Cherokee Phoenix

From the New York American

Published May, 26, 1832

Page 1 Column 4b

From the New York American.

'Adventures on Columbia River; including the Narrative of a Residence of six years on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, among various tribes of Indians hitherto unknown; together with a journey across the American continent.' The Messrs. Harpers have done well in republishing this volume, and the public are more beholden to them for it than for a hundred novels. In the strides that a civilization is taking across our continent, each picture of savage life which presents the red forester in his real lineaments is becoming more and more valuable. The further the exertions of the philanthropist in improving the condition of the Indians, by pointing out where his humane efforts will be most available; they arrest for the historian the fleeting and frail record of a fading race, and they treasure up hoards of materials for the poets who shall hereafter snatch its memory from oblivion when the last remnants have disappeared. The views of savage life with which we are most familiar, are rarely just or authentic. They, for the most part, are either colored with the romantic fancy of a Chatteaubriand or a Campbell; or else, as in the case of Tanner, are limited to a few forlorn and poverty stricken tribes, representations of which are offered as fair specimens of the whole race. Mr. Cox's book we think is better calculated to set matters right than any we now recollect to have met with. The amount of his observations upon Indian character and manners may be given in a few words. In general appearance and in certain characteristics, the American savage, is the same from Chili to Athabasca, and from Nootka to Labrador. There is an indescribable coldness about him, that check familiarity: he is a stranger to our hopes and fears, our joys or our sorrows. His eyes are seldom moistened by a tear, or his features relaxed by a smile; and we adopt the beautiful language of our author whether he basks beneath a vertical sun on the burning plains of the Amazon, or freezes in eternal winter on the ice bound shores of the Arctic Ocean, the same piercing black eyes, and stern immobility of countenance, equally set at naught the skill of the physiognomist. But in moral character ' personal habits, the various tribes, even when living adjacent to each other, differ almost as much as do civilized communities. Most of the tribes at the mouth of Columbia, for instance, are a treacherous, mis-shapen, thievish set, who smear themselves with fish oil, and live in filthy hovels; while as an exception, there are bands which, like the Chinooks, are well formed, frank in their manners, cleanly in their persons, and every way trustworthy. These ingenious people, have houses of wood eighty feet in length by forth broad, divided by partitions eighteen feet high; they construct canoes fifty feet in length, which will carry thirty persons; and besides the usual offensive arms of the Indian wear armor of elk skin with leather helmets, so prepared as to be arrow proof, and frequently even turn a ball. Again in advancing into the interior, some miserable, squalid looking, skulking tribes, who live by trapping, are to be found in the immediate vicinity of a thriving race of men, whose habits and appearance are totally the reverse.- The last are generally those who hunt the buffalo on horseback, and with farmers invigorated by the chase,and spirit nerven(sic) by the constant encounter of peril, are equally fearless in character and noble in their carriage. And both on the coast and in the interior some tribes are entirely absolved from the restraints of chastity, while other punish incontinency with death; many clans again are addicted to stealing ' lying, while these vices are held in such abhorrence by others, that those who commit them are driven out from their communities. Cruelty to their enemies and fortitude under the infliction of pain, seem to be the only qualities which are common to all. On this we have a horrible example of the following extract.

Having been informed that the Flatheads were about putting one of their prisoners to death, I went to their camp to witness the spectacle. The man was tied to a tree, after which they heated an old barrel of a gun until it became red hot, with which they burned him on the legs, thighs, neck, cheeks, and belly. They then commenced cutting the flesh from the nails, which they pulled out, and next separated the fingers from the hand joint by joint. During the performance of these cruelties the wretched captive never winked, and instead of suing for mercy, he added fresh stimulants to their barbarous ingenuity by the most irritating reproaches, part of which our interpreter translated as follows:- 'My heart is strong. You do not hurt me. You can't hurt me. You are fools. You do not know how to torture. Try it again. I don't feel any pain yet. We torture your relations a great deal better, because we make them cry out loud, like little children. You are not brave, you have small hearts, and you are always afraid to fight.' Then addressing one in particular, he said, 'It was by my arrow you lost your eye;' upon which the Flathead darted at him, and with a knife in a moment scooped out one of his eyes; at the same time cutting the bridge of his nose nearly in two. This did not stop him; with the remaining eye he looked sternly at another, and said, 'I killed your brother, and I scalped your old fool of a father.' The warrior to whom this was addressed instantly sprung at him, and separated the scalp from his head. He was then about plunging a knife into his heart, until he was told by the chief to desist. The raw skull, bloody socket, and mutilated nose now presented a horrible appearance, but by no means changed his tone of defiance. 'It was I,' said he to the chief, 'that made your wife a prisoner last fall; we put out her eyes;-we tore out her tongue;-we treated her like a dog. Gorty (sic) of-

The chieftain became incensed the moment his wife's name was mentioned; he seized his gun, and, before the last sentence was ended, a ball from it passed through the brave fellow's heart and terminated his frightful sufferings.

The religious belief of the western tribes generally is confined in a few vague notions of the Divinity, mixed up among some of them with gloomy superstitions about an evil demon and spirits of hate ever on the alert to invade their quiet, and blast their happiness in the world. All, however, believe in a state of future rewards and punishments, though they differ widely as to what acts merit the one or the other. We give Mr. Cox's account of the religious tenets, if so they may be called, of a tribe among whom he dwelt for some time.

The Flat-heads believe in the existence of a good and evil spirit, and consequently in a future state of rewards and punishments. They hold, that after death the good Indian goes to a country in which there will be perpetual summer; there will meet his wife and children; that the rivers will abound with fish and the plains with the much loved buffalo; and he will spend his time in hunting and fishing, free from the terrors of war, or the apprehensions of cold or famine. The bad man, they believe, will go to a place covered with eternal snow; that he will always be shivering with cold, and will see fires at a distance which he cannot enjoy; water which he cannot procure to quench his thirst, and buffalo and deer which he cannot kill to appease his hunger. An impenetrable wood, of wolves, panthers,and serpents, separates these 'shrinking slaves of winter.' Their punishment is not however eternal, and according to the different shapes of their crime they are sooner or later emancipated, and permitted to join their friends in the Elysian fields.

Their code of morality, although short, is comprehensive. They say that honesty, bravery, love of truth, attention to parents, obedience to chiefs, and affection for their wives and children, are the principal virtues which entitle them to the place of happiness, while the opposite vices condemn them to that of misery.

Some of our author's adventures among these wild regions, the accounts of several of which we have copied at different times from the English papers, will seem rather extravagant to many of his readers, and indeed one can hardly help thinking that he ornaments occasionally at the same time we have the utmost confidence in the most of his details, having been personally acquainted with several of the gentlemen who are mentioned in the course of his narrative as actors upon the scene, and heard the identical anecdotes he relates from their lips. One or two of these we recognize as particular acquaintances, from having, after throwing them into a readable shape, published them in this paper about eighteen months since. It is therefore, that in extracting the following highly characteristic sketch, we do not for a moment doubt its entire authenticity.

One day as we were sitting down to dinner, one of our men, followed by a native, rushed into the dining room, and requested we would instantly repair to the village to prevent bloodshed, as Mr. M'Donald was about to fight a duel with one of the chiefs. We ran to the scene of action, and found our friend surrounded by a number of Indians, all of whom kept at a respectful distance. He had his fowling piece, which he changed from one hand to the other, and appeared violently chafed. The chief stood about twenty yards from him, and the following colloquy took place between them, which, for the information of my unlearned readers I shall translated.

M.D. 'Come on now, you rascal! you toad! you dog! Will you fight?'

Indian 'I will;-but you are a foolish man. A chief should not be passionate. I always thought the white chiefs were wise men.'

M.D. 'I want none of your jaw: I say you cheated me. You're a dog! Will you fight?'

Indian 'You are not wise. You get angry like a woman; but I will fight. Let us go to the woods. Are you ready?'

M. D. 'Why you d___d rascal, what do you mean? I'll fight you here. Take your distance like a brave man, face to face, and we'll draw lots for the first shot, of fire together, which ever you please.'

Indian. ' You are a greater fool than I thought you were. Who ever heard a wise warrior standing before his enemy's gun to be shot at like a dog! No one but a fool or a white man do so.'

M. D. 'What do mean? What way do you want to fight?'

Indian. 'The way that all the red warriors fight. Let us take our guns, and retire to yonder wood; place yourself behind one tree, and I will take my stand behind another, and then we shall see who will shoot the other first!'

M. D. 'You are afraid, and you're a coward.'

Indian. 'I am not afraid, and you're a fool.'

M.D. 'Come then, d__n my eyes if I care. Here's at you own way.' and he was about proceeding to the wood, when we interfered, had the combatants disarmed, and after much entreaty induced our brave Gael to return to the fort.

The quarrel originated in a gambling transaction, in which M'Donald imagined he had been cheated, and that impression struck the chief, and called him a rogue. The latter told him he took advantage of his size and strength, and that he would not meet him on equal terms with his gun.- This impression roused all his ire. He instantly darted into the field with his fowling-piece, followed by the chief, when by our arrival we prevented an encounter which in all probability would have proved fatal to our friend.

The gigantic figure, long red flowing locks, foaming mouth, and violent gesticulation of M'Donald, presented a striking and characteristic contrast to the calm and immutable features of the chieftain. This inflexible countenance was, for a moment, disturbed by something like a smile, when he told his opponent that no one but a fool would stand before a gun to be shot at like a dog. In fact M'Donald's proposition appeared to him so much at variance with his notions of wisdom, that he could not comprehend how any man in his senses could make such an offer. On explaining to him afterwards the civilized mode of deciding gentlemanly quarrels, he manifested the utmost incredulity, and declared that he could not conceive how people so wise in other respects should be guilt of such foolishness. But when we assured him in the most positive manner that we were stating facts, he shook his head, and said, 'I see plainly there are fools everywhere.'

This scene is worthy of a dramatist, and gives a better insight into the Indian character, than all the 'Braves' that the author of 'The Prairie' and 'Wept of the Wish-ton-wish' ever painted. But we must here take leave of Mr. Cox's book, with the single remark, that it is one of the most satisfactory sketches as regards the subject it pretends to describe, that we have yet met with. We recommend it particularly to those who wish to attain a theoretical knowledge of the country adjacent to the Oregon River; and west of the Rocky Mountains.