The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 12. Indians

Thousands were now preparing to follow thousands to the fortune-field that lay against what Frèmont previously had named the Golden Gate. It mattered not that the way was beset with impossibilities for the greenhorn (or in later nomenclature, the tenderfoot); to California he was bound through fair and foul. Not the least of the troubles arose from Indians, those people who already possessed the country and were satisfied with it. They disliked to see their game destroyed by these new hordes, their springs polluted by cattle, their families treated with brutality or contempt according to the physical strength of the pioneer party. The latter on their part regarded the Indians as merely a dangerous nuisance, to be got rid of by any possible means. Sometimes when the trapper’s or pioneer’s confidence ran high with power, the Indian, armed only with a bow and arrows, was pursued and shot as sport from horseback, just as the sportsman chases antelope or buffalo.

  • The misconception of Indian life and character so common among the white people [remarks Francis LaFlesche, himself an Indian, in his preface to his charming little story of his boy life, The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School (1900)] has been largely due to ignorance of the Indian’s language, of his mode of thought, his beliefs, his ideals, and his native institutions.
  • We have heretofore viewed the Indians chiefly through the eyes of those who were interested in exploiting them; or of exterminating them. Perhaps it is time to listen to their own words.

    Another educated Indian, Dr. Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa), a full-blood Sioux, writing on this subject in The Soul of the Indian (1900), declares:

  • The native American has been generally despised by his white conquerors for his poverty and simplicity. They forget, perhaps, that his religion forbade the accumulation of wealth and the enjoyment of luxury. To him as to other single minded men in every age and race, from Diogenes to the brother of Saint Francis, from the Montanists to the Shakers, the love of possessions has appeared a snare, and the burdens of a complex society a source of needless peril and temptation. It is my personal belief after thirty-five years experience of it, that there is no such thing as Christian Civilization. I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable and that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.… Since there is nothing left us but remembrance, at least let that remembrance be just.
  • With reference to the treachery of the whites, at times, in the treatment of Indians it is permissible to refer the reader to the Massacre of Cheyenne Indians, 38th Congress, 2nd Sess., House Doc., Jan. 10th, 1865, wherein the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Benjamin F. Wade, Chairman, reports on an unprovoked attack by Colorado militia on a Cheyenne village in which sixty-nine, two thirds women and children, were killed and the bodies left on the field.

    The Indian side of much of the trouble of the years following 1861 may be read in “Forty Years with the Cheyennes,” written by George Bent for The Frontier, a Colorado Springs monthly. Bent’s mother was Owl Woman of the Southern Cheyennes, and his father, Col. William Bent, the widely known proprietor of Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas, also called Fort William. Young Bent left school to join the Confederate army, was captured, paroled, and sent to his father. He then went to his mother’s people and remained with them.

    There was at least one American of early Western days who looked on the Indian with more sympathy. This was George Catlin, now famous for his paintings and books. Thanks to a kind Providence, not to our foresight, his invaluable painted records of a life that is past are now the property of the United States. Thomas Donaldson gives an exhaustive review of Catlin, his paintings in the National Museum, and his books in Part V, Report of the U. S. National Museum (1885).

    We are not here concerned with Catlin’s paintings and only note his literary output. His Letters and Notes on the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians, Written During Eight Years Travel Among the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America in 1832, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39, with Four Hundred Illustrations Carefully Engraved from his Original Paintings was published first in London, at his own expense, in 1841. The same year it was brought out in New York. Another of his volumes was Catlin’s Notes of Eight Years Travels and Residence in Europe with his North American Indian Collection, with Anecdotes and Adventures of Three Different Parties of American Indians whom he Introduced to the Courts of England, France and Belgium (1848). A book of his that raised strong doubts as to his veracity was Okeepa, A Religious Ceremony, and other Customs of the Mandans, which was published in Philadelphia in 1867, and gave one of the earliest accounts of the extraordinary Okeepa ceremonial: a self-sacrificial affair akin to the Sun Dance of the Dakotas. The book today is recognized as veracious and valuable. He wrote Life among the Indians (1861) for young folk, and in 1837 he brought out a Catalogue of Catlin’s Indian Gallery of Portraits, Landscapes, Manners, Customs, and Costumes, etc. His well-known, and now rare, North American Indian Portfolio, Twenty-five largeTinted Drawings on Stone, some Coloured by Hand in Imitation of the Author’s Sketches, appeared in London in 1844; his Steam Raft in 1850; Shut your Mouth in 1865; and Last Rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes in London in 1868.

    His viewpoint was totally different from that of the trapper or pioneer, explorer or traveller. Catlin was interested in the Indian as a man. “The Indians have always loved me,” he declares, “and why should I not love the Indians?” He wrote a “Creed,” part of which was: “I love the people who have always made me welcome to the best they had. I love the people who have never raised a hand against me, or stolen my property, where there was no law to punish for either.”

    The Mormons soon adopted a conciliatory policy towards the Indians, feeling it was more profitable to deal justly with them, to pay them, than to fight them. It was obligatory to have a cool clear-headed man to carry out such a policy, and Brigham Young selected Jacob Hamblin for the service. No better choice could have been made. Slow of speech, quick of thought and action, this Leatherstocking of Utah was usually called “Old Jacob.” He tells an interesting story through James A. Little in Jacob Hamblin, a Narrative of his Personal Experiences (1881). A devoted Mormon, he was never unfriendly to other sects and often assisted persons of opposite faith, at least on two occasions saving lives.

    The list of books on Indians is enormous, the Bureau of Ethnology alone having produced a great many, including the series of thirty-two invaluable Annual Reports inaugurated by J. W. Powell, as well as more than fifty-eight equally important Bulletins. George Bird Grinnell’s Indians of Today (1900) and The North Americans of Yesterday (1901) by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh are two volumes which present a wide general survey.

    A famous man associated with Indians throughout his life was Kit Carson, one of the most remarkable and upright characters of the Far West. Dewitt C. Peters persuaded Carson to dictate to him the story of his life. The last and complete edition is Kit Carson’s Life and Adventures (1873). George D. Brewerton in Harper’s Magazine (1853) wrote an account of “A Ride with Kit Carson through the Great American Desert and the Rocky Mountains.” This ride was made in 1848 and was over the Spanish Trail eastward from Los Angeles. The springs are few and far between in Southern Nevada and South-Eastern California, and in studying this route and the literature pertaining to the region Walter C. Mendenhall’s Some Desert Watering Places (U. S. Water Supply Paper 224, 1909) is most useful.

    Some experiences were published long afterward, as in the case of William Lewis Manly’s Death Valley in ’49, which was never printed till 1894. It is deeply interesting. The author, arrived at Green River, decided with several others to shorten the journey by taking to the river, and was hurled through the torrential waters of Red Canyon and Lodore. Later he joined a California caravan to suffer terribly in Death Valley.

    John Bidwell, an “earliest” pioneer, has contributed to The Century Magazine, vol. XIX, and to Out West Magazine, vol. XX, some invaluable reminiscences. He was with the first emigrant train to California. It crossed in 1841. In 1853 Captain Howard Stansbury made a report on his Exploration and Survey of the Valley of Great Salt Lake, the valley where the Mormons already were proving by irrigation the accuracy of Frèmont’s statement as to its fertility.