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Lecture Before the Lyceum

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Mount Hope, Baltimore.--My old instructor and friend, Prof. Frederick Hall, sends me a programme of his collegiate institution, at this place, and writes me (April 6th) a most friendly letter, renewing old acquaintanceship and scientific reminiscences. Death makes such heavy inroads on our friends, that we ought to cherish the more those that are left.

Legislation proceeded quietly while these events occurred, and the winter wore away almost imperceptibly till the session closed. I embraced the first opportunity of ascending the Lakes to the entrance of the. St. Mary's, and from thence up the river, and reached home about the 25th of April, making altogether about five months absence. But at home I am not destined long to remain, as the expedition into the Lake, for which I was designated in August, was only deferred till spring.

I had now served four years in the legislature; but, understanding that the President had expressed an opinion that official officers should not engage in the business of legislation, I declined a reelection by a public notice to the electors of my district.

* * * * *

EXPEDITION TO THE REGION OF THE ST. CROIX AND CHIPPEWIA RIVERS.--The Executive of the territory writes from Washington (April 19th): "I arrived here day before yesterday, and this morning talked with Gen. Eaton. You will go into Lake Superior, and I am to submit a project to-day. I shall have it properly arranged. In a day or two, I trust, I shall have the official papers off. I write in a hurry now to apprise you of the fact. The letter you received from Mr. Hamilton, was written before I arrived." The same person, three days later, says: "The official instructions are preparing for your expedition, and will, I hope, be off to-day." They were written on the 3d of May, and are as follows:--

"Your letter of Feb. 13th has been received, and its general views are approved. The Secretary of War deems it important that you should proceed to the country upon the head of the Mississippi, and visit as many of the Indians in that and the intermediate region, as circumstances will permit.

"Reports have reached this department from various quarters, that the Indians upon our frontiers are in an unquiet state1, and that there is a prospect of extensive hostilities among themselves. It is no less the dictate of humanity, than of policy, to repress this feeling and to establish permanent peace among these tribes. It is also important to inspect the condition of the trade in that remote country, and the conduct of the traders. To ascertain whether the regulations and the laws are complied with, and to suggest such alterations as may be required. And finally, to inquire into the numbers, standing, disposition, and prospects of the Indians, and to report all the statistical facts you can procure, and which will be useful to the government in its operations, or to the community in the investigation of these subjects."

"In addition to these objects, you will direct your attention to the vaccination of the Indians. An act for that purpose has passed Congress, and you are authorized to take a surgeon with you. Vaccine matter prepared and put up by the Surgeon General, is herewith transmitted to you, and you will, upon your whole route, explain to the Indians the advantages of vaccination, and endeavor to persuade them to submit to the process. You will keep and report an account of the number, ages, sex, tribe, and local situation of the Indians who may be vaccinated, and also of the prevalence, from time to time, of the small-pox among them, and of its effects as far as these can be ascertained."

While preparations for this expedition were being made, some things that transpired deserve notice.

NATURAL HISTORY IN THE UNITED STATES.--On the 26th of May, Mr. G.W. Featherstonhaugh, of Philadelphia, sends me a printed copy of a prospectus for a "Monthly American Journal of Natural Science," with the following note: "As the annexed prospectus will explain itself, I shall only say, that I shall be most happy to receive any paper from you for insertion, on subjects connected with Natural History. Your minute acquaintance with the North-western Territory must have placed many materials in your possession, and I trust you may be induced to transfer some of them to the periodical about to be issued.

"We consider Mr. Eaton's geological notions and nomenclature as very empirical here, as they are considered in France and England, and his day has passed by."

The prospectus says: "Amidst these general contributions to science, it is painful to perceive what conspicuous blanks are yet left for America to fill up, and especially in those important branches, American geology and American organic remains. This feeling is greatly increased by the occasional taunts and sneers we see directed against us in foreign scientific works. They are aimed, it is true, against individuals insignificant enough to elude them, and therefore the larger body, the nation, is hit and wounded by them. Neither is there any defence open to us. We send abroad gigantic stories of huge antediluvian lizards, 'larger than the largest size,' and we ourselves are kept upon the stare at our own wonders from Georgia to Maine, until we find out we have been exulting over the stranded remains of a common spermaceti whale. At this present moment, a huge animal dug out of the Big Bone Lick, sixty feet long, and twenty-five feet high, is parading through the columns of the European newspapers, after making its progress through our own. This is, what every naturalist supposed it be, also a great imposition. Within these few days, drums and trumpets have been sounded for other monsters. A piece of one of our common coal plants is conjured into a petrified rattlesnake, and one of the most familiar fossils solemnly announced all the way from Canada, under a name exploded, and long forgotten by naturalists. All these gibes and reproaches we ought to have been spared. There ought to have been the ready means amongst us, together with the independence and intelligence, to put down these impostures and puerilities as they arose."

This is well said, and if it be intended to refer to the popular class, who have not made science a study; to men who make wheelbarrows or sell cotton and sugar--to the same classes of men, in fact, who in England, are busied in the daily pursuits by which they earn their bread, leaving science to scientific men, but respecting its truths, cannot tell "a hawk from a handsaw"--it is all true enough. But if it be applied to the power and determination of American mind, professedly, or as in a private capacity, devoted to the various classes of natural history spoken of, it is not only unjust in a high degree, but an evidence of overweening self-complaisance, imprecision of thought, or arrogance. No trait of the American scientific character has been more uniformly and highly approbated, by the foreign journals of England, France, and Germany, than its capacity to accumulate, discriminate, and describe facts. For fourteen years past Silliman's Journal of Science, though not exclusively devoted to natural sciences, has kept both the scientific and the popular intelligent mind of the public well and accurately advised of the state of natural science the world over. Before it, Bruce's Mineralogical Journal, though continued but for a few years, was eminently scientific, Cleaveland's Mineralogy has had the effect to diffuse scientific knowledge not only among men of science, but other classes of readers. In ornithology, in conchology, and especially in botany, geology and mineralogy, American mind has proved itself eminently fitted for the highest tasks.

A REMINISCENCE.--When I returned from the West to the city of New York in 1819, Mr. John Griscomb was a popular lecturer on chemistry in the old almshouse. He apprised me that the peculiar friable white clay, which I had labeled chalk from its external characters, contained no carbonic acid. It was a chemical fact that impressed me. I was reminded of this fact, and of his friendly countenance, ever after, on receiving a letter of introduction from him by a Mr. William R. Smith, with three volumes of his writings (28th May). I am satisfied that we store up the memory of a kind or friendly act, however small (if it be done in a crisis of our affairs), as long as, and more tenaciously than, an unkind one.

VOYAGE INLAND.--At length, all things being ready, I embarked at the head of the portage of the St. Mary's, and proceeded to the small sandy plain at the foot of Point Iroquois, at the entrance into Lake Superior, where I encamped. To this point I was accompanied by Mrs. Schoolcraft and the children, and Lt. Allen and the Miss Johnstons, the day being calm and delightful, and the views on every hand the most enchanting and magnificent. While at Detroit during the winter, I had invited Dr. Douglass Houghton to accompany me to vaccinate the Indians. He was a man of pleasing manners and deportment, small of stature, and of a compact make, and apparently well suited to withstand the fatigues incidental to such a journey. He was a good botanist and geologist--objects of interest to me at all times; but especially so now, for I should have considered it inexcusable to conduct an expedition into the Indian country, without collecting data over and above the public duties, to understand its natural history. I charged myself, on this occasion, more particularly with the Indian subject--their manners and customs, conditions, languages, and history, and the policy best suited to advance them in the scale of thinking beings, responsible for their acts, moral and political.

Lt. Robt. E. Clary, 2d U.S. Infantry, commanded a small detachment of troops, which was ordered to accompany me through the Indian country. I had invited Mr. Melancthon Woolsey, a printer of Detroit, a young man of pleasing manners and morals, to accompany me as an aid in procuring statistical information. I had an excellent crew of experienced men, guides and interpreters, and full supplies of everything suited to insure respect among the tribes, and to accomplish, not only the government business, but to give a good account of the natural history of the country to be explored. It was the first public expedition, authorized by the new administration at Washington, and bespoke a lively interest on the subject of Indian Affairs, and the topics incidentally connected with it. I was now to enter, after crossing Lake Superior, the country of the Indian murderers, mentioned 22d June, 1825, and to visit their most remote villages and hiding places.

It was the 27th of June when we left that point--the exploring party to pursue its way in the lake, and the ladies, in charge of Lt. Allen, to return to St. Mary's.

1: The Sauc war under Blackhawk broke out within the year.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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