Indian Wars and Dispossession

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In Colorado Territory in 1864, Colonel John Chivington, a Civil War veteran, led a band of Colorado militia against an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek. "I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable . . . to kill Indians," Chivington is reported to have said before the attack (quoted in Brown, p. 85). His raid killed 105 Indian women and children and 28 Indian men. Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, was holding an American flag attached to a pole as Chivington's riders bore down. The local paper, the Daily Rocky Mountain News, quoted Chivington's own description of the raid as "a victory unparallelled in the history of Indian warfare" (quoted in Coward, p. 112). Later one of Chivington's men wrote, "In going over the battleground the next day I did not see a body of a man, woman, or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrrible manner" (quoted in Brown, p. 89). Nothing of this was reported at the time.

The disparity between newspaper accounts of Indian fights in this period and the actual facts of the matter leads John Coward to some sober conclusions. "Indian war reporters," he writes, "approached the West with a set of ideas about Indians. . . . there was no 'Indian side' to the Indian wars . . . because Indians had no legitimate standing in the public conception of the West" (p. 132). If there was no "Indian side" to the "Indian wars" in the press, how was the history of Indian removal and dispossession represented in the literature of the period? Did the nineteenth-century literary author, any more than the nineteenth-century journalist, propose an "Indian side" to the story of Euro-American–Native American relations?

For the most part, the answer is no. Too many powerful sets "of ideas about Indians" got in the way. Even for us to see an "Indian side" to the story today requires, as the historian Francis Jennings puts it, some "painful revision of the pleasant myths we all learned in grade school" about the "winning of the west." The central myth—what others have called the myth of the frontier—offers a narrative of decent folk "setting out with their families to conquer the wilderness and create civilization . . . these sturdy, God-fearing folk endure all the hazards and toil of their mission, standing constantly at arms to fend off attacks by savage denizens of the wilderness." This myth of the ever-advancing frontier of civilization, Jennings writes, is "nationalist and racist propaganda to justify conquest of persons who happen to be Indians, and their dispossession" (p. 312).

There were a great many novels, histories, biographies and autobiographies, poems, plays, burlesques, and even operas in this period that took Indians as their subject matter. Few of the authors who wrote them are among those we consider important today, but all, major and minor figures alike, believed that native people, even those who were their contemporaries, were essentially relics of the past, last remnants of a dying race. The belief that human beings were divided into distinct "races" and that some "races" were inferior to others became widespread in the United States by the 1830s. This belief held that Indian "savages" were "fated" to vanish before the superior "race" of "civilized" Anglo-Saxons or "Caucasians," and there was no changing fate.

Even the writers who later came to be considered the major literary authors of the period, some of whom were decidedly sympathetic to the Indians, for the most part believed that Indians were destined or fated to "vanish." We will examine the representation of Indians in the work of these authors because it is a very important, if often neglected, aspect of their work. However, it needs to be said, in fairness, that to judge these authors solely from this perspective would be to flatten out and simplify their work. Only the Reverend William Apess, a Pequot, succeeds in fully dramatizing an "Indian side" to America's history, the progress of "civilization," as it were, from the point of view of its victims.


From a historical perspective, the year 1820 may be viewed as marking the two hundredth anniversary of European settlers' invasion of Native America, a period during which native tribal nations were substantially reduced in their numbers and lands by force of germs and force of arms. In 1620 the Mayflower pilgrims landed in Provincetown Bay, making their way farther up Cape Cod, eventually to found Plymouth Plantation on Indian lands. In 1630 a fleet of Puritans from England arrived, and soon Massachusetts Bay Colony was established, also on lands occupied by indigenous—native—people. Indians mostly sided with the British during the Revolutionary War and, having chosen the losing side, were forced to make the best deal they could with the citizens of the new United States. Native people again sided with the British in the War of 1812, with assurances that this time the king would not lay down the tomahawk until Indian rights and claims were fairly met. Nonetheless, at the war's end in 1815 England left its Indian allies no better off than they had been before.

In the next half century, from 1820 to 1870, Americans continued to displace tribal nations from the Southeast, Southwest, and the eastern plains, violently reducing the number of California Indians by some two-thirds. Andrew Jackson, who had defeated the Creeks of southern Georgia in 1814, forcing them to cede no fewer than twenty million acres of land to the United States, was elected president in 1828. An important part of Jackson's program was "Indian Removal," the relocation of southeastern tribes to lands (already occupied by other native peoples) west of the Mississippi.

The Cherokees of Georgia were a major target for removal. By the time of Jackson's election the Cherokees had a written language, a constitution modeled after that of the United States, and the first newspaper (the Cherokee Phoenix, established in 1828) to publish in an indigenous language and in English. Many Cherokee people had converted to Christianity and had extensive agricultural plantings. Large Cherokee landholders also owned slaves. In response to Jackson's removal policy, the Cherokees sent a number of "memorials"—documents roughly having the status of petitions—to Congress arguing their sovereignty (that is, their legal status as domestic independent nations). They also published these in their newspaper and encouraged papers in the East sympathetic to the Cherokees' plight to reprint the memorials.

Nonetheless, in 1830 the Indian Removal Act, granting the president the authority to enter into treaties with the eastern tribes for their removal west of the Mississippi, was passed by Congress. Jackson immediately worked for the removal of the Cherokees and also of the other four so-called Five Civilized Tribes, the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles. Cherokee removal by federal troops under General Winfield Scott in 1838 gave rise to the Trail of Tears, the bitter trek in winter to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, a forced march in which some four thousand persons out of a population of thirteen thousand died.

Less well known is the suffering of some of the midwestern tribes. The Winnebagos, for example, whose home was in the area of the Wisconsin River, ceded land no fewer than seven times in the period from 1829 to 1866, moving some six times, their population declining by 50 percent. As a result of the Black Hawk War of 1832, the last Indian war fought (mostly) east of the Mississippi, Chief Black Hawk's Sauk people of Iowa were seriously restricted. As we shall also note below in regard to King Philip's War in the seventeenth century, to call what happened to Black Hawk's people a "war," Herman Viola believes, "stretches all credulity, for at most 70 whites lost their lives, whereas nearly all of the Indian group of 500 men, women and children perished" (quoted in Kennedy, "Margaret Fuller," p. 7).

Following the Mexican-American War of 1848, American victory led not only to massive land acquisitions—Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California—but to conflict with Navajo and Apache people in those areas. The California gold rush of 1849 brought a great number of prospectors to the territory, many of whom regarded the local Indians as less than human, often shooting them on sight. As the U.S. commissioner of Indian Affairs, Adam Johnson, himself acknowledged, "The majority of [California] tribes are kept in constant fear on account of the indiscriminate and inhuman massacre of their people" (quoted in Jennings, p. 366).

In 1862, while the attention of the northern states was primarily focused on the Civil War with the South, Indians once more required attention. In Minnesota, crowded by the advancing Euro-Americans, upset by the delay in payments agreed to by the U.S. government in exchange for their lands, and with many of their people starving, a large number of Santee Sioux along with some Wahpeton and Sisseton Sioux attacked settlements in Minnesota, killing some five hundred settlers and soldiers. When the uprising was put down, in addition to those Indians killed, wounded, and imprisoned, 303 Santees were sentenced to be hanged. Notified of the sentences, President Abraham Lincoln (who as a young man had fought against Black Hawk's Indians) asked to review the trial records. A report to the president concluded that those records showed a failure to differentiate between Indian people guilty of capital crimes and those guilty of far lesser infractions. In the interest of justice Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but thirty-eight of the condemned Indians. Yet by May 1863 the remaining Santee nonetheless began to be shipped out of the state to the Crow Creek reservation on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory.

About this time in the Southwest, Kit Carson was enlisted by the government to help pacify the Navajo. Carson's policy of destroying their crops, livestock, and peach orchards forced the Navajo to submit, leading in 1864 to the Long Walk in winter from Fort Canby and Fort Wingate to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Many Navajo people did not survive the journey or the captivity.

We have already mentioned Chivington's 1864 raid in Colorado Territory against the peaceful encampment of Black Kettle and his people at Sand Creek. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, former Union troops became available for duty on the plains and in the Southwest. Thus it was that in 1868 the Civil War general George Armstrong Custer, soon to achieve legendary status for his "last stand" against the Cheyenne and Lakota (Sioux) on the Little Bighorn River in 1876, managed to do what Chivington had not: to kill Black Kettle, who was this time camped with his people on the Washita River. Custer and his men killed 103 Cheyennes, only 11 of them men of fighting age.

By the time the Bureau of the Census declared the "frontier" closed in 1890, most of the country's Indian nations had been reduced in numbers, penned on reservation lands, or both, and American destiny, as the nineteenth century approached its end, could be seen to have manifested itself in the achievement of domination "from sea to shining sea."


For Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), Indians are most often savages in league with the devil. Their expertise in the use of medicinal herbs is useful to the malevolent Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter (1850), and Chillingworth may also have learned the pleasures of revenge from the Indians. Near the novel's conclusion, when there seems yet a possibility that Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the father of her child, may go off together, leaving the constraints of Puritanism in seventeenth-century


The works listed below are intended to give some idea of the extent and variety of writing that dealt substantially with Native Americans in the period 1820–1870. Many of the works included are literary in the current sense of the word—novels, poems, plays, tales, romances, and autobiographies. Others testify to a change in our understanding of the category of literature. In this period, for example, captivity narratives—stories, most of them true, but some fictitious—about persons captured and held by Indians qualified as literature. Even some of the titles labeled "history" are written in a style and a manner that today looks more nearly literary than strictly historical. Melodramas and burlesques then were probably literature, although today we would add the qualifying adjectives "popular," or even "bad." The reader will notice the degree to which most of those whom we now consider to be the major authors of the period are not represented on this list. Also to be noted are the writings of some few, but important, Native American authors.

James W. Eastburn and Robert Sands, Yamoyden, a Tale of the Wars of King Philip: In Six Cantos.

Washington Irving, Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (Reprints "Philip of Pokanoket" and "Traits of Indian Character.")

Joseph Doddridge, Logan, the Last of the Race of Shikellemus, Chief of the Cayuga Nation. (Play.)
John Neal, Logan. (Sensational fiction.)
Elias Boudinot (Buck Watie, Cherokee), PoorSarah; or, Religion Exemplified in the Life and Death of an Indian Woman. (Religious tract attributed to Boudinot, who may not have written it but did translate it into Cherokee.)

Lewis Cass, Inquiries, Respecting the History, Traditions, Languages, Manners, Customs, Religion, &c. of the Indians, Living in the United States. (This was an official survey by Cass, governor of Minnesota Territory.)

James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers; or, The Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale. John Dunn Hunter, Memoirs of a Captivity among the Indians of North America.

Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times. (Novel.)

James E. Seaver, ed., A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, Who Was Taken by Indians in the Year 1755. (Captivity narrative.)

Rufus B. Anderson, ed., Memoir of CatharineBrown, a Christian Indian of the Cherokee Nation. (Biography and collected letters.)
Elias Boudinot (Buck Watie, Cherokee), AnAddress to the Whites. Delivered in the First Presbyterian Church [probably Philadelphia] on the 26th of May 1826. (Argument that Indians are capable of becoming as "civilized" as whites.)

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans; or, A Narrative of 1757.

James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie: A Tale.

David Cusick (Tuscarora), Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations.

Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie; or, Early Times in the Massachusetts. (Novel.)

Lydia Maria Child, The First Settlers ofNew-England; or, Conquest of the Pequods, Narragansets, and Pokanokets: As Related by a Mother to Her Children, and Designed for the Instruction of Youth.
William Apess (Pequot), A Son of the Forest. (Autobiography.)

James Fenimore Cooper, The Wept of Wish-ton-wish. (Novel.)

John Augustus Stone, Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags. (Play, first performance.)

John Tanner, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, ed. Edwin James.

Richard Peters, The Case of the Cherokee Nation against the State of Georgia.

Henry Whiting, Sannillac, a Poem, by Henry Whiting. With Notes by Lewis Cass and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Esqs.

Samuel G. Drake, Biography and History of the Indians of North America.

James Hall, Legends of the West.

B. B. Thatcher, Indian Biography; or, An Historical Account of Those Individuals Who Have Been Distinguished among the North American Natives, as Orators, Warriors, Statesmen, and Other Remarkable Characters. (This went through many editions over many years.)

William Apess (Pequot), The Experiences ofFive Christian Indians of the Pequ'd Tribe. (Autobiography and biography; concludes with "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man.")

Black Hawk (Sauk), Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-shekia-kiak or Black Hawk, ed. J. B. Patterson. (Autobiography.)

Richard Emmons, Tecumseh. (Play, first performance.)
William Apess, Indian Nullification of theUnconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe; or, The Pretended Riot Explained. (Account of Apess work among the Mashpee to obtain an extension of their rights.)

James Hall, Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the West. (Contains the sketch "The Indian Hater.")

Washington Irving, A Tour of the Prairies.

William Gilmore Simms, The Yemassee, a Romance of Carolina.

William Apess (Pequot), "Eulogy on King Philip."
Robert Bird, Nick of the Woods; or, The Jibbenainosay: A Tale of Kentucky. (Novel.)
Benjamin Drake, The Life and Adventures ofBlack Hawk: With Sketches of Keokuk, the Sac and Fox Indians, and the Late Blackhawk War.
Samuel G. Drake, Tragedies of the Wilderness . . . . (Captivity narratives.)
James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder; or, The Inland Sea. (Novel.)
George Catlin, Letters and Notes on theManners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, by George Catlin. Written during Eight Years' Travel amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America. In 1832, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39, with Four Hundred Illustrations Engraved from His Original Paintings. (Also published in London and reprinted many times with varying numbers of engravings of the paintings.)

James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer; or, The First War-Path: A Tale.

Benjamin Drake, Life of Tecumseh, and of His Brother the Prophet; with a Historical Sketch of the Shawanoe Indians.

William L. Stone, Uncas and Miantonomah: A Historical Discourse Delivered at Norwich(Connecticut) on the Fourth Day of July, 1842, on the Occasion of the Erection of a Monument to the Memory of Uncas, the White Man's Friend, and First Chief of the Mohegans. (This book is 209 pages long, so presumably Stone did not "deliver" all of it on the Fourth of July.)
Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, in1843. (Travel account with references to Black Hawk and the Black Hawk War.)
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Onéota; or, The RedRace of America. (Popular version of his collection of Indian myths and legends.)
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Notes on theIroquois. (Report to the government on the possibility of "civilizing" the Iroquois.)
John Brougham, Metamora; or, The Last of the Pollywogs. (Burlesque.)

George Copway (Ojibwe), The Life, History, and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh (George Copway).

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States . . . Prepared for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Further volumes of this massive work were issued from 1851 to 1857.)

George Henry (Maungwudaus, Ojibwe), An Account of the Ojibway Indians.
Mary Henderson Eastman, Dahcotah: or, Life and Legends of the Sioux around Fort Snelling.

Elbert H. Smith, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak; or, Black Hawk, and Scenes in the West: A National Poem in Six Cantos.

Francis Parkman, The California and Oregon Trail: Being Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life.

Lewis H. Garrard, Wah-to-yah and the TaosTrail; or, Prairie Travel and Scalp Dances with a Look at Los Rancheros from Muleback and the Rocky Mountain Camp-fire. (An extraordinary account by a seventeen-year-old from Cleveland who was part of a militia that helped retake Taos after the uprising of 1847.)
George Copway (Ojibwe), The TraditionalHistory and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation.

Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Ho-do-no-saunee or Iroquois. (Full-scale study of the Iroquois.)

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers 1812–42.

John A. McClung, Sketches of Western Adventure. (Includes many captivity narratives.)
Mary Henderson Eastman, The Romance of Indian Life. (Poems, tales, and chromolithographs.)
John Rollin Ridge (Yellow Bird, Cherokee), TheLife and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit. (Novel.)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha. (Epic poem.)

John Brougham, An Original Aboriginal Erratic Operatic Semi-Civilized and Demi-Savage Extravaganza, Being a Per-Version of ye Trewe and Wonderfulle Hystorie of ye Renownned Princesse Pocahontas; or, The Gentle Savage.

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, The Myth ofHiawatha, and Other Oral Legends, Mythologic and Allegoric of the North American Indians.

Charles M. Walcot, Hiawatha; or, Ardent Spirits and Laughing Water, a Musical Extravaganza.

Royal B. Stratton, Captivity of the OatmanGirls: Being an Interesting Narrative of Life among the Apache and Mojave Indians.
Sylvester Crakes, Five Years a Captive among the Black-Feet Indians . . . Endured by John Dixon. (Fictitious captivity narrative.)
William Gilmore Simms, The Cassique of Kiawah: A Colonial Romance.
Peter Jones (Ojibwe), History of the OjibwayIndians. (Published posthumously by his English wife.)
Ann Coleson, Miss Coleson's Narrative of HerCaptivity among the Sioux Indians . . . a Victim of the Late Indian Outrages in Minnesota.
Lydia Maria Child, "An Appeal for the Indians."

John Rollin Ridge (Yellow Bird, Cherokee), Poems.

Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall, History of the Indian Tribes of North America.

Francis Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac; and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada. (History.)

America, Chillingworth, her lawful husband, is seen with some Indians, "wild . . . painted barbarians," but more particularly, with some who are even wilder, "swarthy-cheeked sailors" whom Hawthorne calls "the wild men of the ocean, as the Indians were of the land" (quoted in Maddox, p. 122). Lucy Maddox notes that the sailors' eyes have an "animal ferocity," matching, perhaps, the Indians' "snake-like black eyes" (p. 122). For Hester to join the company of such sailors may once again be to put herself in danger of sin.

Just as Hawthorne had written of the institution of slavery that it was "one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances," so too did he believe that Providence would assure that soon only "a few Indian arrowheads shall be treasured up as memorials of a vanished race" (quoted in Arac, p. 254). Divine Providence would, in due time, put an end to slavery, but until then the actions of men and women could produce no "remedy." So too would Providence see to it that native people would vanish, nor could the actions of men and women alter the workings of Providence.

Herman Melville (1819–1891), in his epic novel Moby-Dick (1851), names the whaling ship the Pequod, which, the narrator, Ishmael says, "you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes" (p. 67). It is true that the tribe's numbers had declined considerably by the time Melville wrote, but they were by no means "extinct." Indeed, Melville almost surely knew of the Pequot William Apess, whose last publication appeared in 1836.

But why does Melville compare the Pequots to "the ancient Medes" rather than, for example, to the ancient Greeks, more familiar to his audience and also "extinct?" The answer would seem to be that the ancient Greeks, founders of classical "civilization," are our "racial" ancestors. Pequots cannot be like them even in the matter of extinction; rather, Pequots are only comparable to "ancient Medes," that is, Persians, of who knows what "race," certainly not "ours." (The Pequots continue to exist today and run one of the richest casinos in the world, Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.)

Even living, breathing Indians right before Ishmael's eyes are best comprehended as relics of the past. Ishmael introduces "Tashtego, an unmixed Indian [i.e., pureblood] from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men" (p. 107). Tashtego is described strikingly:

Tashtego's long, lean, sable hair, his high cheekbones and black rounding eyes—for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression—all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main. (P. 107)

It is obvious that Melville has made Tashtego's people, the Gay Head Indians, a "last remnant," soon perhaps to be as "extinct" as the Pequots. Yet Melville's description of Tashtego seems uneasy. Tashtego's hair may be long and black but it cannot be "lean." Only his frame or physique can be "lean."

Next, Melville guesses accurately the origins of Indian peoples of the North American continent in an age when some still argued that the Indians were descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. The leading scientific hypothesis today is that Indian peoples did indeed come from the East, through the Arctic regions, crossing, perhaps some fifteen thousand years ago, over what then existed as a land bridge across the Bering Strait to the North American continent. Tashtego, "an unmixed Indian," has inherited the "unvitiated blood of . . . proud warrior hunters." Ishmael's description of Tashtego continues: "To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe snaky limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans, and half believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air" (p. 107). That is to say, a son of the devil. Looking at Tashtego's "tawny brawn," Ishmael perhaps finds himself tempted, as Eve was tempted by the snake. Although Puritan beliefs that Indians were sons of the devil are called "superstitions," Ishmael nonetheless invokes them to warn himself that Tashtego's alluring "tawny brawn" includes "snaky limbs" and that both the snake and the son of the devil are to be resisted. Having racialized Tashtego—references to his "blood" and his "tawny" color—Ishmael can only conclude that this descendant of "proud warrior hunters" is, nonetheless, part of a "last remnant." (The Gay Head Indians continue to exist today as a federally recognized tribe on Martha's Vineyard.)

It would not be fair to Melville to leave this very brief account without acknowledging the degree to which, again and again in Moby-Dick (and in other work), he relativizes or calls into question the matter of savagery and civilization. In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab and the whale hunters, for example, are referred to as the real savages of the day, and Queequeg, the South Seas islander, descendant of cannibal royalty, and Ishmael's friend, is again and again celebrated for his civility. It is also curious to note that Melville may have taken the name of the sympathetic Queequeg from a Narragansett Indian mentioned in accounts of King Philip's War, Queequegununt.

Melville's novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) has almost four short chapters dealing with "The Metaphysics of Indian Hating." Although Melville wrote before Chivington's raid at Sand Creek, Melville's Indian hater, Colonel John Moredock, like Chivington, is one who believes that killing Indians is both right and just. Moredock's story, as its narrator makes clear, derives from James Hall's sketch "The Indian Hater" (1835). Moredock is the son of a woman whose three successive husbands were killed by Indians on the frontier before she herself, along with her nine children, succumbed to Indian attack. Only Moredock survived, and he has devoted his life to hunting down and killing the guilty Indians, and later to murder any Indian he encounters.

The Confidence-Man is a complex, unsettling, even strange book. Some critics have read Melville's chapters on Moredock as an allegory concerning Christianity, or any blind faith, trust, monomania, or "confidence" in general. Others have—quite incredibly, it seems now—read them as sanctioning the single-minded crusade against evil or "savagery" as these are represented by "the Indian." More likely is the suggestion that Melville's portrait of Moredock is meant to comment on the progress of American civilization generally. "Indian-hating still exists," Melville's narrator affirms, "and, no doubt will continue to exist, so long as Indians do" (p. 124). The portrait of the Indian-hating Colonel Moredock is not a pretty picture, but it is one we must acknowledge as relevant to us all.

In his eulogy for Henry David Thoreau (d. 1862), Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked that "every circumstance touching the Indian [was] important in his eyes" ("Thoreau," p. 1243) At his death Thoreau left behind notebooks focused on every aspect of Indian history and culture—some 2,800 handwritten pages. Robert Sayre, in his book Thoreau and the American Indians, concludes that Thoreau's "savagism, naturalism, and classicism were all related" (p. 35). Thoreau's intense interest in nature and natural history inevitably drew him to an awareness of and admiration for Indian people who were already identified—often detrimentally, we must recall—with "nature." Thoreau's general acceptance of the savagist view of Indians as precivilized persons—persons of an earlier time, for all that many of them were living and breathing before him—led him to identify them with our earlier and more robust ancestors the Greeks. In this regard Thoreau's savagism seems to have operated independently of the racialism typical of his time. As all his writings show, Thoreau did not think very highly of America's "civilization," nor was he certain that the Christianity he knew contributed to a life of principle more than a life of self-interest.

On the Fourth of July 1845 Thoreau moved into the cabin he had built in the Walden woods. Whatever else he intended, he was surely engaged in playing Indian, exploiting his positive conception of "Indians" for his own purposes. This use of Indians continued to the end of his life. Yet as he grew older—Thoreau was only forty-five when he died—he was able to keep an open mind about what he "knew," even to the point of depicting one living Indian, Joe Polis, an Abnaki guide to Thoreau on one of his three trips to Maine, as very much a complex contemporary. Sayre is probably right to note that "Joe Polis is the most realistic and attractive Native American" (p. 172) character portrayed by any non-native writer in the nineteenth century. But not even from Thoreau can we hope to get the "Indian side" of the story of Indian-white relations in the 1800s.

Ralph Waldo Emerson made public a letter he composed in April 1838 to President Martin Van Buren protesting the removal of the eastern Cherokees to Indian Territory. (There is evidence that Thoreau's mother, Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau, was one of the people who urged him to write it.) But even as he sympathizes, he uses the racialized discourse of Indian inferiority typical of the period. His plea on behalf of the Cherokees notes that "we have witnessed with sympathy the painful labors of these red men to redeem their own race from the doom of eternal inferiority, and to borrow and domesticate in the tribe the art and customs of the Caucasian race" (p. 303). But inasmuch as the Cherokees had managed to write, to plant, to govern themselves, and even to pray in much the same way as "the Caucasian race," it is difficult to see how their "inferiority" could be "eternal."

Virginia Kennedy has examined what is perhaps Emerson's most influential work, the extended essay published as Nature (1836), for references to the native people of this continent, and we will look at only a few of these. In chapter 3, "Beauty," Kennedy notes Emerson's imaginative reconstruction of Columbus' arrival to "the shore of America" (quoted in "Ralph Waldo Emerson," p. 3). Columbus never reached the North American mainland; his first landing was Guanahani, in the West Indies (an island he renamed San Salvador), where he sees "the beach lined with savages" (quoted in "Ralph Waldo Emerson," p. 3). She remarks Emerson's assertion in chapter 4, "Language," that "children and savages use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs" (quoted in "Ralph Waldo Emerson," p. 10). This is an extraordinary generalization considering the fact that there were hundreds of Indian languages, that Emerson had no knowledge of any of them, and that Navajo (for example) has many more verb forms than English.

Some years later Emerson's attitude toward the Sioux—they seem to stand generally for the "wild" Indians of the plains—would indicate no change of heart about the Indian's lack of brains. In a late volume of verse called May-Day and Other Pieces (1867) there is a poem called "The Adirondacs." On a hiking trip in 1858, Emerson and some Boston friends meet someone who informs them that the transatlantic cable has been completed. Emerson is fascinated at the notion of transatlantic communication, even as he appreciates his rural surroundings. He writes,

We praise the guide, we praise the forest life: 
But will we sacrifice our dear-bought lore
Of books and arts and trained experiment,
Or count the Sioux a match for Agassiz?
O no, not we!

(P. 193)

Louis Agassiz, professor of natural history at Harvard, Emerson's alma mater (and Thoreau's), was a believer in innate racial differences; in 1850 he had written of "the submissive, obsequious negro" and "the indomitable, courageous, proud Indian" (quoted in Dippie, p. 92)—proud, perhaps, but no match for Emerson's civilized company. Thus Emerson again contributes to the triumphal narrative of American progress, here, the progress of arts and science. The Sioux have not achieved the "dear-bought lore" of civilization, nor could they possibly achieve it, racially inferior as they are to Emerson and his fellow Euro-Americans; they are no "match for Agassiz."


Washington Irving's essays "Philip of Pokanoket" and "Traits of Indian Character" were originally published earlier than the period of our concern, but he reprinted both in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819–1820). In "Traits of Indian Character," Irving (1783–1859) announces that Indians "will vanish like a vapour from the face of the earth; their very history will be lost in forgetfulness" (pp. 248–249). Of King Philip he says, "He was an evil that walked in darkness, whose coming none could foresee, and against which none knew when to be on the alert" (p. 258). In Astoria, Irving's 1836 celebration of the entrepeneur John Jacob Astor, he notes that contrary to the energetic Astor, Indians are people whose lives are "little better than a prolonged and all-besetting death"; indeed, "in a little while scarcely any traces [of the Indians] will be left" (quoted in Maddox, p. 73).

This seems also the point of view of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), whose Song of Hiawatha (1855) sold out its first printing of four thousand copies on the day of its publication and completed its first year in print with sales of thirty-eight thousand copies, extraordinary numbers for the time. Longfellow's poem, Helen Carr has written, "anaesthetised American anxieties over their treatment of the Indian; it created a moment of self-indulgent melancholy that could appease the liberal conscience and make further action unnecessary" (p. 141).

Thus Longfellow did not write about the Indians of his own day; instead he worked from Native American stories and legends published by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a government researcher whose wife, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, was part Ojibwe. Schoolcraft's Algic Researches (1839) was the source for many of the characters and events in Hiawatha. But Longfellow got a good deal of Schoolcraft's material wrong. Longfellow's "song" deals with Algonquian peoples of the Great Lakes area, but their leader, Hiawatha, is a Mohawk from northern New York. Nor did Longfellow manage to distinguish between Hiawatha, a historical personage of the late fourteenth century who established the Iroquois League of Peace, and Manabozho, a mythic trickster figure of the Algonquians.

For his meter, Longfellow did not look to any of Schoolcraft's experiments in translating native song. Instead he chose for his poem a singsong meter that he took from the Finnish epic Kalevala, first published in its entirety in 1849. Although Longfellow had studied Finnish, he worked from the German translation of Kalevala by Anton Schiefner (1852). (The first English translation appeared in 1888.) The point is that Longfellow spent some time with Schoolcraft (although not enough time to understand the material) and considerable time with a Finnish epic in German translation, but the poem denies its relation to such sources. Consider the following lines from the introduction to Hiawatha:

Should you ask me, whence these stories? 
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest,
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I should answer, I should tell you,
"From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors and fen-lands,
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah
Feeds among the reeds and rushes. . . ."

(P. 15)

Indian stories, legends, and traditions thus do not arise from cultural and intellectual work; rather, they arise from the land, the mountains, moors, and fen-lands. Indian "culture" is simply "nature," springing as it does both from the land—forests, prairies, lakes, mountains, moors and fen-lands—and its fauna (the heron, or Shuh-shuh-gah).

And just as nature must submit to cultivation, so too must the Indian, nature's creature, also submit to "civilization." Longfellow dramatizes the general attitude of eastern progressive thought about Indians by having Hiawatha counsel his people to abandon the old ways, naturally charming as they may have been, and prepare themselves to "vanish" before the inevitable progress of "civilization."

James Fenimore Cooper's five Leatherstocking novels (1823, 1826, 1827, 1840, 1841) also deal with earlier periods of Indian–Euro-American relations. Although Cooper (1789–1851) sometimes regretted the "inevitable" demise of the Indians, he was quite clear that there could be no future for them. Typically for the period, Cooper racializes the sociohistorical encounter between white and red on this continent. He can grant a certain "nobility" to the "savage" but finds no future for him; Cooper's Indians must give way to a "higher" race. As Cooper wrote in Notions of the Americans (1828), "As a rule, the red man disappears before the superior moral and physical influence of the white" (quoted in Pearce, p. 201). While the "superior moral[s]" of "the white" remain an open question, there was no doubt about the superior "physical" force of "the white" to which the Indians did indeed succumb, although they did not quite "disappear."

Lydia Maria Child's novel Hobomok (1824) took its inspiration from James Wallis Eastburn and Robert Sands's narrative poem Yamoyden, or at least from a review of it she read in the influential North American Review. Making what was then an almost inevitable reference to the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott representing an earlier period on the Scottish border, the reviewer had suggested that American writers could find the equivalent of Scott's settings and characters in the American Indians. But the young Lydia Maria Child (1802–1880) set her novel not among the Indians of her own time but of an earlier period, the time of the so-called King Philip's War (1675–1676). King Philip's name was Metacom, and he was not a king, although he was one of the principal leaders of the Wampanoag nation of Massachusetts. The Wampanoags were attacked by New Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Connecticut, leading to a war frowned upon by England, still the mother country of the American colonists. The colonists named Philip, bestowed upon him his rank, and called the war they had instigated his, implying thereby that the victim had been the aggressor, an implication that would again operate just over a half-century later in the naming of the Black Hawk War.

Child's novel suggested that intermarriage between whites and Indians and Indian assimilation into the dominant society might be alternatives to "fate." More than forty years later, in Child's 1868 An Appeal for the Indians, she writes, "The plain truth is, our relations with the red and black members of the human family have been one almost unvaried history of violence and fraud" (p. 84). She continues, "Yet, while we are perpetually robbing them, and driving them 'from post to pillar,' we go on repeating with the most impudent coolness, 'They are destined to disappear before the white man'" (p. 94).

With Lydia Maria Child we can remark the intersection of concern for women's rights, the abolition of slavery, and Indian rights. In some regards these concerns run parallel to one another, and in other regards the attempt to see them as parallel leads to confusions. Child, for example, sacrificed the popularity her earlier publications had brought her when, in 1833, in An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, she advocated, as Carolyn Karcher summarizes it, "immediate emancipation, an end to all forms of racial discrimination, and the abrogation of laws prohibiting 'marriages between persons of different color'" (p. xiii).

Child's "Appeal for the Indians" has both the strengths and the weaknesses of her abolitionist position. It argues for justice for both native and African American people and asserts that both "races" can attain the heights of white "civilization" given time and opportunity. Thus Child bravely argues against even the progressive view of the time that Indian cultures—not necessarily Indians—be wiped out as quickly as possible so that "civilization" may take their place. She has very little sense—few in the period did—of the value of those cultures, but she does not equivocate in her judgment, as we have seen, that Americans have treated Indians with "violence and fraud" all the while insisting that it is destiny that requires their disappearance.

Very likely inspired by Child's Hobomok, Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie (1827) is also set in the colonial period. Karcher points out that Sedgwick, too, proposes the possibility of Indian-white marriage (although not on the part of the novel's title character) and, even more strongly, "an alliance between white women and Indians" (p. xxxv). Once more, these are issues important to her time, although they are not raised in contemporary terms. It has been suggested that in The Wept of Wish-ton-wish (1829), James Fenimore Cooper returned to Indian material with the intention of opposing Sedgwick's vision of Indian-white marriage and alliance. Cooper's insistence in The Wept on the incompatibility—again, largely racial in nature—between native "savages" and "civilized" whites comes at a portentous moment. For it was only a year before the publication of Cooper's novel, as we have noted, that Andrew Jackson, famed as an Indian fighter, was elected president and set in motion the policy of Indian removal.

Another champion of women's rights (she was somewhat wary of the abolitionists), Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) also briefly wrote about Indians in her short life (she died in a shipwreck), in Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844) and to a lesser extent in journalism of the same period for the New-York Daily Tribune. Although Fuller occasionally wrestles with the dominant discourse of "the unfortunately vanishing Indian"—Fuller's words—she ultimately embraces it. She writes that in regard to the Indian "the power of fate is with the white man" (quoted in Kennedy, "Margaret Fuller," p. 11), and later, shifting the "power" of fate elsewhere, she remarks that "nature seems . . . to declare that this race [Indians] is fated to perish" (quoted in Kennedy, "Margaret Fuller," p. 16). Whether "fate" manifests itself as being "with the white man" or whether it is "nature" that is responsible for "fate," there is no question that the Indian must vanish.

In 1845 Fuller wrote a review of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's book Onéota; or, The Red Race of America (1845) for the Tribune. Fuller opens with the standard observation that "the Red Race" has "well nigh melted from our sight" (quoted in Kennedy, "Margaret Fuller," p. 32). She endorses Schoolcraft's notion that Indian society might have been "reorganized"—except, of course, as Fuller writes, "it is too late for act . . . nothing remains but to write their epitaph with some respect to truth" (quoted in Kennedy, "Margaret Fuller," p. 33). As we have again and again noted, "sympathy" for the Indians' plight goes hand in hand with the racialized discourse of their inevitable disappearance.

Although his major work appeared after 1870, Mark Twain (1835–1910) deserves a brief word. In the 1960s the critic Leslie Fiedler concluded that Twain was "obsessed by a hatred of Indians from the very beginning of his literary career" (quoted in McNutt, p. 224) This is certainly accurate in regard to Twain's early journalism. In an 1868 piece for the New York Tribune, for example, he wrote, "Inflict soap and a spelling-book on every Indian that ravages the Plains, and let them die" (quoted in McNutt, p. 227). There are a very great many other quotations one could offer as evidence of Twain's antipathy toward Indians. Nonetheless, in a career that continued into the early twentieth century, Twain did eventually modify such rabid and uninformed views.

Our survey thus far indicates that the aim of this encyclopedia, to offer "a comprehensive overview of American history through a literary lens," cannot be fulfilled when it comes to Native Americans and the major or even the minor literary authors of the period. All of them reference Indians historically or symbolically with some frequency, but they rarely engage with them as contemporary, historical, cultural, and social beings—and when they do, as we have noted even with Melville and Thoreau, it is still to see them as living anachronisms or last remnants.


If this is the case for authors from the dominant Euro-American culture, what can be said of Native American authors of the period? Quantitatively they are not many, and of those few, fewer still wrote in genres currently recognized as even approximately literary. William Apess (1798–1839), a Pequot, published a full-scale autobiography, the first such text by a Native American, in 1829 and followed this with an abbreviated version of his life story along with brief biographies of his wife and four other native converts to Christianity, The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequ'd Tribe (1833). The original edition of this book concluded with an extraordinary essay called "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man," a powerful indictment of what Apess called color prejudice and what we would call racism. (He did not reprint this essay in the 1837 edition of The Experiences). Apess also published an account of his activism, as we would call it now, on behalf of the Mashpee Indians of Massachusetts, helping them to achieve a greater degree of self-government from the Massachusetts board of overseers and publishing the arguments for this in his Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe; or, The Pretended Riot Explained (1835). In 1836 Apess published the last of his works, a eulogy to Metacom, or King Philip, whom he claims as a distant ancestor and denominates "the greatest man that was ever in America" (p. 308) Apess's work powerfully documents many of the wrongs and injustices done to his people in the past and laments the current sad state, as he has personally experienced it, of native people in and around Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Cherokee author John Rollin Ridge (Yellow Bird, or Chees-quat-a-law-ny, 1827–1867), was quite prolific but left only a single novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854), and a poetry volume, Poems (1868), as his literary testament. Curiously Ridge's novel does not deal with the history of Cherokee dispossession that he suffered personally. Ridge, whose father, John Ridge, was assassinated as a consequence of his acquiescence to Cherokee removal, went off to California and took, as the subject of his only novel, the adventures of a Mexican bandit. Like others of the writers we have so briefly noted, his work only indirectly bears on the history of his period.

See alsoIndians; "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man"; Leatherstocking Tales; Miscegenation; Moby-Dick;Native American Literature; Romanticism; The Song of Hiawatha;Transcendentalism; Trail of Tears


Primary Works

Apess, William. "Eulogy on King Philip." 1836. In On OurOwn Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Edited by Barry O'Connell. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Apess, William. "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man." 1833. In On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Edited by Barry O'Connell. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Child, Lydia Maria. An Appeal for the Indians. 1868. In Hobomok and Other Writings on Indians. Edited by Carolyn Karcher. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Letter to President Martin Van Buren." 1838. In The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 7, 1807–1844, edited by Eleanor M. Tilton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "The Adirondacs." 1867. In Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 9, pp. 182–195. New York: William Wise, 1929.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Thoreau." 1862. In The NortonAnthology of American Literature. Vol. B. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 2003.

Irving, Washington. Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. 1819–1820. Edited by Susan Manning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Song of Hiawatha. 1855. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs Merrill, 1906.

Melville, Herman. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. 1857. Edited by Hershel Parker. New York: Norton, 1971.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. 1851. Edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker. New York: Norton, 1967.

Secondary Works

Arac, Jonathan. "The Politics of The Scarlet Letter." In Ideology and Classic American Literature, edited by Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen, pp. 247–266. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Bergland, Renée. The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts andAmerican Subjects. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2000.

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Bantam, 1978.

Carr, Helen. Inventing the American Primitive: Politics,Gender, and the Representation of Native American Literary Traditions, 1789–1936. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Coward, John M. The Newspaper Indian: Native AmericanIdentity in the Press, 1820–90. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Dippie, Brian. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and United States Indian Policy. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1982.

Jennings, Francis. The Founders of America. New York: Norton, 1993.

Karcher, Carolyn. "Introduction." In Hobomok and OtherWritings on Indians. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

Kennedy, Virginia. "Margaret Fuller and Nineteenth-Century Literary Indian Removal." Master's thesis, Montclair State University, 2001.

Kennedy, Virginia. "Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Apess, and the Native American Identity." Unpublished paper, 9 May 2000.

Maddox, Lucy. Removals: Nineteenth-Century AmericanLiterature and the Politics of Indian Affairs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

McNutt, James. "Mark Twain and the American Indian: Earthly Realism and Heavenly Idealism." American Indian Quarterly 4 (1978): 223–242.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Sayre, Robert. Thoreau and the American Indians. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Arnold Krupat

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