Every thing tended to render inquiry into the state of the rude tribes of America difficult and obscure. In the generality of cases they presented characteristics of a native simplicity, elsewhere unknown; and even in the more favored districts, where a degree of civilization appeared, it had assumed a form and direction totally different from that of the Old World.
The origin of this mysterious people has been the subject of an immense variety of speculations, and has involved the question, whether all men are the sons of Adam, or whether the distinctions of the human race were owing to the several sources from whence its members sprung? The skeptic supposition that each portion of the globe gave its own original type of man to the human family at once solves the difficulty of American population; but as both Christianity and philosophy alike forbid acceptance of this view, it becomes necessary to consider the relative probabilities in favor of the other different theories which enthusiasm, ingenuity, and research have contributed to lay before the world.
Without referring to the most sacred and ancient of authorities, we may find existing natural evidence abundantly sufficient to establish the belief of the common descent of our race. There are not in the human form differences such as distinguish separate species of the brute creation. All races of men are nearly of like stature and size, varying only by the accidents of climate and food favorable or adverse to their full development. The number, shape, and uses of limbs and extremities are alike, and internal construction is invariably the same. These are circumstances the least acted upon by situation and temperature, and therefore the surest tests of a particular species. Color is the most obvious and the principal indication of difference in the human families, and is evidently influenced to a great extent by the action of the sun, as the swarthy cheek of the harvest laborer will witness. Under the equator we find the jet black of the negro; then the olive-colored Moors of the southern shores of the Mediterranean; again, the bronzed face of the Spaniard and Italian; next, the Frenchman, darker than those who dwell under the temperate skies of England; and, last, the bleached and pallid visages of the north. Along the arctic circle, indeed, a dusky tint again appears: that, however, may be fairly attributed to the scorching power of the sun, constantly over the horizon, through the brief and fiery summer. The natives remain generally in the open air during this time, fishing, or in the chase; and the effect of exposure stamps them with a complexion which even the long-continued snows can not remove. In the rigorous winter season, the people of those dreary countries pass most of their time in wretched huts or subterranean dwellings, where they heap up large fires to warm their shivering limbs. The smoke has no proper vent in these ill-constructed abodes; it fills the confined air, and tends to darken the complexions of those constantly exposed to its influence.
The difference of color in the human race is doubtless influenced by many causes, modifying the effect of position with regard to the tropics. The great elevation of a particular district, its proximity to the sea, the shades of a vast forest, the exhalations from extensive marshes, all tend to diminish materially the power of a southern sun. On the other hand, intensity of heat is aggravated by the neighborhood of arid and sandy deserts, or rocky tracts. The action of long-continued heat creates a more permanent effect than the mere darkening of the outer skin: it alters the character of those subtile juices that display their color through the almost transparent covering. We see that, from a constitutional peculiarity in individuals, the painful variety of the albino is sometimes produced in the hottest countries. Certain internal diseases, and different medicines, change the beautiful bloom of the young and healthy into repulsive and unnatural tints. A peculiar secretion of the carbon abounding in the human frame produces the jet black of the negro's skin, and enables him to bear without inconvenience the terrible sultriness of his native land. The dark races, inferior in animal and intellectual powers to the white man, are yet nearly free from the deformities he so often exhibits, perhaps on account of a less susceptible and delicate structure. The Caucasian or European races, born and matured under a temperate climate, manifestly enjoy the highest gifts of man. Wherever they come in contact with their colored brother, he ultimately yields to the irresistible superiority, and becomes, according to the caprice of their haughty will, the victim, the dependent, or the slave.
There are other characteristics different from, but generally combined with color, which are influenced by constitutional varieties. The hair usually harmonizes with the complexion, and, like it, shows the influence of climate. In cold countries, the natural covering of every animal becomes rich and soft; the plentiful locks and manly beard of the European show a marked contrast to the coarse and scanty hair of the inhabitants of tropical countries. The development of mental power and refined habits of life have also a strong but slow effect upon the outward form. Certain African nations of a higher intelligence and civilization than their rude neighbors, show much less of the peculiarities of the negro features. The refined Hindoo displays a delicate form and expression under his dark complexion. The black color and the negro features are accidentally not necessarily connected, and it seems to require both climate and inferiority of intellect to unite them in the same race.
When circumstances of climate or situation have effected peculiar appearances in a nation or tribe, the results will long survive the causes when people are removed to widely-different latitudes: a dark color is not easily effaced, even under the influence of moderate temperature and heightened civilization. For these reasons, there appear many cases where the complexion of the inhabitants and the climate of the country do not correspond, but the original characteristics will be found undergoing the process of gradual change, ultimately adapting themselves to their new country and situation. The marked and peculiar countenances of the once "chosen people" vary, in color at least, wherever they are seen over the world, although uninfluenced by any admixture of alien blood. In England the children of Israel and the descendant of the Saxon are alike of a fair complexion, and on the banks of the Nile the Jew and the Egyptian show the same swarthy hue.
At first sight this American race would appear to offer evidence against the supposed influence of climate upon color, as one general form and complexion prevail in all latitudes of the New World, from the tropics to the frozen regions of the north. Great varieties, however, exist in the shade of the red or copper color of the Indians. There are two extremes of complexion among mankind—those of the northern European and the African negro; between these there is a series of shades, that of the American Indian being about midway. The structure of the New World, and the circumstances of its inhabitants, may account for the generally equal color of their skin. The western Indian never becomes black, even when dwelling directly under the equator. He lives among stupendous mountain ranges, where cool breezes from the snowy heights sweep through the valleys and over the plains below. The vast rivers springing from under those lofty peaks inundate a great extent of country, and turn it into swamps, whence perpetual exhalations arise and lower the temperature. There are no fiery deserts to heat the passing wind and reflect the rays of the sun; a continual forest, with luxuriant foliage, and a dense underwood, spreads a pleasant shade over the surface of the earth. America, under the same latitudes, especially on the eastern coast, is every where colder than the Old World. The nearest approach to a black complexion is seen in the people of Brazil, a country comparatively low, and immediately under the equator. The inhabitants of the lofty Mexican table-land are also very dark, and on those arid plains the sun pours down its scorching rays upon a surface almost devoid of sheltering vegetation.
The habits of savage life, and the constant exposure to the elements, seem sufficient to cause a dark tint upon the human skin even in the temperate regions of America, where the cold is far greater than in the same latitude in Europe. The inhabitants of those immense countries are badly clothed, imperfectly defended against the weather, miserably housed; wandering in war or in the chase, exposed for weeks at a time to the mercy of the elements, they soon darken into the indelible red or copper color of their race. On the northwest coasts, about latitude 50 deg., in Nootka Sound, and a number of other smaller bays, dwell a people more numerous and better provided with food and shelter than their eastern neighbors. They are free from a great part of the toils and hardships of the hunter, and from the vicissitudes of the season. When cleansed from their filthy and fantastic painting, it appears that their complexion and features resemble those of the European.
Modern discoveries have to a great extent dispelled the mystery of the Indian origin, and proved the fallacy of the numerous and ingenious theories formerly advanced with so much pertinacity and zeal. Since the northwest coasts of America and the northeast of Asia have been explored, little difficulty remains on this subject. The two continents approach so nearly in that direction that they are almost within sight of each other, and small boats can safely pass the narrow strait. Ten degrees further south, the Aleutian and Fox Islands form a continuous chain between Kamtschatka and the peninsula of Alaska, in such a manner as to leave the passage across a matter of no difficulty. The rude and hardy Tschutchi, inhabiting the northeast of Asia, frequently sail from one continent to the other. From the remotest antiquity, this ignorant people possessed the wonderful secret of the existence of a world hidden from the wisest and most adventurous of civilized nations. They were unconscious of the value of their vast discovery; they passed over a stormy strait from one frozen shore to another, as stern and desolate as that they had left behind, and knew not that they had crossed one of the great boundaries of earth. When they first entered upon the wilderness of America, probably the most adventurous pushed down toward the genial regions of the south, and so through the long ages of the past the stream of population flowed slowly on, wave by wave, to the remotest limits of the east and south. The Indians resemble the people of northeastern Asia in form and feature more than any other of the human race. Their population is most dense along the districts nearest to Asia; and among the Mexicans, whose records of the past deserve credence, there is a constant tradition that their Aztec and Toultec chiefs came from the northwest. Every where but to the north, America is surrounded with a vast ocean unbroken by any chain of islands that could connect it with the Old World. Most probably no living man ever crossed this immense barrier before the time of Columbus. It is certain that in no part of America have any authentic traces been found of European civilization; the civilization of America, such as it was, arose, as it flourished, in the fertile plains of Mexico and in the delightful valleys of Peru; there, where the bounty of nature supplied an abundance of the necessaries of life, the population rapidly multiplied, and the arts became objects of cultivation.
There is something almost mysterious in the total difference between the languages of the Old and New World. All the tongues of civilized nations spring from a few original roots, somewhat analogous to each other; but it would seem that, among wandering tribes, dispersed over a vast extent of country, carrying on but little intercourse, and having no written record or traditionary recital to preserve any fixed standard, language undergoes a complete change in the course of ages. The great varieties of tongues in America, and their dissimilarity to each other, tend to confirm this supposition.
In various parts of America, remains are found which place beyond a doubt the ancient existence of a people more numerous, powerful, and civilized than the present race of Indians; but the indications of this departed people are not such as to bespeak their having been of very remote antiquity: the ruined cities of Central America, concealed by the forest growth of centuries, and the huge mounds of earth in the Valley of the Mississippi and upon the table-lands of Mexico, their dwellings and mausoleums, although long swept over by the storm of savage conquest, afford no proofs of their having existed very far back into those dark ages when the New World was unknown to Europe. The history of these past races of men will probably forever remain a sealed book, but there is no doubt that a great population once covered those rich countries which the first English visitors found the wild hunting-grounds for a few savage tribes. Probably the existing race of Red Men were the conquerors and exterminators of the feeble but civilized aboriginal nations, and as soon as they possessed the land they split into separate and hostile communities, waging perpetual war with each other so as constantly to diminish their numbers.
Far up the Mississippi and the Missouri the exploration of the country brings to light incontestable proofs of the existence of the mysterious aboriginal race: wells artificially walled, and various other structures for convenience or defense, are frequently seen; ornaments of silver, copper, and even brass are found, together with various articles of pottery and sculptured stone; sepulchers filled with vast numbers of human bones have often been discovered, and human bodies in a state of preservation are sometimes exhumed. On one of these the hair was yellow or sandy, and it is well known that an unvarying characteristic of the present red race is the lank black hair. A splendid robe of a kind of linen, made apparently from nettle fibers, and interwoven with the beautiful feathers of the wild turkey, encircled this long-buried mummy. The number and the magnitude of the mounds bear evidence that the concurrent labors of a vast assembly of men were employed in their construction.
In the progress of early discovery and settlement, striking views were presented of savage life among the Red Men inhabiting the Atlantic coast; but later researches along the banks of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and by the great Canadian lakes, exhibited this people under a still more remarkable aspect. The most prominent among the natives of the interior for power, policy, and courage, were the Iroquois or Five Nations. Their territory extended westward from Lake Champlain, to the farthest extremity of Ontario, along the southern banks of the St. Lawrence, and of the Great Lake. Although formed by the alliance of five independent tribes, they always presented a united front to their foes, whether in defense or aggression. Their enemies, the Algonquins, held an extensive domain on the northern bank of the St. Lawrence; these last were at one time the masters of all that portion of America, and were the most polished and mildest in manners of the northern tribes. They depended altogether for subsistence on the produce of the chase, and disdained those among their neighbors who attempted the cultivation of the soil. The Hurons were a numerous nation, generally allied with the Algonquins, inhabiting the immense and fertile territory extending westward to the Great Lake, from which they take their name: they occupied themselves with a rude husbandry, which the fertile soil of the west repaid, by affording them an abundant subsistence; but they were more effeminate and luxurious than their neighbors, and inferior in savage virtue and independence. The above-named nations were those principally connected with the events of Canadian history.
Man is less affected by climate in his bodily development than any other animal; his frame is at the same time so hardy and flexible, that he thrives and increases in every variety of temperature and situation, from the tropic to the pole; nevertheless, in extremes such as these, his complexion, size, and vigor usually undergo considerable modifications. Among the Red Men of America, however, there is a remarkable similarity of countenance, form, manners, and habits, in every part of the continent. No other race can show people speaking different languages, inhabiting widely different climates, and subsisting on different food, who are so wonderfully alike. There are, indeed, varieties of stature, strength, intellect, and self-respect to be found among them; but the savage of the frozen north, and the Indian of the tropics, have the same stamp of person, and the same instincts. There is a language of signs common to all, conveying similar ideas, and providing a means of mutual intelligence to every Red Man from north to south.
The North American Indians are generally of a fair height and proportion. Deformities or personal defects are rare among them; and they are never seen to fall into corpulency. Their features, naturally pleasing and regular, are often distorted by absurd attempts to improve their beauty, or render their appearance more terrible. They have high cheek bones, sharp and rather aquiline noses, and good teeth. Their skin is generally described as red or copper-colored, approaching to the tint of cinnamon bark, a complexion peculiar to the inhabitants of the New World. The hair of the Americans, like that of their Mongolian ancestors, is coarse, black, thin, but strong, and growing to a great length. Many tribes of both these races remove it from every part of the head except the crown, where a small tuft is left, and cherished with care. It is a universal habit among the tribes of the New World to eradicate every symptom of beard: hence the early travelers were led to conclude that the smoothness of their faces resulted from a natural deficiency. One reason for the adoption of this strange custom was to enable them to paint themselves with greater ease. Among old men, who have become indifferent to their appearance, the beard is again seen to a small extent.
On the continent, especially toward the north, the natives were of robust and vigorous constitution. Their sole employment was the chase of the numerous wild animals of the forest and prairies: from their continual activity, their frame acquired firmness and strength; but in the islands, where game was rare, and the earth supplied spontaneously an abundant subsistence, the Indians were comparatively feeble, being neither inured to the exertions of the chase nor the labors of cultivation. Generally, the Americans were more remarkable for agility than strength, and are said to have been more like beasts of prey than animals formed for labor. Toil was hateful, and even destructive to them; they broke down and perished under tasks that would not have wearied a European. Experience proves that the physical strength of civilized man exceeds that of the savage. Hand to hand in war, in wrestling, leaping, and even in running for a short distance, this superiority usually appears. In a long journey, however, the endurance of the Indian has no parallel among Europeans. A Red Man has been known to travel nearly eighty miles between sunrise and sunset, without apparent fatigue. He performs a long journey, bearing a heavy burden, and indulging in no refreshment or repose; an enemy can not escape his persevering pursuit, even when mounted on a strong horse.
It has been already observed that the Americans are rarely or never deformed, or defective in their senses, while in their wild state, but in those districts where the restraints of law are felt, an extraordinary number of blind, deaf, dwarfs, and cripples, are observed. The terrible custom among the savage tribes of destroying those children who do not promise a vigorous growth, accounts for this apparent anomaly. Infancy is so long and helpless that it weighs as a heavy burden upon a wandering people; food is scanty and uncertain of supply, hunters and their families must range over extensive countries, and often remove from place to place. Judging that children of feeble or defective formation are not likely to survive the hardships of this errant life, they destroy all such unpromising offspring, or desert them to a slower and more dreadful fate. The lot of all is so hard that few born with any great constitutional defect could long survive, and arrive at maturity.
In the simplicity of savage life, where labor does not oppress, nor luxury enervate the human frame, and where harassing cares are unknown, we are led to expect that disease and suffering should be comparatively rare, and that the functions of nature should not reach the close of their gradual decay till an extreme old age. The decrepit and shriveled forms of many American Indians would seem to indicate that they had long passed the ordinary time of life. But it is difficult or impossible to ascertain their exact age, as the art of counting is generally unknown among them, and they are strangely forgetful and indifferent to the past. Their longevity, however, varies considerably, according to differences of climate and habits of life. These children of nature are naturally free from many of the diseases afflicting civilized nations; they have not even names in their language to distinguish such ills, the offspring of a luxury to them unknown. The diseases of the savage, however, though few, are violent and fatal; the severe hardships of his mode of life produce maladies of a dangerous description. From improvidence they are often reduced for a considerable time to a state bordering on starvation. When successful in the chase, or in the seasons when earth supplies her bounty, they indulge in enormous excesses. These extremes of want and abundance prove equally pernicious, for, although habit and necessity enable them at the time to tolerate such sudden transitions, the constitution is ultimately injured: disorders arising from these causes strike down numbers in the prime and vigor of youth, and are so common that they appear the necessary consequences of their mode of life. The Indian is likewise peculiarly subject to consumption, pleurisy, asthma, and paralysis, engendered by the fatigues and hardships of the chase and war, and constant exposure to extremes of heat and cold. Experience supports the conclusion that the average life is greater among people in an advanced condition of society than among those in a state of nature; among savages, all are affected by circumstances of over-exertion, privation, and excess, but in civilized societies the diseases of luxury only affect the few.
[Footnote 200: "Driven by the European populations toward the northwest of North America, the savage tribes are returning, by a singular destiny, to expire on the same shore where they landed, in unknown ages, to take possession of America. In the Iroquois language, the Indians gave themselves the appellation of Men of Always (Ongoueonoue); these men of always have passed away, and the stranger will soon have left to the lawful heirs of a whole world nothing but the mold of their graves."—Chateaubriand's Travels in America (Eng. trans.), vol. ii., p. 93.]
[Footnote 201: De Tocqueville calculated that along the borders of the United States, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, extending a distance of more than 1200 miles, as the bird flies, the whites advance every year at a mean rate of seventeen miles; and he truly observes that there is a grandeur and solemnity in this gradual and continuous march of the European race toward the Rocky Mountains. He compares it to "a deluge of men rising, unabatedly, and daily driven onward by the hand of God."—Democracy in America, vol. ii., cap. x., Sec.4; Lyell, vol. ii., p. 77.]
[Footnote 202: See Appendix, No. XLI. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 203: See Appendix, No. XLII. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 204: "Generally speaking, the American races of mankind were characterized by a want of domestic animals, and this had considerable influence on their domestic life." (Cosmos, note, vol. ii., p. 481.) Contrasting the Bedouin with the Red Indian, Volney observes, "the American savage is, on the contrary, a hunter and a butcher, who has had daily occasion to kill and slay, and in every animal has beheld nothing but a fugitive prey, which he must be quick to seize. He has thus acquired a roaming, wasteful, and ferocious disposition; has become an animal of the same kind with the wolf and tiger; has united in bands or troops, but not into organized societies."]
[Footnote 205: On ne prit pas d'abord les Americains pour des hommes, mais pour des orang-otangs, pour des grands singes, qu'on pouvoit detruire sans remords et sans reproche. Un pape fit une Bulle originale dans laquelle il declara qu' ayant envie de fonder des Eveches dans les plus riches contrees de l'Amerique, il plaisoit a lui et au Saint Esprit de reconnoitre les Americains pour des hommes veritables; de sorte que, sans cette decision d'une Italien, les habitans du Nouveau Monde seroient encore maintenant, aux yeux des fideles, une race d'animaux equivoques.... Qui auroit cru que malgre cette sentence de Rome, on eut agite violemment au conseil de Lima, 1583, si les Americains avoient assez d'esprit pour etre admis aux sacrements de l'Eglise. Plusieurs eveques persisterent a les leur refuser pendant que les Jesuites faisoient communier tous les jours leurs Indiens esclaves au Paraquai, afin de les accoutumer, disoient-ils, a la discipline, et pour les detourner de l'horrible coutume de se nourrir de chair humain.—Recherches Philosophiques sur les Americains, De Pauw, tom. i., p. 35.]
[Footnote 206: Rousseau, opposed by Buffon, Volney, &c.]
[Footnote 207: "Notwithstanding the striking analogies existing between the nations of the New Continent and the Tartar tribes who have adopted the religion of Bouddah, I think I discover in the mythology of the Americans, in the style of their paintings, in their languages, and especially in their external conformation, the descendants of a race of men, which, early separated from the rest of mankind, has followed for a lengthened series of years a peculiar road in the unfolding of its intellectual faculties, and in its tendency toward civilization."—Humboldt's Ancient Inhabitants of America, vol. i., p. 200.
"It can not be doubted that the greater part of the nations of America belong to a race of men who, isolated ever since the infancy of the world from the rest of mankind, exhibit in the nature and diversity of language, in their features, and the conformation of their skull, incontestable proofs of an early and complete civilization."—Ibid., vol. i., p. 250.
On the American races in general, Humboldt refers to the beautiful work of Samuel George Morton, Craniae Americanae, 1839, p. 62-86; and an account of the skulls brought by Pentland from the Highlands of Titicaca, in the 'Dublin Journal of Medical and Chemical Science,' vol. v., p. 475, 1834; also, Alcide d'Orbigny, L'Homme Americain considere sous ses Rapports Physiol. et Mor., p. 221, 1839; and, further, the work, so full of delicate ethnographical observations, of Prinz Maximilian of Wied, Reise in das Innere von Nordamerika, 1839.]
[Footnote 208: "With regard to their origin, I have no doubt, independent of theological considerations, but that it is the same with ours. The resemblance of the North American savages to the Oriental Tartars renders it probable that they originally sprang from the same stock."—Buffon, Eng. trans., vol. iii., p. 193.]
[Footnote 209: "The Ethiopians," sings the old tragedian, Theodectes of Phaselis, "are dyed by the near sun-god in his course with a dark and sooty luster; the sun's heat crisps and dries up their hair." The expeditions of Alexander, which were so influential in exciting ideas of the physical cosmography, first fanned the dispute on the uncertain influence of climate upon races of men. Humboldt's Cosmos, vol. i., p. 386. Volney, p. 506, and Oldmixon, vol. i., p. 286, assert that the savages are born white, and in their infancy continue so. An intelligent Indian said to Volney, "Why should there be any difference of color between us and them? (some Spaniards who had been bronzed in America). In them, as in us, it is the work of the father of colors, the sun, that burns us. You whites yourselves compare the skin of your faces with that of your bodies." This brought to my remembrance that, on my return from Turkey, when I quitted the turban, half my forehead above the eyebrows was almost like bronze, while the other half next the hair was as white as paper. If, as natural philosophy demonstrates, there be no color but what originates from light, it is evident that the different complexions of people are owing entirely to the various modifications of this fluid with other elements that act on our skin, and even compose its substance. Sooner or later it will be proved that the blackness of the African has no other source.—P. 408.
"Vespuce decrit les indigenes du Nouveau Continent dans sa premiere lettre comme des hommes a face large et a physionomie tartare, dont la couleur rougeatre n'etoit due qu'a l'habitude de ne pas etre vetus. Il revient a cette meme opinion en examinant les Bresiliens." (Canovai, p. 87, 90.) "Leur teint, dit il, est rougeatre, ce qui vient de leur nudite absolue et de l'ardeur du soleil auquel ils sont constamment exposes. Cette erreur a ete partagee par un des voyageurs modernes les plus spirituels, mais des plus systematiques, par Volney." (Essai Politique sur la Mexique.) Humboldt's Geog. du Nouv. Continent, vol. v., p. 25.]
[Footnote 210: On the influence of humidity much stress has been laid by M. D'Orbigny and Sir R. Schomburgh, each of whom has made the remark as the result of personal and independent observation on the inhabitants of the New World, that people who live under the damp shade of dense and lofty forests are comparatively fair.]
[Footnote 211: See Appendix, No. XLI. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 212: Mr. Jarrold asserts that the negro becomes the most perfect specimen of the human species, in consequence of his possessing the coarsest and most impassive integument.—Anthropologia.]
[Footnote 213: See Appendix, No. XLII. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 214: "It is intellectual culture which contributes most to diversify the features. Barbarous nations have rather a physiognomy of tribe or horde than one peculiar to such or such an individual. The savage and civilized man are like those animals of the same species, several of which rove in the forest, while others connected with us share in the benefits and evils that accompany civilization. The varieties of form and color are frequent only in domestic animals. How great is the difference with respect to mobility of feature and variety of physiognomy between dogs again become savage in the New World, and those whose slightest caprices are indulged in the houses of the opulent. Both in men and animals the emotions of the soul are reflected in the features; and the features acquire the habit of mobility in proportion as the emotions of the mind are more frequent, more varied, and more durable. In every condition of man, it is not the energy or the transient burst of the passions which give expression to the features; it is rather that sensibility of the soul which brings us continually into contact with the external world, multiplies our sufferings and our pleasures, and reacts at once on the physiognomy, the manners, and the language. If the variety and mobility of the features embellish the domain of animated nature, we must admit also that both increase by civilization without being produced by it alone. In the great family of nations, no other race unites these advantages to a higher degree than that of Caucasus or the European. It must be admitted that this insensibility of the features is not peculiar to every race of men of a very dark complexion: it is much less apparent in the African than in the natives of America."—Humboldt's Personal Narrative, vol. iii., p. 230.]
[Footnote 215: Tacitus, in his speculations on the peopling of Britain, distinguishes very beautifully between what may belong to the ultimate influences of the country, and what may pertain to an old, unalterable type in the immigrated race. "Britanniam qui mortales initio coluerunt, indigenae an advecti, ut inter barbaros, parum compertum. Habitus corporis varii, atque ex eo argumenta; namque rutilae Caledoniam habitantium comae, magni artus Germanicam originem adseverant. Silurum colorati vultus et torti plerumque crines, et posita contra Hispania, Iberos veteres trajecisse, easque sedes occupasse fidem faciunt: proximi Gallis et similes sunt, seu durante originis vi; seu, procurrentibus in divisa terris, positio coeli corporibus habitum dedit."—Agricola, cap. ii.
"No ancient author has so clearly stated the two forms of reasoning by which we still explain in our days the differences of color and figure among neighboring nations as Tacitus. He makes a just distinction between the influence of climate and hereditary dispositions, and, like a philosopher persuaded of our profound ignorance of the origin of things, leaves the question undecided."—Humboldt's Personal Narrative.]
[Footnote 216: See Smith on The Variety of Complexion of the Human Species.]
[Footnote 217: Mr. Lawrence's precise definition is "an obscure orange or rusty-iron color, not unlike the bark of the cinnamon-tree." Among the early discoverers, Vespucius applies to them the epithet "rougeatre." Verazzano says, "sono di color berrettini e non molto dalli Saracini differenti."]
[Footnote 218: Cook's Narrative calls their color an effete white, like that of the southern nations of Europe. Meares expressly says that some of the females, when cleaned, were found to have the fair complexions of Europe.
Somewhat further north, at Cloak Bay, in lat. 54 deg. 10', Humboldt remarks, that "in the midst of copper-colored Indians, with small, long eyes, there is a tribe with large eyes, European features, and a skin less dark than that of our peasantry."—New Spain, vol. i., p. 145.
Humboldt considers this as the strongest argument of an original diversity of race which has remained unaffected by climate.]
[Footnote 219: See Appendix. No. XLV. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 220: Cochrane's Pedestrian Journey.]
[Footnote 221: Prescott remarks, that the progress made by the Mexicans in astronomy, and especially the fact of their having a general board for education and the fine arts, proves more in favor of their advancement than the noble architectural monuments which they and their kindred tribes erected. "Architecture," he observes, "is a sensual gratification, and addresses itself to the eye; it is the form in which the resources of a semi-civilized people are most likely to be lavished."—Conquest of Mexico, vol. i., p. 155; Lyell's America, vol. i., p. 115.]
[Footnote 222: Dans les regions anciennement agricoles de l'Amerique meridionale les conquerans Europeens n'ont fait que suivre les traces d'une culture indigene. Les Indiens sont restes attaches au sol qu'ils ont defriche depuis des siecles. Le Mexique seul compte un million sept cent mille indigenes de race pure, dont le nonbre augmente avec la meme rapidite que celui des autres castes. Au Mexique, a Guatemala, a Quito, au Perou, a Bolivia, la physionomie du pays, a l'exception de quelques grandes villes, est essentiellement Indienne; dans les campagnes la variete des langues s'est conservee avec les moeurs, le costume et les habitudes de la vie domestiqne. Il n'y a de plus que des troupeaux de vaches et de brebis, quelques cereales nouvelles et les ceremonies d'une culte qui se mele a d'antiques superstitions locales. Il faut avoir vecu dans les hautes plaines de l'Amerique Espagnole ou dans la confederation Anglo-Americain pour sentir vivement combien ce contraste entre des peuples chasseurs et des peuples agricoles, entre des pays longtemps barbares ou des pays offrant d'anciennes institutions politiques et une legislation indigene tres developpee, a facilite ou entrave la conquete, influe sur les formes des premiers etablissement europeens, conserve meme de nos jours aux differentes parties de l'Amerique independante, un caractere ineffacable. Deja le pere Joseph Acosta qui a etudie sur les lieux memes les suites du grand drame sanguinaire de la conquete a bien saisi ces differences frappantes de civilisation progressive et d'absence entiere d'ordre social qu'offrait le nouveau-monde a l'epoque de Christopher Colomb, ou peu de tems apres la colonisation par les Espagnols.—Hist. Nat. y Moral. lib. vi., cap. ii.; Humboldt's Geographie du Nouveau Continent, tom. i., p. 130.]
[Footnote 223: See Appendix, No. XLVI. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 224: "In both Americas it is a matter of inquiry what was the intention of the natives when they raised so many artificial hills, several of which appear to have served neither as mounds, nor watch-towers, nor the base of a temple. A custom established in Eastern Asia may throw some light on this important question. Two thousand three hundred years before our era, sacrifices were offered in China to the Supreme Being, Chan-Ty, on four great mountains called the Four Yo. The sovereigns, finding it inconvenient to go thither in person, caused eminences representing these mountains to be erected by the hands of men near their habitations."—Voyage of Lord Macartney, vol. i., p. 58; Hager, Monument of Yu, p. 10, 1802.]
[Footnote 225: Mr. Flint asserts, "that the greatest population clearly has been in those positions where the most dense future population will be."—P. 166.]
[Footnote 226: "The bones of animals and snakes have sometimes been found mixed with human bones in these tumuli, and out of one near Cincinnati were dug two large marine shells, one of which was the Cassis cornulus of the Asiatic islands, the other the Fulgur perversus of the coast of Georgia and East Florida; and this is an additional argument used in favor of the alleged intercourse existing anciently between the Indians of this part of North America and the inhabitants of Asia, and between them and those of the Atlantic. Many circumstances still existing give probability to the popular belief that the American Indians had their origin in Asia. In their persons, color, and reserved disposition, they have a strong resemblance to the Malays of the Oriental Archipelago—that is to say, to some of the Tartar tribes of Upper Asia; and it is a remarkable circumstance, that, like those, they shave the head, leaving only a single lock of hair. The picture language of the Mexicans, as corresponding with the ancient picture language of China, and the quipos of Peru with the knotted and party-colored cords which the Chinese history informs us were in use in the early period of the empire, may also be adduced as corroborative evidence. The high cheek bones and the elongated eye of the two people, besides other personal resemblances, suggest the probability of a common origin."—Quarterly Review, No. LVII., p. 13.
"The Iroquois and Hurons made hieroglyphic paintings on wood, which bear a striking resemblance to those of the Mexicans."—Lafitau, vol. ii., p. 43, 225; La Houtan, p. 193.
"A long struggle between two religious sects, the Brahmans and the Buddhists, terminated by the emigration of the Chamans to Thibet. Mongolia, China, and Japan. If tribes of the Tartar race have passed over to the northwest coast of America, and thence to the south and the east, toward the banks of Gila, and those of the Missouri, as etymological researches serve to indicate, we should be less surprised at finding among the semi-barbarous nations of the New Continent idols and monuments of architecture, a hieroglyphical writing, and exact knowledge of the duration of the year, and traditions respecting the first state of the world, recalling to our minds the arts, the sciences, and religious opinions of the Asiatic nations."—Humboldt's Researches.
In his description of a Mexican painting, Humboldt observes, "The slave on the left is like the figure of those saints which we see frequently in Hindoo paintings, and which the navigator Roblet found on the northwest coast of America, among the hieroglyphical paintings of the natives of Cox's Channel."—Merchant's Voyage, vol. i., p. 312.
"It is probably by philosophical and antiquarian researches in Tartary that the history of those civilized nations of North America, of whose great works only the wreck remains, will alone be elucidated."—See Bancroft's History of the United States, vol. iii., chap. xxii.; and Stephens's Central America, vol. i., p. 96; vol. ii., chap, xxvi., p. 186, 357, 413, 433. See Appendix, No. XLVII. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 227: "The five nations were the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Cayugas, the Onondagas, and the Senecas. The Dutch called them Maquas, the French Iroquois; their appellation at home was the Mingoes, and sometimes the Aganuschion, or United People."—Governor Clinton's Discourse before New York Historical Society, 1811.
The Iroquois have often, among Europeans, been termed the Romans of the West. "Le nom d'Iroquois est purement francois, et a ete forme du terme Hiro, qui signifie, J'ai dit, par lequel ces sauvages finissent tout leur discours, comme les Latins faisaient autrefois par leur Dixi; et de Koue, qui est un cri, tantot de tristesse, lorsqu' on le prononce en trainant, et tantot de joie, lorsqu'on le prononce plus court. Leur nom propre est Agonnonsionni, qui veut dire, Faiseurs de Cabannes; parcequ'ils les batissent beaucoup plus solides, que la plupart des autres sauvages."—Charlevoix, tom. i., p. 421.
Lafitau gives the Iroquois the same name of Agonnonsionni; they used to say of themselves that the five nations of which they were composed formed but one "Cabane."]
[Footnote 228: "Le Pere Brebeuf comptoit environ trente mille ames de vrais Hurons, distribues en vingt villages de la nation. Il y avoit outre cela, douze nations sedentaires et nombreuses, qui parloient leur langue. La plupart de ces nations ne subsistent plus, les Iroquois ces ont detruites. Les vrais Hurons sont reduits aujourd'hui a la petite mission de Lorette, qui est pres de Quebec, ou l'on voit le Christianisme fleurir avec l'edification de tous les Francais, a la nation des Tionnontates qui sont etablis au Detroit, et a une autre nation qui s'est refugiee a la Carolina."—Charlevoix, 1721.
"The Tionnontates mentioned above now bear the name of Wyandots, and are a striking exception to the degeneracy which usually attends the intercourse of Indians with Europeans. The Wyandots have all the energy of the savage warrior, with the intelligence and docility of civilized troops. They are Christians, and remarkable for orderly and inoffensive conduct; but as enemies, they are among the most dreadful of their race. They were all mounted (in the war of 1812-13), fearless, active, enterprising; to contend with them in the forest was hopeless, and to avoid their pursuit, impossible.
"It is worthy of remark, that the Wyandots are the only part of the Huron nation who ever joined in alliance with the English. The mass of the Hurons were always the faithful friends of the French during the times of the early settlement of Canada."—Quarterly Review.]
[Footnote 229: The extremes of heat and cold are as unfavorable to intellectual as to physical superiority, a fact which may be easily traced throughout the vast and varied extent of the two Americas. "As far as the parallel of 53 deg., the temperature of the northwest coast of America is milder than that of the eastern coasts: we are led to expect, therefore, that civilization had anciently made some progress in this climate, and even in higher latitudes. Even in our own times, we perceive that in the 59th degree of latitude, in Cox's Channel and Norfolk Sound, the natives have a decided taste for hieroglyphical paintings on wood."—Humboldt on the Ancient Inhabitants of America.
It has been ascertained that this western coast is populous, and the race somewhat superior to the other Indians in arts and civilization.—Ramusio, tom. iii., p. 297-303; Venegas's California, Part ii., Sec.ii.
"From the happy coincidence of various circumstances, man raises himself to a certain degree of cultivation, even in climates the least favorable to the development of organized beings. Near the polar circle, in Iceland, in the twelfth century, we know the Scandinavians cultivated literature and the arts with more success than the inhabitants of Denmark and Prussia."—Humboldt.]
[Footnote 230: The most temperate climate lies between the 40th and 50th degree of latitude, and it produces the most handsome and beautiful people. It is from this climate that the ideas of the genuine color of mankind and of the various degrees of beauty ought to be derived. The two extremes are equally remote from truth and from beauty. The civilized countries situated under this zone are Georgia, Circassia, the Ukraine, Turkey in Europe, Hungary, the south of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, and the northern parts of Spain. The natives of these territories are the most handsome and most beautiful people in the world.—Buffon, English trans., vol. iii., p. 205.]
[Footnote 231: Mr. Flint says. "I have inspected the northern, middle, and southern Indians for a length of ten years; my opportunities of observation have, therefore, been considerable, and I do not undertake to form a judgment of their character without, at least, having seen much of it. I have been forcibly struck by a general resemblance in their countenance, make, conformation, manners, and habits. I believe that no race of men can show people who speak different languages, inhabit different climes, and subsist on different food, and who are yet so wonderfully alike."—(1831.)
Don Antonio Ulloa, who had extensive opportunities of forming an opinion on the natives of both the continents of America, asserts that "If we have seen one American, we may be said to have seen all, their color and make are so nearly the same."—Notic. Americanas, p. 308. See, likewise, Garcia, Origin de los Indios, p. 55-242; Torquemada, Monarch. Indiana, vol. ii., p. 571.
"If we except the northern regions, where we find men similar to the Laplanders, all the rest of America is peopled with inhabitants among whom there is little or no diversity. This great uniformity among the natives of America seems to proceed from their living all in the same manner. All the Americans were, or still are, savages; the Mexicans and Peruvians were so recently polished that they ought not to be regarded as an exception. Whatever, therefore, was the origin of those savages, it seems to have been common to the whole. All the Americans have sprung from the same source, and have preserved, with little variation, the characters of their race; for they have all continued in a savage state, and have followed nearly the same mode of life. Their climates are not so unequal with regard to heat and cold as those of the ancient continent, and their establishment in America has been too recent to allow those causes which produce varieties sufficient time to operate so as to render their effects conspicuous."—Buffon, Eng. trans., vol. iii., p. 188.]
[Footnote 232: See Appendix, No. XLVIII. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 233: See Appendix, No. XLIX. (see Vol II)]
[Footnote 234: There would never have been any difference of opinion between physiologists, as to the existence of the beard among the Americans, if they had paid attention to what the first historians of the conquest of their country have said on this subject; for example, Pigafetta, in 1519, in his Journal preserved in the Ambrosian library at Milan, and published (in 1800) by Amoretti, p. 18.—Benzoni, Hist. del Mundo Nuovo, p. 35, 1572; Bembo, Hist. Venet., p. 86, 1557; Humboldt's Personal Narrative, vol. iii., p. 235.
"The Indians have no beard, because they use certain receipts to extirpate it, which they will not communicate."—Oldmixon, vol. i., p. 286.
"Experience has made known that these receipts were little shells which they used as tweezers; since they have become acquainted with metals, they have invented an instrument consisting of a piece of brass wire rolled round a piece of wood the size of the finger, so as to form a special spring; this grasps the hairs within its turns, and pulls out several at once. No wonder if this practice, continued for several generations, should enfeeble the roots of the beard. Did the practice of eradicating the beard, originate from the design of depriving the enemy of such a dangerous hold on the face? This seems to me probable."—Volney, p. 412.]
[Footnote 235: When the statue of Apollo Belvedere was shown to Benjamin West on his first arrival at Rome, he exclaimed, "It is a model from a young North American Indian."—Ancient America.]
[Footnote 236: "It is a notorious fact, that every European who has embraced the savage life has become stronger and better inured to every excess than the savages themselves. The superiority of the people of Virginia and Kentucky over them has been confirmed, not only in troop opposed to troop, but man to man, in all their wars."—Volney, p. 417.]
[Footnote 237: Yet infanticide is condemned among the Red Indians both by their theology and their feelings. Dr. Richardson relates that those tribes who hold the idea that "the souls of the departed have to scramble up a great mountain, at whose top they receive the reward of their good or bad deeds, declare that women who have been guilty of infanticide never reach the top of this mountain at all. They are compelled instead to travel around the scenes of their crimes with branches of trees tied to their legs. The melancholy sounds which are heard in the still summer evenings, and which the ignorance of the white people looks upon as the screams of the goat-suckers, are really, according to my informant, the moanings of these unhappy beings"—Franklin's Journey to the Polar Seas, p. 77, 78.]
The Indian is endowed with a far greater acuteness of sense than the European. Despite the dazzling brightness of the long-continued snows, and the injurious action of the smoke of burning wood to which he is constantly exposed, he possesses extraordinary quickness of sight. He can also hear and distinguish the faintest sounds, alike through the gentle rustling of the forest leaves and in the roar of the storm; his power of smell is so delicate that he scents fire long before it becomes visible. By some peculiar instinct the Indian steers through the trackless forests, over the vast prairies, and even across wide sheets of water with unerring certainty. Under the gloomiest and most obscure sky, he can follow the course of the sun as if directed by a compass. These powers would seem innate in this mysterious race; they can scarcely be the fruit of observation or practice, for children who have never left their native village can direct their course through pathless solitudes as accurately as the experienced hunter.
In the early stages of social progress, when the life of man is rude and simple, the reason is little exercised, and his wants and wishes are limited within narrow bounds; consequently, his intellect is feebly developed, and his emotions are few but concentrated. These conditions were generally observable among the rudest tribes of the American Indians.
There are, however, some very striking peculiarities in the intellectual character of the Red Men. Without any aid from letters or education, some of the lower mental faculties are developed in a remarkable degree. As orators, strategists, and politicians, they have frequently exhibited very great power. They are constantly engaged in dangerous and difficult enterprises, where ingenuity and presence of mind are essential for their preservation. They are vigorous in the thought which is allied to action, but altogether incapable of speculation, deduction, or research. The ideas and attention of a savage are confined to the objects relating to his subsistence, safety, or indulgence: every thing else escapes his observation or excites little interest in his mind. Many tribes appear to make no arrangement for the future; neither care nor forethought prevents them from blindly following a present impulse, regardless of its consequences.
The natives of North America were divided into a number of small communities; in the relation of these to each other, war or negotiation was constantly carried on; revolutions, conquests, and alliances frequently occurred among them. To raise the power of his tribe, and to weaken or destroy that of his enemy, was the great aim of every Indian. For these objects schemes were profoundly laid, and deeds of daring valor achieved: the refinements of diplomacy were employed, and plans arranged with the most accurate calculation. These peculiar circumstances also developed the power of oratory to an extraordinary degree. Upon all occasions of importance, speeches were delivered with eloquence, and heard with deep attention. When danger threatened, or opportunity of aggrandizement or revenge offered itself, a council of the tribe was called, where those most venerable from age and illustrious for wisdom deliberated for the public good. The composition of the Indian orator is studied and elaborate; the language is vigorous, and, at the same time, highly imaginative; all ideas are expressed by figures addressed to the senses; the sun and stars, mountains and rivers, lakes and forests, hatchets of war and pipes of peace, fire and water, are employed as illustrations of his subject with almost Oriental art and richness. His eloquence is unassisted by action or varied intonation, but his earnestness excites the sympathy of the audience, and his persuasion sinks into their hearts.
The want of any written or hieroglyphic records of the past among the Northern Indians was, to some extent, supplied by the accurate memories of their old men; they were able to repeat speeches of four or five hours' duration, and delivered many years before, without error or even hesitation, and to hand them down from generation to generation with equal accuracy, their recollection being only assisted by small pieces of wood corresponding to the different subjects of discourse. On great and solemn occasions, belts of wampum were used as aid to recollection whenever a conference was held with a neighboring tribe, or a treaty or compact is negotiated. One of these belts, differing in some respects from any other hitherto used, was made for the occasion; each person who speaks holds this in his hand by turns, and all he says is recorded in the "living books" of the by-standers' memory in connection with the belt. When the conference ends, this memorial is deposited in the hands of the principal chief. As soon as any important treaty is ratified, a broad wampum belt of unusual splendor is given by each contracting party to the other, and these tokens are deposited among the other belts, that form, as it were, the archives of the nation. At stated intervals they are reproduced before the people, and the events which they commemorate are circumstantially recalled. Certain of the Indian women are intrusted with the care of these belts: it is their duty to relate to the children of the tribe the circumstances of each treaty or conference, and thus is kept alive the remembrance of every important event.
On the matters falling within his limited comprehension, the Indian often displays a correct and solid judgment; he pursues his object without hesitation or diversion. He is quickly perceptive of simple facts or ideas, but any artificial combination, or mechanical contrivance he is slow to comprehend, especially as he considers every thing beneath his notice which is not necessary to his advantage or enjoyment. It is very difficult to engage him in any labor of a purely mental character, but he often displays vivacity and ardor in matters that interest him, and is frequently quick and happy in repartee.
The Red Man is usually characterized by a certain savage elevation of soul and calm self-possession, that all the aid of religion and philosophy can not enable his civilized brethren to surpass. Master of his emotions, the expression of his countenance rarely alters for a moment even under the most severe and sudden trials. The prisoner, uncertain as to the fate that may befall him, preparing for his dreadful death, or racked by agonizing tortures, still raises his unfaltering voice in the death song, and turns a fearless front toward his tormentors.
The art of numbering was unknown in some American tribes, and even among the most advanced it was very imperfect; the savage had no property to estimate, no coins to count, no variety of ideas to enumerate. Many nations could not reckon above three, and had no words in their language to distinguish a greater number; some proceeded as far as ten, others to twenty; when they desired to convey an idea of a larger amount, they pointed to the hair of the head, or declared that it could not be counted. Computation is a mystery to all rude nations; when, however, they acquire the knowledge of a number of objects, and find the necessity of combining or dividing them, their acquaintance with arithmetic increases; the state of this art is therefore, to a considerable extent, a criterion of their degree of progress. The wise and politic Iroquois had advanced the farthest, but even they had not got beyond one thousand; the smaller tribes seldom reached above ten.
The first ideas are suggested to the mind of man by the senses: the Indian acquires no other. The objects around him are all important; if they be available for his present purposes, they attract his attention, otherwise they excite no curiosity: he neither combines nor arranges them, nor does he examine the operations of his own mind upon them; he has no abstract or universal ideas, and his reasoning powers are generally employed upon matters merely obvious to the senses. In the languages of the ruder tribes there were no words to express any thing that is not material, such as faith, time, imagination, and the like. When the mind of the savage is not occupied with matters relating to his animal existence, it is altogether inactive. In the islands, and upon the exuberant plains of the south, where little exertion of ingenuity was required to obtain the necessaries of life, the rational faculties were frequently dormant, and the countenance remained vacant and inexpressive. Even the superior races of the north loiter away their time in thoughtless indolence, when not engaged in war or the chase, deeming other objects unworthy of their consideration. Where reason is so limited in a field for exertion, the mind can hardly acquire any considerable degree of vigor or enlargement. In civilized life men are urged to activity and perseverance by a desire to gratify numerous artificial wants; but the necessities of the Indian are few, and provided for by nature almost spontaneously. He detests labor, and will sometimes sit for whole days together without uttering a word or changing his posture. Neither the hope of reward nor the prospect of future want can overcome this inveterate indolence.
Among the northern tribes, however, dwelling under a rigorous climate, some efforts are employed, and some precautions taken, to procure subsistence; but the necessary industry is even there looked upon as a degradation: the greater part of the labor is performed by women, and man will only stoop to those portions of the work which he considers least ignominious. This industry, so oppressive to one half of the community, is very partial, and directed by a limited foresight. During one part of the year they depend upon fishing for a subsistence, during another upon the chase, and the produce of the ground is their resource for the third. Regardless of the warnings of experience, they neglect to apportion provision for their wants, or can so little restrain their appetites, that, from imprudence or extravagance, they often are exposed to the miseries of famine like their ruder neighbors. Their sufferings are soon forgotten, and the horrors of one year seem to teach no lesson of providence for the next.
The Indians, for the most part, are very well acquainted with the geography of their own country. When questioned as to the situation of any particular place, they will trace out on the ground with a stick, if opportunity offer, a tolerably accurate map of the locality indicated. They will show the course of the rivers, and, by pointing toward the sun, explain the bearings of their rude sketch. There have been recorded some most remarkable instances of the accuracy with which they can travel toward a strange place, even when its description had only been received through the traditions of several generations, and they could have possessed no personal knowledge whatever of the surrounding country.
The religion of the natives of America can not but be regarded with an interest far deeper than the gratification of mere curiosity. The forms of faith, the rites, the ideas of immortality; the belief in future reward, in future punishment; the recognition of an invisible Power, infinitely surpassing that of the warrior or the chief; the dim traditions of a first parent, and a general deluge—all these, among a race so long isolated from the rest of the human family, distinct in language, habits, form, and mind, and displaying, when societies began to exist, a civilization utterly dissimilar from any before known, afford subject for earnest thought and anxious inquiry. Those who in the earlier times of American discovery supplied information on these points, were generally little qualified for the task. Priests and missionaries alone had leisure or inclination to pursue the subject; and their minds were often so preoccupied with their own peculiar doctrines, that they accommodated to them all that fell under their observation, and explained it by analogies which had no existence but in their own zealous imaginations. They seldom attempted to consider what they saw or heard in relation to the rude notions of the savages themselves. From a faint or fancied similarity of peculiar Indian superstitions to certain articles of Christian faith, some missionaries imagined they had discovered traces of an acquaintance with the divine mysteries of salvation: they concluded that the savage possessed a knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the sacrifice of a Saviour, and of sacraments, from their own interpretation of certain expressions and ceremonies. But little confidence can be placed in any evidence derived from such sources.
The earlier travelers in the interior of the New World received the impression that the Indians had no religious belief; they saw neither priests, temples, idols, nor sacrifices among any of the various and numerous tribes. A further knowledge of this strange people disproved the hastily-formed opinion, and showed that their whole life and all their actions were influenced by a belief in the spiritual world. It is now known that the American Indians were pre-eminent among savage nations for the superior purity of their religious faith, and, indeed, over even the boasted elegance of poetical mythology. From the reports of all those worthy of credence, who have lived intimately among these children of the forest, it is certain that they firmly believe in the power and unity of the Most High God, and in an immortality of happiness or misery. They worship the Great Spirit, the Giver of life, and attribute to him the creation of the world, and the government of all things with infinite love, wisdom, and power. Of the origin of their religion they are altogether ignorant. In general they believe that, after the world was created and supplied with animal life by the Great Spirit, he formed the first red man and woman, who were very large of stature, and lived to an extreme old age; that he often held council with his creatures, gave them laws and instructed them, but that the red children became rebels against their Great Father, and he then withdrew himself in sorrowful anger from among them, and left them to the vexations of the Bad Spirit. But still this merciful Father, from afar off, where he may be seen no more, showers down upon them all the blessings they enjoy. The Indians are truly filial and sincere in their devotions; they pray for what they need, and return hearty thanks for such mercies as they have enjoyed. They supplicate him to bestow courage and skill upon them in the battle; the endurance which enables them to mock the cruel tortures of their enemies is attributed to his aid; their preparation for war is a long-continued religious ceremony; their march is supposed to be under omnipotent guidance, and their expeditions in the chase are held to be not unworthy of divine superintendence. They reject all idea of chance on the fortune of war, and believe firmly that every result is the decision of a Superior Power. Although this elevated conception of the One God is deeply impressed upon the Indian's mind, it is tainted with some of the alloy which ever must characterize the uninspired faith. Those who have inquired into the religious opinions of the uneducated and laborious classes of men, even in the most enlightened and civilized communities, find that their system of belief is derived from instruction, and not from instinct or the results of their own examination: in savage life it is vain to expect that men should reason accurately, from cause to effect, and form a just idea of the Creator from the creation. The Indian combines the idea of the Great Spirit with others of a less perfect nature. The word used by him to indicate this Sovereign Being does not convey the notion of an immaterial nature; it signifies with him some one possessed of lofty and mysterious powers, and in this sense may be applied to men and even to animals.
To the first inquirers into the religious faith of the native Americans, the subject of their mythology presented very great difficulties and complications; those Indians who attempted to explain it to Europeans had themselves no distinct or fixed opinions. Each man put forward peculiar notions, and was constantly changing them, without attempting to reconcile his self-contradictions.
Some of the southern tribes, who were more settled in their religious faith, exhibited a remarkable degree of bigotry and spiritual pride. They called the Europeans "men of the accursed speech," while they styled themselves "the beloved of the Great Spirit." The Canadian and other northern nations, however, were less intolerant, and at any time easily induced to profess the recantation of their heathen errors for some small advantage. Among these latter, the hare was deemed to possess some mystic superiority over the rest of the animal creation; it was even raised to be an object of worship, and the Great Hare was confounded in their minds with the Great Spirit. The Algonquins believed in a Water God, who opposes himself to the benevolent designs of the Great Spirit; it is strange that the name of the Great Tiger should be given to this Deity, as the country does not produce such an animal, and from this it appears probable that the tradition of his existence had come from elsewhere. They have also a third Deity, who presides over their winter season. The gods of the Indians have bodies like the sons of men, and subsist in like manner with them, but are free from the pains and cares of mortality; the term "spirit" among them only signifies a being of a superior and more excellent nature than man. However, they believe in the omnipresence of their deities, and invoke their aid in all times and places.
Besides the Great Spirit and the lesser deities above mentioned, every Indian has his own Manitou, Okki, or guardian power; this divinity's presence is represented by some portable object, often of the most insignificant nature, such as the head, beak, or claw of a bird, the hoof of a deer or cow. No youth can be received among the brotherhood of warriors till he has placed himself, in due form, under the care of this familiar. The ceremony is deemed of great importance: several days of strict fasting are always observed in preparation for the important event, and the youth's dreams are carefully noted during this period. While under these circumstances, some object usually makes a deep impression upon his mind; this is then chosen for his Manitou or guardian spirit, and a specimen, of it is procured. He is next placed for some time in a large vapor bath, and having undergone the process of being steamed, is laid on the ground, and the figure of the Manitou is pricked on his breast with needles of fish-bone dipped in vermilion; the intervals between the scars are then rubbed with gunpowder, so as to produce a mixture of red and blue. When this operation is performed, he cries aloud to the Great Spirit, invoking aid, and praying to be received as a warrior.
The Indian submits with resignation to the chastening will of the Great Spirit. When overtaken by any disaster, he diligently examines himself to discover what omission of observance or duty has called down the punishment, and endeavors to atone for past neglect by increased devotion. But if the Manitou be deemed to have shown want of ability or inclination to defend him, he upbraids the guardian power with bitterness and contempt, and threatens to seek a more effectual protector. If the Manitou continue useless, this threat is fulfilled. Fasting and dreaming are again resorted to in the same manner as before, and the vision of another Manitou is obtained. The former representation is then, as much as possible, effaced, and the figure of the newly-adopted amulet painted in its place. All the veneration and confidence forfeited by the first Manitou is now transferred to the successor.
It is also part of the Indian's religious belief that there are inferior spirits to rule over the elements, under the control of the Supreme Power, he being so great that he must, like their chiefs, have attendants to execute his behests. These inferior spirits see what passes on earth, and report it to their Great Ruler: the Indian, trusting to their good offices, invokes those spirits of the air in times of peril, and endeavors to propitiate them by throwing tobacco or other simple offerings to the winds or upon the waters. But, amid all these corrupt and ignorant superstitions, the One Spirit, the Creator and Ruler of the World, is the great object of the Red Man's adoration. On him they rest their hopes; to him they address their daily prayers, and render their solemn sacrifice.
The worship of the Indians, although frequently in private, is generally little regulated either by ceremonies or stated periodical devotions. But there are, at times, great occasions, when the whole tribe assembles for the purpose, such as in declaring war or proclaiming peace, or when visited by storms or earthquakes. Their great feasts all partake of a religious character; every thing provided must be consumed by the assembly, as being consecrated to the Great Spirit. The Ottawas seem to have had a more complicated mythology than any other tribe: they held a regular festival in honor of the sun; and, while rendering thanks for past benefit, prayed that it might be continued to the future. They have also been observed to erect an idol in their village, and offer it sacrifice: this ceremony was, however, very rare. Many Western tribes visit the spring whence they have been supplied with water during the winter, at the breaking up of the ice, and there offer up their grateful worship to the Great Spirit for having preserved them in health and safety, and having supplied their wants. This pious homage is performed with much ceremony and devotion.
Among this rude people, who were at one time supposed to have been without any religion, habitual piety may be considered the most remarkable characteristic: every action of their lives is connected with some acknowledgment of a Superior Power. Many have imagined that the severe fasts sometimes endured by the Indians were only for the purpose of accustoming themselves to support hunger; but all the circumstances connected with these voluntary privations leave no doubt that they were solemn religious exercises. Dreams and visions during these fasts were looked upon as oracular, and respected as the revelations of Heaven. The Indian frequently propitiates the favor of the inferior spirits by vows; when for some time unsuccessful in the chase, or suffering from want in long journeys, he promises the genius of the spot to bestow upon one of his chiefs, in its honor, a portion of the first fruits of his success; if the chief be too distant to receive the gift, it is burned in sacrifice.
The belief of the Indian in a future state, although deeply cherished and sincere, can scarcely be regarded as a defined idea of the immortality of the soul. There is little spiritual or exalted in his conception. When he attempts to form a distinct notion of the spirit, he is blinded by his senses; he calls it the shadow or image of his body, but its acts and enjoyments are all the same as those of its earthly existence. He only pictures to himself a continuation of present pleasures. His Heaven is a delightful country, far away beyond the unknown Western seas, where the skies are ever bright and serene, the air genial, the spring eternal, and the forests abounding in game; no war, disease, or torture are known in that happy land; the sufferings of life are endured no more, and its sweetest pleasures are perpetuated and increased; his wife is tender and obedient, his children dutiful and affectionate. In this country of eternal happiness, the Indian hopes to be again received into the favor of the Great Spirit, and to rejoice in his glorious presence. But in his simple mind there is a deep and enduring conviction that admission to this delightful country of souls can only be attained by good and noble actions in this mortal life. For the bad men there is a fate terribly different—endless afflictions, want, and misery; a land of hideous desolation; barren, parched, and dreary hunting-grounds, the abode of evil and malignant spirits, whose office is to torture, whose pleasure is to enhance the misery of the condemned. It is also almost universally believed that the Great Spirit manifests his wrath or his favor to the evil and the good in their journey to the land of souls. After death the Indian believes that he is supplied with a canoe; and if he has been a virtuous warrior, or otherwise worthy, he is guided across the vast deep to a haven of eternal happiness and peace by the hand of the Great Spirit; but if his life be stained with cowardice, vice, or negligence of duty, he is abandoned to the malignity of evil genii, driven about by storms and darkness over that unknown sea, and at length cast ashore on the barren land, where everlasting torments are his portion.
The Indians generally believe in the existence of a Spirit of Evil, and occasionally pray to him in deprecation of his wrath. They do not doubt his inferiority to the Great Spirit, but they believe that he has the power to inflict torments and punishments upon the human race, and that he has a malignant delight in its exercise.
The souls of the lower animals are also held by the Red Man to be immortal: he recognizes a certain portion of understanding in them, and each creature is supposed to possess a guardian spirit peculiar to itself. He only claims a superiority in degree of intelligence and power over the beasts of the field, Man is but the king of animals. In the world of souls are to be found the shades of every thing that breathes the breath of life. However, he takes little pains to arrange or develop these strange ideas. The enlightened heathen philosophers of antiquity were not more successful.
To penetrate the mysteries of the future has always been a favorite object of superstition, and has been attempted by a countless variety of means. The Indian trusts to his dreams for this revelation, and invariably holds them sacred. Before he engages in any important undertaking, particularly in war, diplomacy, or the chase, the dreams of his principal chiefs are carefully watched and examined; by their interpretation his conduct is guided. In this manner the fate of a whole nation has often been decided by the chance visions of a single man. The Indian considers that dreams are the mode by which the Great Spirit condescends to hold converse with man; thence arises his deep veneration for the omens and warnings they may shadow forth.
Many other superstitions, besides those of prognostics from dreams, are cherished among the Indians. Each remarkable natural feature, such as a great cataract, a lake, or a difficult and dangerous pass, possesses a spirit of the spot, whose favor they are fain to propitiate by votive offerings: skins, bones, pieces of metal, and dead dogs are hung up in the neighborhood, and dedicated to its honor. Supposed visions of ghosts are sometimes, but rarely, spoken of: it is, however, generally believed that the souls of the dead continue for some time to hover round the earthly remains: dreading, therefore, that the spirits of those they have tortured watch near them to seek opportunity of vengeance, they beat the air violently with rods, and raise frightful cries to scare the shadowy enemy away.
Among some of the Indian tribes, an old man performed the duty of a priest at their religious festivals; he broke the bread and cast it in the fire, dedicated the different offerings, and officiated in the sacrifice. It was also his calling to declare the omens from dreams and other signs, as the warnings of Heaven. These religious duties of the priest were totally distinct from the office of the juggler, or "medicine-man," although some observers have confounded them together. There were also vestals in many nations of the continent who were supposed to supply by their touch a precious medicinal efficacy to certain roots and simples.
The "medicine-men," or jugglers, undertook the cure of diseases, the interpretation of omens, the exorcising of evil spirits, and magic in all its branches. They were men of great consideration in the tribe, and were called in and regularly paid as physicians; but this position could only be attained by undergoing certain ordeals, which were looked upon as a compact with the spirits of the air. The process of the vapor bath was first endured; severe fasting followed, accompanied by constant shouting, singing, beating a sort of drum, and smoking. After these preliminaries the jugglers were installed by extravagant ceremonies, performed with furious excitement and agitation. They possessed, doubtless, some real knowledge of the healing art; and in external wounds or injuries, the causes of which are obvious, they applied powerful simples, chiefly vegetable, with considerable skill. With decoctions from ginseng, sassafras, hedisaron, and a tall shrub called bellis, they have been known to perform remarkable cures in cases of wounds and ulcers. They scarified the seat of inflammation or rheumatic pain skillfully with sharp-pointed bones, and accomplished the cupping process by the use of gourd shells as substitutes for glasses. For all internal complaints, their favorite specific was the vapor bath, which they formed with much ingenuity from their rude materials. This was doubtless a very efficient remedy, but they attached to it a supernatural influence, and employed it in the ceremonies of solemn preparation for great councils.
All cases of disease, when the cause could not be discovered, were attributed to the influence of malignant spirits. To meet these, the medicine-man, or juggler, invested himself with his mysterious character, and endeavored to exorcise the demon by a great variety of ceremonies, a mixture of delusion and imposture. For this purpose, he arrayed himself in a strange and fanciful dress, and on his first arrival began to sing and dance round the sufferer, invoking the spirits with loud cries. When exhausted with these exertions, he attributed the hidden cause of the malady to the first unusual idea that suggested itself to his mind, and in the confidence of his supposed inspiration, proclaimed the necessary cure. The juggler usually contrived to avoid the responsibility of failure by ordering a remedy impossible of attainment when the patient was not likely to recover. The Iroquois believed that every ailment was a desire of the soul, and, when death followed, it was from the desire not having been accomplished.
Among many of the Indian tribes, the barbarous custom of putting to death those who were thought past recovery, existed, and still exists. Others abandoned these unfortunates to perish of hunger and thirst, or under the jaws of the wild beasts of the forest. Some nations put to death all infants who had lost their mother, or buried them alive in her grave, under the impression that no other woman could rear them, and that they must perish by hunger. But the dreadful custom of deserting the aged and emaciated among the wandering tribes is universal. When these miserable creatures become incapable of walking or riding, and there is no means of carrying them, they themselves uniformly insist upon being abandoned to their fate, saying that they are old and of no further use—they left their fathers in the same manner—they wish to die, and their children must not mourn for them. A small fire and a few pieces of wood, a scanty supply of meat, and perhaps a buffalo skin, are left as the old man's sole resources. When in a few months the wandering tribe may revisit the spot where he was deserted, a skull and a few scattered bones will be all that the wolves and vultures have left as tokens of his dreadful fate.