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Leaving the Falls, I proceeded on an excursion to the small town of Buffalo, on Lake Erie. The road, on the Canadian side, runs close to the broad, deep, and rapid stream of the Niagara River, and passes through a cleared and well-cultivated country; while the views, presented as one drives along, are extremely beautiful. The Canadian bank is divided into well-cultivated fields, while that on the New York side remains covered with thick forest. But in consequence of the stimulus given by the neighbourhood of the Great Canal, the New York side is beginning to be settled, and will doubtless soon be as well cultivated as its Canadian rival.
After crossing the river at the little village of Blackrock, three miles of very bad road brought me to Buffalo, a small town, but which is rising to eminence with wonderful rapidity, from the circumstance of its being the place where the Grand Canal enters Lake Erie. Many of the Indians of the Six Nations were assembled here to receive payment from the United States for some lands purchased of them. Their number, in the town and its immediate neighbourhood, was about 1200, being a large portion of all that remains of these once powerful tribes.
It is a melancholy thing for any one to contemplate the rapid decrease of the aborigines of America, a decrease at first begun by the sword, and which is now more rapidly effected by the pernicious effects of ardent spirits. Moreover as the settlements of the Backwoodsmen extend to, and border on the frontier, the Indians find themselves, as it were, pushed back; and since the game decreases in proportion as the country becomes inhabited, their means of subsistence decrease also. Under these circumstences, they are induced to sell their lands to the United States; although they generally reserve a small tract for themselves, to which they can retire if they please, and cultivate the earth. Many remove back into the woods; and being uncontaminated by the neighbourhood of civilization, remain a very fine race of men, and differ materially from the demi-civilized Indians, who soon lose the virtues, as well as the appearance of savages. Moreover, as the white men occasionally form a very intimate acquaintance with the Squaws, a race of what the Americans call half-bloods is the consequence.
In their wild state, the Indians are brave and noble-minded, always keeping their promise inviolable, and considering hospitality to a stranger as a sacred duty. As to their treatment of prisoners, I will only observe that greater cruelty has been practised, in similar cases, by nations calling themselves civilized. An old Indian very properly remarked to me: "When we take prisoners of war, we cannot, like the white men, shut them up in strong houses; for we live in the woods, and can scarcely support ourselves: we must therefore either make brothers of our enemies, or kill them." I think myself, that if an Indian had seen one of our hulks during the French war, he would sooner have been at once burnt to death after the manner of his country, than incarcerated year after year in one of these floating Bastiles. But even during times of peace, civilized Europeans have practised barbarities which an Indian would scarcely credit.
What would he think of the Inquisition, of the Star Chamber, of the Spanish atrocities in South America, of the still existing Slave Trade, and of the tortures that have been inflicted in every Christian country, upon individuals unwilling to submit to tyranny, or unable to believe the incomprehensible dogmas invented by bigoted and depraved priests? If you told such things to an Indian, he would shudder with horror. I grant he tortures his captive; but then it is a man whom he has taken in open warfare, and by whom, if had he been conquered, he would have been served in the same manner. Would an Indian burn one of his own tribe, one of his brothers, because he differed from him with regard to some abstract opinion, which both parties must in their consciences allow to be doubtful? Not only would he be shocked at the bare idea of such an atrocity, but he would never be persuaded of its ever having been really committed. Thus, when a gentleman once related to au Indian Chief some historical accounts of religious persecutions, he received for answer, "Brother! what you tell me cannot be true. It is not White men who do so: You tell me the history of Devils." Yet forsooth these devils call themselves civilized people, and have written volumes of abuse against the barbarous Indians.
This much injured race has never had an historian to vindicate, nor a poet to celebrate their actions; and while, if any massacre of the whites took place, the press teemed with accounts of Indian barbarity, no one has taken the trouble to investigate the wrongs, that drove the Indians to assuage their vengeance in the blood of their enemies. The following extract of a speech of the great warrior Tecumtha,* gives a good idea of the treatment they have met with from Europeans:—
"Brothers f—When the white men first set foot on our grounds, they were hungry. They had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble: they could do nothing for themselves. Our fathers commise
* i. e. "The Shooting Star."
t Hunter's Memoirs of his Captivity among the Indians, page 45. This work of my friend Mr. J. D. Hunter gives the best and most accurate account of the Indians yet published. His opportunities indeed of collecting information hare been, and are likely to be, unrivalled.