Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States

Lippincott, Grambo

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Lippincott, Grambo
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Dec 31, 1851
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Stretched on his couch, the Indian warrior lay,

His bow and quiver prostrate at his side,

Revolving all his fate in still dismay,

Dominion lost, skill baffled, power defied.

“Shades of my fathers!” thus his reverie ran,

“And shall the Red Man thus, in clouds decline,

With no memorial of his name or clan,

Or only left to point the poet’s line,

And tell to other years, the tale of his decline?”

“Oh, is it thus, the noble woodswise race,

Shall steal away to an unhonored tomb,

Who once were lords of the ascendant chase,

And swept the forests in their pristine bloom?

Brave were their hearts, and strong in sinewy strength

They drew the shaft that fell’d the stately deer,

Or spread the craven foeman at his length,

And triumphed in the battle’s wild career,

A wanderer of the woods—lord of the bow and spear.”

“Ah tell me, Spirit of the Golden West!

Say, is it want of knowledge dooms my race?

Or the wild passions of an untamed breast,

That leaves nor peace nor virtue there a place?

Can raging tumults of the mortal soul

Prejudge its fate, and lead the wayward mind

Through seas of want and poverty to roll,

Till in a gloom of fixed despair it find

Life’s path without a friend, and even death unkind?”

“Doth human rectitude, in mind and heart,

The inward purposes of right and wrong

In human acts—so great a boon impart,

Or lead, by their neglect, to thraldom strong?

And can it be, ye messengers of air!

Who know the great high Spirit’s sov’reign will,

So vast a detriment he can prepare

For those who follow nature’s dictates still,

And worship Manitoes on every breezy hill?”

“’Tis wondrous all, and yet there are, I ween,

Some inward inklings of the Indian soul

That whisper to his mind of things unclean,

That taint his rites, and all his life control,

Leading the mind—whenever he would do

An evil act, or e’en the purpose form,

To that High Excellence beyond the view,

Who guides the sun and regulates the storm,

Dispensing winter winds, or summer breezes warm.”

This is the autobiographical account of an explorer, government administrator, and scholar whose researches into the language and customs of the Chippewa and other Native American peoples of the Great Lakes region are considered milestones in nineteenth-century ethnography. After a childhood in Hamilton, New York, Schoolcraft gained attention for the reports and journals he wrote on trips west to explore mineral deposits in Arkansas, Missouri, and the old Northwest. Later, he joined the Cass expedition to the Lake Superior region, where he served as an Indian agent in St. Mary (Sault Ste. Marie) from 1822 to 1836. During that time, he continued to make regular exploratory journeys. On one of these, in 1832, he located the Mississippi River's source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. From 1836 to 1841, Schoolcraft served as Michigan's superintendent of Indian Affairs and helped to bring about a treaty with the Ojibwa (1836), who as a result relinquished their claims to most of northern Michigan. Schoolcraft's memoirs are noteworthy for their detailed geographic, geological, political, military, folkloric, historical, and ethnographic information. Married to a woman of Native American background, he was sympathetic to certain aspects of the Indian societies he encountered. Nevertheless, he saw the sweep of new settlers into Indian lands as inevitable, and accepted as necessary the removal of Native peoples beyond the advancing boundaries of the United States. Schoolcraft believed that soldiers, diplomats, federal officials, and missionaries could do their jobs more effectively if they learned native languages and understood Indian customs. These motives, along with his literary aspirations, gave rise to his explorations of Indian cultural life. He discusses Indian myths and legends at length and talks about how he transformed them into his own Algic Researches (1839), the work that inspired Longfellow's "Hiawatha." Schoolcraft also corresponded or visited with Washington Irving, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Gallatin, and many of the era's other leading intellectuals, and details his conversations with them.
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