Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in gathering materials, than in stopping to draw too nice and delicate conclusions by the way." And in this view, the title, prefixed, of “ Letters and Notes,” is appropriate. It would have added to their value, if the original dates had also been retained, as it would give precision to references, which may hereafter be more important, particularly in the estimate of nuinbers, &c., than at present.

About one third of the text of both volumes is devoted to the Mandans, and some adjacent tribes; and we regard this as one of the most interesting, original, and valuable parts of the author's observations. This would have been felt, had this tribe continued to occupy its somewhat peculiar position among the western stocks; but the author's descriptions have become the more important, from the subsequent annihilation of the entire tribe by the small-pox. This fatal disease was carried

up

the Missouri by a mulatto man on board a steamboat, which left St. Louis in the spring of 1837.

The disease did not manifest itself until the boat had got up five hundred miles, and it became impossible, at this time, to arrest its progress among the tribes. Thousands of the bands inhabiting the upper portions of this river fell before it, but on none were its comparative ravages so great and appalling, as on the Mandans. Out of a population estimated at sixteen hundred, in July of that year, but thirty-one escaped with life ; and these few, dejected, fear-stricken, and overwhelmed by the calamity of their countrymen, are represented to have destroyed themselves by jumping from precipices, or rushing upon the lances of their enemies. The fatality of its action upon this tribe, may be attributed in some degree to the fact of their living in a closely embodied form, in two villages compactly built, and surrounded by palisades, to keep off their enemies.

Mr. Catlin speaks in high terms of the personal bravery, the hospitality, dress, arms, and physical traits of this tribe, whom he regards as remotely of Welch origin. Lewis and Clarke had spoken of them as a tribe of lighter color than others. Numbers of them, it has also been observed, from an early period of our acquaintance with them, have light and very long hair and blue eyes. But in all other respects, they exhibit a striking similarity to the other leading members of the red race. What proportion of them are thus characterized is not stated, nor whether the intermarriages with European stocks, so common on the frontiers, have been greater or less than usual. It is stated, that they manufacture clay pots and other vessels, an art which all the American tribes possessed at the era of the discovery, but which nearly all of them have long dropped, supplying themselves, through the medium of the fur trade, with vessels of brass, copper, and tin. Several of their customs, as detailed by our author, are more revolting and barbarous than those of any known tribe on the continent. We refer, particularly, to the trial of bravery, or physical endurance, as exhibited in the sixtysixth, sixty-seventh, and sixty-eighth plates of the first volume, and the accompanying text. Their language, judged by the specimens exhibited, bears a strong affinity to the Sioux ; and the ire with which the latter have at all times warred against them, partakes much of the bitterness of a family quarrel. It is believed there are facts within the range of American aboriginal history and antiquities, to countenance the tradition of an early migration of the ancient Britons to North America ; but, if we have not mistaken the chain of evidence, the supposed descendants of the captured colonists are to be sought for west and south of the late residence of the Mandans.

The military expedition from Fort Gibson on the banks of the Arkansas, to the hostile tribes living on the upper waters of Red River, before referred to, opened a new field for observation in the wide-spread circles of the red race. By extending the boundaries of our actual knowledge of the iribes to those Arabs of the southwest, the Camanches, and their almost equally equestrian neighbours, the Kiowas and Pawnee Picts, we have added to the preëxisting evidences, drawn from physiognomy, color, and customs, which, despite apparent discrepances of language, denote an original unity of the red race. The account of this expedition, given in the printed report of Colonel Dodge, who, after the demise of General Leavenworth, assumed the command, embraces valuable information, and indicates bis efficiency as an officer. It is a subject of regret, that the extensive prevalence of fever among the troops, necessarily curtailed and limited their operations. Mr. Catlin represents the Camanches as rather low in stature, and somewhat heavy and ungraceful on their feet, but possessing great dexterity, and evincing ease and grace of manner, on horseback. He estimates their population, very vaguely we think, at from thirty to forty thousand. He gives no specimens of their language, the shortness of his stay requiring all his time to be devoted to his pencil. From the names of the chiefs, whose portraits he painted, the sounds of ts and tz appear to distinguish it from the Pawnee and other dialects north of them. The same combination of consonants marks the names of the Wicos, and also of the Kiowas, a tribe living some four days' journey to the southwest, who are described as “a much finer looking race of men than either the Camanches or Pawnees, are tall and erect, with an easy and gracesul gait, with long hair, cultivated oftentimes so as to reach nearly to the ground. They have, generally, the fine and Roman outline of bead, that is so frequently found at the North, and decidedly distinct from the Camanches and Pawnee Picts." * This tribe, together with the Wicos and Pawnee Picts, appear to be living on terins of close alliance, and will, we apprehend, be found to possess stronger points of connexion than the philological affinities pointed out. Among this group, comprehending the southwest angle of the Union and extending largely into Texas, we notice the same fluent and frequent use of the letter r in their proper names, connected with the open vowel sounds a, i, o, which obtains in the Tuscarora and other kindred dialects of the Iroquois.

Another portion of our western country, to which Mr. Catlin brings the merit of original observation, is the vast semi-mountainous chain, which, rising near the Red River of Lake Winnipec, runs due south into the denuded prairie region, and terminates at a point nearly equidistant from the waters of the Mississippi and Missouri, in north latitude about 44o. To this elevated range, called the Coteau des Prairies, our author was led chiefly by the celebrity it had acquired in Indian traditions, as the locality of the dark red, easily cut, sedimentary mineral, out of which the tribes make their pipes. † And in this journey he appears, with his companion, a Mr. Wood, of England, as the first actual explorer. If any other traveller or curiosity-hunter had ever before visited this locality, it is utterly unknown. It was not practicable in Carver's time. Mr. Featherstonhaugh failed in his attempt. The sanctity attached to the spot by the natives has opposed an obstacle to the advance of white men; and it is one which Mr. Catlin had to encounter. He found the quarry 10 be near its southern extremity, at the foot of a perpendicular stratified cliff of quartzy rock, thirty feet high, and two miles in extent. The face of this cliff, of which we have examined specimens from the hands of Mr. Catlin, is perfectly vitreous and shining, and, in this respect, totally unlike any other non-volcanic rock. That it is of a secondary character, is evident from its stratification and overlying position, with respect to the pipe-stone stratum ; and this fact is furthermore indicated by ihe indistinctly granular structure of some portions of it. It is, in fact, a granular quartz, and may be regarded as part of an immense formation of this kind, lying at a great altitude at a former period over a large portion of the area of the northwest, of which the solitary locality at the falls of Puckagama, on the upper Mississippi, is a part.

* Vol. II. p.

74. | Mr. Catlin is inadvertent in stating, that this is the only locality of this kind of stone in America. A similar stone, of darker red or chocolate color, occurs on a high hill on the banks of Chippewa river, in the Territory of Wisconsin.

Mr. Catlin found at this elevation large primitive boulders of the erratic block group, resting on the secondary series ; an occurrence remarkable for the magnitude of the blocks, but not otherwise differing from the common aspect of this feature in American geology. The parent bed of these boulders need not be sought at a point more remote than the banks of the upper Mississippi, between Soc and Elk and De Corbeau rivers, where the primitive granitical group were foound, in a highly crystalline state, by General Cass, in his expedition to the head-waters of the Mississippi, in 1820.

The high value attached by the aborigines to this species of material for their pipes, and its intimate connexion with their superstitious rites and religious ceremonies, have led them to resort to this spot, in all past ages, with feelings approaching to veneration. If it has not been made another Delphic temple of Diana, where votaries came to solve their doubts and obtain responses, it has greatly resembled it in the moral influences shed over half America, by furnishing to the tribes, in this stone, the symbolical medium of exhibiting their necromantic arts, solemnizing their religion, or sealing their political covenants. Mr. Catlin observed the rocks in the vicinity, to be covered with inscriptions of various kinds, left there by the natives as memorials of their visits, or evidences of their martial seats, their lineage, or their devotion.

It would afford us pleasure to submit further extracts from his work, verifying our commendations of his descriptions of the wild hunting sports of the West, the rich and varied scenes over which he passed, and the thrilling ceremonies of which he was so often a spectator. But the limits to which we are confined, forbid it, and we must refer the reader to the work itself for this gratification. As little

space have we to denote those instances which we have marked in the reading, as errors of fact or opinion, owing to haste, bad interpreters, a desire to grasp more than fell in his way, or scantiness of research. Most of these instances occur in those branches of the subject, however, on which the author confessedly does not take credit to himself, or to which he has devoted but little attention, such as the past history of the tribes, and those general considerations which belong to their origin, their antiquities, or their languages. Or

Of nany of the wild and free tribes roving in the West, and their mode of subsistence, dress, hunting scenes, or peculiar ceremonies, so little was known, that almost any thing that was observed, was likely to have the charm of novelty, and there was but little danger of running counter to prior observers. But, when our author has touched on nations and tribes nearer home and better known, or taken up topics which require care and study, we have felt the wish, either that he had yielded more time to the subject, or been directed by a sounder logic in some of his deductions. The proposition which is confidently made and repeated, that, out of fortyeight languages in North America, thirty are radically different, and eighteen only dialects, unsupported as it is by data, appears wholly gratuitous ; but five vocabularies, of one hundred words each, are furnished, and even of these, one fifth at least is adverse to the proposition. Mr. Gallatin, who has profoundly investigated this subject, is of opinion, that the uniformity of character in the grammatical structure and forms of the indigenous languages, denotes a common origin, however varied by verbal changes and the process of

« AnteriorContinuar »