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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


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Chapter I. — Conditions of Life Which Oppose the Increase of the Aboriginal Population.

THE Indian withers at the touch of civilization. Contact with it exercises a blighting influence both upon his physical and mental faculties. Naturally indolent in his habits, he is opposed to labor, improvident in his manner of living, and has extremely small foresight in providing for the future. He evinces but little care for the present and makes only slight use of the experience of the past. Taught from early infancy to revere the traditions and institutions of his fathers, he is satisfied of their value, and dreads the anger of the Great Spirit, if he departs from their teachings. Addicted to the use of ardent spirits, he abandons himself to the degrading indulgence, and may then be said to forego the means of securing prosperity and of perpetuating his race, by poisoning the very source of life.

It is a well-known fact, that the Indian tribes do not increase in the ratio of other nations; the cause of which we learn from the first principles of political economy. The want of sufficient nutriment is not the only cause that limits their increase. The entire mental constitution and habitudes of the man, his irregular life, manners, customs, and idiosyncrasies, all contribute to this end. In like circumstances, he neither acts nor thinks like other persons of the human family. Devoted in his attachment to the solitude of the forest, there would seem to be some secret principle at work akin to monasticism, repelling him from a participation in the active labors of life. Even in the Sandwich islands, where the gospel has been most successfully disseminated, the Indian population very visibly and inscrutably declines.

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The inquirer into the causes of this numerical decline in the Indian tribes of the United States, is, in a measure, puzzled in the very outset of his examination; for the amplitude of the country, and the ease with which the necessaries of life can be procured, would seem to favor the increase and multiplication of the race. Nevertheless, no matter how circumscribed or extended the geographical field, the same results are everywhere apparent. The evil seems to originate in an ill-balanced mind, which grasps at present effects, without regard to the future results. This mental incapacity to realize and provide for his future necessities, is the reason why he is, at one time, destitute of food, and suffering the keenest pangs of hunger, while, at another, he feasts from a board filled to repletion with an abundance of forest game. One of the striking mutations of the chase is, that want and abundance succeed each other at irregular intervals. The time devoted to the hunting of wild animals is vastly disproportionate to that expended in the raising of cattle by well-regulated industry. A single acre of corn yields more nutriment for a family than all the wild roots, truffles,
tepia, and wattapineeg, which can be gathered in a season. The opineeg, or common potatoe, found in Virginia when it was first discovered, has never been cultivated by the Indians.

Of all the European luxuries introduced among the Indians, nothing has been more injurious to them than the use of ardent spirits. Far in the interior of the continent, it has been observed that the taste of liquor was, at first, repulsive to the natives; but the appetite for it, once excited, became rapidly diffused. When under the influence of alcohol, the Indian appears to enjoy a state of beatitude, in which he would seem to realize the fanciful theories of his mythology, in the creation of the world of happy spirits, and of the human race.

Indian corn was planted, to a limited extent, by the Atlantic and Mississippi valley tribes; but no trader or traveller has ever noticed its cultivation among the interior and mountain tribes. On the western prairies, where it might have been profitably cultivated, the Indians lacked the necessary industry, cared little or nothing for vegetable food, and relied for subsistence on the meat of the buffalo.

There were other causes, however, operating to diminish the Indian population. The most onerous burdens of savage life fall to the share of the
females. Long and weary journeyings, frequently occasioned by the necessity of fleeing before pursuing enemies, and camp labors, were, ordinarily, superadded to scarcity of sustenance. Under favorable circumstances, one woman has been known to be the mother of twelve or thirteen children; but this is a rare occurrence. The average number of children in each hunter family, does not exceed two. Children rarely, if ever, die of absolute hunger; the small amount of food that is obtained being carefully and scrupulously preserved for them, after the protracted period of weaning; but exposure and its results superinduce many trifling diseases, from the effects of which numbers of children die, who, in civilized life, would have been saved by the ordinary practice of medicine.

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Want of proper nourishment and exposure thus considerably affect the scale of population, but, in a far less degree than pestilence and Indian warfare, under the operation of that most barbarous of all savage customs, the destruction of women and children. It is accordingly noticed that, those tribes who have relinquished war, or are but seldom engaged in it, and, especially, those whose families are permanently resident in comparatively well-built and well-sheltered houses, and warmly clothed, are precisely the cases in which fecundity is the most apparent.

There is a manifest increase in the ratio of births in the tribes who have removed to the West, where they reside in good houses, surrounded by well-tilled fields and all the comforts of agricultural life.

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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
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