Page images
PDF
EPUB

cattle, and other property was an unprecedented thing, and seemed only a preliminary to taxation. It required, no doubt, much prudence and familiarity with the Indian character to get over or around their objections. Mr. Schoolcraft was likely to be well qualified for this delicate task; and it would appear by the result, that he was able to perform it without leaving any serious dissatisfaction behind.

The census in one respect is important. We desire to know the extent of their population, that we may compare it with their numerical strength when the white man first came in contact with them, and particularly with their numbers when they settled down into their present peaceful condition. We may thus judge whether that condition has been favorable or unfavorable to their increase. This is a very interesting question. It is often said that the red man fades under the light of civilization, and many facts have favored this assertion. The Indian, as a savage, has not thrived with the white man. His forests are cleared up, and his game destroyed or dispersed. He must change his habits, or starve. Many tribes appear to have preferred the latter course ; the New York Indians have been more wise, or more yielding. They have undergone this change; they have ceased to be hunters, and have become agriculturists. Have they lost by the transformation ?

Mr. Schoolcraft's Report will answer this interesting question more satisfactorily than it has yet been answered. The number of these Indians was not accurately ascertained at former periods ; the statements made were likely to be exaggerated. Even admitting that these reports were true, still the conclusion is, that the Iroquois are not dwindling away ; on the contrary, says our author, they are now on the increase." Such a conclusion, well warranted, as this appears to be, must be gratifying to every benevolent mind. We have cut down all the forests of the aborigines, and the fur-bearing animals have fled as their haunts have been removed. These animals could not change their habits ; the sun, let in upon their ranges, seemed to lick them up with the moisture that had softened these solitudes under their stealthy step for ages. It was feared that the wild man was as unchangeable as the wild animal, — that he, too, would pass away with the shadows of the forest. This Report shows that he has a more accommodating spirit than we formerly assigned to him.

[ocr errors]

The New York Indian has conformed to his altered circumstances. He has learned to live by the sweat of his brow, and has thus submitted to the great decree that was stamped on the destiny of man at the beginning. This is the true test of Indian improvability. Whenever he begins habitually to work, he begins a new existence, or rather, he begins to insure a continued existence. A square mile of the untouched forest is not more unlike a cultivated farın, than the roving savage is unlike the tiller of the earth. Nature in her rough state is not intended to sustain a large people ; she gives no grains, and has no cattle. Her spontaneous productions, her maize, her potatoes, are little or nothing without the hand of man. These two great articles of human food had their origin in this hemisphere. They came into use after the discovery by Columbus, and this use is among the grand consequences of that discovery. Still, the traces of them in the wild state are hardly discernible ; the Indians knew them, but did not place much reliance on them as food.

Mr. Schoolcraft's report of the agricultural products of the Iroquois is most encouraging. The total population of the tribes is somewhat under four thousand ; the quantity of cultivated land occupied by them is stated at nearly fourteen thousand acres. We do not stop to inquire how this conpares with the white population in this respect. The proportion may fall far below, and still be high enough to show that these Indians till land sufficient to give bread to themselves and fodder to their cattle. When this point is gained, they are safe. It is hardly possible for them to retrograde from it, and it is probable they will continue to advance. Hand in hand with their progress in agriculture is seen the increase in the number of their domestic animals. These animals, excepting the dog, are never seen with the savage ; they cannot subsist in the forest. From the beginning, the gros et menu betail have consorted with the shepherd and the tiller of the ground ; they have hung around the tentopening and the threshold, yielding their necks to the yoke, their fleeces for raiment, their milk for food, their bodies for the sacrifice. They have lain down and risen up among the human race with household familiarity. The line between them and the beasts of the field was broadly drawn at the creation. It has never been effaced ; and when man took to the forest and the chase, the cattle after their kind did not follow him.

The New York Indians have two thousand two hundred and seventy-five head

of neat cattle, nearly one third of them being milch-cows. The butter made is in proportion, being over twenty thousand pounds yearly. The number of their horses, sheep, and hogs is equally encouraging. They have, also, according to this Report, nearly seven thousand fruittrees. These the Indians had in earlier days, while still in the savage state ; they must have scattered the seed soon after the white men had bearing trees. There may have been no design in it ; the apples they brought back from their visits to the white settlements, when eaten, and the cores cast into the bushes around, may have sprung up unnoticed until they began to bear fruit. General Sullivan, when he made his expedition against the Iroquois during the Revolutionary war, found many fruitful orchards among them. It is well known that he cut them down to the ground. This was an act of questionable propriety. It is allowable, under such circumstances, to devastate all crops, to raze habitations, to measure the destruction by the measure of that of which it is in retaliation. The Indians had been unsparing in their warfare ; it was intended to render their baunts on our frontier as untenable as possible. Whether this was effected in any degree by the destruction of orchards may be doubted. The apple was a luxury, not a support ; all other means of living having been removed, the apple-trees would have been counted as nothing.

We have looked over the tables of this Report with much gratification ; they furnish proofs of the meliorated condition of the Indians that cannot be gainsaid. It is true, they apply only to a few small tribes, which stand apart from the rest of their race. They are under influences which other tribes do not feel, or feel only so remotely as not to be benefited by them. While we are satisfied that they are improving, and have all the ordinary chances of continuance as a people, we may regret that they alone are so ; that most of the other red men are deteriorating, with those chances constantly diminishing. Nevertheless, we have before us one instance that seems to contradict the general rule; that convinces us that the existence, in the same community, of the two races, the white and the red men, is compatible. This conviction may lead to such general policy as will insure a similar destiny to other tribes, We cannot bring those back which have been transplanted. The tree, once taken up, must be cherished where it has been set down again. In our guardian kindness, we have endeavoured to fence round the Indians, in their new habitations, against the white man. Prohibitions and penalties have been set up, which, like scarecrows, do not scare any thing. The country is as open as the face of the heavens ; it is almost as easy to walk into the one as to look into the other. The only effect, probably, of these restrictive laws is to keep out honest men. Men go into the Indian country as they please, and do what they please wben there, only taking care not to offend the Indians themselves. If all restrictions were taken off, more men might not go in, but they would be of a different description. Good men would, at least, be mixed up with the bad. Sieves ordinarily let through the flour, and hold back the bran ; these laws operate like sieves reversed; the bran passes through, leaving the better part behind.

As the Indians cannot be brought back to the white man, we would say, then let the white man go to them. Let them go in as they list, mix up with and teach them. It has been apprehended that the effect of such a freedom of intercourse would be bad. Possibly it would ; but the probability is the

The present system does not work well ; a new one might work better. This is sufficient not only to justify, but to call for, a change. If we preserve the Indians on the other side of the Mississippi as Indians, that is, if we shut out from them all the influences of civilization, they will either fall upon their own weapons, or upon ours. They will war with each other, until at last they may be led to war against us. In either case they bleed, and become exhausted ; and in one case, they are probably exterminated. To avert this double evil, they must be assimilated with us as the New York Indians are now assimilated. Such an assimilation will never be effected by present causes, which mostly work the other way; others must therefore be put in operation. We can think of none so likely to be powerful and effective as an open and lawful intercourse with them. It is open enough now ; let it also be lawful. In this way, the Western Indians may gradually become like the New York Indians, an agricultural people. The remnant will then, perhaps, be saved.

Mr. Schoolcraft bestows some attention, in his Report,

other way

upon the history of the Iroquois. That part of it which is subsequent to the coming of the whites is sufficiently well known. Their preceding history is involved in shadows, and is nothing but tradition, having all the indistinctness of objects seen through such a medium. Mr. Schoolcraft regards these traditions as worthy of record. They are so, particularly when given in their Indian shape. This shape is generally so uncouth and distorted as to be thought to require modification. Such attempts may serve to render them more symmetrical, but they render them less valuable in the same proportion. Fossils are valued only while preserving the look they wore when disinterred. To polish one of these bones thus dug up, in order to make it more pleasing or less offensive to the eye, would not be a greater blunder than to remove the uncouthness and distortions of these traditions. They should be gathered up and preserved just as they are found, with all their incoherences, extravagances, and savage peculiarities. Thus presented for contemplation, they are a profound study. Mr. Schoolcraft has done more than any other man in this work of collection and preservation. His “ Algic Researches” are made up of relics, which will grow in estimation as time advances. They are the best evidences of the inner man of the Indian that we have. His imagination is there exhibited in all its wildness and power ; and these qualities are often displayed in a striking and terrible degree. They refer as distinctly to the great cardinal events of the early world as do the traditions of Greece and Rome, and show whence the Indians came here, though not how, or when, they came. Vast ruptures are seen in the earth's surface; the two sides agree, and would fit, could they be brought together ; but when or how those sides were rent asunder, may not be known.

Mr. Schoolcraft has also bestowed particular attention upon the “ American antiquities," as they are termed. He examined the mounds, carvings, and other works found in the Iroquois country, and has given delineations of most of them. These may not be important at this time, but they should be preserved, and made matter of public record. We cannot always estimate the value of these remains at the time they are discovered. Our author says, pear to be three eras in the aboriginal occupancy of the continent." The first era he makes to refer to the aboriginal

6. There ap

« PreviousContinue »