From Sketches of History, Life, and Manners, in the West:
By James Hall
The "Indian-Hating" of Chapters 26 and 27, for many the most memorable and even important section of The Confidence-Man, were derived greatly from Hall's Sketches (Philadelphia: 1835). Elizabeth Foster first identified its use by Melville, and still it stands as the only certain source for his novel.
Indian hating.--Some of the sources of this animosity.--Brief
Account of Col. Moredock
The violent animosity which exists between the people of our frontier and the Indians, has long been a subject of remark. In the early periods of the history of our country, it was easily accounted for, on the ground of mutual aggression. The whites were continually encroaching upon the aborigines, and the latter avenging their wrongs by violent and sudden hostilities. The philanthropist is surprised, however, that such feelings should prevail now, when these atrocious wars have ceased, and when no immediate cause of enmity remains; at least upon our side. Yet the fact is, that the dweller upon the frontier continues to regard the Indian with a degree of terror and hatred, similar to that which he feels towards the rattlesnake or panther, and which can neither be removed by argument, nor appeased by any thing but the destruction of its object.
In order to understand the cause and the operation of these feelings, it is necessary to recollect that the backwoodsmen are a peculiar race. We allude to the pioneers, who, keeping continually in the advance of civilization, precede the denser population of our country in its progress westward, and live always upon the frontier. They are the descendants of a people whose habits were identically the same as their own. Their fathers were
pioneers. A passion for hunting, and a love for sylvan sports, have induced them to recede continually before the tide of emigration, and have kept them a separate people, whose habits, prejudices, and modes of life have been transmitted from father to son with but little change. From generation to generation they have lived in contact with the Indians. The ancestor met the red men in battle upon the shores of the Atlantic, and his descendants have pursued the footsteps of the retreating tribes, from year to year, throughout a whole century, and from the eastern limits of our great continent to the wide prairies of the west.
America was settled in an age when certain rights, called those of discovery and conquest, were universally acknowledged; and when the possession of a country was readily conceded to the strongest. When more accurate notions of moral right began, with the spread of knowledge, and the dissemination of religious truth, to prevail in public opinion, and regulate the public acts of our government, the pioneers were but slightly affected by the wholesome contagion of such opinions. Novel precepts in morals were not apt to reach men who mingled so little with society in its more refined state, and who shunned the restraints, while they despised the luxuries of social life.
The pioneers, who thus dwelt ever upon the borders of the Indian hunting grounds, forming a barrier between savage and civilized men, have received but few accessions to their numbers by emigration. The great tide of emigration, as it rolls forward, beats upon them and rolls them onward, without either swallowing them up in its mass, or mingling its elements with theirs.
They accumulate by natural increase; a few of them return occasionally to the bosom of society, but the great mass moves on.
It is not from a desire of conquest, or thirst of blood, or with any premeditated hostility against the savage, that the pioneer continues to follow him from forest to forest, ever disputing with him the right to the soil, and the privilege of hunting game. It is simply because he shuns a crowded population, delights to rove uncontrolled in the woods, and does not believe that an Indian, or any other man has a right to monopolize the hunting grounds, which he considers free to all. When the Indian disputes the propriety of this invasion upon his ancient heritage, the white man feels himself injured, and stands, as the southern folks say, upon his reserved rights.
The history of the borders of England and Scotland, and of all dwellers upon frontiers, who come often into hostile collision, shows, that between such parties an intense hatred is created. It is national antipathy, with the addition of private feud and personal injury. The warfare is carried on by a few individuals, who become known to each other, and a few prominent actors on each side soon become distinguished for their prowess or ferocity. When a state of public war ostensibly ceases, acts of violence continue to be perpetrated from motives of mere mischief, or for pillage or revenge.
Our pioneers have, as we have said, been born and reared on the frontier, and have, from generation to generation, by successive removals, remained in the same relative situation in respect to the Indians and to our own government. Every child thus reared, learns to hate an Indian, because he always hears him spoken of as an enemy. From the cradle, he listens continually to horrid tales of savage violence, and becomes familiar with narratives of aboriginal cunning and ferocity. Every family can number some of its members or relatives among the victims of a midnight massacre, or can tell of some acquaintance who has suffered a dreadful death at the stake. Traditions of horses stolen, and cattle driven off, and cabins burned, are numberless; are told with great minuteness, and listened to with intense interest. With persons thus reared, hatred towards an Indian becomes a part of their nature, and revenge an instinctive principle. Nor does the evil end here. Although the backwoodsmen, properly so called, retire before that tide of emigration which forms the more stationary population, and eventually fills the country with inhabitants, they usually remain for a time in contact with the first of those who, eventually, succeed them, and impress their own sentiments upon the latter. In the formation of each of the western territories and states, the backwoodsmen have, for a while, formed the majority of the population, and given the tone to public opinion.
If we attempt to reason on this subject, we must reason with a due regard to facts, and to the known principles of human nature. Is it to be wondered at, that a man should fear and detest an Indian, who has been always accustomed to hear him described only as a midnight prowler, watching to murder the mother as she bends over her helpless children, and tearing, with hellish malignity, the babe from the maternal breast? Is it strange, that he whose mother has fallen under the
savage tomahawk, or whose father has died a lingering death at the stake, surrounded by yelling fiends in human shape, should indulge the passion of revenge towards the perpetrators of such atrocities? They know the story only as it was told to them. They have only heard one side, and that with all the exaggerations of fear, sorrow, indignation and resentment. They have heard it from the tongue of a father, or from the lips of a mother, or a sister, accompanied with all the particularity which the tale could receive from the vivid impressions of an eye-witness, and with all the eloquence of deeply awakened feeling. They have heard it perhaps at a time when the war-whoop still sounded in the distance, when the rifle still was kept in preparation, and the cabin door was carefully secured with each returning night.
Such are some of the feelings, and of the facts, which operate upon the inhabitants of our frontiers. The impressions which we have described are handed down from generation to generation, and remain in full force long after all danger from the savages has ceased, and all intercourse with them been discontinued.
Besides that general antipathy which pervades the whole community under such circumstances, there have been many instances of individuals who, in consequence of some personal wrong, have vowed eternal hatred to the whole Indian race, and have devoted nearly all of their lives to the fulfilment of a vast scheme of vengeance. A familiar instance is before us in the life of a gentleman, who was known to the writer of this article, and whose history we have often heard repeated by those who were intimately conversant with all the events.
We allude to the late Colonel John Moredock, who was a member of the territorial legislature of Illinois, a distinguished militia officer, and a men universally known and respected by the early settlers of that region. We are surprised that the writer of a sketch of the early history of Illinois, which we published some months ago, should have omitted the name of this gentleman, and some others, who were famed for deeds of hardihood, while he has dwelt upon the actions of persons who were comparatively insignificant.
John Moredock was the son of a woman who was married several times, and was as often widowed by the tomahawk of the savage. Her husbands had been pioneers, and with them she had wandered from one territory to another, living always on the frontier. She was at last left a widow, at Vincennes, with a large family of children, and was induced to join a party about to remove to Illinois, to which region a few American families had then recently removed. On the eastern side of Illinois there were no settlements of whites; on the shore of the Mississippi a few spots were occupied by the French; and it was now that our own backwoodsmen began to turn their eyes to this delightful country, and determined to settle in the vicinity of the French villages. Mrs. Moredock and her friends embarked at Vincennes in boats, with the intention of descending the Wabash and Ohio rivers, and ascending the Mississippi. They proceeded in safety until they reached the Grand Tower on the Mississippi, where, owing to the difficulty of the navigation for ascending boats, it became necessary for the boatmen to land, and drag their vessels round a rocky point, which was swept by a violent
current. Here a party of Indians, lying in wait, rushed upon them, and murdered the whole party. Mrs. Moredock was among the victims, and all her children, except John, who was proceeding with another party.
John Moredock was just entering upon the years of manhood, when he was thus left in a strange land, the sole survivor of his race. He resolved upon executing vengeance, and immediately took measures to discover the actual perpetrators of the massacre. It was ascertained that the outrage was committed by a party of twenty or thirty Indians, belonging to different tribes, who had formed themselves into a lawless predatory band. Moredock watched the motions of this band for more than a year, before an opportunity suitable for his purpose occurred. At length he learned, that they were hunting on the Missouri side of the river, nearly opposite to the recent settlements of the Americans. He raised a party of young men and pursued them; but that time they escaped. Shortly after, he sought them at the head of another party, and had the good fortune to discover them one evening, on an island, whither they had retired to encamp the more securely for the night. Moredock and his friends, about equal in numbers to the Indians, waited until the dead of night, and then landed upon the island, turning adrift their own canoes and those of the enemy, and determined to sacrifice their own lives, or to exterminate the savage band. They were completely successful. Three only of the Indians escaped, by throwing themselves into the river; the rest were slain, while the whites lost not a man.
But Moredock was not satisfied while one of the murderers of his mother remained. He had learned to
recognize the names and persons of the three that had escaped, and these he pursued with secret, but untiring diligence, until they all fell by his own hand. Nor was he yet satisfied. He had now become a hunter and a warrior. He was a square-built, muscular man, of remarkable strength and activity. In athletic sports he had few equals; few men would willingly have encountered him in single combat. He was a man of determined courage, and great coolness and steadiness of purpose. He was expert in the use of the rifle and other weapons; and was complete master of those wonderful and numberless expedients by which the woodsman subsists in the forest, pursues the footsteps of an enemy with unerring sagacity, or conceals himself and his design from the discovery of a watchful foe. He had resolved never to spare an Indian, and though he made no boast of this determination, and seldom avowed it, it became the ruling passion of his life. He thought it praiseworthy to kill an Indian; and would roam through the forest silently and alone, for days and weeks, with this single purpose. A solitary red man, who was so unfortunate as to meet him in the woods, was sure to become his victim; if he encountered a party of the enemy, he would either secretly pursue their footsteps until an opportunity for striking a blow occurred, or, if discovered, would elude them by his superior skill. He died about four years ago, an old man, and it is supposed never in his life failed to embrace an opportunity to kill a savage.
The reader must not infer, from this description, that Colonel Moredock was unsocial, ferocious, or by nature cruel. On the contrary, he was a man of warm feelings,
and excellent disposition. At home he was like other men, conducting a large farm with industry and success, and gaining the good will of all his neighbours by his popular manners and benevolent deportment. He was cheerful, convivial, and hospitable; and no man in the territory was more generally known, or more universally respected. He was an officer in the ranging service during the war of 1813-14, and acquitted himself with credit; and was afterwards elected to the command of the militia of his county, at a time when such an office was honourable, because it imposed responsibility, and required the exertion of military skill. Colonel Moredock was a member of the legislative council of the territory of Illinois, and at the formation of the state government, was spoken of as a candidate for the office of governor, but refused to permit his name to be used.
There are many cases to be found on the frontier, parallel to that just stated, in which individuals have persevered through life, in the indulgence of a resentment founded either on a personal wrong suffered by the party, or a hatred inherited through successive generations, and perhaps more frequently on a combination of these causes. In a fiction, written by the author, and founded on some of these facts, he has endeavoured to develop and illustrate this feeling through its various details.
THE CONFIDENCE-MAN: HIS MASQUERADE
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