By the treaty with Spain, of 1819, the Territory of the United States is extended from the Atlantic, to the Pacific Ocean j and a host of Indian tribes, in consequence, has been brought within our national limits. Many of these tribes, in point of numbers, rank among the largest in our country. These tribes are shut up within their present continually narrowing limits. They can migrate neither to the north, nor to the south; neither to the east, nor to the west. The cold and barren region, spreading from our northern boundary, in lat. 49 north, to the Frozen Ocean, has already a population, as large as its scanty productions can support. Other tribes possess the narrow strip of territory, between our southern borders, west of the Mississippi, and the Spanish settlements. The rapid advance of the white population presses them on the east; and the great Pacific Ocean hems them in on the west.
“Where the white man puts down his foot, he never takes it up again,” is a shrewd and correct remark of an Indian Chief. The hunting grounds of the Indians on our frontiers are explored in all directions, by enterprising white people. Their best lands are selected, settled, and at length, by treaty purchased. Their game is either wholly destroyed, or so diminished, as not to yield an adequate support. The poor Indians, thus deprived of their accustomed means of subsistence, and of what, in their own view, can alone render them respectable, as well as comfortable, are constrained to leave their homes, their goodly lands, and the sepulchers of their fathers, and either to go back into new and less valuable wildernesses, and to mingle with other tribes, dependent on their hospitality for a meager support; or, without the common aids of education, to change at once all their habits and modes of life; to remain on a pittance of the lands they once owned, which they know not how to cultivate, and to which they have not a complete title: In these circumstances they become insulated among those who despise them as an inferior race, fit companions of those only, who have the capacity and the disposition to corrupt them. In this degraded, most disconsolate, and heart sinking of all situations in which man can be placed, they are left miserably to waste away for a few generations, and then to become extinct forever! This is no fancied picture. In a few years it will be sad reality, unless we change our policy towards them; unless effectual measures be taken to bring them over this awful gulf, to the solid and safe ground of civilization. How many tribes, once numerous and respectable, have in succession perished, in the manner described, from the fair and productive territories, now possessed by, and giving support to ten millions of people! 1
“I hear too the voice of the savage, sounding from the bosom of the trackless forest. And there is in that cry a wild and native eloquence, “You have stripped us of our hunting ground, all in life that we held dear; you have corrupted our morals; our tribes, already incalculably diminished, have nothing before them but the dreary idea of being swallowed up, unless it be the more fearful apprehension of perishing forever in our sins. Once we were the heirs of your soil; we now only ask to die the heirs of that salvation, which is revealed to you in your bibles.” A cry like this has been uttered and is heard. Already the heralds of salvation have gone to look up the remnants of their depopulated tribes, and point them to a Savior. Their sun is setting in the west, and we should give evidence that we had their unpitying nature, as well as their soil, were we willing to see it go down in total darkness. If the few that remain may live forever it alleviates the retrospect of their wrongs, and creates one luminous spot in the Egyptian cloud that hangs over the place of their fathers’ sepulchers. I would give any price for their forgiveness and their blessing; and it cheers my heart, that my country is beginning to pay the long arrears which are due to that injured people.” 2
- This view of the state of the Indians, reminds me of a pertinent and eloquent passage in a discourse I have lately read, which I am sure will interest, and I will hope benefit, those who may read it.
- Sermon of Rev. Daniel Clark, Amherst, Massachusetts.