Page images

migration from other parts of the globe.” The “vestiges and proofs ” under this head he justly deems exceedingly limited ; but he adds, —“The departments of physiology and philology, which have heretofore constituted the principal topics of research, are still attractive, and are by no means a closed field.” He has looked a good deal into these departments, and can form some judgment of their promise in these respects. We are glad to see that he is not discouraged, and hope that his further labors will be better rewarded than the past have been. We have a doubt whether all the attention that has thus far been applied to this object has not been thrown away, unless it be counted something to ascertain that nothing could be done. The races that are supposed to have migrated from the Eastern to the Western hemisphere were of a character to leave no traces of their footsteps upon the face of nature that would outlive a generation ; we therefore look in vain through all the arctic regions for any physiological trace of these movements. The north gives up nothing ; it is not until we come into the milder regions, that we see any thing to arrest the eye. Mounds, barrows, and other structures there appear, but they suggest nothing Asiatic. They bespeak little, but that little has no more reference to Asia than to Africa. Language has been looked to for an answer.

It is true that language speaks, but no American language, we believe, has as yet been made to utter an intelligible Asiatic phrase. Points of resemblance have been discovered, which, however, prove no identity. As well might a Roman nose, when found among us, prove that we came from Romulus. Such accidental reseinblances may probably be found between nearly all languages; some of the Indian and African languages may thus far agree. If this agreement would not be an argument in favor of identity, in spite of the woolly head and the jet complexion, it would be none if these physical characteristics were out of the way. Such resemblances have been found between some of the Indian dialects and the Hebrew, and theorists have thence inferred that the “ lost tribes of Israel” have been found in this hemisphere. Such theorists have the accommodating vision of Polonius.

Unwritten languages are changeable, so as to have no fixed form. The dialects of America may well serve as clews to local migrations, particularly those of a recent date ; such clews have been found, and have led to many plausible conjectures as to affinities. But when we attempt to run back with a language to another hemisphere, the trace will soon be lost in uncertainty and obscurity. An effort to trace back the genealogy of the first wolf we meet with in our forests to the shaggy nurse of Rome's founders would hardly be more hopeless and bootless. But this applies to words ; there may be intellectual impressions that endure with time, and survive all changes of place. Such are some of the traditions found among the Indians, and which Mr. Schoolcraft has preserved. They refer to events that affected the whole earth, and the remembrance of which must have been ineffaceably stamped into the minds of all living

gs. No people have yet been discovered, who appear to be without this stamp, more or less discernible.

The most prominent of this kind of events is the flood. Tradition after tradition is met with among the Indians of this continent which bears this deep stamp. What are we allowed to infer from this ? Not that Indians sprung from any one quarter of the globe ; much less, that they came from the loins of any one people of Asia. All the descendants of Noah knew of this stupendous event, and, wherever they were, there was the remembrance of it. Hence, these traditions only show a connection with the post-diluvians ; they do not give any clew to Mr. Schoolcraft's first inquiry, as to “the aboriginal migration from other parts of the globe.”

The second head of inquiry is much more promising, referring to the “migrations, wars, affinities, and general ethnological characteristics, prior to the discovery of the continent.” The latter part of this phrase might be stretched back to any age, however remote ; we do not presume, however, that our author intended his inquiries should endeavour to grope beyond all light. The objects of these investigations he states to be, “the grouping of languages, the similarity and dissimilarity of arts, modes of defence, and means of subsistence." These are tangible objects, and may well employ much time and much talent; they hold out much encouragement of success. While we would deride all vain and presumptuous attempts, such as we have referred to, inquiries like these command our approbation ; we would cheer them on, for they can hardly fail to produce useful results. The migrations of the tribes in this hemisphere have a deep interest. It is evident that their stay has been permanent nowbere. They have conquered and been conquered, until their history, so far as it can be ascertained, has been that of the clouds ; with their brightness and their darkness, their masses and their tenuity ; now fixed, as if a part of the firmament ; now speeding from horizon to horizon, as if they were chariots of fire. These changes have left some vestiges behind them. A slight vestige is sufficient, as one bone is often sufficient proof of the existence of a certain animal ; a whole skeleton would not be more.

The antiquities of this continent are now extensively known. In the north, there are mounds and specimens of rude sculpture ; in the central regions, there are architectural remains of a much higher order of human labor. The question has been, with respect to all these antiquities, whether they could have been the work of such inhabitants as are satisfactorily known to have been on this continent, or whether they must have a higher reference. The more elaborate antiquities of the central regions were at first supposed to present the greatest difficulties. Mr. Stephens found many ruined structures which, for a time, suggested a doubt whether they could have been formed by such skill as we know has existed among the aborigines. That doubt is now removed. These structures are massy, but rude; the sculpture is awkward and clumsy; and Mr. Schoolcraft exhibits in his work a few delineations which would compare advantageously as to symmetry with most of Mr. Catherwood's. We believe the public mind is now satisfied, that there is nothing in the central regions, which obliges it to go beyond the time of the Spanish conquest to account for the work. The Guatemalian and Yucatanian are said to excel the Mexican structures ; this may be, and not embarrass the question. The same skill would do more with one kind of materials than with another ; the same skill would achieve much in a freestone country, that could do almost nothing in a granite country.

We confess, we find more difficulty in accounting for the manner in which certain porphyritic“ stone hatchets,” or “hammers,” occasionally found in the northern mounds, were made, than in accounting for all the structures of Mexico and Central America. These pieces of porphyry, or greenstone, are of the hardest composition ; granite is more easily worked than they. We know that diamond will cut diamond; but it is supposing too much to believe that the Indians undertook to fashion these fragments of porphyry into shape by the application of the same stone, or a harder one, if they could find it. It would seem as if nothing but steel, and steel applied with skill, too, could have effected the modification. The boldest theorist has not ventured to give the Indians any help of this kind. Native

Native copper and native iron have been within their reach ; but these would not have aided them. They would have been even more powerless than the viper's teeth against the file. If time would have enabled them to finish such a task, the difficulty would have been lessened, as an Indian has time and patience enough. It would be consistent with their habits to devote the leisure of months to such a work. But the modification of porphyry is not within the compass of time or patience. Besides, there is an argument that goes still deeper. Had they the tools thus to work such stone, they would not have needed the stone utensil; no stone hatchets would be made, when steel ones could be had. The Indians have had Aint arrow-heads; these must have taxed their ingenuity and labor in all respects. But there is cleavage in the Aint-stone; while the greenstone is the severest compression of various components. It is almost as different from those components in their ordinary state, as the brick is from the clay of which it was made. There is no satisfactory solution of this problem, and probably one can never be found which will satisfy us.

Mr. Schoolcraft has looked much at languages to trace out these bonds of affinity. He has also examined mounds; as he remarks, these mounds are the most intelligible witnesses of these affinities. They are everywhere seen ; it is wonderful how they dot and seam the vast Western interior. It is almost useless to inquire for what purpose they were thrown up; they are so various in form as to baffle all conjecture. No modes of warfare known among the Indians seem to have called for such aids. Mankind, in their barbarous state, have had some uniformity in their warlike habits, their weapons having bad some degree of similarity. But we find no warrant in history for these remains. It is not, therefore, with a view of untying or cutting this Gordian knot,

that we would study these tumuli ; we would look into them for such antiquities as resist the earth's corrosive power, and bring them forth for the work of comparison. If a mound is found which is like another already known in a different latitude, one step is gained in the way of affinities ; if the same utensils or weapons are found in both, another step is gained. Indeed, the question of affinity is almost settled; the same tribe had probably occupied the two grounds, and left distinctive evidences of its change of locality. It is difficult to arrange aboriginal chronology, desirable as it may be. There are traditions that the north and the south have shisted scenes, but whether the shift was towards or from the equator it is not easy to determine. These mounds, however, though dark oracles, may sooner or later deliver something intelligible ; all they utter should be carefully noted and preserved in this hope.

The erection of the structures whose ruins are found in the central parts of America is accounted for with some degree of satisfaction. In a tropical climate, little labor is bestowed upon the shelter of the commonalty. In Egypt, when her pyramids and temples were built, probably little else was built ; the labor of nearly the whole people was no doubt concentrated upon these masses ; a despotic government could command such a concentration. This consideration greatly diminishes the surprise at first felt in contemplating these wonders of the world. If the whole labor which any one of our large communities bestows upon its private dwellings were applied to one or two architectural objects, similar wonders would rise in our own land.

The governments of the central parts of America appear to have been purely despotic. Their climate also was mild ; it is probable, therefore, that nearly the whole labor of the people there was applied to these public structures. The tumuli of the north are bumble in magnitude, compared with the vast remains at the south ; with proper tools, they could be thrown up without difficulty. But ihere is no evidence that the northern tribes had any tools fitted for such a work. A small mound, heaped up by hand merely, would be a greater work than a very large one thrown up by spades. Besides, there does not seem to have been any government organization in these northern regions, that could command the labor of the multitude. We do not know, it is true,

« PreviousContinue »