The Indian Orator by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: EssayI like to read of the Indian orator in the old school books. Most everyone does. It is generally remarkable that the American Demosthenes, so far, has dw …

Story type: Essay

I like to read of the Indian orator in the old school books. Most everyone does. It is generally remarkable that the American Demosthenes, so far, has dwelt in the tepee, and lived on the debris of the deer and the buffalo. I mean to say that the school readers have impressed us with the great magnetism of the crude warrior who dwelt in the wilderness and ate his game, feathers and all, while he studied the art of swaying the audience by his oratorical powers.

I am inclined to think that Black Hawk and Logan must have been fortunate in securing mighty able private secretaries, or that they stood in with the stenographers of their day. At least, the Blue Juniata warriors of our time, from Little Crow, Red Iron, Standing Buffalo, Hole-in-the-Day and Sitting Bull, to Victoria, Colorow, Douglas, Persume, Captain Jack and Shavano, seem to do better as lobbyists than they do as orators. They may be keen, logical and shrewd, but they are not eloquent. In some minds, Black Hawk will ever appear as the Patrick Henry of his people; but I prefer to honor his unknown, unhonored and unsung amanuensis. Think what a godsend such a man would have been to Senator Tabor.

The Indian orator of to-day is not scholarly and grand. He is soiled, ignorant and sedentary in his habits. An orator ought to take care of his health. He cannot overload his stomach and make a bronze Daniel Webster of himself. He cannot eat a raw buffalo for breakfast and at once attack the question of tariff for revenue only. His brain is not clear enough. He cannot digest the mammalia of North America and seek out the delicate intricacies of the financial problem at the same time. All scientists and physiologists will readily see why this is true.

It is quite popular to say that the modern Indian has seen too much of civilization. This may be true. Anyhow, civilization has seen too much of him. I hope the day will never come when the pale face and the White Father will have to stay on their reservation, whether the red man does or not.

Indian eloquence, toned down by the mellow haze of a hundred years, sounds very well, but the clarion voice of the red orator has died away. The stony figure, the eagle eye, the matchless presence, have all ceased to palpitate.

He does not say: “I am an aged hemlock. I am dead at the top. The forest is filled with the ghosts of my people. I hear their moans on the night winds and in the sighing pines.” He does not talk in the blank verse of a century ago. He uses a good many blanks, but it is not blank verse. Even the Indian’s friend would admit that it was not blank verse. Perhaps it might be called blankety verse.

Once he pleaded for the land of his fathers. Now he howls for grub, guns and fixed ammunition.

I tried to interview a big Crow chief once. I had heard some Sioux, and learned a few irrelevant and disconnected Ute phrases. I connected these with some Spanish terms and hoped to get a reply, and keep up a kind of running conversation that might mislead a friend who was with me, into the belief that I was as familiar with the Indian tongue as with my own. I began conversing with him in my polyglot manner. I did not get a reply. I conversed with him some more in a desultory way, for I had heard that he was a great orator in his tribe, and I wanted to get his views on national affairs. Still he was silent. He would not even answer me. I got hostile and used some badly damaged Spanish on him. Then I used some sprained and dislocated German on him, but he didn’t seem to wot whereof I spoke.

Then my friend, with all the assurance of a fresh young manhood, began to talk with the great warrior in the English language, and incidentally asked him about a new Indian agent, who had the name of being a bogus Christian with an eye to the main chance.

My friend talked very loud, with the idea that the chieftain could understand any language if spoken so that you could hear it in the next Territory. At the mention of the Indian agent’s name, the Crow statesman brightened up and made a remark. He simply said: “Ugh! too much God and no flour.”

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