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[310]

Chapter 31: Red and Black.

“ You fear the full-bloods cannot be reclaimed?” I ask Colonel Stevens.

“I never knew a pure Indian settle down to any kind of work. He is a hunter and a warrior, and to touch a spade or plough is to soil his noble hands. The Mestizos have a chance; though they are weighted by their savage blood. They start well, for their father is, in almost every case, a White.”

On crossing from the Creek country to the Choctaw country, by way of the Canadian river, we arrive at a store and mill, kept by a brave Scot, named McAlister. A rolling prairie spreads around, with pines and cedars on the heights, and rivulets trickling here and there. McAlister came into the Indian land by chance. The country pleased him, and, unlike his countryman, McPherson, of Caddo, [311] he settled down legally on the soil by taking a Choctaw wife, and getting himself adopted by the tribe. McAlister, like a brave Scot, has bought and sold, scraped and saved. From flour to whisky, everything that an Indian wants to buy, McAlister has to sell. By adding field to field, and farm to farm, McAlister is getting nearly all the land of this Prairie into his own hands. In time his ranch will be a town; that town will bear his name.

“These White intruders have no trouble in marrying Indian wives?” I ask a friend in the Chickasaw nation.

“In marrying Indian wives! You talk of marriage like a White. Marry-ha, ha! Not many of these fellows go to church. An Indian's notion of marriage is the theft or purchase of a squaw. Put down your money, and you have your pick of his lodge, without the blessing of a parson or the signature of a clerk. For twenty dollars you can buy a girl, and claim, through her, adoption by the tribe.”

“Is the adoption easy?”

“Very easy. As a rule, the adoption goes with the Indian girl. If any Bad face makes a row, a [312] keg of whisky sets things straight. Whisky is King.”

Nearer to Red River, in a green bottom, with a wooded ridge on either side, we find a White ranch; a house with fence and garden, in which a Pale-face lives with his Indian bride. The man is Bob Reams, a brother of the American sculptress Vinnie Reams. Bob came into this valley, bought a Chickasaw wife, and settled in the tribe, where he has managed to annex no little of the soil. The valley bears his name. Iis wife, whom he delights to call the Princess, is a tall, lithe woman; and his Mestizo son, Young Bob, has wild antelope eyes. Squaw Reams is said to put on war-paint now and then. Some months ago Bob got into trouble at a whisky bar, and was lodged in jail, on which his Princess went out, morally, on the war path. “ Bob in jail? Then he's a failure!” cried his squaw, and no little force had to be used by her kith and kin to prevent her from quitting his ranch, renouncing her allegiance, and returning to her savage life.

“ Only one man in four among the Cherokees is now of pure blood,” says Boudinot. Billy Ross, though representing Indian legends and traditions, [313] is a mongrel. Frank Overton, the Chickasaw chief, is a mongrel, and a handsome fellow. In these halfwild tribes the chiefs are nearly all of mongrel blood. The Indians hate these chiefs, but fear them more than they detest. Not so with the Chino and the Zambo. These poor creatures are both hated and despised. No living creature can be held in greater scorn than a Black man is held by a Red.

“Not many weeks ago,” says the son of Strong Buck, “ I went up to the Capitol, in Washington, to hear a grand palaver on the policy to be adopted towards my nation, and I found a Negro in the Speaker's chair!” While saying so, the young Red chief is sad; sad, to use his own phrase, as a wood in autumn. He knew the Negroes as a servile race, and the man whom he saw presiding over this debate, of so much moment to his tribe, had been a slave. “A coloured man,” sighs Boudinot, “ and yesterday a slave!”

That men of the White race, leaders of old and mighty States, should sit under a Black fellow and obey his nod, seems to the son of Strong Buck very strange. Yet this strange sight was not so galling to the Cherokee as the fact that a coward and a slave [314] should be seen ruling, even for a moment, the councils of an assembly which has the power of dealing with the rights of a people like the Cherokees --a people untameably brave and immemorially free. “Everyone,” sighs the young Cherokee, “appears to have rights in this republic except the original owners of the soil.”

The son of Strong Buck and nephew of Stand Watie cannot see that this new position of the Negro is an accident, not a growth, having no better foundation than the quicksands of a party vote. Even if the Cherokee intellect could grasp the situation as a whole, such contrasts as those presented at Washington and in Talequah would still be great. A contrast in the Negro's position lies at his gate, and startles him on passing his frontier line.

To the south of Red River, a Negro may be anything for which he possesses brain enough-from sweep to senator, from newsboy to Chief Justice, from railway porter to President. To the north of that river, in the Indian country, he can never rise beyond the condition of a waif and stray, even though he have the brain of Newton. He can obtain no more right in the soil than a bear or [315] buffalo. South of Red River he is the pet of a great party, an object of attention to all parties, who desire to have the benefit of his vote. North of Red River, he is the scorn of every buck and squaw, who still regard him as a beast to be cuffed and spurned, though he has ceased to be a chattel to be bought and sold. South of Red River, no man can hurt a Negro's dog without being answerable to the law; north of Red River a man may take the Negro's scalp without being called to answer for his crime.

What wonder that the Negro moves into the South, and tries to put Red River between his scalp and the impending knife?

Texas is not a model country; in respect of public order many things may be improved; yet, in Texas, since the war, a Negro has the same right as any other citizen to a settlement on the soil. A member of the body politic, he votes, gives evidence, serves on juries, sends his imps to school. He owns property and holds office. In brief, so far as law can make him equal, he is a White man's peer.

The Red man seeks in vain to understand why [316] the great Father in Washington, who takes away his own lands and forests, made over to him by treaty, in exchange for other lands and forests, to be his own, according to Indian usages, “ as long as grain grows and water runs,” should give the Black man so many rights and privileges, that he is everywhere equal, in many places superior, to the White men. Creeks and Cherokees give up the puzzle. In Taliquah, chief camp of the Cherokees nation, a little sheet of news is printed by a mixed blood editor, from which I cut this paragraph — a summary of the Red Question, as the matters strike an educated Cherokee:

“ As a people we are not prepared for American citizenship. Not that we are not sufficiently intelligent, or honest, or industrious, or lack much of any of those substantial qualities which go to make a person fit to be free anywhere. But that we have not that training in and experience of those arts of guile which a condition of freedom authorizes, if it does not encourage, to be employed against the unsuspecting-both being equally free to cheat and be cheated — as a national right.” [317]

In answer to this hint of a perpetual separation of the Red community in America from the White, a company of White men are building a town, a frontier post, from which they threaten to invade, acquire, and annex the Red man's land.

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