The Winning of the West, Volume 1 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 351 pages of information about The Winning of the West, Volume 1.



It is greatly to be wished that some competent person would write a full and true history of our national dealings with the Indians.  Undoubtedly the latter have often suffered terrible injustice at our hands.  A number of instances, such as the conduct of the Georgians to the Cherokees in the early part of the present century, or the whole treatment of Chief Joseph and his Nez Perces, might be mentioned, which are indelible blots on our fair fame; and yet, in describing our dealings with the red men as a whole, historians do us much less than justice.

It was wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker race, unless we were willing to see the American continent fall into the hands of some other strong power; and even had we adopted such a ludicrous policy, the Indians themselves would have made war upon us.  It cannot be too often insisted that they did not own the land; or, at least, that their ownership was merely such as that claimed often by our own white hunters.  If the Indians really owned Kentucky in 1775, then in 1776 it was the property of Boon and his associates; and to dispossess one party was as great a wrong as to dispossess the other.  To recognize the Indian ownership of the limitless prairies and forests of this continent—­that is, to consider the dozen squalid savages who hunted at long intervals over a territory of a thousand square miles as owning it outright—­necessarily implies a similar recognition of the claims of every white hunter, squatter, horse-thief, or wandering cattle-man.  Take as an example the country round the Little Missouri.  When the cattle-men, the first actual settlers, came into this land in 1882, it was already scantily peopled by a few white hunters and trappers.  The latter were extremely jealous of intrusion; they had held their own in spite of the Indians, and, like the Indians, the inrush of settlers and the consequent destruction of the game meant their own undoing; also, again like the Indians, they felt that their having hunted over the soil gave them a vague prescriptive right to its sole occupation, and they did their best to keep actual settlers out.  In some cases, to avoid difficulty, their nominal claims were bought up; generally, and rightly, they were disregarded.  Yet they certainly had as good a right to the Little Missouri country as the Sioux have to most of the land on their present reservations.  In fact, the mere statement of the case is sufficient to show the absurdity of asserting that the land really belonged to the Indians.  The different tribes have always been utterly unable to define their own boundaries.  Thus the Delawares and Wyandots, in 1785, though entirely separate nations, claimed and, in a certain sense, occupied almost exactly the same territory.

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The Winning of the West, Volume 1 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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