By the 19th century, teaching U.S. children about Native Americans depended mostly on centuries of built-up myths, ignorant tales, prejudicial views, and degrading portrayals. Children were typically taught how the indigenous people possessed a primitive mind, culture, and religion. Euro-Americans would either lean toward a curriculum of paternalistic racism, believing that the misguided Indians needed “White Americans” to save them from themselves, or swing in the opposite direction towards intolerant methods of removal or extermination. Either way, the youth at the time were typically given very clear parameters in which to view the native people. However, in this children’s book from 1833, the author takes an almost sympathetic view of the native population and their plight over the centuries. You could detect a modicum of appreciation for the Indian people and their culture, albeit the token affection is really a backhanded compliment.
“The predecessors of the English on the American soil were in several respects a remarkable people. Although sunk in ignorance, and destitute of all the refinements of civilization, they were far from the stupidity and imbecility of the Hottentots.”
and further elaborated….
“After their acquaintance with the English had commenced, they often exhibited as much shrewdness and sagacity as their more enlightened neighbors. In acts of heroic bravery, and in unyielding endurance, they have never been excelled. If they were more artful and treacherous than the whites, (although this may be doubted,) they had not the same principles acting upon them to restrain their mischievous propensities; while the recorded instances of their fidelity and gratitude, their kindness and humanity, are not only numerous, but in many instances exceedingly touching.”
and for the 1830s, a candid moment of lament and foreboding…
“the Indians were, and where they still exist, are, a remarkable people. They are now dwindling away. In another century, it is doubtful whether even a remnant of them will be found in the land, the whole of which they once called their own, and over which their tribes of mighty renown held dominion…”
Sporting the Summer Dress
“The upper part of his hair, you see, is out short, forming a ridge, which stands up, like the comb of a cock. The rest of his hair is shorn, or tied in a knot behind his ear. On his head, are stuck three feathers, by way of ornament, taken from the turkey, pheasant, or hawk. From his ear hangs a fine shell, with pearl drops. At his breast, is another fine shell, polished very smooth. This, though not to be perceived, is intended to have a star, or half moon, upon it. From his neck and wrists, hang strings of beads. His apron is made of deer’s skin, around the edges of which is a fringe. Behind his back, or on his side, hangs a quiver to contain his arrows. This was generally made of thin bark ; but sometimes of the skull of a fox, or young wolf; and to make it look more terrible, the head hung down from the end of the quiver ; but it is not so represented in the picture. To add to the warlike appearance of the quiver, it was tied on with the tail of a panther, or a buffaloe. You perceive it hanging down between the Indian’s legs. On the shoulder of the Indian whose back is turned towards you, you see a dotted mark. This was to show to what tribe he belonged.”
The so-called barbacue
“The principal food of the Virginia Indians was fish and flesh. These they boiled, or roasted, as they pleased. They had two ways of broiling, viz. one by laying the meat itself upon the coals—the other by laying it upon sticks raised upon forks, at some distance above the live coals. This latter method they called barbacuing”
“The sports of the Virginia Indians consisted chiefly in dancing, singing, instrumental music, and some boisterous plays, which were performed by running and leaping upon one another…, representing a solemn festival dance of the Indians round their carved posts.”
What happened to all the fish?
“Before the arrival of the English, the Indians had fish in such abundance, that the boys and girls would take a pointed stick, and strike the smaller sort, as they swam upon the flats. In the picture, you see several who are thus engaged, with their spears.”
- The child’s picture book of Indians :containing views of their costumes, ornaments, weapons, sports, habitations, war-dances, &c, to which is added a collection of Indian anecdotes, original and select. Boston : Carter, Hendee and Co., 1833.
- Persistent Link:
- Widener Library
- Harvard University