What the White Race May Learn from the Indian

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What the White Race May Learn from the Indian.
In and Around the Grand Canyon.
Indians of the Painted Desert Region.
In and Out of the Old Missions of California.
The Wonders of the Colorado Desert.
The Story of Scraggles.
Indian Basketry.
How to Make Indian and Other Baskets.
Travelers’ Handbook to Southern California.
The Beacon Light.


What the White Race May
Learn from the Indian
Author of “In and Around the Grand Canyon,” “Indian Basketry,” “How
to Make Indian and Other Baskets,” “Practical Basket Making,”
“The Indians of the Painted Desert Region,” “Travelers’ Handbook
to Southern California,” “In and Out of the Old
Missions of California,” “The Story of Scraggles,”
“The Wonders of the Colorado Desert,” “Through
Ramona’s Country,” “Living the Radiant
Life,” “The Beacon Light,” etc.


Copyright, 1908

The Lakeside Press



I would not have it thought that I commend indiscriminately everything that the Indian does and is. There are scores of things about the Indian that are reprehensible and to be avoided. Most Indians smoke, and to me the habit is a vile and nauseating one. Indians often wear filthy clothes. They are often coarse in their acts, words, and their humor. Some of their habits are repulsive. I have seen Indian boys and men maltreat helpless animals until my blood has boiled with an indignation I could not suppress, and I have taken the animals away from them. They are generally vindictive and relentless in pursuit of their enemies. They often content themselves with impure and filthy water when a little careful labor would give them a supply of fairly good water.

Indeed, in numerous things and ways I have personally seen the Indian is not to be commended, but condemned, and his methods of life avoided. But because of this, I do not close my eyes to the many good things of his life. My reason is useless to me unless it teaches me what to accept and what to reject, and he is kin to fool who refuses to accept good from a man or a race unless in everything that man or race is perfect. There is no perfection, in man at least, on earth, and all the good I have ever received from human beings has been from imperfect men and women. So I fully recognize the imperfections of the Indian while taking lessons from him in those things that go to make life fuller, richer, better.

Neither must it be thought that everything here said of the Indians with whom I have come in contact can be said of all Indians. Indians are not all alike any more than white men and women are all alike. One can find filthy, disgusting slovens among white women, yet we do not condemn all white women on the strength of this indisputable fact. So with Indians. Some are good, some indifferent, some bad. In dealing with them as a race, a people, therefore, I do as I would with my own race, I take what to me seem to be racial characteristics, or in other words, the things that are manifested in the lives of the best men and women, and which seem to represent their habitual aims, ambitions, and desires.

This book lays no claim to completeness or thoroughness. It is merely suggestive. The field is much larger than I have gleaned over. The chapters of which the book is composed were written when away from works of reference, and merely as transcripts of the remembrances that flashed through my mind at the time of writing. Yet I believe in everything I have said I have kept strictly within the bounds of truth, and have written only that which I personally know to be fact.

The original articles from which these pages have been made were written in various desultory places,—on the cars, while traveling between the Pacific and the Atlantic, on the elevated railways of the metropolis, standing at the desk of my New York friend in his office on Broadway, even in the woods of Michigan and in the depths of the Grand Canyon. Two of the new chapters were written at the home of my friend Bass, at Bass Camp, Grand Canyon, but the main enlargement and revision has occurred at Santa Clara College, the site of the Eighth Mission in the Alta California chain of Franciscan Missions. The bells of the Mission Church have hourly rung in my ears, and the Angelus and other calls to prayer have given me sweet memories of the good old padres who founded this and the other missions, as well as shown me pictures of the devoted priests of to-day engaged in their solemn services. I have heard the merry shouts of the boys of this college at their play, for the Jesuits are the educators of the boys of the Catholic Church. Here from the precincts of this old mission, I call upon the white race to incorporate into its civilization the good things of the Indian civilization; to forsake the injurious things of its pseudo-civilized, artificial, and over-refined life, and to return to the simple, healthful, and natural life which the Indians largely lived before and after they came under the dominion of the Spanish padres.

If all or anything of that which is here presented leads any of my readers to a kinder and more honest attitude of mind towards the Indians, then I shall be thankful, and the book will have amply accomplished its mission.

George Wharton James.

Santa Clara, California, November 27, 1907.


I.The White Race and Its Treatment of the Indian15
II.The White Race and Its Civilization28
III.The Indian and Nasal and Deep Breathing39
IV.The Indian and Out-of-Door Life49
V.The Indian and Sleeping Out of Doors70
VI.The Indian as a Walker, Rider, and Climber79
VII.The Indian in the Rain and the Dirt93
VIII.The Indian and Physical Labor105
IX.The Indian and Physical Labor for Girls and Women111
X.The Indian and Diet119
XI.The Indian and Education130
XII.The Indian and Hospitality143
XIII.The Indian and Certain Social Traits and Customs156
XIV.The Indian and Some Luxuries162
XV.The Indian and the Sex Question175
XVI.The Indian and Her Baby183
XVII.The Indian and the Sanctity of Nudity197
XVIII.The Indian and Frankness204
XIX.The Indian and Repining207
XX.The Indian and the Superfluities of Life210
XXI.The Indian and Mental Poise217
XXII.The Indian and Self-Restraint229
XXIII.The Indian and Affectation235
XXIV.The Indian and Art Work240
XXV.The Indian and Religious Worship250
XXVI.The Indian and Immortality259
XXVII.Visiting the Indians265


Ever since the white race has been in power on the American continent it has regarded the Indian race—and by this I mean all the aboriginal people found here—as its inferiors in every regard. And little by little upon this hypothesis have grown up various sentiments and aphorisms which have so controlled the actions of men who never see below the surface of things, and who have no thought power of their own, that our national literature has become impregnated with the fiendish conception that “the only good Indian is the dead Indian.” The exploits of a certain class of scouts and Indian-hunters have been lauded in books without number, so that even schoolboys are found each year running away west, each with a belt of cartridges around his waist and a revolver in his hip pocket, for the purpose of hunting Indians. Good men and women, people of the highest character, are found to be possessed of an antipathy towards the Indian that is neither moral nor christian. Men of the highest integrity in ordinary affairs will argue forcefully and with an apparent confidence in the justice of their plea that the Indian has no rights in this country that we are bound to respect. They are here merely on sufferance, and whatever the United States government does for them is pure and disinterested philanthropy, for which the Indian should be only grateful and humble.

To me this is a damnable state of affairs. If prior possession entitles one to any right in land, then the Indian owns the land of the United States by prior right. The so-called argument that because the Indian is not wisely using the land, and that therefore he stands in the way of progress and must be removed, and further, that we, the people of the United States, are the providentially appointed instruments for that removal, is to me so sophistical, so manifestly insincere, so horribly cruel, that I have little patience either to listen or reply to it.

If this be true, what about the vast holders of land whom our laws cherish and protect? Are they holding the land for useful and good purposes? Are they “helping on the cause of civilization” by their merciless and grasping control of the millions of acres they have generally so unlawfully and immorally secured? Thousands, nay millions, of acres are held by comparatively few men, without one thought for the common good. The only idea in the minds of these men is the selfish one: “What can I make out of it?”

Let us be honest with ourselves and call things by their proper names in our treatment of the weaker race. If the Indian is in the way and we are determined to take his land from him, let us at least be manly enough to recognize ourselves as thieves and robbers, and do the act as the old barons of Europe used to do it, by force of arms, fairly and cheerfully: “You have these broad acres: I want them. I challenge you to hold them: to the victor belongs the spoils.” Then the joust began. And he who was the stronger gained the acres and the castle.

Let us go to the Indian and say: “I want your lands, your hunting-grounds, your forests, your water-holes, your springs, your rivers, your corn-fields, your mountains, your canyons. I need them for my own use. I am stronger than you; there are more of us than there are of you. I’ve got to have them. You will have to do with less. I’m going to take them;” and then proceed to the robbery. But let us be above the contemptible meanness of calling our theft “benevolent assimilation,” or “manifest destiny,” or “seeking the higher good of the Indian.” A nation as well as a race may do scoundrel acts, but let it not add to its other evil the contemptible crime of conscious hypocrisy. The unconscious hypocrite is to be pitied as well as shaken out of his hypocrisy, but the conscious hypocrite is a stench in the nostrils of all honest men and women. The major part of the common people of the United States have been unconscious of the hypocritical treatment that has been accorded the Indians by their leaders, whether these leaders were elected or appointed officials or self-elected philanthropists and reformers. Hence, while I would “shake them up” and make them conscious of their share in the nation’s hypocrisy, I have no feeling of condemnation for them. On the other hand, I feel towards the conscious humbugs and hypocrites, who use the Indian as a cloak for their own selfish aggrandizement and advancement, as the Lord is said to have felt toward the lukewarm churches when He exclaimed: “I will spew thee out of my mouth.”

In our treatment of the Indian we have been liars, thieves, corrupters of the morals of their women, debauchers of their maidens, degraders of their young manhood, perjurers, and murderers. We have lied to them about our good, pacific, and honorable intentions; we have made promises to them that we never intended to keep—made them simply to gain our own selfish and mercenary ends in the easiest possible way, and then have repudiated our promises without conscience and without remorse. We have stolen from them nearly all they had of lands and worldly possessions. Only two or three years ago I was present when a Havasupai Indian was arrested for having shot a deer out of season, taken before the courts and heavily fined, when his own father had roamed over the region hunting, as his ancestors had done for centuries before, ere there were any white men’s laws or courts forbidding them to do what was as natural for them to do as it was to drink of the water they found, eat of the fruits and berries they passed, or breathe the air as they rode along. The law of the white man in reference to deer and antelope hunting is based upon the selfishness of the white man, who in a few generations has slain every buffalo, most of the mountain sheep, elk, moose, and left but a comparative remnant of deer and antelope. The Indian has never needed such laws. He has always been unselfish enough to leave a sufficient number of this wild game for breeding purposes, or, if it was not unselfishness that commanded his restraint, his own self-interest in piling up meat was sacrificed to the general good of his people who required meat also, and must be able to secure it each year. Hence, to-day we shut off by law the normal and natural source of meat supply of the Indian, without any consultation with him, and absolutely without recourse or redress, because we ourselves—the white race—are so unmitigatedly selfish, so mercenary, so indifferent to the future needs of the race, that without such law we would kill off all the wild game in a few short years.


Then who is there who has studied the Indian and the white man’s relation to him, who does not know of the vile treatment the married women and maidens alike have received at the hands of the “superior” people. Let the story of the devilish debaucheries of young Indian girls by Indian agents and teachers be fully written, and even the most violent defamers of Indians would be compelled to hang their heads with shame. To those who know, the name of Perris—a southern California Indian school—brings up memories of this class of crime that make one’s blood hot against the white fiend who perpetrated them, and I am now as I write near to the Havasupai reservation in northern Arizona, where one of the teachers had to leave surreptitiously because of his discovered immoralities with Indian women and girls. Only a decade ago the name of the Wallapai woman was almost synonymous with immorality because of the degrading influences of white men, and one of the most pathetic things I ever heard was the hopeless “What can we do about it?” of an Indian chief on the Colorado desert, when I spoke to him of the demoralization of the women of his people. In effect his reply was: “The whites have so driven us to the wall that we are often hungry, and it is far easier to be immoral than to go hungry.”

Then, read the reports of the various Indian agents throughout the country who have sought to enforce the laws against whites selling liquor to Indians. Officials and courts alike have often been supine and indifferent to the Indian’s welfare, and have generally shown far more desire to protect the white man in his “vested interests” than to protect the young men of the Indian tribes against the evil influences of liquor. Again and again I have been in Indian councils and heard the old men declaim against the white man’s fire-water. The Havasupais declare it to be han-a-to-op-o-gi, “very bad,” the Navahos da-shon-de, “of the Evil One,” while one and all insist that their young men shall be kept from its demoralizing influence. Yet there is seldom a fiesta at which some vile white wretch is not willing to sell his own soul, and violate the laws of whites and Indians alike, in order to gain a little dirty pelf by providing some abominable decoction which he sells as whisky to those whose moral stamina is not strong enough to withstand the temptation.

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