Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians
by George Catlin
(First published in London in 1844)
Since the date of my last Letter, a whole long winter has passed off, which I have whiled away on the Gulf of Mexico and about the shores of Florida and Texas. My health was soon restored by the congenial climate I there found, and my dear wife was my companion the whole way. We visited the different posts, and all that we could find to interest us in these delightful realms, and took steamer from New Orleans to this place, where we arrived but a few days since.
Supposing that the reader by this time may be somewhat tired of following me in my erratic wanderings over these wild regions, I have resolved to sit down awhile before I go further, and open to him my sketch-book, in which I have made a great many entries, as I have been dodging about, and which I have not as yet shewed to him, for want of requisite time and proper opportunity.
In opening this book, the reader will allow me to turn over leaf after leaf, and describe to him, tribe after tribe, and chief after chief, of many of those whom I have visited, without the tediousness of travelling too minutely over the intervening distances; in which I fear I might lose hint as a fellow-traveller, and leave him fagged out by the way-side, before he would see all that I am anxious to show him.
About a year since I made a visit to the
At present but a small tribe, numbering six or 800, the remnant of a once numerous and warlike tribe. They are residing within the state of Illinois, near the south end of Lake Michigan, and living in a poor and miserable condition, although they have one of the finest countries in the world. They have been reduced in numbers by whiskey and small-pox, and the game being destroyed in their country, and having little industry to work, they are exceedingly poor and dependent. In fact, there is very little inducement for them to build houses and cultivate their farms, for they own so large and so fine a tract of country, which is now completely surrounded by civilized settlements, that they know, from experience, they will soon be obliged to sell out their country for a trifle, and move to the West. This system of moving has already commenced with them, and a considerable party have located on a tract of lands offered to them on the West bank of the Missouri river, a little north of Fort Leavenworth. (1)
The Kickapoos have long lived in alliance with the Sacs and Foxes, and speak a language so similar that they seem almost to be of one family. The present chief of this tribe, whose name is Kee-an-ne-kuk (the foremost man), usually called the Shawnee Prophet, is a very shrewd and talented man. When he sat for his portrait, he took his attitude as seen in the picture, which was that of prayer. And I soon learned that he was a very devoted Christian, regularly holding meetings in his tribe, on the sabbath, preaching to them and exhorting them to a belief in the Christian religion, and to an abandonment of the fatal habit of whiskey-drinking, which he strenuously represented as the bane that was to destroy them all, if they did not entirely cease to use it. I went on the sabbath, to bear this eloquent man preach, when he had his people assembled in the woods; and although I could not understand his language, I was surprised and
pleased with the natural ease and emphasis, and gesticulation, which carried their own evidence of the eloquence of his sermon.
I was singularly struck with the noble efforts of this champion of the mere remnant of a poisoned race, so strenuously labouring to rescue the remainder of his people from the deadly bane that has been brought amongst them by enlightened Christians. How far the efforts of this zealous man have succeeded in christianizing, I cannot tell, but it is quite certain that his exemplary and constant endeavours have completely abolished the practice of drinking whiskey in his tribe; which alone is a very praiseworthy achievement, and the first and indispensable step towards all other improvements. I was some time amongst these people, and was exceedingly pleased, and surprised also, to witness their sobriety, and their peaceable conduct; not having seen an instance of drunkenness, or seen or heard of any use made of spirituous liquors whilst I was amongst the tribe.
Ah-ton-we-tuck (the cock turkey), is another Kickapoo of some distinction, and a disciple of the Prophet; in the attitude of prayer also, which he is reading off from characters cut upon a stick that he holds in his bands. It was told to me in the tribe by the Traders (though I am afraid to vouch for the whole truth of it), that while a Methodist preacher was soliciting him for permission to preach in his village, the Prophet refused him the privilege, but secretly took him aside and supported him until he learned from him his creed, and his system of teaching it to others; when he discharged him, and commenced preaching amongst his people himself; pretending to have had an interview with some superhuman mission, or inspired personage; ingeniously resolving, that if there was any honour or emolument, or influence to be gained by the promulgation of it, he might as well have it as another person; and with this view lie commenced preaching and instituted a prayer, which he ingeniously carved on a maple-stick of an inch and a half in breadth, in characters somewhat resembling Chinese letters. These sticks, with the prayers on them, he has introduced into every family of the tribe, and into the hands of every individual; and as he has necessarily the manufacturing of them all, he sells them at his own price; and has thus added lucre to fame, and in two essential and effective ways, augmented his influence in his tribe. Every man, woman and child in the tribe, so far as I saw them, were in the habit of saying their prayer from this stick when going to bed at night, and also when rising in the morning; which was invariably done by placing the fore-finger of the right hand under the upper character, until they repeat a sentence or two, which it suggests to them; and then slipping it under the next, and the next, and so on, to the bottom of the stick, which altogether required about ten minutes, as it was sung over in a sort of a chaunt, to the end.
Many people have called all this an ingenious piece of hypocrisy on the part of the Prophet, and whether it be so or not, I cannot decide; yet one thing I can vouch to be true, that whether his motives and his life be as pure as he pretends or not, his example has done much towards correcting the habits of his people, and has effectually turned their attention from the destructive habits of dissipation and vice, to temperance and industry, in the pursuits of agriculture and the arts. The world may still be unwilling to allow him much credit for this, but I am ready to award him a great deal, who can by his influence thus far arrest the miseries of dissipation and the horrid deformities of vice, in the descending prospects of a nation who have so long had, and still have, the white-skin teachers of vices and dissipation amongst
Besides these two chiefs, I have also painted Ma-shee-na (the elk's horn), Ke-chim-qua (the big bear), warriors, and Ah-tee-wot-o-mee, and She-nah-wee, women of the same tribe, whose portraits are in the Gallery.
These are also the remnant of a once powerful tribe, and reduced by the same causes, to the number of 200. This tribe formerly lived in the State of Indiana, and have been moved with the Piankeshaws, to a position forty or fifty miles south of Fort Leavenworth.
Go-to-kow-pah-a (he who stands by himself), and Wa-pon-je-a (the swan), are two of the most distinguished warriors of the tribe, both with intelligent European heads.
The remains of a tribe who were once very numerous and warlike, but reduced by whiskey and small-pox, to their present number, which is not more than 2700. This tribe may be said to be semi-civilized, inasmuch as they have so long lived in contiguity with white people, with whom their blood is considerably mixed, and whose modes and whose manners they have in many respects copied. From a similarity of language as well as of customs and personal appearance, there is no doubt that they have formerly been a part of the great tribe of Chippeways or Ot-ta-was living neighbours and adjoining to them, on the North. This tribe live within the state of Michigan, and there own a rich and very valuable tract of land; which, like the Kickapoos, they are selling out to the Government, and about to remove to the west bank of the Missouri, where a part of the tribe have already gone and settled, in the vicinity of Fort Leavenworth. Of this tribe I have painted the portraits of On-saw-kie (the Sac), in the attitude of prayer, and Na-pow-sa (the Bear travelling in the night), one of the principal chiefs of the tribe. These people have for some time lived neighbours to, and somewhat under the influence of the Kickapoos; and very many of the tribe have become zealous disciples of the Kickapoo prophet, using 'his prayers most devoutly, and in the manner that I have already described, as is seen in the first of the two last-named portraits.
This is the name of a tribe that formerly occupied, and of course owned, a vast tract of country lying on the East of the Mississippi, and between its banks and the Ohio, and now forming a considerable portion of the great and populous state of Illinois. History furnishes us a full and extraordinary account of the once warlike character and numbers of this tribe; and also of the disastrous career that they have led, from their first acquaintance with civilized neighbours; whose rapacious avarice in grasping for their fine landswith the banes of whiskey and small-pox, added to the unexampled cruelty of neighbouring, hostile tribes, who have struck at them in the days of their adversity, and helped to erase them from existence.
Perhaps there has been no other tribe on the Continent of equal power with the Kas-kas-ki-as, that have so suddenly sank down to complete annihilation and disappeared. The remnant of this tribe have long since merged into the tribe of Peorias of Illinois; and it is doubtful whether one dozen of them are now existing. With the very few remnants of this tribe will die in a few years a beautiful language, entirely distinct from all others about it, unless some enthusiastic person may preserve it from the lips of those few who are yet able to speak it. Of this tribe I painted Kee-mon-saw (the little chief), half-civilized, and, I should think, half-breed; and Wah-pe-seh-see, a very aged woman, mother of the same.
This young man is chief of the tribe; and I was told by one of the Traders, that his mother and his son, were his only subjects! Whether this be true or not, I cannot positively say, though I can assert with safety that there are but a very few of them left, and that those, like all of the last of tribes, will soon die of dissipation or broken hearts.
The name of another tribe inhabiting a part of the state of Illinois; and, like the above tribes, but a remnant and civilized (or cicatrized, to speak more correctly). This tribe number about 200, and are, like most of the other remnants of tribes on the frontiers, under contract to move to the West of the Missouri. Of this tribe I painted the portrait of Pah-me-cow-e-tah (the man who tracks); and Kee-mo-ra-ni-a (no English). These are said to be the most influential men in the tribe, and both were very curiously and well dressed, in articles of civilized manufacture.
The remnant of another tribe, of the states of Illinois and Indiana, who have also recently sold out their country to Government, and are under contract to move to the West of the Missouri, in the vicinity of Fort Leavenworth. Ni-a-co-mo (to fix with the foot), a brave of distinction; and Men-son-se-ah (the left band), a fierce-looking and very distinguished warrior, with a stone-hatchet in his hand, are fair specimens of this reduced and enfeebled tribe, which do not number more than 170 persons at this time.
The very sound of this name has carried terror wherever it has been heard in the Indian wilderness; and it has travelled and been known, as well as the people, over a very great part of the Continent. This tribe originally occupied a great part of the Eastern border of Pennsylvania, and great part of the states of New Jersey and Delaware. No other tribe on the Continent has been so much moved and jostled about by civilized invasions; and none have retreated so far, or fought their way so desperately, as they have honourably and bravely contended for every foot of the ground they have passed over. From the banks of the Delaware to the lovely Susquehana, and my native valley, and to the base of and over, the Alleghany mountains, to the Ohio riverto the Illinois and the Mississippi, and at last to the West of the Missouri, they have been moved by Treaties after Treaties with the Government, who have now assigned to the mere handful of them that are left, a tract of land, as has been done a dozen times before, in fee simple, for ever! In every move the poor fellows have made, they have been thrust against their wills from the graves of their fathers and their children; and planted as they now are, on the borders of new enemies, where their first occupation has been to take up their weapons in self-defence, and fight for the ground they have been planted on. There is no tribe, perhaps, amongst which greater and more continued exertions have been made for their conversion to Christianity; and that ever since the zealous efforts of the Moravian missionaries, who first began with them; nor any, amongst whom those pious and zealous efforts have been squandered more in vain; which has, probably, been owing to the bad faith with which they have so often and so continually been treated by white people, which has excited prejudices that have stood in the way of their mental improvement.
This scattered and reduced tribe, which once contained some 10 or 15,000, numbers at this time but 800; and the greater part of them have been for the fifty or sixty years past, residing in Ohio and Indiana. In these states, their reservations became surrounded by white people, whom they dislike for neighbours, and their lands too valuable for Indiansand the certain consequence has been, that they have sold out and taken lands West of the Mississippi; on to which they have moved, and on which it is, and always will be, almost impossible to find them, owing to their desperate disposition for roaming about, indulging in the chase, and in wars with their enemies.
The wild frontier on which they are now placed, affords them so fine an opportunity to indulge both of these propensities, that they will be continually wandering in little and desperate parties over the vast buffalo plains, and exposed to their enemies, till at last the new country, which is given to them, in "fee simple, for ever," and which is destitute of game, will be deserted, and they, like the most of the removed remnants of tribes, will be destroyed; and the faith of the Government well preserved, which has offered this as their last move, and these lands as theirs in fee simple, for ever.
In my travels on the Upper Missouri, and in the Rocky Mountains, I learned to my utter astonishment, that little parties of these adventurous myrmidons, of only six or eight in numbers, had visited those remote tribes, at 2000 miles distance; and in several instances, after having cajoled a whole tribehaving been feasted in their villageshaving solemnized the articles of everlasting peace with them, and received many presents at their hands, and taken affectionate leave, have brought away six or eight scalps with them; and nevertheless, braved their way, and defended themselves as they retreated in safety out of their enemies' country, and through the regions of other hostile tribes, where they managed to receive the same honours, and come off with similar trophies.
Amongst this tribe there are some renowned chiefs, whose lives, if correctly written, would be matter of the most extraordinary kind for the reading world; and of which, it may be in my power at some future time, to give a more detailed account. In this volume will be seen the portrait of one of the leading chiefs of the tribe, whose name is Ni-co-man (the answer), with his bow and arrows in his hand. Non-on-da-gon, with a silver ring in his nose, is another of the chiefs of distinction, whose history I admired very much, and whom, from his very gentlemanly attentions to me, I became much attached to. In both of these instances, their dresses were principally of stuffs of civilized manufacture; and their beads were bound with vari-coloured handkerchiefs or shawls, which were tastefully put on like a Turkish turban.
MO-HEE-CON-NEUHS, or MOHEGANS (THE GOOD CANOEMEN).
There are 400 of this once powerful and still famous tribe, residing near Green Bay, on a rich tract of land given to them by the Government, in the territory of Wisconsin, near Winnebago lakeon which they are living very comfortably; having brought with them from their former country, in the state of Massachusetts, a knowledge of agriculture, which they had there effectually learned and practiced.
This tribe are the remains, and all that are left, of the once powerful and celebrated tribe of Pequots of Massachusetts. History tells us, that in their wars and dissensions with the whites, a considerable portion of the tribe moved off under the command of a rival chief, and established a separate tribe or band, and took the name of Mo-hee-cou-neuhs, which they have preserved until the present day; the rest of the tribe having long since been extinct.
The chief of this tribe, Ee-tow-o-kaum (both sides of the river), which I have painted at full length, with a psalm-book in one hand, and a cane in the other, is a very shrewd and intelligent man, and a professed, and I think, sincere Christian. Waun-naw-con (the dish), John W. Quinney, in civilized dress, is a civilized Indian, well-educatedspeaking good Englishis a Baptist missionary preacher, and a very plausible and eloquent speaker.
The remnant of a numerous tribe that have been destroyed by wars with the whitesby whiskey and small-pox, numbering at present but five or six hundred, and living in the most miserable poverty, on their reserve in the state of New York, near Utica and the banks of the Mohawk river. This tribe was one of the confederacy, called the Six Nations, and much distinguished in the early history of New York. The present chief is known by the name of Bread. He is a shrewd and talented man, well educated,speaking good Englishis handsome, and a polite and gentlemanly man in his deportment.
Another of the tribes in the confederacy of the Six Nations, once numerous, but reduced at present to the number of 500. This little tribe are living on their reserve, a fine tract of land, near Buffalo, in the state of New York, and surrounded by civilized settlements. Many of them are good farmers, raising abundant and fine crops.
The chief of the tribe is a very dignified man, by the name of Cu-sick, and his son, of the same name, whom I have painted, is a very talented manhas been educated for the pulpit in some one of our public institutions, and is now a Baptist preacher, and I am told a very eloquent speaker.
One thousand two hundred in numbers at present, living on their reserve near Buffalo, and within a few miles of Niagara Falls, in the state of New York. This tribe formerly lived on the banks of the Seneca and Cayuga lakes; but, like all the other tribes who have stood in the way of the "march of civilization," have repeatedly bargained away their country, and removed to the West; which easily accounts for the origin of the familiar phrase that is used amongst them, that "they are going to the setting sun."
This tribe, when first known to the civilized world, contained some eight or ten thousand; and from their position in the centre of the state of New York, held an important place in its history. The Senecas were one of the most numerous and effective tribes, constituting the compact called the "Six Nations;" which was a confederacy formed by six tribes, who joined in a league as an effective mode of gaining strength, and preserving themselves by combined efforts which would be sufficiently strong to withstand the assaults of neighbouring tribes, or to resist the incursions of white people in their country. This confederacy consisted of the Senecas, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Mohawks, and Tuskaroras; and until the innovations of white people, with their destructive engines of warwith whiskey and small-pox, they held their sway in the country, carrying victory, and consequently terror and dismay, wherever they warred. Their war-parties were fearlessly sent into Connecticut and Massachusetts, to Virginia, and even to the Carolinas, and victory everywhere crowned their efforts. Their combined strength, however, in all its might, poor fellows, was not enough to withstand the siege of their insidious foesa destroying-flood that has risen and advanced, like a flood-tide upon them, and covered their country; has broken up their strongholds, has driven them from land to land; and in their retreat, has drowned the most of them in its waves.
The Senecas are the most numerous remnant of this compact; and have at their head an aged and very distinguished chief, familiarly known throughout the United States, by the name of Red Jacket. I painted this portrait from the life, in the costume in which he is represented; and indulged him also, in the wish he expressed, "that he might be seen standing on the Table Rock, at the Falls of Niagara; about which place he thought his spirit would linger after he was dead."
Good Hunter, and Hard Hickory, are fair specimens of the warriors of this tribe or rather hunters; or perhaps, still more correctly speaking, farmers; for the Senecas have had no battles to fight lately, and very little game to kill, except squirrels and pheasants; and their hands are turned to the plough, having become, most of them, tolerable farmers; raising the necessaries, and many of the luxuries of life, from the soil.
Of this interesting tribe, the visitors to my Gallery will find several other portraits and paintings of their customs; and in books that have been written, and are being compiled, a much more able and faithful account than I can give in an epistle of this kind.
The fame as well as the face of Red Jacket, is generally familiar to the citizens of the United States and the Canadas; and for the information of those who have not known him, I will briefly say, that he has been for many years the head chief of the scattered remnants of that once powerful compact, the Six Nations; a part of whom reside on their reservations in the vicinity of the Senecas, amounting perhaps in all, to about four thousand, and owning some two hundred thousand acres of fine lands. Of this Confederacy, the Mohawks and Cayugas, chiefly emigrated to Canada, some fifty years ago, leaving the Senecas, the Tuskaroras, Oneidas, and Onondagas in the state of New York, on fine tracts of lands, completely surrounded with white population; who by industry and enterprize, are making the Indian lands too valuable to be long in their possession, who will no doubt be induced to sell out to the Government, or, in other words, to exchange them for lands West of the Mississippi, where it is the avowed intention of the Government to remove all the border tribes. (2)
Red Jacket has been reputed one of the greatest orators of his day; and, no doubt, more distinguished for his eloquence and his influence in council, than as a warrior, in which character I think history has not said much of him. This may be owing, in a great measure, to the fact that the wars of his nation were chiefly fought before his fighting days; and that the greater part of his life and his talents have been spent with his tribe, during its downfall; where, instead of the horrors of Indian ways, they have had a more fatal and destructive enemy to encounter, in the insidious encroachments of pale faces, which he has, been for many years exerting his eloquence and all his talents to resist. Poor old chiefnot all the eloquence of Cicero and Demosthenes would be able to avert the calamity, that awaits his declining nationto resist the despoiling hand of mercenary white man, that opens and spreads liberally, but to entrap the unwary and ignorant within its withering grasp.
This talented old man has for many years past, strenuously remonstrated both to the Governor of New York, and the President of the United States, against the continual encroachments of white people; whom he represented as using every endeavour to wrest from them their landsto destroy their game, introducing vices of a horrible character, and unknown to his people by nature! and most vehemently of all, has he continually remonstrated against the preaching of missionaries in his tribe; alleging, that the "black coats" (as he calls the clergymen), did more mischief than good in his tribe, by creating doubts and dissensions amongst his people! which are destructive of his peace, and dangerous to the success, and even existence of his tribe. Like many other great men who endeavour to soothe broken and painful feelings, by the kindness of the bottle, he has long since taken up whiskey-drinking to excess; and much of his time, 'lies drunk in his cabin, or under the corner of a fence, or wherever else its kindness urges the necessity of his dropping his helpless body and limbs, to indulge in the delightful spell. He is as great a drunkard as some of our most distinguished law-givers and law-makers; and yet ten times more culpable, as he has little to do in life, and wields the destinies of a nation in his hands! (3)
There are no better people to be found, than the Seneca Indiansnone that I know of that are by Nature more talented and ingenious: nor any that would be found to be better neighbours, if the arts and abuses of white men and whiskey, could be kept away from them. They have mostly laid down their hunting habits, and become efficient farmers, raising fine crops of corn, and a great abundance of hogs, cattle and horses, and other necessaries and luxuries of life.
One of the most numerous and powerful tribes that ever existed in the Northern regions of our country, and now one of the most completely annihilated. This tribe occupied a vast tract of country on the River St. Lawrence, between its banks and Lake Champlain; and at times, by conquest, actually over-run the whole country, from that to the shores of Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan. But by their continual wars with the French, English, and Indians, and dissipation and disease, they have been almost entirely annihilated. The few remnants of them have long since merged into other tribes, and been mostly lost sight of. (4) Of this tribe I have painted but one, Not-o-way (the thinker). This was an excellent man, and was handsomely dressed for his picture. I had much conversation with him, and became very much attached to him. He seemed to be quite ignorant of the early history of his tribe, as well as of the position and condition of its few scattered remnants, who are yet in existence. He told me, however, that he had always learned that the Iroquois had conquered nearly all the world; but the Great Spirit being offended at the great slaughters by his favourite people, resolved to punish them; and he sent a dreadful disease amongst them, that carried the most of them off, and all the rest that could be found, were killed by their enemiesthat though he was an Iroquois, which he was proud to acknowledge to me, as I was to "make him live after he was dead;" he wished it to be generally thought, that he was a Chippeway, that he might live as long as the Great Spirit had wished it when he made him. (5)
(1) Since the above was written, the whole of this tribe have been removed beyond the Missouri, having sold out their lands in the state of Illinois to the Government.
(2) Since the above was written, the Senecas and all the other remnants of the Six Nations residing in the state of New York, have agreed in Treaties with the United States to remove to tracts of country assigned them, West of the Mississippi, twelve hundred miles from their reservations in the state of New York.
(3) This celebrated chief died several years since, in his village near Buffalo; and since his death our famous comedian, Mr. Placide, has erected a handsome and appropriate monument over his grave; and I am pleased also to learn, that my friend Wm. L. Stone, Esq., is building him a still more lasting one in history, which he, is compiling, of the life of this extraordinary man, to an early perusal of which, I can confidently refer the world for much curious and valuable information.
(4) The whole of the Six Nations have been by some writers denominated Iroquoishow correct this may be, I am not quite able to say; one thing is certain, that is, that the Iroquois tribe did not all belong to that Confederacy, their original country was on the shores of the St. Lawrence; and, although one branch of their nation, the Mohawks, formed apart, and the most effective portion of that compact, yet the other members of it spoke different languages; and a great part of the Iroquois moved their settlements further North and East, instead of joining in the continual wars carried on by the Six Nations. It is of this part of the tribe that I am speaking, when I mention them as nearly extinct: and it is from this branch of the family that I got the portrait, which I have introduced above.
(5) Since the above Letter was written, all the tribes and remnants of tribes mentioned in it have been removed by the Government, to lands West of the Mississippi and Missouri, given to them, in addition to considerable annuities, in consideration for the immense tracts of country they have left on the frontier, and within the States. The present positions of these tribes, and their relative locations to the civilized frontier and the wild, unjostled tribes, can be seen on a map in the beginning of this Volume. There are also other tribes there laid down, who have also been removed by Treaty stipulations, in the same way, which are treated of in subsequent Letters. The Government, under General Jackson, strenuously set forth and carried out, the policy of removing all the semi-civilized and border Indians, to a country West of the Mississippi; and although the project had many violent opponents, yet there were very many strong reasons in favour of it, and the thing has been at last done; and a few years will decide, by the best of all arguments, whether the policy was a good one or not. I may have occasion to say more on this subject hereafter; and in the mean time recommend the reader to examine their relative positions, and contemplate their prospects between their mortal foes on the West, and their acquisitive friends following them up from the East.