Apicultura Wiki

As our magnificent Union has increased in population, the aborigines within the "older States" have become constantly more and more degraded. "The Government," as the most merciful policy, has taxed its energies to remove these red men from the vicinity of civilization, to homes still wild and primitive, west of the Mississippi. There, a vast extent of country is still unoccupied, in which he can pursue, comparatively unrestrained, his inclinations, and pluck a few more days of happiness before his sun entirely sets.

Occasionally may be seen in the southwest, a large body of these people, under the charge of a "government officer," going to the new homes provided for them by their "white father." These "removals" are always melancholy exhibitions. The Indians, dispirited and heart-broken, entirely hopeless of the future, with dogged looks submit to every privation that is imposed on them, and appear equally indifferent as to the receipt of favors. Throwing aside every mark of etiquette among themselves, the chief, who, when among their native haunts, is almost a sacred person, lies down or takes his food, promiscuously with the noblest or most degraded of his people; all distinctions of age as well as caste, are thrown aside, and the Indians seem a mere mass of degraded humanity, with less apparent capability of self-preservation than the brute.

Some two or three years ago, we took passage on board a boat bound from New Orleans to St. Louis, which boat the government had engaged to carry as far towards their place of destination as practicable, near four hundred Seminoles, who, with their chiefs, had agreed to emigrate west of the Mississippi.

We were not particularly pleased with our numerous and novel passengers, but the lateness of the season lessened the chances of getting a conveyance, and as most of the Indians were to remain in a tender, lashed to the side of the steamer, we concluded that a study of their manners and habits would beguile away the time of a long trip, and thus pay us for the inconveniences we might be put to. Unfortunately, the novelty of our situation too soon passed away.

The Indians, who on first acquaintance kept up a little display of their original character, gradually relapsed into what appeared to be a mere vegetable existence, and slept through the entire twenty-four hours of the day. Of all the remarkable traits of character that dignify them in history, we could not discern the least trace; yet among the brutal, insensible savages at our feet, were many daring spirits, who had displayed in their warfare with the whites, dangerous talents, and taken many a bloody scalp. The girls were possessed of little or no personal charms, while the women, the laborers of the tribe, were as hideous as any hags that can be imagined.

The heat of the weather and the confinement of the boat, had a dreadful effect upon these poor wretches; sickness rapidly broke out among them, and as they stoutly refused to take the white man's medicine, their chances of recovery were poor indeed.

The tender was turned into a perfect lazar-house, and nothing could be seen but the affecting attentions of the old squaws to their friends and relatives, as they wasted away before their eyes. The infant and patriarch were side by side, consuming with slow fever, while the corpse of some middle-aged person lay at their feet, waiting for the funeral rites and the obscurity of the grave. Vain were the prescriptions of the "medicine man" of their tribe; he blew his breath through a gaudy colored reed upon the faces of his patients, and recited his incantations, but without success. He disfigured his person with new paint, and altered his devices daily, still his patients would die, and at every landing where the boat stopped, some poor Indian was taken ashore and hastily buried.

No one mourned over the corpse but the females, and they only when intimately related to the deceased. The father, son, or husband, as they saw their relatives falling around them, scarce turned their eyes upon the dead, and if they did, it was only to exclaim in guttural accents, "Ugh!" and then turn away to sleep.

Not an article belonging to the dead but was wrapped up with it, or placed in the coffin; the infant and its playthings, the young girl and her presents, the squaw with her domestic utensils, and the "brave" with his gun and whatever property there was in his possession. A beautiful custom, indeed - and one that brings no crocodile tears to the eyes of the living heir, and gives the lawyer no chance for litigation.

Among those who died, was one old veteran warrior who had particularly attracted our attention by his severe looks and loneliness of habit, and we watched attentively his exit from the world. He seemed, as near as we could judge, to have no relatives about him; no one noticed him but the doctor, who was markedly attentive. The old man was a chief, and the scars that covered his body told of many a dreadful encounter with man and beast. His huge skeleton, as he moved about in his ill-concealed agony, looked like the remains of a giant, exaggerated by its want of flesh. His hands were small, and of feminine delicacy - occasionally he would move them about in mute eloquence, then clutch at the air, as if in pursuit of an enemy, and fall back exhausted.

Recovering from one of these fits, he tried to stand, but found it impossible; he, however, raised himself upon his elbow, and opening his eyes for the first time in a long while, stared wildly about him. The sun, which was at this time low in the west, shone full upon him - his smooth skin glistened like burnished copper - his long-neglected hair, of silvery whiteness, hung over his head and face, while the scalp-lock displayed itself by its immense length, as it reached his shoulder. His muscles, shrunken by age and disease, moved like cords in performing their offices.

A smile lit up his features - his lips moved - and he essayed to speak. A faint chant was heard - the doctor, at the sound, bent his head, and assumed an air of reverence. The chant, as it continued to swell on the evening breeze, reached the ears of the slumbering warriors that lay about, and as they listened to the sounds, I could discern their sottish eyes open and flash with unearthly fires; sometimes exhibiting pleasure, but oftener ferocity and hatred. The old man sang on, a few raised to their feet, and waved their hands in the air, as if keeping time, and occasionally some aged Indian would repeat the sounds he heard. The old man ceased, turned his face full to the setting sun, and fell back a corpse.

The Indians cast a look in the direction of their homes, gave an expression of malignity, as well as sorrow, and then silently and sluggishly sank into repose, as if nothing unusual had occurred.

"That old fellow brags well of his infernal deeds," observed one of the white men accompanying the Indians, "and the red-skinned devils about here drink it in as a Cuba hound would blood."

The intense heat of the weather, and the quietness that reigned so profoundly among the Indians, broken only by the saw and hammer of the carpenter making coffins at the capstan, made us sigh for a landing-place, and a separation from such melancholy scenes. This desire was encouraged from the well-known fact, that the savages grew every hour more troublesome, and the song of the dying old chief had neither allayed their feelings, nor made them more contented.

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The morning following the death of the old chief had been preceded by one of those nights in which the fog rose from the water so thick, that, in the hyperbolical language of the boatman, you could make featherbeds of it. The pilot had "felt his way along" for many hours, until the sudden crash that shook every thing in the boat, convinced us that we were aground. The engine stopped, and left us in perfect silence and obscurity.

Long after our accustomed hour of rising, we went

On deck. The fresh mist blew in our faces with sickening effect, and the sun - then two hours high - was invisible. The shore, which was so near that the breaking of twigs could be heard, as cattle, or game moved about on it, was indiscernible. Even the end of the boat opposite to the one on which we stood was invisible. A deep, damp, opaque Mississippi river fog, had swallowed us up.

As the sun continued to rise and gain strength in its ascent, its rays penetrated through the gloom, and we at last discovered it, working its way through the fog by its rays, reaching them out as a debilitated spider would his legs, and apparently with the same caution and labor.

With the growing heat a gentle breeze sprang up, and the fog rolled about in huge masses, leaving spots of pure atmosphere, and then closing them up; gradually the air became more and more rarefied, and things at a distance began to appear all magnified and mysterious.

On came the sun, brightening and enlarging, until his streaming rays dipped into the water, and shot up to the zenith.

The fog, no longer able to keep its consistency, retired before its splendor in little clouds, which would sometimes rally, and spread over the surface of the river, then, breaking asunder, vanish away into air, with a splendor that rivalled the dying dolphin's tints.

Now, for the first time, could we learn our whereabouts. The broad bosom of the Mississippi stretched far to the front of us, while at the stern of our boat was one of those abrupt banks that denote a sudden bend in the river. This had deceived the pilot. On our right, within a few hundred yards, lay the shore, lined with huge trees, tangled with gigantic vines, and waving with festoons of moss, giving them a sombre appearance, that was singular and repulsive. Wild ducks and geese went screaming by, heron and crane innumerable would come near us, but discovering the dark form of our boat, fly precipitately away.

The water glistened in the sun, and there would rise from its quiet surface little columns of mist, that would ascend high in the air, or sail along on the surface of the water, until striking the distant shore, they rolled over the landscape, enveloping parts in momentary obscurity, - and it was not until near noon that the fog entirely disappeared. Then the sun, as if incensed with the veil that had for a time kept it from its scorching work, poured down its heat with more intensity, leaving a foggy day, hotter before its close, than if the sun had been unobscured in its appearance in the morn.

While sitting in the cabin, congratulating ourselves on the prospect of getting off the sand-bar, on which we had so long been detained, the report of a rifle was heard, fired from the deck, accompanied by a yell.

Another rifle was discharged, and a loud Indian whoop followed, that made our blood run cold. The ladies present turned pale, and the commanding officer who had charge of the Indians, somewhat astonished, left the cabin.

A momentary alarm seized upon us all. Could the old warrior's death-song have incited mutiny! - Crack! went another rifle outside, - and another shout; - we could stand it no longer, but rushed on deck.

What a scene! Not an Indian that was able, but was upon his feet, his eyes sparkling with fire, and his form looking as active as a panther's. The sluggards of yesterday were sleek and nervous as horses at the starting post, so perfectly had a little excitement altered them. Their rifles, however, thank Heaven, were not turned upon the white man - their enemy was between the boat and the shore - in the water - in the form of a very large black bear.

It was a beautiful sight to see the savage springing with a graceful bound, on some high place in the boat; and raise his rifle to his eye,; - before the report was heard you could mark a red furrow on the head of the bear, where it was struck by the ball as it passed its way through the skin and flesh without entering the bone, while the bear, at these assaults, would throw himself half out of the water, brush over the smarting wound with his huge paw, and then dash on for life. Another shot, and another yell brought the bear on the defensive end showed that he was dangerously wounded.

While this firing was going on, some Indians, armed only with knives, launched a canoe that lay among their movables, and paddled hurriedly out to the bear. No sooner was the canoe within the bear's reach than he put his huge paws on its side, and in spite of the thrusts aimed at his head, turned his enemies with a somerset into the water. Loud shouts of laughter greeted this accident; the little "papooses" and women fairly danced with joy, while the crew yelled and shouted at the sport, as much as the savages themselves.

The bear turned from the boat and looked for his victims, but they were not to be seen; precipitated so suddenly into the water, they sank below the surface like the duck when much alarmed, and then thrust out their shining polls far from the friendly hug of the bear.

Laying their plans of attack at once (for the firing of rifles was suspended), one of the Indians attracted the bear's attention, and made towards him; they met, the floating canoe only between them, and while thus skirmishing, an unoccupied Indian came up behind the bear, raised his knife, and drove it deeply into his side, and then disappeared beneath the surface. The bear turned in the direction of this new attack, snapped and clawed in the water in the greatest agony. Another stab was given in the same way, and as the Indian again disappeared, a "white hunter," who had been heretofore an uninterested spectator, sprang upon the guards of the boat, and singing out "red devils, look out below," fired. The bear leaped entirely out of the water, fell upon his back, and after a convulsive kick or two, floated lifelessly upon the water.

This exploit of the white man, so sudden and unexpected, was greeted by a loud shout from all parties.

'You see," said the hunter, as he coolly laid down his rifle - " you see the bear has a feeling, strangers, and whar is the use in tormenting the varmint? my old shooting iron never misses, but if it had hit a red-skin by accident, I should not have been ashamed of the shot - for the bear is the best Christian of the two, and a perfect gentleman, compared with the best copper-skin that ever breathed."

The Indians in the water at the last shot expressed a significant "ugh," and approaching the bear, gave him repeated thrusts with their knives, which showed that they thought him a hard-lived and dangerous animal. In a few minutes they recovered their canoe, and were towing the dead carcass ashore.

Fifty Indians at least now threw their blankets aside, and leaping into the water, swam after the bear. The tearing off of the huge skin, and jerking the meat, was dispatched so rapidly, that it indicated an accustomed work.

This little incident relieved the monotony, of all others the most disagreeable - that of being aground in the Mississippi, and the hours of labor which were spent in releasing the boat, passed quickly away, and by the time the Indians returned to their friends in the tender, the bell sounded; - we moved: - and the steamer again gallantly bore us toward our place of destination.