Chronicles of Border Warfare
The aborigines of America, although divided into many different tribes, inhabiting various climates, and without a community of language, are yet assimilated to each other in stature and complexion, more strikingly than are the inhabitants of the different countries of Europe. The manners and customs of one nation, are very much the manners and customs of all; and although there be peculiarities observable among all, yet are they fewer and less manifest than those which mark the nations of the old world, and distinguish them so palpably from each other. A traveller might have traversed the country, when occupied exclusively by the natives, without remarking among them, the diversity which exists in Europe; or being impressed with the contrast which a visit across the Pyrennes would exhibit, between the affability and vivacity of a Frenchman at a theater or in the Elysian fields, and the hauteur and reserve of a Spaniard a heir blood circus, when "bounds of one lashing spring the might brute."
Nor is there much in savage life, calculated to inspire the mind of civilized man, with pleasurable sensations. Many of the virtues practised by them, proceed rather from necessity or ignorance than from any ethical principle existing among them. The calm composure with which they meet death and their stoical indifference to bodily pain, are perhaps more attributable to recklessness of life and physical insensibility, * than to fortitude or magnanimity; consequently they do not much heighten the zest of reflection, in contemplating their character. The Christian and the philanthropist, with the benevolent design of improving their morals and meliorating their condition, may profitably study every peculiarity and trait of character observable among them; it will facilitate their object, and enable them the more readily to reclaim them from a life of heathenish barbarity, and to extend to them the high boons of civilization and Christianity.
It has been observed that the different tribes of natives of North America, resemble each other very much in stature and complexion, in manners and customs; a general description of these will therefore be sufficient.
The stature of an Indian, is generally that of the medial stature of the Anglo Americans: the Osages are said to form an exception to this rule, being somewhat taller. They are almost universally straight and well proportioned; their limbs are clean, but less muscular than those of the whites, and their whole appearance strongly indicative of effeminacy. In walking, they invariably place one foot directly before the other—the toes never verging from a right line with the heel. When travelling in companies, their manner of marching is so peculiar as to have given rise to the expression, "Indian file;" and while proceeding in this way, each carefully places his foot in the vestige of the foremost of the party, so as to leave the impression of the footsteps of but one. They have likewise in their gain and carriage something so entirely different from the gait and carriage of the whites, as to enable a person to pronounce on one at a considerable distance. The hair of an Indian is also strikingly different, from that of the whites. It is always black and straight, hangs loose and looks as if it were oiled. There is considerable resemblance in appearance, between it and the glossy black mane of a thorough bred horse; though its texture is finer.
In the squaws there exist, the same delicacy of proportion, the same effeminacy of person, the same slenderness of hand and foot, which characterise the female of refined society; in despite too of the fact, that every laborious duty and every species of drudgery, are imposed on them from childhood. Their faces are broad, and between the eyes they are exceedingly wide; their cheek bones are high and the eyes black in both sexes—the noses of the women inclining generally to the flat nose of the African; while those of the men are more frequently aquiline than otherwise.
Instances of decrepitude and deformity, are rarely known to exist among them: this is probably owing to the manner in which they are tended & nursed in infancy. It is not necessary that the mother should, as had been supposed,
* It is said that the nerves of an Indian do not shrink as much, nor shew the same tendency to spasm, under the knife of the surgeon, as the nerves of a white man in a similar situation.
be guilty of the unnatural crime of murdering her decrepit or deformed offspring—the hardships they encounter are too great to be endured by infants not possessed of natural vigor, and they sink beneath them.
Their countenances are for the most, inflexible, stern and immovable. The passions which agitate or district the mind, never alter its expression, nor do the highest ecstasies of which their nature is susceptible, ever relax its rigidity. With the same imperturbability of feature, they encounter death from the hand of an enemy, and receive the greetings of a friend.
In conversation they are modes and unassuming: indeed taciturnity is as much a distinguishing trait of Indian character, as it ever was of the Roman. In their councils and public meetings, they never manifest an impatience to be heard, or a restlessness under observations, either grating to personal feeling or opposite to their individual ideas of propriety: on the contrary they are still, silent and attentive; and each is heard with the respect due to his years, his wisdom, his experience, or the fame which his exploits may have acquired him.
A loud and garrulous Indian is received by the others with contempt, and a cowardly disposition invariably attributed to him –
"Bold at the council board,
But in the field he shuns the sword,"
is much and truly an apothegm with them as with us.
Their taciturnity and irrisibility however, are confined to their sober hours. When indulging in their insatiate thirst for spirit, they are boisterous and rude, and by their obstreperous laughter, their demoniacal shrieks and turbulent vociferations, produce an appalling discord, such as might well be expected to proceed from a company of infernal spirits at their fiendish revels; and exhibit a striking contrast to the low, monotonous tones used by them at other times.
There can be no doubt that the Indians are the most lazy, indolent race of human beings. No attempt which has ever been made to convert them into slaves, has availed much. The rigid discipline of a Spanish master, has failed to overcome that inertness, from which an Indian is roused only by war and the chase – Engaged in these, he exhibits as much activity and perseverance, as could be displayed by any one; and to gratify his fondness for them, will encounter toils, and privations from which others would shrink. His very form indicates at once, an aptitude for that species of exercise which war and hunting call into action, and an unfitness for the laborious drudgery of husbandry and many of the mechanic arts. Could they have been converted into profitable slaves, it is more than probable we should never have been told , that "the hand of providence was visible in the surprising instances of mortality among the Indians, to make room for the whites.
In their moral character many things appear of a nature, either so monstrous as to shock humanity, or so absurd as to excite derision: yet they have some redeeming qualities which must elicit commendation. And while we view with satisfaction those bright spots, shining brilliantly from the gloom which surrounds them, their want of learning and the absence of every opportunity for refinement, should pleas in extenuation of their failings and their vices. Some of the most flagrant of these, if not encouraged, have at least been sanctioned by the whites. In the war between the New England colonies and the Narragansets, it was the misfortune of the brave Philip, after having witnessed the destruction of the greater part of his nation, to be himself slain by a Mohican. After his head had been taken off, Oneco, chief of the Mohicans then in alliance with the colonists, claimed that he had a right to feast himself on the body of his fallen adversary. The whites did not object to this, but composedly looked on Oneco broiling and eating the flesh of Philip – yet cannibalism was one of their most savage traits of character.
This was a general, if not an universal custom among the Indians, when America became known to the whites. Whether it has yet entirely ceased is really to be doubted; some of those who have been long intimate with them, affirm that it has not; though it is far from being prevalent.
The Indians are now said to be irritable; but when Europeans first settled among them, they were not more irascible than the new neighbors. In their anger however, they differ very much from the whites. They are not talkative and boisterous as these are, but silent, sullen and revengeful. If an injury be done them, they never forget, they never forgive it. Nothing can be more implacable than their resentment – no time can allay it – no change of circumstances unfix its purpose. Revenge is to them as exhilarating, as the cool draught from the fountain, to the parched and fevered lips of a dying man.
When taking vengeance of an enemy, there is no cruelty which can be exercised, no species of torture, which their ingenuity can devise, too severe to be inflicted. To those who have excited a spirit of resentment in the bosom of an Indian, the tomahawk and scalping knife are instruments of mercy. Death by the faggot – by splinters of the most combustible wood, stuck in the flesh and fired -- maiming and disemboweling, tortures on which the soul sickens but to reflect, are frequently practised. To an enemy of their own color, they are perhaps more cruel and severe, than to the whites. In requiting upon him, every refinement of torture is put in requisition, to draw forth a sigh or a groan, or cause him to betray some symptom of human sensibility. This they never effect. An Indian neither shrinks from the knife, nor winces at the stake; on the contrary he seems to exult in his agony, and will mock his tormentors for the leniency and mildness of their tortures. *
Drinking and gambling are vices, to which the Indians, as well as the whites, are much addicted. Such is their fondness for spirit of any kind that they are rarely known to be sober, when they have it in their power to be otherwise. Neither a sense of honor or of shame has been able to overcome their propensity for its use; and when drunk, the ties of race, of friendship and of kindred are too weak, to bind their ferocious tempers.
In gambling they manifest the same anxiety, which we see displayed at the card tables of the whites. The great difference seems to be, that we depend too frequently on sleight and dexterity; whereas while they are shaking their gourd neck of half whited plumbstones, they only use certain tricks of conjuration, which in their simplicity they believe will ensure them success. To this method of attaining an object they have frequent recourse. Superstition is the concomitant of ignorance. The most enlightened, are rarely altogether exempt from its influence – with the uninformed it is a master passion, swaying and directing the mind in all its operations.
In their domestic economy, Indians are, in some respects, like the rude of all countries. They manifest but little respect for the female; imposing on her not only the duties of the hut, but also the more laborious operations of husbandry; and observing towards them the hauteur and distance of superior beings.
There are few things, indeed, which mark with equal precision, the state of civilization existing in any community, as the rank assigned in it to females. In the rude and barbarous stages of society, they are invariably regarded as inferior beings, instruments of sensual gratification and unworthy the attention and respect of men. As mankind advance to refinement, females gradually attain an elevation of rank, and acquire an influence in society which smoothes the asperities of life and produces the highest polish, of which human nature is susceptible.
Among the Indians there is, however rude they may be in other respects, a great respect always aid to female chastity. Instances in which has been violated by the, if to be found at all, are extremely few. However much the passion of revenge may stimulate to acts of cruelty, the propensities of nature never lead them to infringe the virtue of women in their power.
The general character of the Indians was more estimable, when they first became known to Europeans, than it is at present. This has been ascribed to the introduction of ardent spirits among them – other causes however, have conspired to produce the result.
*A Narraganset, made prisoner by Maj. Talcott in 1679, begged to be delivered to the Mohicans that he might be put to death in their own way. The New Englanders complying with his request, preparations were made for the trajical event. "The Mohicans, formed a circle and admitting within it as many of the whites as chose to witness their proceedings, placed the prisoner in the centre. One of the Mohicans, who had lost a son in the late engagement, with a knife cut off the prisoners ears! Then his nose! And the fingers off each hand! After the lapse of a few moments, his eyes were dug out, and their sockets filled with hot embers!! All this time the prisoner instead of bewailing his fate, seemed to surpass his tormentors in expressions of joy. At length when exhausted with loss of blood and unable to stand, his executioner closed the trajic scene by beating out his brains with a tomahawk."
INDIAN WARS BY TRUMBULL
The rites of hospitality are accorded to those who go among the, with a liberality and sincerity which would reflect credit on civilized man. And although it has bee justly said that they rarely forgive an enemy, yet is it equally true that they never forsake their friends: to them they are always kind, generous and beneficent.
After the ceremony of introduction is over, * a captive enemy who is adopted by them is also treated with the utmost humanity and attention. An Indian cheerfully divides his last morsel with an adopted son or bother; and will readily risk life in his defence. Such indeed, is the kindness which captive thus situated invariably receive, that they frequently regret the hour of their redemption and refuse to leave their red brethren, to return and mingle with the whites.
As members of a community, they are at all times willing to devote their every faculty for the good of the whole. The honor and welfare of their respective tribes are primary considerations with them to promote these, they cheerfully encounter ever privation, endure every hardship and face every danger. Their patriotism is of the most pure and disinterested character; and of those who have made us feel so sensibly, the horrors of savage warfare, many were actuated by motives which would reflect honor on the citizens of any country. The unfortunate Tecumseh was a remarkable example of the most ardent and patriotic devotion to his country.
Possessed of an acute and discerning mind, he witnessed the extending influence of the whites, with painful solicitude. Listening with melancholy rapture, to the traditionally accounts of the former greatness of his nation, and viewing in anticipation the exile or extinction of his race, his noble soul became fired with the hope that he might retrieve the fallen fortune of his country, and restore it to its pristine dignity and grandeur. His attachment to his tribe impelled him to exertion and every nerve was strained in its cause.
Determined if possible to achieve the independence of his nation, and to rid her of those whom he considered her oppressors, he formed the scheme of uniting in hostility against the United States, all the tribes dwelling east of the Mississippi river. In prosecution of this purpose, he travelled from Mackinaw to Georgia, ** and with wonderful adroitness practised on the different feelings of his red brethren. Assuming at times the character of a prophet, he wrought powerfully
on their credulity and superstition. – Again, depending on the force of oratory, the witchery of his eloquence drew many to his standard. But all was in vain. – His plans were entirely frustrated. He had brought none of his auxiliaries into the field; and was totally unprepared for hostilities, when his brother, the celebrated Shawanese prophet, by a pre-mature attack on the army under Genral Harrison, at an inauspicious moment, pre-cipitated him into a war with the United States.
Foiled by this means, Tecumseh joined the standard of Great Britain in the war of 1812; and as a Brigadier General in her army, lost his life, bravely supporting the cause which he had espoused. He deserved a better fate; and but for prejudice which is so apt to dim the eye and distort the object, Tecumsech would, most probably, be deemed a martyr for his country, and associated in the mind with the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae.
To contemplate the Indian character, in a religious point of view, is less gratifying than to consider it in regard to the lesser morals. At this period of the settlement of Western Virginia, excepting the Moravians, and a few others who had been induced by the zealand exertions of Roman catholic missionaries to wear the cross, the Indians north west of the Ohio river, were truly heathens. They believed indeed in a First Cause, and worshipped the Good Spirit; but they were ignorant of the great truths of Christianity, and their devotions were but superstitious acts of blind reverence. In the situation they remained generally at the present day, notwithstanding the many laudable endeavors which have been made to christianize them.
Perhaps there was never a tribe in America, but believed in the existence of a Deity; yet were their ideas of the nature and
* Indians consider the running of the gauntlet, as but the ceremony of an introduction; and say that it is "like the shake hands and how de do, of the whites.
** While performing this tour, Tecumseh carried a red stick, the acceptance of which was considered a joining of his party – Hence those Indians who were hostile to the United States, were denominated RED STICKS.
attributes of God, not only obscured, but preposterous and absurd. They believe also in the existence of many inferior deities, whom they suppose to be employed as assistants in managing the affairs of the world, and in inspecting the actions of men. Eagles and Owls are thought by some to have been placed here as observers of the actions of men; and accordingly, when an eagle is seen to soar about them by day, or an owl to perch near them at night, they immediately offer sacrifice, that a good report may be made of them to the Great Spirit.
They are likewise believers in the immortality of the soul; and have such an idea of a future safe of existence as accords with their character and condition here. Strangers to intellectual pleasures, they suppose that their happiness hereafter will consist of more sensual gratifications; and that when they die, they will be translated to a delightful region, where the flowers never fade, nor the leaves fall from the trees; where the forests abound in game, and the lakes in fish, and where they expect to remain forever, enjoying all the pleasures which delighted them here. *
In consequence of this belief, when an Indian dies, and is buried, they place in the grave with him, his bow and arrows and such weapons as they use in war, that he may be enabled to procure game and overcome an enemy. And it has been said, that they grieve more for the death of an infant unable to provide for itself in the world of spirits than for one who had attained manhood and was capable of taking care of himself. An interesting instance of this is given by Major Carver, and furnishes at once, affecting evidence of their incongruous creed and of their parental tenderness. Maj. Carver says:
"Whilst I remained with the, a couple whose tent was near to mine, lost a son about four years old. The parents were so inconsolable for its loss, and so much affected by its death, that they pursued the usual testimonies of grief with such uncommon vigor, as through the weight of sorrow and loss of blood, to occasion the death of the father. The mother, who had been hitherto absorbed in grief, no sooner beheld her husband expire, than she dried up her tears, and appeared cheerful and resigned.
"As I knew not how to account for so extraordinary a transition, I took an opportunity to ask her the reason of it. She replied, that as the child was so young when it died, and unable to support itself in the country of spirits, both she and her husband had been apprehensive that its situation would be far from pleasant; but no sooner did she behold its father depart for the same place, and who not only loved the child with the tenderest affection, but was a good hunter and able to provide plentifully for its support, then she ceased to mourn. She added that she saw no reason to continue her tears, ad the child was not happy under the protection of a fond father; and that she had only one wish remaining to be gratified, and that was a wish to be herself with them."
In relation to the Indian antiquities so frequently with n America, much doubt still exists. When and for what purpose many of those vast mounds of earth, so common in the western country were heaped up, is a matter of uncertainty. Mr. Jefferson has pronounced the to be repositories of the dead; and many of them certainly were designed for that purpose: perhaps all with which he had become acquainted previous to the writing of his notes of Virginia, Mr. Jefferson did not deem them worthy the name of monuments. Since the country has been better explored, many have been discovered justly entitled to that appellation, some of which seem to have been constructed for purposes other than inhumation. These are frequently met with in the valley of the Mississippi, and are said to extend into Mexico. The most celebrated works of this class, are believed to be those at Circleville in Ohio, which have so frequently
* Pope has very finely expressed the leading articles of religion among the Indians, in the following lines:
Lo, the poor Indian! Whose untutor’d mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud science never taught to stray
Far as the Solar Walk or Milky Way;
Yet simple nature to his hope has giv’n,
Behind the cloud topt hill an humbler heav’n;
some safer world in depth of woods embrac’d,
Some happier island in the wat’try waste;
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thrust for gold,
To be, contents his natural desire,
He asks no angel’s wing, no seraph’s fire:
But thinks admitted to that equal sky.
His faithful dog shall bear him company.
been described, and are justly considered memorials of the labor and perseverance of those by whom they were erected.
There is a tradition among the Indians of the north, which if true would furnish a very rational solution to the question, "for what purpose were they constructed?" According to this tradition about "two thousand two hundred years, before Columbus discovered America, the northern nations appointed a prince, and immediately after, repaired to the south and visited the Golden City, the capitol of a vast empire. After a time the emperor of the south built many forts throughout his dominions, and extending them northwardly almost penetrated the lake Erie. This produced much excitement. The people of the north, afraid that they would be deprived of the country on the south side of the great lakes, determined to defend it against the infringement of any foreign people: long and bloody wars ensued which lasted about one hundred years. The people of the north, being more skillful in the use of bows and arrows, and capable of enduring hardships which proved fatal to those of the south, gained the conquest; and all the towns and forts which had been erected by their enemy, were totally destroyed and left in a heap of ruins." *
The most considerable of those tumuli or sepulchral mounds, which are found in Virginia, is that on the bottoms of Grave creek, near its entrance into the Ohio, about twelve miles below Wheeling, and is the only large one in this section of the country. Its diameter at the base, is said to be one hundred yards, its perpendicular height about eighty feet, and the diameter at its summit, forth-five feet. Trees, of all sizes and of various kinds, are growing on its sides; and fallen and decayed timer, is interspersed among them: a single white oak rises out of a concavity in the center of its summit.
Near to Cahokia there is a group (of about two hundred) of those mounds, of various dimensions. The largest of these is said to have a base of eight hundred yards circumference, and an altitude of ninety feet. These and the one mentioned as being on Grave creek and many smaller ones in various parts of the country, were no doubt places of inhumation. – Many have been opened, and found to contain human bones promiscuously thrown together. Mr. Jefferson supposed the one examined by him, (the diameter of whose base was only forty feet and height twelve) to contain the bones of perhaps a thousand human beings, of each sex and of every age. Others have been examined, in which were the skeletons of men of much greater stature, than that of any of the Indians of America, at the time of its discovery, or of those with whom we have since become acquainted..
It is a well known fact, that since the whites became settled in the country, the Indians were in the habit of collecting the bones of their dead and of depositing them in one general cemetery; but the earth and stone used by them, were taken from the adjacent land. This was not invariably the case, with those ancient heaps of earth found in the west. In regard to many of them, this singular circumstance is said to be a fact, that the earth, of which they are composed, is of an altogether different nature, from that around them; and must, in some instances, have been carried a considerable distance. The tellurine structures at Circleville are o this sort; and the material of which they were constructed is said to be distinctly different, from the earth any where near to them.
The immensity of the size of these and many others, would induce the supposition that they could not have been raised by A race of people as indolent as the Indians have been, ever since a knowledge was had of them. Works, the construction of which would now require the concentrated exertions of at least one thousand men, aided by the mechanical inventions of later days, for several months, could hardly have been erected by persons, so subject to lassitude under labor as they are: unless indeed their population was infinitely greater than we now conceive it to have been. Admitting however, this corroborate the belief, that the country once had other inhabitants than the progenitors of those who have been called, the aborigines of America: one of these circumstances is the uncommon size of many of the skeletons found in the smaller mounds upon the hills.
If the fact be, as it is represented, that the larger skeletons are invariably found on elevated situations, remote from the larger water courses, it would tend to show that there
* Indian traditions, by Cusick.
was a diversity of habit, and admitting their contemporaneous existence, perhaps no alliance or intercourse between those, whose remains they are, and the persons by whom those large mounds and fortifications were erected; these being found only on plains in the contiguity of large streams or inland lakes; and containing only the bones of individuals of ordinary stature.
Another and stronger evidence that America was occupied by others than the ancestors of the present Indians, is to be found in these antiquities, which demonstrate that iron was once known here, and converted to some of the uses ordinarily made of it.
In grading a street in Cincinnati, there was found, twenty-five feet below the surface of the earth, a small horse shoe, in which were several nails. It is said to present the appearance of such corrosion as would result from the oxidation of some centuries. It was smaller than would be required for a common mule.
Many are the instances of pieces of timber found, various depths below the surface of the earth, with the marks of the axe palpably visible on them. * A sword too, said to have been enclosed in the wood of the roots of a tree not less than five hundred years old, is preserved in Ohio as a curiosity. Many other instances might, if necessary, be adduced to prove that implements of iron were in use in this country, prior to its occupation by the shits. Now if a people once have the use of that metal, it is far from probable that it will ever after be lost to them: the essential purposes to which it may be applied, would preserve it to them. The Indians however, ‘till taught by the Europeans, had no knowledge of it.
Many antiquities discovered in other parts of the country, shew that the arts once flourished to an extent beyond what they have ever been known to do among the Indians. The body found in the saltpetre cave of Kentucky, was wrapped in blankets made of linen and interwoven with feathers of the wild turkey, tastefully arranged. It was much smaller than persons of equal age at the present day, and had yellowish hair. In Tennessee many walls of faced stone, and even walled wells have been found in so many places, at such depths and under such circumstances, as to preclude the idea of their having been made by the whites since the discovery by Columbus.
In this state too, have been found burying grounds, in which the skeletons seem all to have been those of pigmies: the graves, in which the bodies had been deposited, were seldom three feet in length; yet the teeth in the skulls prove that they were the bodies of persons of mature age.
Upon the whole there cannot be much doubt, that America was once inhabited by a people, not otherwise allied to the Indians of the present day, than that they were descendants of Him, from whom has sprung the whole human family.
© This electronic version of Chronicles of Border Warfare is copyrighted by the Hacker's Creek Pioneer Descendants, Jane Lew, WV, 1997