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In the explorer’s journal by Thomas Farnham, “Travels In The Far Northwest 1839-1846”, Farnham writes of an anonymous Delaware trapper he encountered on his journeys, who had been educated at Dartmouth prior to traveling west. (Originally Dartmouth was commissioned by the Crown of England to educate Indians in the civilized ways.) Farnham’s account goes as follows:

“I inquired the reason of his leaving civilized life for a precarious livelihood in the wilderness. ‘For reasons found in the nature of my race’, he replied. ‘The Indian’s eye cannot be satisfied with a description of things, how beautiful soever may be the style, or the harmonies of verse in which it is conveyed. For neither the periods of burning eloquence, nor the mighty and beautiful creations of the imagination, can unbosom the treasures and realities as they live in their own native magnificence on the eternal mountains, and in the secret, untrodden vale.

As soon as you thrust the ploughshare under the earth, it teems with worms and useless weeds. It increases population to an unnatural extent; creates the necessity of penal enactments, builds the jail, erects the gallows, spreads over the human face a mask of deception and selfishness, and substitutes villany, love of wealth and power, and the slaughter of millions for the gratification of some individual instead of the single-minded honesty, the hospitality, the honour and the purity of the natural state. Hence, wherever Agriculture appears, the increase of moral and physical wretchedness induces the thousands of necessities, as they are termed, for abridging human liberty; for fettering down the mind to the principles of right, derived, not from nature, but from a restrained and forced condition of existence. And hence my race, with mental and physical habits as free as the waters which flow from the hills, become restive under the rules of civilized life; dwindle to their graves under the control of laws, customs, and forms, which have grown out of the endless vices, and the factitious virtue of another race. Red men often acquire and love the Sciences. But with the nature which the Great Spirit has given them, what are all their truths to them? Would an Indian ever measure the height of a mountain that he could climb? No, never. The legends of his tribe tell him nothing about quadrants, and base lines and angles. Their old braves, however, have for ages watched from the cliffs, the green life in the spring, and the yellow death in the autumn, of their holy forests. Why should he ever calculate an eclipse? He always knew such occurrences to be the doings of the Great Spirit. Science, it is true, can tell the times and seasons of their coming; but the Indian, when they do occur, looks through nature, without the aid of science, up to its cause. Of what use is a Lunar to him? His swift canoe has the green embowered shores, and well-known headlands, to guide its course. In fine, what are the arts of peace, of war, of agriculture, or any thing civilized, to him? His nature and its elements, like the pine which shadows its wigwam, are too mighty, too grand, of too strong a fibre, to form a stock on which to engraft the rose or the violet of polished life. No. I must range the hills, I must always be able to out-travel my horses, I must always be able to strip my own wardrobe from the backs of the deer and buffalo, and to feed upon their rich loins; I must always be able to punish my enemy with my own hand, or I am no longer an Indian. And if I am anything else, I am a mere imitation of an ape.’

The enthusiasm with which these sentiments were uttered impressed me with an awe I had never previously felt for the unborrowed dignity and independence of the genuine, original character of the American Indians. Enfeebled, and reduced to a state of dependence by disease and the crowding hosts of civilized men, we find among them still, too much of their own, to adopt the character of another race, too much bravery to feel like a conquered people, and a preference of annihilation to the abandonment of that course of life, consecrated by a thousand generations of venerated ancestors.

This Indian has been trapping among the Rocky Mountains for seventeen years. During that time, he has been often employed as an express to carry news from one trading post to another, and from the mountains to Missouri. In these journeys he has been remarkable for the directness of his courses, and the exceedingly short space of time required to accomplish them. Mountains which neither Indian nor white man dared attempt to scale, if opposing his right-line track, he has crossed. Angry streams, heavy and cold from the snows, and plunging and roaring among the girding caverns of the hills, he has swum; he has met the tempest as it groaned over the plains, and hung upon the trembling towers of the everlasting hills; and without a horse, or even a dog, traversed often the terrible and boundless wastes of mountains, and plains, and desert valleys, through which I am travelling; and the ruder the blast, the larger the bolts, and the louder the peals of the dreadful tempest, when the earth and the sky seem joined by a moving cataract of flood and flame driven by the wind, the more was it like himself, a free, unmarred manifestation of the sublime energies of nature.

He says that he never intends again to visit the States, or any other part of the earth ‘which has been torn and spoiled by the slaves of agriculture.’ ‘I shall live,’ said he, ‘and die in the wilderness.’ And assuredly he should thus live and die. The music of the rushing waters should be his requiem, and the Great Wilderness his tomb.” -Thomas Farnham, Travels in the Far Northwest, 1839-1846


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