Western Characters - or Types of Border Life in the Western States
by J. L. McConnel
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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853,


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Southern District of New York.

STEREOTYPED BY C. C. SAVAGE, 13 Chambers Street, N. Y.


Attempts to delineate local character are always liable to misconstruction; for, the more truthful the sketch, the greater is the number of persons, to whom resemblance may be discovered; and thus, while in fact only describing the characteristics of a class, authors are frequently subjected, very unjustly, to the imputation of having invaded the privacy of individuals. Particularly is this so, when the class is idealized, and an imaginary type is taken, as the representative of the species.

I deem it proper, therefore, to say in advance, that no attempt has been made in the following pages, to portray any individual; and that—although I hope I have not been so unsuccessful, as to paint pictures which have no originals—if there be a portrait in any sketch, it consists, not in the likeness of the picture to the person, but of both to the type.

As originally projected, the book would have borne this explanation upon its face; but the circumstances which have reduced its dimensions, and changed its plan, have also rendered necessary a disclaimer, which would, otherwise, have been superfluous.

* * * * *

One or two of the sketches might have been made more complete had I been fortunate enough to meet with certain late publications, in time to use them. Such is the elaborate work of Mr. Schoolcraft upon Indian History and Character; and such, also, is that of Mr. Shea, upon the voyages and labors of Marquette—a book whose careful accuracy, clear style, and lucid statement, might have been of much service in writing the sketch entitled "The Voyageur." Unfortunately, however, I saw neither of these admirable publications, until my work had assumed its present shape—a fact which I regret as much for my reader's sake as my own.

J. L. McC. July 15, 1853.















—"Our Mississippi, rolling proudly on, Would sweep them from its path, or swallow up, Like Aaron's rod, those streams of fame and song."


The valley of a river like the channel of a man's career, does not always bear proportion to the magnitude or volume of the current, which flows through it. Mountains, forests, deserts, physical barriers to the former—and the obstacles of prejudice, and accidents of birth and education, moral barriers to the latter—limit, modify, and impair the usefulness of each. A river thus confined, an intellect thus hampered, may be noisy, fretful, turbulent, but, in the contemplation, there is ever a feeling of the incongruity between the purpose and the power; and it is only when the valley is extended, the field of effort open, that we can avoid the impression of energy wasted, and strength frittered away. The great intellect, whose scope is not confined by ancient landmarks, or old prejudices, is thus typified by the broad, deep river, whose branches penetrate the Earth on every hand, and add to the current the tributaries of all climes. In this view, how noble an object is the Mississippi!

In extent, fertility, variety of scenery, and diversity of climate, its valley surpasses any other in the world. It is the great aorta of the continent, and receives a score of tributary rivers, the least of which is larger than the vaunted streams of mighty empires. It might furnish natural boundaries to all Europe, and yet leave, for every country, a river greater than the Seine. It discharges, in one year, more water than has issued from the Tiber in five centuries; it swallows up near fifty nameless rivers longer than the Thames; the addition of the waters of the Danube would not swell it half a fathom; and in a single bend, the navies of the world might safely ride at anchor, five hundred miles from sea.

It washes the shores of twelve powerful states, and between its arms lies space enough for twenty more. The rains which fall upon the Alleghenies, and the snows that shroud the slopes and cap the summits of the Rocky mountains, are borne upon its bosom, to the regions of perpetual summer, and poured into the sea, more than fifteen hundred leagues from their sources. It has formed a larger tract of land, by the deposits of its inundations, than is contained in Great Britain and Ireland; and every year it roots up and bears away more trees, than there are in the Black Forest. At a speed unknown to any other great river, it rolls a volume, in whose depths the cathedral of St. Paul's might be sunk out of sight; and five hundred leagues from its mouth, it is wider than at thirty.

It annually bears away more acres than it would require to make a German principality, engulfing more than the revenues of many a petty kingdom. Beneath its turbid waters lie argosies of wealth, and floating palaces, among whose gilded halls and rich saloons are sporting slimy creatures; below your very feet, as you sail along its current, are resting in its bed, half buried in the sand, the bodies of bold men and tender maidens; and their imploring hands are raised toward Heaven, and the world which floats, unheeding, on the surface. There lies, entombed, the son whose mother knows not of his death; and there the husband, for whose footstep, even yet, the wife is listening—here, the mother with her infant still clasped fondly to her breast; and here, united in their lives, not separated in their death, lie, side by side, the bride and bridegroom of a day;—and, hiding the dread secrets from all human ken, the mighty and remorseless river passes onward, like the stream of human life, toward "the land of dreams and shadows!"

To the contemplative mind, there is, perhaps, no part of the creation, in which may not be found the seed of much reflection; but of all the grand features of the earth's surface, next to a lofty mountain, that which impresses us most deeply is a great river. Its pauseless flow, the stern momentum of its current—its remorseless coldness to all human hopes and fears—the secrets which lie buried underneath its waters, and the myriad purposes of those it bears upon its bosom—are all so clearly typical of Time. The waters will not pause, though dreadful battles may be fought upon their shores—as Time will steadily march forward, though the fate of nations hang upon the conflict. The moments fly as swiftly, while a mighty king is breathing out his life, as if he were a lowly peasant; and the current flows as coldly on, while men are struggling in the eddies, as if each drowning wretch were but a floating weed. Time gives no warning of the hidden dangers on which haughty conquerors are rushing, as the perils of the waters are revealed but in the crashing of the wreck.

But the parallel does not stop here. The sources of the Mississippi—were it even possible that they should ever be otherwise—are still unknown to man. Like the stream of history, its head-springs are in the regions of fable—in the twilight of remote latitudes; and it is only after it has approached us, and assumed a definite channel, that we are able to determine which is the authentic stream. It flows from the country of the savage, toward that of civilization; and like the gradations of improvement among men, are the thickening fields and growing cultivation, which define the periods of its course. Near its mouth, it has reached the culmination of refinement—its last ripe fruit, a crowded city; and, beyond this, there lies nothing but a brief journey, and a plunge into the gulf of Eternity!

Thus, an emblem of the stream of history, it is still more like a march along the highway of a single human life. As the sinless thoughts of smiling childhood are the little rivulets, which afterward become the mighty river; like the infant, airy, volatile, and beautiful—sparkling as the dimpled face of innocence—a faithful reflex of the lights and shadows of existence; and revealing, through the limpid wave, the golden sands which lie beneath. Anon, the errant channels are united in one current—life assumes a purpose, a direction—but the waters are yet pure, and mirror on their face the thousand forms and flashing colors of Creation's beauty—as happy boyhood, rapidly perceptive of all loveliness, gives forth, in radiant smiles, the glad impressions of unfaded youth.

Yet sorrow cometh even to the happiest. Misfortune is as stern a leveller as Death; and early youth, with all its noble aspirations, gorgeous visions, never to be realized, must often plunge, like the placid river over a foaming cataract, down the precipice of affliction—even while its current, though nearing the abyss, flow softly as "the waters of Shiloah." It may be the death of a mother, whom the bereaved half deemed immortal—some disappointment, like the falsehood of one dearly loved—some rude shock, as the discovery of a day-dream's hollowness; happy, thrice happy! if it be but one of these, and not the descent from innocence to sin!

But life rolls on, as does the river, though its wave no longer flows in placid beauty, nor reveals the hidden things beneath. The ripples are now whirling eddies, and a hundred angry currents chafe along the rocks, as thought and feeling fret against the world, and waste their strength in vain repining or impatient irritation. Tranquillity returns no more; and though the waters seem not turbid, there is a shadow in their depths—their transparency is lost.

Tributaries, great and small, flow in—accessions of experience to the man, of weight and volume to the river; and, with force augmented, each rolls on its current toward the ocean. A character, a purpose, is imparted to the life, as to the stream, and usefulness becomes an element of being. The river is a chain which links remotest latitudes, as through the social man relations are established, binding alien hearts: the spark of thought and feeling, like the fluid of the magnet, brings together distant moral zones.

On it rushes—through the rapids, where the life receives an impulse—driven forward—haply downward—among rocks and dangerous channels, by the motives of ambition, by the fierce desire of wealth, or by the goad of want! But soon the mad career abates, for the first effect of haste is agitation, and the master-spell of power is calmness. Happy are they, who learn this lesson early—for, thence, the current onward flows, a tranquil, noiseless, but resistless, tide. Manhood, steady and mature, with its resolute but quiet thoughts, its deep, unwavering purposes, and, more than all, its firm, profound affections, is passing thus, between the shores of Time—not only working for itself a channel broad and clear, but bearing on its bosom, toward Eternity, uncounted wealth of hopes.

But in the middle of its course, its character is wholly changed; a flood pours in, whose waters hold, suspended, all impurities. A struggle, brief but turbulent, ensues: the limpid wave of youth is swallowed up. Some great success has been achieved; unholy passions are evoked, and will not be allayed; thenceforward there is no relenting; and, though the world—nay! Heaven itself!—pour in, along its course, broad tributaries of reclaiming purity, the cloud upon the waters can never be dispelled. The marl and dross of Earth, impalpable, but visibly corrupting, pervade the very nature; and only when the current ceases, will its primitive transparency return.

Still it hurries onward, with velocity augmented, as it nears its term. Yet its breadth is not increased; the earth suspended in its waters, like the turbid passions of the human soul, prevents expansion;[1] for, in man's career through time, the heart grows wider only in the pure.

Along the base of cliffs and highlands—through the deep alluvions of countless ages—among stately forests and across extended plains, it flows without cessation. Beyond full manhood, character may change no more—as, below its mighty tributaries, the river is unaltered. Its full development is reached among rich plantations, waving fields, and swarming cities; while, but the journey of a day beyond, it rushes into Eternity, leaving a melancholy record, as it mingles with the waters of the great gulf, even upon the face of Oblivion.

—Within the valley of this river, time will see a population of two hundred millions; and here will be the seat of the most colossal power Earth has yet contained. The heterogeneous character of the people is of no consequence: still less, the storms of dissension, which now and then arise, to affright the timid and faithless. The waters of all latitudes could not be blended in one element, and purified, without the tempests and cross-currents, which lash the ocean into fury. Nor would a stagnant calmness, blind attachment to the limited horizon of a homestead, or the absence of all irritation or attrition, ever make one people of the emigrants from every clime.

And, when this nation shall have become thoroughly homogeneous—when the world shall recognise the race, and, above this, the power of the race—will there be no interest in tracing through the mists of many generations, the outlines of that foundation on which is built the mighty fabric? Even the infirmities and vices of the men who piled the first stones of great empires, are chronicled in history as facts deserving record. The portrait of an ancient hero is a treasure beyond value, even though the features be but conjectural. How much more precious would be a faithful portrait of his character, in which the features should be his salient traits—the expression, outline, and complexion of his nature!

To furnish a series of such portraits—embracing a few of the earlier characters, whose "mark" is traceable in the growing civilization of the West and South—is the design of the present work. The reader will observe that its logic is not the selection of actual, but of ideal, individuals, each representing a class; and that, although it is arranged chronologically, the periods are not historical, but characteristic. The design, then, is double; first, to select a class, which indicates a certain stage of social or political advancement; and, second, to present a picture of an imaginary individual, who combines the prominent traits, belonging to the class thus chosen.

The series halts, beyond the Rubicon of contemporaneous portraiture, for very obvious reasons; but there are still in existence abundant means of verifying, or correcting, every sketch. I have endeavored to give the consciousness of this fact its full weight—to resist the temptation (which, I must admit, was sometimes strong) to touch the borders of satire; and, in conclusion, I can only hope that these wishes, with an earnest effort at fidelity, have enabled me to present truthful pictures.


[1] "Were it a clear stream, it would soon scoop itself out a channel from bluff to bluff."—Flint's Geography, p. 103.



"In the same beaten channel still have run The blessed streams of human sympathy; And, though I know this ever hath been done, The why and wherefore, I could never see!"


In a work which professes to trace, even indistinctly, the reclamation of a country from a state of barbarism, some notice of that from which it was reclaimed is, of course, necessary; and an attempt to distinguish the successive periods, each by its representative character, determines the logic of such notice. Were we as well acquainted with the gradations of Indian advancement—for such unquestionably, there were—as we are with those of the civilized man, we should be able to distinguish eras and periods, so as to represent them, each by its separate ideal. But civilization and barbarism are comparative terms; and, though it is difficult, perhaps impossible, precisely to fix the point at which one ceases and the other begins, yet, within that limit, we must consider barbarism as one period. Of this period, in our plan, the Indian, without reference to distinction of tribe, or variation in degree of advancement, is the representative. As all triangles agree in certain properties, though widely different in others, so all Indians are alike in certain characteristics, though differing, almost radically, each from every other: But, as the points of coincidence in triangles are those which determine the class, and the differences only indicate subspecies, so the similar characteristics in the Indian, are those which distinguish the species, and the variations of character are, at most, only tribal limits. An Indian who should combine all the equivalent traits, without any of the inequalities, would, therefore, be the pure ideal of his race. And his composition should include the evil as well as the good; for a portrait of the savage, which should represent him as only generous and brave, would be as far from a complete ideal, as one which should display only his cruelty and cunning.

My object in this article is, therefore, to combine as many as possible—or as many as are necessary—of the general characteristics of the Indian, both good and bad—so as to give a fair view of the character, according to the principle intimated above. And I may, perhaps without impropriety, here state, that this may be taken as the key to all the sketches which are to follow. It is quite probable that many examples of each class treated, might be found, who are exceptions to the rules stated, in almost every particular; and it is possible, that no one, of any class treated, combined all the characteristics elaborated. Excepting when historical facts are related, or well-authenticated legends worked in, my object is not to give portraits of individuals, however prominent. As was hinted above—the logic of the book points only to the ideal of each class.

And this view of the subject excludes all those discussions, which have so long puzzled philosophers, about the origin of the race—our business is with the question What is he? rather than with the inquiry, Whence did he come? The shortest argument, however—and, if the assumption be admitted, the most conclusive—is that, which assumes the literal truth of the Mosaic account of the creation of man; for from this it directly follows, that the aboriginal races are descendants of Asiatic emigrants; and the minor questions, as to the route they followed—whether across the Pacific, or by Behring's strait—are merely subjects of curious speculation, or still more curious research. And this hypothesis is quite consistent with the evidence drawn from Indian languages, customs, and physical developments. Even the arguments against the theory, drawn from differences in these particulars among the tribes, lose their force, when we come to consider that the same, if not wider differences, are found among other races, indisputably of a single stock. These things may be satisfactorily accounted for, by the same circumstances in the one case, as in the other—by political and local situation, by climate, and unequal progress. Thus, the Indian languages, says Prescott, in his "Conquest of Mexico," "present the strange anomaly of differing as widely in etymology, as they agree in organization;" but a key to the solution of the problem, is found in the latter part of the same sentence: "and, on the other hand," he continues,[2] "while they bear some slight affinity to the languages of the Old World, in the former particular, they have no resemblance to them whatever, in the latter." This is as much as if he had said, that the incidents to the lives of American Indians, are totally different to those of the nations of the Old World: and these incidents are precisely the circumstances, which are likely to affect organization, more than etymology. And the difficulty growing out of their differences among themselves, in the latter, is surmounted by the fact, that there is a sufficient general resemblance among them all, to found a comparison with "the languages of the Old World." I believe, a parallel course of argument would clear away all other objections to the theory.[3]

But, as has been said, the scope of our work includes none of these discussions; and we shall, therefore, pass to the Indian character, abstracted from all antecedents. That this has been, and is, much misunderstood, is the first thought which occurs to one who has an opportunity personally to observe the savage. Nor is it justly a matter of surprise. The native of this continent has been the subject of curious and unsatisfactory speculation, since the discovery of the country by Columbus: by the very want of those things, which constitute the attraction of other nations, he became at once, and has continued, the object of a mysterious interest. The absence of dates and facts, to mark the course of his migration, remits us to conjecture, or the scarcely more reliable resource of tradition—the want of history has made him a character of romance. The mere name of Indian gives the impression of a shadowy image, looming, dim but gigantic, through a darkness which nothing else can penetrate. This mystery not only interests, but also disarms, the mind; and we are apt to see, in the character, around which it hovers, only those qualities which give depth to the attraction. The creations of poetry and romance are usually extremes; and they are, perhaps, necessarily so, when the nature of the subject furnishes no standard, by which to temper the conception.

"The efforts of a poet's imagination are, more or less, under the control of his opinions:" but opinions of men are founded upon their history; and there is, properly, no historical Indian character. The consequence has been, that poets and novelists have constructed their savage personages according to a hypothetical standard, of either the virtues or vices, belonging, potentially, to the savage state. The same rule, applied to portraiture of civilized men, would at once be declared false and pernicious; and the only reason why it is not equally so, in its application to the Indian, is, because the separation between him and us is so broad, that our conceptions of his character can exert little or no influence upon our intercourse with mankind.

Sympathy for what are called the Indian's misfortunes, has, also, induced the class of writers, from whom, almost exclusively, our notions of his character are derived, to represent him in his most genial phases, and even to palliate his most ferocious acts, by reference to the injustice and oppression, of which he has been the victim. If we were to receive the authority of these writers, we should conclude that the native was not a savage, at all, until the landing of the whites; and, instead of ascribing his atrocities to the state of barbarism in which he lived—thus indicating their only valid apology—we should degrade both the white and the red men, by attributing to the former all imaginable vices, and, to the latter, a peculiar aptitude in acquiring them. These mistakes are natural and excusable—as the man who kills another in self-defence is justifiable; but the Indian character is not the less misconceived, just as the man slain is not less dead, than if malice had existed in both cases. To praise one above his merits, is as fatal to his consideration, as decidedly to disparage him. In either case, however, there is a chance that a just opinion may be formed; but, when both extremes are asserted with equal confidence, the mind is confused, and can settle upon nothing. The latter is precisely the condition of the Indian; and it is with a view of correcting such impressions, that this article is written.

The American Indian, then, is the ideal of a savage—no more, no less: and I call him the ideal, because he displays all those qualities, which the history of the human race authorizes us to infer, as the characteristics of an unenlightened people, for many ages isolated from the rest of mankind.[4] He differs, in many particulars, from the other barbarians of the world; but the broadest distinction lies in this completeness of his savage character. The peculiarities of the country in which their lives assume their direction, its climate, isolation; or connection with the world—all these things contribute to modify the aspects presented by native races. In such points as are liable to modification by these causes, the American differs from every other savage; and without entering into an elaborate comparison of circumstances—for which we have neither the material, the inclination, nor the space—it may be proper briefly to consider one of these causes, and endeavor to trace its effects in the Indian's moral physiognomy.

The state of this continent, when the first Asiatic wanderers landed upon its shores, was, of course, that of a vast, unbroken solitude; and the contemplation of its almost boundless extent and profound loneliness, was certainly the first, and probably the most powerful agency, at work in modifying their original character. What the primary effects of this cause were likely to be, we may observe in the white emigrants, who have sought a home among the forests and upon the plains of the west: whatever they may have been before their migration, they soon become meditative, abstracted, and taciturn. These, and especially the last, are the peculiar characteristics of the Indian; his taciturnity, indeed, amounts to austerity, sometimes impressing the observer with the idea of affectation. The dispersion, which must have been the effect of unlimited choice in lands—the mode of life pursued by those who depended upon the chase for subsistence—the gradual estrangement produced among the separate tribes, by the necessity of wide hunting-grounds—the vast expanse of territory at command—causes operating so long, as to produce a fixed and corresponding nature—are the sources, to which we may trace almost all the Indian's distinctive traits.

"Isolation," Carlyle says, "is the sum total of wretchedness to man;" and, doubtless, the idea which he means to convey is just. "But," in the words of De Quincey, "no man can be truly great, without at least chequering his life with solitude." Separation from his kind, of course, deprives a man of the humanizing influences, which are the consequences of association; but it may, at the same time, strengthen some of the noblest qualities of human nature. Thus, we are authorized to ascribe to this agency, a portion of the Indian's fortitude under hardships and suffering, his contempt for mere meanness, and above all, the proud elevation of his character. The standards of comparison, which were furnished by his experience, were few, and, of course, derived from the ideas of barbarians; but all such as were in any way modified by the solitude of his existence, were rendered impressive, solemn, and exalted.

In the vast solitudes of Asia, whence the Indian races migrated to this continent, so far as the loneliness of savage deserts and endless plains might exert an influence, we should expect to find the same general character. But the Asians are almost universally pastoral—the Americans never; the wildest tribes of Tartary possess numerous useful domesticated animals—the Americans, even in Mexico,[5] had none; the Tartars are acquainted with the use of milk, and have been so from time immemorial—the Indian, even at this day, has adopted it only in a few localities, among the more enlightened tribes. The migration of the latter either took place at a period before even his Asiatic father had discovered its use, or the accidents which brought him to this continent, were such as to preclude importing domesticated animals; and the lapse of a few generations was sufficient to obliterate even the recollection of such knowledge. "And," says Prescott,[6] "he might well doubt, whether the wild, uncouth monsters, whom he occasionally saw bounding with such fury over the distant plains, were capable of domestication, like the meek animals which he had left grazing in the green pastures of Asia." To this leading distinction—the adoption and neglect of pastoral habits—may be referred most of the diversities among races, unquestionably of one stock.

Reasoning from the effects upon human character, produced by the face of different countries, we might expect to find, in the Indian, among other things, a strong tendency toward poetical thought, embodied, not in the mode of expression usually denominated poetry, but in the style of his addresses, the peculiarities of his theories, or the construction of his mythology, language, and laws. This expectation is totally disappointed; but when we examine the degree and character of his advancement, and recollect a few of the circumstances, among which the poetry looked for would be obliged to grow, our disappointment loses its element of surprise. The contemplation of Nature in her primitive, terrible, and beautiful forms—the habit of meditation, almost the necessary consequence of solitude—the strange, wild enchantment of an adventurous life—have failed to develop in the Indian, any but selfish and sensual ideas. Written poetry was, of course, not to be expected, even from the indigenous civilization of Mexico and Peru; yet we might, with some ground for hope, seek occasional traces of poetical thought and feeling. We look in vain for any such thing.

"Extremes meet," says one of the wisest of adages; and the saying was never more singularly and profoundly vindicated, than in its application to civilization and barbarism. The savage rejects all that does not directly gratify his selfish wants—the highly-civilized man is, in like manner, governed by the principle of utility; and, by both, the merely fanciful and imaginative is undervalued. Thus, as Mr. Macaulay[7] ingeniously says, "A great poem, in a highly-polished state of society, is the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius." But, for the same reasons, the savage, who should display any remarkably poetical feeling or tone of thought, would be quite as great a prodigy. Poetry flourishes most luxuriantly midway between the two extremes. Its essence is the contemplation of great passions and actions—of love, revenge, ambition. Imagination is then vivified by the means of expression or articulation; and, in the half-civilized state, neither a refined public sentiment, nor the other extreme of barbarous isolation, restrains the exhibition of great (and poetical) emotions.

The best of Hazlitt's numerous definitions of poetry, determines it to be "the excess of imagination, beyond the actual or ordinary impression of any object or feeling."[8] But the Indian was destitute of all imagination; apparently, the composition of his nature included no such element; and, certainly, the rude exigencies of his life did not admit its action. Even the purity of his mythology, compared to that of the Greeks and Romans,[9] has been (by Lord Lindsay) attributed to this want—though, if such were its only effects, it might very well be supplied.

The Indian has no humor, no romance—how could he possess poetical feeling? The gratification of sensual wants is the end of his life—too often, literally the end! "He considers everything beneath his notice, which is not necessary to his advantage or enjoyment."[10] To him a jest is as unmeaning as the babbling of a brook; his wife is a beast of burden; and even his courting is carried on by gifts of good things to eat, sent to the parents.[11] Heaven is merely a hunting-ground; his language has no words to express abstract qualities, virtues, vices, or sentiments.[12] His idea of the Great Spirit, and the word which expresses it, may be applied with equal propriety to a formidable (though not beneficent) animal; indeed, the Indian words which we translate "spirit," mean only superior power, without the qualification of good or evil. He has not even the ordinary inhabitive instinct of the human race; his attachment to any region of country depends upon its capacity to furnish game, and the fading of the former keeps pace with the disappearance of the latter. "Attachment to the graves of his fathers," is an agreeable fiction—unfortunately, only a fiction.[13] He has always been nomadic, without the pastoral habits which the word supposes: a mere wandering savage, without purpose or motive, beyond the gratification of the temporary want, whim, or passion, and void of everything deserving the name of sentiment.

An extravagant, and, I am sorry to say, groundless, notion has obtained currency, among almost all writers upon the Indian character, that he is distinguished for his eloquence. But the same authors tell us, that his language, the vehicle of the supposed eloquence, can express only material ideas.[14] Now, if we knew no more of his character than this, we should be authorized to infer (what is, indeed, true), that he possesses no standard for the distinction of good and evil, and that his imagination is bounded by the lines of his sensible experience. How any degree of eloquence can be compatible with this state of things, passes comprehension. And what reflection would conclude, a little examination will confirm. The mistake has, doubtless, grown out of a misconception of the nature of eloquence itself.[15] If eloquence were all figure—even if it were, in any considerable degree, mere figure—then the tawdriest rhetorician would be the greatest orator. But it is not so. On the contrary, the use of many words (or figures) to express an idea, denotes not command of language, but the absence of that power—just as the employment of numerous tools, to effect a physical object, indicates, not skill in the branch of physics, to which the object belongs, but rather awkwardness. Of course, much must be placed, in both cases, to the account of clumsy instruments; but the instrument of speech differs from others in this: it is fashioned by, as well as for, its use; and a rude, unpolished language is, therefore, an index, in two ways, of the want of eloquence among the people who employ it.

In this view, the figurative elocution of the Indian, so far from affording evidence of oratorical power, if it proves anything, proves the opposite. It is the barrenness of his language, and not the luxuriance of his imagination, which enforces that mode of speech.[16] Imagination is the first element of oratory, simplicity its first condition. We have seen that the Indian is wholly destitute of the former; and the stilted, meretricious, and ornate style, of even his ordinary communications, entirely excludes the latter from our conception of his character.[17]

For example: take the expressions "bury the hatchet," for "make peace," and "a cloudless sky," for "prosperity"—the latter being the nearest approximation to an abstract idea observed in Indian oratory. Upon examining these, and kindred forms of speech, we shall at once perceive that they are not the result of imagination, but are suggested by material analogies. Peace, to the savage, is, at best, but a negative idea; and the state of peacefulness, abstracted from the absence of war, finds no corresponding word in his language. Even friendship only means that relation, in which friends may be of use to each other. As his dialects are all synthetic,[18] his ideas are all concrete. To say, "I love" without expressing what or whom I love, would be, so to speak, very bad Indian grammar. He can not even say "two" correctly, without applying the numeral to some object. The notion of absolute being, number, emotion, feeling, posture, or relation, is utterly foreign to his mode of thought and speech.

So, also, of the "cloudless sky," used to express a state of prosperity. He does not mean, by the phrase, the serenity of mind which prosperity produces, nor any other abstract inflexion or suggestion of the figure. He is constantly exposed to the storms of heaven, in the chase, and on the war path; and, even in his best "lodge," he finds but little shelter from their fury. Clear weather is, therefore, grateful to him—bright sunshine associates itself, in his mind, with comfort, or (that supremest of Indian pleasures) undisturbed indolence. And the transition, though, as we have said, an approach to an abstract conception, is easy, even to the mind of a savage. His employment of such illustrations is rather an evidence of rudeness, than of eloquence—of barrenness, than of luxuriance of idea.[19]

From these considerations, it results, that even the very best specimens of Indian oratory, deserve the name of picturesque, rather than of eloquent—two characteristics which bear no greater affinity to each other, than do the picture-writing of the Aztec and the alphabetical system of the Greek. The speech of Logan—the most celebrated of Indian harangues—even if genuine,[20] is but a feeble support to the theory of savage eloquence. It is a mixture of the lament and the song of triumph, which may be found in equal perfection among all barbarous people; but, so far as we are aware, was never elsewhere dignified with that sounding name. The slander of a brave and honorable man,[21] which it contains, might be the result of a mistake easily made; the wrongs of which this chief was the victim, might render even a savage eloquent; and the mixture of bloody vaunting with profound grief, is scarcely to be expected in any but a savage. "Logan never knew fear," he says; "he would not turn on his heel to save his life." This species of boasting is perfectly in keeping with the Indian character; but the pathetic reason for this carelessness, which follows—"There is no one to mourn for Logan"—is one not likely to have occurred to an Indian, even in his circumstances. And, granting that the expression was used by the orator, and not (as it seems probable it was) added by Jefferson, it is, I believe, the only example on record of poetical feeling in any Indian speech.

The religion of the Indian has given as much troublesome material to the builders of systems, as has been furnished by all his other characteristics combined. The first explorers of America supposed that they had found a people, quite destitute of any religious belief. But faith in a higher power than that of man, is a necessity of the human mind; and its organization, more or less enlightened, is as natural, even to the most degraded savage, as the formation of his language. Both depend upon general laws, common to the intellect of all races of men; both are affected by the external circumstances of climate, situation, and mode of life; and the state of one may always be determined by that of the other. "No savage horde has been caught with its language in a state of chaos, or as if just emerging from the rudeness of indistinguishable sounds. Each appears, not as a slow formation by painful processes of invention, but as a perfect whole, springing directly from the powers of man."[22] And though this rigor of expression is not equally applicable to the Indian's religion, the fact is attributable solely to the difference in nature of the subjects. As the "primary sounds of a language are essentially the same everywhere," the impulses and instincts of piety are common to all minds. But, as the written language of the Indian was but the pictorial representation of visible objects, having no metaphysical signification, so the symbols of his religion, the objects of his adoration, were drawn from external nature.[23] Even his faith in the Great Spirit is a graft upon his system, derived from the first missionaries;[24] and, eagerly as he adopted it, it is probable that its meaning, to him, is little more exalted, than that of the "Great Beaver," which he believes to be the first progenitor, if not the actual creator, of that useful animal.

We often see the fact, that the Indian believes in his manitou, cited as an evidence, that he has the conception of a spiritual divinity. But the word never conveyed such a meaning; it is applicable more properly to material objects, and answers, with, if possible, a more intense and superstitious significance, to the term amulet. The Indian's manitou might be, indeed always was, some wild animal, or some part of a beast or bird—such as a bear's claw, a buffalo's hoof, or a dog's tooth.[25] And, though he ascribed exalted powers to this primitive guardian, it must be remembered that these powers were only physical—such, for example, as would enable it to protect its devotee from the knife of his enemy, or give him success in hunting.

Materialism, then, reigns in the religion, as in the language, of the Indian; and its effects are what might be expected. His whole system is a degraded and degrading superstition; and, though it has been praised for its superior purity, over that of the ancients, it seems to have been forgotten, that this purity is only the absence of one kind of impurity: and that its cruel and corrupting influences, of another sort, are ten-fold greater than those of the Greek mythology. The faith of the Greek embodied itself in forms, ceremonies, and observances—regularly appointed religious rites kept his piety alive; the erection of grand temples, in honor of his deity, whatever might be his conception of that deity's character, attested his genuine devotion, and held constantly before his mind the abstract idea of a higher power. The Indian, before the coming of the white man, erected no temples[26] in honor of his divinities; for he venerated them only so long as they conferred physical benefits[27] upon him; and his idea of beneficence was wholly concrete. He had no established form of worship; the ceremonies, which partook of a religious character, were grotesque in their conception, variable in their conduct, and inhuman in their details. Such, for example, are the torturing of prisoners, and the ceremonies observed on the occasion of a young Indian's placing himself under his guardian power.

The dogmas of the Indian religion, until varied by the teaching of missionaries, were few and simple—being circumscribed, like everything else belonging to him, by the material world. He believed in a good spirit, and an evil spirit; but his conception was limited by the ideas of benefit or injury, to himself; indeed, it may safely be doubted, whether the word "spirit," in its legitimate sense, is at all applicable to his belief. "Power in a state of exertion," is the more accurate description of his imperfect notion: abstract existence he never conceived; the verb "to be" except as relating to time, place, and action, had no meaning in his language.[28] He believed, also, in subordinate powers of good and evil; but, since his life was occupied more in averting danger and calamity, than in seeking safety or happiness, he paid far more respect to the latter than to the former—he prayed oftener and more fervently to the devils, than to the angels. His clearest notion of divinity, was that of a being able to injure him; and, in this sense, his devotion might be given to man, bird, or beast.

There seems to be no doubt, that he believed in a sort of immortality, even before the missionaries visited his country. But it was not so much a new state of existence, as a continuation of present life.[29] He killed horses upon the grave of the departed warrior, that he might be mounted for his long journey; and buffalo meat and roasted maize were buried with him, that he might not suffer from hunger.[30] On arriving in the land of the blest, he believed, that the dead pursued the game of that country, as he had done in this; and the highest felicity of which he conceived, was the liberty to hunt unmolested by the war-parties of his enemies. Heaven was, therefore, in his conception, only a more genial earth, and its inheritors but keener sportsmen.

That this idea of immortality involved that of accountability, in some form, seems to admit of no doubt; but this doctrine, like almost all others belonging to the primitive savage, has been moulded to its present definite shape, by the long-continued labors of Christian missionaries.[31] He believed, indeed, that the bad Indians never reached the happy hunting-grounds, but the distinction between the good and the bad, in his mind, was not at all clear; and, since the idea of the passage across the gulf of death most prevalent among all tribes, is that of a narrow bridge, over which only steady nerves and sure feet may carry the wanderer, it seems probable that the line was drawn between the brave warrior and the successful hunter, on the one hand, and the coward and the unskilful, on the other. If these views be correct, the inferences to be drawn from the Indian's belief in immortality and accountability, are of but slender significance.

Corrupt manners and degrading customs never exist, in conjunction with a pure religious system. The outlines of social institutions are metaphysically coincident with the limits of piety; and the refinement of morals depends upon the purity of faith. We may thus determine the prevailing spirit of a national religion, by observation of domestic manners and habits; and, among all the relations of life, that of parent and child is the best index to degree of advancement. Filial piety is but the secondary manifestation of a devotional heart; and attachment and obedience to a father on earth, are only imperfect demonstrations of love to our Father in heaven. What, then—to apply the principle—is the state of this sentiment in the Indian? By the answer to that question, we shall be able to estimate the value of his religious notions, and to determine the amount of hope, for his conversion, justified by their possession. The answer may be given in a few words: There is no such sentiment in the Indian character. Children leave their infirm parents to die alone, and be eaten by the wolves;[32] or treat them with violent indignity,[33] when the necessity of migration gives no occasion for this barbarous desertion. Young savages have been known to beat their parents, and even to kill them; but the display of attachment or reverence for them, is quite unknown. Like the beast of the forest, they are no sooner old enough to care for themselves, than they cease even to remember, by whose care they have become so; and the slightest provocation will produce a quarrel with a father, as readily as with a stranger. The unwritten law of the Indian, about which so many writers have dreamed, enacts no higher penalty for parricide, than for any other homicide; and a command to honor his father and mother because they are his father and mother, would strike the mind of an Indian as simply absurd.

If the possession of a religion, whose fruits are no better than these, can, of itself, give ground for hope to the Christian philanthropist, let him cherish it fondly. But it is much to be feared, that the existence of such a system indefinitely postpones, if it does not entirely preclude, the Indian's conversion. Even a bird which has never known the forest, will eventually escape to the wilds which God has made its home; and the young Indian, who has been reared in the city, will fly to the woods and prairies, and return to the faith of his fathers, because these, and only these, will satisfy his nature.[34]

A theme of praise, in itself more just, has been the Indian's courage; but the same circumstances of poetical interest, which have magnified men's views of his other qualities, have contributed to exaggerate this also. If calm steadiness of nerve, in the moment of action, be an element in true courage, that of the primitive savage was scarcely genuine. In all his battles, there were but two possible aspects—the furious onset, and the panic retreat: the firmness which plants itself in line or square, and stubbornly contends for victory, was no part of his character. A check, to him, always resulted in a defeat; and, though this might, in some measure, be the consequence of that want of discipline, which is incident to the savage state, the remark applies with equal justice, whether he fought singly or in a body. He was easily panic-struck, because the impulse of the forward movement was necessary to keep him strung to effort; and the retrograde immediately became a rout, because daring, without constancy, collapses with the first reaction.

Notwithstanding the enervating influences attributed to refinement and luxury, genuine, steady courage is one of the fruits borne by a high civilization. It is the result of combination, thought, and the divinity which attaches to the cultivated man. And, though it may seem rather unfair to judge a savage by the rules of civilization, it has long been received as a canon, that true valor bears an inverse ratio to ferocious cruelty. Of all people yet discovered upon earth, the Indian is the most ferocious. We must, therefore, either vary the meaning of the word, when applied to different people, or deny the savage the possession of any higher bravery, than that which lives only through the onset.

Cunning supplied the place of the nobler quality; the object of his warfare was to overcome by wily stratagem, rather than by open combat. "Skill consisted in surprising the enemy. They followed his trail, to kill him when he slept; or they lay in ambush near a village, and watched for an opportunity of suddenly surprising an individual, or, it might be, a woman and her children; and, with three strokes to each, the scalps of the victims being suddenly taken off, the brave flew back with his companions, to hang the trophies in his cabin."[35] If they succeeded in taking prisoners, it was only that they might be reserved for the most infernal torments, and the gratification of a brutal ferocity, not the trial and admiration of the victim's courage, was the purpose of their infliction.[36]

The fortitude of the Indian under suffering, has often been referred to, in evidence of moral courage. And it is certainly true, that the display so frequently made of triumph in the hour of death by torture, indicates,[37] in part, an elevation of character, seldom found among more civilized men. It is, however, the elevation of a barbarian; and its manifestations are as much the fruit of impotent rage, as of a noble fortitude. The prisoner at the stake knows that there is no escape; and his intense hatred of his enemies takes the form of a wish, to deprive them of a triumph. While his flesh is crisping and crackling in the flames, therefore, he sings of the scalps he has taken, and heaps opprobrious epithets upon the heads of his tormentors. But his song is as much a cry of agony, as of exultation—his pain only adopts this mode of expression. It is quite certain, also, that he does not suffer so deeply, as would a white man in the same circumstances. By long exposure, and the endurance of hardships incident to his savage life, his body acquires an insensibility akin to that of wild animals.[38] His nerves do not shrink or betray a tendency to spasm, even when a limb is amputated. Transmitted from one generation to another, this physical nature has become a peculiarity of the race. And when assisted by the fierce hatred above referred to, it is not at all strange that it should enable him to bear with fortitude, tortures which would conquer the firmness of the most resolute white man.[39]

The Indian's dignified stoicism has been as much exaggerated, as his courage and fortitude. It is not quite true that he never expresses surprise, or becomes loquacious. But he has a certain stern impassibility of feature—a coldness of manner—which have been mistaken for dignity. His immobility of countenance, however, may be the effect of sluggish sensibilities, or even of dull perceptions;[40] and the same savage vanity, which leads him to make a display of strength or agility before friend or enemy, prevents his acknowledging ignorance, by betraying surprise.[41] We have been in company with Indians from the Far West, while they saw a railroad for the first time. When they thought themselves unnoticed, they were as curious about the singular machinery of the locomotive, and as much excited by the decorations and appointments of the cars, as the most ignorant white man. But the moment they discovered that their movements were observed, they resumed their dignified composure; and, if you had judged of the Indian country by their subsequent deportment, you might have believed that the vast prairies of the Missouri were everywhere intersected by railroads—that the Indian had, in fact, never known any other mode of travelling. "On first seeing a steamboat, however," says Flint, who well understands his character, "he never represses his customary 'Ugh!'"

Generally, among white men, he who is fondest of inflicting pain, is least able to endure it. But the Indian reverses almost all the principles, which apply to civilized life; and, accordingly, we find that, with all his so-called fortitude, he is the most intensely cruel of all living men. Before possession of the continent was taken by Europeans, war was more constantly the occupation of his life, than it has been since; but even now his only object in taking his enemies alive, is to subject them to the most inhuman tortures.[42] And in these brutal orgies, the women are most active, even taking the lead, in applying the cord and the brand.[43] Nor is this cruelty confined to enemies, as the practice of leaving the aged and infirm to die of starvation sufficiently proves.

And his treachery is equal to his cruelty. No treaty can bind him longer than superior force compels him to observe it. The discovery that his enemy is unprepared for an attack, is sufficient reason to him for making it; his only object in concluding peace, is to secure an advantage in war; and before the prospect of a bloody inroad, his faith melts away, like snow before the sun. The claims of gratitude he seldom acknowledges; he cherishes the memory of a benefit, only until he finds an opportunity of repaying it with an injury; and forbearance to avenge the latter, only encourages its repetition.[44] The numerous pretty stories published of Indian gratitude, are either exceptional cases, or unmixed romances.

There have been some tribes of Indians in a measure reclaimed from their state of barbarism; the Cherokees, I believe, (and perhaps one or two other nations,) have even increased in numbers, under the influence of civilization. But this is the result of numerous favorable causes combined, and proves nothing, from which to infer the Indian's docility. Other savages, on coming in contact with civilized men, have discovered a disposition to acquire some of the useful arts—their comforts have been increased, their sufferings diminished, and their condition ameliorated, by the grafting of new ideas upon the old. But, between the red man and the white, contiguity has brought about little more than an exchange of vices.

Almost the only things coveted by the "redskin" from the "paleface," were his arms, his trinkets, and his "firewater." He could appreciate whatsoever gave him superiority in war, gratified his childish vanity, or ministered to his brutal appetite. But the greater comfort of the white man's house—the higher excellence of his boat—his improved agricultural implements or extended learning—none of these things appealed to the Indian's passions or desires. The arts of peace were nothing to him—refinement was worse than nothing. He would spend hours in decorating his person, but not a moment in cleansing it: I believe no tradition exists of an Indian ever having used soap or bought a fine-tooth comb! He is, indeed, a "pattern of filthiness;" but even in civilized life, we find that this is not at all incompatible with an extravagant love of ornament; and, in this respect, the savage is not behind his more enlightened brethren and sisters. Beads, ribands, and scarlet cloth—with powder and lead, guns, tomahawks, and knives—are the acquisitions which he prizes most highly.

Pre-eminent, however, above all these in his estimation, is the greatest curse which has yet reached him—the liquid fire called whiskey! He is, by nature, a drunkard, and the fury of his intoxication equals the ferocity of his warfare. "All words would be thrown away," says Mr. Flint,[45] "in attempting to portray, in just colors, the effects of whiskey upon such a race." Fire should be kept away from combustibles—whiskey from the Indian, and for the same reason. With drunkenness, he possesses, also, its inseparable companion, the vice of gambling.[46] He is the most inveterate gamester: Before the demon of avarice everything gives way. He even forgets his taciturnity, in the excitement of the game, and becomes loquacious and eager. He will stake all his most valuable possessions, and, losing these, will even risk his own liberty, or life, on the turn of a card. We were once witness to a game in San Antonio (in Western Texas), among a party of Lipans,[47] a race of fine-looking men, who range the table-lands north of the sources of the Nueces. Two of them, one the handsomest warrior among them, lost, first, the money, which they had just received as the price of skins, brought to the city for sale. They then staked, successively, their horses, their arms, their moccasins, and their blankets. The "luck" was against them—everything was lost; and we supposed the game was over. But—as a last resource, like drawing blood from their beating hearts—each produced a little leathern bottle, containing whiskey! And, as if these possessed a higher value than all the articles yet lost, the game went on with increased interest! Even the potent "spirit" thus evoked, could not prevail upon Fortune to change her face: the whiskey was lost with the rest! Each rose to his feet, with the usual guttural exclamation, and, afoot, and unarmed as he was, silently took his way to the prairies; while the winners collected in a group, and with much glee, proceeded to consume the liquid poison so cheaply obtained.

We come, finally to the question of the Indian's fate: What is to become of the race? The answer presents no difficulties, save such as grow out of men's unwillingness to look unpleasant truths in the face. There has been, of late years, much lamentation, among our own people, over the gradual extinction of these interesting savages; and in Europe we have been made the subject of indignant eloquence, for (what those, who know nothing about it, are pleased to call) "our oppression of the Indian." But, in the first place, the decay of the American races is neither so rapid nor so universal, as is generally supposed;[48] and, in the second place, if the fact were otherwise, we could, at the worst, be charged only with accelerating a depopulation already begun. "The ten thousand mounds in the Mississippi Valley, the rude memorials of an immensely numerous former population, but, to our view, no more civilized than the present races, are proofs that the country was depopulated, when the white man first became acquainted with it. If we can infer nothing else from these mounds, we can clearly infer, that this country once had its millions."[49] What had become of this immense population? The successive invasions of new hordes of barbarians from the north, intestine wars, and the law, that men shall advance toward civilization, or decay from the earth—these are the only causes to which we may ascribe their disappearance.

The extinction of the Indian race is decreed, by a law of Providence which we can not gainsay. Barbarism must give way to civilization. It is not only inevitable, but right, that it should be so. The tide of empire, which has been flowing since the earliest times, has set steadily toward the West. The Indian emigrated in the wrong direction: and now, after the lapse of many centuries, the descendants of the first Asians, having girdled the globe, meet on the banks of the Mississippi! On the one side, are enlightenment, civilization, Christianity: on the other, darkness, degradation, barbarism: and the question arises, which shall give way? The Indian recedes: at the rate of seventeen miles a year,[50] the flood rolls on! Already it has reached the shores of the Pacific: One century will reduce the whole continent to the possession of the white man; and, then, the lesson which all history teaches, will be again taught—that two distinct races cannot exist in the same country on equal terms. The weaker must be incorporated with the stronger—or exterminated.[51]


[2] Vol. III., page 394.

[3] There is, however, little necessity for any argument on the subject: For, leaving out of the question the highest and most sacred of authorities, almost all respectable writers upon ethnology, including Buffon, Volney, Humboldt, &c., agree in assigning a common origin to all nations,—though the last deduces from many particulars, the conclusion that the American Indian was "isolated in the infancy of the world, from the rest of mankind."—Ancient Inhabitants of America, vol. i., p. 250.

[4] It will be observed, that I assume the unity of the Indian race; and I am not sufficiently acquainted with the recent discussions on the subject, to be certain whether the question is still considered open. But the striking analogies between the customs, physical formation, and languages of all the various divisions, (except the Esquimaux, who are excluded), I think, authorize the assumption.

[5] Conquest of Mexico, vol. iii., p. 416.

[6] Conquest of Mexico, vol. iii., p. 417.

[7] Essays—Art. 'Milton.'

[8] Lectures on English Poets, p. 4.

[9] No very high compliment, but as high as it deserves. We shall see anon.

[10] Warburton's Conquest of Canada, vol. i., p. 177.

[11] Bancroft's United States, vol. iii., p. 256.

[12] Hunter's Memoirs, p. 236. Western Annals, p. 712.

[13] Flint's Geography, p. 108.

[14] "All ideas are expressed by figures addressed to the senses." Warburton, vol. i., p. 175. Bancroft, ut supra.

[15] See Bancroft, Hunter, Catlin, Flint, Jefferson, &c.—passim—all supporters of Indian eloquence, but all informing us, that "combinations of material objects were his only means of expressing abstract ideas."

[16] Vide Bancroft's United States, vol. iii., pp. 257, 266, etc.

[17] E. G. "They style themselves the 'beloved of the Great Spirit.'"—Warburton, vol. i., p. 186. "In the Iroquois language, the Indians gave themselves the appellation of 'Angoueonoue', or 'Men of Always.'"—Chateaubriand's Travels in America, vol. ii., p. 92. Note, also, their exaggerated boastfulness, even in their best speeches: "Logan never knew fear," &c.

[18] "The absence of all reflective consciousness, and of all logical analysis of ideas, is the great peculiarity of American speech."—Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 257.

[19] Warburton's Conquest of Canada, vol. i., p. 180.

[20] I have seen it hinted, though I have forgotten where, that Jefferson, and not Logan, was the author of this speech; but the extravagant manner in which Jefferson himself praises it, seems to exclude the suspicion. "I may challenge the whole orations of Demosthenes and Cicero," he says, "and of any other more eminent orator, if Europe has furnished more eminent, to produce a single passage superior to the speech of Logan!" Praise certainly quite high enough, for a mixture of lamentation and boastfulness.

[21] The evidence in this matter has long ago been thoroughly sifted; and it is now certain that, so far from being present aiding at the massacre of Logan's family, Colonel Cresap earnestly endeavored to dissuade the party from its purpose. And yet the falsehood is perpetuated even in the common school-books of the country, while its object has been mouldering in his grave for a quarter of a century.—Western Annals, p. 147. American Pioneer, vol. i., p. 7, et seq.

[22] Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 254.

[23] Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 285.—"The God of the savage was what the metaphysician endeavors to express by the word substance." But the Indian's idea of substance was altogether concrete.

[24] The best authority upon this subject is found in the Jesuit "Relaciones:" but it is at least probable, that the preconceptions of the good Fathers colored, and, perhaps, shaped, many of the religious wonders there related.

[25] "Lettres Edifiantes," vol. vi., p. 200, et seq. Warburton, vol. i., p. 187.

[26] The extravagant stories told of the Natchez Indians (among whom there was said to be a remarkable temple for worship) are quite incredible, even if they had not been disproved.

[27] When the manitou of the Indian has failed to give him success in the chase, or protection from danger, "he upbraids it with bitterness and contempt, and threatens to seek a more effectual protector. If the manitou continues useless, this threat is fulfilled." Warb. ut supra. Vide, also, Catlin's "American Indians," vol. i., p. 36, et seq.

[28] Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 258.

[29] "He calls it [the soul] the shadow or image of his body, but its acts and enjoyments are all the same as those of its earthly existence. He only pictures to himself a continuation of present pleasures." Warb. vol. i., p. 190. Vide, also, Catlin's "American Indians," vol. i., p. 158, et seq.

[30] The Indian never believed in the resurrection of the body; but even corn and venison were supposed to possess a spirit, which the spirit of the dead warrior might eat.—Jesuit "Relacion," 1633, p. 54.

[31] "The idea of retribution," says Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 299, "as far as it has found its way among them, was derived from Europeans." And the same remark may be made, of most of the other wonders, in which enthusiastic travellers have discovered coincidences with Christianity.

[32] James's "Expedition," vol. i., p. 237.—Catlin's "American Indians," vol. i., pp. 216-'18. The latter is a zealous apologist for Indian cruelties and barbarisms.

[33] "Conquest of Canada," vol. i., pp. 194-'5.

[34] The following may serve to indicate the sort of impression of Christianity which even the most earnest and enlightened preaching has been able to make upon the Indian mind: "Here I saw a most singular union; one of the [Indian] graves was surmounted by a cross, while close to it a trunk of a tree was raised, covered with hieroglyphics, recording the number of enemies slain by the tenant of the tomb. Here presenting a hint to those who are fond of system-making on the religion of these people," &c.—Beltrami's Pilgrimage, &c., vol. ii., p. 307. Bancroft's United States, vol. iii., pp. 303-'4. Flint's Geography, pp. 109, 126.

[35] Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 281.

[36] "To inflict blows that can not be returned," says this historian (Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 282), "is a proof of full success, and the entire humiliation of the enemy. It is, moreover, an experiment of courage and patience." But we think such things as much mere brutality, as triumph.

[37] The frequent change of tense in this article, refers to those circumstances in which the present differs from the past character of the Indian.

[38] "It is to be doubted, whether some part of this vaunted stoicism be not the result of a more than ordinary degree of physical insensibility."—Flint's Geography, vol. i., p. 114.

[39] Many white men, however, have endured the utmost extremities of Indian cruelty. See cases of Brebeuf, and Lallemand, in Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 140.

[40] "It is intellectual culture which contributes most to diversify the features."—Humboldt's Personal Narrative, vol. iii., p. 228.

[41] "They have probably as much curiosity [as the white], but a more stern perseverance in repressing it."—Flint's Geography, vol. i., p. 124.

[42] "The enemy is assailed with treachery, and, if conquered, treated with revolting cruelty." * * "A fiendish ferocity assumes full sway."—Conquest of Canada, vol. i., p. 206.

[43] It is perhaps not very remarkable, however, that the women are most cruel to the aged and infirm—the young and vigorous being sometimes adopted by them, to console them for the loss of those who have fallen.—Idem, p. 210.

[44] "We consider them a treacherous people, easily swayed from their purpose, paying their court to the divinity of good fortune, and always ready to side with the strongest. We should not rely upon their feelings of to-day, as any pledge for what they will be to-morrow."—Flint's Geography, vol. i., p. 120.

[45] "Geography of the Mississippi Valley," vol. i., p. 121.

[46] "The Indians are immoderately fond of play."—Warburton, vol. i., p. 218.

[47] These used cards; but they have, among themselves, numerous games of chance, older than the discovery of the continent.

[48] "The Cherokee and Mobilian families of nations are more numerous now than ever."—Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 253. In speaking of this declamation about the extinction of the race, Mr. Flint very pertinently remarks: "One would think it had been discovered, that the population, the improvements, and the social happiness of our great political edifice, ought never to have been erected in the place of these habitations of cruelty."—Geography, vol. i., p. 107.

[49] Idem.

[50] This is De Tocqueville's estimate.—Democracy in America, vol. ii., chap. 10.

[51] "We may as well endeavor to make the setting sun stand still on the summit of the Rocky Mountains, as attempt to arrest the final extermination of the Indian race!"—Merivale on ColonizationLecture 19.

The principle stated in the text will apply with equal force to the negro-race; and those who will look the facts firmly in the face, can not avoid seeing, that the ultimate solution of the problem of American Slavery, can be nothing but the sword.



"Spread out earth's holiest records here, Of days and deeds to reverence dear: A zeal like this, what pious legends tell?"

The shapeless knight-errantry of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, rich as it was in romance and adventure, is not to be compared, in any valuable characteristic, to the noiseless self-devotion of the men who first explored the Western country. The courage of the knight was a part of his savage nature; his confidence was in the strength of his own right arm; and if his ruggedness was ever softened down by gentler thoughts, it was only when he asked forgiveness for his crimes, or melted in sensual idolatry of female beauty.

It would be a curious and instructive inquiry, could we institute it with success, how much of the contempt of danger manifested by the wandering knight was referable to genuine valor, and what proportion to the strength of a Milan coat, and the temper of a Toledo or Ferrara blade. And it would be still more curious, although perhaps not so instructive, to estimate the purity and fidelity of the heroines of chivalry; to ascertain the amount of true devotion given them by their admirers, "without hope of reward."

But without abating its interest by invidious and ungrateful inquiries, we can see quite enough—in its turbulence, its cruelty, arrogance, and oppression—to make us thank Heaven that "the days of chivalry are gone." And from that chaotic scene of rapine, raid, and murder, we can turn with pleasure to contemplate the truer, nobler chivalry—the chivalry of love and peace, whose weapons were the kindness of their hearts, the purity of their motives, and the self-denial of their lives.

The term "voyageur"[52] literally signifies "traveller;" and by this modest name are indicated some of the bravest adventurers the world has ever seen. But it is not in its usual, common-place signification that I employ the word, nor yet in that which is given it by most writers on the subject of early French settlements and explorations. Men are often affected by the names given them, either of opprobrium or commendation; but words are quite as frequently changed, restricted, or enlarged in meaning, by their application to men. For example: you apply the word soldier to a class of men; and if robbery be one of the characteristics of that class, "soldier" will soon come to mean "robber" too. And thus, though the parallel is only logical, has it been with the term "voyageur." The class of men to whom it is applied were travellers—voyageurs; but they were more; and as the habits and qualities of men came in time to be better understood than the meaning of French words, the term, used in reference to Western history, took much of its significance from the history and character of the men it assumed to describe. Thus, un voyageur means not only a traveller, but a traveller with a purpose; an adventurer among the Western wilds; a chivalrous missionary, either in the cause of science or religion. It includes high courage, burning zeal for church and country, and the most generous self-devotion. It describes such men as Marquette, La Salle, Joliet, Gravier, and hundreds of others equally illustrious, who lived and died among the dangers and privations of the wilderness; who opened the way for civilization and Christianity among the savages, and won, many of them, crowns of martyrdom.

They were almost all Frenchmen. The Spaniards who came to this continent were mere gold-seekers, thirsting only for wealth; and if they sought to propagate Christianity, or rather the Christian name, it was only a sanguinary bigotry that prompted them. On the other hand, the English emigrants came to take possession of the country for themselves. The conversion of the natives, or territorial acquisition for the mother-country, were to them objects of barely secondary importance. They believed themselves persecuted—some of them were persecuted—and they fled: it was only safety for themselves, and the rich lands of the Indian, that they sought. Providence reserved for the French chevaliers and missionaries the glory of leaving their homes without compulsion, real or imaginary, to penetrate an inhospitable wilderness; to undergo fatigues; to encounter dangers, and endure privations of a thousand kinds; enticed by no golden glitter, covetous of no riches, save such as are "laid up in heaven!" They came not as conquerors, but as ministers of peace, demanding only hospitality. They never attacked the savages with sword or fagot; but extending hands not stained by blood, they justified their profession by relief and love and kindly offices. Sometimes, indeed, they received little tracts of land; not seized by the hand of power, nor grasped by superior cunning, but possessed as the free gift of simple gratitude; and upon these they lived in peace, surrounded by savages, but protected by the respect inspired by blameless and beneficent lives. Many of those whose vows permitted it, intermarried among the converted natives, and left the seeds of many meliorations in a stony soil; and many of them, when they died, were as sincerely mourned by the simple children of the forest, as if they had been chiefs and braves.

Such were the men of peace who penetrated the wilderness through the French settlements in Canada, and preached the gospel to the heathen, where no white man had ever before been seen; and it is particularly to this class that I apply the word at the head of this article. But the same gentle spirit pervaded other orders of adventurers—men of the sword and buckler, as well as of the stole and surplice. These came to establish the dominion of La Belle France; but it was not to oppress the simple native, or to drive him from his lands. Kindness marked even the conduct of the rough soldier; and such men as La Salle, and Iberville, who were stern enough in war, and rigid enough in discipline, manifested always an anxious solicitude for the rights, as well as for the spiritual welfare of the Indian. They gave a generous confidence where they were conscious of no wish to injure; they treated frankly and on equal terms, with those whom their religion and their native kindness alike taught them to consider brethren and friends. Take, for example, that significant anecdote of La Salle, related by the faithful chronicler[53] of his unfortunate expeditions. He was building the fort of Crevecoeur, near the spot where now stands the city of Peoria, on the Illinois river; and even the name of his little fortress (Crevecoeur, Broken Heart) was a mournful record of his shattered fortunes. The means of carrying out his noble enterprise (the colonizing of the Mississippi valley) were lost; the labor of years had been rendered ineffectual by one shipwreck; his men were discontented, even mutinous, "attempting," says Hennepin, "first to poison, and then desert him;" his mind was distracted, his heart almost broken, by accumulated disasters. Surrounded thus by circumstances which might well have rendered him careless of the feelings of the savages around him, he observed that they had become cold and distant—that in effect they no longer viewed him as their friend. The Iroquois,[54] drifting from the shores of Lake Ontario, where they had always been the bitterest foes of the French, had instilled fear and hatred into their minds; it was even said that some of his own men had encouraged the growing discontent. In this juncture, what measures does he take? Strengthen his fortifications, and prepare for war, as the men of other nations had done? Far from it. Soldier and adventurer as he was, he had no wish to shed innocent blood; though with his force he might have defied all the nations about him. He went as a friend, frankly and generously, among them, and demanded the reasons of their discontent. He touched their hearts by his confidence, convinced them of his friendship, and attached them to himself more devotedly than ever. A whole history in one brief passage!

But it is more especially to the voyageurs of the church—the men of faith and love—that I wish to direct my readers' attention: To such men as Le Caron, a Franciscan, with all the zeal and courage and self-abnegation of his order, who wandered and preached among the bloody Iroquois, and upon the waters of Huron, as early as 1616: to Mesnard, a devoted missionary of the same order, who, in 1660, founded a mission at the Sault de Ste. Marie, and then went into the forest to induce the savages to listen to the glad tidings he had brought, and never came back: to Father Allouez, who rebuilt the mission five years afterward (the first of these houses of God which was not destroyed or abandoned), who subsequently crossed the lakes, and preached to the Indians on Fox river, where, in one of the villages of the Miamis and Mascoutens, Marquette found a cross still standing, after the lapse of years, where Allouez had raised it, covered with the offerings of the simple natives to an unknown God. He is the same, too, who founded Kaskaskia, probably the earliest settlement in the great valley, and whose history ends (significant fact!) with the record of his usefulness. To Father Pinet, who founded Cahokia, and was so successful in the conversion of the natives, that his little chapel could not contain the numbers who resorted to his ministrations: to Father Marest, the first preacher against intemperance; and, finally, to Marquette, the best and bravest of them all, the most single-hearted and unpretending!

Enthusiasm is a characteristic of the French nation; a trait in some individuals elevated to a sublime self-devotion, and in others degraded to mere excitability. The vivacity, gesticulation, and grimace, which characterize most of them, are the external signs of this nature; the calm heroism of the seventeenth century, and the insane devotion of the nineteenth, were alike its fruits. The voyageur possessed it, in common with all his countrymen. But in him it was not noisy, turbulent, or egotistical; military glory had "neither part nor lot" in his schemes; the conquests he desired to make were the conquests of faith; the dominion he wished to establish was the dominion of Jesus.

In the pursuit of these objects, or rather of this single object, I have said he manifested the enthusiasm of his race; but it was the noblest form of that characteristic. The fire that burned in his bosom was fed by no selfish purpose. To have thought of himself, or of his own comforts, or glory, to the detriment of any Christian enterprise, however dangerous or unpromising, would, in his eyes, have been a deadly sin.

At Sault de Ste. Marie, Father Marquette heard of many savages (whom he calls "God's children") living in barbarism, far to the west. With five boatmen and one companion, he at once set out for an unexplored, even unvisited wilderness. He had what they had not—the gospel; and his heart yearned toward them, as the heart of a mother toward an afflicted child. He went to them, and bound them to him "in the bond of peace." If they received him kindly—as they usually did, for even a savage recognises and respects genuine devotion—he preached to them, mediated among them, softened their hearts, and gathered them into the fold of God. If they met him with arms in their hands—as they sometimes did, for savages, like civilized men, do not always know their friends—he resolutely offered peace; and, in his own simple and pious language, "God touched their hearts," and they cast aside their weapons and received him kindly.

But the voyageur had higher qualities than enthusiasm. He was capable of being so absorbed in a cause as to lose sight of his own identity; to forget that he was more than an instrument in the hands of God, to do God's work: and the distinction between these traits is broad indeed! Enthusiasm is noisy, obtrusive—self-abnegation is silent, retiring; enthusiasm is officious, troublesome, careless of time and place—self-abnegation is prudent, gentle, considerate. The one is active and fragmentary—the other passive, but constant.

Thus, when the untaught and simple native was to be converted, the missionary took note of the spiritual capacity as well as of the spiritual wants; he did not force him to receive, at once, the whole creed of the church, as a mere enthusiast would have done; for that wisdom would feed an infant with strong meats, even before it had drawn its mother's milk. Neither did he preach the gospel with the sword, like the Spaniard, nor with fire and fagot, like the puritan. He was wise as the serpent, but gentle as the dove. He took the wondering Indian by the hand; received him as a brother; won him over to listen patiently; and then taught him first that which he could most easily comprehend: he led him to address the throne of grace, or, in the language of the time, "to embrace the prayer;" because even the savage believed in Deity. As his understanding was expanded, and his heart purified—as every heart must be which truly lifts itself to God—he gradually taught him the more abstruse and wonderful doctrines of the Church of Christ. Gently and imperceptibly he led him on, until the whole tremendous work was done. The untutored savage, if he knew nothing else, yet knew the name of his Redeemer. The bloody warfare, the feuds and jealousies of his tribe, if not completely overcome, at least were softened and ameliorated. When he could not convert, he endeavored to humanize; and among the tribes of the Illinois,[55] though they were never thoroughly Christianized, the influence of the good fathers soon prevailed to abolish the barbarous practice of torturing captives.[56] For though they might not embrace the religion, the savages venerated its teachers, and loved them for their gentleness.

And this gentleness was not want of courage; for never in the history of the world has truer valor been exhibited than that shown by the early missionary and his compeers, the first military adventurers! Read Joutel's account of the melancholy life and death of La Salle; read the simple, unpretending "Journal" of Marquette;[57] and compare their constancy and heroism with that displayed at any time in any cause! But the voyageur possessed higher qualities than courage, also; and here again we recur to his perfect abnegation of himself; his renunciation of all personal considerations.

Courage takes note of danger, but defies it: the voyageur was careless of danger, because he counted it as nothing; he gave it no thought, because it only affected himself; and he valued not his own safety and comfort, so long as he could serve the cause by forgetting them. Mere courage is combative, even pugnacious; but the voyageur fought only "the good fight;" he had no pride of conquest, save in the victories of Faith, and rather would suffer, himself, than inflict suffering upon others. Mere courage is restless, impatient, purposeless: but the voyageur was content to remain wherever he could do good, tentative only in the cause of Christ, and distracted by no objects from his mission. His religion was his inspiration; his conscience his reward. His system may have been perverted, his zeal mistaken, his church a sham; we are not arguing that question. But the purity of his intentions, the sincerity of his heart, can not be doubted; and the most intolerant protestant against "the corruptions of Rome" will, at least, admit that even catholicism was better than the paganism of the savage.

"There is not," says Macaulay,[58] "and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church." And certainly all other systems combined have never produced one tithe of the astounding results brought about by this alone. Whether she has taught truth or falsehood; whether, on the whole, it had been better or worse for the cause of Christianity, had no such organization ever existed; whether her claims be groundless or well-founded, are questions foreign to our purpose. But that her polity is the most powerful—the best adapted to the ends she has in view—of all that man has hitherto invented, there can be no doubt. Her missionaries have been more numerous and more successful, ay, and more devoted, than those of any other church. They have gone where even the sword of the conqueror could not cleave his way. They have built churches in the wilderness, which were time-worn and crumbling when the first emigrant penetrated the forests. They have preached to youthful savages who never saw the face of another white man, though they lived to three-score years and ten. They have prayed upon the shores of lonely lakes and rivers, which were not mapped by geographers for centuries after their deaths. They have travelled on foot, unarmed and alone, where an army could not march. And everywhere their zeal and usefulness have ended only with their lives; and always with their latest breath they have mingled prayers for the salvation of their flocks, with aspirations for the welfare of their church. For though countless miles of sea and land were between her and them, their loyalty and affection to the great spiritual Mother were never forgotten. "In spite of oceans and deserts; of hunger and pestilence; of spies and penal laws; of dungeons and racks, of gibbets and quartering-blocks," they have been found in every country, at all times, ever active and zealous. And everywhere, in palace, or hovel, or wilderness, they have been true sons of the church, loyal and obedient.

An organization capable of producing such results is certainly well worth examination. For the influence she has wielded in ages past gives promise of her future power; and it becomes those who think her permanence pernicious to the world, to avoid her errors and yet imitate her wisdom. If the system be a falsehood and a sham, it is a most gigantic and successful one, and it is of strange longevity. It has lived now more than fifteen hundred years, and one hundred and fifty millions of people yet believe it. If it be a counterfeit, it is high time the cheat were detected and exposed. Let those who have the truth give forth its light, that the falsehood may wither and die. Unless they do so, the life which has already extended over so many centuries may gain fresh vigor, and renew its youth. Even yet the vision of the essayist may be realized: "She may still exist in undiminished vigor, when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's!"

It was to this church that the early voyageurs belonged. And I do not use that word "belonged" as it is employed in modern times among protestants: I mean more than that convenient, loosely-fitting profession, which, like a garment, is thrown on and off, as the exigencies of hypocrisy or cupidity may require. These men actually did belong to the church. They were hers, soul and body; hers, in life and in death; hers to go whithersoever she might direct, to do whatsoever she might appoint. They believed the doctrines they taught with an abiding, active faith; and they were willing to be spent in preaching them to the heathen.

It has always been a leading principle in the policy of the Roman church, to preserve her unity, and she has been enabled to do so, principally by the ramified and elastic polity for which she has been distinguished, to which she owes much of her extent and power, as well as no small part of the reproach so liberally bestowed upon her in the pages of history. There are many "arms" in her service: a man must be impracticable indeed, when she can find no place in which to make him useful, or to prevent his being mischievous. She never drives one from the pale of the church who can benefit it as a communicant, or injure it as a dissenter. If he became troublesome at home, she has, in all ages, had enterprises on foot in which she might clothe him with authority, and send him to the uttermost parts of the earth; thus ridding herself of a dangerous member, and, by the same act, enlarging the sphere of her own dominion. Does an enthusiast become noisy, or troublesome upon unimportant points, the creed is flexible, and the mother will not quarrel with her child, for his earnestness may convince and lead astray more valuable sons and daughters. She will establish a new order, of which the stubborn fanatic shall be founder; the new order is built into the old church organization, and its founder becomes a dignitary of the ecclesiastical establishment. Instead of becoming a dangerous heretic and schismatic, he is attached to orthodoxy by cords stronger than steel; henceforth all his earnest enthusiasm shall be directed to the advancement of his order, and consequently of his church. Does one exhibit inflexibility in some matter of conscience upon which the church insists, there are many of God's children in the wilderness starving in spirit for the bread of life; and to these, with that bread, shall the refractory son be sent. He receives the commission; departs upon his journey, glad to forget a difference with his spiritual superiors; preaches to the heathen; remembers only that the church is his mother; wins a crown of martyrdom, and is canonized for the encouragement of others!

Thus she finds a place for all, and work enough for each; and thus are thrown off the elements of schism and rebellion. Those who had most courage in the cause of right; all who were likely to be guided in matters of conscience by their own convictions; the most sincere and single-hearted, the firmest and purest and bravest, were, in matters of controversy, the most dangerous champions, should they range themselves against the teaching of the church. They were consequently, at the period of which I am writing, the men whom it was most desirable to send away; and they were eminently well fitted for the arduous and wasting duties of the missionary.

To this class belonged the large majority of the voyageur priests: men who might be inconvenient and obtrusive monitors, or formidable adversaries in controversy, if they remained at home; but who could only be useful—who of all men could be most useful—in gathering the heathen into the fold of the church. There were, doubtless, a few of another class; the restless, intriguing, and disobedient, who, though not formidable, were troublesome. But even when these joined the missionary expeditions, they did but little to forward the work, and are entitled to none of the honor so abundantly due to their more sincere brethren. To this class, for example, belonged the false and egotistical Hennepin, who only signalized himself by endeavoring to appropriate the reputation so hardly won by the brave and unfortunate La Salle.[59]

It does not appear upon the record that any of these men—of either the restless and ambitious, or of the better class—were literally sent away. But such has been the politic practice of this church for many ages; and we may safely believe, that when she was engaged in an unscrupulous and desperate contest for the recovery, by fair means or foul, of her immense losses, there might be many in the ranks of her pious priesthood whom it would be inconvenient to retain at home. And during that conflict especially, with the most formidable enemies she ever had, she could not afford to be encumbered.

But whatever may have been the motives of their spiritual superiors, the missionaries themselves were moved only by the considerations of which we have spoken—the truest piety and the most burning zeal. Of these influences they were conscious; but we shall perhaps not do the character injustice if we add another spur to action, of which they were not conscious. There is a vein of romance in the French composition; a love of adventure for the sake of the adventure itself, which, when not tamed or directed, makes a Frenchman fitful, erratic, and unreliable. When it is toned by personal ambition, it becomes a sort of Paladin contempt for danger; sometimes a crazy furor. When accompanied by powerful intellect, and strengthened by concentration on a purpose, it makes a great commander—great for the quickness of his comprehension, the suddenness of his resolutions, the rapidity of their execution. When humanized by love, and quickened by religious zeal, it is purified of every selfish thought, and produces the chivalrous missionary, whom neither fire nor flood, neither desert nor pathless wilderness, shall deter from obeying the command of Him who sent his gospel "unto every creature." And thus are even those traits, which so often curse the world with insane ambition and sanguinary war, turned by the power of a true benevolence to be blessings of incalculable value.

Such were the purposes, such the motives, of this band of noble men; and whatever may have been their errors, we must at least accord them the virtues of sincerity, courage, and self-denial. But let us look a little more closely at the means by which they accomplished undertakings which, to any other race of men, would have been not only impracticable, but utterly desperate. Take again, as the representative of his class, the case of Father Marquette, than whom, obscure as his name is in the wastes of history, no man ever lived a more instructive and exemplary life.

From the year 1668 to 1671,[60] Marquette had been preaching at the Sault de Sainte Marie, a little below the foot of Lake Superior. He was associated with others in that mission; but the largest type, though it thrust itself no higher than the smallest, will make the broadest impress on the page of history; and even in the meager record of that time, we may trace the influence of his gentle but firm spirit—those by whom he was accompanied evidently took their tone from him. But he was one of the Church's pioneers; that class whose eager, single-hearted zeal is always pushing forward to new conquests of the faith; and when he had put aside the weapons that opposed their way, to let his followers in, his thoughts at once went on to more remote and suffering regions. During his residence at the Sault, rumors and legends were continually floating in of the unknown country lying to the west—"the Land of the Great River," the Indians called it—until the mind of the good father became fully possessed with the idea of going to convert the nations who dwelt upon its shores. In the year 1671, he took the first step in that direction, moving on to Point St. Ignatius, on the main land, north of the island of Mackinac. Here, surrounded by his little flock of wondering listeners, he preached until the spring of 1673; but all the time his wish to carry the gospel where its sound had never been heard was growing stronger. He felt in his heart the impulse of his calling, to lead the way and open a path for the advance of light. At the period mentioned, he received an order from the wise intendant in New France, M. Talon, to explore the pathless wilderness to the westward.

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