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The fairest of the Indian maids, bright-eyed,
weep where no eye saw, and was not found
One day, into the bosom of a friend,
All that look on me
heart root out The love that wrings it so, and I must die.”
It was a summer morning, and they went
And shaggy bear, the offerings of the tribe
* Pron. bad.
Grandeur and moral interest of American Antiquities.-
You will expect me to say something of the lonely records of the former races that inhabited this country. That there has, formerly, been a much more numerous population than exists here at present, I am fully impressed, from the result of my own personal observations. From the highest points of the Ohio, to where I am now writing, * and far up the upper Mississippi and Missouri, the more the country is explored and peopled, and the more its surface is penetrated, not only are there more mounds brought to view, but more incontestable marks of a numerous population.
Wells, artificially walled, different structures of convenience or defence, have been found in such numbers, as no longer to excite curiosity. Ornaments of silver and of copper, pottery, of which I have seen numberless specimens on all these waters,—not to mention the mounds themselves, and the still more tangible evidence of human bodies found in a state of preservation, and of sepulchres full of bones,are unquestionable demonstrations, that this country was once possessed of a numerous population. * * The mounds themselves, though of earth, are not those rude and shapeless heaps, that they have been commonly represented to be. I have seen, for instance, in different parts of the Atlantic country, the breast-works and other defences of earth, that were thrown up by our people during the war of the revolution. None of those monuments date back more than fifty years. These mounds must date back to remote depths in the olden time.
From the ages of the trees on them, and from other data, we can trace them back six hundred years, leaving it entirely to the imagination to descend farther into the depths of time beyond. And yet, after the rains, the washing, and the crumbling of so many ages, many of them are still twenty-five feet high. All of them are, incomparably, more conspicuous monuments than the works which I just noticed. Some of them are spread over an extent of acres. I have seen, great and small, I should suppose, a hundred.
* Sl Charles, on the Missouri.
Though diverse, in position and form, they all have an uniform character.
They are, for the most part, in rich soils, and in conspicuous situations. Those on the Ohio are covered with very large trees. But, in the prairie regions, where I have seen the greatest numbers, they are covered with tall grass, and generally near benches,—which indicate the former courses of the rivers,-in the finest situations for present culture; and the greatest population clearly has been in those very positions, where the most dense future population will be. *
The English, when they sneer at our country, speak of it as steril in moral interest. “ It has,” say they, numents, no ruins, none of the massive remains of former ages; no castles, no mouldering abbeys, no baronial towers and dungeons; nothing to connect the imagination and the heart with the past; no recollections of former ages, to associate the past with the future.”
But I have been attempting sketches of the largest and most fertile valley in the world, larger, in fact, than half of Europe, all its remotest points being brought into proximity by a stream, which runs the length of that continent, and to which all but two or three of the rivers of Europe are but rivulets. Its forests make a respectable figure, even placed beside Blenheim park.
We have lakes which could find a place for the Cumberland lakes in the hollow of one of their islands. We have prairies, which have struck me as among the sublimest prospects in nature. There we see the sun rising over a boundless plain, where the blue of the heavens, in all directions, touches and mingles with the verdure of the flowers. to me, a view far more glorious than that on which the sun rises over a barren and angry waste of sea. The one is soft, cheerful, associated with life, and requires an easier effort of the imagination to travel beyond the eye. The other is grand, but dreary, desolate, and always ready to destroy.
In the most pleasing positions of these prairies, we have our Indian mounds, which proudly rise above the plain. At first the eye mistakes them for hills; but, when it catches the regularity of their breast-works and ditches, it discovers, at once, that they are the labours of art and of men.
When the evidence of the senses convinces us that human bones moulder in these masses; when you dig about them, and bring to light their domestic útensils; and are compelled to believe, that the busy tide of life once flowed
It is, here; when you see, at once, that these races were of a very different character from the present generation, you begin to inquire if any tradition, if any, the faintest, records can throw any light upon these habitations of men of another . age.
Is there no scope, beside these mounds, for imagination, and for contemplation of the past? The men, their joys, their sorrows, their bones, are all buried together. But the grand features of nature remain. There is the beautiful prairie, over which they “strutted through life's poor play." The forests, the hills, the mounds, lift their heads in unalterable repose,
and furnish the same sources of contemplation to us, that they did to those generations that have passed away.
It is true, we have little reason to suppose, that they were the guilty dens of petty tyrants, who let loose their half savage vassals to burn, plunder, enslave, and despoil an adjoining den. There are no remains of the vast and useless monasteries, where ignorant and lazy monks dreamed over their lusts, or meditated their vile plans of acquisition and imposture.
Here must have been a race of men, on these charming plains, that had every call from the scenes that surrounded them, to contented existence and tranquil meditation. Unfortunate, as men view the thing, they must have been. Innocent and peaceful they probably were; for, had they been reared amidst wars and quarrels, like the present Indians, they would, doubtless, have maintained their ground, and their posterity would have remained to this day. Beside them moulder the huge bones of their contemporary beasts, which must have been of thrice the size of the elephant
I cannot judge of the recollections excited by castles and towers that I have not seen. But I have seen all of grandeur, which our cities can display. I have seen, too, these lonely tombs of the desert, -seen them rise from these boundless and unpeopled plains. My imagination and my heart have been full of the past. The nothingness of the brief dream of human life has forced itself upon my mind. The unknown race, to which these bones belonged, had, I doubt not, as many projects of ambition, and hoped, as sanguinely, to have their names survive, as the great ones of the present day.