« PreviousContinue »
the Indians may be useful or worthless. These persons may have seen only so many trees ; they are likely to have seen only so many men and women. The remarks of such men, in either case, have about the same value.
Mr. Schoolcraft began his career of observation as traveller among the Indian tribes. His early association with General Cass, in his official visits to them, gave him much opportunity for glances at their character. But they were mere glances, and no doubt were so considered by himself in after years, however he may have been satisfied with them at the time. In fact, travellers should distrust themselves, and be distrusted by all their readers, if they go one jot beyond the mere facts which fall under their eyes.
Even more than that should be required. When the record of a thermometer is given, its position as to exposure and height is also noted ; otherwise, little or no confidence is felt in the truth of the record. A traveller should state his point of view, and the duration of that view. When he merely passes through a place, taking a meal or two and a sleep, he is not authorized to go much beyond the board and bed of that place. He may comment on the cooking he meets with, and on the comforts or annoyances of his bed. Thus far he may go, not much farther. His sketches should be light and shadowy ; a dot and a line will generally fulfil all just purposes in such cases.
Most of the early travellers among the Indians were betrayed into the use of far more elaborate accounts, by the belief that none would be able to detect their exaggerations. At that early day, there might be a hope of impunity. But when Mr. Schoolcraft made his several journeys through the Northwest, standards had been set for the measurement of forest life. Had Baron La Hontan travelled one hundred years later, he would have been one hundred times more particular in his descriptions. He spread out rivers to ten times their proper width, and lifted up falls to more than four times their true height. All travellers should keep an itinerary, as they probably do. The truth, as it appeared at the time, is no doubt then set down, being the fresh impression of actual observation. Such itineraries, when they happen to meet the public eye, are generally very acceptable and much prized. No distrust is felt about their genuineness. It would be politic in those who, from habit or more leisure in their progress, have polished off their manuscript, to give it some marks of haste, instead of removing them, with so much care, before publication. If they should go direct to the printer's from their last stage, before they change their dress, and with all the soil of journeying upon them, they would be wise. The tan on their cheeks, and their coats out at the elbows, or covered up by a hunting-shirt, would be their best prefaces. While with this aspect, they are lions ; as soon as they change their dress, shave, and crop, they are confounded with the ordinary crowd. So it is with their itineraries ; they should come forth much as they went in, with no engrafting and little pruning. Ordinarily, the book of travels that comes out of the publisher's hands is as unlike the notes which came out of the valise at the end of the journey, as a specimen of lead ore is unlike the pewter dish into which it may have subsequently been converted.
No one would be more likely than Mr. Schoolcraft himself to consider his books of travels among the Indians as mere highway and by-way sketches. These hasty glances, however, led him to desire further and better opportunities of investigating their condition, character, and history. He had seen their haunts, and many of their customs, but only in shreds and patches. Even his cursory views had convinced him that they were a peculiar people, and in no one thing more so than in their incommunicative deportment before strangers. The appearance of such persons among them was a signal for assuming an impassive and inexpressive aspect, that marked them, for the time being, as children of the mist. They drew in their prominent characteristics, like a tortoise drawing itself within its shell. Little is seen, and even that indistinctly. Inferences drawn from such appearances would be like the child's opinion of a tortoise in such a state, looking more like a quoit than an animal, as long as the observer stands over it. Mr. Schoolcraft sought a position which would enable him to renew his views day after day, year after year. He was for years among them, and became associated with them in such a way, that, at last, he saw them as they see each other. Their character and customs were gradually unfolded to his view through the course of an entire generation. And during all that lengthened period, his great object was to study them with a patient, philosophical, and liberal spirit, that he might gather
up materials for future use. These materials have been collected in his hands to a rare and valuable amount. We call them rare and valuable, because they all have the stamp of genuineness, and will hereafter aid more in constructing a monument to a perishing race of human beings, than any other that are in the white man's possession. Some of them have been spread before the public eye ; but much, we believe, yet remains behind. There has not been an encouragement to bring them forth. This is no reproach to the public, which has its tastes, and a right to indulge them. Besides, Mr. Schoolcraft may not always have adopted the best means of propitiating those tastes. The titles he has used have not always been expressive of his subjects. His
Algic Researches,” which will, at some future day, be regarded as the broadest and clearest mirror of the red man's intellect that has ever been set up before the public eye, suggested nothing as to the bearing or purport of the volumes. The title is hardly equal to the old sign, Inquire within.” And “Oneota” called for as much explanation. A novel may play bopeep with its reader in this way, as such readers generally delight to be puzzled. But all Mr. Schoolcraft's works have deserved a right name.
It is now some few years since Mr. Schoolcraft withdrew from his position in the Northwest, and became a resident of the State of New York. His inclinations have still led him to turn his attention to his favorite subject, and the volume before us shows what task, most intimately connected with it, he has been performing. The State of New York, during the year 1845, passed a law which required a census to be taken of the Indians residing upon several of the reservations in the State, and inquiries to be made into their condition, advancement in civilization, and the like. Mr. Schoolcraft was appointed one of the agents for this duty, and made his report to the State government in October of the same year. The legislature ordered the document to be printed in such numbers as insured that degree of circulation through the community which suited a work of no pretensions to popularity. It should have a place in all public libraries, and would not be misplaced in such private libraries as propose to furnish sources of information relative to the aborigines of our country
New York has performed a most acceptable work in this respect. She has long had within her borders the remnants of an Indian confederacy, which, in the early days of our country, stood predominant far and wide ; and to her credit be it spoken, she has permitted them to remain there. It is true, the possessions of these remnants have been brought down to a narrow span.
Their once broad domains, measured by latitudes and longitudes, have been reduced to a few reservations which are hardly measured by miles. But these dwindled spots are still theirs. Individuals and companies have often tried to erase these few honorable exceptions from the map of the State. The Indians, however, have clung to the soil, and it is to be hoped that they will be permitted to continue there, until the experiment be fully made, whether the influences of a contiguous white population are conservative or ruinous to the red man. New York presents almost the only opportunity for this experiment. The Indians, as tribes, have been expelled from all the other States east of the Mississippi. Their lands have been purchased, and they have gone over the great river, and are now reëstablished nearly under the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. What will be the result of this vast transfer is yet to be seen. They were before among us in a scattered state, segregated and hedged in ; though not civilized, yet feeling some of the influences of civilization, particularly its restraints. They were like so many wild buffaloes fenced round after the manner of domestic cattle ; wild still, but barred from that immense herding which gives them the blind and overwhelming power of an avalanche. Now, these fractions are added up into one formidable sum on the borders of the trans-Mississippi States.
Indian tribes are mostly Ishmaelites with respect to each other. At present, this is the security of these States. They are safe, while the Indians have their hands against each other. As long as the barbarians contended among themselves, Rome was not molested. We have conducted tribe after tribe over the Mississippi ; all have been loath to go, but were uprooted, even from the least to the greatest. The Indian, by his residence on any spot, scarcely changes a feature of nature ; and when he is driven to a new haunt, he leaves no memorial behind (we speak of Northern tribes) that outlasts a few seasons. And yet, bis attachment to VOL. LXIV. - No. 135.
those haunts appears to be the strongest of all local afsections. It is not, then, the broad and deep foundation, nor the lofty structure, that most endears a place to the human heart. The inbabitants of cities and cultivated fields may be drawn forth to new places, which will soon assume many of the features of the old. Skill, industry, and taste soon restore all, or nearly all, that had been lost. Not so with the dwellers in tents ; their hill-sides, their valleys, their streams, when once left behind, are left for ever. Nature does not repeat herself like art; she has no fac-similes, few resemblances.
The New York Indians have been permitted to remain where the white man found them, and they present the most interesting and satisfactory example of the change that may be wrought in the nomadic and savage character by the influences of contiguous civilization. It was exceedingly desirable that the progress and extent of this change should be fully ascertained. This could be done only by the State authority ; cursory and occasional views, such as individuals could take, would be of little advantage. It is evident, from the obstacles that Mr. Schoolcraft encountered, that none could have succeeded but an authorized and prudent agent of the State. It was natural that the Indians should regard with disapprobation or suspicion this attempt to number their tribes.
They could not comprehend its objects, unless those objects were such as threatened their independence or welfare. The truth could not be stated to them, that their condition was a subject of curiosity, of philanthropic speculation ; that it was desirable to know how far they had departed from the customs of their fathers, and were shading off from their strong relief into the general complexion around them. Mr. Schoolcraft says, “If I might judge from the scope of remarks made both in and out of council, they regarded it [the census] as an introduction of a Saxon feature into their institutions, which, like a lever, by some process not apparent to them, was designed, in its ultimate effects, to uplift and overturn them.” They objected to the census, but still more, says our author, to the scrutiny ' which the act called for into their agricultural products, and the results of their industry.” We may well suppose this. Their numbers might be necessary to determine the distribution of pensions, &c.; but an account of their grain,