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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 III. — Who is the Indian? His Capacities for Nationality to be Deduced From His Character.

IT is not supposed that, during a long period, abounding in opportunities, any observations or researches have been made to justify a conclusive reply to the above question. Far from it. The Indian, an enigma at first, is a much greater enigma the more his history and character are examined. Like a boulder on the surface of the globe, he bears very little evidence of the parent bed from which he was separated by the flood of human tribes and nations. Whence he originally came, and whither he is going, are alike themes of absorbing interest, which, however, cannot be equally judged by the critical inquirer and the moralist. But the opportunity may be embraced to allude to what theorists, wise men, and philosophers have advanced on the subject.

Certain ancient nations stifled inquiry on a subject which would probably have developed nothing very honorable as to their descent, by affirming that they had come out of the ground, and thus were the true autochthones. Such were the renowned Phoenicians. Forster tells us that they originated from the Horites, and had lived in caves as robbers and plunderers; 715 their assertion was not, therefore, entirely hyperbolical, for every cave is, topographically, under ground.

No nation is so rude in its origin as not to desire the reputation of having had ancestors. Many of our native tribes give an account of their origin analogous to that of the ancient Phoenicians. 716 Even the nomadic Apachees and Navajoes, at this day, inform travellers that they came out of the ground; adding to the theory, however, that they are wolves, bears, raccoons, and other quadrupeds, in a state of transformation. 717

Nearly a century and a half has elapsed since the French court sent a gentleman, of great learning, acuteness, and benevolence, to America, to observe and report the state of the tribes. P. de Charlevoix personally visited all the leading nations living between Quebec and New Orleans, and, after his return to France, having devoted his attention

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to the problem of the origin of this people, so dissimilar in physical and mental traits from the other known varieties of man, he declares his utter inability to subscribe to any of the theories of the migration of the race from other parts of the globe, believing, however, that such migrations had been made. "After reading almost everything," he remarks, "that has been written, on the manner in which America might have been peopled, we seem to be just where we were before this great and interesting question began to be agitated, notwithstanding a moderate volume would be requisite to relate only the various opinions of the learned on this subject. For the most part of them have given so much to the marvellous; almost all of them have built their conjectures on foundations so ruinous; or have had recourse to names, manners, customs, religion, and etymology so very frivolous; that it would, in my opinion, be as useless to refute, as it is impossible to reconcile them with, each other." 718

Indian history has ever been an anomaly. At the period of the discovery, the Indian was a mere hunter, armed only with bow and arrows, and worshipping a class of spirits, or demons, supposed to inhabit the forests. The bold mariners who first visited the coasts, had some knowledge of the Hindoo, and Tartaric types, residing on the shores of Hindostan; and, consequently, called them Indians, under the supposition that the newly discovered land formed part of the continent of Asia. Red-skinned, black-eyed, black-haired, and subtle, there was a striking coincidence in the external characteristics and features of the two races. Whenever examined, this physical resemblance has been found to hold good, however unsatisfactory the theory of origin; and so little has it varied, under the most critical observation, that a single tribe will serve very well as the type of all. They may be said to remain as unchanged to-day as they were in the days of Elizabeth. Indeed, nothing has elicited more frequent notice than that remarkable coincidence of manners and customs, physical traits, 719 and mental habitudes and idiosyncrasies, which designate them to be a peculiar people.

It has been observed, by a comprehensive and talented writer, who has closely studied the history and character of the Indian tribes, that, "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, and 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, and without arts (for we cannot dignify with the name of arts the making of bows and arrows, and the dressing of skins), metallic instruments, or domestic animals; raising a little corn by the labor of their women, with the 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

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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, and their mat, or skin houses, through the forests, in pursuit of the animals necessary for food and clothing. Such a state of society could not but arrest the attention of adventurers, to whom everything was new and strange.

"Of the external habits of the Indians, if we may so speak," remarks the same writer, "we have the most ample details. Their wars, their amusements, their hunting, and the more prominent facts connected with their occupations and condition, have been described with great prolixity, and, doubtless, with much fidelity, by a host of persons, whose opportunities for observation, and whose qualifications for description have been as different as the 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 among our aboriginal neighbors. The eating of fire, the swallowing of daggers, the escape from swathed buffalo skins, and the juggling incantations 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.

"The constitution of Indian society, and the ties by which they are kept together, furnish a paradox which has never received the explanation it requires. We say they have no government, and they have none whose operation is felt, either in reward or punishment; and yet their lives and property are preserved, and their political relations among themselves, and with other tribes, are duly preserved. Have they, then, no passions to excite them to deeds of violence, or have they discovered and reduced to practice some unknown principle of action in human nature, equally efficacious as the two great principles of hope and fear, upon which all other governments have heretofore rested? Why does an Indian, who has been guilty of murder, tranquilly fold his blanket about his head, and, seating himself upon the ground, await the retributive stroke from the relation of the deceased. A white man, under similar circumstances, would flee or resist; and we can conceive of no motive which would induce him to such sacrifice.

"But, of the moral character and feelings of the Indians, of their mental discipline, of 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." 720

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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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