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Impressed with a belief that the removal of all the Indian tribes to the new lands west of the Mississippi River will be beneficial to the tribes themselves, and place the lands now occupied by them here in the hands of white settlers, who will bring them to a much more productive state of cultivation, the General Government have prevailed on those who remain of the Six Nations settled in the State of New-York to enter into treaties with them for their removal, and they have now almost all acceded to the terms proposed.
The object of the council to be held to-day was to ratify this treaty by the signatures of the chiefs of the Tuscarora nation. The meeting was held in the church, built on the reservation lands for the use of the Indians, over which a Christian missionary presides as minister. The number present did not exceed 100, of whom about 60 were men, and the rest women and children. The men were seated on one side of the church, the women on the other. The costume was a strange mixture of the Indian and European, their garments mostly of the latter, their ornaments mostly of the former. The costume of the women was entirely Indian; and it has been remarked, that while the men willingly adopt the European mode of dress so long as they can retain their Indian belts, feathers, and trinkets, the women cannot be prevailed upon to make the least approach to it, but continue to wear the garments and exhibit the ornaments of their ancestors, without alteration.
The women take no part in the public councils of their Indian husbands generally, but on this occasion General Gillett had requested their attendance in the church, that we might have a good opportunity of seeing them. They brought with them various kinds of work, such as small baskets, reticules, and moccasins or slippers, all of which they ornament with coloured beads, porcupine's quills, and other braiding, and execute this with the needle with great skill and taste. They continued their work without interruption while the business of the council was proceeding; and some, who had their children with them, in little cradle baskets not unlike a violin case, sometimes hung them up at a peg on the wall
, or over the backs of the seat next before them, and thus amused them by talking and play when they showed signs of impatience. The women were nearly all stouter or fatter than the men; the complexions of both were very dark; but we did not see a single handsome face among thenkail, while many were extremely unprepossessing; and the general expression was that of sullenness and imbecility.
The council was opened by General Gillett, announcing to the sachems, chiefs, warriors, and head men of the Tuscaroras that he had been commissioned by their Great Father, the President of the United States, to hold a friendly talk with them on the subject of the treaty lately assented to, which treaty had been ratified by the
Senate, with certain amendments. In its present state, the treaty undertook, on the part of the General Government of the United States, the following duties: to appropriate from the national funds the sum of 400,000 dollars, which was to be thus expended : 1st, in the removal to the territories west of the Mississippi of all the remaining Indians now in the State of New-York; 2d, in subsisting these Indians for a period of one year after their arrival in their new territory; 3d, in furnishing them with agricultural implements and farming stock; 4th, in building for them dwellings, schoolhouses, and churches. It was to be understood that the whole sum of 400,000 dollars was to be thus expended, and no more; and the proportions to be given to each particular object would depend on the determination of the several councils of the respective tribes, and on the state of the funds, as they were gradually expended.
The objects, however, were to be accomplished in the order in which they were enumerated, so that if much were expended on the first two, little would remain for the others; and if the first two were accomplished for a comparatively small sum, the more would remain for carrying the others into execution. But in the calculation of General Gillett himself, as submitted to the council, it appeared that the whole sum of 400,000 dollars, large as it seems, would, when it came to be appropriated among all the Indians of the State of New York, whose removal, subsistence, and outfit it was to accomplish, amount to only 80 dollars for each individual, as the whole number to be removed were about 5000 persons: a small sum to cover the long journey, the year's subsistence, the outfit in farming stock, and the building of dwellings, schools, and churches.
It was added that each man would receive, on reaching his destination, a grant of 300 acres of the government land, free of cost, dithe clearing of which would, however, be a work of some time, and devolve on himself; and with respect to the “ Tuscarora Reservation,” which they were to leave behind them here, the government undertook to sell these lands to the best advantage, invest the proceeds in government stock, and pay over to the tribe the amount of interest thus yielded, in perpetual annuity.
If such a proposition as this were made to a body of European emigrants or to a company of American settlers, it would be the foundation of their future prosperity, and they would soon grow rich upon it; old lands to be sold and converted into an annuity, new lands to be had for nothing, and 80 dollars per head to be given as capital for the journey, subsistence, and stock, would be advantages which few white settlers enjoy. But to the Indians, whose indolence and incapacity are so deeply rooted and apparently incurable, it is doubtful whether it will do more than just serve to protract a joyless and unimproving existence.
The advantage to the state, however, of removing all the In
dians west of the Mississippi, and placing the lands at present held by them in the possession of a more energetic and improving race, is undoubted; besides removing a constant cause of dissatisfaction to the surrounding whites, which the drunken habits, loose morals, and ferocious and vindictive propensities of these Indians so constantly occasion, and of which two striking instances were recorded in the papers of the very day on which we visited the Tuscarora settlement. One of these was the murder of several white families by the Indians settled in New Jersey; and the other was a fatal conflict in one of the frontier states between some few Sioux and Chippewa Indians, in which the conquering party signalized their triumph by roasting and eating one of their captives!
The reading of the propositions contained in the amended treaty baving been finished by General Gillett, he invited any one who had objections to make to stand up in the council and state them. There was evidently a strong disposition on the part of several to do this, and some had even been furnished with calculations in figures, showing that the 400,000 dollars would be insufficient to accomplish the objects proposed. But a want of self-possession, or courage to rise and address the assembly publicly, deterred the individuals from so doing; and, therefore, the objectors formed themselves into groups, and discussed the objections among themselves.
Only a few among the whole number present understood Eng. lish, and these were entirely confined to the men; the women and children spoke only the Tuscarora tongue. Into this tongue the address of General Gillett was translated by an Indian who stood beside him, and who gave the English address in the Tuscarora language, sentence by sentence, as it was pronounced; the interpreter spitting his tobacco fluid on the floor at every pause, so as to leave quite a little pool on the church floor at his feet when the ora. tion was ended. All the Indians, old and young, appeared to chew. this offensive weed immoderately; and the smell of the breath of women and men was sufficient to prove that they drank spirits habitually. The sounds of the language were remarkably few, and these harsh, jerked, and guttural. I observed particularly that there were no visible labials, as the translator never closed his lips to touch, not even once, during his whole task; the dentals were few, and the vocals thick, and suppressed in utterance; and the language was apparently so diffuse that many of the shorter sentences took often more than twice the time to convey in Tuscarora that it did to express them in English, while there was neither grace, dignity, por beauty in the whole or in its parts.
During the course of the discussion among the objecting groups before referred to, one of the Indians was irritated by something that had been said by another, and in an instant his hot blood seemed to be set in violent motion. He accordingly denounced the whole scheme as a fiat robbery, abused the United States' Gor
RATIFICATION OF THE TREATY.
ernment as the oppressors of the Indians; said his father and his father's fathers had been engaged in treaties before him, and were invariably cheated, as all the Indians had been, out of that which rightly belonged to them; that the Tuscaroras had already once gone by treaty to Green Bay in Michigan, and were forcibly removed from thence; that now they were going west of the Mississippi, and by the time they had got their lands in order there, they would be pushed off by another treaty farther west, till they drove them beyond the Rocky Mountains, and there would be no rest for them but in the grave.
With all this, however, few seemed to sympathize, the greater number listening to him with a vacant laugh, which at once showed their want of feeling as well as of intellect. It ended, however, in all objections being either answered or overruled, so that at length the chiefs consented to sign the amended treaty, though it was said that on the previous day a deputation had arrived from a portion of the Seneca Indians south of Buffalo, declaring that a large portion of that body were averse to the proposed removal, and that they had resolved to murder every man who signed the treaty, as far as they could discover them!
By the courtesy of the general, Mrs. Buckingham, my son, and myself were invited to witness the signatures of the chiefs, who were called up in the order of their seniority and precedence to affix their names to the treaty. The oldest man of the tribe happened to be the principal chief, and was nearly ninety years of age. He was the son of an American father and Indian mother, and had more of the American than of the Indian in his countenance. Such offspring are very common, and as many as one fourth, perhaps, of the assembly present were of this description. But all this mixed race become Indians in their education, associations, and habits, as it is the invariable practice in such cases to leave the children entirely to the mothers; and their unchangeable attachment to Indian manners is such, that they bring up their children as far removed as possible from the influence of the whites.
The venerable old chief signed his name, Nicholas Cusick, and he was followed by about ten or twelve of the others, some of whom could write, and who signed with English or American names, as William Mountpleasant, James Chew, William Jack, and so on; while others, who could not write, made their crosses, as some of the unlettered barons of England were accustomed to do in feudal days. My son and myself attested these signatures as witnesses, and a small sum was then given by the general as a gift from the Great Father, to be expended in tobacco and presents, the greater part of which, we were told, was likely to be spent in rum or whiskey
In the course of conversation with such of the Indians as could speak English, we learned that the whole number of the Tuscarora
tribe now settled on the reservation was less than 300 persons, though fifty years ago, or about the period of the American Revolution, they could bring 10,000 warriors into the field; so greatly had their numbers diminished. There is no doubt that their contiguity to, and intercourse with, the whites, have materially contributed to this decline in their numbers; first, from the free use of ardent spirits, which the whites first taught them, and have since turned to purposes of unholy gain; secondly, from the appearance among them of many fearfully destructive diseases, previously unknown among their tribe, and to which intemperate drinking and libidinous excesses have no doubt materially contributed. The number of children born in the tribe is less than tradition assigns to families formerly, and the number reared to maturity is very much fewer; instances have been pointed out to us of mothers who had had four, six, and eight children, but had not succeeded in rearing more than one or two.
The whole amount of land held by the Indians on the Tuscarora Reservation is about 5000 acres. This, when first granted to them, belonged to the whole tribe as a community; but the rule settled by the grand council of the nation was, that whoever should enclose and cultivate any given portion, should, after a certain number of years' cultivation, have that as his individual property, as matter of private right. The greater part has been so enclosed and cultivated; but such is the different degrees of skill, industry, and prudence, even among Indians, that, while some of them have tolerably extensive farms, though very poorly cultivated, others have hardly an acre they can call their own, and live very miserably, from their own indolence or imprudence.
The nation, for so all the Indian tribes call themselves, small as it is, has a sort of aristocratic rather than republican government. This aristocracy consists of what are called sachems, chiefs, warriors, and head men of the tribe. These, at least, are the nominal ranks of the leaders, and in the larger tribes of the West, who retain all their original manners, these ranks really exist; but among the Tuscaroras and other tribes settled in the State of New York, there are no warriors, and chiefs are the only persons usually spoken of. These are neither hereditary nor elected by the people, but a standing body, in which the vacancies that occur by death are filled up by the decision of the remaining members of the class. In general, a certain age, and the possession of some qualities to recommend the individual to the dignity, are demanded, but not always; for an instance was related to us in which, at the request of a dying chief, a youth of 12 years old, of which he was remarkably fond, was made a chief to supply his place, and regularly took his seat, and gave his voice in all the national councils. The appointment, whenever made, is for life, and against the decision of the council of chiefs there is no appeal.