There has been much discussion of the treatment of Native Americans during the settlement period, and if present day folks really have a right to judge the settlers for their actions when we can’t truly understand their experience. (Ernie’s Blog is a good place to read some different perspectives on the topic).
I have been following the discussion with the unspoken conviction that there were good people here during the settlement period. People that recognized the inhumanity of the treatment of the natives and did what they could to help. When I first found Carpenter’s article, Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago,
published in the Overland Monthly, by Bret Harte, I thought I’d found a progressive thinker and I was thankful that someone had provided us with such a vivid and sympathetic picture of the settlement period and the experience of children kidnapped and indentured.
Carpenter seemed horrified at the treatment of the kidnapped children—and seemed to recognize the natives as people, rather than “savages” to be feared.
Then, while browsing through Blakes Books in McKinleyville the other day, I found the book No Rooms of Their Own (edited by Ida Rae Egli). This book is a collection focusing on women writers and in it is a story by the same Helen Carpenter called “The Mitchells”. In this story, she writes about a freed “negro” and his squaw wife. In her glowing description of the man, she says that he has the “love of a true gentleman for his wife, although she was only a Digger Indian.” Ah, Helen !
And then I also started thinking about how she described the suffering of native children, but obviously didn’t intervene in any way, even when the children were obviously malnourished and abused. When they died…
So… was she heartless? I don’t think so. But I do think she brought with her from the east very strong, though unfounded, prejudices against the local natives.
No man has ever been born a Negro hater, a Jew hater, or any other kind of hater. Nature refuses to be involved in such suicidal practices. ~Harry Bridges
I do think this brings us back to Ben Madley’s paper .
People arrived on the West Coast after generations of negative experiences with the Indian tribes from the East. Tribes that had long before been invaded and forced to fight for their freedom, and for many, their very lives. In turn, more recent generations of settlers grew up in communities fearful of the “bloody savages”.
Our prejudices are like physical infirmities – we cannot do what they prevent us from doing. ~John Lancaster Spalding
Carpenter could recognize suffering, but she was no enlightened soul. Who knows, she may have written just as eloquently if the victims had been horses.