Thursday, October 3, 2019

Aborigines of South Carolina - 4


A book by Robert Mills, published in 1826, offers some unusually detailed insights on the native people of the Palmetto State, and especially the Catawba Indians.  Following is a passage from Statistics of South Carolina: Including a View of Its Natural, Civil, and Military History, General and Particular:

Among; the Catawbas at the present day, some adults no doubt may be found, exhibiting an intelligent mind, and an aptness to receive instruction. Should this even not be the case, we may be assured that their children can be taught.

It is truly to be desired, that our legislature should institute an inquiry into this momentous subject, and direct a commission to go into the nation, (composed of such men as are known to be respected by the Indians,) and consult with the chiefs, and such influential individuals, as may be among them upon the best plan to be pursued to effect the object under consideration, and report the same to them at an early day, so that the interesting work of instruction may be commenced and carried on with vigour and perseverance, under the auspices of the state.

What an honour to South Carolina would it be, to rescue this last remaining of the numerous and powerful tribes of the aborigines of this state, from total annihilation! The act would shed a lustre on the character of the state, rescue its honor from the minutest stigma, connected either with the claims of justice or gratitude, which this nation have upon it.

The Catawbas, in the zenith of their glory, were a noble race. In war they were fearless of enemies—in address surpassed by none. Their warriors often traversed the Blue ridge of mountains in all its difficulties, to wreak their vengeance upon the Six Nations in the northern parts of America. An instance or two of their heroism and address, will suffice to exhibit the character of this people.

A party of Seneca Indians, came to war against the Catawba; bitter enemies to each other. In the woods, the former discovered a sprightly Catawba warrior, hunting, in their usual light dress. On his perceiving; them, he sprung off for a hollow rock, four or five miles distant, as they intercepted his running homewards. He was so extremely swift, and skilful with the gun, that he killed seven of them in the running fight, before they were able to surround and take him.

They carried him to their country in sad triumph; but though he had filled them with uncommon grief and shame, for the loss of so many of their kindred, yet the love of martial virtue, induced them to treat him, during their long journey, with a great deal more civility, than if he had acted the part of a coward.

The women, and children, when they met him, at their several towns, beat and whipped him, in as severe a manner as the occasion required, according to their law of justice, and at last he was formally condemned to die by the fiery tortures. It might reasonably be imagined from what he had for some time gone through, being fed with a scanty hand, a tedious march, lying at night on the bare ground, exposed to the changes of the weather, his arms and legs extended in a pair of rough stocks, and suffering such punishments on his entering into their hostile towns, as a prelude to those sharp torments for which he was destined, would have so impaired his health, and effected his imagination as to have sent him to his long sleep, out of any more sufferings.

Probably this would have been the case with the major part of the white people, under similar circumstances; but I never knew this with any of the Indians. And this cool-headed, brave warrior, did not deviate from their rough lessons of martial virtue, but acted his part so well, as to surprise and sorely vex his numerous enemies

For when they were taking him unpinioned in their wild parade, to the place of torture, which lay near to a river, he suddenly dashed down those who stood in his way, sprung off, and plunged into the water, swimming underneath like an otter, only rising to take breath, till he made the opposite shore.

He now ascended the steep bank; but though he had good reasons, to be in a hurry, as many of the enemy were in the water, and others running every way like blood-hounds in pursuit of him; and the bullets flying around him from the time he took to the river, yet his heart did not allow him to leave them abruptly, without taking leave of them in a formal manner in return for the extraordinary favors they had done, and intended to do him; after moving round, and exhibiting several signs of contempt, he put up the shrill war-whoop, and darting off in the manner of a beast broke loose from its torturing enemies, he continued his speed so as to run, by about midnight of the same day, as far as his eager pursuers were two days in reaching.

There he rested till he discovered five of those Indians who had pursued him, and he lay hid a little way off their camp, till they were sound asleep. Every circumstance of his situation occurred to him, and inspired him with heroism. He was naked, torn, and hungry, and his enraged enemies were come up with him. But there was everything now to relieve his wants, and a fair opportunity to save his life, and get great honor, and sweet revenge, by cutting them off. Resolution, a convenient spot, and sudden surprise, would effect the main object of all his wishes, and hopes.

He accordingly creeped towards them, took one of their tomahawks, and killed them all on the spot. He then chopped them to pieces, in as horrid a manner, as savage fury could excite, both through national and personal resentment. He stripped off their scalps, clothed himself, took a choice gun, and as much ammunition and provisions as he could well carry in a running march, set off afresh, with a light heart, and did not sleep for several successive nights, only when he reclined, as usual, a little before day, with his back to a tree.

As it were by instinct, when he found he was free from the pursuing enemy, he made directly to the very place where he had previously killed seven of his enemies. He digged them up, scalped them, burned their bodies to ashes, and went home in safety, with singular triumph. Other pursuing enemies came on the evening of the second day, to the camp of their dead people, where the sight gave them a greater shock than they had ever known before. In their chilled war council, they concluded that as he had done such surprising things in his defence before he was captivated, and since that, in his naked condition, and was now well armed, if they continued the pursuit he would spoil them all, for he surely was an enemy wizard. And therefore they returned home.