Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

clothed in a red coat trimmed with gold lace; he had been scalped, and was supposed to have been a Spanish officer. But though they have no pretensions to a great antiquity, they undoubtedly commemorate the existence of a people more numerous and powerful than the present race of Indians.

The bones of animals and snakes have sometimes been found mixed with human bones in these tumuli; also stone pipes and pottery ; and out of one near Cincinnati were dug two large marine shells, one of which was the Cassis Cornutus of the Asiatic islands, the other the Fulgur perversus of the coast of Georgia and East Florida; and, hence it has been inferred, that an intercourse must anciently have existed between the Indians of this part of North America and the inhabitants of Asia, and between them and those of the Atlantic. There is, indeed, a popular belief that the American Indians had their origin in Asia; and, as we observed in our last Number, many circumstances, still existing, give probability to the conjecture. In their persons, colour and reserved disposition, they have a strong resemblance to the Malays of the Oriental Archipelago; that is to say, to some of the Tartar tribes of Upper Asia; and it is a remarkable circumstance that, like these, they shave the head, leaving only a single lock of hair; they have also, as Mr. Schoolcraft observes,' the custom of binding the feet of their female infants in such a manner as to make the toes point inward, which gives them in after-life a very awkward appearance in walking.' We really thought that this practice had been confined to those refined Tartars, the Chinese. We might adduce the picture-language of the Mexicans, as corresponding with the ancient picture-language of China, and the quipos of Peru with the knotted and party coloured cords which the Chinese history informs us were in use in the early period of the empire; we might compare the high cheek bones, and the elongated eye of the two people, and produce other resemblances as so many corroborating proofs of a common origin. But as this is not the place for so fruitful a source of discussion, we willingly leave it to the new ' Asiatic Society.'

At the confluence of the Osage with the Missouri, a town had been located, to which the name of Missouriopolis was given; and of which, from its situation, great expectations were formed. The Osage rises in the Ozark mountains to the southward, and is stated, in point of magnitude, to rank nearly with the Cumberland and Tenessee; but it is full of sand-banks, capable, however, of being removed, which would open a navigation of six hundred miles, through a rich and densely wooded country, resembling in all respects the western slope of the Alleghany mountains. Beyond this a day's sail carried the steam-boat to the rising town of Franklin, the country about which abounds in brine-springs, at one of which*

named named Boon's lick, eighty bushels of salt are said to be manufactured daily.

The navigation of the Missouri above and below the spot where the Grand River falls into it from the northward, was nearly impracticable from the rapidity of the current, and the multitude of snags and sand-bars; the steam-boat grounded every moment, and it required the greatest exertion to arrive at Fort Osage, about one hundred miles above the mouth of the Grand River, and the extreme frontier at that time of the white American settlements, being four degrees of longitude to the westward of the mouth of the Missouri. But such is the restless disposition of these back-woodsmen, and so averse are their habits from those of a civilized neighbourhood, that nothing short of the salt, sandy desert can be expected to stop them. One of these squatters, who had gradually reached this point in his migration from Tenessee, told them, that 'a man might live in greater ease and freedom, where his neighbours were not very numerous;' and the notorious Daniel Boon, who about fifty different times has shifted his abode westward, as civilization approached his dwelling, when asked the cause of his frequent change, replied, 'I think it time to remove, when I can no longer fell a tree for fuel so that its top will lie within a few yards of the door of my cabin.' There is not much to be said for the squatters; but they are preceded in their wanderings by another class, known by the name of * White Hunters,' who, by the testimony of Mr. James, are 'the most abandoned and worthless among the whites; frequently men whose crimes have excluded them from society.' These people hunt very little themselves, but trade with, cheat, and corrupt the Indians.

The steam-boat arrived near the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri, about the middle of September. This branch, during its floods, is said to pour into the Missouri a greater volume of water than is contained in the main branch, or that upon which Messrs. Lewis and Clarke proceeded in their route to the Pacific. On the bank of the latter, at a short distance above the junction of the Platte, the party erected cabins, and wintered, sending back the steam-boat as being of no further use. To this spot they gave the name of ' Engineer Cantonment.' Its latitude was 41° 25'4''N. longitude 95° 43'53" W. During their winter's residence, the thermometer was frequently below zero, and the ice on the Missouri was sixteen inches thick; but it broke up and was entirely dispersed by the end of March.

Near this spot the Americans had established a fort and garrison, which was suffering severely from sickness.

'Camp Missouri has been sickly, from the commencement of winter; but its situation is at this time truly deplorable. More than three

hundred

hundred soldiers are, or have been sick, and nearly one hundred have died. This fatality is occasioned by the scurvy (scorbutus). Individuals who are seized rarely recover, as they cannot be furnished with the proper aliments; they have no vegetables, fresh meat, nor antiscorbutics, so that the patients grow daily worse, and entering the hospital is considered by them as a certain passport to the grave.'—James, vol. i. p. 175.

Mr. James has indulged in long and tedious accounts of the Omawhaws, the Ottoes, the Pawnees, &c. the variety of their dances and long speeches, their thefts and war parties, their manners, customs and religious rites, and in minor details, in which, we conclude, our readers would find as little interest as ourselves. There is, in fact, very little of the pleasing in the Indian character; and we entirely agree with Major Long that' the delicate trains of thought and reflection, attributed to them by writers who have attempted to enlarge our acquaintance with the Indian character, usually have their origin in the ingenuity of 'the writers themselves.' Many of the tribes cultivate a little maize, beans, water-melons and squashes in the summer, and in the autumn and winter go out to hunt the bison, the deer, the beaver, 8tc.; or to plunder and scalp some other tribe. Others, for they are not nice in their diet, live chiefly on ants; the squaws scoop them out of their hillocks, wash the dirt from them, roll them on a flat stone iuto a dense paste and flatten them into cakes, from which a soup is prepared. They use no salt with their food, nor spices, nor aromatics of any kind. The vice of gambling is universal, but drunkenness among the distant tribes is rare. The worst trait in the Indian character is the neglect showu towards the aged and helpless, which is carried to such a degree that, when on a march or a hunting excursion, it is a common practice to leave behind their nearest relations when reduced to that state, with a little food and water, abandoning them without further ceremony to their fate.

'When thus abandoned (says Mr. James) by all that is dear to them, their fortitude does not forsake them, and the inflexible passive courage of the Indian sustains them against despondency. They regard themselves as entirely useless; and as the custom of the nation has long led them to anticipate this mode of death, they attempt not to remonstrate against the measure, which is, in fact, frequently the consequence of their earnest solicitation.'—James, vol. i. p. 237.

Yet such is the regard which they affect to feel for their departed relations, that they mourn over their graves at certain seasons, and, like the more northern Indians, destroy their property as the means of soothing their affliction for their loss.

On the 6th June the party set out from their winter-quarters with a sufficient number of horses and mules; pursuing their route along

the the valley of the Platte, ' which presented the view of an unvaried plain from three to eight miles in width, and extending more than one hundred miles along that river, being a vast expanse of prairie or natural meadow without a hill or other inequality of surface, and with scarce a tree or shrub to be seen upon it.' Of these dry prairies, which constitute so remarkable a feature in American scenery, Mr. Schoolcraft says, ' the profusion of wild flowers, and the sweet-scented Indian grass, while they fill the air with a refreshing fragrance, delight the eye with the richness and never-ending variety of their colours; and viewed under the influence of a gentle western breeze, which is seldom wanting, leaves nothing to complete the picture of the most enchanting rural beauty.'

These prairies continue to increase in number and extent, in proceeding up the Missouri as far as the Platte, and in the same proportion the quantity of forest trees decreases. Along the Platte the country presents, on every side, an undulating surface, with nothing to limit the view or variegate the prospect, but here and there a hill, knoll, or insulated tract of table-land. The limestone and coal strata have now ceased, and are succeeded by the red sandstone formation of the Great Desert, which extends in a gentle slope nearly 400 miles to the very base of the Rocky Mountains, and nearly 500 miles from north to south. Its surface is divided by deep ravines, to the depth of many hundred feet below the common level; and marked by a scanty growth of pitchpine, red cedar, stunted oaks, willows and a few other trees, skirting the rivers and brooks which meander along their bottoms; nothing like a tree, however, is found on the elevated surface of the great desert, which is occasionally characterized by waterworn pebbles, and gravel, of granite, gneiss and quartz; but the predominant characteristic is sand, which, in many places, prevails to the entire exclusion of all mould whatever. In patches where vegetation shows itself, it is mostly confined to tufts of withered grass, prickly pears, and those succulent and saline plants which can derive subsistence out of the most arid, sandy and sterile soils'. Two species of the cactus are described as most formidable plants, the cactusferox and the cactus cylindricus. The former is stated to reign sole monarch over myriads of acres of these desolate plains, in patches, which neither a horse nor any other animal will venture to pass, though Mr. Nuttall says, that the antelope finds the means of .making this plant subservient to its necessities, ' by cutting it up with its hoofs.' The latter grows singly, and forms a cluster by itself, increasing to such a size that, seen from a distance, it is frequently mistaken for a bison. The whole plant is so thickly beset with terrific spines, that it forbids all approach to it either by man or beast. In some places are found loose fragments of vof*

canic rods: and in others are knolls and detached table-masses, of several hundred feet high, of trap rock; but all these formations are superincumbent on horizontal strata of secondary sandstone. There are, however, no traces whatever of volcanoes. Major Long concludes they were extinguished previously to the recession of the waters that once inundated the vast region between the Alleghany and Rocky Mountains. In various parts, however, of this great valley, and more particularly along the line of the Mississippi, and lower part of the Missouri, smoke and flame have been observed, sometimes accompanied by a strong sulphureous smell; and those false fires, usually known by the name of' Willo'-the-wisp,' are stated to be very common, and to play as many tricks upon the back-settlers, as they were once thought to do with our own countrymen.

Though, generally, on these dreary and desolate plains, scarcely a green plant or a living creature is met with, yet in the neighbourhood of the rivers and in the valleys through which they meander, there sometimes occur such immense herds of bisons, as to blacken the whole surface. In one place, M r. James says, he does not exaggerate in asserting, that' at least ten thousand burst on the sight in the instant.' 'In the morning,' he adds,' we again sought the living picture, but, upon all the plain, which last evening was so teeming with noble animals, not one remained.' From this place, the higher they advanced up the Platte, the more numerous were the various animals; and bisons, (called,erroneously, buffalos,) deer, bears and wolves, were every day met with. The wolf is sure to be found in the rear of the gregarious animals; and the grizzly bear (Ursus horribilis), the 'raw-head and bloody-bones' of North America, comes in for a share when berries and other vegetable food fail him., 'We find,' says Mr. James,' a constant source of amusement, in observing the unsightly figure, the cumbrous gait, and impolitic movements of the bison; we were often delighted by the beauty and fleetness of the antelope, and the social comfort and neatness of the prairie-dog villages.'

A * prairie-dog village' is the warren of a pretty little species of marmot, (the arctomys ludoviciana,) which has received the absurd and inappropriate name of ' Prairie Dog,' from a fancied resemblance of its warning cry to the hurried barking of a small dog. Some of the warrens spread over a surface of many square miles; the entrance of each burrow is at the top of a little mound of earth, of a foot or eighteen inches high, on the summit of which the little animals sit and bark, and flourish their tails, but plunge in on the least appearance of danger. We are told that, during the winter months, the prairie-dog becomes torpid; but first he closes up the entrance of his burrow, and then makes, for his comfort and

Vol. xxix. NO. Lvii. B security,

« AnteriorContinuar »