Periodical Literature of the North American Indians

It is an astounding but gratifying proof of the rapid march of civilization, that periodical literature springs up and flourishes among tribes and nations which, but twenty or thirty years ago, had hardly advanced a few steps beyond barbarism. A Cherokee newspaper has for some time been published, and in the Sandwich Islands a gazette has recently been established; and a file of a paper called "the Indian Phœnix," published in the United States, under the superintendence of an Indian editor, and addressed exclusively to his countrymen, has just fallen under our notice. These are pleasing facts for the consideration of every true philanthropist, and stable data on which the philosopher may argue that the day is not far distant when the rays of knowledge shall illumine every nation of the earth. Wherever a newspaper is established, ignorance must diminish; for the newspaper is not only the effect, but the cause of civilization,—not only the work itself, but the means by which the work is performed. The Indian Phœnix is published in the English language at Washington, and is from thence distributed among these roving aborigines, not only in every part of the United States, but throughout the vast territories of Mexico and Texas. The paper is not only edited, but printed by Indians; and, whatever may be said of the intellectual portions of it, the mechanical parts will certainly bear comparison with the provincial journals of England, and are much before the newspapers of several of the nations of Europe, those of Germany and Portugal for instance, which are as wretched specimens of typography as it is now possible to meet with.

For the amusement of our readers we shall proceed to make a few extracts from these very curious journals. The principles which are advocated therein will, no doubt, appear startling at first sight; but a little reflection will show, that, although strange, they are not altogether unfounded. These men have, by the strong arms of European civilization, been driven from the wild forests inherited by their forefathers, the woods they hunted in have been converted into corn-fields, and the clear waters of the lonely rivers beside which they dwelt have been contaminated by the refuse of smoky manufactories, and rendered busy with the sails and paddle-wheels of enterprising commerce. The civilization which thus came upon the land from afar has now reached its original inhabitants; and the Indians, savages no more, have begun to employ the arts of peace and the powerful weapons of opinion to reconquer a portion of the broad lands of which they have been despoiled. The struggles in Texas, and the unsettled state of Mexico, have caused them to turn their eyes in that direction; and they have been inspired by the hope that Mexico is to be the region in which all the scattered tribes will be collected together to form one great independent nation. It is not intended in this brief notice to speculate upon the probability or improbability of such a scheme, or to say whether or not these dispersed and dismembered  clans, without leader or bond of union, will ever be able to accomplish so gigantic a project. It is sufficient to state that such is their object, in order that the reader may understand the allusions in the extracts which we shall place before him. The following will show the prose these Indians are capable of writing (we shall come to their poetry by and by), and will also give an idea of their political creed. In the leading article of the first number, the editor says,

"Our creed may be met with in these words. We render unto the self-esteemed civilized world the things which are the self-esteemed civilized world's, and unto the long-oppressed, yet noble, elevated, and dignified Indian the things which once belonged and shall again belong to him."

These sentiments, and their open avowal, although they may not cause the settler to tremble for the safety of his homestead, ought nevertheless to make the statesman ponder well on the condition and aspirations of this ill-used race. The editor continues:

"In the deep gloom of the future position of these countries we see no evidence of a single periodical grasping with energetic vision the coming time. Alone, therefore, do we step on the arena of public opinion. With nerved heart and nerved hand shall we advance: the curiosity of the many, the surprise of others, the encouragement of the few, the denunciations of the National Gazette, or New York American, or all who may follow in their fetid and nauseous trail, shall not turn wide one of the barbed arrows which shall now and henceforth be launched unsparingly at all who cross our path."—"We are not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and soberness."

The following little bit of Scriptural exposition will, no doubt, cause a smile even on the grave faces of the learned doctors who are versed in Biblical knowledge. The Indians, stigmatized by the civilized nations of the earth for the cruel practice of scalping their fallen enemies, bring forward the authority of our sacred book in their justification. Even David, the man after God's own heart, and one of the finest poets the world ever produced, went out on the war-path like a Mohican or a Cherokee, and bore away the scalps of his enemies! The editor hints that this alone would warrant the assertion which has been so often put forth, that America was peopled by the lost ten tribes of Israel. He says,

"We invite the attention—we throw down the gauntlet of defiance to all and every civilized Christian in Europe or America to gainsay or dispute the correctness or validity of the inferences and facts stated below. The Scriptures say,

"'And Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David; and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.

"'And Saul said, I will give him her that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.

"'And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David: the king desireth not any dowry, but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged on the king's enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

"'Wherefore David arose, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men, and David brought their foreskins, and they  gave them in full toll to the king, that he might be the king's son-in-law.'

"We see from this," (continues the editor of the Phœnix,) "that David, who was a great Jewish warrior, went out on the war-path not from any motive of war, or to revenge the death of his fallen comrades; but for what? Why, to get a marriage portion to lay before the king of the Jewish nation. And what was this marriage portion? Lo! it was one hundred scalps of the Philistines. * * * * *

At the conclusion we are told that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him. Why? Because he was a great warrior, who had taken many scalps, and, moreover, David behaved himself wisely, that is, cunning, in taking of scalps from the Philistines, so that his name was much set by. As the Jews were in the time of Saul and David, so are the Indian tribes of the West and of North America. They go out on the war-path, they return with scalps; and the daughters of the tribe sing, as in the days of David, 'The warrior Dutch hath slain his tens, but the warrior Smith hath slain his fifties in the villages of the Tarwargans.'"

The following is a specimen of the poetry,—one of the war-songs of these regenerated Indians. We cannot say it is quite equal to the prose, but it is certainly more curious.

"Indian chiefs, arise! The glorious hour's gone forth, And in the world's eyes Display who gave you birth! Indian chiefs, let us go In arms to Mexico; Till the Spanish blood shall flow In a river at our feet.
Then, manfully despising The pale faces' yoke, Let your tribes see you rising Till your chains is broke!"

Fastidious readers may object both to the vigour and the grammar of the above; but we have still richer specimens in store for them.

The song continues:

"As rose the tribes of Judah In days long past and gone, I'll lead you to as good a Land to be your own.
Cherokee! in slumbers Why lethargic wilt thou lie? Arise, and bring thy numbers Us to ally.
Arouse! Oh, then, awake thee! And hasten to my standard; For I will ne'er forsake thee, But ever lead the vanguard!
Come on, the brave Oneida, Seneca, Delaware, The promised land divide a- -Mong you when you're there." 

The rhymes of "Judah" and "good a" and "standard" and "vanguard," are tolerably original; but they are beaten hollow by that of the last verse, "Oneida" and "divide a-"!—"-Mong you when you're there," is a sequel which has much more truth than elegance in it. "-Mong you (when you're there?)" we would suggest as a new and improved reading of the passage. The following is in a much more elevated style; there is a rough vigour about it which many of our own namby-pamby poetasters would do well to imitate. The rhymes are also more felicitous, and the measure and grammar less objectionable.

"The mountain sheep are sweeter, But the valley sheep are fatter; We therefore deemed it meeter To carry off the latter. We planned an expedition: We met a host, and quelled it; We took a strong position, And killed the men who held it!"

The above stanza is unique. Every line tells; and there is a raciness, a tartness about it, if we may so express it, which is quite delightful.

"The valley sheep are fatter; We therefore deemed it meeter To carry off the latter."

Many ballads have been written about Rob Roy, who also had a sneaking inclination for the "fat sheep" of other people: but the daring simplicity of these lines has never been surpassed.

The song continues:

"On Norte's richest valley, There herds of kine were browsing; We made a nightly sally To furnish our carousing. Fierce soldiers rushed to meet us, We met them, and o'erthrew them; They struggled hard to beat us, But we conquered them, and slew them!
As we drove our prize at leisure, Santa Anna marched to catch us; His rage surpassed all measure, Because he could not match us. He fled to his hall pillars; But, ere our force we led off, Some sacked his house and cellars, While others cut his head off."

Poetry has always been allowed some licence, and we suppose we must pass over the assertion in the last line, by merely observing by the way that Santa Anna is, in vulgar phrase, still "alive and kicking."

The song ends thus:

"We then, in strife bewildering, Spilt blood enough to swim in; We orphaned many children, (childering) And widowed many women. 
The eagles and the ravens We glutted with the foemen; Their heroes and their cravens, Their lancers and their bowmen.
As for Santa Anna, their blood-red chief, His head was borne before us; His wine and beasts supplied our feasts, And his overthrow our chorus."

The foregoing extracts are all in a warlike strain. We will now give a few specimens of the softer lyrics in which these scalpers indulge. The Irish melodies of Moore are, it appears, not unknown even amongst them; and that they are admired, the following imitation, or rather parody, of one of the most beautiful of them will sufficiently show.

"There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet As that Mexican vale in whose bosom "lakes" meet. Oh! the last ray of feeling and life must depart, Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart!
Yet it was not that nature had shed o'er the scene Her purest of crystal, and brightest of green; 'Twas not the soft magic of streamlet or hill: Oh, no, it was something more heart-touching still!
'Twas remembrance of all,—Montezuma—his throne— The power and the glory of Aztek all gone! Like the leaves of the forest in autumn are strewn, Were the splendour and hope of that race overthrown.
But the day-star is rising unclouded and bright, That shall clear and illumine long ages of night, And restore to that valley the Indian race, And leave of their white lords no longer a trace.
Sweet "Mexican valley," how calm shall we rest In thy bosom of shade, when thy sons are all blest! When 'neath the fig-tree and the vine of each man They shall sing to the praise of the Almighty one! When the storm of the war, and its bloodshed, shall cease, And our hearts, like her lakes, be mingled in peace!"

Interspersed through the papers are various imitations of our poets, especially of Scott, Byron, and Mrs. Hemans. As an apology for the plagiarisms, the editor places over the poet's corner the following motto:

"To the living poets we beg to say, that it not being fair for them to monopolize the best words in the language we write in, to say nothing of the ideas, we take free liberty with them when need is. We will make them amends two years hence when they come to see us in the valleys of Mexico. To the illustrious dead we shall fully explain our reasons when we may chance to meet them in the 'great elsewhere.'"

The next specimen is an imitation of Ossian, a bard whose poetry must necessarily possess many charms for them.

"Come, all ye warriors! come with your chief—come! The song rises like the sun in my soul! I feel the joys of other times. The  Cherokee was on the land of Arkansas. The strange warriors of the prairie were rich in horses. We said in our souls, why not give the Tarwargans of their abundance? Six of our warriors were found on the great prairie, advancing like the moon among clouds, concealed from the view. Days had passed when they approached the wigwams of the Tarwargans. A narrow plain spreads beneath, covered with grass and aged trees. The blue course of a stream is there. The horses were secured. Their feet were slowly advancing towards the wigwams. Not without eyes were the Tarwargans. The warriors had not been invisible. High hopes of prairie horses and the scalps of the enemy fill their souls. A blast came upon them. The sound of rifles was heard in the air. Three of the warriors fell! The tomahawk descended, and they were left in their shame without scalps. Two warriors fled together. Smoke (a warrior) fled not: he rushed for safety, and laid himself low with his rifle among the briers. Shouts of triumph are heard. The Tarwargans return. The slain are dragged to the dancing-ground—oh, grief! oh, revenge! Did you not know the heart of Smoke? Placed in the ground are three stakes; tied are the scalpless dead! Upright they sit. Oh, grief! the derision of the Tarwargans! 'Cunning warriors are ye, oh, Cherokees! but your scalps are at our feet.'"

The following, which the editor assures us is a literal translation from an old song highly popular among the aboriginal tribes of Mexico, is interesting. The poetry of the original is so sublime that the translator, in despair of equalling it in rhyme, has given it us in plain prose.

"Mexitli Tetzauhteotl (the Terrible God) o-ah! o-ah! o-ah! The son of the woman of Tula. The green plume is on his head, the wing of the eagle is on his leg; his forehead is blue, like the firmament. He carries a spear and buckler, and with the fir-tree of Colhuacan he crushes the mountains! O-ah! o-ah! o-ah! Mexitli Tetzauhteotl!"


"Mexitli Tetzauhteotl! o-ah! o-ah! o-ah! my father ate the heart of Xochimilco! Where was Painalton, the god of the swift foot, when the Miztecas ran to the mountains? 'Fast, warrior, fast!' said Painalton, the brother of Mexitli. His foot-print is on the snows of Istaccihuatl, and on the tops of the mountains of Orizaba. Toktepec, and Chinantla, and Matlalzinco were strong warriors, but they shook under his feet as the hills shake when the king of hell groans in the caverns. So my father killed the men of the south, the men of the east, and the men of the west, and Mexitli shook the fir-tree with joy, and Painalton danced by night among the stars! O-ah! o-ah! Mexitli Tetzauhteotl!"


"Mexitli Tetzauhteotl! o-ah! o-ah! Where is the end of Mexico? It begins in Huehuetapallan in the north, and who knows the end of Huehuetapallan? In the south it sees the land of crocodiles and vultures,—the bog and the rock where man cannot live. The sea washes it on the east, the sea washes it on the west, and that is the end: who has looked to the end of the waters? Mexico is the land of blossoms,—the land of the tiger-flower, and the cactus-bud that  opens at night like a star,—the land of the dahlia, that ghosts come to snuff at. It is a land dear to Mexitli! O-ah! o-ah! Mexitli Tetzauhteotl!


"Mexitli Tetzauhteotl! o-ah! o-ah! o-ah! Who were the enemies of Mexico? Their heads are in the wall of the house of skulls, and the little child strikes them as he goes by with a twig. Once Mexico was a bog of reeds, and Mexitli slept on a couch of bulrushes. Our god now sits on a world of gold, and the world is Mexico. Will any one fight me? I am a Mexican. Mexitli is the god of the brave. Our city is fair on the island, and Mexitli sleeps with us. When he calls me in the morning, I grasp the quiver,—the quiver and the axe,—and I am not afraid. When he winds his horn from the woods, I know that he is my father, and that he will look at me while I fight. Sound the horn of battle; I see the spear of a foe. Mexitli Tetzauhteotl, we are the men of Mexico! O-ah! o-ah! Mexitli Tetzauhteotl!

With this extract we shall conclude our notice of this very curious subject, promising, however, to return to it at a future period.