"The American Indian, born free as the eagle, would not tolerate restraint, would not brook injustice; therefore, the restraint imposed must be manifestly for his benefit, and the government to which he was subjected must be eminently one of kindness, mercy and absolute justice, without necessarily degenerating into weakness. The American Indian despises a liar. The American Indian is the most generous of mortals; at all his dances and feasts, the widow and the orphan are the first to be remembered." (Bourke's "On the Border with Crook," p. 226).
"Bad as the Indians often are," says this same frontier veteran, " I have never yet seen one so demoralized that he was not an example in honor and nobility to the wretches who enrich themselves by plundering him of the little our Government apportions for him." (Bourke's "On the Border with Crook," p. 445-)
Catlin's summary of the race is thus:
"The North American Indian, in his native state, is an honest, hospitable, faithful, brave; warlike, cruel, revengeful, relentless- yet honorable-contemplative and religious being." (Vol. I, p. 8).
Omitting here what he gives elsewhere, that the Redman is clean, virtuous, of splendid physique, a master of woodcraft, and that to many of his best representatives, the above evil adjectives do not apply.
Bishop Whipple thus sums up the wild Indian, after intimate knowledge, during a lifetime of associations, ("Century of Dishonor," Jackson; p. VII.):
" The North American Indian is the noblest type of a heathen man on the earth. He recognizes a Great Spirit; he believes in immortality; he has a quick intellect; he is a clear thinker; he is brave and fearless, and, until betrayed, he is true to his plighted faith; he has a passionate love for his children, and counts it a joy to die for his people. Our most terrible wars have been with the noblest types of the Indians and with men who had been the white man's friends. Nicolet said the Sioux were the finest type of wild men he had ever seen".
Why, then, has he so long been caluminated? "Because," explains the Bishop, "Ahab never speaks kindly of Naboth whom he has robbed of his vineyard. It soothes conscience to cast mud on the character of the one whom we have wronged".
When General Crook, after he had crushed, and enabled the nation to plunder the Apaches, was ordered to the northward on a similar expedition against the Sioux, a friend said to him, "It is hard to go on such a campaign," the General replied, "Yes, it is hard; but, sir, the hardest thing is to go and fight those whom you know are in the right." (" Century of Dishonor," p. VI).
Finally, let me reproduce in full the account by Bonneville, from which I have already selected portions:
In 1834, he visited the Nez Perces and Flatheads, and thus sums up these wholly primitive Indians, for they were as yet uncorrupted by the whiskey-trader or those who preached the love of money.
"They were friendly in their dispositions, honest to the most scrupulous degree in their intercourse with the white man." (P. 200.) " Simply to call these people religious would convey but a faint idea of the deep hue of piety and devotion which pervades their whole conduct. Their honesty is immaculate, and their purity of purpose and their observance of the rites of their religion are most uniform and remarkable. They are certainly more like a nation of saints than a horde of savages." (" Captain Bonneville's Narrative;" by Washington Irving, p. 171, 1837).
It would, I know, be quite easy to collect incidents - true ones - that would seem to contradict each of these claims for the Redman, especially if we look among the degraded Indians of the Reservations. But I do not consider them disproofs any more than I consider our religion disproved by the countless horrors and wickedness recorded every day as, our daily history, in every newspaper in every corner of the land. The fact remains that this was the ideal of the Indian, and many times that ideal was exemplified in their great men, and at all times the influence of their laws was strong.
One might select a hundred of these great Indians who led their people, as Plato led the Greeks or as Tolstoi led the Russians, and learn from each and all that dignity, strength, courtesy, courage, kindness, and reverence were indeed the ideals of the teepee folk, and that their ideal was realized more or less in all their history - that the noble Redman did indeed exist.
The earliest of the northern Indians to win immortal fame was the great Mohawk, Hiawatha. Although the Longfellow version of his life is not sound as history, we know that there was such a man; he was a great hero; he stood for peace, brotherhood, and agriculture; and not only united the Five Nations in a Peace League, but made provision for the complete extension of that League to the whole of America.
Pontiac, the Napoleon of his people; Tecumseh, the chevalier Bayard, who was great as warrior and statesman, as well as when he proclaimed the broad truths of humanity; Dull Knife, the Leonidas of the Cheyennes; Chief Joseph, the Xenophon of the Nez Perces; Wabasha, Little Wolf, Pita-Lesharu, Washakie, and a hundred others might be named to demonstrate the Redman's progress toward his ideals.
Who that reads this record can help saying: "If these things be true, then, judging by its fruits, the Indian way must be better than ours. Wherein can we claim the better thought or results?"
To answer is not easy. My first purpose was to clear the memory of the Redman. To compare his way with ours, we must set our best men against his, for there is little difference in our doctrine.
One great difference in our ways is that, like the early Christians, the Indian was a Socialist. The tribe owned the ground, the rivers and the game; only personal property was owned by the individual, and even that, it was considered a shame to greatly increase. For they held that greed grew into crime, and much property made men forget the poor.
Our answer to this is that, without great property, that is power in the hands of one man, most of the great business enterprises of the world could not have been; especially enterprises that required the prompt action impossible in a national commission. All great steps in national progress have been through some one man, to whom the light came, and to whom our system gave the power to realize his idea.
The Indian's answer is, that all good things would have been established by the nation as it needed them; anything coming sooner comes too soon. The price of a very rich man is many poor ones, and peace of mind is worth more than railways and skyscrapers.
In the Indian life there was no great wealth, so also poverty and starvation were unknown, excepting under the blight of national disaster, against which no system can insure. Without a thought of shame or mendicancy, the young, helpless and aged all were cared for by the nation that, in the days of their strength, they were taught and eager to serve.
And how did it work out? Thus: Avarice, said to be the root of all evil, and the dominant characteristic of our race, was unknown among Indians, indeed it was made impossible by the system they had developed.
These facts long known to the few are slowly reaching all our people at large, in spite of shameless writers of history, that have done their best to discredit the Indian, and to that end have falsified every page and picture that promised to gain for him a measure of sympathy.
Here are the simple facts of the long struggle between the two races:
There never yet was a massacre of Indians by whites - and they were many - except in time of peace and made possible by treachery.
There never yet was an Indian massacre of whites except in times of declared war to resist invasion.
There never yet was an Indian war but was begun by the whites violating their solemn treaties, encroaching on the Indians' lands, stealing the Indians' property or murdering their people.
There never yet was a successful campaign of whites against Indians except when the whites had other Indians to scout, lead and guide them; otherwise the Redmen were too clever for the whites.
There never yet was a successful war of whites against Indians except when the whites were in overwhelming numbers,with superior equipments and unlimited resources.
There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Indian was crushed only by force of superior numbers. And had the tribes been united even, they might possibly have owned America to-day.
Finally, a famous Indian fighter of the most desperate period thus summarizes the situation and the character of the dispossessed:
"History can show no parallel to the heroism and fortitude of the American Indians in the two hundred years' fight during which they contested inch by inch the possession of their country against a foe infinitely better equipped, with inexhaustible resources, and in overwhelming numbers. Had they even been equal in numbers, history might have had a very different story to tell." (Gen. Nelson A. Miles, U. S. A., Letter, February 16, 1912).
I never yet knew a man who studied the Indians or lived among them, without becoming their warm friend and ardent admirer. Professor C. A. Nichols, of the Southwestern University, a deep student of Indian life, said to me, sadly, one day last autumn: "I am afraid we have stamped out a system that was producing men who, taken all around, were better than ourselves".
Our soldiers, above all others, have been trained to hate the Redmen, and yet the evidence of those that have lived years with this primitive people is, to the same effect as that of missionaries and travelers, namely, that the high-class Indian was brave; he was obedient to authority. He was kind, clean and reverent. He was provident, unsordid, hospitable, dignified, courteous, truthful, and honest. He was the soul of honor. He lived a life of temperance and physical culture that he might perfect his body, and so he achieved a splendid physique. He was a wonderful hunter, a master of woodcraft, and a model for outdoor life in this country. He was heroic and picturesque all the time. He knew nothing of the forgiveness of sin, but he remembered his Creator all the days of his life, and was in truth one of the finest types of men the world has ever known.
We set out to discover the noble Redman. Have we entirely failed?
Surely,it is our duty, at least, to do justice to his memory, and that justice shall not fail of reward. For this lost and dying type can help us in many ways that we need, even as he did help us in the past. Have we forgotten that in everything the white pioneer learned of woodcraft, the Indian was the teacher? And when at length came on the white man's fight for freedom, it was the training he got from the Redman that gave him the victory. So again, to fight a different enemy to-day, he can help us. And in our search for the ideal outdoor life, we cannot do better than take this Indian, with his reverence and his carefully cultured physique, as a model for the making of men, and as a pattern for our youth who would achieve high manhood, in the Spartan sense, with the added graces of courtesy, honor and truth.