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Perhaps the saddest chapter in the history of the sons of Adam is furnished by the Red Man of America. His origin is unknown; no records tell the tale of his ancient deeds. A foundling in the human family, discovered by his stronger brethren wandering wild through the forests and over the prairies of the western desert, no fraternal welcome greeted this lost child of nature; no soothing voice of affection fell upon his ear; no gentle kindness wooed him from his savage isolation. The hand of irresistible power was stretched out, not to raise him from his low estate and lead him into the brotherhood of civilized man, but to thrust him away with cruel and unjust disdain.

Little more than three centuries and a half have elapsed since the Indian first gazed with terror and admiration upon the white strangers, and already three fourths of his inheritance are rent away, and three fourths of his race have vanished from the earth; while the sad remnant, few and feeble, faint and weary, “are fast traveling to the shades of their fathers, toward the setting sun." Year by year they wither away; to them the close breath of civilized man is more destructive than the deadliest blight. The arts and appliances which the accumulated ingenuity of ages has provided to aid the labor and enhance the enjoyments of others, have been but a curse to these children of the wilderness. That blessed light which shines to the miserable of this world through the vista of the “shadowy valley,” cheering the fainting spirit with the earnest of a glorious future, sheds but a few dim and distorted rays upon the outskirts of the Red Man’s forest land.

All the relations of Europeans to the Indian have been alike fatal to him, whether of peace or war; as tyrants or suppliants; as conquerors armed with unknown weapons of destruction; as the insidious purchasers of his hunting-grounds, betraying him into an accursed thirst for the deadly fire-water; as the greedy gold-seekers, crushing his feeble frame under the hated labors of the mine; as shipwrecked and hungry wanderers, while receiving his simple alms, marking the fertility and defenselessness of his lands; as sick men enjoying his hospitality, and, at the same time, imparting that terrible disease which has swept off whole nations; as woodmen in his forest, and intrusive tillers of his ground, scaring away to the far West those animals of the chase given by the Great Spirit for his food: there is to him a terrible monotony of result. In the delicious islands of the Caribbean Sea, and in the stern and magnificent regions of the northeast, scarcely now remains a mound, or stone, or trace even of tradition, to point out the place where any among the departed millions sleep.

The discovery of the American Indians brought to light not only a new race, but also a totally new condition of men. The rudest form of human society known in the Old World was far advanced beyond that of the mysterious children of the West, in arts, knowledge, and government. Even among the simplest European and Asiatic nations the principle of individual possession was established; the beasts of the field were domesticated to supply the food and aid the labors of man, and large bodies of people were united under the sway of hereditary chiefs. But the Red Man roamed over the vast forests and prairies of his undiscovered continent, accompanied by few of his fellows, unassisted by beasts of burden, and trusting alone to his skill and fortune in the chase for a support. The first European visitors to the New World were filled with such astonishment at the appearance and complexion of the Red Man, that they hastily concluded he belonged to a different species from themselves. As the native nations became better known, their warriors, statesmen, and orators commanded the admiration of the strangers. Especially in the northern people, every savage virtue was conspicuous; they were gentle in peace, but terrible in war; of a proud and noble bearing, honest, faithful, and hospitable, loving order though without laws, and animated by the strongest and most devoted loyalty to their tribe. At the same time, while willingly recording their high and admirable qualities, pity for the devoted race must not blind us to their ferocious and degrading vices.

It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that the manners and characteristics of this strange race attracted to any considerable degree the attention of philosophers and theorists; a chasm in human history then seemed about to be filled. Eager to throw light upon the subject, but too impatient to inquire into the facts necessary for the formation of opinions, the conclusions formed were often unjust to the native dignity of the Red Indian, and have been proved erroneous by subsequent and more perfect information. On the other hand, one of the most gifted but dangerous of modern philosophers would exalt these untutored children of nature to a higher degree of honor and excellence than civilization and knowledge can confer. He deemed that the elevation and independence of mind, resulting from the rude simplicity of savage life, is sought in vain among the members of refined and organized societies.

Every thing tended to render inquiry into the state of the rude tribes of America difficult and obscure. In the generality of cases they presented characteristics of a native simplicity, elsewhere unknown; and even in the more favored districts, where a degree of civilization appeared, it had assumed a form and direction totally different from that of the Old World.

The origin of this mysterious people has been the subject of an immense variety of speculations, and has involved the question, whether all men are the sons of Adam, or whether the distinctions of the human race were owing to the several sources from whence its members sprung? The skeptic supposition that each portion of the globe gave its own original type of man to the human family at once solves the difficulty of American population; but as both Christianity and philosophy alike forbid acceptance of this view, it becomes necessary to consider the relative probabilities in favor of the other different theories which enthusiasm, ingenuity, and research have contributed to lay before the world.

Without referring to the most sacred and ancient of authorities, we may find existing natural evidence abundantly sufficient to establish the belief of the common descent of our race. There are not in the human form differences such as distinguish separate species of the brute creation. All races of men are nearly of like stature and size, varying only by the accidents of climate and food favorable or adverse to their full development. The number, shape, and uses of limbs and extremities are alike, and internal construction is invariably the same. These are circumstances the least acted upon by situation and temperature, and therefore the surest tests of a particular species. Color is the most obvious and the principal indication of difference in the human families, and is evidently influenced to a great extent by the action of the sun, as the swarthy cheek of the harvest laborer will witness. Under the equator we find the jet black of the negro; then the olive-colored Moors of the southern shores of the Mediterranean; again, the bronzed face of the Spaniard and Italian; next, the Frenchman, darker than those who dwell under the temperate skies of England; and, last, the bleached and pallid visages of the north. Along the arctic circle, indeed, a dusky tint again appears: that, however, may be fairly attributed to the scorching power of the sun, constantly over the horizon, through the brief and fiery summer. The natives remain generally in the open air during this time, fishing, or in the chase; and the effect of exposure stamps them with a complexion which even the long-continued snows can not remove. In the rigorous winter season, the people of those dreary countries pass most of their time in wretched huts or subterranean dwellings, where they heap up large fires to warm their shivering limbs. The smoke has no proper vent in these ill-constructed abodes; it fills the confined air, and tends to darken the complexions of those constantly exposed to its influence.

The difference of color in the human race is doubtless influenced by many causes, modifying the effect of position with regard to the tropics. The great elevation of a particular district, its proximity to the sea, the shades of a vast forest, the exhalations from extensive marshes, all tend to diminish materially the power of a southern sun. On the other hand, intensity of heat is aggravated by the neighborhood of arid and sandy deserts, or rocky tracts. The action of long-continued heat creates a more permanent effect than the mere darkening of the outer skin: it alters the character of those subtile juices that display their color through the almost transparent covering. We see that, from a constitutional peculiarity in individuals, the painful variety of the albino is sometimes produced in the hottest countries. Certain internal diseases, and different medicines, change the beautiful bloom of the young and healthy into repulsive and unnatural tints. A peculiar secretion of the carbon abounding in the human frame produces the jet black of the negro’s skin, and enables him to bear without inconvenience the terrible sultriness of his native land. The dark races, inferior in animal and intellectual powers to the white man, are yet nearly free from the deformities he so often exhibits, perhaps on account of a less susceptible and delicate structure. The Caucasian or European races, born and matured under a temperate climate, manifestly enjoy the highest gifts of man. Wherever they come in contact with their colored brother, he ultimately yields to the irresistible superiority, and becomes, according to the caprice of their haughty will, the victim, the dependent, or the slave.

There are other characteristics different from, but generally combined with color, which are influenced by constitutional varieties. The hair usually harmonizes with the complexion, and, like it, shows the influence of climate. In cold countries, the natural covering of every animal becomes rich and soft; the plentiful locks and manly beard of the European show a marked contrast to the coarse and scanty hair of the inhabitants of tropical countries. The development of mental power and refined habits of life have also a strong but slow effect upon the outward form. Certain African nations of a higher intelligence and civilization than their rude neighbors, show much less of the peculiarities of the negro features. The refined Hindoo displays a delicate form and expression under his dark complexion. The black color and the negro features are accidentally not necessarily connected, and it seems to require both climate and inferiority of intellect to unite them in the same race.

When circumstances of climate or situation have effected peculiar appearances in a nation or tribe, the results will long survive the causes when people are removed to widely-different latitudes: a dark color is not easily effaced, even under the influence of moderate temperature and heightened civilization. For these reasons, there appear many cases where the complexion of the inhabitants and the climate of the country do not correspond, but the original characteristics will be found undergoing the process of gradual change, ultimately adapting themselves to their new country and situation. The marked and peculiar countenances of the once “chosen people” vary, in color at least, wherever they are seen over the world, although uninfluenced by any admixture of alien blood. In England the children of Israel and the descendant of the Saxon are alike of a fair complexion, and on the banks of the Nile the Jew and the Egyptian show the same swarthy hue.

At first sight this American race would appear to offer evidence against the supposed influence of climate upon color, as one general form and complexion prevail in all latitudes of the New World, from the tropics to the frozen regions of the north. Great varieties, however, exist in the shade of the red or copper color of the Indians. There are two extremes of complexion among mankind those of the northern European and the African negro; between these there is a series of shades, that of the American Indian being about midway. The structure of the New World, and the circumstances of its inhabitants, may account for the generally equal color of their skin. The western Indian never becomes black, even when dwelling directly under the equator. He lives among stupendous mountain ranges, where cool breezes from the snowy heights sweep through the valleys and over the plains below. The vast rivers springing from under those lofty peaks inundate a great extent of country, and turn it into swamps, whence perpetual exhalations arise and lower the temperature. There are no fiery deserts to heat the passing wind and reflect the rays of the sun; a continual forest, with luxuriant foliage, and a dense underwood, spreads a pleasant shade over the surface of the earth. America, under the same latitudes, especially on the eastern coast, is every where colder than the Old World. The nearest approach to a black complexion is seen in the people of Brazil, a country comparatively low, and immediately under the equator. The inhabitants of the lofty Mexican table-land are also very dark, and on those arid plains the sun pours down its scorching rays upon a surface almost devoid of sheltering vegetation.

The habits of savage life, and the constant exposure to the elements, seem sufficient to cause a dark tint upon the human skin even in the temperate regions of America, where the cold is far greater than in the same latitude in Europe. The inhabitants of those immense countries are badly clothed, imperfectly defended against the weather, miserably housed; wandering in war or in the chase, exposed for weeks at a time to the mercy of the elements, they soon darken into the indelible red or copper color of their race. On the northwest coasts, about latitude 50 deg., in Nootka Sound, and a number of other smaller bays, dwell a people more numerous and better provided with food and shelter than their eastern neighbors. They are free from a great part of the toils and hardships of the hunter, and from the vicissitudes of the season. When cleansed from their filthy and fantastic painting, it appears that their complexion and features resemble those of the European.

Modern discoveries have to a great extent dispelled the mystery of the Indian origin, and proved the fallacy of the numerous and ingenious theories formerly advanced with so much pertinacity and zeal. Since the northwest coasts of America and the northeast of Asia have been explored, little difficulty remains on this subject. The two continents approach so nearly in that direction that they are almost within sight of each other, and small boats can safely pass the narrow strait. Ten degrees further south, the Aleutian and Fox Islands form a continuous chain between Kamtschatka and the peninsula of Alaska, in such a manner as to leave the passage across a matter of no difficulty. The rude and hardy Tschutchi, inhabiting the northeast of Asia, frequently sail from one continent to the other. From the remotest antiquity, this ignorant people possessed the wonderful secret of the existence of a world hidden from the wisest and most adventurous of civilized nations. They were unconscious of the value of their vast discovery; they passed over a stormy strait from one frozen shore to another, as stern and desolate as that they had left behind, and knew not that they had crossed one of the great boundaries of earth. When they first entered upon the wilderness of America, probably the most adventurous pushed down toward the genial regions of the south, and so through the long ages of the past the stream of population flowed slowly on, wave by wave, to the remotest limits of the east and south. The Indians resemble the people of northeastern Asia in form and feature more than any other of the human race. Their population is most dense along the districts nearest to Asia; and among the Mexicans, whose records of the past deserve credence, there is a constant tradition that their Aztec and Toultec chiefs came from the northwest. Every where but to the north, America is surrounded with a vast ocean unbroken by any chain of islands that could connect it with the Old World. Most probably no living man ever crossed this immense barrier before the time of Columbus. It is certain that in no part of America have any authentic traces been found of European civilization; the civilization of America, such as it was, arose, as it flourished, in the fertile plains of Mexico and in the delightful valleys of Peru; there, where the bounty of nature supplied an abundance of the necessaries of life, the population rapidly multiplied, and the arts became objects of cultivation.

There is something almost mysterious in the total difference between the languages of the Old and New World. All the tongues of civilized nations spring from a few original roots, somewhat analogous to each other; but it would seem that, among wandering tribes, dispersed over a vast extent of country, carrying on but little intercourse, and having no written record or traditionary recital to preserve any fixed standard, language undergoes a complete change in the course of ages. The great varieties of tongues in America, and their dissimilarity to each other, tend to confirm this supposition.

In various parts of America, remains are found which place beyond a doubt the ancient existence of a people more numerous, powerful, and civilized than the present race of Indians; but the indications of this departed people are not such as to bespeak their having been of very remote antiquity: the ruined cities of Central America, concealed by the forest growth of centuries, and the huge mounds of earth in the Valley of the Mississippi and upon the table-lands of Mexico, their dwellings and mausoleums, although long swept over by the storm of savage conquest, afford no proofs of their having existed very far back into those dark ages when the New World was unknown to Europe. The history of these past races of men will probably forever remain a sealed book, but there is no doubt that a great population once covered those rich countries which the first English visitors found the wild hunting-grounds for a few savage tribes. Probably the existing race of Red Men were the conquerors and exterminators of the feeble but civilized aboriginal nations, and as soon as they possessed the land they split into separate and hostile communities, waging perpetual war with each other so as constantly to diminish their numbers.

Far up the Mississippi and the Missouri the exploration of the country brings to light incontestable proofs of the existence of the mysterious aboriginal race: wells artificially walled, and various other structures for convenience or defense, are frequently seen; ornaments of silver, copper, and even brass are found, together with various articles of pottery and sculptured stone; sepulchers filled with vast numbers of human bones have often been discovered, and human bodies in a state of preservation are sometimes exhumed. On one of these the hair was yellow or sandy, and it is well known that an unvarying characteristic of the present red race is the lank black hair. A splendid robe of a kind of linen, made apparently from nettle fibers, and interwoven with the beautiful feathers of the wild turkey, encircled this long-buried mummy. The number and the magnitude of the mounds bear evidence that the concurrent labors of a vast assembly of men were employed in their construction.

In the progress of early discovery and settlement, striking views were presented of savage life among the Red Men inhabiting the Atlantic coast; but later researches along the banks of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and by the great Canadian lakes, exhibited this people under a still more remarkable aspect. The most prominent among the natives of the interior for power, policy, and courage, were the Iroquois or Five Nations. Their territory extended westward from Lake Champlain, to the farthest extremity of Ontario, along the southern banks of the St. Lawrence, and of the Great Lake. Although formed by the alliance of five independent tribes, they always presented a united front to their foes, whether in defense or aggression. Their enemies, the Algonquins, held an extensive domain on the northern bank of the St. Lawrence; these last were at one time the masters of all that portion of America, and were the most polished and mildest in manners of the northern tribes. They depended altogether for subsistence on the produce of the chase, and disdained those among their neighbors who attempted the cultivation of the soil. The Hurons were a numerous nation, generally allied with the Algonquins, inhabiting the immense and fertile territory extending westward to the Great Lake, from which they take their name: they occupied themselves with a rude husbandry, which the fertile soil of the west repaid, by affording them an abundant subsistence; but they were more effeminate and luxurious than their neighbors, and inferior in savage virtue and independence. The above-named nations were those principally connected with the events of Canadian history.

Man is less affected by climate in his bodily development than any other animal; his frame is at the same time so hardy and flexible, that he thrives and increases in every variety of temperature and situation, from the tropic to the pole; nevertheless, in extremes such as these, his complexion, size, and vigor usually undergo considerable modifications. Among the Red Men of America, however, there is a remarkable similarity of countenance, form, manners, and habits, in every part of the continent. No other race can show people speaking different languages, inhabiting widely different climates, and subsisting on different food, who are so wonderfully alike. There are, indeed, varieties of stature, strength, intellect, and self-respect to be found among them; but the savage of the frozen north, and the Indian of the tropics, have the same stamp of person, and the same instincts. There is a language of signs common to all, conveying similar ideas, and providing a means of mutual intelligence to every Red Man from north to south.

The North American Indians are generally of a fair height and proportion. Deformities or personal defects are rare among them; and they are never seen to fall into corpulency. Their features, naturally pleasing and regular, are often distorted by absurd attempts to improve their beauty, or render their appearance more terrible. They have high cheek bones, sharp and rather aquiline noses, and good teeth. Their skin is generally described as red or copper-colored, approaching to the tint of cinnamon bark, a complexion peculiar to the inhabitants of the New World. The hair of the Americans, like that of their Mongolian ancestors, is coarse, black, thin, but strong, and growing to a great length. Many tribes of both these races remove it from every part of the head except the crown, where a small tuft is left, and cherished with care. It is a universal habit among the tribes of the New World to eradicate every symptom of beard: hence the early travelers were led to conclude that the smoothness of their faces resulted from a natural deficiency. One reason for the adoption of this strange custom was to enable them to paint themselves with greater ease. Among old men, who have become indifferent to their appearance, the beard is again seen to a small extent.

On the continent, especially toward the north, the natives were of robust and vigorous constitution. Their sole employment was the chase of the numerous wild animals of the forest and prairies: from their continual activity, their frame acquired firmness and strength; but in the islands, where game was rare, and the earth supplied spontaneously an abundant subsistence, the Indians were comparatively feeble, being neither inured to the exertions of the chase nor the labors of cultivation. Generally, the Americans were more remarkable for agility than strength, and are said to have been more like beasts of prey than animals formed for labor. Toil was hateful, and even destructive to them; they broke down and perished under tasks that would not have wearied a European. Experience proves that the physical strength of civilized man exceeds that of the savage. Hand to hand in war, in wrestling, leaping, and even in running for a short distance, this superiority usually appears. In a long journey, however, the endurance of the Indian has no parallel among Europeans. A Red Man has been known to travel nearly eighty miles between sunrise and sunset, without apparent fatigue. He performs a long journey, bearing a heavy burden, and indulging in no refreshment or repose; an enemy can not escape his persevering pursuit, even when mounted on a strong horse.

It has been already observed that the Americans are rarely or never deformed, or defective in their senses, while in their wild state, but in those districts where the restraints of law are felt, an extraordinary number of blind, deaf, dwarfs, and cripples, are observed. The terrible custom among the savage tribes of destroying those children who do not promise a vigorous growth, accounts for this apparent anomaly. Infancy is so long and helpless that it weighs as a heavy burden upon a wandering people; food is scanty and uncertain of supply, hunters and their families must range over extensive countries, and often remove from place to place. Judging that children of feeble or defective formation are not likely to survive the hardships of this errant life, they destroy all such unpromising offspring, or desert them to a slower and more dreadful fate. The lot of all is so hard that few born with any great constitutional defect could long survive, and arrive at maturity.

In the simplicity of savage life, where labor does not oppress, nor luxury enervate the human frame, and where harassing cares are unknown, we are led to expect that disease and suffering should be comparatively rare, and that the functions of nature should not reach the close of their gradual decay till an extreme old age. The decrepit and shriveled forms of many American Indians would seem to indicate that they had long passed the ordinary time of life. But it is difficult or impossible to ascertain their exact age, as the art of counting is generally unknown among them, and they are strangely forgetful and indifferent to the past. Their longevity, however, varies considerably, according to differences of climate and habits of life. These children of nature are naturally free from many of the diseases afflicting civilized nations; they have not even names in their language to distinguish such ills, the offspring of a luxury to them unknown. The diseases of the savage, however, though few, are violent and fatal; the severe hardships of his mode of life produce maladies of a dangerous description. From improvidence they are often reduced for a considerable time to a state bordering on starvation. When successful in the chase, or in the seasons when earth supplies her bounty, they indulge in enormous excesses. These extremes of want and abundance prove equally pernicious, for, although habit and necessity enable them at the time to tolerate such sudden transitions, the constitution is ultimately injured: disorders arising from these causes strike down numbers in the prime and vigor of youth, and are so common that they appear the necessary consequences of their mode of life. The Indian is likewise peculiarly subject to consumption, pleurisy, asthma, and paralysis, engendered by the fatigues and hardships of the chase and war, and constant exposure to extremes of heat and cold. Experience supports the conclusion that the average life is greater among people in an advanced condition of society than among those in a state of nature; among savages, all are affected by circumstances of over-exertion, privation, and excess, but in civilized societies the diseases of luxury only affect the few.