« PředchozíPokračovat »
dered any of our citizens, have generally surrendered themselves for trial. The Winebagoes convicted at Belleville, the Osages at the Post of Arkansas, and the seven persons now coufined at Mackinac, for the murder of four American citizens upon Lake Pepin, in August 1824, freely delivered themselves to our authority, as necessary offerings for their own guilt, and to exonerate their tribes from suspicion or injury. And it is but a just tribute to the impartial execution of our laws to state, that the persons, who were guilty of the atrocious murder of a number of Indians, a few months since in Indiana, were convicted and executed in June last.
This result is, however, sometimes avoided, by an agreement on the part of the friends of the murdered person, to receive a present, instead of the life of the offender. It is the price of blood, and contributions are freely made to it by all the relations of the criminal. But its acceptance, or rejection, is purely voluntary, and as there is no obligation to receive, so no offence is given by refusing this peace offering. The victim dies, if the love of revenge is stronger than the love of property. In 1824, an Ottawa Indian was killed by a Miami. A formal negotiation was carried on between the two tribes, which finally resulted in the payment of five thousand dollars, by the latter to the former. It is worthy of remark, that the right to kill a murderer, without any preparatory demand, is confined to persons of the same tribe. When the criminal and the victim belong to different tribes, a demand must be made, previously to the adoption of any other measure, which if not satisfied, is followed by war.
Within the last year, we ourselves, far in the interior of the country, while surveying the initatory ceremonies of the Indian meetay, one of their mystical societies, saw a Chippewa, whose grave
and serious demeanor attracted our observation. His appearance led to the inquiry, whether any peculiarity in his situation impressed upon his deportment the air of seriousness, which was too evident to be mistaken. It was ascertained, that he had killed a Potawatamie Indian, during the preceding season, and that the Potawatamies had made the usual demand for his surrender. On a representation, however, that he was deeply in debt, and that his immediate death would cause much injustice to some of the traders, the injured tribe at length agreed to postpone his execution, till another season, that the produce of his winter's hunt might be applied to the discharge of his debts. He had been successful in his exertions, and had paid the claims against him. He was about to leave his friends, and to receive, with the fortitude of a warrior, the doom which awaited him. He was now, for the last time, enjoying the society of all who were dear to him. No man doubted his resolution, and no man doubled his fate. Instructions, however, were given to the proper agent, to redeem his life at the expense of the United States.
The solution of these moral difficulties, so perplexing in the present state of our knowledge, must be left for future inquirers. We cannot but hope, that the darkness will ere long be dispelled, and that we shall not be left to grope our way with such feeble lights, as serve only to make it the more visible.
It is easier, however, to estimate the difficulties, which have heretofore impeded the acquisition of full and correct information upon all subjects, connected with the past and present condition of the Indians, than it is to obviate them. The earlier and the principal writers on these topics were the Roman Catholic missionaries, who were sent by the French government, at a very early day, into Canada to convert the Indians to christianity. They were men of learning, zeal, and piety, abstracted from all selfish considerations, and wholly devoted to the great objects of their mission. They accompanied the Indians into every part of the country, submitted to unexampled privation, and lived and died with their Neophytes. Their opportunities were most favorable for procuring information, and bad they been men of enlarged views, and of sound judgment, we should now have little more to desire. But, unfortunately, every object was seen through the medium of their prejudices, and of their peculiar religious opinions. There was a childish credulity about them, which we know not whether to attribute to their profession, to the age, or to the situations in which they were placed. Every fortunate incident was a miracle ; and every uncommon natural occurrence was attributed to the direct interposition of the Deity. A modern French writer, in speaking upon this subject, very pertinently remarks, Je ne m'arrête ni à réfuter, ni à esaminer de telles asserVOL. XXII.-NO. 50.
tions ; il semble seulement que la religion véritable trouve, dans ses maladroits sectaires et dans ses prosélytes crédules, des ennemis plus à craindre, que dans ses ennemis les plus ouvertement déclarés.' Even Charlevoix, who was selected by the French government to travel over New France, and to prepare an account of that country, and who wrote so late as 1745, is not free from this superstition. In all other raspects, he was a man admirably qualified to discharge the task assigned to him. Patient in investigation, cautious in his belief, and judicious in his observations, bis narrative and history contain more sound views on the general subject of the Indians, than the works of all the writers, who preceded, or who have followed him.
In the British colonies, few attempts were made to rescue from approaching destruction, the memorials of the people, who occupied the Atlantic States at the period of the arrival of the Europeans. The aboriginal inhabitants of these colonies rapidly retreated, or disappeared, before the white settlements, nor did they ever evince those attachments to the English, which have marked the intercouse of the interior Indians with the Canadians. There was but little opportunity for doing anything, and but little in fact was done.
Unfortunately, too, for the progress of correct opinions, many of the works of the earlier writers, both English and French, were composed with a view to certain preconceived notions, respecting the origin of the aboriginal inhabitants of America. This was long a questio vexatu, upon which much sense and nonsense were written, and which we trust no man will again have the folly to revive and discuss. Adair's heavy work is a striking example of the effect of this adaptation of facts to a favorite theory. His great object is to prove, that the Indians are descended from the Jews, and in the teeth of all probability, this object is steadily pursued through a large quarto. No dependence is to be placed upon his statements, where they can produce any effect upon this idle notion. No rational estimate can be formed of the character of any people, without viewing them at home, in their own country, engaged in their ordinary duties and occupations. This is peculiarly the case with the Indians. Those, who hang upon the white settlements, are worthless and abandoned. They have all the vices, without any of the virtues of civilised and uncivilised life. They know nothing of their own history, nor of the nature of their institutions. Any information derived from them must be vague and unsatisfactory.
But the difficulty of surveying the Indians in their own country, is in direct proportion to its importance. They are jealous and suspicious, unwilling to associate with strangers, and slow to give them their confidence. Persons, unacquainted with them, and ignorant of their language, cannot reside with them, and follow them from camp to camp, through the vicissitudes of the seasons, and exposed to privations, which Indians only can provide against, or successfully encounter. A fortitude and zeal, which could meet and overcome these obstacles, are rarely found, and still more rarely applied to such pursuits.
But the great difficulty, in these investigations, results from the want of some medium of communication between the inquirer and the Indians. Most of the interpreters are of Canadian descent, and do not speak the English language, and none of them are competent, by their education or habits of thinking, to pursue a train of investigation to any practical result. In fact, they can neither comprehend difficulties, which present themselves, nor aid in their solution. In the scale of intellect, they are generally below the more intelligent Indian Chiefs; and all the idle legends of the tribe are received, and repeated by them, with the firmest conviction of their truth. Some progress may be made with their assistance, by interrogating the elder Indians, and by the observance of due caution, in the researches connected with their bistory, traditions, and manners. And by a tedious process of cross questioning, we may finally arrive at a reasonable probability. And this is the very Ultima Thule of our efforts, beyond which is an unknown region. Those, who reach it, must be more fortunate navigators, than we have been. Their opportunities cannot well be greater, nor their zeal and assiduity directed by stronger hopes of discovery.
But it is particularly in philological investigations, that the poverty of our means of communication is most perceptible, and most to be deplored. The perplexing labor of these pursuits can be fully understood by those only, who bave made the experiment. A man, who has all his life said, 'I
go yesterday,' 'I go today,' 'I go tomorrow;' whose declarations, wishes, and commands, are expressed by the same word; and in whose conversation, there is no variation between action and passion, must be made to comprehend all the distinctions, both obvious and recondite, of tenses, moods, and voices. But notwithstanding these discouraging circumstances, the subject has been pursued with ardor by many persons, and by some, who are qualified to investigate and discuss it.
Governor Clinton's discourse on the history of the Iroquois, delivered before the New York Historical Society, is a performance, highly valuable for the authenticity of its details, for the clearvess of its style, and for the sound and judicious remarks, with which it abounds. This succinct abstract has, also, the merit of being the first attempt at a historical account of any one of our Indian tribes, for Colden's work does not aspire to the dignity of history. It is a dry detail of facts, true, no doubt, but without a solitary reflection, calculated to arrest the attention of the reader, and without even an effort to connect causes with their events. It will, probably, be hereafter found, that the most effectual means of rescuing, from destruction, the perishable and perishing memorials of the Indian character, will be to follow the example of Governor Clinton, to confine the attention to a single tribe, and trace their history and progress, through the writings of the French travellers, down to our own times.
Several expeditions have been recently despatched into the Indian country, charged, among other objects, to collect information respecting the condition of the Indians; the plan of which has been creditable to the government of the United States, while their execution has reflected honor on the gentlemen employed in these laborious tasks. The late work of Mr Schoolcraft, describing his travels in the central portions of the Mississippi valley, is marked with many original reflections, on subjects connected with the Indians. His opportunities for observation have been great, and it is evident, that they have not been neglected. His official station, and his local residence, are highly advantageous for further investigation, and we trust the same persevering application, which has heretofore characterised his literary labors, will enable him to fulfil the hopes of his friends, and the just expectations of his countrymen.