The Life and Times of Sagoyewatha, or Red Jacket

THE current idea of the famous Indian orator, Red Jacket, is drawn from two sources,— his portrait by Wier, and Halleck’s poem suggested by it. On the evidence of this picture Red Jacket has been called the most intellectual of the Indian race ; and, in fact, if the portrait speaks the truth, the title might seem fairly enough applied ; but on reading his life and his speeches, one cannot but suspect that the imagination of the artist has done something more than justice to his subject. Catlin, who is a painter and no artist, has portrayed the same features, but by no means animated them with the same expression of intellect and fire. Nevertheless, Red Jacket was no common man. If he was a coward, so have other orators been before him ; and if at times he played the part of a demagogue, here too, if he had studied history, he might have pointed to distinguished precedents. He had not all the virtues of an Indian, but he had a great many of the distinctive traits of the race. His intellect was not broad or expansive, but it was shrewd and subtle to a remarkable degree. He had a remarkable power of sarcasm, and some of his caustic sallies are the best parts of his oratory on record. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to judge fairly of an Indian orator from the wretched translations of rude, illiterate, and careless interpreters. We are told of the commanding effects of Red Jacket’s eloquence on those who heard and understood him ; and if the speech as reported was but a poor affair, we are by no means to conclude that it was so as he delivered it. There can be no doubt, however, that his fine presence, his powerful and melodious voice, and his expressive gestures contributed vastly to the effect of his words.
Red Jacket could never be made to understand that either Christianity or civilization had any advantages whatever, at least for Indians. Neither could the old Indian idea be dislodged from his mind, that there was one Divine government for his race, and another for white men. The missionaries, it is true, were rarely the men to enlighten him on these points, for the greater number of them were far more anxious to enforce some incomprehensible dogma on the minds of their perplexed listeners than to instruct them in the broad principles of Christianity. As for the examples from which Red Jacket might draw his impressions of civilization, they were, for the most part, land speculators, traders, and brutal borderers. Nevertheless, had he been what he is assumed to have been, — the most intellectual of his race, — he was in a position to see very well that his favorite plan of preserving his people from destruction by a stiff adherence to their old savage way of life was mere political suicide.
Colonel Stone’s book is the concluding volume of an uncompleted series, in which he proposed to portray the career and character of the famous confederacy of the Iroquois, or Six Nations. It contains a great deal for which we should look in vain elsewhere. The author was very zealous, and no less successful, in collecting materials. We sometimes suspect that he is betrayed into error by trusting too much to the strength of an excellent memory ; and, on the other hand, we could often wish that, instead of giving us his material in its crude state, he had digested it and given us the results in a more compact form. Reports of Indian treaties are always hard reading, and are usually better placed in the appendix than in the body of the work. The book, however, is truly a book, and will probably always be the standard authority on the subject of which it treats.
In the present edition it is preceded by a biographical notice of the author, written by his son. It is wonderful that, with cares on his hands that would have engrossed the whole time of most men, Colonel Stone should have been able to do so great an amount of historical work, and do it so well. One of the most interesting and characteristic portions of this biographical sketch is the account of the part borne by Colonel Stone in procuring from Europe the invaluable documents, relating to the history of New York, which have been collected and published under the patronage of the State. In this matter the service rendered by Colonel Stone to the history, not only of his State, but of the whole country, can hardly be overrated.