Fifteen Years Apart by Bill Nye

Story type: Essay

The American Indian approximates nearer to what man should be–manly, physically perfect, grand in character, and true to the instincts of his conscience–than any other race of beings, civilized or uncivilized. Where do we hear such noble sentiments or meet with such examples of heroism and self-sacrifice as the history of the American Indian furnishes? Where shall we go to hear again such oratory as that of Black Hawk and Logan? Certainly the records of our so-called civilization do not furnish it, and the present century is devoid of it.

They were the true children of the Great Spirit. They lived nearer to the great heart of the Creator than do their pale-faced conquerors of to-day who mourn over the lost and undone condition of the savage. Courageous, brave and the soul of honor, their cruel and awful destruction from the face of the earth is a sin of such magnitude that the relics and the people of America may well shrink from the just punishment which is sure to follow the assassination of as brave a race as ever breathed the air of Heaven.

I wrote the above scathing rebuke of the American people when I was 15 years of age. I ran across the dissertation yesterday. As a general rule, it takes a youth 15 years of age to arraign Congress and jerk the administration bald-headed. The less he knows about things generally, the more cheerfully will he shed information right and left.

At the time I wrote the above crude attack upon the government, I had not seen any Indians, but I had read much. My blood boiled when I thought of the wrongs which our race had meted out to the red man. It was at the time when my blood was just coming to a boil that I penned the above paragraph. Ten years later I had changed my views somewhat, relative to the Indian, and frankly wrote to the government of the change. When I am doing the administration an injustice, and I find it out, I go to the president candidly, and say: “Look here, Mr. President, I have been doing you a wrong. You were right and I was erroneous. I am not pig-headed and stubborn. I just admit fairly that I have been hindering the administration, and I do not propose to do so any more.”

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So I wrote to Gen. Grant and told him that when I was 15 years of age I wrote a composition at school in which I had arraigned the people and the administration for the course taken toward the Indians. Since that time I had seen some Indians in the mountains–at a distance–and from what I had seen of them I was led to believe that I had misjudged the people and the executive. I told him that so far as possible I would like to repair the great wrong so done in the ardor of youth and to once more sustain the arm of the government.

He wrote me kindly and said he was glad that I was friendly with the government again, and that now he saw nothing in the way of continued national prosperity. He said he would preserve my letter in the archives as a treaty of peace between myself and the nation. He said only the day before he had observed to the cabinet that he didn’t care two cents about a war with foreign nations, but he would like to be on a peace footing with me. The country could stand outside interference better than intestine hostility. I do not know whether he meant anything personal by that or not. Probably not.

He said he remembered very well when he first heard that I had attacked the Indian policy of the United States in one of my school essays. He still called to mind the feeling of alarm and apprehension which at that time pervaded the whole country. How the cheeks of strong men had blanched and the Goddess of Liberty felt for her back hair and exchanged her Mother Hubbard dress for a new cast-iron panoply of war and Roman hay knife. Oh, yes, he said, he remembered it as though it had been yesterday.

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Having at heart the welfare of the American people as he did, he hoped that I would never attack the republic again.

And I never have. I have been friendly, not only personally, but officially, for a good while. Even if I didn’t agree with some of the official acts of the president I would allow him to believe that I did rather than harass him with cold, cruel and adverse criticism. The abundant success of this policy is written in the country’s wonderful growth and prosperous peace.

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