Indian Haters and Sympathizers
Digital History ID 673
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, white attitudes toward Indians were sharply divided. On the one hand, white hatred of Indians persisted, an attitude exemplified by the quotation from H.H. Brackenridge. But the rise of the romantic movement in art and literature, with its emphasis on the emotional and the spiritual, also bred other images. Rejecting the image of the "barbaric savage" or "devil in the flesh," romantic literature often expressed a bitter distaste for the costs of "civilization" and a deep nostalgia for the rapidly disappearing world of nature.
Between 1830 and 1836 and then again from 1852 to 1857, George Catlin (1796-1872) traveled among many Indian peoples, and painted Indian portraits and lifeways in order to document a vanishing culture.
On what is their claim founded? --Occupancy. A wild Indian with his skin painted red, and a feather through his nose, has set foot on the broad continent of North and South America; a second wild Indian with his ears cut in ringlets, or his nose slit like a swine or a malefactor, also sets his foot on the same extensive tract of soil. Let the first Indian make a talk to his brother, and bid him take his foot off the continent, for he being first upon it, has occupied the whole, to kill buffaloes, and tall elks with long horns...
What use do these...streaked, spotted and speckled cattle make of the soil? Do they till it? Revelation said to man, "Thou shalt till the ground"....I would as soon admit a right in the buffalo to grant lands, as...the ragged wretches that are called chiefs and sachems....
With regard to forming treaties or making peace with this race, there are many ideas:
They have the shapes of men and may be of the human species, but certainly in their present state they approach nearer the character of Devils....
The tortures which they exercise on the bodies of their prisoners, justify extermination....If we could have any faith in the promises they make we could suffer them to live, provided they would only make war amongst themselves, and abandon their hiding or lurking on the pathways of our citizens...and murdering men, women and children in a defenseless situation....
Source: H.H. Brackenridge, Indian Atrocities: Narratives of the Perils and Sufferings of Dr. Knight and John Slover Among the Indians (Cincinnati, 1867), 62-72.
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