This piece, written by standout Carlisle Indian School student Elmer Simon, features a clear, multi-layered argument for the social equality of Native Americans (Referred to in the piece as Red Men) and White Americans. Rich with historical and cultural value, this piece was a shoo-in to the assembled canon of works from the Carlisle Indian School.
A complete transcription of the piece in question is available just below. Additionally, use the links on this page to navigate to a short biographical piece on the author, Elmer Simon, a link to the full original text in which this work was printed in, and a piece by one of this canon’s editors describing the reasons for its inclusion into the canon.
However, it is recommended that you read “The Indian – A Man” at least once before reading the editor’s piece discussing the work.
Transcription by Joseph Detrano
The marked distinctions that characterize man from the beast lie in his endowments of body, mind and heart. Industry, courage, resolution, willpower, intelligence, sagacity, piety, fidelity, morality, generosity and love, these are some of the inherent qualities with which God endows every man, Irrespective of race or color. Hence the possession of these qualities to a distinctive degree, characterizes the human race from the lower animals. And it makes little difference in what place or of what race a child is born, he possesses all these qualities in embryo, for God – being no respecter of persons, and certainly not of races, – has wisely created all men equal in this respect.
Yet, notwithstanding this truth, there are many who do not even admit the Indian into God’s family – the human race, to say nothing as to their prejudiced ideas of his inferiority.
In his savage state, because he tried to defend the regions where God and nature had placed him to live and enjoy the fruits thereof, he was pronounced good only when he was dead. And now, in his degraded state, because his efforts to struggle out of a miry pit of ignorance, superstition and degradation are yet feeble, the cry, “He is incapable of development” is often echoed the world over by press and platform.
But it all comes from those who doubt the endowments of the Red Man as a man and who accept as a truth that the Indians were simply a race of brutal savages doomed by God to perish when civilization approached. Of a truth, it does seem the “conscience to cast mud on the character of one” whom we know we have wronged.
Two hundred and eighty years ago when your forefathers landed upon the shores of America, the smoke of the council fires of a hardy, a noble and happy race rose in every valley between Hudson and “The Land of The Flowers,” the atlantic and “The Father of Waters.” This vast continent they held as an undisputed possession sacredly entrusted to their care, as they believed, by The Great Spirit. Throughout the land everything was held in common; their hospitality and generosity rendered hospitals and poorhouses unnecessary; their civilization and integrity required no aid of police forces and prisons to preserve order; and their own self-respect and respect for others induced them to obey the councils and carry out the orders of their sachems. With these as the predominant principles of a people’s life, can we doubt the statement that the Indians were like all of Nature’s creatures, a free, independent and happy race? No. For then being ignorant of modern vice, the Red Man was the noblest type of heathen manhood – he was indeed Nature’s nobleman.
His life of morality and piety revealed his belief in a Great Spirit and hope in immortality: his eloquence in council betrayed a good memory and a quick intellect, while fortitude, courage, resolution and sagacity were manifested in the lives of King Phillip, Black Hawk, Tecumseh, and a host of others. Braver men never fought their people’s battles; truer men never drew the bow. They shrank from no hardships, they feared no dangers, and counted it joy to die for their people.
This is not the mere fancy of a school boy, intended to delude by disguising the faults of my people. They were as Carver well said and as the whole world knows too well, “cruel, barbarous and revengeful in war, sanguinary in their treatment of prisoners, sparing neither age nor sex”
But on the other hand they were sociable and humane to their friends, ready to share with them their last morsel of food or to suffer and die in their defense, and both the testimonies of your own people and mine unite in confirming the fact that they were a noble, happy race, and not simply brutal savages.
Shall we then or can we declare such a race lacking in the qualities and virtues of true manhood? Nay. We must admit
- That if manly qualities and virtues are gifts of God they are not exclusively distributed, universally found in a man, everywhere from the heights of civilization to the very depths of savagery;
- That if true dignity consists not in mere outward appearance or even in illustrious births, but rather in the higher endowments of the mind and heart, true virtues thrive and live just as well in rags and patches of poverty and buffalo hides and buckskins of savagery as it does in the purple robes of the throne and the linen and laces of aristocracy;
- That if virtue is virtue in the white man, virtue is nothing else but virtue in the Red Man.
Your forefathers were cordially welcomed as guests, brothers and even Gods, with great hospitality, and the Indian remained as their best friend until their own, dangerous intentions betrayed them. When this right of friendship was forfeited but not until then did the Indian, as their merciless foe, attempt to drive the palefaces as dangerous intruders, away from his home and sources of livelihood. And who, even today, would not be justified in such attempt? Loyalty to his country, his friends, his home, his family and to his plighted faith, the hope of insuring the future of welfare of his children whom he passionately loved, and the desire to secure happiness to his posterity, were the burning motives which prompted him to risk his life. And who, but a worthless coward would not fight for such honorable causes?
Yet, because of this only, many can see no good in the Indians. They attribute the vices of savagery without admitting the virtues of the same. But if as savages they forgave no injury, as men they never forgot kindness. If we despise them because of their terrible vengeance, see if we cannot recall scores of instances where the unconquerable fidelity and generosity of a “Squanto” has saved our people from starvation or death. If we would withhold from them the virtue of love because death ended not their hatred, let us remember, too, that when justly treated all men ought to be, the love of a Quaker’s devoted friends stopped not on this side of the grave, but “will live” as they said “in love with the children of William Penn while the sun and moon shall shine”. We cannot withhold from these people the qualities and virtues of true manhood and simply identify their names with merciless brutality alone.
But where are these villages and wigwants? These tribes and families? These warriors and hunters? The breezes of the Atlantic no longer fan a single region which the Red Man may call his own.
Whether then has he gone? Where is that noble race of men? Ah! They have perished. And were wasting pestilence, famine and war the only causes of their destruction? They have owned no telegraph, employed no press reporters and published no books. Who, then, knows the tragedy of their three hundred years of lingering ruin? True, a fragment of the sad story of their melancholy fate may be found in the books appropriately titled “A Century of Dishonor,” but no pen can write, no mortal tongue can utter words that would fully characterize the torment of a rich and powerful nation to a handful of helpless people.
The retarding and degrading reservation system of today is a legitimate result of the policy the Government has employed in its dealings with the Red Man. And the surrounding influences of the reservation have sunk him far down into the depths of a stagnant pool which his forefathers never knew.
The contaminating vices of civilization have eaten into his heart’s core.
Yet the results wrought on the offspring of these degenerates by some present policies further proves that the difficulty has not been entirely with the Indians, but with the Government. Away, then, with the prejudicial idea, that because of some physical and organic constitutional difference, “The Indian is incapable of development.” Where his environment has changed., the results have been accordingly. Hence, environment only has made, makes and will make the difference. Born and developed in the midst of Caucasian civilization, you become a civilized man. Born and developed in the midst of Chinese conservatism, you become a Chinaman. Born and raised on a reservation, you become an Indian, the scum of the earth.
Born in a log cabin in the backwoods, surrounded by hard necessity, developed in the midst of elevating influences, living and contending with peers and the existence of slavery makes an Abraham Lincoln. Born in a despised slave’s hut, a fugitive from unjust laws, subject to the contempt and scorn of a superior race, and the result is Fredrick Douglas. Born in a squalid wigwam, raised and developed in an intellectual Boston, in a Christianizing Brooklyn, and in an enterprising though wicked Chicago, and the offspring of a degraded race, and Apache Indian, becomes a Dr. Carlos Montezuma.
Ah! Anglo-Saxons, “A man’s a man for a’ that, for a’ that.”