Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Indian Cruelty?



[This text was written by J. Castell HOPKINS in 1898. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]


The Cruelty of the Indian is a frequent and natural theme for the historians of our alien race. There has been no Indian pen to trace fully and accurately the history of their varied tribes and strange nationalities, their complex customs and institutions. As time goes on, however, and they recede into the dim vistas of a distant past, justice will be more and more done to the many great traits in their naturally barbaric characters, and to the noble deeds of warriors and chiefs whose environment of superstition and ignorance was almost sufficient in itself to destroy every honourabble or manly instinct. The Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson in his volumes upon The Loyalists of America and their Times very justly points out similar considerations, and uses as his authority an American work, Brant and the Border Wars of the Revolution, by W. L. Stone. As he well says, the spoilers of the Indian have been his literary executors, and although a reluctant assent has been awarded to some of the nobler traits of his nature, yet, without yielding a due allowance to the peculiarities of their situation, the Indian character has been presented with singular uniformity as being cold, cruel, morose, and revengeful; unrelieved by any of those varying traits and characteristics, those lights and shadows which are admitted in respect to other people who have been no less wild and uncivilized. Nor does it seem to have occurred to these pale-faced writers that the particular cruelties, the records and descriptions of which enter so largely into the composition of the earlier volumes of American and Canadian history, were not barbarities in the estimation of those who practised them. The scalp-lock was an emblem of chivalry. Every warrior shaving his head for battle was careful to leave the lock of defiance upon his crown, as if for the bravado: "Take it if you can." The stake and the torture were identified with their rude notions of the power of endurance. They were inflicted upon captives of their own race as well as upon whites; and with their own braves these trials were courted, to enable the sufferer to exhibit the courage and fortitude with which they could be borne - the proud scorn with which all the pain that a foe might inflict could be endured.


But it is said that they fell upon slumbering hamlets in the night and massacred defenceless women and children. This, again, was their own mode of warfare, as honourable in their estimation as the more courteous methods of committing wholesale murder laid down in our own military books. "In regard," says Mr. Stone, " to the countless acts of cruelty alleged to have been perpetrated by the savages, it must be borne in mind that the Indians have had no writer to relate their own side of the story. The annals of man, probably, do not attest a more kindly reception of intruding foreigners than was given to the Pilgrims landing at Plmouth by the faithful Massassoit and the tribes, under his jurisdiction. Nor did the forest kings take up arms until they but too clearly saw that either their visitors or themselves must be driven from the soil which was their own - the fee of which was derived from the Great Spirit. And the nation is yet to be discovered that will not fight for their homes, the graves of their fathers, and their family altars. Cruel they were in the prosecution of their contests, but it would require the aggregate of a large number of predatory incursions and isolated burnings to balance the awful scene of conflagration and blood which at once extinguished the power of Sassacus, and the brave and indomitable Narragansets over whom he reigned. No! Until it is forgotten that by some Christians in infant Massachusetts it was held to be right to kill Indians, as the agents and familiars of Azazel ; until the early records of even tolerant Connecticut, which disclose the fact that the Indians were seized by the Puritans, transported to the British West Indies, and sold as slaves, are lost; until the Amazon and LaPlata shall have washed away the bloody history of the Spanish American conquest; and until the fact that Cortez stretched the unhappy Guatimozin naked upon a bed of burning coals (or General Sullivan's devastation of the Six Nation Indians) is proved to be fiction ; let not the American Indians be pronounced the most cruel of men."


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Source: J. Castell HOPKINS, Canada. An Encyclopaedia of the Country, Vol. 1, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 1898, 540p., pp. 239-240.





© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College