By George E. Bowen.
IN the destructive advance of new civilizations still am I an Indian. Neither dead, nor yet choked with fear, nor with submission.
The sunshine, the storm, the far reaches of treeless plain, the majesty of the eternal hills, the bird song and the joy of living waters, the glory of sunlit day and the serenity of starry night, the beauty and sadness of the passing seasons—all are mine.
As I knew them in the fellowship of forgotten ages, they shall proclaim me comrade forever.
Before piracy, or protected privileges of plunder, my hospitality was open to the world, my honor hid not stealthily away in the two-faced mystery of "majestic," written laws, nor in the "sacred" security of barred and bolted treasuries.
Oh, untrammeled, generous Nature! Keeper of my soul, guardian of my heart's secrets, my guide, my refuge, my redeemer,—hold me in distance and in dignity from this commercial, cowardly Thing that pursues me in the name of civilization!
The shelter of your storms is safer than the poisoned, perfidious bounty of the usurper.
I scorn the charity of his jeweled, blood-stained hand. Better the starvings of your famine than the banquets of his dishonor.
The wild beasts of my stately forests knew not the vicious cunning, nor the monstrous brutality infesting the jungles of the white man's city.
In the love of simple things to sustain my perfect strength, to feed my soul's hunger, to arm my unchained courage for its sweet or serious duties, still proudly am I an Indian.
Shall I forget my feathers, or my beads, or the fantastic, fearless beauty of my painted original splendor? Shall you, captains of civilization and prophets of empire, forget your lacings and your pitiful plumage, your brass-dipped baubles and your drug store complexions, your stolen, disfiguring fashions and your pathetic imitations?
Yet I censure not—undisturbed, I leave you to your own devices, deceptions and corruptions. My service is to the reality of life, to the achievements of its greatness, its grandeur, its truth, its perfection. Growth is before me.
Your waste is intolerable, your waste of energy, of purpose, of manhood. I am satisfied to make sacred the common things of life, rather than destroy my soul before your vanities and your vicarious virtues.
You have come teaching me pride and perseverance and preference—likewise patience. Have come teaching me, an Indian. Rather have I discovered your perversity, your prostitution, your trickery, injustice and ingratitude.
Back of history my fathers' fathers counted pride in deeds, not dollars—deeds of valor, of integrity, of sacrifice, of fortitude, of splendid sentiment.
One day you came with perseverance, a gun, a flask of fire water, and some cheap calico. A brave outfit, a courageous combination. The buffalo was my friend, my comrade. Your rifle and your wanton perseverance annihilated and put him away from me forever.
The blessings of your bottle (with perseverance) burned out the conscience and the courage of the red man, and your cheap calico (with more perseverance, and many perversions of the truth) persuaded him that land titles are trash and sovereignty a snare and a sham. But the truth of this reasoning was not intended.
So all things are wrought with perseverance and purpose—even the emancipation of an Indian from his misfortunes. Patience has he not worn with fortitude— almost sublimely, as a spell woven of your sinister arts? And ingratitude has he returned with ingratitude?
But these are questions.
Alas! The Indian himself is a question. And you have not answered.
Then there was preference—for many things. For reservations—out of my vast estates—for styles of shoes, for shirts, for suspenders, for the shame of ignorance or the blessing of education.
Have I not named my preferences?
Yet you have preferred to despoil, debauch and destroy me, that, reverencing your power, I might manfully save myself.
Your crafty cunning can not read my stoic resolve— so blind you are with the bigotry of greed and of supremacy.
Do I wear lightly your harness of civilization? I do not care for its sores, its chokings, its restraints, its smart pretense. With it I shall drag or drive my destiny to freedom. I scorn your silly superstitions, your slavery, your servility, your seven-fold shame.
The spirit of departed tribes stirs my blood and lifts my vision to nobler things—the things of an Indian. Like Caesar, you may not be there. You may not come within the joy of my victory. Yet I can accept it alone— as I have lived alone.
Keep your commerce, your petty politics, your coarse corruptions of social service and of the state.
Keep your gold, your greasy glory of gain, your gnawing greed.
Come back! When your forces are spent, your conscience racked, your honor and your happines wasted in the riot and revelry and reactions of your mocking civilization.
Come back, and learn of confidence, of fairness and of forgiveness the way of peace, the art of happiness, the beauty of life.
Of me, an Indian.