Why Have the Indians Disappeared?” puts the blame squarely on Native Americans—as pieces in Robert Merry’s Museum often did: their fate should serve as an object lesson to whites.

“Why Have the Indians Disappeared?” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1862; pp. 21-22)

If any one should predict that, in a hundred years from this time, America would be mostly peopled by the Chinese, and that the whites would be so few as to be looked upon with curiosity, we should think him dreaming, and somewhat afflicted with the night-mare. Yet such a surprising change would be scarcely greater than this country has witnessed in the last century. The wigwam of the Indian stood on many a spot now covered with splendid city dwellings, and within the century they hunted the bear and deer over many a field where now grows wheat instead of forest trees, and where the scream of the locomotive has replaced the yell of the savage. There are, however, reasons why the present race is much less likely to be supplanted, than were the Indians. They were scarcely more than a superior order of mere animals. They had great strength of character, such as it was, but only the lower faculties were developed. They were brave, cunning, and independent, but they were also deceitful, sensual, selfish, and cruel. It only needed that the means of vicious indulgence should be put in their way, to bring upon them all the destruction which follows evil practices. How could the poor unregulated savage appetite withstand the temptation of strong drink, which has proved too strong for such multitudes of higher natures? “Fire-water,” and the vices which accompany it, swept them away like leaves before a torrent. A few efforts were made by noble men, among the whites, to educate them up to true manhood. John Elliot, whose name will ever stand bright in history, labored long and faithfully to teach them truth which could have saved them. What a discouraging task he undertook! See him as he stands before them, Bible in hand, proclaiming the saving message from Heaven! But what could he do, almost single-handed? True, he had some success. A few learned to love him and the truth he taught, and were guided by him in commencing civilized life. They learned to hew the forest trees, and build themselves cabins, and cultivate their lands, like their white neighbors. But, alas! there has been only now and then an Elliot, and the poor Indians were much more apt in learning the vices than in imitating the virtues of our ancestors. Besides, many of the whites selfishly desired to possess themselves of the lands of the Indians; and even professedly good men made it an excuse to exterminate them because they were “Heathen.” They made war upon them at the least provocation, and

p. 22

often without any cause, and tribe after tribe was scattered and destroyed; so that now, save on the distant frontier, and here and there an isolated colony, like the Senecas of Western New York and the Cherokees and Choctaws at the South, the memory of the red man alone remains. Surrounded as we are by the restraining and refining influences of Christian civilized society, it is difficult to feel how much we really owe them. A glance at the fate of the Indian shows the truth. What an infinite weight of shame must rest upon those who are so privileged, but who yet go the way of the Indian, give the rein to their passions, and meet the fate of fools.

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