pages (11 - 17)
THE SUBJECT CONTINUED — PARTICULARLY WITH REGARD TO THE ABORIGINES.
There were then only wandering savages in these parts, whose business was to
catch fish and hunt deer enough to support life, while they, as a matter of much
more importance, spent much of their time in hunting one another, and they
killed, or were killed, as courage, skill or luck would have it; and hence the
garden-spot of the earth, the country between the Alleghanies on the east and
the Rocky Mountains on the west, and the great Lakes on the north and the Gulf
of Mexico on the south, capable of containing 100,000,000 of human beings,
possessed only a few despicable savages, who sought every opportunity to make
the number less.
Those who believe whatever they are told, without inquiry, believe that this country was long since densely populated, by a highly-civilized people; and our love-sick novelists, in speaking of the degraded remnant we found here, speak of the gallantry and courage of the great warriors, and of the beautiful Indian maidens. My experience on the subject is decidedly unfavorable to Indian courage, chivalry and beauty. I never saw an Indian that would fight unless he had the advantage; nor do I think I ever saw one who had ever felt an impulse of true gallantry. They were males, and, like other animals, knew and appreciated the other sex; but, further than this, gallantry was unknown to them. A woman was by the Indians more admired for carrying a large pack of venison or fur skins than for possessing beauty. We read about great Indian towns; but they had no towns, not even a house for a residence, place of worship, nor for any other purpose. The only houses they had were wigwams, that could be speedily removed upon their ponies, or in their canoes. The whole fabric consisted of poles placed in the ground, in a circle, and the tops bent together and tied with bark. Several other poles were bent around horizontally, and tied to these, and then mats, which they made of grass, were spread over these, and the edifice was completed. For a chimney, a hole was left in the top. For a door, one mat was left loose below, so as to be raised, when necessary, whereas the other mats were tied to pegs driven in the ground.
Our credulous ancestors were made to believe that these people were converted to Christianity. Father Hennepin and other Catholic priests baptized thousands of them, nearly two hundred years ago, and Father Walker, a pious Methodist, some forty years ago, devoted himself to their service, and no doubt thought he made great proficiency in leading them in the way of life; but they only listened to his sermons for the sake of the corn-bread and pork his wife fed them on after the sermon was over. Every body but father Walker knew this. He, however, had the happiness to pass through life with the sincere belief that his glory in the next world would be greatly enhanced by the presence of these savages as witnesses of his great Christian zeal. George E. Walker, a wealthy old gentleman of Ottawa, is a nephew to this man.
The writer hereof has seen some of Rev. Mr. Walker's disciples, besides many other Indians, such as infested these plains previous to the Black-Hawk War, and gives it as his firm belief that there was not an Indian, at that time, in Illinois, that believed the Christian religion at all. Nor had they any well-defined notions of religion of any kind. The priests had taught them something about their God, who is a spirit, and about miracles, and the mysterious virtue, of relics, and the sacred host. The savages, not understanding these things, perverted them. Each tribe soon had its medicine-man, who, with his medicine-bag of numerous nothings, answered them well enough for a priest, and performed a goodly number of miracles,— at least, made them believe so.
Our relic-hunters have found, all over this country, the evidences of an ancient civilization, in fortifications, tumuli, broken pottery, etc. This is all a delusion, but the common delusion of little men, who have 'a little learning', which Pope says is a dangerous thing. I was born in the West, and have lived in it for the space of sixty-eight years, but have never seen any evidence of this kind, nothing that could not be explained upon some other hypothesis. I have seen nothing that the most fanatical ought to construe into a fortification. I have seen mounds in which there were human bones; but why not say that Indians selected high places in which to bury their dead, as civilized people do, especially as some Indians, not being satisfied with the elevation of the highest mounds, deposited their departed friends on large trees? It would be much easier to select a mound than to build one, especially as they had neither picks, shovels, nor carts, nor Irishmen to use them; for every one knows that if the Indians had tools they were too lazy to use them.
There is a hillock not far from the City of Joliet, which has been honored with the title of Mount Joliet, of which Peck, in his Gazetteer, says " it is evidently the work of art"; and the author of American Antiquities says, This mound consists of eighteen million two hundred and fifty thousand solid feet of earth. How long it must have been in being built is more than can be made out, as the number of men employed, and the facilities to carry on the work, are unknown." To those who have never examined, nor even seen Mount Joliet, this theory is very pretty; but to those who have seen and examined it, it appears too absurd to merit a refutation, had not sensible men fallen into the error. I have been on and about Mount Joliet, and examined it with a view to this question, and I assure the reader that there not only is no appearance there to indicate that it was made by hands, but the most conclusive evidence that it is the result of mighty currents of water flowing there for ages long gone by. It is simply a great pile of stones and pebbles, which have been rounded by being rubbed and rolled against each other. The amount of clay and earth among these stones and pebbles is so small as hardly to be perceived; yet grass and weeds have annually grown on the top and decayed for ages, until a pretty good soil is formed there. This great pile of pebbles does not extend into the earth, but it stands on it—on a bed of clay, that is being manufactured, on a large scale, into fire-brick and underground tiling, or more properly piping, while the pebbles are being carried to Chicago to pave gutters and streets.
In the month of February, 1832,1 was temporarily boarding at Robbins's Hotel, in Alton, and the subject of the mounds in the American Bottom was under discussion; and, to prove they were artificial, it was asserted that they contained human bones. I pointed to a high peak, a little to the northwest of where the penitentiary was afterward built, and asked one of the company if, in his opinion, that was artificial. He replied certainly not: that that had manifestly been made by the rains wearing away the earth about it. Well, said I, I will venture the assertion that there are human bones in that. He thought not; and, having time enough on our hands, we procured tools, and dug into it, and found human bones. I once found, with the bones of an Indian, a piece of his gun, the blade of his butcher-knife, and portions of an opaque glass bottle. I have also seen beads, hatchets, and other things indicating a considerable degree of civilization, that had been taken from Indian graves. How much more reasonable the hypothesis that these things; were procured from the French traders than that they were made by civilized men, whose descendants had become barbarous.
It is known to all who have read history that the daily necessaries and conveniences of life are never lost by the descendants of civilized men, however barbarous they may become. No nation that ever had the benefit of iron ever lost the use of it. The same is true as to horses and cattle, and many other things. The Indians had none of these things, when found by white men; yet horses were so necessary to them, and so easily raised in this grassy country, that they have never been without them since. Men fond of the marvelous are averse to scanning evidence. They seem afraid of discovering its insufficiency.
I knew a blacksmith who, for some purpose, made a wrought-iron cup; but when he undertook to solder it with brass, he made it too hot, and spoilt it, but the solder spread and run into the pores of the hot iron. He threw it away, and it lay behind his shop for years. In the neighborhood lived a man who had a good spring, of which he often boasted. A mischievous lad buried this cup in that spring. In process of time, in cleaning out the spring, the cup was found, and attracted much attention. It was very rusty, of course; but upon being filed it seemed to be a compound of brass and iron. Some thought it a new metal, unknown to us, but known to the ancients. Here was evidence, conclusive 'as proofs from Holy Writ', of an ancient civilization. The excitement became so intense as to draw the blacksmith from his anvil. The astonished audience became more astonished, when the blacksmith avowed that he had made that very cup. An investigation brought to light the person who put it there.
I lay it down as a fact that a country once inhabited by civilized men, the vestiges of their civilization can never be destroyed. Witness the remains in Herculaneum, Nineveh, and Egypt. If there had ever been a civilized people here, the stones or metals would present some evidence of their literature; but every thing that I have seen of that kind was manifestly of French origin. All engravings and stamps that I have seen were of Latin letters, which the French use, as well as ourselves.
Then with regard to the aboriginal inhabitants I have no history to give. They were wild men, without any literature or permanent habitations, and had never been in a superior condition.
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