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Copyright 1999-2013,
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History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)

  
 

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CHAPTER VIII

MOTIVES FOR WAR ON THE PART OF THE INDIANS

It is a melancholy fact, which cannot be denied, that almost every American --- every man, who has any idea of the principles of abstract justice --- must, and generally does, acknowledge that the Indians have been badly treated, and have ever had sufficient cause for making war upon the whites.  Though the whites may not have made the first assault directly, yet they did indirectly.  They came to their shores from countries where nations fought for conquest; and conquest was the avowed object of all the expeditions of discovery, from the time of the Genoese navigator to that of Raleigh.

Yes, they came as friends, but claimed the privilege of taking from the poor native, everything which he possessed if found valuable.  A few valueless beads were given to the simple native in exchange for fortunes that princes might envy.  The whites made settlements upon the lands of these people, and even tried to subject them to the chains of bondage; and when opposed by these natural republicans --- fired by a patriotic love of country, home, and graves of their ancestors---war! war to the knife, was opened upon them.

These people possessed sagacity enough to see, that a final obliteration of their race must be the result, and accordingly took such steps as their savage nature suggested, to prevent the catastrophe.

They waged a cruel war --- which was returned with as much or more cruelty by the whites.  The Indians waged a war for home --- for wives --- children --- the tombs of their fathers, and their hunting-grounds.  The cruel manner in which the whites were sometimes killed, did not justify a Christian people to wage a similar war, and butcher their victims in a like manner.

In most atrocities, in early warfare, by the Indians, the cause came indirectly from the whites, who kept their wigwams in a state of riot by intoxicating liquors, of the excitement of which, the Indian as well as the white-man was fond; and when under its terrifying influence the Indian committed a depredation, the white-man was sure to repay it with a vengeance calculated to inflame the already over-excited resentment of the injured and insulted child of nature.  All acknowledged that before the year 1492, the Indians owned every foot of land from the North Sea, to Cape Horn, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean; and that now, they do not own a foot which can be called their own.  It will be said that the lands were purchased from the Indians: I answer by asking, What equivalent did they receive? they did not receive the value of a grain of wheat to the acre.  Would the sale be a valid one in an American court of justice?  No, the truth is, that the principle on which this land was bought was to blind the eyes of the world, and did not show any desire on the part of our government, or the governments of Great Britain or Spain, to give the ignorant red-man a fair valuation of his lands.  The sum required to do this, was forty-eight billions of dollars, or forty-eight thousand millions --- a sum greater than all Europe was ever able to pay.  For the ten or twenty millions paid the Indians, the whites have received seven fold from them in the shape of exchanges for valueless beads, etc

It is said by a wise philosopher, that "intellect is universal in its application, it may become the handmaid of any of the faculties."  In this instance it seems to have been the instrument by which the base passion of avarice sought satiation.  And so the Indians now feel:  in illustration I may be excused for here introducing a speech delivered at Fort Wayne in 1803, by an Indian chief, perhaps Laulewasikaw, the notorious prophet and brother to Tecumseh, the Tippecanoe warrior.

"The Master of Life," said he, "who was himself an Indian, made the Shawanoes before any other of the human race; and they sprang from his brain; he gave them all the knowledge he himself possessed, and placed them upon the great island, and all the other red people descended from the Shawanoes.  He made the French and English out of his breast, the Dutch out of his feet, and the Long-knives (Virginians) out of his hands.  All these inferior races of men he made white and placed them beyond the stinking lake (Atlantic Ocean).  The Shawanoes continued for many ages to be masters of the continent, using the knowledge they had received from the Great Spirit in such a  manner as to be pleasing to Him, and to secure their own happiness.  In a great length of time, however, they became corrupt, and the Master of Life told them he would take away from them the knowledge which they possessed, and give it to the white people, to be restored when, by a return to good principles they should deserve it.  Many ages after that, they saw something white approaching their shores; at first they took it for a great bird, but they soon found it to be a monstrous canoe, filled with those who had got the knowledge which belonged to the Shawanoes.  After these white people landed, they were not content with having the knowledge which belonged to the Shawanoes, but they usurped their lands also: they pretended indeed to have purchased these lands; but the very goods they gave for them, were more the property of the Indians than the white people, because the knowledge which enabled them to manufacture these goods, actually belonged to the Shawanoes: but these things will soon have an end.  The Master of Life is about to restore to the Shawanoes both their knowledge and their rights, and he will trample the Long-knives under his feet." (NOTE: Life of. Tecumseh)

Tecumseh said to Gen. Harrison that, "the Americans had driven the Indians from the sea-coast, and would soon push them into the lakes," and that he as one was, "resolutely determined to take a stand, and prevent, if possible, the farther encroachment of the whites upon the Indian lands." (NOTE: Dawson.)

It was this idea of knowledge and Christianity, being the instruments of torture and oppression, that drew from the lips of the St. Domingo chief, Hautey, the memorable remark which has portrayed so much truth in so few words.  Having fled from St. Domingo to escape the oppression of the Spaniards, he was captured and ordered to be burned alive: this order was given by the governor of Cuba, Velasquez.  When urged at the stake to embrace Christianity, he inquired if the white men would go to heaven?  on being answered in the affirmative, he replied, "then I will not be a Christian; for I would not go again to a place where I must find men so cruel. (NOTE: Las Casas, in an article describing the cruelties of his countrymen in the New World, and quoted by Prescott in his conquest of Mexico.)

Were I sent forth to find men true and brave, I know of none to whom I should go sooner than to the Indians.  Were their deeds of heroism emblazoned upon the page of unfading history, a brighter light could not be cast upon the works of God.

I have been induced to make these remarks to mitigate, in a measure, the feelings that must have been harrowed up, by the perusal of the massacres contained in the last few chapters.  I may be accused of being over-partial to the Indians; but I cannot persuade myself that such is the case, or that I have said one word too much for them, nay, rather do I feel my inability to do justice to the lords of the American forest, with whom, the proudest of the proud, might seek an alliance.

The day of trial to the poor Indian has not yet passed, the whites are yearly encroaching upon the territory set apart for their residence by the general government.  Lawless men, who seek only self aggrandizement, are daily insinuating themselves among the Indians, and selling to them intoxicating liquors --- destroying not only life, but domestic peace, and fitting the poor savages for the commission of deeds which will bring vengeance upon their heads.

If this custom is not arrested, we may expect to see the Indians continue to dwindle away before the now powerful, but ungrateful offspring of their guests, driven hither by oppression, but a few hundred years ago.  That all deplore this fact, who suffer themselves to reflect for a moment, none will deny.  We seldom meet with an individual who is so dishonest as to claim that justice has been done the Indians even by historians.

With pleasure we recount the deeds of the heroes of past ages --- each striving to color them highest --- but amid all our labors, few wield the pen to perpetuate the deeds of heroism acted by the many brave warriors who have figured among the American Indians.  Why is this?  Ah! the answer is plain --- it requires much labor, and does not pay so well as those labors which are bestowed on a familiar theme.  Hannibals or Napoleons may not have led their hosts of red-men to the battle-fields in the forests of America; but men with the patriotism of a Washington, have fallen battling for their homes.  How many must be the daring feats which have been performed by these brave people; and how pure were those emotions which actuated the Indian father to leave his home, and all its endearments, to repel the advancing foe!  How devoted must have been that Indian mother to the land in which reposed the bones of her boy? for it has not yet been proved, that civilization and love are inseparable.

It may be, that the obliteration of the Indian race, was but the working of an allwise Providence, and if so, then none will complain.  But that they might have been civilized, and brought to an understanding of the truth of Christianity, is proved beyond a doubt, by the present condition of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes.  In college, the Indian boy has not been found deficient; nor can I subscribe to the opinion, sometimes expressed, that they are an inferior race of men.  Circumstances have conduced to make them such --- but instances have not been wanting, where the unfavorable conditions have been removed, of great depth of mind, and general vivacity of intellectual powers, having been exhibited by the North American Savages.

It is a remarkable fact, that most of the tribes or fragments of tribes of North American Indians are but little more advanced than they were centuries ago.  The Indians of the west, still hunt with the bow and arrow, and make war with the lance and shield.  Their religion, manners and customs, have undergone little change for three hundred years.  The same vague superstitions --- the same stupid ignorance --- the same mutual dissensions which have never been the barriers to their prosperity, yet exist --- a few tribes, originally settled east of the Mississippi river, have become somewhat civilized, and Christianized; but the greater portion of the western Indians are still savages.  The labors of Christian missionaries have been too confined and cramped, to accomplish what we could have wished to see.

But surely, the Christian denominations, if not the general government will take some steps to reclaim this lost people.  The more we learn of them, the more we find to admire.  Then how noble would be the labor of a life among them, that their full history might now be saved, and not perish, as it will most likely, without exertions, in less than two centuries, when not one representative of these once powerful people will exist, to remind us of their ancestors --- our benefactors.

Who is he that would not contribute something to the cause of education --- one of the first steps to civilization --- among the poor ignorant savages of the western wilds?  Surely, if such a man lives, he will not let his existence be known.

The day is coming when the western wilds must be converted into happy homes, and if the red-man who now occupies them is not first taught to fill the injunction laid upon Adam, he must go the way of his ancestors and be no more known among the nations of the earth.

 

 

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