Alexis de Tocqueville | Gustave de Beaumont | Thomas Cather | Francesco Arese | Frederick Marryat
EN ROUTE BY STEAMBOAT TO NEW ORLEANS. December 27, 1831. Tocqueville's interview with Sam Houston on the Indians.
Q. These notions of justice you speak of are very crude. They only apply to murder anyhow. What happens in case of theft?
A. Theft was absolutely unknown among the Indians before the Europeans introduced among them objects calculated to be a lively temptation to their cupidity.
Since then laws have had to be made to punish stealing. Among the Creeks, who are beginning to civilize themselves and have a written penal code, stealing is punished by whipping. It's the chiefs who pronounce sentence.
Adultery by the woman is punished in the same way; in addition they usually slit the nose and ears of the guilty. Creek law punishes fornication equally. Q. What is the position of women among the Indians?
A. Complete servitude. The women are burdened with all the unpleasant jobs and live in great degradation.
Q. Is polygamy allowed?
A. Yes. You can have as many wives as you can feed. Divorce is likewise permitted.
From the novel Marie. APPENDIX F: Note on Polygamy Among American Indians.
The basis of the story of Oneda is entirely true. Polygamy exists among all the savage tribes of North America; each Indian has as many wives as he can get. These women really live in a state of servitude; they prepare the Indian's food, take care of his clothes, and do not leave his hut while he is hunting or on the warpath. The relations between the Indian and his wives are completely material; nothing moral or intellectual enters in. It is by no means rare to see three sisters serving as wives to the same man. The condition of Indian wives is as wretched as can be imagined; they have none of the prerogatives proper to wives in civilized societies, nor any of the sensual pleasures given them by the customs of the Orient, where they are slaves.
I said that the Indian has as many wives as he can get; it would perhaps be more accurate to say that he gets as many as he can feed; for the lot of the Indian family is so hard that parents readily give their daughters to any one who can keep them alive. In this, all depends on the man's skill as a hunter; a famous hunter ordinarily has a large number of wives because he can provide them all with a means of existence.
The marriage of an Indian with his wives is accomplished with no ceremony, and sometimes is dissolved a few days after its formation. However, this happens infrequently; the Indian who breaks such a tie so easily would injure himself in the eyes of his tribe and would find no other family inclined to make an alliance with him.
One can imagine that this life of fatigue, wretchedness, and opprobrium would discourage and sicken Indian women; indeed, suicide is very frequent among them. The anecdote I have introduced into the text of my book seemed to me one of the most striking examples of the despair into which the unhappiness of these poor creatures can plunge them.
WILDERNESS NEAR LAKE MICHIGAN. September 1836. Making Gifts to Indian Women.
[describing the Pottowatomie Indians] Their faces in general are strongly marked and bear a close resemblance to the Tartar cast of countenance. When seated in silence they have a cold abstracted look as if their thoughts were far away, but when speaking their features become very animated and they use considerable gesture. They wear their hair, in time of peace, long and plaited behind. Some of the women, though not absolutely handsome, had a mild and pleasing expression.
I had an assortment of rings with me, of which I made presents to the 1adies. When I was putting the rings on their fingers (and pretty little hands they had) they hung down their heads and seemed overcome with bashfulness, with the excep-tion of one squaw. When we entered her wigwam, we found her seated on a bearskin, making a pair of mocassins. Mamaseehwa said a few words to her, upon which she looked at me, smiled and held out her hand with the air of a princess. After shaking hands with her I put four or five rings on her fingers.
She looked alternately at her hands and in my face, laughed merrily and seemed quite delighted with her new ornaments. They are extremely fond of ornaments, value such presents highly and preserve them carefully, so I may hope, through the medium of these rings, long to be remembered in the wigwams of the Pottowatomies as the "pale face " who was once their guest.
WISCONSIN. Fall 1837. Relationship between Indians and Half-Breeds
The etymology of the names of rivers, prairies, rocks, and other places in this country, derives, as one may have noticed, very often from some circomstance or souvenir connected with them, which passes from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation, and thus acquires a geographical authority. The funniest derivation I have heard of is that of the name of a prairie which the hunters along the Mississippi call the Ferribault (sic) Woman's Prairie. Here in a few words is the etymology:-Mr. Ferribault's wife was a half-breed who affected the costume and the customs of white people and made fun of Indians. Some young Indians in the neighborhood, vexed at her jokes, swore to be revenged, and one fine day they got hold of Mrs. Ferribault and, as the Indians say, passed her around on the prairie; and the chronicle has it that 25 young Indians inflicted upon her the most terrible punishment (from the moral point of view) that can be inflicted on a woman. Fortunately Mrs. Ferribault put up with all these outrages for the love of God and felt only the better afterwards.
PRAIRIE EXPEDITION DEPARTING FROM ST. LOUIS. Fall 1837. General remarks about the Indians; Education, Appearance; Marriage. Largely based on Arese’s experiences with the Sioux and the Menominee.
The training of children among the savages lasts a very short while. As soon as they are able to look after their own needs, or at least to stand on their legs, they have entire freedom and live with their parents as with strangers, receiving from the father nothing except lessons in courage, slyness, and revenge-practical lessons, of course, not merely theoretic.
The Indians may marry as many wives as they are able to feed. Usually they buy them from their parents. The wife has an entirely passive role, she is almost the slave of her husband. It is she who cooks the meals, takes care of the babies, the tents, the horses, and in a word, the whole establishment. When her husband is away at war or hunting, it is she who tans the skins and the furs and tailors the clothes. On the trail it is the wife that carries the babies, and the baggage, and attends to all the work connected with camping. The husbands are jealous or pretend to be jealous and cut off the noses and the ears, sometimes even kill wives that have failed to be faithful. The wives' behavior is in general pretty regular, whereas that of girls is not in the least so. A girl gives or sells herself to anybody she chooses, and does it almost coram populo, without her reputation's suffering the slightest bit. When a stranger arrives in a tribe and is well received, it never fails that he is given a woman for the time he is to be there. In any case, supposing he wants one, he need not lack. "Running the match" is a phrase in use among the Canadian hunters: it is one of the better methods for getting girls, and the pursuit goes like this:
You enter a tent when the fire there is out. You have been careful to have a torch in your hand, or it would be better to say, a lighted piece of wood. You go along past the different girls in bed, and the one who puts it out, receives you in her arms. That is how it is sometimes done; but ordinarily you just go into a tent where you know there is a pretty girl, you stir up the fire so as to be able to pick her out among the other people, you bring her a present of a mirror, some glassware, a knife, or any other little thing, and your happiness is assured.
In general the savages do not know the charm of mystery and consider the actual formula with which one gives proof of lively emotion as an animal function and nothing more.
As I have said above, when I was travelling with an Indian family [of Menominee Indians], the husband would prove to his wife, before me, the lively interest she aroused in him; and that in a little tent twelve feet square, while I was tranquilly smoking my pipe, and no more embarrassed than if it had been the cat.
The women wear their hair smooth, parted on the forehead and falling over the shoulders. They wear a little skirt of blanket or leather, which they attach above the hips with a strap. Their corsage is formed by the same piece as the skirt and held up by a pair of small suspenders passing over the shoulders. Others wear a skirt separate from the waist, and in that case the skirt is held in the same way by a belt which is covered by the skirt falling back over it: as to the waist it is a sort of sleeveless waistcoat. The skirts come halfway to the knee. For stockings they wear a mitosse or embroidered leggings which come to the knee: for shoes, moccasins. On their backs they wear either a blanket or a skin, which covers them from head to foot. When they can have their clothes of blanket, red is the favorite color. On the trail they carry a baby, sometimes even two, inside the blanket on their back, and supported by the top of the head.
The women's costume is perhaps more picturesque than the men's.
SAULT STE. MARIE. August 1837. Commendable Qualities in Indian Women.
There are two companies of soldiers quartered here. The rapids from which the village takes its name are just above it; they are not strong or dangerous, and the canoes descend them twenty times a day. At the foot of the rapids the men are constantly employed in taking the white fish in scoop nets, as they attempt to force their way up into Lake Superior. The majority of the inhabitants here are half-breeds. It is remarkable that the females generally improve, and the males degenerate, from the admixture of blood. Indian wives are here preferred to white, and perhaps with reason; they make the best wives for poor men; they labour hard, never complain, and a day of severe toil is amply recompensed by a smile from their lord and master in the evening. They are always faithful and devoted, and very sparing of their talk, all of which qualities are considered as recommendations in this part of the world.
It is remarkable, that although the Americans treat the negro with contumely, they have a respect for the red Indian: a well- educated half-bred Indian is not debarred from entering into society; indeed, they are generally received with great attention. The daughter of a celebrated Indian chief brings heraldry into the family, for the Indians are as proud of their descent ( and with good reason ) as we, in Europe, are of ours. The Randolph family in Virginia still boast of their descent from Pocahontas, the heroine of one of the most remarkable romances in real life which was ever heard of.
FORT SNELLING. June 1838. Morality and Chastity among the Indians.
In many customs the Sioux are closely allied to the Jewish nation; indeed, a work has been published in America to prove that the Indians were originally Jews. There is always a separate lodge for the woman to retire to before and after childbirth, observing a similar purification to that prescribed by Moses. Although there ever will be, in all societies, instances to the contrary, chastity is honoured among the Sioux. They hold what they term Virgin Feasts, and when these are held, should any young woman accept the invitation who has by her misconduct rendered herself unqualified for it, it is the duty of any man who is aware of her unfitness, to go into the circle and lead her out. A circumstance of this kind occurred the other day, when the daughter of a celebrated chief gave a Virgin Feast: a young man of the tribe walked into the circle and led her out; upon which the chief led his daughter to the lodge of the young Sioux, and told him that he gave her to him for his wife, but the young man refused to take her, as being unworthy. But what is more singular (and I have it from authority which is unquestionable), they also hold Virgin Feasts for the young men; and should any young man take his seat there who is unqualified, the woman who is aware of it must lead him out, although in so doing, she convicts herself; nevertheless it is considered a sacred duty and is done.... The [Sioux] men are tall and straight, and very finely made, with the exception of their arms, which are too small. The arms of the squaws, who do all the labour, are much more muscular. One day as I was on the prairie, I witnessed the effect of custom upon these people. A Sioux was coming up without perceiving me; his squaw followed very heavily laden, and to assist her he had himself a large package on his shoulder. As soon as they perceived me, he dropped his burden, and it was taken up by the squaw and added to what she had already. If a woman wishes to upbraid another, the severest thing she can say is, "You let your husband carry burthens."