features and peculiar traits of character so strongly resemble them. The divine denunciations against that people imply an utter annihilation of their nationality; while the pertinacity with which the Indian clings to the idea that he is the favorite of the Great Deity of the skies, and the faith with which he looks back to an ancient period, when he enjoyed high privileges and an exalted state, is a peculiarity undeveloped in any other people on the face of the globe; and there is scarcely one other, so poor, so wretched, so hopeless, so wilfully wrong, and so despised.

-- 559 --

Division Second — Economy and Statistics, Capacity of Industrial and Social Development, and Present National Position; Illustrated by Some Notices of the Mental Character of the Hunter Race, and Their Ancient Status and Archaeology.

-- 561 --

Previous 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: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic