Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

which had passed away entirely ages and their moral sensibilities, from want before the discovery of the New World of cultivation, less lively. They seemed by Columbus. The numerous and well to be characterized by an inflexibility authenticated antiquities found in va- of organization, which rendered them rious parts of our country clearly de- almost incapable of receiving foreign monstrate that there was once a peo- ideas, or amalgamating with more civiple civilized, and even highly cultiva- lized nations—constituting them, in ted, occupying the broad surface of our short, a people that might be broken, Continent; but the date of their occu- but could not be bent.

but could not be bent. This peculiar pancy is so remote that all traces of organization, too, together with the cirtheir history, progress, and decay, lie cumstances in which they were placed, buried in the deepest obscurity. Na- moulded the character of their domesture, at the time that Columbus came, tic and social condition. had asserted her original dominion over Columbus, in a letter sent to Ferdithe earth; the forests were all in their nand and Isabella, spoke enthusiastifull luxuriance, the growth of many cally of those natives whom he encouncenturies; and nought existed to point tered on his first voyage. “I swear to out who and what they were who for- your majesties," said he, " that there is merly lived, and loved, and labored, not a better people in the world than and died, on the Continent of America. these, more affectionate, affable, or mild. The Indian tribes could give no account They love their neighbours as themof their predecessors; they knew noth- selves: their language is the sweetest, ing whatever on the subject; and so, the softest, and the most cheerful; for probably, as respects these the question they always speak smiling; and almust ever remain doubtful, if not wholly though they go naked, let your majesinexplicable.

ties believe me, their customs are very As to the Indians themselves it will becoming; and their king, who is served be sufficient, for the present, to note, with great majesty, has such engaging that in some points there was soon dis- manners, that it gives great pleasure to covered to be a very general resem- see him, and also to consider the great blance among all the various tribes. retentive faculty of that people, and They all partook of the same reddish their desire of knowledge, which inhue of the skin, their hair was found cites them to ask the causes and the to be black, lank, and straight, with lit-effects of things.” A larger acquainttle or no beard ; the cheek-bones were ance with the Indians showed that high, the jaw-bone prominent, and the their dwellings were of the simplest forehead narrow and sloping. Their and rudest character. On some pleasant figure, untrammeled in every move- spot by the banks of a river, or near a ment, was lithe, agile, and often grace- sweet spring, they raised their groups ful, but they were inferior in muscular of wigwams, constructed of the bark strength to the European. Their intel- of trees, and easily taken down and lectual faculties were also more limited, removed to another spot. The abodes

CH. II.]

GOVERNMENT AND CUSTOMS OF THE INDIANS.

15

of the chiefs were sometimes more generally. As a consequence of this, spacious, and constructed with care, but the tribes varied in their apparent of the same materials. Their villages forms of government. Some were the were sometimes surrounded by defen- slaves of a spiritual despotism; some sive palisades. Skins, taken in the resembled a limited monarchy; others chase, served them for repose. Though an oligarchy; and others yet a deprincipally dependent upon the hunt- mocracy, in which the principal waring and fishing, its uncertain supply riors stood nearly on a level. had led them to cultivate around their In cases of dispute and dissension, dwellings some patches of maize, but each Indian held to the right of retalitheir exertions were desultory, and they ation, and relied on himself almost alwere often exposed to the severity of ways to effect his revenge for injuries famine. Every family did everything received. Blood for blood was the necessary within itself; and inter- rule, and the relations of the slain change of articles of commerce was man were bound to obtain bloody rehardly at all known among them. venge for his death. This principle

In strictness of speech, the Indians gave rise, as a matter of course, to incould not be said to have either govern- numerable and bitter feuds, and wars ment or laws. Questions of public in- of extermination where that was possiterest relating to war, peace, change of ble. War, indeed, rather than peace hunting grounds, and the like, were dis- and the arts of peace, was the Indian's cussed in a meeting of the whole tribe, glory and delight; war, not conducted where old and young participated, and on the grand scale of more civilized, if the most plausible speaker, or the most not more Christian-like, people, but war energetic and daring warrior, general- where individual skill, endurance, gally carried the day. The chiefs among lantry and cruelty were prime requithem were such by superior merit, or sites.

sites. For such a purpose as revenge superior skill or cunning, not on any the Indian was capable of making vast principle of appointment recognized sacrifices, and displayed a patience and among civilized communities; and they perseverance truly heroic; but when exercised their authority as best they the excitement was over, he sank back might, without being able to compel into a listless, unoccupied, well nigh obedience. The most powerful influ- useless savage. The intervals of his ences, however, under which the In- more exciting pursuits the Indian filled dians were brought was that exercised up in the decoration of his person with by those who had the skill to work all the refinements of paint and feathers, upon their ignorance and credulity to with the manufacture of his arms--the establish a claim to their obedience. club, and the bow and arrows--and of Like all rude and barbarous tribes, canoes of bark, so light, that they could they were very superstitious, and the easily be carried on the shoulder from priests, or “medicine men,” were equal-stream to stream. His amusements ly feared and observed by the Indians were the war-dance and song, and athletic games, the narration of his ex- of the tribes of Canada, from whom ploits, and the listening to the oratory the French missionaries first learned of the chiefs. But, during long pe- it, is exceedingly harsh and guttural, riods of his existence, he remained in a with few vowels, and words often of state of torpor, gazing listlessly upon intolerable length, occasioned by comthe trees of the forests, and the clouds plicated grammatical forms—a whole that sailed far above his head; and sentence, by means of suffixes and afthis vacancy imprinted an habitual fixes, being often expressed in a single gravity and even melancholy upon his word. This character, indeed, is comaspect and general deportment.

mon, in a greater or less degree, to all As in all uncivilized communities, the the American languages, serving to dismain labor and drudgery fell upon the tinguish them, in a remarkable manner females ; planting, tending and gather- from the dialects of the Old World. . ing the crops; making mats and bas- Tribes of Algonquin speech extended kets; carrying burdens; in fact, every- from Hudson's Bay south-east beyond thing of the kind; so that their con- the Chesapeake, and south-west to the dition was little better than that of Mississippi and Ohio. They inclosed, slaves. For marriage was principally however, several formidable confederaa matter of bargain and sale, the hus- cies, the Hurons, the Iroquois, the Eries, band giving presents to the father of and others settled around Lakes Erie his bride; and sooner or later, as ca- and Ontario, and occupying all the upprice or any other excuse moved him, per waters of the western tributaries degrading her to the place of a mere of the Chesapeake, who spoke a differservant in his house. In general, they ent language, less guttural and far more had but few children; and were sub- sonorous, called the Wyandot, after a jected to many and severe attacks of tribe inhabiting the north shore of Lake sickness : famine and pestilence at times Erie. The Cherokee is peculiar to a swept away whole tribes.

confederacy of that name, occupants From their migratory habits, their for centuries of the southern valleys of continual wars and battles, their slow- the great Allegany Chain, from whence ness of increase, and their liability to they have been but very lately exfamine and fatal diseases, Mr. Hildreth pelled. The common name of Mobilian is inclined to conclude that at no time includes the kindred dialects of the since the discovery of America did tlie Choctaws, the Chickasaws, the Creeks total Indian population east of the or Muscogees, the Appalachees, and Rocky Mountains exceed, if it equalled, Yamassees, ancient inhabitants of the three hundred thousand.

valley of the Lower Mississippi, and The dialects of the various tribes in thence, by the southern foot of the AlNorth America are generally reduced leganies, to the Savannah and beyond to five heads or subdivisions. “The it. Compared with the northern lanmost widely diffused of these five lan- guages, the Cherokee and Mobilian are guages, called the Algonquin, after one soft and musical, abounding with vow

Ca. II.]

INDIAN LANGUAGES AND TRIBES.

117

els, thus indicating the long continued ernment, and arts, began to develop influence of a southern climate. The themselves in the tropical regions of number of syllables in the Cherokee is Mexico and Central America. Mexico, very

limited-a circumstance of which like Rome of old, seems to have been an uninstructed but ingenious member invaded by one tribe of barbarians afof that tribe recently availed himself ter another, who in the end, as in the to invent a syllabic alphabet, by means case of Rome, were meliorated and of which the Cherokee is written and modified by that civilization which they read with great facility. Of the an- came to destroy. Such was probably cient state of the wandering tribes of the origin of the Toltecs, and the Aztecs, the prairies west of the Mississippi little whom Cortez subdued. is known; but the Dacotah, or Sious, Turning our view from this ancient still spoken in a great variety of dia- centre of power, to the latitudes of the lects, has been probably for centuries American Republic, we find there, at the prevailing language of that region. the opening of the sixteenth century, The Catawbas, who have left their various tribes, of divers languages, exname to a river of Carolina, and who isting in the mere hunter state, or at once occupied a wide adjacent terri- most, with some habits of horticulture tory; the Uchees, on the Savannah, superadded. They had neither cattle subjects of the Creeks; the Natchez, nor arts. They were bowmen and a small confederacy on the Lower spearmen-roving and predatory, with Mississippi, in the midst of the Choc- very little, if anything, in their tradi taws, appear to have spoken peculiar tions, to link them to these prior cenlanguages; and no doubt, there were tral families of man, but with nearly other similar cases. Of the dialects everything in their physical and intelwest of the Rocky Mountains hardly lectual type, to favor such a generic anything is known.

affiliation. They erected groups of Mr. Schoolcraft, in a very interesting mounds, to sacrifice to the sun, moon, paper read before the “New York His- and stars. They were, originally, firetorical Society," November, 1846, at- worshippers. They spoke one general tributes to the Red Race who inhab-class of transpositive languages. They ited the Continent of America, in the had instruments of copper, as well as equinoctial latitudes, a very great an- of silex, and porphyries. They made tiquity, so great indeed, as to be inclined cooking-vessels of tempered clay. They to think that they might have reached cultivated the most important of all the Continent within five hundred years the ancient Mexican grains, the zea of the original dispersion. That they mays. They raised the tobacco plant, were of the Shemitic stock, too, can

and used the Aztec drum in religious hardly be questioned. Civilization, gov- ceremonies and war-dances. They be

lieved in the oriental doctrines of transHildreth's “ History of the United States," vol. formation, and the power of necro

mancy, and they were largely in subjection to an influential and powerful rope in the sixteenth and seventeenth order of priesthood.

i., p. 52.

VOL. I.-5

centuries found the American ContiThere can be little doubt that this nent peopled by tribes without cultivarace dwelt on the Continent of Amer- tion, refinement, literature, fixed habiica many centuries before the Christian tations, or anything which could give era, and also that it is anterior in age them consideration and respect in the to the various groups who inhabit the eyes of Europeans. They looked upon Polynesian Islands. Probably they de- the Indians as mere savages, having no rived their character and mental pecu- rightful claim to the country of which liarities from the early tribes of West- they were in possession. They inflicted ern Asia, which was originally peopled, upon the unhappy natives injuries of to a great extent, by the descendants various descriptions, as caprice, cruelty, of Shem. In this connection, Mr. lust, or rapine dictated, and where a Schoolcraft adduces the following as different course was pursued it was not the fulfillment of a very ancient pro- so much because the Indians had a phecy. “Assuming the Indian tribes right to just treatment, but simply beto be of Shemitic origin, which is gen- cause it pleased here and there liberalerally conceded, they were met on this minded persons to deal justly and Continent, in 1492, by the Japhetic kindly by them. Every European narace, after the two stocks had passed tion deemed that it had acquired a around the globe by directly different lawful and just claim to the possession routes. Within a few years subsequent of that part of the Continent which to this event, as is well attested, the any one of its subjects might have dishumane influence of an eminent Span- covered or visited, without any referish ecclesiastic, led to the calling over ence to the prior occupation and claims from the coast of Africa, of the Hamitic of the Indian tribes. In later times, branch. As a mere historical question, too, the Supreme Court of the United and without mingling it in the slightest States, (1810)-Chief Justice Marshall degree with any other, the result of delivering the opinion of the Courtthree centuries of occupancy has been has held, that the Indian title to the a series of movements in all the colo- soil is not of such a character or validity nial stocks, south and north, by which as to interfere with the possession in Japhet has been immeasurably enlarged fee, and disposal, of the land as the State on the Continent, while the called and may see fit.* not voluntary sons of Ham, have en- Mr. Justice Story, in speaking of this dured a servitude, in the wide-stretch- matter, justly remarks:—“As to couning valleys of the tents of Shem.-- tries in the possession of native inhabiGen. ix., 27.".

tants and tribes at the time of the disThey who came from civilized Eu-covery, it seems difficult to perceive

what ground of right any discovery * Proceedings of the New York Historical Society, 1846, pp. 33–38. See, also, the “ North American Review,” No. L., January, 1826.

* See Cranch's Reports, vol. vi., p. 142.

79*

« PředchozíPokračovat »