HOSPITALITY is sacred with the Indians. Their wigwams are open, and they have an unwritten law that any one has a right to sleep in them. Permission is never asked, but when a stranger enters it is accepted as a matter of course, often nothing being said on either side. If the host is particularly pleased to see his guest he says, "Ni-min-ub-i-min, ni-min-ub-i-min," (we are at home, we are at home,) which is considered great cordiality, and the seat of honor behind the fire is offered, and the women bring in fish or wild rice and place before him. If a stranger comes at night and finds no one awake, he makes a fire, rolls himself in his blanket and goes to sleep. The pleasure which the family receives from the news brought by the visitor compensates for his entertainment. This hospitality extends to white people, although contact with the latter has produced its effect, and it is usually expected that upon departure some trifle will be left as a recompense.
The Indian's standard of excellence is amiability of disposition. If this is lacking, a man will be looked upon as a bad fellow even if he were to possess every other cardinal virtue. On the other hand he will be highly esteemed, in spite of grave moral defects, if uniformly kind and considerate. As an outcome of this a man may commit an outrageous offence against the code, but he will never be reminded of it by word or manner. It may be secretly mentioned to another, but to refer to it before the offender would be enough to ruin a reputation for kindness and politeness.
Indians are not profane, and it is well known that they do not take the name of God in vain, nor use the senseless oaths common among profane white people. More profanity and bad language may be heard every night in a white man's logging camp, or on a ranch, than in a life of twenty years among Indians. As my dear brother, Archdeacon Gilfillan says, "Sin never flames to the height that it does among white people."
A government surveyor, a God-fearing man, told me that one of his chainmen became ill and he was obliged to send to the Indian Agency for some one who could speak English to take his place. Frederick Smith, who was chosen, went to his employer after having been at work a few days, and said: "I must go back to my people. Your young men use bad oaths, and if I stay I may learn them. There is not an oath in the Ojibway language." The surveyor called the young men together and, telling them the story, made so touching an appeal that profanity was broken up in the camp.
I took this boy with me to Faribault, educated him, and he became a candidate for Holy Orders, and is now in charge of the parish at the White Earth reservation, where Archdeacon Gilfillan resides, and the Rev. J. J. Enmegahbowh is the rector-emeritus.
Polygamy is permitted, but it is not common. I once saw an Indian who had three wives, running from his lodge evidently much excited. When I asked him if he were in trouble he answered, "Too much squaw! too much squaw! "
The marriage ceremony is very simple. A young brave, being pleased with a maiden, manifests his interest and goes to her lodge in the evening, covering his face with his blanket so that he may not be recognized by his friends. If the parents of the maiden approve, they will lie down and sleep, leaving the lovers to themselves; but if they are not in favor of the union they will pile logs on the fire, making the lodge as bright as day, and the suitor retires. When satisfied of the love of the maiden and the approval of the parents, a gift is presented to the latter--perhaps a pair of blankets, a gun, or a piece of cloth--and if accepted, a lodge is built and wedded life begins. As a rule they are kind to each other, but sometimes when a domestic quarrel occurs the man "throws the woman away," as divorce is termed. Fondness for their children is a passion with them. Courteousness of speech is a marked characteristic. It is an act of great rudeness to interrupt another, and the last words of every speech are, "I have done."
Knowledge of this fact once enabled me to settle a serious difficulty. The Indians at Leech Lake had heard that the Government had sold all of their pine without their knowledge or consent. I was on a visitation in the southern part of the state, when I received a telegram from George Bonga, a negro of mixed blood, saying, "The Indians at Leech Lake have killed the government cattle and stolen the government goods. I fear an outbreak."
George Bonga had been educated in Montreal. He was a man of great intelligence and perfectly understood the Indian character. He had been my companion on many journeys through the Indian country. I could rely implicitly upon any information he gave me, and I repeated his telegram to Washington, adding, "This man is trustworthy." In a few hours Secretary Delano telegraphed me: "The President requests you to go to Leech Lake and settle the difficulty. He will ratify whatever you do." I went to St. Paul and consulted General Terry, asking him to give Captain McKaskie, who was stationed at Fort Ripley, leave of absence to accompany me, "for," I said, "if I take a Republican and settle this trouble, I shall be accused of covering up rascality; if I take a Democrat and fail to settle it, I shall be accused of stirring up an outbreak."
It was in the dead of winter, the thermometer below zero and the snow deep.' It was a journey of seventy-five miles through the forest, and it took us three days to reach Leech Lake. The Indians came to their council in paint and feathers, angry and turbulent. The chief, Flatmouth, arose and said: "I suppose you came to find out who killed the government cattle. / did. You want to know who took the government goods. / did. I told my young men to do it. Perhaps you want to know why we did it. We have been robbed. We have been robbed again and again. We will bear it no longer. Our shadows rest on our graves." He talked a long time, angry, exasperated, and using bitter invective and stinging sarcasm. Meanwhile, I tried to think of some way to stop him, knowing that if he could be silenced I might reach the others. I rose and said:--
"Flatmouth, how long have you known me? "
"Twelve years," he answered.
"Have I ever told you a lie? "
"No, you have not a forked tongue," he replied.
"I shall not tell you a lie to-day," I went on. "I am not a servant of the Great Father; I am the servant of the Great Spirit. I shall tell you the truth. It will not be pleasant to my red brother. When you killed those cattle, you struck the Great Father in the face. When you stole those goods, you committed a crime. I am not here to tell you what the Great Father will do. He has not told me. If lie does what he ought to do, he will arrest those who have committed this crime if it takes ten thousand men."
As I expected, the chief was very angry, and, springing to his feet, began to talk violently. I folded my arms and sat down. When he paused I said quietly: "Flatmouth, are you talking or am / talking? If you are talking, I will wait till you have finished; if I am talking you may wait till I have finished." The Indians all shouted, "Ho! ho! "Their chief had committed a great breach of courtesy toward me, their friend.
Overwhelmed with confusion, Flatmouth sat down, and I knew that the ground was mine. I then told them that when I heard of the pine sale I wrote to Washington and protested against it; that I went to the man who bought the pine and told him that I should oppose the sale and carry the matter into the courts. "But," I added, "when I ask good men to help me, and they ask if the Indians, for whom I am pleading, are the ones who killed those cattle and stole those goods, what shall I say? You are not fools. You know that you put a gag into my mouth. Now you may talk this over amongst yourselves, and when you are ready, send for me. ' I shall be at the log house opposite."
They remained in council for several hours and then sent for me. "We have been foolish," they said. "You are wiser than we are. Tell us what to do and we will do it." After promising to be peaceable, they asked me to express their sorrow to the Great Father. The sale was not confirmed.
At my next visit to Leech Lake Flatmouth asked me to go to his lodge. "The first time I saw you," he said, "you wore something over your robes. I thought it was the badge of your office. I asked my wife to make one for you. "Will you have it?" And he presented me a stole made of black glass beads with a cross of gold beads worked in the ends. "I give you this," he said, "because you are the friend of my people."
The argument which I made against the pine sale was this: England, Holland, France, and Spain have recognized the possessory right of the Indians to the soil, a right that can only be extinguished by treaty. The ordinance of 1787, which has the binding force of the Constitution, expressly declares that the Indians' property shall never be taken except by purchase, or in wars duly authorized by Congress. When Napoleon sold to the United States the country west of the Mississippi River, the rights of the Indians were reserved. The legislative, executive, and judicial departments of the Government have always recognized this right. The pine timber is a part of the realty. If the Secretary of the Interior has a right to sell the pine, he has also the right to sell the land. If he has the right to sell one reservation, he has the right to sell all reservations, and hence the Secretary can dispossess every Indian tribe in the United States of their homes.
The man who sold this pine was the Rev. E. P. Smith, a Congregational clergyman, who was the Indian agent. He sold it by the direction of the Department. For this he was denounced as dishonest. I knew him intimately while he was an Indian agent, and I believe that he was a devoted Christian and an official faithful to his trust. After his resignation from the office of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, he went to my uncle, the Secretary of the American Missionary Association, and said: "They have assailed my character and have robbed me of the dearest thing in life. Give me any work, however hard, and I will do it." The Missionary Board sent him to Africa, where he died of African fever. Mr. Smith was field-agent for the Christian Commission during the Civil War, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but he died poor. He had a small family and was most abstemious in his manner of living. The last time we met he burst into tears as he grasped my hand and said: "I am so grateful, Bishop, for your kind words. You believe me honest. God knows I have tried to do my duty." For my defence of Mr. Smith I was censured.
There are conflicting feelings in the Indian's heart toward his white brother, for whom he has an inborn reverence; and there is an instinctive sense of what he should be to him; but his knowledge of what he has really been, and still is, clouds his mind so that he is swayed by a mingled sentiment of love and wrath toward him.
Travellers usually form their ideas of Indian character by the vagabonds of the border village or railway stations, who have lost manhood by contact with the worst elements of our own race. It would be as just for a foreigner to describe the character and habits of the American people from what he had seen in the slums of New York.
After my first visit to the Indian country, in 1859, I wrote the following letter to President Buchanan, and began my pleading for a reform in the Indian system, and exposing its evils.
FARIBAULT, MINNESOTA. April 9th, 1860.
TO HIS EXCELLENCY JAMES BUCHANAN, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Sir: Having been called to the Episcopate of Minnesota, I find in my diocese several thousand Indians of the Sioux, Winnebago, and Chippewa tribes in whom I feel the deepest interest. They are American Pagans whose degradation and helplessness must appeal to every Christian heart. From their past history they have peculiar claims upon the benevolence and protection of a Christian nation. The only hope for the Indians is in civilization and Christianization. They understand this, and I believe would welcome any plan which will save them from destruction.
The curse of the Indian country is the firewater which flows throughout its borders. Although every treaty pledges to them protection against its sale and use, and the Government desires to fulfil this pledge, thus far all efforts have proved ineffectual.
The difficulties in the way are these: First, the policy of our Government has been to treat the red man as an equal. Treaties are then made. The annuities are paid in gross sums annually; from the Indian's lack of providence and the influence of traders, a few weeks later every trace of the payment is gone. Second, the reservations are scattered and have a widely extended border of ceded lands. As the Government has no control over the citizens of the state, traffic is carried on openly on the border. Third, the Indian agents have no police to enforce the laws of Congress, and cannot rely upon the officers elected by a border population to suppress a traffic in which friends are interested. Fourth, the army, being under the direction of a separate department, has no definite authority to act for the protection of the Indians. Fifth, if arrests are made, the cases must be tried before some local state officer, and often the guilty escape. Sixth, as there is no distinction made by the Government between the chief of temperate habits and the one of intemperate, the tribe loses one of the most powerful influences for good,--that of pure official example.
With much hesitation I would suggest to those who have Indian affairs in charge and who, I trust, feel a deep solicitude for their welfare,--
First, whether, in future, treaties cannot be made so that the Government shall occupy a paternal character, treating the Indians as their wards, and giving to them all supplies in kind as needed.
Second, whether a United States Commissioner could not be located near all reservations with authority to try all violations of Indian laws.
Third, whether more definite instructions cannot be issued to all Indian agents to take prompt action to prevent the sale of ardent spirits to the Indians, and with full power to enforce the law.
Fourth, whether the department has power to strike from the roll of chiefs, the name of any man of intemperate habits, and thus make a pure, moral character the ground of government favor.
Fifth, whether the department has authority to issue a medal on one side of which should be a pledge to abstain from intoxicating drinks for one year, these medals to be given to all Indians at the time of payment, who will make this pledge.
Sixth, whether in the future the different bands of an Indian tribe may not be concentrated on one reservation.
Seventh, whether some plan cannot be devised to create in the Indians an interest in securing for themselves homes where they can live by the cultivation of the soil.
Eighth, whether practical Christian teachers cannot be secured to teach the Indians the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and the arts of civilization.
Be assured that I appreciate fully the perplexities which surround our relations to the Indians. My excuse for addressing you is my deep interest in this wronged people, whom the Providence of God has placed under my spiritual care. In my visits to them my heart has been pained to see the utter helplessness of these poor souls, fast passing away, caused in great part by the curse which our people have pressed to their lips.
I have written frankly as a Christian bishop may write to the Chief Magistrate of a Christian Nation. It was my privilege to send you, a few weeks ago, a letter on this subject from the Hon. John A. Dix. I enclose herewith letters from the Hon. D. S. Dickenson, the Hon. Samuel Beardsley, Mr. C. Comstock, of the Albany Argus, and Judge Hunt of New York.
With my best wishes and prayers for your health, happiness, and prosperity,
I am faithfully yours,
H. B. WHIPPLE,
Bishop of Minnesota.