INDIAN CHARACTER AND HABITS.
Extract of a letter from a respected and interested correspondent, who has resided some years at the Westward to the editor of the New York Daily Advertiser.
'As your inquiries are directed particularly to the Chippeways (sic), I will endeavor to give you what little information I have been able to possess myself of concerning them. Bands of this tribe live, or rather are encamped, within a short distance from this place, and what Indians there are on the Peninsula of Michigan are principally of this tribe. The Chippeways (sic) are the most numerous existing branch speaking, what the French at an early day called, the Algonquin language, which philologists have agreed to consider one of the radical American stock. Like their relatives the Ottawas, Pottawatomics, 'c. they have exhibited many more traits of character, and produced some brave and eloquent men; and were we to select examples of disinterestedness, courage, fortitude 'c. few tribes could be selected, who, in the lapse of two centuries, have afforded more striking traits than the Chippewas (sic). That they are susceptible of improvement and civilization is proved by several persons who are now living and who have formerly lived; and the great bar to their general improvement consists not so much in any inherent difficulties on their part, as their remote and scattered situation, and the feeble and intermitted efforts heretofore made in their behalf. We have sent some men to labor for them and with them, who are utterly unfit, and mentally disqualified to do any good among the lowest order of white men. And should we be disappointed that they do not meet with success among the Chippewas (sic)? As to their public faith pledged in treaties or other solemn agreements, they are at least as much inclined to keep them as other Indian tribes or white men who have been parties to these treaties.
The first interview I had with the Indians of this section of the country was at Malden, (a small British port below Detroit) where they had assembled to receive the presents annually bestowed by the British Government. My impressions could not be very favorable, as most of them were in that state of inebriety in which they are almost always to be found when they mingle with civilized man, by whom the intoxicating draught is freely dispensed, as long as their means of gratifying his avarice lasts. But subsequent interviews with them at their own lodges in the interior, and away from civilized life, changed my first impressions; for at their own habitations I found their natural traits of character developed. I found them sober, quiet, cheerful, obliging, and hospitable. Their character, motives, and conduct will never, I am sure, be justly represented while white men have an interest in dispossessing them of their soil. White men, I am confident, have generally been the aggressors whenever difficulties have arisen between the Indians and the whites. Some favorite spot, some real supposed advantage the Indians might possess or benefit might be derived from having troops stationed on the frontier; consequently a liberal expenditure of the government funds, have been the real causes of all the disturbances which have taken place with the Indians for many years past. When they shall have been driven by the unjust policy of our Government, beyond the confines of our avarice, when we shall have no longer any object for degrading their character, then shall we dwell upon the noble traits in the character of our aboriginal population.
As I am but little acquainted with the language of the Chippewas (sic), I cannot, of course, judge of the force and point there may be in their common conversation of great talks. If they, however, have been rightly interpreted, many of them possess great shrewdness and observation. I was very forcibly struck with the appearance of the Chief Speaker of the Saguna band, (a portion of the Chippawa (sic) tribe.) He has a pleasant open countenance; speaks with great fluency; is generous, kind-hearted, hospitable and obliging. I spent some days at their lodges, where he is the principal man, and no one could be more kindly treated than I was.- Could the Indians associate and mingle with the truly civilized white men,- men of intelligence, of undeviating sobriety, fair and honest in their dealings; in fine, of sound morals - they would soon imitate them, fall into their habits, and a few years would obliterate all distinctions but color. Man's natural propensities never led him to intemperance in drinking, and if the Indians indulge more freely than the whites, when the habit is acquired, it is because the refinements of civilization have imposed no restraints, and no odium is attached to its indulgence; and if we can find instances among us, of men of superior understanding, acquirements, and elevated standing, indulging to excess, notwithstanding the odium cast upon it, how can we, condemn the untutored, unrefined Indian, who had not even the frown of his fellows to encounter. In some future letter I will endeavor to give you some further information with regard to them, and answer, as well as I can, your interrogations.